Monday, September 28, 2015

Evil in the Midst, Part Three... Scriptural Principle Applied Works

   And he said also unto his disciples, There was a certain rich man, which had a steward; and the same was accused unto him that he had wasted his goods. And he called him, and said unto him, How is it that I hear this of thee? give an account of thy stewardship; for thou mayest be no longer steward. Then the steward said within himself, What shall I do? for my lord taketh away from me the stewardship: I cannot dig; to beg I am ashamed. I am resolved what to do, that, when I am put out of the stewardship, they may receive me into their houses. So he called every one of his lord’s debtors unto him, and said unto the first, How much owest thou unto my lord? And he said, An hundred measures of oil. And he said unto him, Take thy bill, and sit down quickly, and write fifty. Then said he to another, And how much owest thou? And he said, An hundred measures of wheat. And he said unto him, Take thy bill, and write fourscore. And the lord commended the unjust steward, because he had done wisely: for the children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light. And I say unto you, Make to yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness; that, when ye fail, they may receive you into everlasting habitations. (Luke 16:1-9)
     In this parable we find our Saviour telling the story of a sinful man for the Scripture repeatedly labels him as unjust. Yet we also find that same unjust man acted with some wisdom and was rewarded in this life for those wise actions. So we find then that an unjust or sinful man can apply wisdom and have it work out in his favor.
     The bearing of the above parable on our own question is clear. Many a wicked preacher in all evil in the midst of the congregation has applied sound Scriptural principles in his public ministry and had some good come out of it as a result. Even a bad cook - if she faithfully follows the instructions contained within the recipe and uses proper ingredients - can obtain some good results.
     For example, Scripture teaches that men will respond in love to one that loves them first. We love him, because he first loved us. (I John 4:19) A preacher, even one harboring wickedness in secret, can produce a group of people who love him exceedingly by pouring compassion on them first. Scripture teaches a soft answer turneth away wrath. (Proverbs 15:1) A preacher, even one harboring wickedness in secret, who applies deft care in handling interpersonal relationships will draw a crowd by virtue of the fact he does not drive off very many people. If he then begins to teach others how to handle well the intimate relationships of life even more people will flock to hear him.
51OfL6CvAWL._AA200_     Many an inwardly wicked man has drawn a crowd and thus been deemed a success because he simply applied and taught some Scriptural principles.
     One of the continuing tragedies that befall the cause of Christ when such a man’s secret sin is exposed is that men often question the very principles that he taught from the Scripture. Certainly some do not question Scriptural principles in such a situation out of sincerity. Rather they will use such secret sins exposed as justification for their own rebellion against sound Scriptural teaching.
     When Nathan pointed his finger boldly in King David’s face and told him that his secret sin was the sin in question he also instructed David that such a secret sin had given God’s enemies terrible opportunities. In fact, the death of the child that was God’s divine punishment in this sad situation was a direct result, not just of David’s adultery and murder, but of the excuse that David had furnished to God’s enemies to blaspheme Him. Howbeit, because by this deed thou hast given great occasion to the enemies of the LORD to blaspheme, the child also that is born unto thee shall surely die. (II Samuel 12:14)
     But whether such criticism of Scriptural principles is done in pretence or in truth, the fact remains that it is often done. Men’s wicked hearts will lead them to place the blame where it does not belong, namely, on the very Scriptural teachings that were functioning in spite of the secret sin of the teacher. Thus it is that the cause of Christ is damaged in yet another way. Such attacks often lead to justification of sin in yet another person’s life and the vicious cycle is repeated.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Evil In the Midst, Part Two… The Deception of Success and Excitement

Success, in our generation, has taken on all the allure of Californian gold in the summer of 1849. It has become the be all and end all, the motivation and justification, and the only measuring stick most use in assessing another individual’s life. “How to” books replete with self help theories that inevitably lead to success fly off the shelves. Seminars specializing in and promising people success are packed and jammed. Television shows about how to be successful according to the most recent expert garner high ratings. Our world is fascinated with success.success

Or is it?

For what exactly is success, and is it that with which our world is so entranced?

The foundation of all truth is the Scripture, and Scripture only uses the word ‘success’ on one occasion: This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success. (Joshua 1:8)

When a person gives their life to reading, meditating, studying, memorizing, and most importantly obeying Scripture the end result is clear – a life in which every decision made and every step taken is prosperous and successful, for every step taken is Scriptural. The root word for success in the original language here is elsewhere translated as understand, understanding, wise, wisely, prudent, skill, etc. the idea being that a person who knows and follows the precepts of Scripture will behave themselves wisely. It is this behaving of oneself wisely, and conducting oneself and ones actions with prudence and Scriptural understanding that IS success. In other words, success is not to be found in what I have accomplished but rather in how closely I have structured my life in accordance with the Scripture.

