Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Felix's Folly

I just finished reading through Acts, and was really struck by this passage. It describes Paul's interaction with Felix, the Roman governor of Judea. Felix was married to a Jewish woman and was at least somewhat familiar with "the Way". Paul had been imprisoned and was under Felix's authority, and Felix decided to check into this newfangled Christianity he'd heard about.

After some days Felix came with his wife Drusilla, who was Jewish, and he sent for Paul and heard him speak about faith in Christ Jesus. And as he reasoned about righteousness and self-control and the coming judgment, Felix was alarmed and said, "Go away for the present. When I get an opportunity I will summon you." (Acts 24:24-25)

Fascinating. Felix couldn't wait to hear about this Jesus fellow and all the neat things he did. I bet he really enjoyed hearing about God's love, and all about grace, and how he works all things for good to those who love him, and maybe even about heaven. Oh, how interesting and intellectually stimulating and compelling all this was! Felix may have even been emotionally moved and felt downright 'worshipful'.

And then Paul had to ruin it by bringing up that pesky "righteousness and self-control and the coming judgment". Once the inescapably personal demand for repentance and warning of God's wrath came, Felix was outta there. Not very seeker-sensitive there, Paul.

Obviously Paul did the right thing in preaching the whole counsel of God, the whole gospel. What good would it do to entertain Felix with stories about Jesus, to tickle his itching ears and satisfy his curiosity, if he was never called to true faith and was left dead in his sin? How many of our churches need to follow Paul's example here and resist the temptation to entertain the lost, stop leaving the call for repentance unspoken for fear of offending them and driving them away, and boldly preach the whole gospel?

But this isn't about them. It's about us. You, and me, and everyone who sits in the pews on Sunday and listens to the word of God being proclaimed and expounded. What do we do with it? Do we enjoy it as long as it's an entertaining story, or intellectually stimulating discourse on God's sovereignty and man's responsibility, or a message about God's wonderful promises to his people - and then, like Felix, check out when the demand to repentance and holiness comes? Do we receive the message only until it personally challenges us to get rid of our hidden idolatries, root out our pet sin, and actually obey God by living in radical love? Are we content to soak up the fascinating knowledge of all the deep things of God, so long as it leaves us completely unchanged?

What do we do with a message like this? We can be happy to learn about the theory of being lukewarm, acknowledge the theoretical need to repent, and gain some conceptual understanding of honoring Jesus rather than making him vomit. Or we can examine our lives for evidence of lukewarmness, repent, and live to glorify Jesus. Like Felix, many choose the former. How about you? How about me? We know the truth - what will we do with it?

Friday, November 13, 2009

Is it too late?

Recently I read through the books of Isaiah and Jeremiah. The two prophets had very similar messages for Judah, but being over a hundred years apart their messages took on a different spin.

Isaiah prophesied during the time when the northern kingdom of Israel was judged by God, conquered by Assyria, carried into exile, and re-settled with the half-breed Samaritans. He begged and pleaded with the southern kingdom of Judah to repent and be faithful, lest God judge them as well. The response was at least good enough (particularly when Hezekiah was king) that God postponed the judgment for a century or so.

Which is where Jeremiah came in. He preached a message essentially the same as Isaiah's - Repent! Believe! Worship God alone! - but his message was thoroughly rejected by almost everyone. His book actually records more respect for the prophet coming from foreigners (such as the conquering Babylonian pagans) than from any Jew except Baruch (and maybe Gedaliah). As the rejection mounts, the message shifts focus from an Isaiah-like "Repent or God will judge us", to something more like "It's too late to repent - judgment is coming!". During the last few years before judgment finally came in the form of the Babylonian army and a 70-year exile, Jeremiah's message was focused on how best to survive and endure the impending judgment, and no hope of avoiding it remained. They had reached a point where it was simply too late to repent.

There's no doubt that America as a nation has some major sins on our record. We are fully deserving of God's judgment (some would say we're already experiencing some of it), and there are calls for repentance that we seriously need to heed. The godlessness of our nation requires a response no less than Assyria in Jonah's day. And yet, even as the calls for repentance go out, it's becoming easier to suspect that we're more in the Jeremiah stage, where we're so far gone and so hardened that we simply will not repent, that it's too late.

For instance, when you see something truly ghastly like this. Lord, have mercy.