The Father’s Hand of Protection

By Jerry Pierce • June 17, 2016

Father holding son

In this article, which first appeared in the May 2016 edition of Decision Magazine, Pastor Dale Evrist explains the unwavering protection God offers through Christ. Find hope in this message, even if you don’t have an earthly dad to celebrate this Father’s Day.

The picture of Shaun Cunningham’s outstretched arm shielding his young son’s face from an errant baseball bat at a March 5 spring training game between the Atlanta Braves and the Pittsburgh Pirates quickly went viral on social media.

If a picture is really worth a thousand words, surely none of those words were as rich in meaning as what Landon Cunningham, a 9-year-old Braves fan, said about the prospects of danger from flung bats and foul balls at baseball outings.

Shaun Cunningham deflects a flying bat to save his son, Landon, from certain injury.

“As long as I’m with my dad, I’m OK,” he told the Ocala Star-Banner in Ocala, Fla.

Dale Evrist, pastor of New Song Christian Fellowship in Nashville, Tenn., and author of a book on God’s protection of believers called The Mighty Hand of God, would agree.

When Evrist saw the photo of Shaun stretching out to shield his son—who was looking down at his dad’s phone when Pirates outfielder Danny Ortiz’s bat went flying toward the stands—he almost immediately thought of theological parallels.

“If an earthly father’s instinct in protecting his child enables that father in a split second to ward off a projectile coming at his son to do him harm, and if we serve the God and the Father of the How Much More, then how much more will your heavenly Father give good things?” Evrist told Decision, quoting from Matthew 7:11. “He knows the bat’s coming. He’s the helicopter over the parade. He declares the end from the beginning.”

Evrist acknowledges that God’s plan often allows suffering, and sometimes tragic death, yet God’s economy seems to allow for more protections from natural calamities and human evils than the believer likely realizes.

Scripture is full of instances in which God protected His people—always with His divine purposes in mind.

  • In Exodus 14:21-31, God is described as fighting for Israel as He divides the Red Sea as a means of their escape from the pursuing Egyptian army. Though often stiff-necked, Israel is God’s chosen vehicle for bringing forth the Messiah.
  • In Joshua 2, God rewards a fearful and repentant prostitute, Rahab, for her faithfulness in hiding the Hebrew spies by sparing her and her family while the rest of Jericho perishes.
  • In 1 Samuel 7, the Lord observes Israel’s repentance from idol worship and blesses them with victory and protection over the Philistines for the rest of the Prophet Samuel’s life.
  • Psalm 91 waxes effusive about God’s protection, characterizing the Lord as a refuge, shelter and dwelling place, an avenger and a saving source.

In Acts 9:15, the Lord says that Paul “is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel.” Although Paul and all the other apostles except for John died as martyrs, Paul’s life had God’s protection amid shipwrecks, a stoning, beatings, venomous snakes and other threats until his work as a missionary was fulfilled. He suffered but was not crushed.

Evrist notes: “When the servant of God walks in faith and obedience, they are indestructible until God’s plan for them has come to completion.”

Where Prayer and Protection Meet

Steve Gaines, pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church in suburban Memphis, admits he doesn’t comprehend why God allows evil in one place—he mentioned the church shooting in Charleston, S.C., last June as an example—yet stops it in another.

But he’s grateful in those times of protection, all the same.

Gaines is adamant about the role of prayer in the life of believers. He authored a book study, Pray Like It Matters, which is used in churches across the country. And he is certain prayer mattered on Easter at Bellevue.

Some 75 people gathered the Saturday before Easter to plead for the safety and spiritual condition of each person attending Easter services the next day. Such prayer over each seat in the worship center is a weekly work of a small but committed team of church members.

Prior to the final service March 27 at Bellevue, which draws more than 6,000 people each Sunday, a greeter noticed a man carrying what looked like a partially concealed pistol.

She quickly notified a security officer, who stopped the man. After a brief conversation with the man, the off-duty Memphis policeman discovered that a bag the man was carrying contained a rifle and a large amount of ammunition.

All the while, the third service was delayed in starting because a woman had fallen and was receiving medical attention near the sanctuary exit the man was attempting to enter. Her accident kept him from entering the service.

“I don’t understand it,” Gaines said. “And yet I do believe that we are to pray for protection. … In no way do I think we prayed better than some other group of people who experienced tragedy. But I do believe that all Christians ought to engage in fervent prayer for protection.”

Gaines said authorities believe the man was delusional, and it was unclear what his motives were, but Gaines is certain the potential for bloodshed was averted.

The right response to such protection, Gaines said, is thanksgiving and praise.

“The Bible says in Psalm 127, ‘Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it. Unless the Lord guards the city, the watchman keeps awake in vain’ (NASB). Ultimately, the Lord is our protector.”

