Christianity 201

November 24, 2016

Is Peace Possible? Psalm 46 Gives the Answer

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clarke-dixon-picby Clarke Dixon

Will we ever have peace on earth? If you set out to write a book on the history of the world, by the time you are finished you might rather call it a history of conflict. Likewise a history of conflict is practically a history of the world. In the 1980’s I was fascinated by an encyclopaedia that chronicled all the world’s conflicts since WW2. Unfortunately, there were enough to devote a separate volume for every year. More recent volumes may be thicker.

We may also think that personal peace is an impossibility. Perhaps the enemy is at the gates, whether the enemy be in the form of threats to physical health, mental health, financial health, relationships, or well being in general. Will we ever have peace?

Peace may have seemed like an impossibility to the people in the Psalmist’s day, but the writer of Psalm 46 expresses great hope. Consider the great hope and comfort expressed in how the Psalm begins and ends:

God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble. Psalm 46:1

The Lord of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our refuge. Psalms 46:11

What trouble might God’s people in the Psalmist’s day expect? Why might they feel the need for refuge? We can easily forget that Israel in the Old Testament was quite a small nation stuck between some very large and powerful empires. And just as there is a constant moving of, or a desire to move, territorial boundaries today, so in those days the empires would swell and abate with much conflict. Many Biblical scholars think that the sparring of the nations is the upheaval symbolized in the early part of the Psalm:

Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change,
though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;
though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble with its tumult. Psalms 46:2-3

Earth shattering events were always too close for comfort. Who wouldn’t feel stressed stuck as the little guy between several big bullies? Knowing that God, the Creator of the universe, was on your side was a very encouraging thing.

We may be tempted to think here that this Psalm is therefore only for the nation of Israel, and only for those days. However we can note how the hope of the Psalmist in Psalm 46 is reflected by the hope found in the book of Revelation. Consider, for example . . .

  • In verse 4 we have a river.

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy habitation of the Most High. Psalms 46:4

This is actually quite a strange thing as there was no real natural river in Jerusalem. So we are meant to think of God’s supernatural provision of blessing whereas other nations could only boast of their natural provision. There is also a river in Revelation:

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb. Revelation 22:1

  • In verse 5 we have the presence of God.

God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be moved;
God will help it when the morning dawns. Psalms 46:5

In Revelation there are many references to the presence of God. Here are two:

I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. Revelation 21:22

But the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him;  they will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. Revelation 22:3,4

  • In verse 6 we have the nations at war.

The nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter;
he utters his voice, the earth melts. Psalms 46:6

And in Revelation we have good news about the nations:

On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. Nothing accursed will be found there any more. Revelation 22:1-3

  • In verse 8 we have the notion of God as a destroyer.

Come, behold the works of the Lord;
see what desolations he has brought on the earth. Psalms 46:8

This might seem out of character for God for those who believe that He is so loving He could not hurt a fly. But being a destroyer is completely consistent with a loving and just character. As verse 9 makes clear, he is the destroyer of war itself.

He makes wars cease to the end of the earth;
he breaks the bow, and shatters the spear;
he burns the shields with fire. Psalms 46:9

That God is a great destroyer is a theme of Revelation also. He is the destroyer of death itself.

Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire; Revelation 20:14

Also, there is the destruction of empire, from Revelation 19:11 and following, all the way to the destruction of the most evil empire builder of all.

And the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulphur, where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever. Revelation 20:10

Psalm 46 points well beyond its own time, in fact it points even beyond our own time as we find its hopeful themes reflected in the Book of Revelation.

Is world peace possible? In Revelation 7:9-10 we see a vision of something that has never been done before:

After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands.
They cried out in a loud voice, saying,
“Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!” Revelation 7:9-10

Here we have all different kinds of people standing together. It is a vision of world peace. What seems to us to be impossible right now, with God becomes not just possible, but promised. And as for personal peace, every enemy that threatens us now will be destroyed along with all God’s enemies. What seems to us to be impossible right now, with God becomes not just possible, but promised.

