Seeking Justice or Giving Grace

When wronged, which better describes you: A justice seeker or a Grace granter? The answer to this question, though difficult, is important.

 

Have you ever been lied about? I bet you have. I sure have. Sometimes those lies are little and don’t amount to much. But sometimes the lies can be quite large and really affect you. These lies can be considered defamation of character in many states.

When this happens – and I hope it doesn’t happen to you – what should a Christian’s response be? Should a Christian retain  an attorney and sue? Or should a Christian simply let it go on by.

And what should one do about the anger that comes with this? Oh, the anger!

But now, a few Scripture verses are flying through my heart and head…

BE ANGRY, AND yet DO NOT SIN; do not let the sun go down on your anger…Ephesians 4:26 NASB

So I’m angry about this, but am I sinning? Well, lets consider this little gem from James

Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin. James 4:17 NASB

So what is the right thing to do. There is my desire for justice and vindication of an egregious lie. But there is also my impulse to show grace and mercy and walk away from it. Someone once said

 But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.  Whoever hits you on the cheek, offer him the other also; and whoever takes away your coat, do not withhold your shirt from him either.  Give to everyone who asks of you, and whoever takes away what is yours, do not demand it back.  Treat others the same way you want them to treat you.  If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them.  If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same.  If you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is thatto you? Even sinners lend to sinners in order to receive back the same amount. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. Luke 6:27 – 36 NASB

When I juxtapose my desire for justice with the verses above, I admit I struggle with what I should do. And I admit I’m not sure which way I’m going to end up going.

I can sue for defamation of character for the big lies that hurt or smear my name. If I do this, I can win and receive a little vindication.

I can also decide to show mercy and compassion, not sue, not win, and not be vindicated by my acts.

I’ve decided to share my journey into this decision with you. For the next few weeks I will write about what I am thinking, what the Lord is showing me and, hopefully, the decision that I make in the end.

So what happens when we are wronged and our desire for justice collides with our impulse to show grace and mercy? I think we’re going to find out soon…and in the process, maybe we can learn something about ourselves and our desires.

 

The Chalk Outline

I watch the old TV series “Columbo” as much as possible. I really enjoy it. As I am writing this article I’m watching an episode from season three (I have the entire series on DVD). For those who never watched it, it was made in the early 1970’s. It was about this brilliant detective who was less than stellar in his appearance. Even though he often played the fool, he always solved the crime. And every crime on this show was a murder. You see Columbo was a homicide detective. He was great.

When Columbo would come to a murder site, the police would sometimes draw a chalk outline where the body had been after it had been removed. It was a reminder that there once someone there. In one way, it was the shadow of that person.

When we die – and we all will – the life we lived could be marked with a chalk outline showing where we touched. I wonder, when I’m dead, where will my chalk outline be.

I’ve lived a rather full and eventful life. I’ve accomplished much in my 54 years on God’s earth. Some of those accomplishments have been pretty good. Others not so good. And still others have been downright bad. One thing they all have in common is that they were accomplished by me.

As I draw nearer to eternity I wonder what I will leave behind. What will my chalk outline be? Will it be a good one or a bad one? How will my friends remember me? My enemies? My family? My church? How will I be remembered…

I’ve come to one conclusion regarding my legacy. I’ve decided and truly hope that my legacy does not include me.

I really don’t want to be remembered. In fact I hope I’m forgotten rather easily. You see, I don’t think my greatest legacy should be that I am remembered as this or that type of person. My greatest hope is that my legacy will be that more people will remember my Savior and what He does than what I did in His name.

I hope that my life’s work will be pointing others to Christ, not to myself. I hope I live in such a way that I have a legacy that is devoid of my, and full of my Savior. Will I do that? I don’t know. What I do know is that the words of John the Baptist ring in my ears each day as I rise and as I go to bed…

“He must increase, but I must decrease.” John 3:30 NASB

I must – MUST – decrease.

I hope I accomplish this.

A Life Well Lived

I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths. But you, be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. 2 Timothy 4:1-5 NASB

 

I was sitting outside a restaurant in Brea, California in November of 1997. I had flown to California for some training for my new job in Virginia. I had lived in California from 1983 until 1997. When I found out I was going back for a week I decided to call two of my closest friends to see if they would like to have dinner. They said sure and I was waiting on them.