Right Alignment, Right Assignment

The character of God is on full display in the Psalms. In Psalm 121:1-3, the psalmist writes of Israel: “I lift up my eyes to the mountains—where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth. He will not let your foot slip—he who watches over you will not slumber.”

In the same way that Israel had a divinely ordained assignment to bless the nations with God’s salvation, each believer has a God-ordained assignment as an ambassador of Christ that includes promises of protection.

Second Thessalonians 3:3 says, “But the Lord is faithful. He will establish you and guard you against the evil one.” In His model prayer, Jesus teaches the disciples to pray, “deliver us from evil.”

Again, Evrist emphasizes, “When the servant of God walks in faith and obedience, is the enemy looking for ways to take us out? Certainly. But I really think in most cases he needs our cooperation, where we put ourselves in harm’s way by not being in the right place and doing the right thing.

“When you really start crunching the numbers, you find that far and away, most Christians can point to a place where God’s hand of protection was evident. You can go through World War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan—so many stories of people saying ‘I shouldn’t be here today. God’s hand really protected me.’”

Ultimately, God has the prerogative over our life and death.

“And so,” Evrist says, “we can take comfort in knowing that if someone is walking with God and God’s plan for them really has come to completion, and that their life on this earth is over, I can completely live with that.”

This article first appeared in the May 2016 issue of Decision Magazine.

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How the Loss of a Young Child Led to Father’s Baptism

By David Jolly – June 11, 2019

The thought of losing a child, especially a young child, is frightening to many parents. It’s our role to raise, protect them and to guide them into adulthood and families of their own. We parents are supposed to die before our children do, but in a sin cursed world, tragedy strikes far too many families with the loss of a child.

If you listen to the news, you will hear about a number of teenaged children who are shot, killed in an auto accident, dead from a drug overdose or by other means. We see the grieving parents on the news and yes, we can ache with their grief.

But what really touches our hearts is hearing of the loss of a young child, who hasn’t had the opportunity to live very long or even attain their teen years.

Sadly, the death of a young child far too often causes such grief and guilt to the parents that they withdraw from each other and end up divorcing and bringing further tragedy and grief to the family. I can’t tell you how many families I have seen go through this.

A former co-worker of mine lost an infant twin. Authorities claimed he was responsible for the infant’s death and banned him from his own home. Eventually, the same authorities determined that the 11-month-old boy had died of SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome) and that the father was not responsible. However, by the time he was cleared of the infant’s death, his wife divorced him and was able to get full custody of the remaining twin and their other child. He had no visitation rights at all. He was so devastated that he ended up taking his own life.

A year ago, a young couple in our church lost a young child. The pain of the loss was overwhelming to the family and the hurt ran deep. Instead of the loss causing such guilt and isolation, it helped lead the father to accepting Jesus Christ as his personal Lord and Savior.

For a year prior to the child’s death, the father admits that he was learning what it meant to be a Christian and what the impact of sin in his life really was. When his son died, instead of raising a fist against God, he took to his knees.

This past week, he was baptized and during his baptism, he shared that losing his son and the pain that was involved with that loss made him understand and grasp the sacrifice that God made when His Son died on the cross. It made that sacrifice so real and impactful to this young father in a way that many of us don’t comprehend.

I’m sure we’ve all lost someone we love and that we’ve all grieved at the loss, but have you ever compared your sorrow and grief to that of God when He sacrificed His Son Jesus Christ? We often hear that God loves us, but this young father who lost his son, has a better grip on how much God loves us because of his own personal loss.

Whenever you hear of God’s love, look at your own kids and think of how precious they are to you and then try to imagine God’s love for his own Son and then realize that He still made the ultimate sacrifice for all of us. Could you make that kind of sacrifice for sinners? God did!

 

Original here

Is It Written?

 

Dear friends,

Today, I want to invite you to do some research in your own bible.

Someone said to me today that they had been a Christian for almost all their life and then they discovered that there is some sort of a higher source, but it is not the GOD of the bible and Christianity doesn’t have the truth. They went on  – and I didn’t interrupt them, which was not because I didn’t want to fight for my beloved SAVIOR or because I denied HIM or anything, it was only because I saw the obsession in their eyes and knew they wouldn’t listen to me, at least not in this moment, so I just let them rant – this is a person I see regularly and I will have an opportunity to speak to them about this again very soon, most likely tomorrow…

In fact, they will most likely (have to) tell me that they were wrong…

Maybe not about GOD, or at least not so quickly – even though I do believe that this is the purpose of them speaking to me, because THE HOLY SPIRIT wants them to return to GOD!!!