This leads us to verse 10:

“Be still, and know that I am God!
I am exalted among the nations,
I am exalted in the earth.” Psalms 46:10

This is to be taken in two ways, and which way you understand it depends on your relationship with God. The word for “be still” is really the word for “cease” or “stop.” If you have picked up your cross to follow Jesus, then be still, cease from your stress and anxiety over everything that threatens you. God’s got your back. The peace that may seem impossible to you right now is not only possible, but promised. But should you be against God, then cease from your striving and conflict, knowing that the Lord is God and not you. In which of these two ways do you take verse 10? Is peace possible for you?

 All scripture references are taken from the NRSV

June 20, 2016

The Culture of Jesus and the Culture of Guns

Swords into PlowsharesAt Christianity 201, I avoid topical issues; avoid them like the plague! But there can be no doubt that the issue of gun violence in the U.S. gives many pause to think, and hopefully pause to pray.

But what do you pray for?

We can think the issue through emotionally, or we can look at it constitutionally, or we can even look at it logically, but until we develop the mindset of looking at the world theologically, we’re not letting the light of Christ shine on and shine out of our lives.

We’ve looked at the question, “Is America mentioned in Bible prophecy?” or the similar, “Why isn’t the U.S. mentioned in Bible prophecy?” It occurred to me a few days ago that it is.

He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore. – Isaiah 2:4

I realize that there are many applications to prophecies of this nature, and how different overarching viewpoints on interpretation might affect what you take from any given passage. At Crosswalk.com we read,

Whole books—make that shelves of books—have been written on hermeneutics, but I want to mention just one hermeneutical principle here that, if grasped, will make a huge difference: Context is king. What is context? Well, an online dictionary says it is “the parts of a written or spoken statement that precede or follow a specific word or passage, usually influencing its meaning or effect: You have misinterpreted my remark because you took it out of context.”

When it comes to Scripture, we need to interpret prophecies—and everything else—in context. This means that we need to look at the context of a prophecy in several dimensions: the immediate context (the paragraph or section in which it appears); the larger context (the chapter); the Bible book; and the Bible as a whole.

At BibleOnly.org, the different methods are categorized:

The Historical/Critical school believes that prophecies such as Daniel are not really prophecy, having been written at a time later than stated in the text, and were designed to act as encouragement to Israel rather than being true prophecy.

The Dispensationalist/Futurist school believes that God has operated under different rules in different “dispensations”. The prophecies are to be interpreted exactly as written, without any transformation from physical Israel to spiritual Israel. They also believe that the seventieth week of Dan 9:24 has not happened, and will be in the future. This leads to predictions such as the restitution of literal Israel, with mass conversion of Jews, an antichrist who forms a one-world government, peace treaties with the Jews, and a physical battle of Armageddon.

The Preterist school believes that all prophecy has been fulfilled. The book of Revelation was written about AD60, rather than AD94 as many believe. Jesus came the second time in AD70 at the destruction of Jerusalem, which was the “midst” of the 70th week of Daniel 9:24-27. This coming was a spiritual rather than a physical event. In order to allow this interpretation, they maintain that the entire NT after the gospels is to be interpreted spiritually rather than physically.

The Historicist school believes that prophecy has been in large measure fulfilled, but that the second coming and events surrounding it have not yet happened. The physical promises to physical Israel became spiritual promises to spiritual Israel when the Jews rejected Christ. Rather than declare a priori that all texts should be read physically or that all texts should be read spiritually, historicists believe that the natural reading of texts should have the greatest weight, but that such a reading needs to take into account the linguistic and cultic elements of the day of the writer, as well as the conditionality of prophecy enunciated in Jer 18:5-10.

Still, it’s difficult not to read the “swords into plowshares” verse today without thinking of the unique American situation vis a vis gun violence. A collection of 13 different charts helps visualize the situation.

If you studied elementary economics, you’ve probably seen the graphs showing the trade-off between guns and butter. Interesting that Matthew Henry mentions this two-way street:

they shall beat their swords into ploughshares; their instruments of war shall be converted into implements of husbandry; as, on the contrary, when war is proclaimed, ploughshares are beaten into swords, Joel 3:10.

Some, like Shane Claiborne, are actively involved in turning guns into garden tools, as described in this 2013 video, or this 2015 article:

Shane Claiborne, founder of the Simple Way faith community, hopes the event will inspire people to “bring life out of death, turn weapons into tools, and rejoice in the promise of resurrection.”

