The Old Preacher

Viewing the World through God's Word

Month: November 2016 (page 2 of 2)

Psalm Reflections: Forever Happy

Read Psalm 1 today.  Can’t resist some simple reflections.  Here’s the psalm in the Good News Translation (change from the familiar) . . .

Happy are those who reject the advice of evil people, who do not follow the example of sinners or join those who have no use for God (1:1).

The GNT substitutes “Happy” for the typical “Blessed”.  Both somewhat miss the mark.  The meaning is more like “happy because one is favored by God”.

The psalmist makes a blatant judgment.  We would think it politically incorrect.  Some people are evil.  Not just ISIS.  Not just mass murderers.  Evil people are those whom God judges “sinners”, those who fall short of what he calls “right”.  Because the Bible claims “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23), all are sinners apart from God’s saving grace in Jesus Christ.

Of course, in the ongoing process of God’s salvation history, the psalmist would identify sinners as those who didn’t believe in God as revealed to Israel and who didn’t evidence that faith by living according to his laws.

The psalmist identifies “evil people” another way also:  “those who have no use for God”.  That’s the GNT’s take on “sit in the seat of scoffers”.  A good interpretation, though not literal translation.

We’d be dangerously mistaken to assume advice from “evil people” comes only one-on-one.  (I’ll be happy if I don’t take my evil neighbor’s counsel.)  Advice comes much more—and subtly so—through the omnipresent media.  Everything from a sit com to an Internet blog offers counsel, almost all of it “evil”.  Listen with discernment and reject the godless!

Instead, they find joy in obeying the Law of the Lord, and they study it day and night (1:2).

 

We Christians speak much of faith, little of obedience.  Afraid of falling into salvation-by-works, we ignore obedience as the evidence of faith.  And we overlook the fact that even the Old Testament psalmist was saved by faith, his obedience between faith’s outworking.

It seems incongruous to us that the source of joy is obeying the Lord’s Law (Be free!  Break the rules!) and so we’re driven to “study” the Lord’s Law “day and night”.  Who equates joy with obeying and studying laws?  Apparently, the Lord does!  If I’m to have joy, I must fill my mind with the Lord’s Law(s) and obey that Law in my living.  Note:  the psalmist doesn’t promise obedience brings salvation; rather that obedience brings joy.

They are like trees that grow beside a stream, that bear fruit at the right time, and whose leaves do not dry up. They succeed in everything they do (1:3).

 

The psalmist’s no dreamer.  Life, he knows, has its “dry” seasons.  But even then, those who obey the Lord’s Law prosper.  Like “trees that grow beside a stream” bearing fruit, not drying up, they “succeed in everything they do”.

 

Skeptics here think “pollyanna” (blindly optimistic) or “the guy doesn’t live in the real world”.  Without a doubt, the psalmist knew about suffering.  Hard times God’s people endured were a reality to him.  So “success” doesn’t mean “a pain-free, opulent lifestyle”.  It has a decidedly eternal perspective.

But evil people are not like this at all; they are like straw that the wind blows away (1:4).

 

“Evil”people don’t prosper.  Really?  What about the politicians (to cite just one example) who used their position to enrich themselves?  To cite another, what about the billionaires who get richer by bending/breaking laws because they’re billionaires?

 

” . . . they are like straw that the wind blows away.”  Here’s a hint of the eternal perspective.  The old farmer takes his wheat to the threshing floor.  Throws a pile into the air.  The heavy grain falls to the floor.  The wind blows the lighter “straw” away.  So, says, “evil people” are like that.

Sinners will be condemned by God and kept apart from God’s own people (1:5).

 

Sounds fairy-tale-ish.  Can’t even imagine it.  Is God going to direct every human who ever lived into one interminably long line, then call each one by one to appear before him while he waves his long-robed arms around and interrogates their life’s habits?  Will he then send “the guilty” to their doom?  Get real.  Couldn’t happen.  Well, maybe not that way.  But, if we accept the Bible as God’s word, we can’t write off Judgment Day because we can’t fit it into our little minds.

The righteous are guided and protected by the Lord, but the evil are on the way to their doom (1:6). 

And so, the “righteous” enjoy the Lord’s guidance and protection.  Not from sore throats or cancer or physical death, but from being thrown away like straw on Judgment Day.  They will be eternally guided and protected.

On the other hand, “the evil are on the way to their doom”.

 

Thus the psalmist divides humanity in two.  Different worldviews.  Different lifestyles.  Different directions.  Different destinies.

The lesson is obvious:  Don’t buy into the counsel of the world.  Study and obey the Lord’s Law.  But only if we want to be happy forever.
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Psalm Reflections: Happy Forever

I read Psalm 1 today.  Can’t resist writing simple reflections on it.  Here it is in the Good News Translation (a change from the familiar . . . )

Happy are those who reject the advice of evil people, who do not follow the example of sinners or join those who have no use for God (1:1).
The GNT replaces the typical “Blessed” with “Happy”.  Both fall a bit short of the mark, the Hebrew meaning something like “happy because one is favored by God”.  Who are these “happy” ones?    ” . . . those who reject the advice of evil people, who do not follow the example of sinners or join those who have no use for God.”
The psalmist makes a blatant judgment.  We would think it politically incorrect.  Not the psalmist.  Some people are evil.  Not just ISIS.  Not just mass murderers.  Evil people are those who God judges “sinners”, those who fall short of what he calls “right”.  Because the Bible claims “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23), all are sinners apart from God’s saving grace in Jesus Christ.
Of course, in the ongoing process of God’s salvation history, the psalmist would identify sinners as those who didn’t believe in God as revealed to Israel and who didn’t evidence that faith by living according to his laws.
The psalmist identifies “evil people” another way also:  “those who have no use for God”.  That’s the GNT’s take on “sit in the seat of scoffers”.  A good interpretation, though not literal translation.
We’d be dangerously mistaken to assume advice from “evil people” comes only one-on-one.  (I’ll be happy if I don’t take my evil neighbor’s counsel.)  Advice comes much more—and subtly so—through the omnipresent media.  Everything from a sit com to an Internet blog offers counsel, almost all of it “evil”.  Listen with discernment and reject the godless!
Instead, they find joy in obeying the Law of the Lord, and they study it day and night (1:2).

