Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Just Between the Two of You

Despite the constant refrain in modern day Christianity that the primary focus of the faith is, “your personal relationship with God,” the vast majority of scripture is focused not on each singular individual’s private relationship with God, but believers together as communities in relationship
with God. This is partially obscured by the English language making no clear distinction between the singular and plural “you”, making it easy to read many bible verses as speaking to the reader as an individual rather than plurally to “you” as a group, the local church, the community of faith who would have been reading these documents out loud and together. Mostly, however, it’s because we just aren’t actually reading the bible all that much and so we never have any reason to question such slogans.

However, this does not mean that personal piety is ignored altogether in scripture. There are, in fact, passages very much focused on individual worship and the believer's personal relationship with God. Among my favorite of these is Mathew chapter 6. Much could (and should) be said from this wonderful chapter, but today I really wanted to focus on three very practical things that Jesus Himself told His disciples in this chapter that they should be doing privately and individually, purely between themselves and God, and how they should be doing them. Even a quick reading of the text makes these things plainly clear: The giving of alms, Private prayer, and Individual fasting.

The giving of alms is the first example Jesus gives of the “righteousness” that you should not practice before the eyes of men, but rather secretly and purely between you and God. This does not include all giving, but is rather a specific act of person piety. There is giving that the church does together, (Acts 11:27-30, 1 Cor, 16:2). There is giving done within the family (like on birthdays and Christmas morning.) There is charitable giving that one does and declares to the IRS to get a tax break (you have your reward for this in the refund). Here, Jesus is talking about giving as an individual act of worship to God. One gives to God, who doesn’t need anything, by giving to the poor and defenseless, who do. This is dropping that dollar in the bell ringers bucket, buying that panhandler lunch, dropping off food and clothing at the local shelter without giving them your name, leaving that Wal-Mart gift card in a blank envelope taped to the door of your neighbor who lost his job, and doing all these things in a manner in which no one else ever knows that you did them, and you get no credit with any other human being. You know God saw it, and you did it only for His eyes, because you know God loves your poor neighbor and this gift is pleasing to Him. This is private worship. Between you and God, doing what is pleasing to Him when you get no credit, no praise, no benefit whatsoever. Every Christian desiring their own personal relationship with God ought to approach this relationship the way He Himself instructs, and this selfless and hidden giving is the first thing on the list.

The second is prayer. Again, churches and families and Christian friends and coworkers ought to pray together for one another and with one another. This is good, and necessary, and pleasing in God’s sight. However, God is also pleased in His children praying privately. Do you pray when no one else is around? Do you pray when no one else will ever know about it? Do you go out of your way to pray only to God, outside of the eyes of men where someone else might think you more spiritual and think better of you? Do you struggle with praying alone? Do you smuggle in an “accountability partner” to ask you regularly “how your prayer life is” so that someone gets to find out you have been praying and give you credit for it? This can be a difficult thing. Our flesh rebels against this. It takes a certain amount of faith to go regularly to an empty room and talk only to God, trusting that He hears you and is pleased, and never letting anyone else in the world know you have done it. Is it enough for God to know? Is it enough for God to delight in it? This is what makes it worship.

Finally, Jesus speaks of fasting. Again, there are important times where a church may call on its people to fast together. This is good. There are times of grieving where family and friends may fast together in tears and public expressions of sorrow. This is right, and healthy, and something we
as a culture could stand to get back to. But Jesus is here talking about devotional fasting, fasting as a personal act of worship to God. Fasting in this way can be a way of expressing that God is more precious and important that the pleasures and even the needs of this daily life. It can be a discipline that spiritually refines us and helps us to focus on Him. It is an act of faith, because giving up the pleasure and sustenance of food would be ridiculous if God were not really there. Here again, Jesus warns that such personal fasting in our devotional life ought to be utterly private. We ought to go out of our way to appear to everyone around us as normal as ever, so that they would not suspect we are fasting and perhaps think the better of us for it. It is not to look spiritual before men, it is simply to honor God and God alone.  These things are put forward as individual acts of worship. We often call them “spiritual disciplines” and indeed it takes much self control (a fruit of the Spirit, one might recall) to do these and do them right. But they are not merely disciplines. They are more than just ways of resisting the flesh. They are that, of course, but they are more. They are expressions of faith that God is there, of hope in His reward, of love for Him above all else. They are worship. Worship doesn’t always feel good. Worship can be hard. Worship is not about us. But when we can begin to serve God privately in faith, to “practice our righteousness” before His eyes alone, to desire to please Him and care nothing of our own name and our own credit, then we will find ourselves engaging in what is truly and daily a personal relationship with God.

