A Matter of Matters

A matter of matters

I’ve looked for it…  color in the Bible.  Colored people.  I’ve read the Bible through and through several times and in several translations.  I’ve studied numerous theological subjects, and while I’ve always found Jesus in the reading and made my way to the cross in the process, I’ve not found people of color; that is, except for some erotic references in the Song of Solomon.  Nothing political, mind you.

Just people:  some good and some bad.  Sure, there are plenty of ethnic groups but they are not identified by the tone of their skin but rather by the temperament of their heart (the latter giving God a reason to increase the good and to wipe out the bad).  No one color matters in the Bible.  If so, I think the good Lord would have painted for us a different picture of people.  Likewise, there is no one political party, no one economic or academic status, and no one race or language.  God made sure of that at Babel (Genesis 11:1-9).  There’s just people who are neither and nor.  Paul said it best in Galatians 3:28 – There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.  (cf. Colossians 3:11)

Those who are one in Christ are those who believe that He died on the Cross for our sins according to the Scriptures, that He was buried, and that He was raised to life on the third day according to the Scriptures (I Corinthians 15:3-4).  United in that belief, we’re called Christians, tagged with that title in Acts 11:26 when followers of Christ acted like “little Christs.”  Those who falsify their following of Jesus by clearly not acting like Him cannot be united with those of us who truly follow Him.  I know that hurts the feelings of many who are into religion for a free ride to heaven.  This is why Jesus matters, His cross matters, and the truth of Scripture matters.  Belief in God or attending church or affiliating with a religion do not make one united with Christians for the cause of Christ, but that’s another matter.  This may ruffle a few faux-Christian feathers but the following will likely pluck them bare.

Let me return to the previous paragraph.  My point is, no single person, no single type of people, no self-appointed group of people are more important or above the rest of us.  No one matters except Jesus.  He must increase but I must decrease (John 3:30).  Nothing matters except the work of Jesus on the Cross.  No other cause matters except the cause of Christ.  Fancy slogans and catchy phrases aside, Jesus trumps all other matters.

Yet He can declare who really matters:  For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life (John 3:16).  According to Jesus, the world matters and whoever matters.  To place one person or people group in the spotlight is sin, going against everything taught in the Bible.  A focus on color blots out the words of Jesus and replaces whoever with something along the lines of “it’s all about me.”  If John 3:16 was a history lesson, then it would be the first to be revised.  If John 3:16 were a monument, then it would be the first to be toppled.   So I dare to judge because I’m offended on behalf of my King.  I’m angry for the cause of Christ.  And I’m compelled to cast judgment against those who want me and others to endorse their “eitherness” rather than their “neitherness.”

This isn’t my weakness, that is, being judgmental, nor is it spiritual immaturity.  I’m quite mature.  It’s simply my righteous indignation against the wrongheadedness pervasive in America.  I don’t use my whiteness or other color in making a judgment call for I’m neither and nor.  I stand with the Commander of the Lord’s army who was Himself neither and nor (Joshua 5:13-15).  And I pray the prayer of the bold, young man Elihu in Job 32:21 – Let me not, I pray, show partiality to anyone; nor let me flatter any man.  (By the way, Elihu was not condemned by God like Job’s other friends.  God shows no partiality and Elihu wanted to be like Him – cf. Acts 10:34; Romans 2:11.  The boy was right.)

Many readers are certainly furious with me by now, reaching for a can of spray paint to censor me or a rope to topple me.  That’s toleration, you know.  They can rant but I can’t reason.  But I know why they’re really irked:  They cannot pray that prayer for they are unwilling or unable to receive the Holy counsel to not be partial.  They might even call themselves Christian; but in the words of an old preacher man I once knew, “I don’t have confidence in their salvation.”  Again, I judge.

So yes, I judge because I’ve been around long enough to see people’s true colors.  I watch what passes nowadays as the news.  I listen to people talk.  I sort through the lives of people.  That’s my business.  I’m well aware of what people are capable of doing, what many are currently doing now:  doing the sin of flattery and showing partiality.  Do they not gleefully turn to thuggery, bullying, threatening, anarchy, and narcissism – or at least turn a blind eye to these things?  Maybe I should rephrase this:  I’m not judging as much as I am stating fact and reporting my observations; and this is it, the state of affairs in America:  brute beasts coming out of the woodwork.

