May 10, 2021

Steady and Unshaken

For this generation, we live in globally unprecedented times. Along with the COVID-19 pandemic, a range of economic, political, and cultural disruptions came forcibly upon us in the space of a few months’ time. However, while the past year or more has indeed been extraordinary for this generation, it is not unparalleled. Former generations have experienced challenging times as well.

During my teen years in the late 1960s and early 1970s, a cloud of uncertainty hung over our nation. The United States experienced assassinations, the Vietnam War, violent protests, drug experimentation and resulting overdoses, a sexual revolution, the legalization of abortion, and the resignation of a president, among other things. Older generations experienced the Great Depression, World War II, the Korean War, and other unsettling events. This reminds us that at some level, every generation is shaken by circumstances, and must come to grips with the reality that we live in a broken and divided world.

In chapter 2 of the Book of Haggai, we find reference to things on earth being shaken. The concept of shaking brings to mind an unsourced illustration that I read recently. It went something like this:

If you go to the southwest desert and catch one hundred red fire ants and one hundred large carpenter ants and put them in a jar together, at first, nothing will happen. However, if you violently shake the jar and dump them back on the ground, the ants will fight until they eventually kill each other.

They fight each other because the red ants think the carpenter ants are the enemy and vice versa. However, the actual enemy is the one who shakes the jar.

That is exactly what is happening in society today. We have liberal versus conservative; socialist versus capitalist; Democrat versus Republican; pro-mask versus anti-mask; and class warfare pitting one ethnic group against another ethnic group.

The question we need to ask ourselves is, “Who is shaking the jar, and why?”

Applying this illustration to the spiritual realm, we know that many of the upheavals in this world are caused by Satan, and that his purpose is to destroy. However, we do not need to allow ourselves to be shaken by his devices.

Shaken or unshakeable?

In the New Testament, the writer of the Book of Hebrews looked back to the prophet Haggai’s words, and noted that there would be a “removing of those things that are shaken, as of things that are made, that those things which cannot be shaken may remain.” He admonished the early Christians to whom he wrote, “Wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear” (Hebrews 12:27-28).

So there are tenuous and temporal things that can be shaken—aspects that relate to the order of this world. There are also enduring and eternal things that cannot be shaken and will therefore remain—attributes that relate to the order of Heaven, such as charity, heart purity, and Christian unity.

Competing voices

Both Haggai and the writer of Hebrews referred to God’s voice. He still speaks today. However, the chatter of twenty-four-hour cable television pundits, radio talk show hosts, and internet venues also compete for our attention, contributing to widespread uncertainty and instability. To be guided by those voices is to be held hostage by the enemy of our souls, though we may be unaware of their influence. May the Lord help us to discern between the competing voices of our day, so we can hear God!

Many of the voices in the world are terribly flawed. They have promoted contrived narratives, redefined words and phrases, and rewritten history—and the consequences are anything but edifying.

Many of the voices in the world are terribly flawed. They have promoted contrived narratives, redefined words and phrases, and rewritten history—and the consequences are anything but edifying. The voices that speak the loudest and most frequently may not be the best ones to listen to. Quiet and content individuals often have more to offer, even if they rarely speak.

When it comes to voices, Satan often roars. We read in 1 Peter 5:8, “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour.” We cannot outrun, outtalk, or outwit the devil. He is an adversary from another world, even if he is limited to using the weapons of this world. Ephesians 6:12 tells us, “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.” If our conflict were against flesh and blood, perhaps our ingenuity, intellect, or strength would suffice. After all, those qualities are among some that our “enlightened” culture views itself to possess. But look around and tell me: Are the weapons employed by this world working?

When we see virtue and morality being defined by a fallen human race rather than by Scripture, we understand the lament of the prophet Isaiah, “Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter! Woe unto them that are wise in their own eyes, and prudent in their own sight!” (Isaiah 5:20-21). Our culture accepts and even promotes the depraved human condition indicted by the Bible. More and more, those who teach the Bible are openly condemned for being intolerant and fomenting hate.