Luke Wayne is a bi-vocational Baptist missionary in Utah and the chief editor for Perilous Trails. He holds an MDiv from Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and an MA in Theological Studies from Midwestern Baptist College. He has served as a church planter in Olathe, KS and a Homeless Shelter Manager in Kansas City, MO. He is also a husband, father, fisher, hiker, security officer, and raiser of livestock.
raiser of livestock.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

How We Should Build Up The House of God

The following is a work written by 16th century baptistic missionary and theologian Peter Riedemann, later translated into English and attached as an appendix to his first writing, an explanation and defense of his faith that he wrote from prison, together published under the title of “Love is Like Fire: The Confession of an Anabaptist Prisoner.” The entire publication is a fascinating read and is highly recommended. It can be downloaded as a free PDF ebook Here

Christ says that no one who wants to build a house does not first sit down and consider the cost -to see whether or not he has enough to finish building. If he finds he has not enough, he does not build, for he does not want to lay the foundation and then have to stop, and be laughed to scorn, with everyone saying, "He began to build a house but cannot finish it." It is the same with us: if we begin building for eternal life, we must first count the cost. Will we find ourselves able to bear all that meets us and is laid upon us for the sake of God and Christ? Can we endure and suffer persecution and contempt to gain him? Can we strangle the flesh with all its lusts, leave the world with all its pleasures and splendor, and withstand the Devil and all his wickedness to guard the precious treasure, Christ? Now, if we find we are able, we can begin to build joyfully on the foundation of all the apostles, whose corner stone is Christ. Paul says, "No other foundation can a man lay than the one that is laid, which is Christ." Like a wise master builder I have laid a foundation through God's grace, and now another may build upon it. But each should take care how he build on it, for he will receive his wages according to his work -whether good or bad. That is why Peter says, "You have come to the living stone, rejected by the builders -that is, by the scribes -but in God's sight chosen and precious. Let yourselves also be built as living stones into a living temple of God that he may live and do his work in you." But if one wants to build a fine house, one must hew the stone, and we likewise must circumcise and purify our hearts from all sin and unrighteousness as Peter teaches: "Put away all malice and cunning, slander and hypocrisy, and desire pure spiritual milk (that is, the living Word of God) like a newborn babe, so that in it you may grow." In this way you can adorn the house with precious stones, so that it is inviting, clean, and well-pleasing for the Father to live in. But such hewing of the stone can take place only through much tribulation and persecution for the Word's sake, as it is written: "Whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin." But today everyone says, "Oh, there is still time. I must first get my house in order, see to my business and my family and support my friends." Of such people the Lord says through the prophets, "This nation says the time has not yet come to rebuild the house of the Lord." But he answers them: "Is this the time for you to sit in your paneled houses, while my house lies in ruins?" Yes, it is truly so over the whole world that men live willfully and seek only how to fill their coffers in order to beautify their houses and properties more extravagantly for their enjoyment and pleasure. They have no thoughts whatsoever for the poor man, nor do they worry how they might show him love. They would sooner leave him to be eaten by maggots under a fence than go to help him. Therefore the Lord says, "They eat much but are not satisfied;" that is, they are not satisfied with the truth which they often hear, because they do not expect to live truth in actual deed. They are forever learning, but cannot reach true knowledge because their hearts are darkened. They drink much, yet never become drunk with the sweet wine of the knowledge and wisdom of God, that is, with the Holy Spirit, whom they are unable to receive on account of their disbelief and malice. They clothe themselves, yet have no warmth; that is, they boast about truth and faith, but their faith is weak and dead in God's sight since it does not give itself to be fruitful in love. When one of them receives wages, he keeps them in a bag with holes -that is, though he receives from God the gift of the knowledge of Christ, he does not perceive it but thinks little of it. Just as one who keeps his money in a bag with holes loses it and finds nothing when he is in need, likewise the man who receives a gift from God and does not perceive it and increase it -who thinks little of it and hides it because he is afraid of the world -will find that the Lord will take it away. He will give it instead to one who is faithful and spares no effort, but works hard to build the house of the Lord with the gift given him.
That is why the Lord, who desires his house built, commands him, "Climb the mountain and get wood for my house, so I may dwell there and be gracious to you and serve you honorably -otherwise, though you expect much, you shall receive little; even if you take it home I shall blow it away, because my house lies waste." This mountain is Christ, as scripture testifies: "I saw a stone cut out from the mountain by no human hand, and the stone became a great mountain and filled the whole earth and was set upon Mount Zion, raised above all mountains and hills." We must climb this mountain through faith and firm trust in Christ, and take with us the wood, that is, receive from him the gift of the Holy Spirit which he has promised all who love him. He said, "When I go I shall send you the Comforter, the Holy Spirit, who will teach you the whole truth; for he will take it from mine and proclaim it to you." When Christ says that the Spirit will take the truth from what is his and declare it to us, he testifies that in him there is the whole fullness of divine nature, from which, as John says, we all receive grace upon grace. Through such wood, namely the grace of the Holy Spirit, the house of the Lord is built in which he lives and wants to be gracious to us. This house is the church of God. Paul tells us, "You are the temple of the living God, and whoever desecrates it he will shame, for his temple is holy, and you are that temple." As God says, "I will live in them and move among them and be their God, and they shall be my people." Therefore he says, "Come out from among the unbelievers and be separate from them, and touch nothing unclean; then I will accept you and be your father, and you shall be my sons and daughters."
David also tells us about this house, "One thing I have asked of the Lord will I seek -that I may dwell in his house all the days of my life." And again he says, "I will speak of your name to my brethren and sing praise to you in the congregation." This house, the church, is not built by men but by God, and Christ has become its guardian and head. God, who is the builder of this house and who knows all things, knew beforehand the rushing violence of the strong winds and the great floods that will beat against it, and so that it may withstand them, he has fortified it upon the firm foundation of Christ, against which all the powers of hell can do nothing. He has also surrounded it with unshakable pillars, so that it may be protected and not fall when the winds and floods of tribulation beat against it.
The first pillar of this house is the pure fear of God, for as it is written, "The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom." Against this pillar beat the mighty wind and damaging water of the fear of men, showing us how Christians are treated. The king and his lords will not tolerate you: they will drive you from house and home, wife and children, take everything that is yours, and rob you of your life as well. Men say, "Oh, you will never hold out against such things; leave well enough alone and be content." We must withstand this, however, in the fear of God, and must fear God more than men, as Christ teaches us saying, "Have no fear of those who kill the body but cannot do anything more; rather fear him who, after he has killed, has power to cast body and soul to destruction." Moreover, Esdras says, "They will drive you from house and home and rob you of your goods. That shall be the time of testing for the faithful." Do not let this make you afraid; for there is no one, Christ says, "who has left house, home, meadow, field, wife, child, father, mother, sister, or brother for my name's sake and for the Gospel's, who will not receive it again many times over in this world and in the world to come, life everlasting."

