A Fighting Faith!

Becoming a Christian means putting up your dukes! We are called to walk in the footsteps of the following famous fighters:

  1. When Mary told Gabriel, “be it done according to your word” (Luke 1:38), she knew she was in for a fight. She wondered if even Joseph would stand by her. Well, he did and their struggle eventually forced them into Egypt as refugees. After Jesus was born, a man named Simeon told Mary, “a sword will pierce even your own soul” (Luke 2:35), but she stayed in the fight. She also knew the son she bore was in for a fight that would involve scattering the proud, dethroning rulers and exalting the humble (see Luke 1:51-52).
  2. When John the Baptist confronted Herod Antipas for unlawfully marrying his own brother’s wife, he proved he had a faith that fights.
  3. When Jesus told prominent civic and religious leaders in Jerusalem, “You are of your father the devil” (John 8:44), he was putting up His spiritual dukes. They fought back too. When He drove the moneychangers and merchants out of the Gentile court of the Jerusalem temple with a whip, His fighting faith was clear to all.
  4. When Peter heard a rooster crow for the third time, he regretted that his faith had been too weak to fight. Forgiven, he was restored to fighting form and his preaching pulled no punches. Soon after Jesus’ crucifixion, Peter brazenly preached to those who had preferred Barabbas to Jesus, “But you disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, but put to death the Prince of life, the one whom God raised from the dead, a fact to which we are witnesses.” (Act 3:14-15). Peter was thrown in jail but thousands believed and were added to the church. A ferocious fight was coming for them too.
  5. A fighting faith got Stephen called on the carpet before the Sanhedrin where he told his judges they had “uncircumcised hearts” (Acts 7:51). Those were fighting words to them. He may have lost that round but he sure won the fight.
  6. Paul called on believers to don God’s armor for battle, not to show it off in public parades but “to stand firm against the schemes of the devil” (Ephesians 6:11). God’s armor (truth, righteousness, the gospel of peace, faith, salvation, the word of God and prayer) are essential for the good fight. Later, Paul summed up his own life in ministry as a “good fight” and Timothy understood that following in Paul’s footsteps would pull him into a lifelong battle too. If needed, Paul could write feisty letters as well.
  7. In the book of Revelation, John envisioned a beast making war on the saints (13:7). In fact, the language of war pervades John’s vision until Satan is bound and Jesus emerges victorious forever. In the end, “the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone” (21:7-8). The point of the entire vision revealed to John was to encourage believers to endure faithfully to the end and receive the “crown of life.” (2:10).

You mean Christianity can get me criticized, misunderstood, beat up, hated, dragged into court, fined, driven from home, forced out of my job and even killed? Yes!

Nevertheless (I love that word), we stand and fight. After all, the battle belongs to the Lord!

Let’s Get Serious!

I love “Weird Al” Yankovic. I saw him in concert at the Minnesota County Fair years ago and I still enjoy his videos on facebook.

Can I still be a serious person?

If by serious you mean one-dimensional, then I don’t qualify. A serious passage in the Bible affirms that there is an appointed time for everything, “…a time to weep and a time to laugh; A time to mourn and a time to dance.” (Ecclesiastes 3:4). So, there is a time to be silly and a time to be serious. The key is in our ability to tell the time.

Let’s put our silly sides aside and talk. I mentioned “Weird Al” only to let you know I have one (or to get your attention). But I realize that asking readers to get serious is risky business in today’s blogosphere. If you are still with me, thank you. You probably even consider Christmas, Easter and Memorial Day to be more meaningful than April Fool’s Day. Weird.

The ancient Greeks called our serious side, “semnos.” In Latin, it’s “gravitas.” In both classic cultures, it was a virtue to be august, serious, venerable, dignified and respectful. Notice the words pompus and arrogant are not included. An early Christian theologian, Clement of Alexandra (150 – 215 AD) defined gravitas as “a life turned toward the divine.” Now that IS serious!