We Christians speak much of faith, little of obedience.  Afraid of falling into salvation-by-works, we ignore obedience as the evidence of faith.  And we overlook the fact that even the Old Testament psalmist was saved by faith, his obedience between faith’s outworking.

It seems incongruous to us that the source of joy is obeying the Lord’s Law (Be free!  Break the rules!) and so we’re driven to “study” the Lord’s Law “day and night”.  Who equates joy with obeying and studying laws?  Apparently, the Lord does!  If I’m to have joy, I must fill my mind with the Lord’s Law(s) and obey that Law in my living.  Note:  the psalmist doesn’t promise obedience brings salvation; rather that obedience brings joy.
They are like trees that grow beside a stream, that bear fruit at the right time, and whose leaves do not dry up. They succeed in everything they do (1:3).
The psalmist’s no dreamer.  Life, he knows, has its “dry” seasons.  But even then, those who obey the Lord’s Law prosper.  Like “trees that grow beside a stream” bearing fruit, not drying up, they “succeed in everything they do”.
Skeptics here think “pollyanna” (blindly optimistic) or “the guy doesn’t live in the real world”.  Without a doubt, the psalmist knew about suffering.  Hard times God’s people endured were a reality to him.  So “success” doesn’t mean “a pain-free, opulent lifestyle”.  It has a decidedly eternal perspective.

But evil people are not like this at all; they are like straw that the wind blows away (1:4).“Evil” people don’t prosper.  Really?  What about the politicians (to cite just one example) who used their position to enrich themselves?  To cite another, what about the billionaires who get richer by bending/breaking laws because they’re billionaires?

” . . . they are like straw that the wind blows away.”  Here’s a hint of the eternal perspective.  The old farmer takes his wheat to the threshing floor.  Throws a pile into the air.  The heavy grain falls to the floor.  The wind blows the lighter “straw” away.  So, says, “evil people” are like that.

Sinners will be condemned by God and kept apart from God’s own people (1:5).

Sinners (evil people who have no use for God, who flaunt his Law) “will be condemned by God . . . ”  On the future Judgment Day, the “straw” will be “blown away” and “kept apart from God’s people”, who have trusted him, rejected evil counsel, and devoted themselves to live by the Lord’s Law.
Sounds fairy-tale-ish.  Can’t even imagine it.  Is God going to direct every human who ever lived into one interminably long line, then call each one by one to appear before him while he waves his long-robed arms around and interrogates their life’s habits?  Will he then send “the guilty” to their doom?  Get real.  Couldn’t happen.  Well, maybe not that way.  But, if we accept the Bible as God’s word, we can’t write off Judgment Day because we can’t fit it into our little minds.
The righteous are guided and protected by the Lord, but the evil are on the way to their doom (1:6). 
And so, the “righteous” enjoy the Lord’s guidance and protection.  Not from sore throats or cancer or physical death, but from being thrown away like straw on Judgment Day.  They will be eternally guided and protected.

On the other hand, “the evil are on the way to their doom”.

 

Thus the psalmist divides humanity in two.  Different worldviews.  Different lifestyles.  Different directions.  Different destinies.
The lesson is obvious:  Don’t buy into the counsel of the world.  Study and obey the Lord’s Law.  But only if we want to be happy forever.
 
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The End of White Christian America (Part Three)

In a 2014 Super Bowl ad “the camera panned over Americans clad in everything from cowboy hats to yarmulkes to hijabs—including an interracial gay couple at a roller rink with their daughter—over a soundtrack of ‘America the Beautiful’ sung in seven different languages” (The End of White Christian America, p.46).  Not your familiar Coke commercial.  Nor are these statistics familiar.

Statistics.

The proportion of white Christians has fallen to 47%.  Americans not affiliated with any religious group has grown to 22%.  ” . . . young adults (ages 18-29) are less than half as likely to be white Christians as seniors (age 65 and older).”  Demographic changes, such as immigration and birth rates, are contributing to the declining proportion of white Christians.  But “the other major force [is} young adults’ (ages 18-29) rejection of organized religion.”

Author of this book, Robert P. Jones, founding CEO of the Public Religion Research Institute, comments:  “Falling numbers and the marginalization of a once dominant racial and religious identity . . . threatens white Christians’ understanding of America itself.”

I’m writing, not because this shift threatens us, but because it’s important that we understand the America in which we follow and bear witness of Jesus.  When I was a kid . . . Well, I’m no longer a kid and the country’s not like it was then, and probably never will be.

Another statistic.  In 1972 white Protestants’ median age was 46.  Now it’s 53.  (Median age of all Americans is 46.)  Mainline and evangelical Protestants are aging and, says Jones, “quickly losing ground as a proportion of the population” (p. 56).

When I was a kid . . . Let’s try that again.  I assumed that my Protestant faith was virtually universal (except for Catholics and Jews).  Now, Jones observes, “the incursion of the Internet and national cable news has made it impossible for White Christian America’s contemporary descendants (this generation)  to assume that [Protestant faith is universal] . . .  ” In other words, our children see their faith as one among many faiths in the world, and even among many in the country.  They know, just by absorbing America as it is today, that their belief-system isn’t prevailing and may be the minority.

It’s becoming obvious to adults, as Jones concludes, that White Christian Americans “no longer have the numbers or the cultural authority to dominate American public life” (p. 77).

Racism.

Jones refers to Barack Obama’s inauguration in 2008 as “the most visible symbolic challenge to White Christian America’s hold on the country” (p. 80).  He goes so far as to claim that “Obama’s election had challenged many whites cultural assumption—that the White Anglo-Saxon Protestant (WASP) was the only authentic model of citizenship” (p. 82).