So we see that the world frantically goes about measuring a man’s level of accomplishment to determine that man’s level of success. If his bank account is big enough, and if his title is long enough, and if he has possession of the corner office he is deemed a success. Nothing could be further from the Scriptural truth.

In the religious realm such thinking often pervades Christians as well. While not as crass or worldly, perhaps, as society in general, many will still seek to measure a preacher’s success based upon what he has apparently accomplished. They will look at the number of bodies sitting in his pews, the size and condition of the buildings his church and ministries occupy, and the amount of money flowing into the collection plates as evidence of his success. Nothing could be further from the Scriptural truth.

If we carefully examine Scripture we will find countless examples of men commended by God for great faith and obedience who, in the eyes of men, accomplished very little. Abel did nothing of any significance beyond simply giving a Scriptural sacrifice and becoming a murder victim. Enoch built no great enterprise but his testimony was “that he pleased God” (Hebrews 11: 5). Noah only produced seven converts in 100 years of preaching. Jeremiah, known as the Weeping Prophet, had little to no accomplishment in his ministry. Jesus Himself died with only 2 people still faithful to Him looking on and one of them was His mother! Yet all of these were undoubtedly successful for all of these undoubtedly structured their lives in complete obedience to revealed will of God.

Please do not misunderstand the teaching here. Little churches are not more spiritual or successful than big ones, but neither are big ones more spiritual or successful than little ones. Scripturally obedient churches and Scripturally obedient men are successful, period. When Christians have labeled with certainty that God is, in fact, using a particular man greatly because of what they can see happening in his ministry those Christians have misunderstood Scriptural success.

Allow me to again interject a personal testimony. I have had the privilege of being part of some huge, exciting ministries. I have been an active member for a period of years in a church numbering in the thousands. I have sat in that great congregation, enjoying immensely the gifted musicians, the high grade pulpiteering, the professional level of services, and the veritable plethora of programs offered by such a church. I am not against such big, exciting ministries; I am for them and all they do for the cause of Christ. But I have been around the block long enough to understand that a fair number of the people wound up in the middle of that big, exciting ministry are not wound up about serving and obeying God; rather they are wound up about the excitement.

It has been well said that nothing succeeds like success. When a church reaches a certain size a higher level of excitement is reached by those in its embrace as well. It is more exciting to hear 500 amens than five. It is more exciting to hear of thousands saved than dozens. It is more exciting to hear a choir of hundreds than it is a choir of nine. It is more exciting to flood into a packed church with the crowd than to trickle into a half empty church with the remnant. This exciting atmosphere breeds on itself until it is assumed, because of the very excitement about “what God is doing here,” that the preacher of that church is clearly marked with the favor of God. Maybe, and maybe not. Maybe that bigness is due to excitement, and that excitement is not about obedience to Christ but about the excitement.

People in the midst of an exciting religious situation often want to stay there. Many a young person has moved to a large church to train for the ministry and ended up staying there for decades, and in a sense who can blame them? The big, exciting church has all sorts of things to offer them that a lonely life of service on the cold and dark Arctic mission field cannot. Sometimes it is also true that people can make poor spiritual decisions because of the very atmosphere of excitement in which they find themselves. That was certainly the case with Peter in the midst of the most exciting spiritual experience of his life, the experience which birthed the explanatory phrase ‘a mountaintop experience,’ when he said unto Jesus, Lord, it is good for us to be here: if thou wilt, let us make here three tabernacles; one for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias. (Matthew 17:4) He did not want to leave that location of religious excitement and made a poor spiritual decision because of it.

ObedienceLet it be carefully reiterated that excitement in the service for Christ is not bad. What is bad is the belief that God is working in a great way in a particular church or movement, and using a particular preacher in a great way simply because the atmosphere surrounding him is exciting. That atmosphere can often deceive the most sincere Christian into using the measuring stick of accomplishment, size, national reputation, etc. when the Scriptural measuring stick is obedience to precepts of Scripture. Perhaps that atmosphere of success is merely man’s achievement produced by exciting religious experiences, and not simple success, which is obedience.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Evil in the Midst, Part One