I had been diagnosed with type 1 (insulin dependent) diabetes earlier in 1997. I found out by nearly dying from it. I am still not sure how I did not die – actually the reason I didn’t die is because God didn’t want me to die. Anyway, back to my evening in California.

I sat outside the restaurant waiting on my friends to arrive. I had mixed my insulin for my evening dose, which I would take when we sat down to eat. The timing of one’s insulin dose is important so it is peaking when blood sugar after eating is peaking. I was gently rolling  my syringe between my fingers to warm the insulin (my insulin was stored in a cold pack. Injecting cold insulin is not a fun experience). I could not believe what happened next.

A young man came up and asked me if he could sit next to me. I said I didn’t mind. He sat down and introduced himself. I don’t remember his name but I do remember him. He looked at me and began a conversation.

“I’d like to share some information with you, if thats ok.”

“Sure” I said.

“Well first” he began “I want to say that I am not judging you for your addiction”

I responded “My addict-”

Before I could finish he jumped back in saying “I see the syringe in your hand. I know what you are going to do. I’m here to tell you that you don’t need to do this.”

I smiled, figuring he mistook my insulin for some kind of illegal drug. “You don’t understand.” I said.

“Yes I do” he protected. “I was once addicted too but God delivered me and He can deliver you too.”

“Wait, wait. You really don’t understand. I need this to live.” I said.

He replied “I said the same thing when I was nailing up [slang IV drug users sometimes use to describe injecting heroin]. But I’m here to say, you don’t need that drug. You need Jesus.”

Well this little disagreement continued for a few more minutes until I finally said “Dude, I’m a type 1 diabetic This is insulin. See, I have a prescription for this [showing him my insulin vials]. I’m a Christian. Been one since December 2, 1984.”

He grimaced a bit. He looked sheepishly at me and apologized for his mistaking me as a drug addict. Before he could finish his apology, I stopped him and thanked him for his boldness. We talked a few more minutes, I assured him I wasn’t offended by his conduct but encouraged by it. I thanked him again for being willing to share Christ with a stranger apparently in need.

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I wonder how many of us – me included – are willing to risk embarrassment like this young guy did? Are we willing to share Christ with anyone we see, risking we may share with someone who is already a Christian? Or maybe we are worried the person we share with will be openly hostile to the Gospel. Whatever our fear, we need to get over them and share Christ to all who cross our paths – yes, that includes those e disagree with on silly issues like politics.

People around me may give me flack for sharing the Gospel. They may laugh at me for believing it. Because I am a Christian, I have not received promotions and being a Christian contributed to my losing one job. I chose not to sue or strike out against that employer because I feel like that kind of treatment is part and parcel of being a Christian.

I don’t want to live a life that is camouflaged. I don’t want people to wonder if I belong to Christ or not. My life – all aspects of it – should preach the Gospel.

Don’t just preach the Gospel with your words. Preach it with your life. And don’t just think that living an outwardly moral life is OK. Preach the Gospel with your mouth too. Really, it is as simple as Paul wrote to Timothy: be always preaching, be always ready, be always teaching sound doctrine, and know those who don’t want to hear, won’t.

In doing this simple thing, we can be assured that we will live a life well-lived, regardless of the bumps along the way. And maybe, just maybe, we will meet someone on a bench and bless them with our boldness and forever leave a mark on them.

 

 

A Stranger at the Throne

If you thought that I had everything together and didn’t struggle like everyone does, this article will surely shatter that image of me. If you realize that I am the same as you – a pilgrim trying to make it through life – perhaps you can understand this. 

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Life is a blur sometimes for my family. Shoot, often it is a blur. We are so busy we barely have time to think much less anything else. With all our commitments, responsibilities, and other stuff we barely have time to relate to each other. It seems sometimes we are strangers in our own home. And if my wife and I are having trouble finding time to  speak to each other because of the busy nature of life, how in the world do I relate and speak to God each day. You know, that prayer thing. Have I become a stranger to God’s throne?