I cannot speak against this any better than Saint Peter did in chapter two of his 2nd Epistle.  The whole of it needs to be read, not out of context but in context, for it also applies to the circumstances of today:

               But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction.  And many will follow their destructive ways, because of whom the way of truth will be blasphemed.

               By covetousness they will exploit you with deceptive words; for a long time their judgment has not been idle, and their destruction does not slumber.  For if God did not spare the angels who sinned, but cast them down to hell and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved for judgment; and did not spare the ancient world, but saved Noah, one of eight people, a preacher of righteousness, bringing in the flood on the world of the ungodly; and turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah into ashes, condemned them to destruction, making them an example to those who afterward would live ungodly; and delivered righteous Lot, who was oppressed by the filthy conduct of the wicked (for that righteous man, dwelling among them, tormented his righteous soul from day to day by seeing and hearing their lawless deeds) then the Lord knows how to deliver the Godly out of temptations and to reserve the unjust under punishment for the day of judgment, and especially those who walk according to the flesh in the lust of uncleanness and despise authority. They are presumptuous, self-willed. They are not afraid to speak evil of dignitaries, whereas angels, who are greater in power and might, do not bring a reviling accusation against them before the Lord.

               But these, like natural brute beasts made to be caught and destroyed, speak evil of the things they do not understand, and will utterly perish in their own corruption, and will receive the wages of unrighteousness, as those who count it pleasure to carouse in the daytime.  They are spots and blemishes, carousing in their own deceptions while they feast with you, having eyes full of adultery and that cannot cease from sin, enticing unstable souls.  They have a heart trained in covetous practices, and are accursed children.  They have forsaken the right way and gone astray, following the way of Balaam the son of Beor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness; but he was rebuked for his iniquity:  a dumb donkey speaking with a man’s voice restrained the madness of the prophet.

               These are wells without water, clouds carried by a tempest, for whom is reserved the blackness of darkness forever.  For when they speak great swelling words of emptiness, they allure through the lusts of the flesh, through lewdness, the ones who have actually escaped from those who live in error.  While they promise them liberty, they themselves are slaves of corruption; for by whom a person is overcome, by him also he is brought into bondage.

               For if, after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the latter end is worse for them than the beginning.  For it would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered to them.  But it has happened to them according to the true proverb: “A dog returns to his own vomit,” and, “a sow, having washed, to her wallowing in the mire.”

Jesus matters.  Whoever matters.  No one person matters.

Lest one thinks that I don’t understand what is “really” happening, or that I don’t know my history (our history), or that I’m ignorant of the (self-imposed) plight of many people, nothing could be farther from the truth.  But to succinctly crush the argument about the level of my stupidity and insincerity, I simply call to mind the irrefutable lesson Martin Luther King Jr. tried to teach all Americans, which has gone unheeded by many in his own ranks:  It’s not about the color of your skin; it’s about the content of your character.  I think he would be appalled at the priority of matters today.

Character is like integrity:  either you have it or you do not.  From what I see in the protests, the sign-waving, and the finger-pointing today, people have no character.  With eager mindlessness and dumbfoundedness, they’re just following a movement without regard to the real matter:  character.

Is there racism?  Yes, when it is flaunted by people of any color against those of another color.  All I can say about that is STOP IT.  Jesus matters.  Whoever matters.  No one person matters.  Character matters.  Your color doesn’t matter.

The ire of many just went through the roof, I’m sure.  Perhaps they deny the truth of Scripture and the truth of wisdom; or perhaps even the truth of history, as great as it is and as appalling as it is as a matter of fact.  People loathe great history because they are jealous of it.  They must find fault in great history and then pronounce judgment on it, revising it to their liking and removing monuments to their satisfaction.  Note that I said judgment.  Oh, so they can judge but I cannot?  At least I admit I do.  Anyway, great history either threatens one’s false perception of it (thank you, liberal educators) or motivates one’s patriotism for it (thank you, dad).  Great history matters and patriots must guard its truth.  For the Christian man, it is a matter of grit with grace.