I object to that vague (“many whites cultural assumption”) racist charge!  As far as I can tell, many whites did not assume WASP was “the only authentic model of citizenship”!  And I think the more we make that claim, the more we fuel the racism that divides us.  This, too, marks us as a changing country:  opportunities for African-Americans have never been greater, but racism remains—and some who rightly condemn it so vociferously inadvertently further it.

Politics.

White Christian America would seem (at least in Jones’ view) to have lost its political clout.  And yet, Johnnie Moore, a spokesman for “My Faith Votes”, said, “The sweeping support evangelicals gave Donald Trump on Election Day was stoked by their fear that Christianity is being killed off” (http://www.newsmax.com/Newsmax-Tv/johnnie-moore-evangelical-panic-christianity/2016/11/11/id/758477/?ns_mail_uid=95913738&ns_mail_job=1695851_1112201  In other words, our clout is being killed, but ain’t dead yet.

If White Christian America is losing political clout (I doubt we fear Christianity is being killed off!), that’s bad news for the Republican party.  (More evangelicals vote Republican because that party’s conservative principles harmonize more with a biblical worldview.)  So Jones, as many others, urges Republicans to respond by “rebranding their conservatism to appeal to women, ethnic minorities, and young people.”

The same advice, by the way, has been urged upon the church.  If we’re to reach young adults we have to rethink the role of women in the church, welcome the LGBT community, perform same-sex marriages, change our church-building rest rooms, etc.  In other words, we have to give “progressive” people what they want regardless of the Bible’s moral authority.  So goes the argument.

If the changes I’ve noted here seem a bit disorienting, that’s because they are.  America’s no longer the country it once was.  If it was “White Christian”, it is no longer.  Gone are the days when society at least mildly reinforces basic tenets of the faith.  Increasingly now it barely tolerates them.  And when it comes to  favored progressive positions (abortion, LGBT demands, for example), it loudly and “legally” opposes them.

Counter:  A Better Country.

But note this:  the Lord hasn’t lost.  Nor has his church.  However, it is time for us to stop feeling shocked at how immorality (by biblical standards) is winning approval in the name of “rights”.  It’s also time for us to stop assuming  the “right” people in political office will make everything okay again.

Rather it’s time for us Jesus followers to get on a war footing.  Not to brandish this world’s weapons, but the weapons of righteousness our Lord gives us.  And thereby show a declining country there’s a better one . . .

“They did not receive the things God had promised, but from a long way off they saw them and welcomed them, and admitted openly that they were foreigners and refugees on earth. Those who say such things make it clear that they are looking for a country of their own. They did not keep thinking about the country they had left; if they had, they would have had the chance to return. Instead, it was a better country they longed for, the heavenly country.  And so God is not ashamed for them to call him their God, because he has prepared a city for them” (Hebrews 11:13b-16, GNT).

 

 

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Another City Riot!

Ferguson.  Baltimore.  Dallas.  Ephesus. Test:  pick which one doesn’t belong.  Ephesus?  Nope.  All belong.  Ephesus didn’t make non-stop cable news and no one was killed; but it was another city riot.

I included a short video and a few photos (two modern-day), for background information.  Maybe overkill, but I find these cities interesting.

Image result for map of ancient ephesus

Charisma

Pine Bay

Paul spent more time in Ephesus than any other city.  He was wildly successful.  Not only the city, but ” . . . all the residents of Asia heard the word of the Lord” (Acts 19:10b).

Now after these things had been accomplished, Paul resolved in the Spirit to go through Macedonia and Achaia, and then to go on to Jerusalem. He said, “After I have gone there, I must also see Rome.” So he sent two of his helpers, Timothy and Erastus, to Macedonia, while he himself stayed for some time longer in Asia (Acts 19:21,22, NRSV).

Image result for map Paul's 3rd missionary trip

Why go west to Macedonia when he wanted to go southeast to Jerusalem?  To collect an offering from the Macedonia Gentile churches for the poor Jerusalem Christians (1 Corinthians 16:1-4).  So, guided by the Holy Spirit, Paul  made his plans.  But he hadn’t counted on the riot.

About that time no little disturbance broke out concerning the Way. A man named Demetrius, a silversmith who made silver shrines of Artemis, brought no little business to the artisans. These (artisans) he gathered together, with the workers of the same trade, and said, “Men, you know that we get our wealth from this business. You also see and hear that not only in Ephesus but in almost the whole of Asia this Paul has persuaded and drawn away a considerable number of people by saying that gods made with hands are not gods.  And there is danger not only that this trade of ours may come into disrepute but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis will be scorned, and she will be deprived of her majesty that brought all Asia and the world to worship her.” When they heard this, they were enraged and shouted, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” The city was filled with the confusion; and people rushed together to the theater, dragging with them Gaius and Aristarchus, Macedonians who were Paul’s travel companions (Acts 19:23-29, NRSV).

A little disturbance?  Author Luke, euphemistically, calls it “a little disturbance”.  Demetrius, pressing on the profit-loss, rounded up angry Artemis salesmen.  Artemis was “the ancient mother goddess of Asia Minor, worshiped in that land from time immemorial as the mother of gods and men.  Her temple at Ephesus was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world; her image, enshrined in that temple, was believed to be of heavenly workmanship:  it appears to have been a meteorite in which the semblance of a many-breasted female was discerned.  Her worship was marked by the traditional features of nature-worship; it was presided over by eunuch priests and three grades of priestesses.  She had a special festival about the time of the spring equinox, at the beginning of the month Artemision:  it may have been at the time of this festival in A.D. 55 that the trouble now described by Luke broke out” (The Book of Acts, F. F. Bruce).

Image result for image of artemis of ephesus
The open-air theater, which sat an estimated 25,000 to 30,000, was famous for concerts, plays, as well as religious, political and philosophical discussions and for gladiator and animal fights (http://www.ephesus.us/ephesus/theatre.htm).  On this day, it became the city’s riot-center where chaos reigned.

