Saturday, May 27, 2023

Spiritual Warfare: Romans 1 & 2

After pursuing the parables, I would like to tackle spiritual warfare.  I researched this topic intensively six years ago, and I believe it is time to talk about it again.

We are in a time where the spiritual battle is intensifying.  I don't think anyone who is a follower of Jesus would disagree with me; we are seeing a nation careening in its inability to hold onto Biblical morality and is in grave danger of derailing altogether. 

Every generation has faced trying times, to be sure.  But as Christianity is being increasingly marginalized in the public arena, a kind of insanity is taking over.  I could blog on and on about the why's of this; I rather spend my time discussing the spiritual ramifications of disregarding God and His ways, and how we as a country are losing our way.  Many people like to invoke Romans 1:26-27 as proof-texts, and how the practice of homosexuality is the cause of a nation's decline. 

Not so fast.  Romans 1 & 2 chronicle two worlds:  pagan and Jewish. Paul is looking at those who do not know God and those who do and he finds sin in both camps. Romans 1 & 2 are a description of how both camps have failed and how Christ is the only solution.  

Romans 1 & 2 describe how sin comes to permeate a group of people, creating spiritual blindness. Paul speaks from personal experience--he was utterly spiritually blind, thinking that God was honoring his persecution of early Christian church--and when he was knocked off his donkey, he heard, "'Saul, Saul, why do you persecute Me?'” (Acts 9:4)  He was blind until he was filled with the Holy Spirit, (Acts 9:17-18) and with a fresh vision (Christ-centered, not Paul-centered) and God's power, he would turn the both the pagan and Jewish world upside down.  

Hence, in Romans 1 & 2, he is diagnosing the spiritual condition of both camps, and wants each camp to recognize that while the causes of their spiritual condition are different, the net result is the same:  Both need the cleansing work of Jesus. 

So, our first stop of what a spiritual battleground looks like, will be Romans 1 & 2--the whole chapters,  not just a few verses loaded like a cannon, so we can send a Biblical cannon ball over the ramparts of the non-believers' castle.  

Spiritual warfare is not Satan running around tempting everyone to be evil; it's way more subtle than that.  It is the process of deception--that wrong is right and that we should determine how to live by our own faculties.  Sound familiar? This was exactly the way Satan ensnared Adam and Eve: “You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Genesis 3:4-5)

So, with us in charge in our fallen flesh, Romans 1 & 2 are the results of our deceived thinking.  These chapters paint a picture of what a culture steeped in its own definition of good and evil looks like.  These chapters also chronicle how a culture can fall deeper and deeper into sin, all the while celebrating its "enlightened thinking" over the "narrow" precepts of God's Word.

In other words, Satan told us we could be like God: rich with knowledge and pursuing our own seemingly liberated way of life, in control and filled with power. (Satan is also assassinating God's character here, by implying God's power is something we could  handle.  Why shouldn't finite creatures possess infinite power and wisdom?  It would be like putting an F14 engine into the Wright brother's wee biplane; if something like that could even happen, the net result could only be destruction.)

Humans possess power to be sure, but it's a counterfeit power, and without God's standards measuring our behavior to His Word, we are deceived and consequently seek to deceive others. The result? "There is a way that appears to be right, but in the end it leads to death." (Proverbs 14:12)

OK, stage set.  Paul, like an Old Testament prophet, proclaims God's Word as the only antidote to the plague of sin and death that is upon the people: 

"I am obligated both to Greeks and non-Greeks, both to the wise and the foolish. That is why I am so eager to preach the gospel also to you who are in Rome.

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: 'The righteous will live by faith.' (Romans 1:14-17) 

There's the standard for how we should live.  But, wait, there's more:

"The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse." (Romans 1:18-20)

The first step in moral decline is the suppression of the truth.  Not any truth, not yours, not mine, but God's.  Pure and simple.  Instead of eating from the Tree of Life, we take the apple from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, and go our merry way--into our own deceived thinking about what is right and wrong, all the while not only denying God's truth but suppressing it.  How do we suppress it? By not role-modeling it with our behavior and not teaching it with our words. By not living it. 

How does this suppression happen? 

"For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles." (Rom. 1:21-23)

Step Two: We either don't acknowledge God, or if we do, we lack gratitude for His provision and kindness. Result? We are useless in how we approach life, for our thoughts circle around ourselves, our ways, our provision, and we studiously ignore the One who made all of this even possible. Our hearts are filled with darkness, for we have forsaken His Word: "Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path" (Psalm 119:105).  

We lose our way.  Jesus commented, "For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. The eye is the lamp of the body.  If your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light.  But if your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness.  If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!" (Matt. 6:21-23). 

The result? We make idols. We replace God with our interpretation of godliness, holiness, and His Word.  The pagans chose animals; we choose money, sex, power, control, education, politics--you name it.  If we love something, we tend to worship it, and if we worship it, it's an idol.  Because we are deceived, we actually think these replacements will give our lives purpose and meaning, and make us happy.  Isn't happiness the end goal of our lives?  That, right there, is one of the most pernicious fruits of our deception and leads to all kinds of miseries.  