Consider that THEY opened this conversation, even the topic, they had no idea they were talking to a Christian, let alone a passionate evangelist 🙂

So I will most certainly keep you posted about the journey back to THE LORD of this person – like I said, I don’t think I will have to say or do much, they came to me to convert themselves back  – if you want to put it like that… they are of the kind which speaks to you without ever letting you say anything, finishing your sentences for you, telling you what you will say next and what your objections are and I have learned to just let them, because there is no point in stopping them – even if they ask you something, you need to wait for a really long time to find out if they are truly asking YOU what they are asking you or if they are just having a conversation with themselves in your presence and will answer the question they asked YOU shortly afterwards themselves… I am sure you have met a person like that…

What I wanted to share with you though, so that we can all consider it, is their claim that there was a verse missing in the bible and that that’s why the bible is wrong and the entire book is a lie.

They said they thought it was Matthew 18:11.

I suppose they instantly regret what they had said when I opened my bag, took out my bible and said: “let’s have a look, shall we?”

You who know me wouldn’t be surprised to learn that I never, ever go anywhere without a bible, now, would you?

But this person had only just met me… so they were not prepared.

So I let them take a look in my bible, and what can I say, lo and behold, Matthew 18:11 was there!

HALLELUJAH!

And what a great and important verse it is!

MATTHEW 18:11
FOR THE SON OF MAN IS COME TO SAVE THAT WHICH IS LOST.

They read their own fate and future out loud – this is one of the moments when I LOVE MY FATHER’s sense of humor soooooo much!

Of course they have no idea yet.

Even if they never speak to me ever again, me, I KNOW that THE HOLY SPIRIT arrested and convicted them today and that it will only be a matter of time until they are a Christian again.

GOD is GOOD!

They don’t know yet and they may never admit it before me, but their life has already been changed for good – trough their own words, because me, I hardly said anything.

What they said when the verse was there in my bible was that they will ask the person about the verse that is missing and tell me next time.

They did give me a little chance to say what I had to say about it.

What I said was that I knew that for instance in the “Jehova’s wittnesses’ bibles”, some verses had been taken out and that I had taken note of them in my phone and that I had told some of them once when they had come to my house – and that they had been baffled…this person though will not give up.

They believe that the bible is a lie.

And this is also “because King James was a person” that’s why they believe the bible is a lie…

When I said that I wouldn’t doubt the entire bible only because there was a verse missing and that I had learned that certain books were kept out of the bible because there had not been as many thousand matching historic reports and proofs for them as for other books, they said “ah, this is what you believe about it”. They said it with a lot of disdain and I found out shortly after that it is their mother who is the “fanatic Christian” in their life… I hear the bells ringing…

At least they asked me if I had been a Christian for a long time and when I said that I had been into many things which are very similar to what they had mentioned BEFORE I had become a Christian, I could see that there was a lot going on in their brain – in fact, they were getting angry. They couldn’t tell me, because I had not said anything to trigger them, but they were angry because they were smart enough to realize that the excuses they had found before, the accusations they had had towards other people weren’t working on me…

For me, it is clear that this person is brainwashed by the enemy.

Well, they will come back and it will be interesting what they will do when all the scriptures they will have on their note will NOT be gone, but will be there in MY bible.

I had done some research on the various versions of the bible a while ago and also on why certain books were not included in the bible or only in the bible of  some other cults… I did it again today and found that it is not only the JWbible which has taken out verses, also the NIV – and I want to invite you to compare for yourself – perhaps you have different versions of the bible at home or you can compare the different versions online.

Me personally, I only read in and rely on the King James Version of the bible, simply because it came out shortly after printing presses had been invented and it seems the oldest version of a translation made available for the masses and also, I prayed about it and this is what I personally heard when asking MY FATHER which version of the bible HE says I should use and rely on.

Everyone must make this decision for themselves.

Me, I sometimes like to look at a verse in a different translation in order to understand it better. But reading and meditating on GOD’s word is happening in King James English for me and also, when I hear the voice of MY FATHER speak, which happens sometimes, it is always King James English HE is speaking…

Perhaps you’ll want to check out the verses in your bible, the ones which are there in the KJV and are not there in the NIV for instance (perhaps also elsewhere, I didn’t check).

  • Matthew 17:21
  • Matthew 18:11
  • Matthew 23:14
  • Mark 7:16
  • Mark 9:44 & 9:46
  • Mark 11:24
  • Mark 15:28
  • Luke 17:36
  • John 5:3–4
  • Acts 8:37
  • Acts 15:34
  • Acts 24:6–8
  • Acts 28:29
  • Romans 16:24
  • 1 John 5:7–8

Me, I wouldn’t want to be without them… would you?

Curious to hear which version of the bible you are using, my friend, and why you prefer this translation and if you checked the above scriptures and found them in there…?

I hope and pray that this would inspire, bless and heal you and that THE LORD will bless you richly in all areas of your life and that HE will keep you and shine HIS face upon you and bring you peace. In JESUS’ name I pray. AMEN.

