Shake it off
I’ve been talking about this a lot recently so I recognize that some of this will sound redundant, but I refuse to be silent. Besides, repetition is the mother of learning and we, as a nation, don’t seem to be getting it so I’ll just keep saying it. Besides, far too many “Christians” are silent these days.
I want us to consider a question in this post. I want to say at the outset that this is something that I take very seriously and am struggling with right now for various reasons. Here’s the question:
At what point do Christians say enough?
I’m serious. At what point do we say that we’re done with the ultra-pagan society that we have become? This morning there was a conversation at my workplace which I want to use as an illustration that this woke madness and moral degradation is completely overwhelming the United States. In this little town and county where we live, there are plans for a “pride parade.” I guess this is “pride month” or something like that. Anyways, two local churches (both Protestant I believe) asked the city to cancel the parade. It got posted about on Facebook. So, some of my coworkers were talking about this today. These coworkers call themselves “Christians” and are members of local churches and/or parishes (Roman Catholic). They began to criticize said churches for their stance.
I couldn’t take it. I just walked out of the room. I was furious and ashamed of “Christians.” Since when do those who claim to follow Christ defend public displays of sodomy and debauchery?! I’m not talking about their constitutional right to assembly. Sure, they can do that. I’m talking about Christians defending this public display of flaunting unnatural sexual acts!
At what point do Christians say enough?
Consider the warning of the Prophet Isaiah,
“Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!” (Isaiah 5:20)
Woe unto them. Judgment is coming, says the Lord.
Brothers and sisters, we cannot be silent any longer. All sin is evil in the eyes of God. All. And we should confess and repent and turn back to our Lord when we have committed any sin. But for Christians to stand by as this is happening in our society and either say nothing or (God forbid) defend this is unconscionable. Woe to us if we are silent. Woe to us if we call evil good and good evil.
So, when do we say enough? When do we stop going along to get along? Even Jesus says that there comes a time when we have to just leave it. At least that’s what He told His disciples. Look at Matthew 10. Jesus sends out His disciples and tells them to preach the Gospel to the lost sheep of Israel. These were God’s people and Jesus calls them lost sheep. There is a warning here for us I believe. Don’t assume you’re in just because you go to a weekly worship service and pay lip service to Christ as King. The people of Israel assumed as well, and we see how that worked out. They were sent into exile and dispersed all over the world; their land was taken away and God was silent for about 400 years.
So, Jesus sends out the Twelve. And what does He say to them?
Look at verse 14-15,
“And whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear your words, when ye depart out of that house or city, shake off the dust of your feet. Verily I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrha in the day of judgment, than for that city.”
Shake the dust off. What does that mean? It’s basically the same as us saying we have “washed our hands” of something. It was akin to a curse that God’s judgment would come. Jesus said that those people, those cities would have it worse than Sodom and Gomorrha. Lest we forget, God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrha by raining down fire from heaven on them (see Genesis 18-19). That’s pretty bad.
Our society has rejected God. If you don’t believe that, you are simply not paying attention. What do you think God is going to do to us in His judgment if we continue in this way?
Now, here’s a hard question. What do we do in our own lives when we find this in members of our family or our friends? What do we do when they reject God? What do we do when they have embraced the world and don’t follow the commands of Christ? At what point do we say to them, “I’m done. I’ve tried, I’ve prayed, I’ve talked with you, I’ve modeled it for you (make sure you are) but you’re still refusing to turn away from sin and turn to God.” When do we say enough?
I get the arguments against this attitude. We’re supposed to be merciful and loving and kind and show grace and all that. Yes, yes, we are. We’re supposed to love them anyway, you might say. Yes, that is true. But which is more loving, to continue to let them live in their sin or to say, “Repent and turn back to Christ and His Church”? Is it loving of us to find a brother or sister in danger of hell and not call them to repentance?! If you were about to get ran over by a train, wouldn’t you want someone to try to save you? Or would you rather them say, “Oh well, you do you”?
I don’t know all the answers. I don’t know if true Christians should leave America like the moral sinking ship it is. I don’t know if we should turn away from our friends or relatives or family who have turned away from God and embraced the world. What I do know is that Jesus demands all. He calls us to love and fidelity to Him and His Church above all. What else can we do if we say we love Him?
Brothers and sisters, pray for me. I pray for you. Pray for others who are without Christ. Pray for those who call themselves by the name of Jesus who have embraced the world. Pray that Jesus would return soon!
Service and Sacrifice
Why do you serve God? Why do you go to Church on Sunday, maybe even pray a few times each week, before meals and tithe, among other things? Why do you do that?
You may say, “Because I am a Christian.” Okay. And?
You may say, “Because I have faith in Jesus.” Okay. And?
You may say, “Because the Church tells me to.” Or, “That’s how I was raised.”
Or you may say, “Because I want to be a good person.” Okay. And?
