Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Have You Been Raising Dead People and Practicing Witchcraft?

Mike Hosey, An Elder
Murder is wrong.  It doesn’t take a braniac to figure out that it is a terrible sin to take the life of someone else, not just because you would be destroying something irreplaceable that doesn’t belong to you, but because, quite literally, you would be marring the image of God (Genesis 1:27). But guess what is just as bad -- or maybe even worse -- than murdering someone?  That would be planning and arranging for the murder of someone.  The person who is pulling the trigger is certainly worthy of the highest punishment, but there’s something perhaps more diabolical about the person who came up with the idea, funded it, planned it, and gave the trigger puller the tools and blueprints on how to do it.

This kind of moral equivalence is seen in a variety of places in the bible.  One such place is in the story of King Saul in 1 Samuel 15:22-23.  Saul, for a variety of reasons, chose not to follow God’s order of operations.  The prophet Samuel warns him in those verses that his rebellion is just like the sin of divination or witchcraft. The Old Testament lumps divination and witchcraft in with a bunch of other terrible sins like necromancy (raising people up from the dead), and calls them disgusting, or detestable, or an abomination to God.  Did you get that?  Rebellion is as disgusting to God as necromancy. Those sins -- necromancy, sorcery, witchcraft, and divination -- all aim to usurp God’s role and authority in human affairs, and any rebellion against Godly authority is lumped right in with those sins.

When you sow discord at your work, at your church, in your family, or anywhere God has ordained an authority structure, you are sowing something that is disgusting to God. But notice how God tells Saul that he hates false sacrifice.  And notice how he tells the Hebrew people the same thing through the prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 1:11-20). Then consider how he tells them both that he loves obedience more than sacrifice or ritual. Such obedience is marked by doing good, seeking justice, and correcting oppression. It is not marked by the selfishness seen in Saul, or the division seen in Paul’s warnings against those who teach contrary doctrines (Romans 16:17-18).  Instead, such obedience is marked by the submissive example of Jesus (John 5:30), and the maturity of a Godly spirit (Galatians 5:22-26). 

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Have You Ever Had A Johnny Paycheck Moment?

Mike Hosey, An Elder
If you’ve been in the work world for any length of time, you have probably come across the foolish boss, or the foolish foreman, or the foolish manager who was able to just push all of your bad buttons. Perhaps that leader was even backed by the organization for which you worked. If so, you’ve probably had at least one Johnny Paycheck moment where you fantasized about pulling down the whole organizational structure as you proclaim “take this job and shove it!” while trying to keep the screen door from slamming you in your butt as you exit in a blaze of destructive angst and sweet, rebellious glory.  

But this would be wrong, and against God’s way of doing things.  Your discomfort may be truly justified, but your fantasy is nothing but pure flesh.  It’s rooted in pride.  But more importantly, it goes against God’s way of doing things.  If you were to execute your fantasy against bad authorities, wherever they are -- whether at work, at home, at your university, or your church -- you would be executing it against God.  Romans 13:1-2 tells us that God has appointed those leaders for a purpose, and that to rebel against them is to rebel against God.  It’s quite a serious charge.  Interestingly, Miriam, the older sister of Moses, speaks out against the leadership of Moses.  She was already a high figure, the first woman to be given the title prophet (Exodus 15:20). And the prophet Micah recognized her as one of the leaders that helped deliver Israel from Egypt (Micah 6:4).  But when she opposed Moses, there were personal consequences.  God struck her with leprosy.

It’s also important to think about what you would actually be doing if you realized your fantasy. First, you would be assuming God’s job, because your intent would be to exact revenge, and Paul tells us plainly that revenge is the purview of God (Romans 12:19). But perhaps the biggest consequence is that to make that fantasy real would have a negative impact on your fellow workers and the customers your company serves. In other authority contexts such as your classroom, your marriage or your church, you would impact your fellow class mates, your family members, or any other innocent person that depends on the stability of a given authority structure, and perhaps even someone who needs to see the patience or wisdom of a follower of Jesus in order to get to know him like you do. 

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Americans Don't Like to Be Told What To Do!

Mike Hosey, An Elder

America was born from the throes of rebellion. Severing herself from the monarchy of Britain, she grew quickly into the most powerful and influential nation in all of history. She spawned in her people a bias toward individualism.  Americans, by far, believe they can do almost anything, and don’t need anyone over them to tell them how to do it.  We’ve always had a streak of rugged individualism. For the most part, this has been good.  But it may also help to explain why we don’t like for people to tell us what to do. As a general rule, Americans aren’t as comfortable with authority as other peoples because we have historically been so independent, and until the last half century, our culture has honed us to solve our own problems. If you are anything like me, you’ve felt this disdain for authority before. Perhaps your boss was a complete knucklehead, and he or she tried to tell you how to do your job, even though he or she had no clue about how to perform the simplest part of your assigned tasks.  Or perhaps you’ve had a pastor, or professor, or teacher who was a jerk.  If you’ve been there, I can relate.  And if you’re there right now, I feel your pain because I have been there too. But Romans 13:1-2 unequivocally asserts that we are to respect the authority over us.  Even if it is evil. Remember that Paul wrote those verses while living under the rule of a brutal Roman Empire whose leaders had no respect for Paul’s philosophy, or the gospel he preached, or the people he served.

