Why We’re Crumbling

I’ve noted before that the culture we inhabit is collapsing around us, like a line of dominoes that, when the first one is pushed, all the rest fall in their turn.  Now as a Christian I am not worried at all about the future.  God’s plans can neither be altered or ruined by anything people do.  Before time began God had everything worked out and His promises to His chosen people will be kept with 100% certainty.  But it’s still worth our time to consider what is going on around us and get a feel for how we are to survive until Jesus comes again.

I recently re-read an article written by Dr. David Wells 20 years ago.  Dr. Wells is a distinguished academic who teaches at Gordon-Conwell Seminary and has written quite extensively about religion and culture.  In the article at hand he quoted a number of rather scary statistics about American attitudes–statistics which today would probably be even more concerning than they were then.  I won’t spend time on them, but I do want to begin with a quote from this article that is both true and horrifying–“we [the West] have lost our ability to discern between, or even talk meaningfully about, Good and Evil.”  If you don’t believe in moral absolutes (and two thirds of Americans say they do not) then nothing is either intrinsically right or wrong.  In other words, whoever has the most guns gets to decide what is moral, and no one has the right to say otherwise unless they can amass more weapons.  One way to think about the results of this amoral view of the world would be to ponder what it would mean about who was right or wrong in World War II.  If two thirds of Americans were consistent in their thought they would have to say that the Nazis weren’t wrong, they were just different we can’t judge their moral standing.

Now of course very few people would say that out loud.  It would not be politic to do so.  But if what we have believed about marriage for thousands of years can be overwhelmed in just a decade, how long do we have to wait for the overcoming of our repugnance at the existence of death camps?  A culture based wholly on the idea that people should be allowed to do whatever comes to mind is a culture that won’t last very long.

Dr. Wells argues that our inherited culture could be divided into 3 realms–law on one side; freedom on the other; and, occupying the middle what we could call truth and character.  The Constitution of the United States deals with law and freedom, what we are not to do and what we are protected from.  But critical to our culture has been the middle ground where such things as personal honesty, moral obligation, civic duty, social responsibility, and such other personal and civic traits.  It is the place where what has been called “obedience to the unenforceable” takes place.  Without a functioning middle law must, of necessity, take on a greater role in the culture.  If people won’t act right on their own, they must be made to act right.  But the problem is that we no longer have any sense of what is right or what is wrong.

This situation is fraught with difficulties for Christians.  We have always been called to stand against the culture, to speak words of peace where there is war, love where there is hate, acceptance where there is bigotry.  But as the middle ground grows smaller and the law and freedom larger, Christians will be more outside the cultural mainstream than ever before.

Now maybe this is a good thing.  Maybe the Church needs the strength that comes from being constantly opposed.  I don’t know.  But I do know this, whether America follows Rome down the rabbit hole of history or not, whether this culture survives this century or not, our only hope is Jesus Christ.  As things are trending today, our influence on the culture is declining.  But a culture without an “obedience to the unenforceable” won’t last too long.  The Kingdom of God, however, now that’s forever.

 

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A Long Time Coming

I apologize for not posting the last several weeks, my wife and I were on vacation.  As I’ve gotten older I’ve found that I need more time just being quiet than I once did.  Our vacations used to be hectic.  Now they’re calmer.  I like calmer.

After returning I began preparations for a celebration at church next Sunday.  We are celebrating the founding of our congregation 190 years ago.  The President of the AFLC will be preaching, there’ll be a meal, and visitors from all over the place are coming to share this time with us.  190 years is a long time and the people who founded this congregation way back in 1826 have long since joined the Church Triumphant in glory.  We’re still here, carrying on the work of proclaiming the life giving Gospel of Jesus Christ crucified and risen for us.

It’s been a long time since our congregation was founded.  And it’s been even a longer time since Jesus ascended back into heaven.  Sometimes we get a little concerned about that.  After all, we remember and give thanks for something that happened 2000 years ago–2000 years!  Now that’s a long time isn’t it?  And there are people who will say that if nothing has happened in 2000 years, nothing is going to happen.  Jesus isn’t coming again and we should just get along with our lives in this world.

There have always been doubters of God in this world.  David writes “the fool says in his heart there is no god”.  So doubters there were even then.  And others have pointed out that nothing seems to really change, so everything must just be as it is and will be in the future.  There are no end of people who try to measure God by their own standards and deny Him when He doesn’t fit.  To them the Lord replies, “my ways are not your ways and your ways are not my ways”.