Ouch.

Sin is a cruel master. A very cruel master.

Last week I hurt my wife and my marriage (before you speculate, I didn’t have an affair or strike my wife  but hurt her and crossed a line I shouldn’t have). It was inexcusable and indefensible. But it was entirely predictable result of my becoming a stranger to God’s throne because I became too busy with life that I forgot to commune daily with my Life-giving Father in heaven. How did tis happen?

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Sixty hours at work per week. One hour commute to work. One hour commute from work. Responsibilities here. Responsibilities there. This ministry. That ministry. An event today, tomorrow, and the next day. Football practice, basketball practice, gymnastics, and dance. A blog article is due. Gotta finish that manuscript outline. Study? Oh yeah, I need to study…and pray. But I’m busy.

Too busy…

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I have apologized to my wife, asked her forgiveness, and taken steps to prevent the sin from repeating itself. My wife has forgiven me and we are working to repair the damage I inflicted on her and our marriage.

Now I need to approach God’s throne. I feel like I don’t belong.

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” – Matthew 11:28-30 NASB

Jesus invites us to come to Him with all the burdens and labors we bear. I have no doubt these burdens included the unbiblical rules and regulations that the religious leaders placed on the people of that time. I also believe that these burdens – at least as an application – can include the burdens we often carry from previously forgiven sin. Like the burden I now carry.

Will I listen to His invitation and meet Him in His throne room? Will I shrink back, hide, and cower in shame and disgust at my sin? I wish I could answer those questions. But right now, I just don’t know what I will do.

Satan is having a good time with right now. He is working overtime accusing me of this and that. He is reminding me of my past and my present. He sure is good at making me understand just how sinful I am. He is trying to discourage me. And he is doing a pretty good job of accomplishing that…

Come to me…”

I clearly hear Christ’s call to come to Him. I just don’t want to go right now.

I’m broken.

I feel humiliated.

I’m hurt.

I feel just plain wrong.

How can I approach my holy God – the Holy One seen in Isaiah 6 – with this sin? How can I bear to see Him? How can I allow Him to see me?

Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. Hebrews 4:14 – 16 NASB

I know, I know. All I have to do is repent (done), ask forgiveness (done), and it will be granted to me. After all, that is what the Cross accomplished, right? All my sins were washed away. Yeah, I know ’em all. If I was counseling someone as a Pastor, I would be quoting them left and right. I’d be reassuring the one I’m counseling of God’s forgiveness if he repented.

But this one…this one really hurts. I hurt the one person I never wanted to hurt. I hurt my wife. The woman who has stood by me through thick and thin. She has endured things that I’m sure others know nothing about. And now this. I feel like I need to be beaten more. I feel that I need to do something and not just move on.

Forgiveness of my sin is granted at the Cross. Though I do not feel  forgiven, I am forgiven. You see, there is sometimes a lag between the granting of forgiveness and the realization that forgiveness has already been received. My sin wasn’t just committed by the act (again, not a physical thing). It began to work in me as I drifted from the throne room of God. That was a mistake I hope I never make again.

Come to me…”

“…receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need…”

My burdens have already been lifted. My sin already forgiven. I have received mercy and grace in my time of need. To believe anything less would cheapen the Cross. It would deny the power of Christ’s sacrifice. Now I just need to realize these things are true.

Just realize it.

This is going to be tough.

Thankfully Broken

“When I see the Lord on His throne, I figure I won’t be able to stand, much less be able to chit chat with others about something that is suddenly not so important. I figure when I see God exalted, I will fall down in awe and worship. What will you do?”

 

I often wonder how I am doing with my thoughts about who God is. I wonder if I am really in awe of Him or if I’m just going through the motions. One of the best ways I think to figure this out is realizing how much sin I have committed, how much of my sin He has forgiven, and How holy He is. I really don’t have to contemplate this too much though. We have a wonderful encounter with God’s holiness and the brokenness of a sinner recorded in Scripture. We find this passage in Isaiah

In the year of King Uzziah’s death I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted, with the train of His robe filling the temple. Seraphim stood above Him, each having six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called out to another and said, “Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord of hosts, The whole earth is full of His glory.” And the foundations of the thresholds trembled at the voice of him who called out, while the temple was filling with smoke. Then I said, “Woe is me, for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips, And I live among a people of unclean lips; For my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.” Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a burning coal in his hand, which he had taken from the altar with tongs. He touched my mouth with it and said, “Behold, this has touched your lips; and your iniquity is taken away and your sin is forgiven.” – Isaiah 6:1-7 NASB

The first thing we experience here is that Isaiah sees something.