The second pillar of this house is the wisdom of God, for he who fears God will know wisdom. Against this pillar beat the mighty wind and destructive water of the wisdom of men, saying, "It is a foolish thing to voluntarily go into danger." To them the teaching of the Cross is foolishness. They say, "How can it be right when no one follows it except simple folk who are led astray?" But even though a wise man or a scribe or rich person thinks in this way, we must oppose him with the wisdom of God, which is Christ, who was despised by all men. Wisdom must be vindicated by all its children. Paul says, "The wisdom of God is foolishness to the world, for it cannot be recognized by worldly wisdom." The foolishness of God, however, is wiser than the world with all its knowledge, so we must use it to strive against the world; its wisdom is foolishness in God's eyes. For this reason not many of the wise of this world are called, as is written: "Where are the wise men? Where are the scribes? Where are the debaters? Has not God put to shame the wisdom of this world?" And again, "The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are foolishness." And also, "The Lord traps the wise in their own cleverness." Therefore Christ says, "I thank thee, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hidden these things from the wise and the scribes and revealed them to babes; yes, Father, for such was thy gracious will."

The third pillar of this house is God's understanding. Against this pillar beats the mighty wind of human understanding, which wants to consider and recognize everything in its arrogance and says, "This is an intelligent man. You will not easily find his equal -he is so well versed in the Scripture and is such a good commentator that he must also understand it rightly." But we must oppose him with God's understanding and not listen to him who follows his own wishes and does not follow Christ. For God says, "I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the cleverness of the clever I will thwart." Because all men's understanding is empty and useless, we should consider only that which comes down from above from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or change due to darkness. Christ says, "You must be taught by God. Everyone who has heard and learned from my Father comes to me." As Paul says, we must never make man a cause for pride, but await all knowledge from God; that is, the understanding that comes from God himself. For if the Spirit of God himself gives understanding, and Scripture is explained by Scripture, nothing will be mistaken or misunderstood.

