Mike Streezy

LIONS, LAMBS, AND THE BIBLE BELT

A Call For A Return To Boldness

I’m southern. You probably knew that already. I’m from the buckle of the “Bible Belt”. That’s a unique place to be from. That means I have been around “Christians” and “Christianity” all of my life. I’d go a step further to say it means that being a “Christian” and living in a “Christian community” is a way of life. Now let me clarify something before we go any further. I mean community to be a government, its laws, the public and private interactions of those within the society at large (Christian or not) and basically having a city and state in a region that is pro-Christianity and proud of it. I was raised to be bold about my faith and the falseness and dangers of opposing faiths. If someone wanted to impose their faith on our popular faith or stand against us, government institutions and those in them were most likely sympathetic to my side. That’s good and bad. It can be real good or real bad.

It also means I grew up listening to the old folks talk about the Crusades, book and record burning parties, big tent revivals, regularly scheduled annual revivals, large-scale public outreach/evangelism events, southern quartets, and hell fire and brimstone preachers. I was a bit odd because of it. Of course, back home you wouldn’t notice, but where I live and work and interact today, I might be viewed as a barbarian or a simpleton. Our methods, openness, willingness to engage conflict and state our position without a nationally ascribed presentation of what it means to be “winsome” are looked down upon. The hypocrisy that looms over us further complicates the matter. But I’d like to ask that you don’t discard it. Instead, step in with me. Let me show you the heart behind what you see. Let me take you to the war grounds and let’s observe it together. It might be useful, right.

AN INCH DEEP AND A MILE WIDE

That’s the way I’ve heard the teaching described by Midwesterners, northerners, and committed intellectuals where I live now. I’d have to agree in large measure. I’ve said the same. One thing the South lacks that it is without excuse for is personal discipleship. Preachers sing out a call to come forward and submit your life to the LORD. Well, either that or they try to entertain you through the 15 minute preaching segment of their services without ever really upsetting you. That’s the new Southern preaching. That doesn’t seem to have been around back in the day. Back in the day it was holiness. For those of you that don’t know what that might mean or insinuate, holiness preaching is closer to the hellfire and brimstone type I already said I grew up idolizing. Basically, it says God is holy, He gave us the Holy Spirit, and He has called us to be holy as He is holy. What that might mean is somewhat up to interpretation because it isn’t always spelled out other than what holiness will and won’t do. For instance, holy men separate from evildoers and stand against wickedness (what does that mean?). Holy men won’t partake in drunkenness or clear sin. A lot of times it turns into manners and war. At least it did in me. And I’m not necessarily against either. My concern isn’t actions though, it’s the heart behind them. Lack of clarity in what things mean and especially the heart behind them are making things worse than they are making them better.

I think of the verse that says certain teachers of the law would go great distances (literally) to make a single convert only to make them twice the child of hell than they were before they were converted. I empathize with both the teacher and the converted ones. I believe I’ve done and been both. My heart aches daily because of it.

JUDGMENT

God gives false teachers to men as judgment. Think about that. It scares the mess out of me. God will judge me for not believing Him by supplying me with false teachers that will lead me straight to hell. Not only that, I will willingly follow them because I love what they have to say. It’s opened my eyes up to the Lord’s Prayer when it says to God our Father “Lead me NOT into temptation; but deliver me from evil.” I’ve spent a considerable amount of time asking that request (singular in a contrast statement) word for word with a heart of fear. Who is being asked for protection? God the Father is. Who are we asking Him to protect us from? Who is doing the leading? God the Father is. God directs us into temptation, into the snare, and we will fall into unless He delivers us from our own wandering ways that follow temptation straight into the death that evil sets. See that? God leads, Temptation ensnares (we have to be delivered out of it).

THE BALLOT SMELLS LIKE JUDGMENT

I look out at this nation by looking on a ballot and I see such a backwards set up that the history in the pages of the Bible says we are already ensnared. We’ve already been given over. We are in free fall. Most likely there is no hope for us as a nation. But I remember that fire, that smell of brimstone that woke me up over and over and made my eyes see the danger in front of me. Fear is not viewed, generally, as a good motivator. But when it comes to God, He says it is the beginning of understanding. I don’t ascribe to the definition of fear that it is simply awe and not fear. No. It’s an awe-inspired fear. I don’t see anyone meeting an angel, the angel of the LORD, or standing before God that doesn’t fill with fear. They are afraid. So while I was afraid, others mocked and were unaffected. Instead of fear, men can fill with anger. But for those who hear the rebuke of the LORD, they turn and God counts it as wisdom.