 

Original here

The Risk of Happiness

An experiment with joy
DOUGLAS GROOTHUIS| JUNE 11, 2019

The Risk of Happiness

‘I don’t trust happiness,” said Mack (played by Robert Duvall) in Tender Merciesafter losing his young daughter. These four words rang sadly true, and they lodged in my soul. In 1983, when I was 27, it seemed right to me. I had not known the nadir of unhappiness. But my father had been killed in a plane crash in 1968. Since that grave loss, I thought that serious people, thinkers, ought not to risk happiness. It was, after all, a fallen world; optimists were deluded. Happy was usually silly and not the attitude of the brooding prophet, of which I was one.

To me, the frown was the crown of the Christian critic. Francis Schaeffer was seldom photographed while smiling. I don’t remember him smiling in any of the scenes of the film series, “How Shall We Then Live?” Woe to our modern, post-Christian culture! We serious people must beware of pointless mirth and witness chuckles. Yes, I knew who I was. A Christian sister in my college youth group said I was so “serious.” She liked to laugh, even giggle. I liked her, but that giggle! Somehow, we became friends.

By grace, I learned my calling soon after conversion: Teach, preach, and publish. Defend the faith. Exegete and challenge the culture in the mode of Os Guinness and Francis Schaeffer. Out-think the world for Christ! One must be serious to do this. Remember Kierkegaard, the great and melancholy Dane, whose book, The Sickness unto Death, helped lead me to Christ. But Os Guinness, as I knew from lecture tapes, had a seriousness and cheerfulness about him. When we met, I delightfully discerned this again. And C. S. Lewis wrote so much about joy. Hardly unserious, that Lewis.

“I don’t trust happiness,” I often intoned to myself as one dream died after another, as my wife went from chronically ill to terminal dementia. I wrote a lament about it, Walking Through Twilight. I was in good company: C. S. Lewis and Nicholas Wolterstorff who wrote laments for their own losses (a wife and a son, respectively). The latter wrote the foreword to my book. Yes, I tried to smelt every bit of meaning and love out of my suffering according to my Christian convictions.

I escaped into meaning as my life devolved into caregiving for a dying spouse—once brilliant, now not. I found meaning in my work, my aesthetic enjoyments, my mentoring, and my friendships. “A lot of people love you,” I have been told.

The pessimist assumes the worst, so he is not so disappointed. Assuming the worst is emotional insulation meant to provide protection from pain. I read Authentic Happiness, by noted social scientist Martin Seligman, over a decade ago. One fact stood out: Optimists tend to be less aware than pessimists of reality. I will take reality over happiness, I resolved. I have told my students, “I’d rather suffer for the truth than be happy with a lie.” The brooding prophet will not be deceived.

Now I wonder about this grim posture. I know, especially from Ecclesiastes, that life, even at its best, is hevel, “a vapor.” But this life “under the sun” also affords simple pleasures of work, family, eating, and drinking. And the vapor will one day give way to eternity.

My friend and author, Gail MacDonald, signs all of her letters with “Don’t postpone joy.” This, I take it, is the polar opposite of “I don’t trust happiness.” Gail is not a superficial, happy-clappy soul. She and her husband, Gordon, have been faithful partners in my laments over the years. They are seasoned saints whom I respect and love.

I distrust happiness still. Yet I know the beginning and the end of the great story. The new creation will know no sorrow, neither tears nor groans of longing and agony (Rev. 21–22). By grace, I am a citizen of heaven and will thrive on a new earth with all the redeemed. We will invent new games of happiness, new talks of hilarity, new festivals of celebration of our great God and King. I will converse with Blaise Pascal and Soren Kierkegaard, whose legendary melancholy will be no more. Francis Schaeffer will be beaming as well.

Happiness is ganging up on me. I am now married to a kind, gentle, loving, faithful, and beautiful woman, who loves me as much as I love her. We have a vision of ministry together. I am no longer obese. The 50 pounds I gained through sorrow have been lost. I don’t feel ashamed every time I put on clothes or look into the mirror, which shouldn’t be too often anyway.

Why not embrace happiness now and expect more—in this broken world, on this groaning orb? Every happy thought, every feeling of joy (unless sinful), is a strike against the fall and Satan and his devils. People say I look lighter, physically and emotionally. I am learning to welcome the pleasant as just as real as the unpleasant. No, it is more real! God made all things very good before the fall. Sin is a parasite on goodness, which is aboriginal in God and creation. Joy will find a way, even through the detours.

Why should I postpone joy? I find no duty before God or man to do so. God gives all good gifts, including every second of happiness. I accept it in the embrace of my new wife. My smiles need not fade so quickly. I need hide no reality to find the levity in God’s good world.

Call it an experiment in happiness, well worth the risk. But I am reluctant still. What if it is dashed, squashed? No matter. I accept and relish any godly happiness I meet. In that moment, it cannot be taken away by anyone or anything.

