Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Fence-Sitters Anonymous

I’ve been thinking quite a bit about jobs that I believe I can and cannot do.  For example, I can be a great mediator, but I could never be a lawyer.  Why?  Because I want people to agree with each other, not to disagree, I want to find the common ground.  I have a couple of friends who used to call me and they’d each be on an extension and put me in the middle of a disagreement, just to see how long it took me to find the middle and come down squarely and securely on the fence between them.  Then they’d laugh at me, of course.  But that’s one of the things I do quite well.  Most of the time, I can see validity on both sides of an issue.  Being placed on a jury, for me, would be an absolute nightmare.  Okay, maybe not so much for me, but for the other eleven folks. 

With that in mind though, think about some of the jobs in the Bible that you’d be good at and not so good at.  Unfortunately, there aren’t many openings for diplomats in the Bible, so I’d be pretty much out of luck.  I hate to admit it, but the world of the Bible is pretty much a black and white world.  There is absolute right and absolute wrong, and very little gray area in between.  I think as humans we are much more comfortable in a world where we have a lot of gray.

Think about Ahab.  He looked at the world as one big gray area.  And he didn’t like confrontation either.  How can I tell, you ask?  He pretty much went wherever the wind blew.  If Jezebel wanted something, that was okay with him.  When he wanted the neighbor’s vineyard, he asked, he cajoled, he tried to scam him, but he didn’t demand it.  He went home and pouted until Jezebel got it for him.  Ahab Etook the easiest way through any issue…and look where it got him.

Jezebel, on the other hand, loved confrontation, well, as long as she won.  In her kingdom, it was her way or the highway…actually, it was her way or – gulp – death.  Bummer.

Enter, Elijah, with harsh words from God for Ahab and Jezebel.  Now there’s a guy I don’t envy.  Could there be a tougher job anywhere than Old Testament prophet?  Can you imagine how things would have ended if he had strolled into the ivory palace and negotiated with Ahab and Jezebel about what God wanted from them?  They would have laughed him out of the palace.  But they might not have decided he needed to be killed either. 

The problem is, there are times when somebody has to say the hard things.  Think about David and Nathan.  Suppose Nathan came before David and said something like, “Now King, sir, God has told me that you have made some unwise decisions recently and He’d like you to make those things right as soon as you find it convenient.  Once you’ve taken that then things will go along smoothly after that.”  Hmmm.  Do you think David would have taken Nathan seriously with an approach like that?

The uncomfortable truth is, sometimes we have to be told, straight out, in no uncertain terms, that we are walking (possibly running) in the wrong direction.  That was Elijah’s job in Jezreel.  He was there to tell Ahab and Jezebel that they needed to change their ways or really bad things were going to happen to them.  I actually think he almost made a change in Ahab once or twice, but it didn’t stick because Ahab wouldn’t stand up to Jezebel.  It was just easier to keep the peace that way.

How often do you and I just “go along” because it’s just easier?  What about when you’re sitting around with some friends and they start taking pot shots at a friend who isn’t there?  It’s easier to just laugh along with everybody, isn’t it?  I mean, you didn’t actually say anything about him (or her), you just didn’t get up and leave or take a stand to defend him.  They weren’t serious anyway, no harm done.  Right?  If you’d gotten up and walked out or defended him, they would have thought you were totally out of it.  Right?  Hmmm.

Has going along with the crowd ever ended well for anybody?  Think about it.  Lemmings come to mind in this instance.  The Israelites and the golden calf.  The crowd screaming, “Crucify Him.”  Come to think of it, if you’re following the crowd, you’re probably going the wrong direction.

How scary is that?  Look at the world around us.  Are we walking with the world, in the wrong direction?  Are we claiming we’re not walking with the world, but we’re fence-sitting because we don’t want to be noticed as different?  Do you realize that fence-sitting might be even worse?  Why?  Because we know better.  Ahab knew better, but he never took a stand, so in some ways, he was more evil than Jezebel.  What do you think?

Do you remember David Wilkerson?  He’s a Christian author from the ‘70’s.  The book I remember him for is The Cross and the Switchblade where he talks about coming out of the gang lifestyle.  I found an article that he wrote in 1988 where he warns against what he calls “The Doctrine of Jezebel”.  He talks about people who are selling out to Satan, and they’re not the people you are picturing right now.  Those who have sold out are not the drug addicts, the prostitutes or atheists, they’re people who are sitting in Christian churches all over the world.

What?   How can that be?  Wilkerson describes these folks as “human tumbleweeds riding the winds of doctrine.”  They are people who are looking for the easy way to salvation.  They want to be comforted, not convicted.  Wilkerson compares them to the people that Paul is talking about in 2 Timothy 4:3.  “…they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears.”
Ahab and Jezebel surrounded themselves with prophets that told them exactly what they wanted to hear, and some Christians today find preachers that are preaching what they want to hear.  They want to hear that God wants to make them rich, that they’re basically good people and that following Jesus will be a peaceful happy experience.  The churches that teach what Wilkerson calls “prosperity doctrine” are packed, but what are these Christians learning about salvation?

And that’s where we need people like Nathan and Elijah and Jesus who never just let things slide because it was easier, or to keep from ruffling any feathers, or because they didn’t want people to think they were weird.  They told the truth no matter what people thought or what it cost them.  They didn’t preach what was comfortable or popular.  Consequently they were often uncomfortable and mostly unpopular.  They spoke black and white in a gray world.  They spoke the truth with an authority that no one could counter.

The question is, are you and I prepared to speak God’s truth, no matter what it costs—even if it’s not easy or popular?
“He who serves under the bloodstained banner of Immanuel will have that to do which will call for heroic effort and patient endurance. But the soldier of the cross stands unshrinkingly in the forefront of the battle. . . . He realizes his need of strength from above. The victories that he gains . . . cause him to lean more and more heavily on the Mighty One. Relying upon that Power, he is enabled to present the message of salvation so forcibly that it vibrates in other minds. . . .” E.G. White, Lift Him Up p.228
What do you think?  Can we do it?  Even if every fiber of my being struggles with stepping out of my comfort zone.  Even if it means I don’t get my Sabbath afternoon nap. 

I heard Luis Pallow on the radio recently make this point:  Do you realize that your neighbor or family member who has not turned his life over to Jesus is, at this moment, lost?  Isn’t that a terrifying thought?  That may be even scarier than the thought of somebody thinking I’m too religious, a goody- two-shoes, or a Jesus Freak. 

I think it’s time, and for those of you who, like me, are scared to death at the thought of speaking the truth about Jesus, let’s say these verses together:
“Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might.  Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.  For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.  Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.  Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness; And your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace; Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked.   And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God:  Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints; And for me, that utterance may be given unto me, that I may open my mouth boldly, to make known the mystery of the gospel,…” Ephesians 6:10-19

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