The Christian response

The Christian response to the events of these past months stands in contrast to the response of the world. In fact, the Christian response is different from the world’s response every year. The world’s response to the challenges in society is often to fiercely debate and call it “having a conversation.” The world castigates those with a different viewpoint, demands retribution, and sometimes even damages property and relationships in order to call attention to their demands.

The Christian response, on the other hand, is patient, and full of grace and forbearance. We are instructed in Ephesians 4:31-32, “Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice: and be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you.” One response is destructive and tears down, and the other response is productive and builds up.

Our response is different from the world’s because our goal is different than the world’s goal.

Our response is different from the world’s because our goal is different than the world’s goal. Colossians 3:1-2 instructs us to “seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth.” Our affection cannot be divided. The more we focus on Heaven, the less interest we have in becoming deeply involved in matters that pertain to earth. In light of eternity, it is futile to focus on making the world a more comfortable place for sinners to live while they are on their journey to Hell. Instead, we want to focus on inspiring others to prepare for eternity in Heaven. Rather than devoting so much energy to things below, we want to be like Abraham of old, who “looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God” (Hebrews 11:10).

Spiritual resources overcome spiritual forces

The Apostle Paul stated in 2 Corinthians 10:3 that “. . . we walk in the flesh.” In other words, we admit our humanity. We acknowledge the limitations of our physical and mental capacities, and accept that we will not always get everything perfect. Because of our human limitations, grace is our friend and a valuable weapon in spiritual warfare. We are thankful when we are the recipients of grace, whether that grace is from God or from others, and we want to extend that same grace to others.

Satan attempts to wreak havoc when well-meaning Christians fall short of God-like perfection, but we do not want to fall into the trap of criticizing or condemning others. To both believers and nonbelievers, we want to be quick to extend love, grace, and forgiveness, even when those attributes are not reciprocated. Doing so is a mighty and productive weapon of the Spirit.

Paul went on to say that although we walk in the flesh, “. . .  we do not war after [in the same manner as] the flesh: (For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;) casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God” (2 Corinthians 10:4-5). The challenges facing our world today cannot be overcome using the strategies of the world. The forces of evil can only be overcome by spiritual resources.

Our arsenal of spiritual resources includes the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God. That is why we declare God’s Word rather than advocating for social agendas. Current narratives are subjective and therefore are often divisive. The Word of God unites us, in spite of varying personal viewpoints.

Our arsenal of spiritual resources includes the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God. That is why we declare God’s Word rather than advocating for social agendas. Current narratives are subjective and therefore are often divisive. The Word of God unites us, in spite of varying personal viewpoints. We want those we interact with to leave our presence feeling blessed and thankful to God, rather than angry. We will be far more likely to succeed if we elevate God’s Word rather than focusing on current issues.

God’s Word is alive, active, searching, revealing, and it has the power to operate on and change human hearts. So rather than being driven by the current news cycle, our interactions with those around us should be inspired by the living Word of God and led by the Holy Spirit. The news cycle approach shifts attention away from God’s Word and away from our focus. It is a distraction that undermines our effectiveness as Christians, and could even cause our own faith to be shaken.

Our mission in the world—advocating for the Gospel

Our mission as Christians is simple and clear: it is the Great Commission. We see that mission demonstrated in the Acts of the Apostles from start to finish. The title of the book suggests activism, but it is modeled differently than the type of activism that takes place in much of society today. Near the beginning of the book, Acts 1:8 says, “But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.” The book concludes by stating in Acts 28:30-31: “And Paul dwelt two whole years in his own hired house, and received all that came in unto him, preaching the kingdom of God, and teaching those things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ.” These two passages not only describe the activities of the Apostles and Paul at the beginning and end of the book, but also what they did between the first and last chapters. They were advocating for the Gospel—being witnesses for Jesus Christ.