Douglas Groothuis is professor of philosophy at Denver Seminary. He is author of many books, most recently Walking Through Twilight.

 

Original here

NPR erupts over ‘Male and female He created them’

Network can’t handle truth of God’s mind on sexuality

 

adam-eve-garden-eden

The Vatican has released a document titled “Male and female He created them” and it has NPR erupting in distress over the clear suggestion that there are men, there are women, and that’s how God created them.

The idea flies in the face of today’s politically correct social agenda that sometimes identifies many different sexual orientations or gender identities. The fight is going on over and over across America as men who say they are women demand to enter women’s shower rooms and more.

At the agenda’s extremities Democratic majorities in some states are banning even discussion by counselors of a heterosexual lifestyle with minors who have unwanted homosexual feelings.

Talk-radio host Rush Limbaugh noted that June is a month to celebrate homosexual “pride.”

And he pointed out that although the pope generally adopts “left-wing activist stuff,” in this case, he has “come out and denied during pride month the concept of gender identity.”

He quoted from a report on the issue, “The Vatican department charged with overseeing Catholic education released an extensive document Monday decrying what it calls a ‘crisis’ on whether gender can be an individual choice rather than being set by God or biology.”

The quote continued, “The document describes a culture-wide ‘disorientation’ that serves to ‘cancel out’ the natural difference between man and woman, as well as ‘destabilize the family as an institution.’”

“‘The Congregation for Catholic Education says the goal of the 31-page guide –’ This is a guide on how you shouldn’t do this transgender stuff and you shouldn’t destabilize the family and if you’re born a woman, be happy about it. Born a man, be happy. You don’t have to right to choose this. Gender is not something you choose. God determines it. That’s in the guide,” Limbaugh said.

NPR said in an online report, “The timing of its release … during the heart of Pride Month, led some to wonder whether Vatican bureaucracy was making a point.

“The text was dated Feb. 2, 2019, but was only made public more than four months later, around the time gay-rights supporters the world over gathered at rallies, parades and concerts honoring the LGBTA community.”

NPR pointed out that Pope Francis has in the past suggested sympathy for LGBTQ community members.

“But that support has not extended to transgender individuals, whose gender identity does not match the sex they were identified as having at birth,” the report said.

Explained Limbaugh, “And the goal of the guide, according to the Congregation for Catholic Education, is to ‘support those who work in the education of young people, so as to help them address in a methodical way (and in the light of the universal vocation to love of the human person) the most debated questions around human sexuality.’”

He explained the document simply states traditional Catholic teaching.

“So essentially here the pope is saying that God determines the sex of human beings. To do otherwise will destabilize the family as an institution. Let me tell you, when the left cannot count on Pope Francis, then they’ve got trouble,” Limbaugh said.

The document itself explained, “It is becoming increasingly clear that we are now fac[ed] with what might accurately be called an educational crisis, especially in the field of affectivity and sexuality. In many places, curricula are being planned and implemented which ‘allegedly convey a neutral conception of the person and of life, yet in fact reflect an anthropology opposed to faith and to right reason.’ The disorientation regarding anthropology which is a widespread feature of our cultural landscape has undoubtedly helped to destabilize the family as an institution, bringing with it a tendency to cancel out the differences between men and women, presenting them instead as merely the product of historical and cultural conditioning.”

The new Vatican release’s sub-head is “Towards a path of dialogue on the question of gender theory in education.”

The paper included a warning: “The context in which the mission of education is carried out is characterized by challenges emerging from varying forms of an ideology that is given the general name ‘gender theory,’ which ‘denies the difference and reciprocity in nature of a man and a woman and envisages a society without sexual differences, thereby eliminating the anthropological basis of the family.

“This ideology leads to educational programs and legislative enactments that promote a personal identity and emotional intimacy radically separated from the biological difference between male and female. Consequently, human identity becomes the choice of the individual, one which can also change over time.”

It explains that it actually is from their sex “that the human person receives the characteristics which, on the biological, psychological and spiritual selves, make that person a man or a woman.”

The Vatican document explained that there have been calls for public recognition of the right “to choose one’s gender, and of a plurality of new types of unions, in direct contradiction of the model of marriage as being between one man and one woman, which is portrayed as a vestige of patriarchal societies.

“The ideal presented is that the individual should be able to choose his or her own status, and that society should limit itself to guaranteeing this right, and even providing material support, since the minorities involved would otherwise suffer negative social discrimination,” the document states.

