Not Passive, Not at All

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com

Gentle Reader,

It’s been awhile since I’ve written anything about pacifism.

I know. Poking the bear here, on this, the day before my country celebrates its declaration of independence from Great Britain all those years ago. (Probably not a good time to point out that there really wasn’t any Scriptural support for that war). The flags wave and the fireworks unnaturally fill the night sky with the light of day. This year, more than any other year of my life, tempers run hot, ready to boil over at the slightest provocation.

In this midsummer cauldron, I reflect.

In my experience, people tend to assume two things about pacifists:

  1. That we disdain members of the military and the police force. That we hold ourselves morally superior.
  2. That we are content to stand silently by and let evil run amok.

Neither is true.

Every person must deal with the big questions. Why are we here? Is God real? Coke or Pepsi? Some deal by engaging in denial, shoving the haunting inquiries beneath the carpet of their souls. Others study until their minds are mush, smug in their intellectual superiority. Still others latch on to the answers before they even ask the questions, running their mouths in breathless polemic. Some walk the thoughtful path, seeking to examine both questions and answers honestly.

Most of us run the gamut, doing all of the above at one point or another.

I was 12 when these questions began to plague my mind. My middle school journals are filled with long, rambling sentences, not-at-all elegant turns of phrase that make me smile today. No doubt God laughed as the paragraphs poured out of me, the kind of loving chuckle that bubbles up from the throats of fathers who delight in their children. I wanted desperately to understand, to know the deep truths fully.

At this time, my family attended a small Evangelical Friends church. Also known as Quakers, the Friends are founding members of the “peace churches,” groups of believers who are committed to principles of non-violence and non-resistance. (The Amish, Brethren and Mennonites are the other groups). Shortly after becoming involved with this church, Focus on the Family Radio Theater released a docu-drama on the life of German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Whenever an episode aired, my ears were glued to my radio. In the end, I purchased the series on CD and listened to it so often that I could (and still can) quote large sections.

By age 14, I was a convicted pacifist. Despite my ever-wandering heart and the years I spent straying from the Lord, in this I have not wavered. No, indeed I have grown more radical. I do not say the Pledge of Allegiance. I do not sing the Star-Spangled Banner. I cannot in good conscience pledge loyalty to or celebrate any entity that way. I fear placing anything before the Lord.

But I am not contemptuous of those who have a different view.

To be a pacifist is not to hate those who disagree. It is not to loathe men and women who put on uniforms, firearms at their sides. It is not to declare that such people are not and cannot be saved. I dare not question the faith of my brothers and sisters who leave behind home and family to fight on foreign soil. I cannot, despite concentrated efforts, come to a place of agreeing with their actions, but I do not presume to cast them out of God’s hand. I have not and will not yell at or spit on active soldiers, veterans or police officers.

I understand that these men and women are attempting to do what they believe is right.

As do I.

I am a pacifist for many reasons, the primary being that I cannot shake these words:

Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen. …

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. … Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men. If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men. Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. Therefore

“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
If he is thirsty, give him a drink;
For in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.”

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. …

For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.

 

– Matthew 28:18-20; Romans 12:14, 17-21; Ephesians 6:12 (NKJV)

I am in possession of a nasty temper. Unforgiveness, grudges and bitterness are natural for me. Oh, I may not put on a grand display of wrath and thus be known as someone who loses control. My anger is expressed rather in ice and whispers. But it is real. And it is terrible. More than once have I spoken of my longing to punch this person or run that person over with a car.

Did not Christ come to redeem me from this? Did He not come to remake me into His likeness?

As Spurgeon said in his 1859 sermon, “War! War! War!”:

Be in yourself what you would want others to be. Be clean that you can hope to be the purifiers of the world; and then, having first sought the blessing of God, go out into the world and bear your witness against sin.

I can hardly preach the peace and joy that comes in knowing the Lord if I give free reign to violence, both in word and deed. (Thank Him for His great patience!)

Nor can I preach the Gospel if I am content to turn a blind eye to evil.

During the disgusting years of the enslavement of Africans across the United States, members of the Friends risked livelihood and life itself as conductors on the Underground Railroad, helping to usher thousands to freedom. Desmond Doss, whose story was recently told through the film Hacksaw Ridge, single-handedly saved the lives of 75 wounded infantrymen during the battle of Okinawa – without carrying a gun. Sophie Scholl was arrested and executed by the Gestapo for distributing anti-war leaflets in Munich.

These are but a few examples.

I must get in the way of evil I am to avoid hypocrisy. I must bring light to the darkness whenever possible. Here I will not list the ways that I have done so; such a thing would invite your applause, and that I do not need. My Father sees. My Father knows.

To accuse pacifists of hatred for and complacency toward our fellow man is to misunderstand. As the Beloved Disciple wrote,

He who says he is in the light, and hates his brother, is in darkness until now. He who loves his brother abides in the light, and there is no cause for stumbling in him. But he who hates his brother is in darkness and walks in darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes.