Appalling history, on the other hand, welcomes people to embrace it for the selfish reason to receive sympathy for themselves and to shame innocent bystanders for the dark past.  Let me be clear:  I’m not responsible for the sins of my fathers.  I’m not asking for forgiveness on their behalf.  We jumped the fault line a long time ago.  Well, many of us jumped.  Some still enjoy the freefall into the abyss of blame and the rush that it gives.  They’ll land eventually and it won’t be pretty.  If you’re in that freefall, stop throwing things up to me because I’m not standing on the edge waiting to play catch.  In fact, I’m walking away even as I speak.  Look me up when nothing else matters for you.

Those who gladly embrace appalling history for the purpose of shredding it away forget that the markers of that history are reminders of how people, nothing like themselves, overcame the difficulties of the past.  Go ahead and remove the monuments.  To what then will you look to be reminded of how far we’ve come?  Your silly protests and the garbage you left in your wake?  Go ahead and revise history.  Of what then will you read that tells the true story of mankind striving to better himself?  Your manifesto of lies and deceit?  When you’re done destroying these things, to where will you go next?  The family or the church?  (Not on my watch, by the way.)  And when you get there, by what measure will you know that you are better for it?

Jesus matters.  Whoever matters.  No one person matters.  Character matters.  History matters.

I take a knee for no one but Jesus.  I stand for nothing but the cause of Christ.  I don’t worship martyrs.  I won’t sing the praise of people.  I give honor where honor is due, not when it’s demanded or compulsory, or to make myself one with the crowd.  I’m one with Christ.  I will not carry your banner.  Speaking of that and while I’m at it, the rainbow doesn’t belong to sinners.  It is God’s bow, created by Him to remind us of Him.  If you’re one of those heathens who claims it for yourself, give it up.  You’re flirting with disaster.  But it does go to show that some people will do anything to disparage someone else’s color…  no matter what color, or who that person or Person is.

Where shall I end?  Since this is about a matter of matters, maybe it just really doesn’t matter.  But of all the matters that do matter, this I know:  Only Jesus matters.  As a matter of fact, He’s all that matters.

 

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Job’s Three Questions

Job’s three questions

Job asked many questions of God and of the people who were around him.  Some were rhetorical queries, some were philosophical in nature, and some, perhaps most, were either convergent or leading questions.  Of all the questions he asked, he answered but only three of them for himself, interestingly one for each of his three friends with whom he debated.

The first self Q&A is in Job 14:4, buried toward the end of his reply to Zophar the Naamathite:  Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean?  No one!  Initially, Job directed the long response to his friend but by the time he concluded his remarks, he was speaking to God.  And, indeed, the question above is in conversation with God yet intentionally in the hearing of the gathering.

To be clear, only God can create.  And only God can declare that which He has created to be clean.  It reminds me of Peter’s vision in Acts 10.  Assuming that many of the animals in the revelation were considered by the Jews to be common or unclean, Peter learned instead that God has authority to declare those things to be clean.  Shortly after that, Peter’s eyes, and mouth, were opened to the meaning of the vision:  Then Peter opened his mouth and said, “In truth I perceive that God shows no partiality” (verse 34).   He went on to preach Jesus to a house full of “unclean” Gentiles; and, as Paul put it, “Salvation has come to the Gentiles.”  (Romans 11:11)

As Job suffered cruel, satanic afflictions, he found himself entertaining some intellectual, theological misfits who wrongly questioned Job’s Godly credentials.  Indeed, no one can bring something good from something vile and filthy.  If his friends thought that he was unclean, nothing they could say or do could bring him out of that condition.

But Job was not unclean, whatever its spiritual meaning was in those pre-Law days.  He was a clean man already brought out of that which was unclean, done so by God Himself, the only One who could perform such a feat.  He feared God, shunned evil, and walked blamelessly and uprightly before his Maker (Job 1:1, 8).  And in Job’s words, “He shall be my salvation for a hypocrite cannot come before Him.”  (Job 13:16)

You can almost hear Job asking, “Do you really think you guys can clean up this mess if I were indeed sinning against God?  No one can do that but God Himself, and I’m already His.”  Job’s question, then, makes one consider his relationship with God, and Job’s answer calls for faith alone in God alone to do what no one or nothing else can do.  I’m not sure how Zophar reacted to this but I’m sure it made his head hurt.

The second self Q&A is in Job 23:6 and was made during another long response after Eliphaz the Temanite spoke:  Would He contend with me in His great power?  No!  But He would take note of me.  The context here is in light of what Eliphaz had just spoken to Job when he reminded Job of having said, “What does God know?  Can He judge through the deep darkness?  Thick clouds cover Him, so that He cannot see, and He walks above the circle of heaven” (Job 22:13-14).  On the other hand, perhaps Eliphaz took Job out of context.