Image result for the open air theater at Ephesus

 Paul wished to go into the crowd, but the disciples would not let him; even some of the officials of the province of Asia, who were friendly to him, sent him a message urging him not to venture into the theater.  Meanwhile, some were shouting one thing, some another; for the assembly was in confusion, and most of them did not know why they had come together (Acts 19:30-32, NRSV).
Look at Luke’s little humor:  ” . . . the assembly was in confusion, and most of them did not know why they had come together”.

Several factors fueled the riot.  One, a dramatic fall in profits from the sale of Artemis images.  (Luke twice makes this business-loss their first concern.)  Ephesus had once been a rich trade center.  But, when the harbor silted up, trade plummeted.  Tourism became the city’s main revenue source. Lost income from Artemis images sent profits plunging.
Two, the shameful offense to the great, world-worshipped goddess.  Artemis abandoned in favor of a crucified Jew!
Rioting silversmiths didn’t distinguish between Jews and Christians.  So Jewish Alexander was shoved to the stage to defend the Jews—to no avail.  The town clerk fared better.  He served as official liaison between the city’s civil administration and the Roman provincial administration.   His warning that the riot might bring Rome’s wrath and reminder they had legally-acceptable ways to register their protest quieted the mob and emptied the theater.

Some of the crowd gave instructions to Alexander, whom the Jews had pushed forward. And Alexander motioned for silence and tried to make a defense before the people.But when they recognized that he was a Jew, for about two hours all of them shouted in unison, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!”But when the town clerk had quieted the crowd, he said, “Citizens of Ephesus, who is there that does not know that the city of the Ephesians is the temple keeper of the great Artemis and of the statue that fell from heaven? Since these things cannot be denied, you ought to be quiet and do nothing rash.You have brought these men here who are neither temple robbers nor blasphemers of our goddess. If therefore Demetrius and the artisans with him have a complaint against anyone, the courts are open, and there are proconsuls; let them bring charges there against one another. If there is anything further you want to know, it must be settled in the regular assembly. For we are in danger of being charged with rioting today, since there is no cause that we can give to justify this commotion.” When he had said this, he dismissed the assembly.  After the uproar had ceased, Paul sent for the disciples; and after encouraging them and saying farewell, he left for Macedonia (Acts 19:33-20:1), NRSV).

* * * * *

” . . . the closer you are to the King and the more focused you are on the gospel, the more likely you are to draw the enemy’s fire.”  So writes Reformed pastor and theologian Derek Thomas.  But why does God allow us to suffer for the gospel?

Back in Philippi, Paul and Silas suffered prison apparently so the jailer and his family might be saved (Acts 16:25-40).  But why did God send his servant smack into the middle of a city riot here?  Writing later to the Corinthian church, Paul tells us . . .

We want to remind you, friends, of the trouble we had in the province of Asia. The burdens laid upon us were so great and so heavy that we gave up all hope of staying alive. We felt that the death sentence had been passed on us. But this happened so that we should rely, not on ourselves, but only on God, who raises the dead (2 Corinthians 1:8,9, GNT).

After a life time of studying the word and years of preaching and planting churches, Paul still had God-reliance lessons to learn.  So do we.  So do I.  When we’re living for Jesus but life turns hopeless, when we feel condemned to a terrible fate, God is teaching us to rely on him alone.  And to remember he is the God who raises the dead.

 

 

 

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What’s God Doing with Trump?

Resigned to Hillary winning.  That’s how I wearily went to bed last night.  Same sinking into the same old sinking days of America.  Now, after learning Trump triumphed, I’m still stunned.

For years I’ve concluded that ” . . . the wrath of God is being revealed from heaven . . .” (Romans 1:18) against the godlessness, corruption and baby-slaughters of this nation.  We’re sliding deeper into sin because we choose sin.

Now I’m not sure what God is doing.   Is Hillary’s loss a wrath-reprieve?  A chance for the USA to enjoy God’s mercy?  Time, I suppose, will tell.  Donald Trump isn’t our savior.  No signs of American repentance are seen.  We’re just hopeful that some of the worst wrongs of Obama’s administration will be righted.  And the potential wrongs of a Hillary administration have been averted.

But Donald Trump is still Donald Trump.  But who is he?  In my book, not Hillary.  And that’s a good thing.  But he has no track record to review.  Or maybe I should say he’s got a not-so-commendable track record.  I do think diving into America outside Trump Tower has rubbed off for good on him.  But can he repair a deeply-divided nation so we’re not at each others’ throats?  Can he heal the anger over injustice in black communities?  Can he open the door to more and better jobs?  Can he help ignite a moral (if not spiritual) revival among us?

Well, let’s just sit back and see.

No!  That’s just what we must not do.  Like all president-wanna-be’s, Trump has promised more than he can possibly deliver.  Besides, the root disease of America isn’t bad trade deals.  It’s sin.  A broken relationship with our Creator.  A border wall won’t fix that.  Four years from now I’ll be shocked if we’re not complaining about what Trump hasn’t done.  Even the best deal-closer in the world can’t make the U.S. “great again”.

With President Trump’s inauguration, it’s time for us to renew our devotion to pray . . .

First of all, then, I urge that petitions, prayers, requests, and thanksgivings be offered to God for all people; for kings and all others who are in authority, that we may live a quiet and peaceful lifewith all reverence toward God and with proper conduct.This is good and it pleases God our Savior,who wants everyone to be savedand to come to know the truth. (1 Timothy 2:1-4, GNT)

I’m preaching first to me.  Here’s one place (among many) where I’ve fallen short.  In recent weeks, the Lord has reminded me of this through my oldest grandson, with whom I’ve been having weekly devotions.  He’s prayed for the Lord’s will to be done in these elections.  So, convicted, I urge me (and you) to pray.  Not for Trump’s sake.  Nor for the Republicans’ sake.  But for the sake of our children and grandchildren.  And, as Paul wrote, “that we may live a quiet and peaceful life with all reverence toward God and with proper conduct.”
That brings me to a second devotion for us to renew:  to live like salt and light . . .