– 1 John 2:9-11 (NKJV)

One may argue that this applies only to believers – we cannot hate each other but we are free to hate those outside the Body of Christ. While these verses are written to and within the context of the community of faith, consider,

“But I say to you who hear: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who spitefully use you. To him who strikes you on the one cheek, offer the other also. And from him who takes away your cloak, do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who asks of you. And from him who takes away your goods do not ask them back. And just as you want men to do to you, you also do to them likewise.

“But if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you hope to receive back, what credit is that to you? For even sinners lend to sinners to receive as much back. But love your enemies, do good, and lend, hoping for nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High. For He is kind to the unthankful and evil. Therefore be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful.

– Luke 6:27-36 (NKJV)

These are not suggestions that we can shrug over and disregard.

These are commands, straight from the lips of the Living God.

At the 1521 Diet of Worms (a formal meeting in a German city, not a weight-loss plan), Martin Luther said,

Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Holy Scriptures or by evident reason – for I can believe neither pope nor councils alone, as it is clear that they have erred repeatedly and contradicted themselves – I consider myself convicted by the testimony of Holy Scripture, which is my basis; my conscience is captive to the Word of God. Thus I cannot and will not recant, because acting against one’s conscience is neither safe nor sound. God help me. Amen.

(emphasis mine)

Luther himself was hardly a pacifist, but his proclamation provides a nice summary.

I will never tell anyone that love of country is a sin. Where Scripture does not bind the conscience, neither will I. Pacifists love their countries, just in a way that is not commonly expressed in patriotic displays. We want peace, harmony, prosperity – the kind that is found in a relationship with Christ. So we labor, seeking to share the Gospel message of salvation and hope, despite hostility from those in the dark and lack of understanding from fellow believers.

This is my mission.

Signature

Photo credit: Ben White
Advertisements

The LORD Your God in Your Midst: I Will Save (3:18-20)

The LORD, the Mighty One

Gentle Reader,

“I will gather those who sorrow over the appointed assembly,
Who are among you,
To whom its reproach is a burden.
Behold, at that time
I will deal with all who afflict you;
I will save the lame,
And gather those who were driven out;
I will appoint them for praise and fame
In every land where they were put to shame.
At that time I will bring you back,
Even at the time I gather you;
For I will give you fame and praise
Among all the peoples of the earth,
When I return your captives before your eyes,”
Says the LORD.

– Zephaniah 3:18-20 (NKJV)

The God of Hope

I can think of no better way to dig into these last verses than to quote Warren Wiersbe:

God’s promise is that His scattered people will be gathered, His lame people will be rescued, and His sinful people will be forgiven and no longer bear the shame of their wicked deeds. “I will bring you home” (vs. 20) is God’s gracious promise, and He will keep it. Where once the Jewish nation brought shame and disgrace to God’s name and were poor witnesses to the Gentiles, now Israel will bring honor and praise to the Lord their God and reveal to the Gentile nations to glory of His name. Israel will receive honor from the Gentiles and give the glory to the Lord. …

…there is a present-day practical lesson here for any of God’s people who have strayed from His will and experienced His chastening. When you come to Him with a broken heart, confessing your sins, He will receive you the way a loving mother receives a disobedient child. He will love you and even sing to you! He will bring peace to your heart and “quiet you with His love.” Yes, we suffer for our disobedience; and sometimes we carry the scars of that disobedience for the rest of our lives. But the Lord will forgive us (1 John 1:9), forget our sins, and restore us to loving fellowship.

Dr. William Culbertson, late president of Moody Bible Institute, sometimes ended his public prayers with, “And Lord, help us bear the consequence of forgiven sin and to end well.” There are consequences to forgiven sin; for though God in His grace cleanses us, God is His government says, “You will reap what you have sown.” After King David confessed his son, the prophet Nathan assured him that the Lord had put away his sin, but the rest of his days David suffered the tragic consequences of what he had done (2 Samuel 12:1-15).

But when God establishes His kingdom on earth, He will restore His people, renew the land, and give His people a new beginning that will cause them to forget their past disobedience and focus on praising the Lord and glorifying His name.

Jehovah is “the God of hope.” (1)

Darkness Passes

Zephaniah knew that his people weren’t going to escape the judgment that they had brought upon themselves. He understood that the would have to crawl through the valley before they would reach the heights his book ends on. Yet he also relished in the fact that the judgment would not last forever. His people were not a lost cause.