The transgender agenda points in society, then, the report said, “are the expression of a widespread way of thinking and acting in today’s culture that confuses ‘genuine freedom with the idea that each individual can act arbitrarily as if there were not truths, values and principles to provide guidance, and everything were possible and permission.’”

https://www.wnd.com/2019/06/npr-erupts-over-male-and-female-he-created-them/

The Church Does Not Exist for the Sake of the World

According to Scripture, the people of God have a higher purpose.
MARK GALLI| JUNE 12, 2019

The Church Does Not Exist for the Sake of the World

Last week, I ended last week’s Elusive Presence essay by saying that thinking of the church primarily in missional terms is a mistake. Specifically, I said, “I believe it is an unbiblical view of the church. And I believe it is an unhealthy diet for the church.” To grasp that first point, I will begin by looking at Paul’s letter to the Ephesians to ground my biblical exposition. While Ephesians it is not a systematic theology of the church, Ephesians is where Paul outlines most deeply and consistently a theology of the church.

Paul begins his letter with hardly any warm up; he jumps in by outlining a breathtaking view of history, in which the role of the church is central:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and insight he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth” (Eph. 1:3-10, NRSV).

Note Paul’s understanding of the mind of God (if we can talk in such terms) before the creation of the world: “Before the foundation of the world,” he says, God’s first and primary purpose was to create a people for himself, who would live with him “holy and blameless in love.” Before and above anything else, he thought about a people he would adopt as family, who would be brothers and sisters of Jesus his Son.

He did this not for some ulterior motive, so that this family would then go out and do something even more important. But he did this “according to the good pleasure of his will,” and “to the praise of his glorious grace”—meaning because of the simple splendidness of the act. It appears that for Paul, the family of God—the church—is not a means but an end.

The church is in fact the sign and portent of God’s universal will, which is “a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and on earth.” God’s wish is to bring everything into his orbit of love. The plan seems to be this: Everywhere, as far as the eye can see, there will be the family of God—the church—living before its Father in holy love.

Paul continues: “In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory” (Eph. 1:11–12).

Notice how he talks about what we do in light of our being called into the church. Given our interest in things missional, we would expect to read this: “We have been destined according to God’s will, so that we who were first to set our hope in Christ, might live to share that hope with those who don’t know hope.”

Or “We who were first to set our hope in Christ might live to further the kingdom of God in the world.”

Or “We who were the first to set our hope in Christ might live to make the world a better place, to foster human flourishing.”

No. His view of the church is not instrumental at all. Instead, he says that since we have been gathered into the church, we who have first set out hope in Christ should live like this: praising God’s glory.

The point is this: church is its own end. It is created by God’s good pleasure and for our good pleasure. As a result of being called into the family called church, our job is to bask in its sheer goodness, by living together in holy love, and by together praising God’s glory for doing such a hilarious thing.

According to this summary passage, it does not appear that the church was created for the world, as many assume. If anything, the world was created for the sake of the church. That is, the funnel of history is not that the church pours itself into the world to redeem it, but the world–as least those in the world who trust in Christ–is poured into the church.

Paul is not foisting a new idea on the Ephesians. His theology is grounded in the Old Testament. There we repeatedly read how Israel has been chosen by God and esteemed by God, created by God so he might have a people for himself.

One typical example is when the Lord speaks through Isaiah:

But you, Israel, my servant,
Jacob, whom I have chosen,
the offspring of Abraham, my friend;
you whom I took from the ends of the earth,
and called from its farthest corners,
saying to you, “You are my servant,
I have chosen you and not cast you off” (Is. 41:8-9).

Abraham was not only called from the ends of the earth to be father of God’s chosen people, but the people he fathers (by God’s grace) to become a sign of history’s goal:

In days to come
the mountain of the Lord’s house
shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
and shall be raised above the hills;
all the nations shall stream to it.
Many peoples shall come and say,
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
to the house of the God of Jacob;
that he may teach us his ways
and that we may walk in his paths.” (Is. 2:2-3)

In other words, the world comes to Jerusalem. Israel does not go out to the world missionally to transform the world, but at the end of history, the world comes to Mt. Zion to worship and learn from God.

This image is repeated in the New Testament. In Revelation we read about the coming down out of heaven a new Jerusalem, about which John says, “I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it” (Rev. 21:22-24).

Again, the image is that in the end, the world comes to the church, the place where people bask in the presence of God, where the pleasure of God is our pleasure, prompting us to erupt in praise: “Nothing accursed will be found there anymore. But the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him” (22:3).

A vivid description of that worship is found earlier:

And whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to the one who is seated on the throne, who lives forever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall before the one who is seated on the throne and worship the one who lives forever and ever; they cast their crowns before the throne, singing,

“You are worthy, our Lord and God,
to receive glory and honor and power…” (4:9-11).

My reading of the sweep of the biblical picture, then, is that the purpose of the church—the family of God—is not to make the world a better place, but to invite the world into the better place, the place called church.

The Other Side

I recognize this point of view is not widely held among evangelical Christians, and for good reason. There are many verses in Scripture which seem to suggest just the opposite—that the church is not an end but a means, that it was created for the sake of the world. So we need to look at some of these passages.