“…I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted, with the train of His robe filling the temple. Seraphim stood above Him, each having six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called out to another and said, “Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord of hosts, The whole earth is full of His glory.” And the foundations of the thresholds trembled at the voice of him who called out, while the temple was filling with smoke.”

This whole scene unfolds in a difficult time for Isaiah. Their earthly King – Uzziah –  had just died. I have little doubt that Isaiah was feeling a bit depressed and discouraged at this time. But in the midst of his discouragement, God gives Isaiah a vision of the Throne Room. Let’s read through the images Isaiah conveys to us.

First, Isaiah sees the Lord lofty and exalted.  What a beautiful description of God. Then Isaiah sees the train His royal robe filling the Temple. Now this probably refers to the entire Temple Mount. That is a lot of area to fill with the train of a robe.

Next Isaiah sees Seraphim – angels – who were attending the Throne of God and worshipping God by stating Holy, Holy Holy, is the Lord of Hosts. The whole earth is full of His glory. Imagine being there and experiencing this sight. This is followed by the foundations of the thresholds trembling at the voice of Him who called out while the temple was filling with smokeSo we have a vision of the Lord Himself, His holiness, demonstrated by the length of the train of His robe, angelic hosts worshipping God and an earthquake at the sound of his voice. Umm, wow. Wow.

The next thing I want to emphasize if that Isaiah realizes something.

Then I said, “Woe is me, for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips, And I live among a people of unclean lips; For my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.”

Isaiah realizes who he is in light of the holy God who is before him. Look at what Isaiah says…

woe is me, for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips, 

Isaiah realizes that he is in bad shape because, as a sinner, he cannot be in the presence of the absolute holy God of Israel. But Isaiah’s realization doesn’t end there…

And I live among a people of unclean lips; 

Not only does Isaiah recognize his own sinful situation, but he also realizes that he lives with an absolutely sinful people. This poses a major problem for Isaiah and the nation. No unclean thing or person could stand in the presence of God and survive. Isaiah, is broken over this. Not that he is in pickle. No, I think he is broken over the holiness of God and his sinful nature.

Isaiah recognizes his sinfulness in light of the holiness of God. Think about how you would react. Would you or I react the same way? I wonder.

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When I hear Christians talk about eternity in trite terms, I cringe. I hear some Christians who say “When I get to heaven, I’m gonna give Adam a piece of my mind…” or they say how they want to speak to Paul or something along those lines. I’ve realized as I have grown older in the Lord that those things – while they may be neat to think about – probably won’t happen.

imagesWhen I see the Lord on His throne, I figure I won’t be able to stand, much less be able to chit chat with others about something that is suddenly not so important. I figure when I see God exalted, I will fall down in awe and worship. What will you do?

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Finally Isaiah experienced something.

Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a burning coal in his hand, which he had taken from the altar with tongs. He touched my mouth with it and said, “Behold, this has touched your lips; and your iniquity is taken away and your sin is forgiven.”

In short, Isaiah experiences the forgiveness of God. His sins are immediately cleansed. As a result, Isaiah volunteers (in the verses that follow these) to go on a mission that will not bear much fruit. But Isaiah goes on this mission quite enthusiastically.

Isaiah has seen the glory of God. He has seen God’s holiness. He has heard the angels, he has seen heavenly worship. And the result of all this?

Isaiah realizes his utter sinfulness. And he is broken over that. In that brokenness, God forgives him and cleanses him.

How are we doing?

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When we meet God – either at salvation or during prayer – do we realize what Isaiah realized? Do we realize that God’s holiness is so awesome that our puny mind cannot fully comprehend it? When we see that holiness and remember the forgiveness and cleansing God has performed on us, are we thankful? Are we broken?