Semnos a serious virtue in the Bible. After all, repentance and forgiveness are serious business. The apostle Paul encouraged the Philippians to think about things semnos (Philippians 4:8). The New International Version (NIV) translated it here as “noble” and the New American Standard Bible (NASB) called it “honorable.” Paul encouraged the young Timothy to “lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and semnos (1 Timothy 2:2; “dignity”, NASB; “respectful,” RSV; and “holiness,” NIV). Elders must also be men of semnos (1 Timothy 3:4). So must deacons (1 Timothy 3:8). Three verses later, women get equal instruction in semnos.

But seriously, the vast majority of biblical challenges to be to semnos are directed at men. In Titus, both old and young men are urged to seek it. Imagine that! Paul expected young men to be serious:

    Likewise urge the young men to be sensible; in all things show yourself to be an example of good deeds, with purity in doctrine, dignified [semnos], sound in speech which is beyond reproach, so that the opponent will be put to shame, having nothing bad to say about us.” (Titus 2:6-8, NASB’ “seriousness” in the NIV)

A better description of manhood has never been written.

Our culture is seldom serious. There is almost as little gravity today as there is shame. We can see the decline in semnos over the last generation on television. For instance, Jim Anderson of “Father Knows Best” was replaced by Archie Bunker (a loud-mouthed bigot), and then by Homer Simpson. Then by no one. Enough said.

Will Rogers, a 20th century humorist, said, “Everything is changing. People are taking their comedians seriously and the politicians as a joke.” Seriously, getting your political education from comedians proves you are not serious.

Your well-timed silly side is important. Nevertheless (I love that word), an inability to take your life and the lives of others seriously can have serious consequences.

Let’s get practical:

  • Most “reality” shows lack semnos.
  • Tell a dirty joke and you lose some semnos status.
  • Flying off the handle is not very semnos.
  • When presidents reply to questions about underwear, semnos suffers.
  • Playing video games all day long is very unsemnos.
  • Excessive complaining does not get you to semnos.
  • Drinking contests are as unsemnos as it gets.
  • Ignoring genocide is not something semnos people do.
  • When I see crowds swooning for charlatans, I long for semnos instead.
  • When I see wild extatic shaking and holy laughter” on stage in the name of worship, I see a semnos void.
  • Discussing a rising nuclear threat is semnos as a heart attack.
  • Defending the integrity of marriage is highly semnos.
  • Ever notice how serious Jesus was? This article has serious length limits so do your own research. It’s a no-brainer. One mark of our shortage of seriousness is the fact that the only Bible verse many people can cite from memory is; “Jesus wept” (John 11:35). He did that a lot.

Amazing Grit (The Story of Stephen)

Things were going so well.

The Holy Spirit was poured out on Pentecost and 3,000 believers repented and were baptized (Acts 2:41). There was “gladness and sincerity of heart” in the newborn church (2:46).They had “favor with all the people” (2:47) and were held “in high esteem.” (5:13). Their growth was explosive. Soon, another 5,000 heard the good news and were added (4:4). In fact, “multitudes of men and women were constantly added to their number.” (5:14). Many were cleansed and healed as well (5:15-16).

A legitimate complaint rose over the treatment of needy widows in the church and the apostles turned to seven young men to step up to the challenge.

Here we meet Stephen, one of the most valuable assets the early church had, both for the way he served the saved and reached out to the unsaved. He was the first man named to help care for the widows (Acts 6:5). In a nutshell, here’s what Stephen meant to the early church:

  1. He had a “good reputation,” much “wisdom,” and was “a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit.” (6:3-5).
  2. The church counted on him as a capable administrator and servant of others (6:5). His effectiveness, along with others, resulted in the spread of God’s word and “the number of disciples continued to increase greatly in Jerusalem.” (Acts 6:7). Even many priests obeyed the gospel.
  3. Stephen was charismatic, “full of grace and power.” He performed great wonders and signs among the people (6:8).
  4. He knew the Scriptures and excelled in debate and speech (6:9-10).
  5. He even had the “face of an angel.” (6:15).

