Blog Archives

We Need an Enemy…We Usually Choose the Wrong One

How else do you explain history? Even going back as far as Adam and Eve, they had an enemy in the serpent and chose to make God their enemy. Further, when confronted in their sin, Adam immediately turns on his wife and makes her his enemy rather than seeking to intercede and protect her. Look at how much of human history revolves around times of warfare. And when a common enemy is not found on the outside of a culture, how often those cultures descend into internal fighting and warfare. Even families do much the same. How often, after the death of a parent, siblings fall into internal fighting over who gets what. 

Unless you have been living in a cave of late, we are once again facing the question of racism and hatred in our nation. According to Wikipedia, racism can be defined thusly: 

“Racism is the belief that groups of humans possess different behavioral traits corresponding to physical appearance and can be divided based on the superiority of one race over another.”

This plays itself out in many ways, and has over the years. It is the culprit behind the horrors that took place in Mississippi in 1964, it is the monstrosity that drove the Holocaust in Germany and founded the eugenics experiments in Appalachia in the earlier part of the 20th century — even the term “eugenics” breathes out the notion of racism, for if some genetic traits are good and desirable, that means that other traits are not and a hierarchy is formed. Regardless of your opinion of the validity of evolution, when such views are applied to humans, the end result is and must generally be a kind of racism, for if one group is further advanced on the evolutionary chain, that means other groups are not.

In God’s providence, I spent my seminary years in Mississippi. One one hand, I spent several nights a week, working with homeless men who stayed at Gateway Rescue Mission, downtown. On the other hand, I spent many of my Sunday mornings, preaching to rural Presbyterian congregations. In that context, I can say with integrity that I have preached to both Black Panthers and to Klansmen. Both were racist but both had the same need — the Gospel of Jesus Christ. During that time, I became close friends with an area pastor of a small black Missionary Baptist Church. He gave me the privilege of his pulpit one Sunday morning in the hopes of breaking stereotypes in his own congregation and it proved a very healthy experience for me as well (though it was overwhelming for my 2 year old son at the time). What struck me about my season in the deep south is that there were definitely pockets of racism present, but there were more people working hard to get beyond the racism that they grew up with as youth and who were trying to move on in the more integrated world in which they lived.

The principle, though, we see in other areas as well. As a pastor, I see much the same thing between churches and between denominations. Yes, there are some groups that pose as churches, but who are not, but even within the realm of what would be considered “orthodox” Christianity, this plays out all over. Funny, how much more work that the church could get done in our country if we were more willing to be co-belligerents with one another on critical issues — abortion being high on that list.

We see this also in people’s loyalties to their country. I am a child of the cold war. That means, growing up it was always the Soviets and the “Ruskies” that were the bad guys. As I write this today, I have spent 15 years traveling and teaching in a seminary in Ukraine and in that context, one of my closest friends grew up in Siberia. Go figure. We have both had fascinating (and sad) conversations about the propaganda that each of our governments fed us about the other. The fact that some of you were shocked when I said my friend grew up in Siberia (and considered it a beautiful place!), then that illustrates the fact that propaganda works both ways. Our history books were (and still are) full of it.

What am I saying? I am saying that we look for others to be our enemies. The sad thing (and the thing that leads to racism) is that we look in all the wrong places. Folks, let me say with clarity that from a Biblical perspective, there is one race. But let us not even constrain ourselves to the Bible. Scientifically, there is one race. The very fact that we can intermarry and have beautiful children whose DNA is a mixture of African, European, and Asian blood is a testimony to this truth. Given that we often pass along our best genetic traits to our children, maybe the truly “Aryan race” is that group of people who have a little bit of every ethnic group coursing through their veins. 

Don’t get me wrong, that does not mean that racism doesn’t exist. Anytime you look down on someone because of their ethnicity, you are guilty of racism…and that is wrong and it is sinful. It is also mislabeled. We are one race (and we better be about the work of learning to live together and grow together). We are just so desperate for an enemy, it seems to me that we look at the easiest direction.