But Paul wasn’t arguing that we should follow ungodly commands. And he certainly wasn’t telling us that we had to respect evil. He wasn’t even arguing that we have to respect rude character.  Respect for authority is simply that, respect for authority, and that’s all Paul was commanding.  So if the candidate that you don’t like (and it’s ok not to like a candidate) gets into office, you are to respect the office, not necessarily the person.  You are to respect the position, and not necessarily the character of the person who holds that position.  This is because God has placed that person in that position, and he has plans for that position, just like he has plans for you.  And frankly, neither you nor I have any right to question his wisdom regarding that placement. Don’t believe me? Just do a cursory read of Romans 11:33-36 where we are told how great God is. Finally, this doesn’t mean that opposing the leaders we don't like is wrong. Our political process allows for that opposition. In fact, it even encourages it.  But you are to do it with respect for their positions, respect for Christ as a bearer of his image, and a respect for the truth. Finally, you are to do it by following the rules of the system that allows for the opposition.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

It's a Kingdom, Not a Democracy . . .

Mike Hosey, An Elder

When reading the bible, you will never come across God’s government described as a democracy. It is always described as a kingdom.  The Kingdom of God is ruled by a single monarch. He sets the laws, and then prosecutes those laws. He metes out punishments, and supplies reward. God is in charge of everything in his kingdom. To use the academic term, he is sovereign. This means that he has supreme and ultimate authority and power. But this does not mean that God’s kingdom is incompatible with other forms of government. In fact, God uses all forms of government to achieve his purposes.  Consider Romans 13:1-2. This is a very radical verse.  Notice in that verse how Paul argues that ALL authorities are instituted by God.  There is no proviso allowing for an exception.  In this case, all actually does mean all.  This means that God has instituted the authority of kindergarten teachers, police officers, mayors, congressman, bureaucrats, virtuous American presidents, godless communist regimes, and even evil dictators. He is so adamant about this that in verse 2 he counts rebellion against civil authorities as rebellion against God. You may find that shocking, but Paul wrote that verse while living beneath a brutal Roman government which was often marked by a bloody iron fist, and at times, an astonishing moral depravity. His argument was that even evil governments bring order to society, and in most instances, it goes well for people who live within that order.  Evil governments, after all, also insist on order, and God uses such order to advance his kingdom.  A brutal and morally depraved Roman society which persecuted Christians with abandon, also advanced the peaceful spread of Christianity throughout the world with a near unstoppable force.

None of this, however, means that God is pleased with evil dictators or godless regimes.  It simply means that he uses them, and that he expects us to obey them so long as we are not being asked to do something which conflicts with God’s law.  Civil disobedience of God ordained authorities is acceptable when those authorities abuse their position by placing anti-God requirements on the people they are established to serve (Daniel 3:14-18, Daniel 4:1-37, Daniel 6:10, Acts 4:19, Acts 5:29). So even when you don’t agree with the outcome of an election, remember that God has established the political powers for a reason, and you have a responsibility to respect them, and advance the gospel in spite of them by living a godly life of order and goodness.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Does God Want to See You Broken and Shattered?

Mike Hosey, An Elder

Malleable, pliable and ductile are all technical terms used to describe a particular quality of metals, plastics, or other construction materials.  When a piece of construction material is described by these words, it means that it is a workable material.  A piece of metal that is malleable can be bent or hammered into a permanent form.  A piece of plastic that is ductile can be pulled into strands.  A lump of clay that is pliable can be worked into almost any shape, and fashioned into almost any kind of vessel. This is a character trait that God wants for all of us when it comes to our relationship with him.  He is the potter and we are the clay (Isaiah 64:8 and Romans 9:20-21).  When we are malleable, or ductile, or pliable, he can shape us into the person that he wants us to be. And the person he wants us to be most like is Jesus (Romans 8:28-29).  Just like the potter, he must sometimes collapse what he has started, or push in the walls of our vessel to make something new.  This is why Romans 8:28 says he works all things for our good, just like the potter sometimes collapses the clay for the good of a better shaped pot, God sometimes collapses and reshapes us to be more like his son.