One of the big differences between God and mankind is that we live within something we call time.  Things have beginnings and endings, they come to pass and they are over.  God, on the other hand, is not bound by time.  He stands outside it and relates to it in a way which the human mind cannot even begin to comprehend.  If we could understand God, even for a microsecond, I’m sure we would go insane.  The complexity of the human brain is no more comparable to God than a one celled organism is comparable to a human being.

So how do we know that Jesus will return?  It’s been a long time coming, right?  And yet Peter writes that to the Lord a day is like a thousand years and a thousand years like a day.  So, in God’s eyes, even if we are to take Peter’s words literally, it’s only been 2 days since ascension.  So time is not the answer to the question of how we can know that Christ will return.  The answer is God’s sovereign will recorded in the Scriptures and testified to by number of kept promises we find there.  In just the right time, Christ came amongst us.  In just the right time, He is coming again.

Boosting the Gospel

I am fond of bluegrass music.  We are very lucky in this part of the country to have the premier bluegrass radio station, WAMU, just down the road in Washington DC.  Now their signal is not strong enough to carry the 75-80 miles across 2 mountains to my home.  So they have a system which are called boosters and repeaters.  In other words, there are electronic that pick up the signal they send out of Washington, boost the signal and send it on to those of us who live in the country.  Were it not for the boosters and repeaters we could not pick up that station.

Now I’m sure it’s not the best analogy I could come up with, but I think it fits–you and I are the boosters and repeaters for the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Two thousand years ago Christ did His work on this earth, He bore upon His holy shoulders the penalty for the sins we commit.  His followers, the Apostles and their associates spread that news throughout the Mediterranean world.  They told what they had seen and heard with their own senses.  But all of them died and what we have left are their written witness.

Not everyone reads the written witness of these men on their own.  In fact, St. Paul goes so far as to tell us that we come to believe because of what we hear.  It is the living witness of living people to other living people that spread the Gospel throughout the world today.  And we should do that, not by giving our opinions or our takes on things, but by repeating what the Apostles  themselves told us .

As witnesses to the Good News of Christ’s sacrifice for us we have nothing new to tell anyone.  What we have is the tried and true message that, as Jude says, was handed down once for all.  So rather than trying to find new ways to pass on what we know, changing or omitting or adding things to make them “relevant” we would do much better to stick to the ways that we have inherited from the giants upon whose shoulders we now perch.

Only In The Presence of Jesus

I’ve been following a dispute that has broken out among some of our Calvinist brethren about the definition of the relationship between the 3 persons of the Trinity.  It’s kind of technical, so I won’t bother to deal with it here–there probably aren’t too many people who would find it much more interesting than watching paint dry.

But the dispute made me think about the variations and varieties of Christian theology and what that means for those of us who are followers of Jesus.  I am a Lutheran.  I am a Lutheran because I believe that the Lutheran Church has the purest expression of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, crucified and risen for you.  But I also recognize the many commonalities  between Lutheran theology and Calvinist theology.  Indeed–I go so far as to say that John Calvin was Martin Luther’s best student.  Still, we do have differences.

And then there are our brothers and sisters who have an Arminian theology–the Methodists, Wesleyans, Nazarenes, etc.  I have more  areas of disagreement with them.  And don’t start on the Roman Catholics, the Eastern Orthodox, Coptic and Assyrian Churches.  And yet, we are all indeed brethren if we confess with our mouths that Jesus is Lord and believe in our hearts that God raised Him from the dead, for we are then saved. (Romans 10:9)

You see, friends, when Jesus is in the mix, those things that separate us from one another cease to seem very important.  Just look at the Lord’s disciples.  We have Matthew, a tax collector for Herod whose operation encouraged gouging as many people as possible.  And then there is Simon the Zealot.  The Zealots were a radical group opposed to Roman rule and to everyone who collaborated with the Romans.  Yet here they were, following the same Lord, trusting the same Savior.  And Simon didn’t even try to stick a knife in Matthew’s back.  There’s something about Jesus that changes us, isn’t there.

I sometimes tell my congregation that American Christians have more in common with a Christian in Tanzania who lives in a mud hut than with the unbeliever who lives next door.  When the Lord comes again and the world is remade that guy from Tanzania might very well be your next door neighbor.

In the presence of Jesus everything is different.  Everything is better.  Everything is forever.