“You are like salt for the whole human race. But if salt loses its saltiness, there is no way to make it salty again.It has become worthless,so it is thrown out and people trample on it. Y
ou are like light for the whole world.  A city built on a hill cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and puts it under a bowl; instead it is put on the lampstand, where it gives light for everyone in the house.
In the same way your light must shine before people, so that they will see the good things you do and praise your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:13-16, GNT)
 

Jesus clearly explains light’s function:  to reveal our good works and bring praise to our Father.  In other words, the good things we do should “show off” the goodness of God.  But light, like salt, can be an irritant.  (Try suddenly turning on a spotlight in a black-as-night room.  Hurts the eyes so much you quickly close them.)  Similarly the “light” of “good works” can irritate and, by God’s grace, convict the doer of “bad works”.  Either he’ll try to turn off our good works or maybe consider repenting.  Has our “light” been dimmed these days?

 

 

Regarding prayer and salt-and-light-living, it matters not who is president.  But, maybe God has given us an opportunity with Trump’s surprising victory.  Maybe God is pushing us back to what he’s already to us.  Pray.  And live what we are in him:  salt of the earth and light of the world.

 

 

By God’s grace that may at least slow this country’s fall away from God.  And it certainly will show America that there’s another kingdom, a better one, that has come already, and will come in its consummation soon.

 

 

So as it turns out, the question on this day-after-election isn’t, ‘What’s God doing with Trump?”  The question is, “What’s God doing with us?”

 

 

 

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Election Day Ad & Open Letter

Who’s not weary of campaign words?  Maybe a record number of voters cast their ballots early just to end the barrage sooner!

Therefore, you may refuse to watch the video and read the blog at http://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2016/11/7/13546186/johnson-amendment-mike-pence-donald-trump-evangelicals-religious-right-moral-majority.

I think it’s worth your time.  So I hope you’ll grab a coffee, take a deep breath and go for it one more time (even if you’ve voted already).  Click on “Church Greetings” to see the video.

And be sure to click on and read “An Open Letter to Mrs. Hillary Clinton and Mr. Donald Trump” further down the blog.

Since the attached is long, I’ll close my mouth now, put my typing fingers in my pockets, and invite you to listen and read . . .

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The End of White Christian America (Part Two)

I reread yesterday’s post.   Does it sound racist?   Am I longing for the good old days with Sheriff Andy in Mayberry without African-Americans, Asians and Latinos?

Not Racism.

I wouldn’t mind Mayberry.  Nice to leave doors unlocked and worry only if Aunt Susie will drop off an apple pie today or tomorrow.  But my nostalgia has nothing to do with racism.  Nor does Robert P. Jones’ book, The End of White Christian America.

Racism, defined by John Piper in his book, Bloodlines, is “the heart that believes one race is better than another.”  And “the behavior that distinguishes one race as more valuable than another.”  If any of my comments implied racism, please forgive me.  Jones and I are merely commenting on the changes in the country and how they affect “white Christian America.”  I’m writing because our knowledge of those changes is shallow and our ignorance of what they call us to as a follower of Jesus is deep.

Dust Summary.

The following (from the book’s dust cover) fairly summarizes The End of White Christian America:

“For most of the country’s history, White Christian America—the cultural and political edifice built primarily by white Protestant Christians—set the tone for our national policy and shaped American ideals.  But in recent decades new immigration patterns, changing birth rates, and religious disaffiliation have transformed the United States.  The year 1993 was the last in which white Protestants constituted a majority of the population.  Today, even when Catholics are included, white Christians make up less than half of the country.

” . . . Jones shows how today’s most heated controversies—the strident rise of a white politics of nostalgia following the election of the nation’s first black president; the apocalyptic tone of arguments over same-sex marriage and religious liberty; the stark disagreements between white and black Americans over the fairness of the justice system—can be fully understood only in the context of the anxieties that white Christians feel as the racial, religious, and cultural landscape has changed around them.

Today, although they still retain considerable power in the South and within the Republican Party, white Christians lack their former political and social clout . . . ”

Do we understand an “evolution” that fundamental has occurred?  Do we realize there’s no going back to Mayberry?

Christian Response.

How, then,  shall we as Christians respond?  We’re blessed to elect government leaders.  We should vote with our Christian worldview clearly in place.  But, if we think politicians will “make America great again” or build us “stronger together”, we’re dreaming.  Evangelical Christians easily fall prey to politics.  When I saw Jerry Falwell, Jr. fall all over Donald Trump at Liberty University, I thought, “Here we go again.  Christians pinning hopes on politicians.”  They’re not our saviors and never will be.  At best, we vote against the worse.  (Too cynical?)  Launching a “Christian candidate” won’t enlarge our Christian “clout” in the country (though it may stave off evil to a limited extent).

Consider two suggestions, alternatives to trying to infiltrate Washington, D.C.  One comes from Methodist theologian Stanley Hauerwas.  In a 1989 book, Resident Aliens:  Life in the Christian Colony,  he called for the church to be “a colony of heaven”.  By that he meant Christians who recognize they live in a strange land, who emphasize “Christianity’s function as an institution separate from politics and worldly affairs, not as an insider in the halls of power.”

This I see is a prophetic stance.  We speak and act, not as Republicans or Democrats, but as citizens of heaven.  As Old Testament prophets our allegiance is to the Lord of lords.  We pray, “Your kingdom come” through us today.

A similar idea lies in Chuck Colson’s book, Kingdoms in Conflict.   Colson refers to Jacques Ellul (French philosopher, professor, sociologist, lay theologian, and Christian anarchist)  who criticized “big government illusion.”  The answer, he argued, lay with “small voluntary associations.”  In the 18th century statesman Edmond Burke called such associations “little platoons.”  These, wrote Colson, are citizens who do works of mercy and oppose injustice.  These are “salt and light” in a world corrupted by human sin.  And, wrote Colson, ” . . . they provide the main bulwark against government’s insatiable appetite for power and control, and a safeguard against the sense of impotence fostered by today’s overwhelming social problems.”