It’s as if Eliphaz chose to “rub it in,” to blame Job for believing that God had removed Himself from his presence and would not dare to look upon His debased servant.  Yet Eliphaz committed a bit of double speak here, for previous to this, he admitted Job’s blamelessness and righteousness before God (Job 22:3).  One could understand why Job got tired of listening to his friends, or as he labeled them, miserable comforters (Job 16:2)!

Eliphaz wasn’t finished.  He implied that God had entered into judgment with Job, setting the stage for contention (22:4).  Job apparently agreed with this assessment.  In his rebuttal to Eliphaz, Job confidently begged for a hearing with the Almighty.  And here is where he asked his question:  Would He contend with me in His great power?

Job was well aware of the heights to which God attains and the depths in which God immerses.  He was well aware of God’s omnipresence in infinite spaces and finite hearts.  Perhaps David reflected on this, too, when he sang, “If I ascend to heaven, You are there; if I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there” (Psalms 139:8-9).  Yet men of God like Job and David also know that no matter what or where, God sees them and knows them intimately (Psalm 139:1-6).  Would the Almighty One come against His own son with overwhelming power and ruthless prosecution?  “NO!” Job says, “But he will take note of me.”

And indeed, God takes note of His children.  The Great Creator of the universe, the Heavenly Father of fathers, the King of kings and Lord of lords, the Unbegotten One who from the beginning sent His Begotten Self to be one with gotten men – He takes note of His frail, hurting, suffering kids.  We beg for a hearing and God hears.  We beg to be seen and understood, and God sees and sympathizes.  We beg for hope and God gives it, and more, for it is the Father’s good pleasure to give us even the kingdom (Luke 12:32).

That, my friend, is hope, that expectation of something really good to come to us, and indeed, with us already.  Would God contend with us in His power?  We hope not.  Does He pay attention to us?  We hope so.  And He pays more than attention.  He paid for our sins with the blood of Jesus.  As the old hymn goes:  “Jesus paid it all, all to Him I owe; sin had left a crimson stain, He washed me white as snow.”

Job’s question, then, makes one wonder how he can survive standing before Almighty God as a sin-creature hoping beyond hope to come into the presence of death-defying hope.  In His great power, God contends with the works of Satan.  Actually, that contest is already settled.  God won.  And in His great peace, He cuddles the one who comes to Him.  Now may the God of hope fill you will all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.  (Romans 15:13)

The third self Q&A is in Job 31:2-3 and, as usual, was during a lengthy rebuttal following a very short speech, this time by Bildad the Shuhite:  What is the allotment of God from above, and the inheritance of the Almighty from on high?  Is it not destruction for the wicked and disaster for the workers of iniquity?

Job’s answer is a question in itself, and is initially directed at those who do not love and obey God.  What is the allotment for the wicked?:  destruction.  What is the inheritance of those who work sin?:  disaster.  In this, his last speech, Job magnifies the magnitude of Almighty, Eternal God.  Bildad asked, “How then can man be righteous before God?” (Job 25:4), and Job laid it out for him and for everyone else to hear.  He made it clear, too, that “As long as my breath is in me, and the breath of God is in my nostrils, my lips will not speak wickedness, nor my tongue utter deceit.  Far be it from me that I should say you are right; till I die I will not put away my integrity from me.  My righteousness I hold fast, and will not let it go; my heart shall not reproach me as long as I live.”  (Job 27:3-6)

Job loved God even in his suffering and anguish.  Job loved God enough to wonder and question why calamity had befallen him.  Job loved God even enough to cry out to him with all of his human emotion, to spill his guts as we would say.

For the disobedient, God-unloving person, the dual question here, “What is the allotment?” and “What is the inheritance?” is easy to answer.  If you do not repent, you will perish, as God told His own people:  “Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways,” says the Lord God.  “Repent, and turn from all your transgressions, so that iniquity will not be your ruin.”  (Ezekiel 18:30)

It is only when one turns his love and affection on the Lord that his allotment and inheritance is reversed.  A new heart and a new spirit within bring new life to a man, as Ezekiel went on to say.  One’s love interest, spiritually speaking, is forever sealed in a “marriage” between the renewed man and the Lord God.  Marriage never exists outside of love, whether or not it is between a man and a woman, a wooden structure joined by a dovetail cut (not that there’s love here!), or an eternal relationship with Jesus.  Haters will fall, Job asserted.  Lovers will flourish, Job attested.