That’s why I’m ok with the revivals, the hellfire and brimstone, the holiness calls, and the burning parties. I’ve grown to respect men and women that don’t “winsomely” (in the current definition) convert, but instead convert because they smell like fire has touched their lips. Their eyes pierce like they have seen the living God and He is standing with them as they speak. The fear of man is absent and the argument is the reality of the existence of a holy, just God who is legitimately angry about sin and storing up wrath to judge it. That’s why I invite you in to this “Christian society” I come from. The Scripture is clear. Christians never make up the majority. The few, not the many, find the narrow way and walk it. Few, not the many, enter through the narrow gate. So if you realize this and believe that all men are born in the clutches of sin in such a way that they cannot follow God without a new birth, a miracle, then you have to understand that each household is engaged in a war.

It’s easier to please your child by imitating a God who is nicer about sin that Jesus was and the Father is, than it is to show them the cross, the heart of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. It’s easier to avoid taking hard stances on the word of God up front to your neighbors than it is to please them by flavoring your words to tickle their ears all the while they are headed into the clutches of the snare of evil. Salt purifies too. It’s not just for flavor. It cauterizes and burns open wounds, but heals because of its work. So often we assume that the wisdom texts of what avoids conflict in the Proverbs equal what Christ showed us to imitate. I don’t see anyone mentioning His calling teachers snakes, vipers, wolves, dogs alongside commands for Christians to salt their speech. You don’t get the praise of Jesus on John the Baptist who was known for blunt assaults on wicked men like the Pharisees and Herod’s household when these conversations come up. Jesus even said John was the greatest of the prophets and none that came before or after would match him, not even Moses. How about Paul who clearly went after Peter when he was not acting in accordance with the gospel? Does that sound winsome to you? It does to me. Men who can put their heads on the chopping block and are unwilling to run from the danger, the scrutiny, the trouble that is guaranteed to come by speaking the truth to those who suppress it remind me of Christ who in His prophesied zeal for His Father’s house not only turned over tables in the temple, but braided a whip to do so. And this we are sure pleased God and looked exactly as His imitation, His likeness.

That’s war. People are afraid of it. It’s hard. It’s lonely. It doesn’t make you a ton of friends. Matter of fact, it will likely lead people to pour out wrath and manipulate justice to silence and destroy you if they don’t just lash out and kill you.

THE MOST IMPORTANT PART: THE HEART

But it’s missing the most key piece: A heart that has decided to act for others grounded in love. The rebukes aren’t for rebuke’s sake, they are grounded in a love for God that knows men who are lead off in temptation are headed into the snares of evil. They have to be awakened and snap to. They need to hear a voice that warns them of the cliff they are walking off of and leading others to as well. They, WE, all need to “get our minds right” every once in a while. And that’s not bad. So when you see the same states in the Bible belt that are so confidently and clearly opposed to things full of wickedness and injustice, please understand this: It’s still a war. People will manipulate what is commendable to their own desires. It is clearly a courageous, worthy endeavor to be bold and clear and grounded in God’s Word. But not everyone who presents themselves this way is a Christian. They might be the same ones using injustice, riches, and the freedom to do evil that comes from an unchanged heart and conscience to silence those who are around them rebuking their ways.

There are bullies and there are those who stand against bullies to defend the weak. A dog and a wolf may look and sound a lot alike while fighting, but only one is protecting their master. The other is a wolf doing what wolves do. We are LION and lamb like Christ. We are conformed to His image. You can’t remove the lion from a Christian. It’s who Christ is. That means it is something we become over time. We are willing to give up our “coats” to those over us (all men) and we are willing to die that they might live by the grace of God and the gift of the Holy Spirit, but we are also relentless, fearless, and courageous as we seek to walk in the footsteps of God by defending the weak and defenseless and the flocks we have been given and the holy, exalted name of God in Christ Jesus just as He has done so Himself. He doesn’t need us to, but He lets us partake in this holy calling anyway.

In my opinion, take it as you may, the biggest difference between pictures of evil rulers and wicked men and Jesus and those filled with His Spirit is not how loud they talked, the boldness or sharpness of their words, or their clear rebuke on both sides. No. On that, both sides seem to stand with conviction. Neither is lukewarm.

The biggest difference is one group came prepared to kill and the other group came prepared to die.

My prayer is that the coals, the brimstone, might sear and cleanse the lips of many more men and women as we see it has done for Isaiah in Isaiah 6. Then we may hear, send me when we know the mission is much like that he also was sent for.