 

I Can’t Believe It

I’ve reached the age where very little can surprise me anymore.  As someone said recently, what everyone believed yesterday will probably be illegal tomorrow.  But today I came across a news story that just made my jaw drop open.  It seems that out in California some college professor types are creating–get this now–creating a human/pig hybrid fetus.  Yes, that’s right, we’re now put human and animal DNA together in the hope that we can create body parts to replace those which are diseased.

This is not simply a scientific experiment.  It is far more than that–it is a blatant attempt by men to become gods.  Why if we can create our own version of life–who needs a Creator God?  If we can create things that could never exist in nature–who needs all those natural laws and things like that?  If we can create things living beings that have never been before–who can stop us?

I try not to be an alarmist.  I try not to be always saying that we’re on our way to a hot place in a hand basket.  But the world has not seen anything like this since the Tower of Babel.  And you might have noticed that God didn’t let them get away with it then and I’m pretty sure He isn’t going to turn His head now.  Then again, maybe this is the last thing before the Lord returns in His glory.  I hope so.  But what if it isn’t?

Well, people have to stand up and scream at the top of our lungs, “you can’t do this, it isn’t just wrong, it is evil.”  Evil is a strong word but I don’t know what other I could use.  This is evil, and people of faith must be the leaders in speaking out against it.  Here there can be no middle ground between the true God–Father, Son and Holy Spirit–and the spurious gods of Berkeley.

Thinking About Memorial Day

Yesterday was Memorial Day and it is an important holiday in the minds of many people in this country.  And in mine.  It is important for us to remember those men and women who have died in defense of the United States.  Many of their sacrifices have ensured that America remains free.  I honor them for that.  But I also pray for the day when we will no longer be adding names to that list.

I first arrived in Vietnam in early June of 1968.  I landed in Ben Hoa and then spent about a week in Saigon before being sent to Phu Bai, an area a few miles south of the old imperial capital of Hue.  On my journey north I spent a few days in Da Nang.  Now the army didn’t want people in transit just sitting around so we were all sent on details.  I was sent to work at the morgue.  While I had already seen a fire fight in Saigon, I had yet to see any dead Americans.  I got to see quite a few that day.  They were all young men, some probably weren’t even men yet.  They were laid out naked with cotton over their eyes and genitals and tags on their toes.  I can still close my eyes and see those  bodies and if I ever smell formaldehyde it will trigger that memory.

Lots of people died in Vietnam after that day.  And then in Afghanistan and the Middle East, and not to forget other places where we have chosen to project our power in the world.  Some of those who have died were “good” people–others not so “good.”  But they all died young.  The saying used to be that young men die in wars and nothing can change that.  Now, I guess, we have to say that young men and women die in wars and nothing can change that.

I’m not a pacifist, but neither do I believe that Christians ought to be blase’ about this.  Ought not those called by the One who said that we are to love our enemies and pray for them be just a bit more vocal about not going to battle at the drop of a political hat?  Ought not Christians, when praying for those who defend us, pray also that they will never be deployed without to do so without something more than an economic or political goal to be attained?

War is the result of sin–each and every war, each and every time.  Jesus came to save us and to change us into men and women more like Him.  Think about that.

 

 

How Much Do You Owe?

A few years ago the talking heads on television were all debating who was responsible for the recession and the collapse in housing.  Some said it was greedy bankers.  Others said it was the fault of government policies that encouraged the greedy bankers to make bad loans.  Everybody had a villain in mind–except the blame was never directed at the real culprits–us.  You see people in this nation had amassed an unsustainable amount of debt and when the least little fluctuation happened it all fell apart.  As Pogo once said, we have met the enemy and it is us.

Debt is never our friend, it is always our enemy because as long as it exists we can be called to account.  It is, I fear, what awaits our nation in not too many years.

There’s another type of debt that all of us owe.  That’s the debt we owe for being poor sinful beings who have sinned against God in thought, word and deed without any excuse.  If you default on your mortgage, you can walk away from your house.  But there is no walking away from the debt sinners who to God.  It must be paid in full.  The only way we could pay that debt on our own is to endure the eternal wrath of God.

But God, pure and holy, perfect and just, had mercy upon us and sent His Son to bear our punishment.  We didn’t have to pay what we owed.  Jesus paid that debt.  We didn’t have to suffer for what we have been and done.  Jesus suffered for us.  We didn’t have to see the grim visage of an angry God.  Jesus did that when He cried out on the cross, My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?

This was far better than having someone pay off our mortgage for us.  This was life eternal in the presence of the divine.  We owed a debt that we couldn’t face paying.  Now we owe a debt that we could never pay and so we cling to the cross, where we meet the God who saved us.