Today’s “overwhelming social problems” and the “government’s insatiable appetite for power and control” hurt us all, regardless of race.  And admittedly, “white Christian America” has often been as much part of the problem as solution.

I post this series of blogs to inform us frogs in the pot how hot the water is getting.  And to think through with you what we might do as followers of the Lord Jesus Christ.

On the back cover of The End of White Christian America, Michael Eric Dyson (author of The Black Presidency:  Barack Obama and the Politics of Race in America) writes . . .

“Jones deftly and insightfully shows how this new moment marked by white Christian America’s demise holds both promise and peril for those concerned about racial justice and the future of race relations in the country.”

Promise and peril.  As Christians, how shall we respond?  We’ll answer more in days ahead . . .

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The End of White Christian America (Part 1)

Over 60?  Then you feel changes in America.  You can’t define them, perhaps.  But, as I do, you feel them.  This book, The End of White Christian America, defines them, helps us understand them and provokes us to ponder how as Gospel-believing, Jesus-following Christians we should respond.

It’s an ominous title.

The author is Robert P. Jones, CEO of Public Religious Research Institute.  The book is available from Amazon—https://www.amazon.com/End-White-Christian-America-ebook/dp/B0176M3QC8/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1478442626&sr=1-1&keywords=the+end+of+white+christian+america). Over the next few weeks, I’ll intermittently blog about it.

Product Details

Architecture.

Let’s start with a visual.  In the late 18th century, steeples of two church buildings towered over lower Manhattan.  By the mid-19th century a building that housed one of Joseph Pulitzer’s newspapers eclipsed the churches and allowed Pulitzer to look down on the churches.  A hundred years later the Chrysler Building and Empire State Building defined New York City’s skyline.

“Where church spires once stirred citizens to look upward to the heavens, skyscrapers allowed corporate leaders to look down upon churches from their lofty offices.  Instead of market transactions happening under the watchful eye of the church, these exchanges literally take place over its head and beyond its reach.”

Even most of us senior citizens can’t remember when “market transactions [happened] under the watchful eye of the church.”  But, America knew such a day—now long gone.

In 1924 the United Methodist Building, across the street from the U.S. Capitol, was dedicated as a “sentinel for Protestant Christian Witness and reform in the nation’s capitol.”  The hope was a building “where Christian faith and politics could mingle”, a place for Protestant presence on Capitol Hill.”  Societal changes suffocated that hope.  Today “the building’s tenants are a hodgepodge of Protestant and ecumenical organizations, interfaith groups and secular nonprofits.”  One small sign of the “end”.

In 1980 the Crystal Cathedral was one of America’s first megachurches.  Robert Schuller preached a “feel-good-about-yourself gospel”.   The suburbanization of California’s Orange County contributed greatly to his success.  Robert P. Jones says Schuller’s appeal was simple—he validated and encouraged material success, personal growth and fulfillment and political conservatism.  His ministry was “a powerful new force in white Christian America’s life.”

But when demographics changed, so did the “force.”  Membership dropped.  The empire unraveled.  Schuller’s children assumed control, filed for bankruptcy and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange County bought the building.  Another sign of the retreat of Protestantism’s power in our country.

Internal Divide.

In the early 1920s, Baptists, Methodists and Presbyterians divided over North-South lines (eventually known as Fundamentalists and Modernists).  Central to the division was evolution.  One group in general held to “theistic evolution” (God governed the process), the other to “creationism” (God created everything there is, some insisting on a literal seven-day period).  Yet another sign of white Christian America’s weakening, this time from an internal issue.

These are only some of the forces which have diminished  the social and political clout of white Christian America.  The process, as this short summary shows, has been in play for over a century.

Jones observes that the terms “Christian” and “Protestant” were virtually synonymous for most of the 20th century.  Even now, pockets of the “good old days” of June Cleaver, Andy Griffith and Norman Rockwell remain.  But “it’s no longer possible to believe that white Christian America sets the tone for the country’s culture as a whole.”  Protestantism, as a powerful cultural force, has faded.

Demographics.

Demographics is a reason.  In fact, the U.S. Census Bureau has predicted that “by 2050 the United States would no longer be a majority-white nation.”  After Barack Obama was elected president, the Census Bureau adjusted that predicted year to 2042.  Population experts now say that by 2060 “the number of people who identify as multiracial will nearly triple and the number of Hispanics and Asians will more than double.”  This process has given rise to battles over “gay” rights and racial tensions.  “America’s religious and cultural landscape is being fundamentally altered.”  That “alteration” was heightened last year when the U.S. Supreme Court decided to legalize “same-sex marriage” nationwide.

Challenge.

Jones concludes his first chapter with a challenge . . .

“There is much at stake for the country in whether these survivors (the next generations of White Christian Americans) retreat into disengaged enclaves, band together to launch repeated rounds (to fight for their old social values) . . . or find a way to integrate into the new American cultural landscape.

Eventually Jones will offer his solutions.  I don’t think we’ll find them satisfactory.  But I take the time to blog through this book, because we must be informed about changes occurring all around us.   Not simply so we can be “in the know.”

But so we can live as intelligent followers of Jesus
in a changing country.

So we help our children
(who never knew the June Cleaver days)
grasp the import of what they face
following Jesus in today’s America.

And so we can all impact this society,
not only for the nation’s sake,
but for that of the kingdom of God.

 

 

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The Prevailing Word

World Series.  Despite being up 3 games to 1,  the Cleveland Indians couldn’t prevail over the Chicago Cubs.  Prevail:  “to prove more powerful than opposing forces; win out, carry the day, come  out on top, prove superior.”   The Cubs proved more powerful than the Indians.  They prevailed.

Author Luke evaluates Paul’s ministry in Ephesus:  “So the word of the Lord grew mightily and prevailed” (Acts 19:20).   It “grew mightily”,  spread greatly throughout Ephesus and all of Asia (today’s Turkey).  It “prevailed”, proved more powerful than forces opposing it.  For the first two years in Ephesus, the Lord’s word won the day.  But powers opposed it.