The fourth pillar of this house is the counsel of God. Against this pillar beats the mighty wind of the counsel of men, who come and say: "You are a fine a person; you can yet come to something -become a well-regarded man or woman, raise children, and at the same time serve God. Don't you see, you are guilty of harming yourself; it is just as if you were strangling yourself. Don't do it! Can't you see that we want to be saved too? And if this doesn't happen right away, after all, God is merciful. Besides, Christ has done enough for our sins. What need do we have of all that? If only one believes, everything is already put right. Keep your ideas to yourself -why should you tell everyone what you believe?"
We must withstand all this human counsel with the counsel of Christ, who asks, "What will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and suffers harm to his own soul, or what will he give to redeem his soul?" He also says, "You will be despised by all men," and "He who seeks his own life will lose it, but he who loses his life for my sake will find it." Further, "No one comes to the Father but by me." "You share in Christ, provided you hold firmly to your beginning in his nature." And, "I am God, who visits the iniquities of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, and shows mercy to thousands who love my name." And, "We have become heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him." And, "Man believes with his heart, and so becomes upright; he confesses with his lips and so is saved."

The fifth pillar of this house is the might of God. Against this pillar beats the powerful wind of man's might and power, which speaks thus: "Look, how are you going to carry this out? The whole world is against you. Do you really think you can fight against the whole world? See how kings, lords, and all the powerful persecute you in order to kill you." We must withstand such words with the might and power of God, for Christ says, "My Father is stronger than all the world," and no one is able to snatch anyone out of his hand. He also says, "Be of good cheer; I have overcome the world." And again, "He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world." As it is written, "Even the hairs of your head are numbered, and not one will fall from you without your Father knowing it, so do not be afraid." David says, "It is better to put confidence in God than in princes; it is better to trust God than to rely on man." So do not put your trust in princes or in the children of men, for they cannot help you. Again, "God smites all our enemies upon the cheek and breaks the teeth of the wicked." If God be for us, who can be against us? No one, for with the Lord there is salvation.

The sixth pillar of this house is the knowledge of God. Against this pillar beats the mighty wind of human knowledge, which claims to know much and to be capable of many things; yet, as Paul says, "If anyone imagines he knows much, he does not yet know as he ought to know." Knowledge puffs up, but love edifies. They come and say, "Do you really think cobblers and tailors know more than those who have studied the arts all their lives and are learned and well practiced in them?" Paul answers this when he says, "Claiming to be wise, they became fools." For the word and knowledge of God is not learned in schools of higher education, but as Christ says, "The man who hears and learns from my Father comes to me." We must, therefore, reject all human knowing so that we may attain true knowledge. Such may be learned only in the school of the Father's discipline, which we must enter as David did. As God says through the prophets, "To whom will I teach my wisdom but to those weaned from milk?" With this knowledge we must strive against everything that is in the world, so that we may await the Bridegroom, Christ, and be ready when he comes. We must put aside all this world's wisdom in order to gain the true knowledge of God. As Paul says, "If anyone among you desires to be wise, let him become first a fool, that he may become truly wise."

    The seventh pillar of this house is the grace or friendship of God. If a man overcomes everything in this, he will be called a friend of God. Against this pillar beat the mighty wind and destructive water of the friendship and favor of the world, love of possessions, arrogant living, and the like. A man who strives for these and other trappings of wealth is loved by the world -as Christ says, "The world loves her own" -but we must withstand such friendship with the grace and love of God and beware of it. For it is written, "Whoever wants to be a friend of God must be an enemy of the world, for friendship with the world is enmity to God." Again, friendship with God is enmity to the world. And so Christ says, "If you were of the world, the world would love you, but because you are not of the world, the world hates you." He says, "It will come to pass that whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God." We must be hated by all men for his name's sake in order to overcome all things through the grace and love of God; for if we love him with our hearts, everything that is laid upon us for his name's sake will become light for us to bear. Therefore he says, "Blessed are you when you are persecuted, for your release will come." He who endures in all this will find that his work will stand and not be consumed, even if tested by fire. Christ will come and hold his Supper with him and grant him to sit with him on his throne, as he himself has conquered and sat with his Father on his throne. May the power of God help us thus to overcome! Amen.
You children of Lot, go out from Sodom, that you may not receive her plagues.

Friday, September 25, 2015

While We Are in This Tent

I love camping. And I don’t mean in cabins or RV trailers or campsites with full facilities. That’s all fine if that’s your thing, but what I mean is bare bones tent camping in the middle of nowhere with nothing but what you can carry with you. There is just something about getting down to the very basics, facing the brunt of the elements, going to difficult and alien places far outside my normal comfort zone, and then coming home to tell about it. But I have to admit, that last part is key. Coming home. While with the rising costs of rent and utilities, I often joke with my wife about just moving to a campsite full time, the truth is that even I don’t want camping to be my permanent living arrangement. Tents are fantastic temporary shelters and are great, even necessary, if you’re on the move. When it comes time to build a permanent residence, however, and settle in one place long term to really live, we tend to want something a bit more secure. Temporary residents have different priorities than permanent settlers. This basic reality is a crucial picture of the Christian life.