Many Christians reading this however, do not hold to this view or support the broader pacifist position held by Shane, Benjamin Corey, most Mennonites, the Amish, the Anabaptists, and others. They are actively involved in the NRA (a gun lobby group) or are part of local church congregations who post “concealed carry” rules at the front door of the church, meaning that the person who is sitting in the pew next to you may be armed.

I mentioned thinking through the issue theologically. Much energy has been spent discussing both sides of the issue online. How can people, each committed to follow Christ, each reading from the same scriptures, come to such totally opposite views on the issue of gun ownership?

We do see times in scripture — such as Paul’s differences of opinion with John Mark and Philemon — where people agreed to disagree. Digging deeper, can we know the heart of God on some matters? Has God revealed himself on certain issues? What would Jesus do?

…At a longer article at GotQuestions.org, we read:

Christians are called to submit to governing authorities, and they are to obey the laws of the land (Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-17). This would have to apply to gun laws, too. If American gun laws change, American Christians should submit to these changes and work through democratic means toward any desired alternatives. The Bible does not forbid the possession of weapons, and neither does it command such possession. Laws may come and go, but the goal of the believer in Jesus Christ remains the same: to glorify the Lord (1 Corinthians 10:31).

The country that I live in has landed the plane in an entirely different place on this issue; as have most other nations, so I see this issue quite differently than many of my American friends and readers at Thinking Out Loud and Christianity 201. My wife and I have suspended all travel plans to the U.S. indefinitely.

The takeaway today is that you; that we think it through in the light of scripture. That we learn to process the issues of the day related to politics, lifestyles, money, and even worship itself through a theological lens.


The Christian and social issues
The Christian and current events

This is from the blog Nacreous Kingdom in 2010:

Karl Barth is said to have said: “We must hold the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other.” Actually, The Center for Barth Studies at Princeton Theological Seminary has not been able to pin down exactly from whence that quote emanated. However, it is widely known that Barth made the Bible/newspaper connection frequently throughout his illustrious career. They have, however, substantiated the following quotes…

In an interview from 1966, for example, he stated: “The Pastor and the Faithful should not deceive themselves into thinking that they are a religious society, which has to do with certain themes; they live in the world. We still need – according to my old formulation – the Bible and the Newspaper.”

Perhaps the source that is most consistent with the alleged ‘quote’ comes from a Time magazine article published on Friday, May 31, 1963, which states: “[Barth] recalls that 40 years ago he advised young theologians ‘to take your Bible and take your newspaper, and read both. But interpret newspapers from your Bible.'”


Learn more about turning swords into plows at RawTools.org


December 30, 2015

2015 in Review: Well You Know What the Bible Says! . . .

Clarke Dixon’s piece today is a little more topical than usual, and the first item is uniquely Canadian, but I really appreciated his approach. Click here to read at his blog.

•••by Clarke Dixon

“Well you know what the Bible says! . . .” This was a constant refrain my brother and I heard as my Mum would rattle off a scripture verse relevant to whatever shenanigans we were getting into at that moment. While I appreciated the efforts of Sunday School teachers growing up, I found my Mum’s Biblical wisdom to be of far greater benefit as the Bible and faith were related to life as life unfolded. There is much that has unfolded, or perhaps we should say unraveled, this year so I thought I would borrow a page from my Mum’s book and rattle off a few “well you know what the Bible says!” insights related to some of the top stories from 2015. This will work best if you imagine “well you know what the Bible says!” said with a Belfast accent and considerable Irish passion. So here goes.

TOP STORY #5: A LIBERAL VICTORY IN CANADA

When the Liberal party celebrated great success in our federal election this Fall I announced that Justin Trudeau did so well that even the leaves were turning red. Some people were thrilled by the victory, but some were unsure. I heard quite a number of people express their concern over the youthfulness of the new Prime Minister. “He is just so young!!!” I was thrilled to hear that for I am the same age.

“Well you know what the Bible says! . . .”

1 First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, 2 for kings and all who are in high positions, so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity. (1 Timothy 2:1-2)

This was written in a time when there was little choice as to who the kings and rulers would be. How much more, then, should we be willing to pray for rulers of our choosing, even those we may not have voted for. But what about the youthfulness of our Prime Minister?