I think we should be thankfully broken about our sin and our new life in Christ. We should never become arrogant – thinking we deserve this life. We should always remember whence we came. We should always remember the cost of our forgiveness. We should hit our knees in thankfulness. And brokenness. Like Isaiah, we should be broken.

Thankfully. Broken.

 

 

 

 

 

Pressing On

In my article last week we discovered that we are to be in, but not of the world. This means that while we live in the world, we do not adopt the world’s values, methods, or morals (or lack thereof). We are simply sojourners, passing through this age on our journey to eternity. If all this is true, what are we to do while here?

Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. – Philippians 3:12-14 NASB

Philippians 3 is full of wonderful truths and challenges to us – things, if we really understand them, will cause use to grow. Lets take a few moments and consider a few points Paul makes in these few verses.

Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect…

Paul begins this section with a wonderful statement of humility and understanding of the human condition following conversion: a redeemed but imperfect follower of Christ.

When we read Pauls works, we quickly realize that he is a man who is acutely aware of his faults, his sin, and his struggles. We also become aware of his desire to be in closer union with Christ, having his life lost in His. Here in Philippians 3, Paul flatly states that he has not yet achieved the intimacy in Christ he desires or that he is already perfect. There are Christians who believe that after conversion, a person can achieve perfection. Paul performs an effective refutation of that view. Paul is setting up the rest of his argument by plainly stating that he isn’t where he wants to be.

I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus… 

Paul moves on to say that in spite of his imperfection, in spite of his failures, and in spite of his lack of intimacy with Christ; he continues to go forward. The phrase I press on could better be communicated with the phrase I strive. Paul is striving – pushing forward – to become more like Christ. Think of  person straining to climb a hill, refusing to give up. Paul keeps moving forward in spite of the barriers – in spite of the difficulties. All that matters is that he fulfills his destiny in Christ after Christ laid hold on him.

run uphillforgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. 

In this passage, Paul details how he will gain greater intimacy with Christ. Paul begins by stating he forgets all that lies behind. Paul chooses to neglect it, to forget it. But to what does he refer? It could be his life persecuting the church before he was saved. But I’m not sure he is doing that. I think he is probably forgetting the persecution he and the church have endured. The reason is simple: if we focus on the wrongs we have experienced, the persecution we have endured, we could very easily be paralyzed by fear or anger. Or both.

This section hits me particularly hard. If you’ve read this blog for any length of time, you know that I was a church planting pastor whose church plant was split and destroyed by someone who I regarded at that time as a friend. Following the death of my little church, I was hurt, bitter, and angry. For quite a while I chose not to forget those things. And that paralyzed me.

Have you had a similar experience? Have you been hurt to such an extent that you found forgetting about the experience very difficult? Regardless of how difficult neglecting to remember the hurts of the past are, we must do that if we want to progress to greater intimacy with Christ and greater Christ-likeness.

Paul states that he reaches out, or presses on towards his goal. That is his entire focus – being like Christ with the greatest intimacy possible with Christ. We could very easily see this as a race where Paul is working hard to run through the finish line. That finish line is part of the goal. I really think Paul’s goal is the Bema Seat – the judgment seat of Christ where all Christians shall appear. Paul longs to be seen as one who has pursued Christ in spite of the hardships, difficulties, and persecution. Paul loved Christ with his entire being.  Paul had a short memory of wrongs done to him not because they were not important or wrong, but because his focus was on being like Christ. Boy, we could learn a thing or two in America about this.

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Often times we scream and yell about our rights and liberties in the US. We stomp our feet in protest to what we perceive is persecution. We whine and complain about every little thing done that hinders us.

I think we need to read Paul a bit more.

Imagine what the Church in America would look like if we focused on the goal of being Christlike and not so much on our freedoms, liberties, and rights. I wonder…I really, really wonder.

Instead of wondering what the Church would look like by embracing Paul’s soul focus on intimacy and Christlikeness, maybe I – and you – should wonder what I would look like if I did this. What would we look like if our soul-focus was to be Christlike.  Hmmm.

I think its time we found out.