But if we are not pliable, ductile, or malleable, then we won’t bend with his creative and redemptive hand.  Instead, just like a dried clay pot, we will shatter into shards and pieces at the touch of his creative force. This is always a painful event, and certainly more painful than being pliable and simply accepting his work in our lives.  But it is also necessary.  Consider that God is pleased by a broken spirit (Psalm 51:17).  This isn’t because God is mean, vindictive or a cosmic sadist. It’s actually because he wants the best for you.  If you’ve ever had an appliance or piece of equipment that isn’t working right, many times you will continue using it, compensating for its deficiencies and dragging out what actually needs to be done. But once it breaks, especially if it’s important, like an air conditioner on a Florida August day, you will get a different attitude about restoration or replacement.

God knows that this is true of your life as well. A broken spirit in a wise person will produce pliable clay that is workable and can be re-shaped, and formed into something better.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Am I Really That Hard of Hearing? How Do I Hear God?

Mike Hosey, An Elder

The other day I was preparing meals for our family when my daughter Emily was trying to tell me something. I could see that she was talking to me, but I could not hear her words no matter how I cocked my ear, even though I was very physically close to her. The room was filled with noise. An air conditioner was running, other people were talking, and there was the low hum of appliances filling the air.  Sound was everywhere, but none of it was very loud. It’s just that there was so much of it interfering with the projection of her voice. There was visual noise as well.  Movement was in the room. Josh was doing something in the kitchen just inside the corner of my eyesight. I’m not sure, but there was probably a dog in the middle of the kitchen floor.  This inability to hear a voice is not a terribly unusual phenomenon. There have been many times, for instance, when I’ve been kayaking, and my children have been down river from me while I called to them at the top of my lungs, thinking my goodness, why can’t they hear me. In contrast, there have been other times when I have been able to decipher what someone is saying to me in the midst of the roar of loud engines, or loud weather, or loud music. 

All of this has application to how we may (or may not) hear God.  When I couldn’t hear Emily, it is because I was distracted by a lot of stimuli, and because other sounds were competing with her voice.  When she and Josh could not hear me on the river, it is because they were far away from me, and the distance conspired with the pleasant and natural noises of the river to drown my voice before it ever arrived in their ears.  But how did I hear the voices of my friends in the din of engines, or thunder, or rock and roll?  Because I knew my friends well, and could anticipate their words, or read their lips, and so still perceive their messages even if I couldn’t fully hear them with my ears.
The bible tells us to be still and know that he is God (Psalm 46:10). That psalm is instructing us to remove distractions from our lives so that we can hear God’s voice without all the commotion that fills up our lives.  James tells us that if we move closer to God, he will move closer to us (James 4:8).  If you want to hear his voice, then it is best to move your boat closer to his so that the distance can be shortened, and his voice can easily reach your ears.  Finally, if you know God, you will hear his voice (John 10:1-42). His sheep know him, and so hear his voice, even in the midst of dangers and distractions.  And the best way to know God is to know his word (John 1:1) because he is the word.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

How To Know God's Plan for Your Life

Mike Hosey, An Elder
The absence of incompatibility is one of the best ways to define agreement. When things are in agreement, they jive with one another. They are compatible. They flow and move together. Agreement is marked by harmony and compatibility. 
To understand this point, consider the action of walking with a friend. When two people walk together, they must be in agreement on direction, pace, gait, and in many cases even conversational material. If any of those first three items are out of whack, especially the first one, then you will not be walking with your friend, because there will be no compatibility. One of you might be walking north, while the other walks south. One of you might walk fast, and the other slow. The lack of agreement on those items eliminates your ability to move together. If in the final item, you can't agree on what to talk about, then one of you might even quit the trek and end the togetherness that way. 
If God has a plan for your life (and he does) then the best action for your life would be to find out what that plan is and follow it. The best way to find out that plan is to align your heart with God's, because it is out of the heart that the course of your life flows (Proverbs 4:23 NIV), and if your heart is aligned with God's, well, then what flows out of his will flow out of yours. The best way to make that alignment is to walk with God. In order to walk with God, you must be in agreement with his pace, his gait, his conversational material, and especially his direction (Amos 3:3 KJV). 
In fact, walking with God is what made some of the greatest heroes of the bible. Noah walked with God (Genesis 6:9), and Enoch walked with God (Genesis 5:21-24). Of course the apostles quite literally walked with God. Walking with God generates power in your life. In fact, Paul tells us that walking with God generates so much power, that by walking in the Spirit of God, we will be freed from giving into our sinful natures (Galatians 5:16). If you can remember the last time you actually battled your sinful nature, you know how powerful that statement really is. The opposite is also true. If you choose not to walk with God, then who you walk with is death, destruction, and sin (Ephesians 2:1-2, Colossians 3:5-7). Obviously, you are not walking in the direction that God is going if you choose not to walk with him. If you are out of agreement with God, then you are outside of the plan that he has for your life, which means that the very best place that your life can be in is somewhere other than where you are!