And now, O Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David, although I am only a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in. 8 And your servant is in the midst of the people whom you have chosen, a great people, so numerous they cannot be numbered or counted. 9 Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, able to discern between good and evil; for who can govern this your great people. (1 Kings 3:7-9)

When told by God to make a request, the new king Solomon recognized his youthfulness and requested wisdom. I don’t know if Mr. Trudeau prays for wisdom, but there is nothing stopping us from praying that God will grant him such.

TOP STORY #4: THE ASHLEY MADISON HACK

Praise the Lord if you have not heard of Ashley Madison. Ashley Madison is a website designed to help people connect with other people who want to privately commit adultery. The hack is the assurance provided by some tech savvy types that there will be nothing private about it with thousands upon thousands of names released of people who signed up. There was a lot of explaining to do, unfortunately too often by Christians.

“Well you know what the Bible says! . . .”

14 You shall not commit adultery. (Exodus 20:14)

That is really all that needs to be said. But the Bible says more with an entire chapter of Proverbs devoted to the topic. Consider these verses:

For at the window of my house
I looked out through my lattice,
7 and I saw among the simple ones,
I observed among the youths,
a young man without sense,
8 passing along the street near her corner,
taking the road to her house
9 in the twilight, in the evening,
at the time of night and darkness. (Proverbs 7:6-9)

Notice where the lack of wisdom is found in this young man “without sense”? He is “taking the road to her house,” he is heading straight into danger. Today you do not even need to leave your home to be “taking the road to her house.” That road can be found online, in the privacy of your own home. There is a need for great wisdom, in staying far away from such temptations as pornography or illicit online relationships. And there is a great need for integrity, for being the same person online as in person. We might add here the words of Jesus:

27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery. ’ 28 But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. (Matthew 5:27-28)

17 For nothing is hidden that will not be disclosed, nor is anything secret that will not become known and come to light. (Luke 8:17)

TOP STORY #3 THE MIDDLE EAST IS IN A MESS

This is not really news as The Middle East has been a mess for awhile now. But it seems to be getting messier. Part of the mess is the fact that there are so many different nations and peoples, all with different friends and enemies. Our friends are enemies of other friends and our enemies are friends with other enemies. As a top CIA official said recently to summarize in an interview (sorry I forget where): “Its complicated.” What to us might seem like a Facebook relationship status, to those on the ground, or those with loved ones on the ground in those lands, this is a horror story. There is no easy solution to this suffering. A defeat of ISIS in 2016 will not clear away the mess.

“Well you know what the Bible says! . . .”

18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age. (Matthew 28:18-20)

These words of Jesus summarize the foreign policy of the Christian. We are to be fully involved in foreign missions, especially making it a matter of prayer. Pray for the Christians of and in the Middle East to be used of God in reaching people with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Also, we are to be fully involved in missions to “foreigners.” Pray for the Christians in Canada to be used of God in reaching people with the Gospel of Jesus Christ right here in Canada. Crucifixion was a messy business but the way of the cross in love and forgiveness is the best method of cleaning up a big mess.

TOP STORY #2 THERE IS A WAR ON TERROR AND WE CANNOT AGREE ON THE NATURE OF THE ENEMY

American politics has a habit of bringing the war of terror into focus. Or of making it even more convoluted than it already is. ISIS has expanded its reach, both in reaching out to new recruits, but also in reaching out with terror. Meanwhile there is a debate as to the nature of ISIS and other groups like it. Some will deny that violent “jihad” has anything to do with Islam, while others say it has everything to do with Islam. Is it Islamic or not? Is Islam a religion of peace or a religion of violent jihad? What is the correct interpretation of Islam?

“Well you know what the Bible says! . . .”

14 And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)

According to the Bible there is no correct interpretation of Islam. Islam demotes Jesus by describing him as merely a prophet. This is a denial of the central truth we celebrate at Christmas; the Incarnation, that Jesus is Emanuel, “God with us.” So for the Christian, finding the “correct interpretation” of Islam is a moot point. It is a false religion with no correct interpretation. While there is no correct interpretation, there are possible interpretations for its adherents, some of which are better for the peace of the world than others, none of which will lead a Muslim to peace with God. Only in Jesus does the justice of God and the mercy of God meet in love and grace. So what are we to do?