In, not Of

To be IN but not OF the world is an important concept we must understand and practice. It isn’t always easy to do but it isn’t complicated. It is just difficult to put into practice.

 

Have you ever worried about the way the influence the world may be having on your family? Or you? Does thinking about this make you want to run away to an island somewhere or an isolated mountaintop? The news is bad all the time it seems. We have people all over the world fighting with each other, folks cutting off the heads of people, and Christians being compared to terrorists…geez, it is getting bad. But the answer isn’t running away. Jesus wouldn’t want us to do that.

In His High Priestly prayer, Jesus prays in John 17

But now I come to You; and these things I speak in the world so that they may have My joy made full in themselves. I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth.  As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world.  For their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they themselves also may be sanctified in truth. John 17:13-19 NASB (emphasis mine)

So how does that affect us today? Are we to be in the world but free from the evil one? And if so, how does THAT work.

When we look at the world around us with all the chaos that is happening, the easy thing to do is isolate ones self from it. You know, run away to an island or mountaintop. I’ve thought about it. But I always come back to Jesus’ prayer in John 17. I am to be IN the world, but not OF the world. That is a tough thing to do.

Isolation

bubbleThere is a mindset that looks at the world and the Christian and chooses to isolate. These professing believers are what I call Protestant monks – they think their isolation preserves them for God.

For this group of believers, isolating themselves from the influences of the world includes isolation from the world. They have effectively removed themselves from the world. This affects every facet of life and every stage of life. They may refer to the public school system as Babylon and those who have their children attend as misguided and selfish.

These folks also typically prefer to own a business and play around with the IRS. They may not like to pay taxes since taxes support Babylon and Christians shouldn’t do that. They genuinely believe that they are doing the right thing. They withdraw from every area of life, sit in their holy huddle, and summarily judge anyone who believes differently than themselves.

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“We should not be in love with the world or its priorities. But we should

be so in love with our Savior that we embrace our mission

in this world – to glorify God by preaching the

Gospel – in word and deed.”

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The sad fact is that their isolation only rejects what God has for them and preserves their reputation as being holier-than-thou types who look down their collective nose at anyone not as holy as they are. This should never be.

Distinct from the World – In not Of

distinct

To be IN but not OF is an important concept we must understand and practice. It isn’t always easy to do but it isn’t complicated. It is just difficult to put into practice.

This approach is a bit trickier than the isolation approach. To be in but not of the world recognizes seemingly contradictory positions: we are distinct from the world yet we are in it. Think of it as being distinct from the world but not isolated from it. Christians should be different – perhaps even stand out – in a crowd. But the important thing here is that we should be in the crowd. Lets take a look at Jesus.

With whom did He dine? Sinners and tax collectors.

To whom did He grant forgiveness? Prostitutes, thrives and murderers.

With whom did He die? Convicted felons.

Clearly Jesus was in but not of the world. He definitely was a distinct individual. And it is this approach I think He was praying in John 17.

To be distinct but in the world means we don’t adopt the ways of the world. We should never be confused with a non-believer. But the reason we should be distinct is as important as being distinct.

Our distinctiveness should never be based solely on our words – though we should definitely speak boldly about Christ. No, our distinctiveness must also include our actions. The manner in which we live must reinforce what we say we believe.

We should not be in love with the world or its priorities. But we should be so in love with our Savior that we embrace our mission in this world – to glorify God by preaching the Gospel in word and deed. Are we doing that well? Are we doing that at all?

Current events (in America at least) seems to indicate that we have becomes a bit too cozy with the world. We no longer forcefully speak out about morality in our leaders. Its even worse than that – we openly embrace and defend someone who is about as immoral (perhaps amoral) as possible. But this person says the right things…he blows our dog whistle and we run to him, fawning over him.

He does so much that is right is the new mantra. So many Christians overlook behavior that is definitely not Christlike, behavior that would require a raining down of condemnations if the person was anyone but our guy. This is sad and disappointing.  Perhaps these Christians should reexamine their relationship to the world.

To live in, but not of, the world is difficult – thats the point of Jesus’ prayer. Regardless of the difficulty, may we all reevaluate how we are doing in this area and improve where necessary.