Synagogue to Tyrannus Hall.

Jews formed the first opposing force.  After encountering John’s twelve disciples in Ephesus (Acts 19:1-7, http://theoldpreacher.com/12-empty-men/)   Paul turned to the Jews in Ephesus.  He . . .

” . . . entered the synagogue and for three months spoke out boldly, and argued persuasively about the kingdom of God.  When some stubbornly refused to believe and spoke evil of the Way before the congregation, he left them, taking the disciples with him, and argued daily in the lecture hall of Tyrannus. This continued for two years, so that all the residents of Asia, both Jews and Greeks, heard the word of the Lord” (Acts 19:8-10).

As in other cities, Jews rejected Paul’s message.  They “stubbornly refused to believe”, and even “spoke evil of the Way before the congregation.”  Taking this public stand, they made themselves culpable before God for rejecting their Messiah.

It must have been with heavy heart that Paul left the synagogue, taking with him those who did believe.  He  continued to reasonably present (Greek, dialegoumenos) the Lord’s word “in the lecture hall of Tyrannus.”  We’re told nothing about Tyrannus or how this “hall”, used for informal education and debates, was made available to Paul.  Some ancient manuscripts suggest he used it 11 a.m to 4 p.m., probably six days a week.  This continued for two years.  Co-workers took the gospel to neighboring towns.  Some of Revelation’s “seven churches of Asia” may have been planted then, as well as the church at Colosse.  ” . . . all the residents of Asia, both Jews and Greeks, heard the word of the Lord”, wrote Luke.    Despite stubborn opposition from much of the city’s Jewish community, ” . . . . the word of the Lord grew mightily and prevailed.”

Image result for pictures of seven churches of revelation

Signs, Wonders and Evil Spirits.

The diseased and demonized are victims.  But the forces behind them are opponents.  Disease denies “God loves you.”  Evil spirits’ power prove their ascendancy over Paul’s Jesus.  But Luke reports . . .

God did extraordinary miracles through Paul, so that when the handkerchiefs or aprons that had touched his skin were brought to the sick, their diseases left them, and the evil spirits came out of them”(Acts 19:11,12).

This “handkerchiefs” and “aprons” thing sounds like TV evangelists selling Jordan river water.  Actually it echoes the woman who was healed after she “touched [Jesus’] garment” (Mark 5:27) and the healing of others who touched “even the fringe of [Jesus’] garment” (Mark 6:56).  Rather than evoking scenes of frauds, it recalls powerful signs and wonders associated with Jesus.

“So the word of the Lord grew mightily and prevailed.”  This power-show attracted itinerant Jew “exorcists”.  One group, “the seven sons of Sceva”, led by a self-proclaimed “high priest”, tried to duplicate Paul’s success by using Paul’s technique.  But with humiliating results . . .

Then some itinerant Jewish exorcists tried to use the name of the Lord Jesus over those who had evil spirits, saying, ‘I adjure you by the Jesus whom Paul proclaims.’ Seven sons of a Jewish high priest named Sceva were doing this. But the evil spirit said to them in reply, ‘Jesus I know, and Paul I know; but who are you?’Then the man with the evil spirit leaped on them, mastered them all, and so overpowered them that they fled out of the house naked and wounded” (Acts 19:13-16).  

What of evil-spirit-power today?  In the mid-1970’s, the charismatic movement was in full swing in northern New Jersey.  Every problem had its own demon—obesity, lust, laziness, obsession with chocolate, etc.—for Christians and non-Christians alike.  We arrived to plant in church in the swamp of that unbiblical teaching. Nevertheless, we’d be wise to recall Paul’s position on demonic powers . . .  We shouldn’t attribute more authority to them than they have; but we ignore them at our peril . . .

For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places (Ephesians 6:12, ESV).

They exist.  They are anti-Christ.  But in Ephesus ” . . . the word of the Lord grew mightily and prevailed.”  Even more . . .

Bonfire by Exorcists.

When this became known to all residents of Ephesus, both Jews and Greeks, everyone was awestruck; and the name of the Lord Jesus was praised.  Also many of those who became believers confessed and disclosed their practices.  A number of those who practiced magic collected their books and burned them publicly; when the value of these books was calculated, it was found to come to fifty thousand silver coins” (Acts 19:17-19) 

F. F. Bruce comments . . .

A number of such magical scrolls have survived to our day . . . The special connection of Ephesus with magic is reflected in the use of the term “Ephesian scripts” for such magical scrolls.  The spells which they contain are . . . considered to be unusually potent . . . On this occasion fifty thousand drachma’s worth of such documents went up in smoke . . . The powers of darkness were worsted, but the gospel spread and triumphed” (The Book of Acts).

So the word of the Lord grew mightily and prevailed” (Acts 19:20).

The Lord’s Purpose Prevails.

Proverbs 19:21—“Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the LORD’s purpose that prevails.”  In first century Ephesus, it was the Lord’s purpose for his word to prevail—against stubbornly resistant Jews, against disease, against evil-spirit-powers, against fraudulent exorcists.  So it did.  Ephesus became a leading center of Christianity for centuries.

In 21st century America, the Lord’s word isn’t prevailing.  Look at shrinking churches.  Look at Christians’ minority status.  Look at the rise of other worldviews that minimize Christianity.  Look at the casual attitude of many Christians about the faith.  Instead of prevailing, the Lord’s word seems to hold on by fingernails.  Furthermore, as we’ll see, Paul’s visit to Ephesus ends with a city-wide riot against him.

This is a good time to “cheat” and check how the story ends.  Go to the back of the book.  Keep a finger in Revelation.  No, you don’t understand everything in it.  (Who does?)  But one point is crystal-clear:  in the end, the word of the Lord prevails.

It proves more powerful than opposing forces.  It wins out.  It carries the day.  It comes  out on top.  It proves superior. 