The final verses of the book (vv. 18-20) are spoken by Yahweh himself as he promises to reverse the fortunes of his people who must go through the destruction measured out to the nations in the Day of Yahweh. For them judgment becomes remedial, not final.(2)

Sometimes it seems that sin and darkness will win. The assumption is that grace is the lesser force. Forgiveness and the presence of God are surely far beyond the reach of mere mortals. Try as we might, there comes a point when we recognize that the mess is of our own making and we deserve to live in it. It is tempting, so tempting, to hang our heads and give up. We have offended God.

Whether this recognition comes for the first time or the thousandth, how breathtaking it is when God bends low and pulls us toward Him. He uses the mess. He uses the consequences. He takes the very chains that bind us and turns them into cords of love (Hosea 11:4). As we comprehend the full horror of our sins, He allows us to catch a glimpse of stunning, merciful light.

There is a decision to be made in that moment. He never forces it. We can go back to the darkness and the weight. Or we can learn, as Judah did. We can cry out for forgiveness. We, to whom God owes nothing, can be saved. By His will. By His hand.

All Him 

Strong emphasis lies in the repeated “I will.” All that they will gain—relief from burdens, salvation from oppression, return from exile, honor and praise—will be due to the direct action of Yahweh. Salvation belongs to him alone. (3)

Calvinists like to accuse anyone who isn’t Calvinist (i.e., me) of holding to a man-centered salvation. Nothing could be further from the truth. We can quibble over the ordo salutis all day long, but the glaring fact is that all the work necessary for life and salvation was initiated, carried out and completed by God. Anyone who reads the Bible honestly must come to this conclusion.

The Jewish people won’t live in peace and harmony because they are more deserving than others. God did not choose them because they were special. They became special because they were chosen, just as with Gentile believers. He will lift their burdens (and ours) because He wants to. He will deal with their enemies (and ours) because He wants to. He declares them (and us) His children because we have done the only thing that is left to do – accept His free gift of grace.

Whether you fall on the side of predestination and the irresistible nature of grace or see salvation as genuinely offered to all and believe free will is real doesn’t matter. A lot of people think it does. A lot of people think a Christian lives or dies on being able to recite the Doctrines of Grace or the Remonstrance from memory. This is not the case. Salvation is the work of God. You can think it flows via this avenue or that. It doesn’t matter. In fact, we’re probably all a little bit right and a little bit wrong and will be surprised when we see the whole picture.

What matters is that you stake your life on His. That you cast yourself entirely on the mercy of God. That you confess, out loud, that Jesus is Lord and believe with purity (Romans 10:9). That you live this thing out as He enables you to do so (Ephesians 2:10, James 2:14-26).

Per gratiam. Per fidem. Quae in operibus.

By grace. Through faith. Expressed in works.

Amen.

Reflection

  1. Read the whole book of Zephaniah. What stands out to you? What words and phrases have a deeper meaning for you now?
  2. Sum up what you have learned in a few simple sentences.
  3. Obviously we did not explore every nook and cranny of this fabulous book. That is the nature of Scripture; it is bottomless. What concepts or people do you want to learn more about now?
  4. The goal of Bible study is threefold: to know God, to love God and to obey God. After this study, do you know Him better? Love Him more deeply? Want to obey Him?
  5. How can you take the lessons of Zephaniah and apply them to your daily life?

Signature

Sources

(1) Warren Weirsbe. Be Concerned: Minor Prophets. (David C. Cook: Colorado Springs, 1996), 161, 162.

(2) Asbury Bible Commentary (under the “study this” tab)

(3) Ibid.

For all entries in The LORD Your God in Your Midst series, go here.

The Manger, the Cross

{ image source }

Gentle Reader,

“To the first-century citizen, the cross was not a beautiful piece of jewelry; it was the lowest form of death and the ultimate in humiliation. The proper Roman citizen would never mention the cross in polite conversation. It stood for rejection and shame.” – Warren Wiersbe, Be Free: Galatians, 155.

If anyone ever had the right to walk the earth with a strut, it is Jesus. After all, He made it.

Yet from His first, squalling baby-cry to His last gasping breath on the cross, Jesus exemplified humility. He came here and lived as and among the lowest. He chose to identify with shepherds and carpenters, peasant girls and widows. He did not have the finest clothes to wear or the best food to eat. He didn’t have a place to call His own.

His parents couldn’t put Him in a snug little bed that night so long ago. They laid Him in a feeding trough. Rough hay rustled with the smallest of His movements.

Jesus suffered. He lived as one hounded and oppressed from His first day of life to His last. The carpenter’s Son lived in a backwater. He never had money to spare. He felt the weight of religious legalism and the weight of political chaos. A king tried to kill Him in Bethlehem and a king would conspire to kill Him in Jerusalem – and succeed.

It’s no wonder that the world-at-large is okay with faith so long as it’s not faith in Jesus. Unbridled tension gallops through the story of His life. A King who served? A Savior who bled? God in flesh? Tremble at the implications. Jesus is confrontational. He gets up in your business and there are only two ways to respond: Love Him or hate Him. There is no such thing as indifference toward the Man from Galilee, for indifference is only the sly form of hate.