The classic expression comes from Isaiah 42:

I am the Lord, I have called you in righteousness,
I have taken you by the hand and kept you;
I have given you as a covenant to the people,
a light to the nations,
to open the eyes that are blind,
to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon,
from the prison those who sit in darkness (Is. 42:6-7).

And let me be fair with my quote of Isaiah’s vision in which people from all over the globe come to Jerusalem. It ends like this: “For out of Zion shall go forth instruction, / and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.”

And then there is this key statement of God to Abraham: “… in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

Such verses are often used to suggest, among other things, that Israel failed in its primary mission–being a light to the world–and that Jesus, at the end of his ministry, made sure that the church was absolutely clear about its purpose:

Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.” (Mt. 28:16-20).

What could be more clear? Such passages suggest that the purpose of the church is to go out to all nations, to go out into the world on mission, to be missional.

Not quite, in my view.

First, note the context of that key verse in Genesis. God tells Abraham that his family will become a great nation, and that those who bless this great nation will be blessed, and those who curse this nation will be cursed. The implication is that all the other families of the earth will be blessed as they bless the family of Abraham. It’s not about Abraham’s missionary purpose, but about the family of Abraham’s status in the eyes world. The nation of Israel is a sign of God’s ultimate purpose—to create a people for himself—and those who recognize and honor that will be blessed.

We’ll return to the Isaiah passage, but for now let’s move ahead to Jesus’ commission to the disciples. Note exactly to whom Jesus commands to make disciples of all nations: The eleven disciples. That’s all. We automatically apply this verse to all Christians and to the church in general, equating as we do the calling of the original disciples with our calling. But in a larger reading of the New Testament, this command is actually only given to the eleven disciples. It’s the point at which the disciples—learners of Jesus—become apostles, those “sent out” to tell others about Jesus. These eleven very much become the first apostles.

But not every Christian is called to be an apostle. As Paul says in Ephesians when listing the gifts of the Holy Spirit, “The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers…” (4:11). Some are apostles. Not all. Nor does he suggest here or anywhere in Ephesians that being sent out to the world was the main purpose of the church.

He specifically says that he is so called: “Although I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given to me to bring to the Gentiles the news of the boundless riches of Christ,” (vv. 7-8). But he does not even hint that his calling is every Christian’s calling, or that of the church in general. It’s his call, and that of the other apostles.

So yes, there are people in the church called apostles who very much are called to go out into the world and preach and teach. And yes, there is a sense in which the teaching of God’s people goes out into the world. And yes, there is a sense in which we are light and even salt for the world, as that passage from Isaiah so beautifully expresses. Let us not denigrate our evangelistic call.

But let me suggest that all this does not constitute our very purpose as the people of God. It is clearly the calling of some of the people of God. And so it must be the calling of others in the family of God to support them in their apostolic and evangelistic work, through prayer and giving. But that is a far cry from this being the very purpose of the church, the reason for its existence.

What about Matthew 25, where Jesus speaks about the call to social justice? Jesus seems to suggest that the judgment of God at the end of history will be determined by our social justice efforts. What could indicate our purpose more than this?

In that passage, Jesus describes a scene where people from all over the world are gathered before him at the judgment. He separates them into two groups, the sheep and the goats, and he says to the sheep:

“Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” [notice the language here, the same as in Ephesians, before the foundation of the world God was preparing the kingdom for himself] “for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.”

Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?”

And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” (Mt. 25:34-39, NRSV).

This version, the NRSV, has appropriately rendered the literal “brothers” as “members of my family.” The people who need ministering to are not just people in general, anyone who suffers. The specific people in question are the people of God, the brothers and sisters of Christ, members of the family of God. The call to justice, in this instance, is not even a call to justice–no wrongs are being righted in fact. It’s a simple call for compassion for the people of God when they are in dire straits. It’s a call for the church to be especially attentive to those in the family who suffer. It harkens to Paul’s injunction that we should do good to all men, but especially to those in the household of faith.

What about the prophetic passages from Isaiah, Jeremiah, Amos, and Micah, to name a few? Don’t they enjoin us to be concerned about social justice for all? What about all those harsh judgments against those who oppress widows and orphans and mistreat the sojourner? Who accept bribes instead of doing justice? Is this not a clear and clarion call to work for justice in society?

Yes and no. As we’ll note in a bit, one can hardly deny the need for Christians to work for justice in society. Any Christian whose heart does not break over injustice, who does nothing to alleviate suffering in the world, is likely not a Christian in the first place. But we’ll come back to this.

In the case of the prophetic literature, however, we often fail to recognize that the prophets are little concerned about the widows and orphans and bribes in Assyria, Babylon, and elsewhere. But they are very concerned about it in Israel and Judah, very concerned about it as it is practiced among the people of God.