“Well you know what the Bible says! . . .”

7 But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. (Jeremiah 29:7)

This passage speaks of the time God’s people were stuck in exile and the best they could do was pray for the peoples among whom they lived to experience peace, so that they too could experience peace. With the global village of the 21st century, we are living among Muslims even when we think we are not. These are a people who are currently experiencing great division not only in the historic Shia/Sunni split, but now especially in the peaceful jihad/violent jihad split. In 2015 a great number of Muslims were killed by a great number of Muslims. As Christians we are to pray for the peace of the Muslim people, so that there can be greater peace on earth. But we ought also to be praying for peace with God for each Muslim:

So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation:everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. 20 So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. (2 Corinthians 5:17-20)

While we pray that Islam can be a religion of peace, we recognize that it will never be a religion of peace with God. Let us make 2016 a year of prayer!

TOP STORY #1 THERE IS REJOICING IN HEAVEN

In 2015 many, many, many, many people repented of their sin and turned to God, putting their faith and trust in Jesus Christ. These were people from all walks of life, from all corners of the globe, from free nations, from lands where converting can get you killed, from all languages and backgrounds and coming from all kinds of religions including none.

“Well you know what the Bible says! . . .”

7 Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety- nine righteous persons who need no repentance. (Luke 15:7)

2015 has been a crazy year in many respects. Nevertheless it has been a year of great rejoicing in heaven. May 2016 see even greater rejoicing in heaven, and much rejoicing on earth too!

My family and I wish you a Happy New Year and God Bless!

(All scripture references are taken from the NRSV)

December 3, 2015

When Current Events Crowd Our Thoughts

I’ve pre-empted the devotional that was scheduled here today in order to share something that Gene Appel posted on Facebook earlier today.

San Bernadino mass killing

Like many of you, I woke up this morning grieving. While radios and iTunes are playing “It’s the most wonderful time of the year,” it sure doesn’t feel that way. Especially for those grieving from the San Bernadino tragedy and so many others. Some of you, like my sister Gail, have buried your spouse this year or someone you couldn’t have imagined living without. Many of us are burdened by the increase of violence and terrorism in our world. I was reminded as I was reading from Matthew 2 this morning that while the first Christmas on the one hand was a time of great joy and Jesus came to bring peace to all, on the other hand it was also a time of great weeping, and violence, and terror, and grief. Matthew 2:16 says,

“When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under….”

First Christmas - Gene AppelJust imagine you’re a parent in Bethlehem with a baby boy, or maybe even a couple of boys under the age of 2. Imagine the terror you feel as Herod’s soldiers are going from house to house, tearing babies out of the arms of mothers screaming in anguish. Imagine watching these little ones being pierced with swords until they are all dead. You see, even the first Christmas was not only a time of great joy, but it was also a time of great weeping and mourning and pain…..and there were parents and families whose lives were forever shattered.

So what’s our appropriate response today? How does a follower of Jesus process these tragedies? Eccl. 3:4 says,

“There is a time to laugh and there is a time to cry.”

And I can picture Jesus saying to each of us right now, “Hey, this is crying time.” This is a time to give permission to grieving people to let it rip and express the pain without burying anything, or editing anything, or sanitizing a single emotion or feeling. Let it out in it’s raw uncensored form. The Bible says in 1 Thessalonians 4:13 (NIV),

“You do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope.”

And the implication is…but certainly go ahead and grieve! Don’t grieve like those who think God is dead and heaven isn’t real and Jesus didn’t rise from the dead and He’s not in heaven preparing a place that defies the imagination….but grieve. Weeping is the language of the soul and it’s a critical part of healing.

This morning I’ve been thinking about these words from Lamentations 3:

“Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning, great is your faithfulness.”

Today, I’m choosing to trust the faithful God who promises the love and mercies I need for this new morning and day. He’s there for all of us if we will just take His hand and trust Him. Great is his faithfulness!