The infinitely wealthy Lord of all, in a manger.

The King of Kings, on the cross.

My journey to faith. (15)

31 Days with the Savior: Crucified

19736_27745_5

Gentle Reader,

Then the whole multitude of them arose and led Him to Pilate. And they began to accuse Him, saying, “We found this fellow perverting the nation, and forbidding to pay taxes to Caesar, saying that He Himself is Christ, a King.”

Then Pilate asked Him, saying, “Are You the King of the Jews?”

He answered him and said, It is as you say.”

So Pilate said to the chief priests and the crowd, “I find no fault in this Man.”

But they were the more fierce, saying, “He stirs up the people, teaching throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee to this place.”

When Pilate heard of Galilee, he asked if the Man were a Galilean.  And as soon as he knew that He belonged to Herod’s jurisdiction, he sent Him to Herod, who was also in Jerusalem at that time. Now when Herod saw Jesus, he was exceedingly glad; for he had desired for a long time to see Him, because he had heard many things about Him, and he hoped to see some miracle done by Him.  Then he questioned Him with many words, but He answered him nothing.  And the chief priests and scribes stood and vehemently accused Him. Then Herod, with his men of war, treated Him with contempt and mocked Him, arrayed Him in a gorgeous robe, and sent Him back to Pilate. That very day Pilate and Herod became friends with each other, for previously they had been at enmity with each other.

Then Pilate, when he had called together the chief priests, the rulers, and the people, said to them, “You have brought this Man to me, as one who misleads the people. And indeed, having examined Him in your presence, I have found no fault in this Man concerning those things of which you accuse Him; no, neither did Herod, for I sent you back to him;[c] and indeed nothing deserving of death has been done by Him. I will therefore chastise Him and release Him(for it was necessary for him to release one to them at the feast).

And they all cried out at once, saying, “Away with this Man, and release to us Barabbas”— who had been thrown into prison for a certain rebellion made in the city, and for murder.

Pilate, therefore, wishing to release Jesus, again called out to them. But they shouted, saying, “Crucify Him, crucify Him!”

Then he said to them the third time, “Why, what evil has He done? I have found no reason for death in Him. I will therefore chastise Him and let Him go.”

But they were insistent, demanding with loud voices that He be crucified. And the voices of these men and of the chief priests prevailed. So Pilate gave sentence that it should be as they requested. And he released to them[f] the one they requested, who for rebellion and murder had been thrown into prison; but he delivered Jesus to their will.

Now as they led Him away, they laid hold of a certain man, Simon a Cyrenian, who was coming from the country, and on him they laid the cross that he might bear it after Jesus.

And a great multitude of the people followed Him, and women who also mourned and lamented Him. But Jesus, turning to them, said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for Me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. For indeed the days are coming in which they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren, wombs that never bore, and breasts which never nursed!’ Then they will begin ‘to say to the mountains, “Fall on us!” and to the hills, “Cover us!”’ For if they do these things in the green wood, what will be done in the dry?”

There were also two others, criminals, led with Him to be put to death. And when they had come to the place called Calvary, there they crucified Him, and the criminals, one on the right hand and the other on the left. Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.”

And they divided His garments and cast lots. And the people stood looking on. But even the rulers with them sneered, saying, “He saved others; let Him save Himself if He is the Christ, the chosen of God.”

The soldiers also mocked Him, coming and offering Him sour wine, 37 and saying, “If You are the King of the Jews, save Yourself.”

And an inscription also was written over Him in letters of Greek, Latin, and Hebrew:

THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS.

Then one of the criminals who were hanged blasphemed Him, saying, “If You are the Christ, save Yourself and us.”

But the other, answering, rebuked him, saying, “Do you not even fear God, seeing you are under the same condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds; but this Man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said to Jesus, “Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.”

And Jesus said to him, “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.”

Now it was about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over all the earth until the ninth hour. Then the sun was darkened, and the veil of the temple was torn in two. And when Jesus had cried out with a loud voice, He said, “Father, ‘into Your hands I commit My spirit.’” Having said this, He breathed His last.

So when the centurion saw what had happened, he glorified God, saying, “Certainly this was a righteous Man!”

And the whole crowd who came together to that sight, seeing what had been done, beat their breasts and returned. But all His acquaintances, and the women who followed Him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things.

Now behold, there was a man named Joseph, a council member, a good and just man. He had not consented to their decision and deed. He was from Arimathea, a city of the Jews, who himself was also waiting for the kingdom of God. This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then he took it down, wrapped it in linen, and laid it in a tomb that was hewn out of the rock, where no one had ever lain before. – Luke 23:1-53 (NKJV)

My journey to faith. (15)

For all entries in the Jesus: 31 Days with the Savior series, go here.