Best to be on the prevailing side.  Regardless of how things appear at the moment.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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12 Empty Men

In the 1957 movie, “Twelve Angry Men”, one jurist (Henry Fonda) tries to convince the other eleven  that the accused isn’t guilty of murder. (They’re all certain evidence proves he is.) Tempers flare and hidden characters are revealed.  The drama provides fascinating insight into the hearts and minds of  these twelve men!

In Ephesus, the apostle Paul comes upon twelve “empty” men.  Here we get a fascinating insight into the working of the Holy Spirit . . .

While Apollos was in Corinth, Paul passed through the interior regions (of Asia, today’s Turkey) and came to Ephesus, where he found some disciples. He said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you became believers?” They replied, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” Then he said, “Into what then were you baptized?” They answered, “Into John’s baptism.” Paul said, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, in Jesus.”  On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. When Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied—altogether there were about twelve of them. (Acts 19:1-7, NRSV).

Image result for map of Paul's 3rd missionary journey

Why did author Luke (inspired by the Holy Spirit) include this unusual incident?  Not only because it happened.  But because Luke intended to tell us something.  (Author’s intent is a critical question for interpreting most any Scripture.)  In discovering Luke’s intent we’ll discover how this event applies to us.

Let’s start our answer-search with Paul’s question to the twelve “disciples”: “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you became believers?”  Now why would Paul ask that?  Dr. Gordon Fee’s (theologian and author who currently serves as Professor Emeritus of New Testament Studies at Regent College in Vancouver, Canada) view of the Spirit in Paul’s theology hints at an answer . . .

Any careful reading of Paul’s letters makes it abundantly clear that the Spirit (for Paul) is the key element . . . of all Christian life and experience.  To put that in theological perspective, it needs to be noted that, contrary to historic Protestantism, “justification by faith” is not the central theme of Pauline theology (Listening to the Spirit in the Text, p. 37).

If  true, Paul’s question to the twelve is perfectly reasonable.  They are “disciples” of John the Baptist.  They haven’t heard that Messiah (Jesus) has come and with him the Spirit-riches of last days’ salvation.

So Paul announces the good news and the twelve believe, are baptized in Jesus’ name and receive the Holy Spirit.  We understand, then, why Paul asked the twelve about the Spirit.  But, why did Luke include this incident?

Pentecostals (and some Charismatics) point to this passage as a proof-text for “baptism in the Holy Spirit” as an experience subsequent to salvation.   They argue that, since these twelve are called “disciples” they must have been Christians, but without this “second blessing” of Spirit-baptism.  Clearly, though, these men are disciples of John (the Baptist).  Furthermore, how could they be Christians if they’ve never even heard of “a Holy Spirit”?   In the saving work of Messiah Jesus, and in the Pauline theology of it, the Spirit is the key element . . .

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God” (Galatians 4:4-7, ESV).

You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you.  Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him” (Romans 8:9, ESV).
Therefore, these “disciples” were of John, not Jesus.  Pentecostals, though, aren’t alone in misusing this passage.  Some non-Pentecostals seem fixated on bludgeoning Pentecostals with this text.  No (as I’ve argued), this doesn’t prove a “second blessing”!  By misusing this text, they miss the bigger word-picture Paul paints.
 I think Dr. Gordon Fee gets it right:  The key to understanding Acts seems to be in Luke’s interest in the movement, orchestrated by the Holy Spirit, of the Gospel from its Jerusalem-based, Judaism-oriented beginnings to its becoming a worldwide Gentile-predominant phenomenon.”   (How to Read the Bible for All It’s Worth).   Luke intends to show us this movement, this Holy Spirit-orchestrated stream flowing from Jerusalem Jews to the Gentile world.
But why include “the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied”?  When the Holy Spirit was initially poured out on the Day of Pentecost, Luke describes the phenomenon of speaking in other tongues (Acts 2:1-4).  Then, later while Peter preached the gospel to the Gentile Cornelius, ” . . . the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. And the believers from among the circumcised who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles. For they were hearing them speaking in tongues and extolling God” (Acts 10:44-46).  Now, here in the great Gentile city Ephesus Luke reports how the Holy Spirit came upon (the twelve) and they spoke in tongues and prophesied.”

Luke is showing us movement—the movement of the Gospel, orchestrated by the Holy Spirit from its Jerusalem-based Judaism beginnings (Pentecost, Acts 2) to its becoming a worldwide Gentile predominant phenomenon (Cornelius in Acts 10, the twelve in Ephesus in Acts 19).

We 21st century Americans see that movement bottled up.  Evangelical Christian percentage of the country’s population is slowly shrinking.  Yet, in places like Africa and South America, the movement continues.   We mustn’t be complacent about stagnant movement here.  But we can be encouraged that the Holy Spirit’s orchestration of the Gospel movement continues despite the obstacles.  God will see to it that his will is done!

Finally, this incident reminds us of a very personal application of the Spirit-filled Gospel.  I’ve called these twelve men “empty”.   Even though they believed John the Baptist’s preaching and looked forward to the coming Messiah and showed their repentance from sin and to the coming Savior by being baptized in John’s name.  But inside they were “natural” men—men without the living, transforming presence of God the Holy Spirit, men still dominated by the sinful nature.

Then Paul, returning to Ephesus according to God’s will (see http://theoldpreacher.com/if-god-wills/), finds them.  He announces what John prophesied Jesus fulfilled.  They believed, were baptized and were filled with the Holy Spirit.  Their “emptiness” overflowed with the regenerating, sanctifying, empowering presence of the Holy Spirit.

Luke wants us to know that this “movement” is available to us, too.  His concern isn’t speaking in tongues or prophesying.  It isn’t whether we call ourselves Pentecostals, Charismatics or something else.  It’s that we understand a movement of the Gospel is still sweeping through the world.

And that we welcome whatever God the Holy Spirit wants to do in our lives.  So that we are no longer empty, but filled with the presence of the Holy Spirit in Jesus’ name to the glory of God the Father.

 
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