          “I have sinned!” he wailed, looking into the assembled television cameras of the world, with tears streaming down his cheeks. Thus began an exceedingly public and painful revelation of the secret wickedness of one of the world’s most respected religious leaders. In the months and years to come his secret sin would be played across the airwaves and pages of the media in excruciatingly minute detail. Each twist and turn down his increasingly perverted path would be recounted by journalists, eager to be the first to ferret out another evidence of his total hypocrisy. His willing participants would cash in on their fifteen minutes of dubious fame by selling their side of the story. In conjunction with the equally squalid tale of other famous televangelists, his story still reverberates decades later, told with glee by worldlings confronted with a testimony of righteousness in a coworker or relative. And whether it is the head of a national evangelical organization, or a seasoned independent Baptist megachurch pastor, new stories constantly stir up the old.
          “I was almost in all evil in the midst of the congregation and the assembly” (Proverbs 5:14) Solomon said, in a warning to his son that he himself would not heed later in his life. Down through history there have been countless instances of such hypocrisy. Men, God’s men, lifted up as leaders before His people, are routinely discovered to have been “in all evil in the midst of the congregation.”
          Such was the case with Samson, a judge in Israel in ancient times. While being used of the Lord to deliver His people from the overbearing rule of the Philistines he slept with prostitutes and saw the Philistine Delilah in secret.
          Such was the case with David, the second king of Israel, and arguably its greatest king. While enjoying a sterling reputation and the affection of God’s people he committed adultery, and then attempted to cover it up with murder and remarriage.
          Such was the case with the devil before time even started. While serving God in Heaven, on intimate terms with all that is holy and pure, pride crept into his heart. In the home of all righteousness, enjoying the confidence of the other angels, he fomented evil in the midst of that heavenly congregation.
          Scripture plainly teaches that, sooner or later, every man with such secret sin hidden “in the chambers of his imagery” (Ezekiel 8:12) will have that secret sin exposed to the harsh light of a judgmental world. Moses instructed men in the tribes of Gad and Reuben “be sure your sin will find you out” (Numbers 32:23). Christ Himself, while discoursing with the disciples in a public manner warned them “that which ye have spoken in the ear in closets shall be proclaimed upon the housetops” (Luke 12:3). While men constantly close the door and pull the blinds in an attempt to keep evil in the midst of the congregation hidden, or drive to a distant city where they think they are unknown, and carefully check that no acquaintance will see them, they proverbially fail to look UP! “Can any hide himself in secret places that I shall not see him? saith the Lord” (Jeremiah 23:24). God knows, and in the perfection of His timing, the whole world knows as well.
          When this private sin, done in secret by God’s man, is discovered by the portion of God’s people following that man, they are often completely at a loss. They are disgusted, disappointed, and usually discouraged in their own service for Christ. Many a bitter, disillusioned Christian sitting on the sidelines of Christianity found his place there in reaction to the discovery of “evil in the midst of the congregation” on the part of God’s man. The shock and dismay of good people who were following what they sincerely believed was a good man is painful in the extreme. The wound is not confined to the immediate family, or even the immediate church, but spreads like a blot across all whose lives he touched in his service for Christ. The hurt infects the hearts of congregations, friends, and family, and often metastasizes until it swallows up the effective Christianity of whole groups of God’s people, and brings intense reproach upon the name of Christ.
          One of the common and most oft heard imprecations uttered in the wake of such a spiritual disaster is this: “How could it be that God appeared to be using him so marvelously and yet he was so thoroughly evil so long?” Christians with a unique and loyal love for the man they feel God used in a special way in their own life will react with incredulity and befuddlement, wondering about all they have seen God do in their own life, and in their church’s life, with that man.
          I know…because I experienced it myself personally…twice.
          When I was just a boy, one of God’s choice servants, fresh out of Bible college, with all the zeal and enthusiasm of youth on fire for God, moved into our area and accepted the pastorate of a dying church not far from ours. Within the space of a few years he had built that church from 30 to 400, with all the accompanying buildings, ministries, plaudits, and praise that go along with it. As a teenager I got to know him somewhat, and watched carefully, for I was already preparing to pastor myself, and thought I might learn much from such a man. Then the day came that he suddenly resigned the pulpit of a growing, successful work, and slowly but surely the sordid details leaked out. The devastation that man’s life wrought in that youth group I knew so well, in the Christian school his church sponsored that I attended, in that church, in neighboring churches, and even across the country in a somewhat limited national way is incalculable. While I saw some Christians react with grace and maturity, many if not most reacted with the sorrow and befuddlement I have already described. I spent many a hurt and lonely hour puzzling over the how and why myself. Surely it was only by the grace of God that I did not become another bitter and disillusioned casualty, blaming my own Christian immaturity on another man’s sins.
          Later, while in Bible college, a man on staff at the college, greatly respected and followed for his apparent zeal in service for Christ, left his wife and his calling after becoming “evil in the midst of the congregation and assembly.” I had heard him preach often, and actually shared some shifts with him at a steel mill he worked at part time in the summers, and his private sin, publicly revealed, likewise caused pain and puzzlement in my heart.
       How is it possible, that these men, serving God and seeming to achieve great things while doing so, are revealed to have been hiding some terrible sin for so long?
       I have pondered long and hard on that. If you will allow me to say this humbly, I have searched the Scriptures for the answer. The pain and puzzlement I spoke of in my own life is replicated in thousands of others on an all too frequent basis, and perhaps the Lord will grant to them some measure of consolation and understanding in the answers He has given me. To that end, “that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God” (II Corinthians 1:4) over the next eight weeks I am going to offer for your consideration those answers that have most helped me. I am sure I do not have all the answers and, as always, I welcome your comments and questions. But I hope that these next few weeks will help God's people to understand these awful situations better, and thus be emotionally and spiritually prepared when they happen.