Alas, his many virtues attracted hostility and he was accused of blasphemy against Moses, God and the temple. On trial for his life, Stephen spoke to the Sanhedrin of God’s promise to Abraham, God’s provision through Joseph, God’s guidance through Moses, God’s judgments against idolatry, God’s deliverance through Joshua, God’s favor for David, and God’s “house” built by Solomon. Perhaps knowing his fate was sealed, he indicted his judges as “stiff-necked” and “uncircumcised in the heart” (7:51). He likened them to those who scorned and persecuted the prophets of old — treacherous, murderous and disobedient to God (7:52-53).

The Stoning of Stephen, illustration by Joel Solliday

Outraged, they screamed, covered their ears, and rushed at Stephen to take him outside the city and stone him to death. A Pharisee named Saul was in hearty agreement with this sentence and he presided at the stoning.

There was loud lamentation when Stephen was buried. Imagine the distress throughout the church when one of their best and brightest was so brutally executed by the leading men of the city. What a devastating blow to a fledgling movement. And this was just the beginning! Listen to Luke:

    “And on that day a great persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles.” (Acts 8:1).

Adding insult to injury, this thug Saul began ravaging the church entering house after house dragging Christians off to prison (8:3). So the heartbroken and discouraged church gave up and Christianity was nipped in the bud.

Wrong! The next verse explains why the church survived and stands forever as encouragement for anyone facing tragedy with no visible light at the end of the tunnel. Luke wrote:

    “Therefore, those who had been scattered went about preaching the word.” (Acts 8:4)

It’s like they hardly skipped a beat. That’s grit at its greatest. In fact, it’s amazing!

Old Alexander McKee

Alexander McKee passed away on February 20, 1922, at the ripe old age of 102 years, 2 months and 7 days. I know him only through his tombstone at the Wild Rose Cemetery just north of Kendrick on Idaho State Highway 3. It spells out Alexander’s longevity in detail.

His tombstone testifies not only that Alexander lived long but also that he lived well. The epitaph inscribed on his headstone reads thusly:

    Upright and just he was in all his ways,
    A bright example in degenerate days.

It occurred to me that old Alexander would roll over briskly in his grave if he knew how degenerate the “days” would become nearly a century later. What would he think about our 41% rate of American babies born out of wedlock? How would he handle the crusade to decompose marriage itself? What about the millions of unborn and partially born babies exterminated because their lives are inconvenient? Would he own a TV? We can only guess.

Of course, there never really has been a “golden age” when such things as sin, corruption and evil were in short supply. Every generation is flawed in different ways. But every generation has men and women like Alexander McKee too. How bright is your example?

Born in 1820, Alexander. lived through the Civil War, Reconstruction and at some point became part of our expansion into the great American West. It’s easy to idealize these times but we don’t need to watch Westerns to know that these were difficult and often degenerate times.

Jesus often called His generation “evil and adulterous.” Miraculous sign-seeking was a generational vice Jesus observed along with his generation’s refusal to repent (Luke 11:29-32). Jesus likened his generation to Noah’s “deluge-deserving” generation (Luke 17:26-27) for being blind to their impending judgment. His own hapless disciples once prompted a complaint from Jesus about His “unbelieving and perverse generation” (Matthew 17:17). Jesus’ rhetoric was unpopular then and it helped get him executed. He predicted that his generation would reject him (Luke 17:25) and He was right.

Jesus did not hate his generation. He wept for them. Because he loved them, he pulled no punches regarding their sick condition, longing for them to repent. When Christians today lament the moral and mental bankruptcy of our times, we are walking in the courageous footsteps of our loving Savior.

Preaching on Pentecost, the apostle Peter called his generation “perverse” (Acts 2:40). That means the Lord’s church was born from the ranks of the perverse. Later, the apostle Paul used such terms as “crooked and perverse” to describe his generation (Philippians 2:15).

I have three concluding points of inspiration:

  1. The prevalence of wickedness does not indicate the absence of hope.
  2. The need to speak up boldly, vividly and lovingly (as did Jesus, Peter and Paul) is enormous! Moral courage is a must!
  3. Alexander was not the first man to be “upright and just” in degenerate times. We can live in such a way as to make sure he was not the last.