And why not, if the people of God are called to be a light to the nations? What type of light can they be if they act like everyone else? The call of the prophets is not that everyone, everywhere will pursue justice for all, but that the people of God would treat one another justly, righteously, in the presence of God.

Certainly the other nations come into view now and then in prophetic denouncements, but the overwhelming concern of the prophets is for the quality of life among God’s chosen people.

Again, we need to make a distinction between one task the people of God are called to perform and the very ground of their being, the very purpose of their life together. We are by all means to love the neighbor, which now includes the enemy. One way we love them is through acts of mercy and justice. But this does not mean that the church exists for the sake of the world.

[Next week: my biblical exposition continues, with a look at how Paul’s adapts the concern of the prophets to life in the church—and how that help us clarify the essential purpose of the church.]

Mark Galli is editor in chief of Christianity TodayIf you want to be alerted to these essays as they appear, subscribe to The Galli Report.

 

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Nikki Haley Destroys The Notion That Being Pro-Life Is Anti-Women

The abortion debate in this country is at a fever pitch. While both pro-choice and pro-life advocates passionately defend their causes, civility flies out the window. In the midst of this political firestorm, one voice of reason recently emerged.

Speaking at an event for the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List on June 3, 2019, former United Nations Ambassador and former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley gave a poignant pro-life speech without ruthlessly attacking the other side. While destroying the notion that being pro-life is anti-woman, Haley said, “That Is Not Real Feminism.”

According to the Washington Examiner’s Madeline Fry, the former South Carolina Governor stated, “Women are expected to support choice simply because we’re women. That’s just wrong. We all have to be true to ourselves and to others. Unfortunately, many on the Left use the abortion debate to divide women and demand conformity. They do this in the name of feminism. But that is not real feminism.”

In her speech, Haley challenged the demand by pro-choice supporters that all females toe the line with a certain set of values. The former United Nations Ambassador remarked, “The idea that women must adhere to a particular set of values is one of the most anti-women ideas in today’s culture. It is a rejection of the ideas of equality and tolerance that the women’s movement is supposed to be about” according to TheBlaze.

At the Susan B. Anthony List gala, Haley also reinforced the truth that the pro-life movement isn’t mainly about women. It mostly consists of acknowledging the right of an innocent unborn baby to live.

The former South Carolina Governor commented, “As a pro-life, female governor, I was blessed with a unique platform, and I made every effort to use it appropriately. Not to lob attacks at people who disagreed with me, not to diminish the other side, but to re-frame the debate. To explain that being pro-life is not about being for or against women. It is about being for a baby’s right to live — the most basic right there is.”

Fry wrote, “If more people involved in the abortion debate could understand where the other side is coming from — pro-lifers believe the unborn deserve the rights of any other human, and pro-choicers believe unwanted pregnancies will hurt women or hold them back — they might have constructive conversations about the issue.”

While Haley attempted to begin a constructive dialog about abortion, she was quickly and vehemently shot down by Whoopi Goldberg on a broadcast of the left-leaning “The View.” Goldberg quipped, “So let me get this straight, so giving a woman a choice about what to do with her body is anti-feminist? To me, you taking the choice from people is anti-human.”

In the Washington Examiner piece, Fry argued, “And this is why the abortion debate in America is going nowhere. Among U.S. adults, abortion opinions are split about 50/50, according to Gallup, which reports that 48% are pro-choice and 48% are pro-life.”

Fry went on to add, “But when Haley defends a view held by half of Americans, she’s ‘anti-human.’ When pro-abortion activists talk about the other side ‘trying to police’ women’s bodies and anti-abortion activists call people who’ve had abortions ‘murderers,’ something is wrong. No mind was ever changed through sheer contempt.”

In the Liberal Democratic Party, merely having pro-life views is grounds to get you isolated at best and ousted at worse. According to Fox News, “While the party once tolerated both pro-life and pro-choice Democrats inside the tent, those with pro-life views are being told they aren’t welcome anymore.”

Recently, 2020 Democratic presidential contender U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, Democrat – New York, told the Washington Post, “As a party, we should be 100 percent pro-choice, and it should be non-negotiable.”

When Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, dared to sign a bill last week that would ban abortions in his state after a fetal heartbeat is detected, he received blow-back from his own party. In a statement, Nicole Brener-Schmitz, NARAL Pro-Choice America political director, stated, “Governor Edwards, and any other elected official attempting to use political overreach to roll back our rights, is mistaken to think our fundamental freedoms are up for debate. We are the majority, and if you’re not fighting alongside us, you don’t deserve to represent the American people.”

Brener-Schmitz said that the Louisiana Governor “won’t get a pass just because he is a Democrat.”

The hyper-polarized abortion divide in America highlights just how important the 2020 elections are for advocates on both sides of the fence.

Expect things to get even more heated in the coming days, weeks, and months.

Original here