Who or what ought to be our enemy, then? Sin should be our enemy. The Devil is our enemy. Injustice is an enemy we should hate because God hates it. Pride, a lying tongue, hands that murder the innocent (think how the riots are working out!), wicked plants of the heart, those who pursue evil ways, those who bear false witness, and those who sow discord amongst brothers. Those our our enemies, folks, not those who look different than we do or speak differently or whose cultural expressions do not match our own. 

The Wall Goes Up!

“My eye has been made to see my wall being raised up;

Before me is the one who does evil;

My ear hears.”

(Psalm 92:12 [verse 11 in English])

 

A short survey of English Bible translations will give a vast variety of interpretations of this verse, thus it ought not be surprising that the one I offer above is again rather distinct from some of the others. In fact, about the only thing that each translation can be said to have in common is that it speaks of the eye seeing and the ear hearing something, though that something is debated by translators.

The text literally speaks of seeing “my wall” being raised up. The Hebrew word used there is r…wv (shur), which typically refers to a small wall that might be placed around a well or a fence that might be laid between two people’s property. In context, it seems that God is giving the psalmist the confidence to say that though the enemy is on my borders, I shall not fear because even now I see God erecting a wall to protect me and to protect this covenantal land that God has entrusted to my family.

If we translate the verse in this fashion, then rather than it speaking of the destruction of the psalmist’s enemies, its focus is really on the defense of the psalmist from his enemies…something that lends itself better to the following verses. Remember too, this is a Sabbath psalm, and as such, this is that which the assembled congregation would be singing as they implore God’s protection from the foes all around them.

The notion of the ear hearing things is not so much a notion of the psalmist hearing perhaps the clamor of the enemies outside of the walls, but instead it is covenantal language that speaks of the design of God: “He who has ears, let him hear” is a common Biblical phrase to say, “Listen to the design and wisdom of God.” In other words, while the enemy is before you, listen to God’s plan to preserve you healthy and strong from the onslaught of the wicked…for (as the following verses speak) it will be you who bear fruit in old age.

Thus it is a reminder to us to be confident and sure that God is in the business of strengthening and walling in his own to preserve them from the evil one. And indeed, God is still in the business of preserving his own today which ought not only to give us confidence in doing his work in this world, but it should also drive us to praise for he has done this for us.

Enemies shall Perish!

“For behold your enemies, Yahweh!

For behold your enemies shall perish!

All those who do iniquity shall be scattered!

(Psalm 92:10 [verse 9 in English])

 

Indeed, in the end, all of God’s enemies will be tossed into the lake of fire where they will be tormented forever…bringing an end to their torment of God’s own, their mocking of God’s name, and their flagrant sin and wickedness. In that end, all the enemies of God will know and intimately understand the finality of God’s wrath. And in that time, we will not weep. We will not mourn. We will not grieve. We will celebrate the victory of our Lord and the destruction of his enemies.

Yet, these words are not purely words that speak of the end times. Even in this life, God brings his hand of judgment upon the wicked and scatters them just as he scattered the wicked people who built the tower of Babel. For a season, from our perspective, they seem to prosper, but they are bereft of life and truth. They suffer their own sorrow and loneliness as they seek to find satisfaction in anything but the one who can bring satisfaction to their life. God even gives them over to their wickedness and allows them to become so mired in their wretchedness that they cannot see anything but their sin before their eyes. He robs them of satisfaction and he robs them of rest.

Beloved, we are all so often tempted to envy the wicked and their abundance. Do not be tricked into doing so. Their pleasure is fleeting and their satisfaction is empty. But in Christ, satisfaction is full and pleasure is eternal. Though we may suffer for a season, there is an eternal weight of glory before us that is beyond compare.

The Seed and the Gates of Hell

“And the Angel of Yahweh called to Abraham — a second time from heaven. And he said, ‘In myself I swear, utters Yahweh; because of this thing that you have done in not sparing your son, your only one, I will surely bless you and your seed will surely be great as the stars of the heavens and as the sand which is on the lip of the sea. And your seed will take possession of the gates of his enemies. And in your seed will all the nations of the earth be blessed on account of your obeying my voice.”