It is noteworthy that we learn more about the cultural condition of the Roman Empire from religious and secular history than we do from the Bible. That is because the mission of the Apostles was not to reform Rome. Rather, they taught the New Testament church how to be “light and salt” in their environment. They targeted the underlying carnal condition of the human race rather than emphasizing the symptoms of their culture’s dysfunction. When they did note the symptoms, it was in order to point their readers or listeners to the remedy.

If we confront the problems of our society using the tools offered by our society, we are doomed for defeat, as evidenced by what we see around us today. In our church services, rather than being active in protesting the evils of our generation, we want to be active in advocating for the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Rather than preaching against the sins of the world, we want to preach Jesus! We want to present something different from what individuals are bombarded with from other voices in society.

We value and pray for devout leaders who are seeking political solutions. However, righteousness cannot be legislated. A change of heart cannot be successfully mandated by an act of Congress or an executive order. When it comes to politics, Christians of good conscience can have polar opposite views on how to address what both agree are clearly Biblical issues of morality. Since viewpoints are subjective, at church we want to avoid focusing on anything that undermines our efforts to emphasize the remedy offered through the Blood of Jesus.

Our mission in the church—preserving and promoting unity

In the Church body, it helps to be reminded of the devil’s methods. We read in 2 Corinthians 2:11 that we must do so, “lest Satan should get an advantage of us: for we are not ignorant of his devices.” We could also read that verse, “We are not ignorant of his purpose.” Satan’s purpose is to steal, to kill, and to destroy. And one of his devices is to attack the unity of the Body of Christ.

In the Apostolic Faith Church, we have noticeable (and some unnoticeable) differences. We live in different parts of the globe. We are different physically, and have different personalities. We are diverse culturally, sometimes even within the same ethnicity. We are different in preferences and opinions. We have different talents and varied abilities. We are different individuals!

As an example, my wife Debbie and I are not alike creatively. She has beautiful penmanship and is quite artistic. My penmanship is horrible and I can hardly draw stick figures. On the other hand, she claims to be very weak in math and thinks I am strong. (Actually, she is being modest about her skills because she is a quilter, and that requires geometry.) The point is, although we are united in marriage, we have differences!

On vacation a few years ago, Debbie and I rented a bicycle built for two. The bicycle had two seats, two sets of pedals, and two handlebars. The front handlebars steered the bicycle, and the back handlebars were just for the person in back to hold onto. They were attached to the front seat, and on the bike we rented, that seat was loose. As we rounded the first corner, I leaned into the turn and steered that direction. However, Debbie, who was seated behind me, leaned the other way. This twisted my seat, so you can visualize what position that put me in. That was not unity! However, we eventually figured it out and enjoyed our unified bicycle ride.

Paul the Apostle acknowledged in 1 Corinthians 12:12-14 that differences exist in the Body of Christ—the Church. We read, “For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ. For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit. For the body is not one member, but many.”

In spite of our differences, however, we want to have unity. In Ephesians 4, Paul urged the believers in the church at Ephesus to “walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, with all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3-4). True unity will take endeavoring!

The source of division is carnality and its outcome is destructive. The source of unity is Christ and its outcome is productive.

The source of division is carnality and its outcome is destructive. The source of unity is Christ and its outcome is productive. It is what the Psalmist alluded to in the 133rd Psalm, “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!” As believers, we may be geographically and even culturally distanced one from another, but we can be perfectly blended in beautiful harmony despite external circumstances. The Word of God and the sanctifying power of the Blood of Jesus has brought us together, and the power of God can hold us steady and unshaken, and with a unified goal.

Between now and when the Trumpet sounds, may all of us maintain our focus on God. As we determine with one heart to let His name be glorified in all we do and say, we know our love and unity with one another will thrive, and souls will be saved in these last days of the great harvest before Jesus returns.

apostolic faith magazine