One of the great values of reading through the Bible is in what it demonstrates to us about living out a vital faith in all kinds of circumstances. A large portion of the Old Testament, for instance, is narrative material telling the stories of the everyday lives of God’s chosen people. Some of them are exciting, some inspiring, and others very depressing.
Take the Book of Judges. It is a book depicting the early years of God’s people following their entrance into the Promised Land. Every few years there is a crisis of faith. People slip away from the faith of their fathers into the latest hip religion of their pagan neighbors. So God disciplines them through natural (and sometimes unnatural) disasters. They cry out for help and He raises up a leader (“judge”) who delivers them from their troubles. This is followed by another cycle of apostasy, judgment, repentance, deliverance...and another….and another. When we read the Old Testament I can’t help but find myself sorting out the times when Israel is at the top, politically, financially, socially and, of course, spiritually. I could have had a great influence during those times, I think. With others at my side who shared my faith I could have made an impact and performed some very vital ministry. But I also notice something else: those good times were few and far between. Most of the time God’s chosen people were drifting around in a spiritual haze, unsure of who they were or where they were supposed to be going. But God’s remnant, as they were referred to, were always there faithfully doing what had to be done to keep the ship from capsizing completely.
The Apostle Paul, referring to those days, said, “These things were written for our example upon whom the ends of the ages has come.” (I Corinthians 10:11). I may find myself longing to have lived in better days, but it is not at all a profitable fantasy for me to engage in. As some wise person once said, “These may not be the best of times, but they are the only times we are given.” The grace and power of God can never be expressed through an “if only.” All of us must rise from our fantasies about life as we would wish it to be and grapple with life as it really is. God has equipped all of His people and promised His presence. It is up to us to be the remnant of our day, steering the ship of Faith through the turbulent waters of this new century. Who knows what our faithfulness will mean to the next generation!
Some years ago the late Prison Fellowship Chairman Chuck Colson delivered an address on religious liberty at the University of Chicago. In the audience were people of many faiths who were attending the Parliament of the World’s Religions. The address began with these words: “I speak as one transformed by Jesus Christ, the living God. He is the way, the truth and the life. He has lived in me for 20 years. His presence is the sole explanation for whatever is praiseworthy in my work. That is more than a statement about myself. It is a claim to truth. It is a claim that may contradict your own.”
What makes these words stand out as noteworthy is the fact that one seldom hears such claims made outside of a church building. In the “market place of ideas” you never experience such bold talk. Tolerance of other beliefs has made such exclusive claims “unacceptable.” And yet that was how the church began, increased and reshaped the Western world. When we read the book of acts such bold claims to truth are so commonplace we can easily become immune to them, until it is realized that no one in any of those audiences already believed them. It is obvious that Christianity’s earliest approach was to challenge the belief systems of the world in their own back yards (what other yards were there?). It was considered a compromise of principle to remain quiet. In the midst of all his warnings about present and future persecution, Peter wrote to his Christian friends that they should “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have” (I Peter 3:15). Such bold speech aroused opposition and invited persecution. But it also worked. May I suggest that it will still work. Christ’s followers need not be belligerent or judgmental, but they do need to be faithful. And faithfulness implies being vocal about what we believe.
It is interesting that it is Peter speaking out about the boldness necessary for our witness. It was Peter, the night Jesus was arrested, who first succumbed to the pressures of those who opposed Jesus as he caved in and cursed and swore that he didn’t even know the man Jesus. But God was merciful in giving him other opportunities as he grew in the Lord. And God will do the same for us, regardless of our past timidity and fear. Just remember the promise of Jesus: “He who confesses me before men, him will I also confess before my Father in Heaven. But whoever denies me before men, him will I also deny before my Father in heaven.” Speak up! It’s the Christian thing to do.
Warren Wiersbe once said: “It isn’t the normal demands of life that break us; it’s the painful surprises. We find ourselves fighting battles in a war we never declared, and carrying burdens for reasons we don’t understand.” Some of that may well be caused by the spiritual law of “reaping what we sow” but often unpleasant experiences happen to us even when we don’t break the rules. To those of us who can never find it in our hearts or minds to doubt the existence of God we are often forced to occupy one of at least two positions: either God is not as benevolent as we have often been taught He is, or, there is a lot more going on than we can even imagine. Small minds tend to occupy the first position. Those possessed of a little more maturity (and humility) seem to drift toward the second.
The reason I say that is because the longer you live the more opportunity you have to reflect upon your past experiences. I must confess that I have often labeled as “bad” many experiences I later found to produce “good.” In other words, I should be a little more cautious in putting the “bad” label on my experiences. “Painful” maybe, “inconvenient” surely, but “bad,” I found, requires far more understanding than I ever seem to possess at the time.
Someone once said “You Christians are spineless creatures. Unwilling to argue with your God you thank Him for good and bad alike and accept either as if there were no distinction between the two.” How I wish that were more generally true! However, I think spineless is hardly the word to describe those who are willing to accept whatever God brings to them. In fact, one of the most tortured souls the Bible presents to us once said, “Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?” (Job 21:10). But it is the last part of that accusation I find to be especially true. I can’t always know the distinction between “good” and “bad” because of the great promise God has given to all His children: “...in all things God works for the good of those who love him.” (Romans 8:28). It is this fact that causes me to finally conclude that we should forget the labels and just be thankful we have a God who promises to lead us through every experience to the Ultimate Good of Life.
Senior Pastor of Cactus Christian Fellowship