The apostle Paul wrote to the church at Corinth:

“For we know that if the earthly tent which is our house is torn down, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.
For indeed in this house we groan, longing to be clothed with our dwelling from heaven, inasmuch as we, having put it on, will not be found naked. For indeed while we are in this tent, we groan, being burdened, because we do not want to be unclothed but to be clothed, so that what is mortal will be swallowed up by life. Now He who prepared us for this very purpose is God, who gave to us the Spirit as a pledge.” (2 Corinthians 5:1-5)

This life is like life in a tent. Tents are fragile. They lack sufficient insulation. They provide no protection at all against an attacker or large animal, and stand no chance against a truly strong wind or torrential deluge. They do well enough to provide shade, block the breeze, limit insects, and shelter from most rains, but when push comes to shove we know the tent can’t really protect us. It’s not meant to. It’s meant to get us by for a time and pack up easily when we move on.

A poor man clad in rags doesn’t despise his rags because they cover his naked body, he despises them because they don’t cover it enough. Likewise, the traveler doesn’t look forward to home because his tent keeps him from sleeping outside, unguarded, in the open air. He looks forward to his home because his house keeps him far more guarded than his tent! In this life, we are traveling in a tent, our mortal and sin cursed bodies. It is right, indeed it is a glorious good, for us to realize this and to long for our final home in the future bodily resurrection, in heavenly bodies that will never grow sick and die. We don’t long for death, but for more life! We want additional layers of life! Life more secure and unshakable. As our Lord put it, life more abundant!

Paul wrote the church at Philippi:

They are focused on earthly things, but our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. He will transform the body of our humble condition into the likeness of His glorious body, by the power that enables Him to subject everything to Himself.” (Philippians 3:19b-21)

We are longing for home, and we should be! Right now we are a camp of traveler’s eeking out a life in tents as we journey the often beautiful but harsh and demanding terrain that is this mortal life. But when we arrive home? When our Lord returns and sets this world right and calls us out of our graves? Oh glorious day!

Now, we should not picture this as being a mere huddled mass of refugees. We may be dwelling in tents as strangers in a foreign land, but we are citizens of heaven! Friends and beloved servants of the king! Adopted sons and daughters of almighty God! We are more like the children of Israel after the exodus. Christ has delivered us from the slavery of our sin in the great Passover at Calvary and the in the parting and breaking open of the sea of death itself in His victorious resurrection! But we have not yet arrived at the Promised Land. God is with us, and his promise is sure, but for now we often find ourselves hungry and thirsty and tired and oppressed by enemies in the wilderness. We wander on foot and sleep in tents, but through this difficult journey home we learn to rely on our deliverer, and to walk in eager anticipation of our arrival while enduring whatever may come in the meantime knowing that He will be faithful to His word and bring us home! As we read in the letter to the Hebrews:

Let us then go to Him outside the camp, bearing His disgrace. For we do not have an enduring city here; instead, we seek the one to come.” (Hebrews 13:13-14)

We must, therefore, live as those outside the camp. We mustn’t try to live comfortably like residents and settlers when we are only travelers in tents. As Peter also warned:

Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul.” (1 Peter 2:11)

We are traveling in enemy territory, and need to remain ever on our guard! We need, also, to draw close to one another as believers. We have been made one people, one nation, one family, one new humanity, indeed one body! We must depend on each other, help each other, and bear one another’s burdens as we travel this road. As Peter elsewhere wrote:

 Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God;  for ‘All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord remains forever.’ And this word is the good news that was preached to you.” 1 Peter 1:22-25

Brothers and sisters, let this biblical truth be a guiding principle in your life. A people traveling through a hostile, foreign land on their way home live very differently than people who are quite at home where they are. We do not live for comfort, or safety, or pleasure here in this mortal life. We lay those things aside and focus on the hard realities of the long hike, and know that our joy is in resurrection life to come, when our bodies will die no more, in security and safety of the consummation of the kingdom of God. Like those who set aside worldly things and often even suffered violently for Christ before us, we count it a joy. We’re going home!

“These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.” Hebrews 11:13

Luke Wayne is a bi-vocational Baptist missionary in Utah and the chief editor for Perilous Trails. He holds an MDiv from Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and an MA in Theological Studies from Midwestern Baptist College. He has served as a church planter in Olathe, KS and a Homeless Shelter Manager in Kansas City, MO. He is also a husband, father, fisher, hiker, security officer, and raiser of livestock.