Job’s question was fully answered by Job’s consistent, stubborn gaze on God and not on wealth, women, or wickedness; not just in this discourse but throughout all of his talking.  The more Satan hit him, the more Job loved his Maker, though his love met unprecedented challenges.  Job was not looking forward to destruction and disaster.  Far from it.  That was for the unbeliever, the unlover.  Job was looking forward to his eternal Redeemer:  For I know that my Redeemer lives, and He shall stand at last on the earth; and after my skin is destroyed, this I know, that in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another.  How my heart yearns within me!  (Job 19:25-27).  Now that is love.

Without straining too hard on a gnat and swallowing so cleverly a camel, I found faith, hope, and love in these three questions.  These are the things Paul declared as all-important, ever-abiding matters:  “And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love” (I Corinthians 13:13).  Clearly, Job knew these things:  faith leading to hope leading to love.  Job knew these things before Satan tried to claim him, for God had already laid claim on His man.  He used these things to beat down the destruction and disaster that reared their ugly heads in his life.  And he modeled these things in the presence of gawkers and grandstanders.

In the end, God declared that Job had spoken of Me what is right, even as Job confessed his smallness before the Great I AM (Job 42:1-7).  God knows His own because of their abiding faith in Him.  God comforts His own when they need steadfast hope over their circumstances of life.  God loves His own above all else, above all things, above and beyond all that can be imagined.  He brings down challenges to our faith.  He tears up obstacles to our hope.  Because we love Him, He loves us – actually, He loved us first (I John 4:19) – for He is love.  And the greatest of all things is Love.

 

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My open letter to Kentucky Baptists regarding Campbellsville University

Below is my open letter to Kentucky Baptists regarding Campbellsville University (CU), a fully accredited, Baptist institution located in central Kentucky – and my alma mater.  I do not send this letter lightly or without intimate knowledge of what’s taking place, some of which has not been fully reported or disclosed.

Having been deeply involved in numerous national, state, associational, and local levels of the Southern Baptist denomination, I’ve learned to be wise as a serpent and harmless as a dove (mostly) when it comes to denominational interests.  And I’ve learned to lend my allegiance with shrewdness and savvy.  I’ve personally witnessed some of the most atrocious actions by Baptist and other “Christian” leaders.  But thankfully, I’ve seen the other extreme of actions by Godly men of integrity, men of character who are not swayed from the cause of Christ.  I choose to stand with men like this.  “For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.”  (I Corinthians 2:2)

Dear Kentucky Baptist Colleagues,
Campbellsville University has been a blessing to me in more ways than I can count.  My daughter, son-in-law, brother, and I are alumni of this fine school.  Many faculty and staff are long-time friends.  There’s pride in walking the campus and seeing the tremendous growth.  There’s a sense of fraternity in talking to students and knowing that they, too, are grateful for what CU means to them.

Although I’m serving in a Missouri Baptist church now, my roots in ministry are as a Kentucky Baptist, having been mentored by a fine pastor and tolerated as a young minister at a great Kentucky Baptist church, both closely connected with CU.  It is with this sense of loyalty and gratefulness that I offer my full support to Campbellsville University in these days as she takes a stand as a Bible-believing, Baptist institution for the freedom to teach the full counsel of academia.

I recently told CU’s president, Dr. Michael Carter, that I take the side of the Man who stood near the walls of Jericho; the Man who, when Joshua asked are you for us or against us, responded that He was for neither – that He was for the Lord.  I, too, stand with this Man, and I hope and pray that we, as fellow Baptists, stand together on the side of Jesus as we walk with President Carter, the Trustees, and the other fine leaders at CU who have earned all Baptists’ trust and allegiance.

May God bless our work as we move forward in the best interest of Campbellsville University, Baptist brothers and sisters everywhere, and most of all, the Lord’s work that is so ably embraced by those fully equipped by CU.

Sincerely,
Don Hamlin, Associate Pastor/Education & Outreach
FBC Kearney, MO
http://www.donhamlin.com

 

 

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