(Genesis 22:15-18)

 

“Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed; he did not say, ‘and to the seeds,’ as if it were to many, but to one. ‘And to your seed,’ which is Christ.”

(Galatians 3:16)

 

The promise of God’s blessing does not go out to all of Abraham’s children, but through Isaac and his line. But when we get to the New Testament, a greater depth to God’s plan and design is unfolded in a way that helps us to see the plan and work of God. For in the ultimate sense, it is not through one’s biology that one inherits the promise of God, but through the great “Seed” or “Offspring” of Abraham, that is Jesus Christ. Jesus is the seed that was always in view here and the promise finds its meaning and fulfillment in Christ Jesus. Through faith in him, not through our biological lineage, we are made part of the inheritance of God.

Indeed, such was always the case, for it has always been through faith that men have been saved. Abraham believed (had faith in) God and it was counted to him as righteousness (Romans 4:3). And Paul continues that the promised does not come through the Law or works of the Law, but through the Righteousness of Faith (Romans 4:13). Why is this? It is because if we were able to earn salvation on our own merit, not only would the idea of God sending a Savior become nonsensical, but then there would also be no room for grace (Romans 4:16).

But if it is by grace, it is no longer by works, for grace would no longer be grace.

(Romans 11:6)  

And thus, when God makes this promise to Abraham, he intentionally uses the singular of “seed” or “offspring” to make it clear that the inheritance is being guaranteed by one very special and distinct offspring of Abraham, Jesus the Christ. And in Christ, though faith, a multitude of believers from all of the nations have been brought in. How will the seed become a blessing to all of the nations? Surely, there is no greater blessing that comes than from hearing and believing the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Even here, in the promise given to Abraham, is the anticipation of the worldwide evangelistic campaign of believers seeking to fulfill the Great Commission.

And what about the gates of their enemies? That sounds pretty militaristic, particularly for a nation that has spent most of its history under the dominion of other nations. Again, we find language that anticipates the church and the consummation of all things. For what is it that Jesus tells Peter when he establishes the church?

And now I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.  (Matthew 16:18)

Notice the language of the Gates of Hell? As Christians, who is our enemy? All too often we get stuck in the mindset that there is no spiritual reality. Yet, what is it that the Apostle Paul teaches us regarding our true enemies?

“Put on the whole armor of God so that you will be able to stand against the schemes of the devil because we are not engaged against blood and flesh but against rulers and against powers and against the cosmic powers over this darkness and against the spiritual powers of evil in the heavens.”

(Ephesians 6:11-12)

Indeed, the gates of the enemy promised to Abraham are the gates of the strongholds of our enemy the devil. And like the Israelites were to put the cities of the pagan Canaanites to the sword, devoting them to destruction, we too are given the call to devote the spiritual strongholds in this world to destruction as well, for God will give us the gate of our enemies (2 Corinthians 10:4-6).

Yet with promises like this, how is it that Christians live such a timid life? It seems that we have abandoned the weapons of our warfare. We have abandoned discipline and discipleship and we have abandoned prayer. Sure, we may pray over our meals or for a friend who is having a hard time, but do we really pray with the expectation that God will act in this world? We may do our Bible studies, but do we really study the Bible as if we really believe that it is profitable for us in every area and venture of our lives (2 Timothy 3:16-17)? We read about putting on the whole armor of God, guarding our mind with the helmet of salvation and our hearts with righteous activity, but do we really seek to live that out? When we have a headache, what is our first action? Take an aspirin or pray? Not that there is anything wrong with taking an aspirin, God has blessed us with many medications and remedies for our aches and pains, but what do we do first? Do we live and act as if there are spiritual realities around us? If we do not, we are engaged in warfare with the wrong enemy … and we wonder why we are not prevailing!