So, in summary, a suppression of the truth leads to idols.

That, right now, is where we are at in America. We are all guilty of this, and none of us can boast of our moral superiority. But Paul cries out: "What a wretched man I am!  Who will rescue me from this body of death?  Thanks be to God, through Jesus Christ our Lord!" 

We are serving the flesh here in America, and there is only one way out:  Jesus Christ. 

Sunday, May 14, 2023

From the Banquet to the Battle: Luke 14:25-33

Jesus had just finished His parable of the great banquet (explored in my previous post) and ends with these words: “Then the master told his servant, ‘Go out to the roads and country lanes and compel them to come in, so that my house will be full. I tell you, not one of those who were invited will get a taste of my banquet.’” (Luke 14:23-24)

Makes sense, doesn't it?  If those guests who are at the top of the guest list choose not to attend the king's gracious invitation to join him, he will call others to come and in and dine.  

Jesus keeps going after He finishes this parable and introduces another.  He is driving home the point that every banquet ends, the morning comes and it's a new day.  The world's cry is heard right outside the banqueting hall, and the guests who have basked in the glow of this generous King will be expected to go out and be generous with those around them.

In other words, the guest now becomes a disciple: a dedicated follower of the King.  So here is the next parable: “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.’"

OK, Jesus.  That is true.  There is nothing more pathetic than unfinished building project.  It stands as a mute testimony to folly: the person ran out of money and didn't plan the project well.  Was the tower too big for his budget?  Could he have scaled back its size to fit his budget or did his ego say that he could build anything?  That no cost was too great for his ambition?  Then, half way though, with the money  and the workers gone, the man has to face reality:  The building now is a monument to his mismanagement.  Earlier on, if he had sat down and meticulously planned out the cost of the building materials and labor versus his resources, he would have known the size of his project.  Then the tower would have been a testimony to his humility and his planning.  Makes sense. 

Jesus uses another example: “Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Won’t he first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace." 

OK, Jesus, now this goes from the personal (building a tower) to a much bigger enterprise:  waging war.  It is the prerogative of kings to wage war, but throwing away lives on a foolish campaign is reprehensible.  The king has to look beyond his own ambition and consider the lives of his soldiers.  He knows straight up that the opposing side is twice as big.  He has that intel already.  He has to consider how seasoned (or not) his soldiers are and if this is a God-ordained war.  In the Old Testament, many a time the Israelites were out-numbered and face superior armies, but if the Commander of the Lord's army (Joshua 5:13-15) was involved, number and size didn't matter, right?  But he realizes, for whatever reason, this is a conflict best settled by negotiation, not by arms.  So, his delegation is a testimony to his humility and his planning. Makes sense. 

Then Jesus delivers the central answer to these parables: "In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples."

Wait a minute, Jesus?  You have taken us from guests to builders of towers and kings who wage war. Huh?  A guest at a banquet is way more appealing, but being a builder?  Does that mean we have to use our time, our energy, and our resources to build something new?  It will be something everyone will see, and it will be a testimony to our humility and our planning, because we are about the King's business.  It will take work, and it won't be a solo project--we have to gather other guests, and work together for a common cause.  Some people may still ridicule it, but it will stand.

War, really Jesus?  Gathering troops and marching out?  OK, yes, we are surrounded by those disgusting Romans all the time.  Their form of warfare is rape, pillage and plunder.  Yet, You seem to be calling us out to face the enemy, not delighting in his destruction, but offering peace.  The enemy is greater than us numerically, but our King wants peace first.  The delegation He sends wants to talk, settle differences and show that the kingdom of God is not built on conquest and destruction, but on  humility and respect. 

That is discipleship, then Jesus?  It's building a kingdom where nothing was standing, and confronting our enemies with peace and reconciliation. Hmmm. I need to go and think about this--I have to give up my building projects (that which satisfies me) and reconsider wanting to lash out at my enemies.  I have to consider a new way of approaching life.  Wow.  Lots to think about.

Exactly. I heard a man many years ago say that one of the reasons so many fall away from Jesus is evangelists and preachers only share the benefits of conversion (eternal life with Jesus, avoidance of hell, peace and healing) without any of the costs (ridicule, having to turn away from sin and a willingness to lose your life in order to gain it).  That has always stuck with me.  

Following Jesus has never been easy, especially when the world starts to clamp down and marginalize the Kingdom of God.  In Jesus' day, the world told His followers they must either choose to worship the Emperor, and deny Christ, or face the arena.   

Later it would be either following a corrupted institutionalized church, or face the stake. 

Later it would be following an evil leader and government, or face imprisonment, torture and death. 

Later, it would be following an increasingly secularized society, or face ridicule, censure and lawsuits.

The banquet hall has two doors, one in which to enter and fellowship with the King and another to go out into the world, bearing His word, peace and kindness--a delegation of disciples wanting to offer the Prince of Peace to those who are seeking war. 

The cost of following Him must be considered before we leap into calling ourselves disciples of His.  But if and once we do, we need to follow whole-heartedly, for the times, they are a-changin'. 

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