Like many of you, I have journeyed in my walk with Christ learning from gifted teachers and sharing in community with other believers. However, 2020 proved to be a pivotal point in recognizing that some of the categories I have placed people in were wrong.
Let me give you some examples.
When I heard that someone was homeschooling, I would immediately place that person in my good category. If I heard that someone voted for a liberal candidate, that person would not be placed in my good category. If the person looked edgy with tattoos or body piercings, I would have no problem excluding them from my good category. The same was true of those who identified with Christian denominations I felt had faulty theology.
These ideas went unchallenged until I, like many other people, began to experience the tyranny of mandates that were an overreach by our civil governments at the local, state, and federal levels. Suddenly, many of the people who I deemed kindred spirits were reacting to the situation quite differently than I. In fact, some were self-consciously asserting a Biblical justification for compliance with these mandates and their decision to obey while criticizing others who didn’t agree. I couldn’t help but notice, that some of the previous people or groups that would never make it on to my good list were reacting to tyrannical mandates much like I was. Suddenly, my categories were deficient and unreliable.
As a result, I found myself attending a church in my city (ground zero to statist overreach) whose doors I would normally not have entered. Yet, I found that there were many others who had been similarly drawn to this church because it recognized in word and practice that, “We must obey God rather than man” (Acts 5:29), and remained open.
For the past 15 months, I have had the opportunity to fellowship with others who valued their liberty in Christ and sought to obey the Scriptural command to not forsake meeting with the brethren (Heb. 10:25). I discovered that what united us was not doctrinal positions but the Spirit of the Lord. 2 Corinthians 3:17 tells us that, “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.” People from all sorts of backgrounds, social status, occupations, and previous church affiliations came to worship our Lord Jesus Christ, and did so with the possibility of opposition.
There is nothing like the Lord proving His point, and I have discovered that there are those who truly hunger and thirst for righteousness and appreciate a place to gather with brothers and sisters in Christ. And guess what has happened? I have witnessed that this group of people has sparked a movement that lives out the reality that faith without works is dead (James 2:17). I have seen people step up to help fund scholarships for students to attend Christian school, even if they did not know the recipient family. I have seen people organize groups to facilitate families who wish to remove their children from public schools. I have seen medical professionals willing to share their gifts and talents with people who have no other place to go for help. This very real Covid crisis has done something peaceful security had not previously produced: the Body of Christ coming together.
Almost weekly, I hear of another project designed to allow people to learn things they may not have previously known. I have witnessed new friendships develop based on a strong desire to learn and apply God’s Word. In other words, I have seen faith produce faithfulness.
The blessed hope that Jesus gave His church right before His ascension to the right hand of the Father is that all power had been given to Him and that He would be with us as we carried out His Great Commission (Matt 28:18-20). For the past three decades, I have embraced this intellectually and with faith, but it has really come to fruition during these past two years. I see the Kingdom advancing in ways that I could previously only imagine. In fact, I have said over and over again, I have seen more good fruit in the last two years than the many years I worked within denominations that shared basic doctrines that I embraced.
There are those who have been taught that things will get worse and worse and then they will be rescued away from tribulation. That is not how I read my Bible, but I can say that many of these same people live and act inconsistently with this belief and I have witnessed real future-oriented work of building the Kingdom. Sure, when in discussion we can debate these issues—often each of us assured that we are correct. But when abstraction gives way to action, we are often united in advancing the rule and reign of Jesus Christ. Together, we can embrace the words of Romans 8:35-39
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.
Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us.
For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
In looking back at the first century church, I imagine there were as many, if not more, potential squabbles than we have today. Yet, the Holy Spirit transformed these believers into those who would change the world. This confirms for me that God’s ways are not our ways and that we should expect what appears to be miraculous to us, to be how God planned it out from before the beginning.
What exactly is faithfulness? It is applying God’s Word to your life as best you understand it and have opportunity to live out. The faith, on the other hand, is a gift from God as Paul describes in Ephesians 2:8,
For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:
Those that came together with unknown ramifications did not produce the faith in themselves. That was God’s gift to them which they received. Faithfulness is the response to that gift. I have witnessed a move into greater orthodoxy amongst many I have come to know, not because they read the right books or changed their orientation to certain schools of thought. No, I believe this has occurred because they were responding to faith with faithfulness.
At this point, some might accuse me of determining who constitutes the faithful—setting up new categories which might be as narrow as my previous ones. Our Lord, though, tells us to judge one another by our fruits (actions) in determining exactly those who love God. In fact, it goes even further when Jesus stated that those who love Him keep His commandments. What better lens to view others through than seeing those who are determined to respond to God in obedience?
I could cite many individual instances of the manifestation of faithfulness that I have observed and have been impelled to carry out myself. In some cases, this has resulted in greater community and in others a dissolving of community. The lesson I have learned is that I should plow with those who have not shied away from the task at hand and leave the outcome for those who oppose me in God’s hands. That way, I focus on what I have the ability to do and operate in the jurisdiction God has given me. As I tell my students over and over, “There is a God and I am not He!”
Here is my challenge to those reading this, taken from Hebrews 12:1-2,
Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us,
Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.
If the past couple of years have left you feeling that you are “stuck in the gate” ready to run but not knowing how to proceed, let me encourage you to find an opportunity to be faithful. It doesn’t have to be a huge undertaking. It might mean buying groceries for a shut in, or taking someone to an appointment, or just visiting with someone who is lonely. The beauty of reading God’s Word and prayer is that God will make His will known to you, giving you His companionship all along the way.
When we approach the Bible as God’s infallible Word, that means we must take every assertion, promise, and example as without error. When we develop such a high view of Scripture, and act upon it, we become as more than conquerors.
Could it be that the struggle for the last couple of years has been among the greatest blessings that Christianity has been given in the West for hundreds of years? Could we now be in a situation where as we converse with others (believers and nonbelievers) that we can help identify their pain and show them how belief in Jesus Christ is the path to health (of all kinds) and healing? The expression that it appears the darkest before the dawn is applicable to our day. We do not have to serve as the architects of the future. That job is taken. What we must do, and will be blessed for doing, is to be found faithful.