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying all those things are wrong. But still the question remains.
Why do you serve God?
I recently heard a reflection on this topic given by Father Irenei, an Archimandrite in the Russian Orthodox Church. He was interacting with a text by St. Cyprian of Carthage. I found the topic to be compelling and Fr. Irenei’s insights to be helpful. And the source of St. Cyprian’s reflection was a story from the Old Testament that has often confused many people. But it brought to mind some things I want to reflect on and offer for your own reflection and taking to God in prayer.
First, go and read Genesis 4:1-17. It is the story of Cain and Abel, their sacrifice to God, Abel’s murder and Cain’s exile. I remember, even during and after seminary, wrestling with this text a bit and not really knowing what to do with it. I mean, the Biblical narrative is rather stark and doesn’t give us much reason for things. It just says that Abel’s sacrifice was accepted, and Cain’s was not. I remember thinking, “Ok but why?”
And Cain is angry. And then we have this exchange between God and Cain,
“And the Lord said to him: Why art thou angry? and why is thy countenance fallen? If thou do well, shalt thou not receive? but if ill, shall not sin forthwith be present at the door? but the lust thereof shall be under thee, and thou shalt have dominion over it.”
God tries to correct Cain’s attitude. He basically says to Cain that he (Cain) has no right to be angry. He is, after all, God. As He reminds us, in Exodus 33:19, while speaking with Moses,
“He answered: I will shew thee all good, and I will proclaim in the name of the Lord before thee: and I will have mercy on whom I will, and I will be merciful to whom it shall please me.”
I will have mercy on whom I will…
And then God says to Cain, “If thou do well, shalt thou not receive?”
Receive what Cain was after all along. What God wanted to give him, Cain did not wish to receive on God’s terms. Cain wasn’t after the blessing of God because he loved God. Cain was after justification of the validity of his offering. It’s like he’s saying, “Why shouldn’t God accept this?” Fr. Irenei is helpful here. He says, “…his brother (Cain) offers in contrivance: he seeks gain.... like Cain, do we offer begrudgingly? Do we offer out of a sense of entitlement that shall come from our gift? Do we offer out of a sense of duty that must be met? Do we present our gifts to the Lord, expecting a response from him? And more than this, a certain, specific response that we desire?”
In other words, do we treat God like a cosmic slot machine? Do we try to put good in in order to get good out? That’s called “karma” and is a Buddhist idea, not a Christian one.
This story is one of sacrifice so you may be tempted to say that has nothing to do with why we serve God. Doesn’t it? Our service to God is indeed our sacrifice to God.
Again, to quote Fr. Irenei, “Because Abel knew how to sacrifice in purity, how to offer in love, freely and without condition, how to present to God what was his, of his own, without expectation, without defense, so it was that Abel was able to offer himself as a sacrifice to God. Worthily did he become a sacrifice in his own person to the Lord, offering his blood, the first example of martyrdom.”
Ah, there we have it. Abel’s sacrifice was accepted because of the heart behind it. Abel’s offering was an offering of love, freely given, without condition, without expectation, without defense because God is worthy of our love and the sacrifice of our lives given freely, without condition, without expectation and without defense. He is worthy because of who He is.
He’s not interested in our half-hearted religious gestures. In fact, He says, in Amos 5:21-23,
“I hate, and have rejected your festivities: and I will not receive the odour of your assemblies. And if you offer me holocausts, and your gifts, I will not receive them: neither will I regard the vows of your fat beasts. Take away from me the tumult of thy songs: and I will not hear the canticles of thy harp.”
But why? Why won’t God receive our religious gestures, even if we do it, like Cain, out of a sense of duty or begrudgingly or with entitlement or expectation? Because He’s not interested in our service just for the sake of service to Him. As the Psalmist reminds us in Psalm 50:18-19,
“For if thou hadst desired sacrifice, I would indeed have given it: with burnt offerings thou wilt not be delighted. A sacrifice to God is an afflicted spirit: a contrite and humbled heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.”
The sacrifice that God wants of our lives in a contrite and humble heart, a heart that gives to Him out of love for Him.
Do we really think it was duty that held Christ on the cross? Do we believe that Christ went to the cross begrudgingly, with entitlement or expectation?
No, He went to the cross out of love. He loved. He loved you. He loved me. He loved the whole of the human race and could not stand the thought of us not being reconciled to the Father. Christ sacrificed out of love, from a pure heart, freely given, without condition, without expectation, without defense; a new and better Abel. Just as the blood of Abel cried out to God for vengeance, so the blood of Christ cries out to God for mercy.
Mercy in a never-ending flow of blood from the pierced hands and feet and side of our Saviour who hung on the tree of salvation for you and me. Let us throw our lives at the foot of the cross of the Saviour as a sacrifice given out of love for the life and death of our Lord Jesus Christ, who is blessed forever and ever! Amen!