Gene Appel, is the senior pastor of Eastside Christian Church, a multi-site church in Anaheim, CA and Park Rapids, MN.  Follow him on Twitter @GeneAppel

November 23, 2015

The Suffering Church

Today’s thoughts are from a North Carolina author who came recommended to us. Matt Capps posted this sermon excerpt in September, but it seems even more timely with each passing day. There is a link to watch the sermon in full; click the image to read at source. (This is one of a series on The Church in Exile.)

Matt CappsThe Suffering of the Church (1 Peter 3:13-4:6)

This is an excerpt from a sermon I recently preached at Fairview Baptist Church. You can watch the whole thing online.

In John 17, Jesus prayed that the Father would protect his own from the evil one. But, he did not pray that we would be removed from this world, and by implication – the suffering of this world.

We will suffer in this life. Suffering is comprehensive, and is a no respecter of persons. While the Bible covers various ways to suffer in this life, this passage is specifically concerned with distinctively Christian suffering. In other words, suffering that may come to us precisely because we are Christians.

Suffering will drive us to our knees, and at the same time it can be a powerful reminder that Jesus is King. Through suffering God brings us to Himself. Consider the words of 1 Peter 3:13-15

“Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you…”

Peter is preparing the church, not just to endure suffering – but to find in their suffering an opportunity for witness.

You can imagine that some of the Christians in which this letter was first directed to had seen the suffering of their fellow believers, and fear of that suffering had the potential of halting their desire to publicly live out their faith.

But Peter responds with strange wording – “suffering brings about blessing”. When the world sees that you are – to use the words of 2 Corinthians 4:8-9:

  • Afflicted in every way, but not crushed.
  • Perplexed, but not driven to despair.
  • Persecuted, but not forsaken.
  • Struck down, but not destroyed.

They think, what is it with these people? What is this hope that is within them? This hope is a frame of mind achieved by setting apart – literally, sanctifying – Christ as Lord.

Our courage is born out of a belief that Christ is king even when things look hopeless. Moreover, in Christ we have a sure hope in the coming blessing. Hope is not wishful thinking, but true faith under pressure. Assurance of our future resurrection in Christ will not only give us courage and comfort, but will also put those who revile us to shame.

When you suffer, suffer with hope. This is the Blessing of Suffering for Christ. In suffering, we can find an opportunity for witness. In suffering, we also realize that God is bringing you to himself.

September 9, 2014

The Preacher’s Dilemma Following a Disaster

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Those of you who are in leadership at your church, or have done any preaching will appreciate today’s post, from our regular columnist, Rev. Clarke Dixon.  Click the title to read this at source or respond directly with comments.

Disasters: Divine Judgement? Reflections on Luke 13:1-5.

DisastersPut yourself in the preacher’s shoes. There has been a natural disaster of extraordinary proportions in a nation whose sinfulness is well known. Do you stand up Sunday morning and declare that God has divinely judged that nation? Or put yourself in the pastor’s seat. The person sitting across from you has experienced a massive catastrophe and is lamenting that she must have committed a big sin to deserve it. Do you agree with her? Or do you reassure her that oftentimes bad things happen to good people?

Thankfully, we do not need to spend too much time theorizing and theologizing over these questions, for Jesus gives us the answer:

At that very time there were some present who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. He asked them, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? No, I tell you;. . . Luke 13:1-13 NRSV
Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them– do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; . . . Luke 13:4-5 NRSV (emphasis mine)

That is a very simple answer to what we sometimes make into a very convoluted question: “no.” When a part of the world experiences a natural disaster, ought we to say “ha, you have suffered more than we do because your sin is greater”? No. When a person we know (and likely don’t like considering our jump to being judgemental) experiences catastrophe, do we say “ha, you have suffered more than I have for you are bigger sinner than me”? No. When we suffer greatly should we assume that our own sinfulness must be overwhelming? No. Jesus was very clear in the two examples he gave that those who suffered greatly did not suffer more because they sinned more. So let us leave off that presumption. Jesus couldn’t be more clear on that.

But that is not all Jesus has to say about the matter:

“Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did. Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them– do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.” Luke 13:2-5 NRSV (emphasis mine)

Let’s put ourselves back in the preacher’s shoes following a disaster. Perhaps you do not want to be one of those preachers that says something along the line of “this earthquake happened to these people because they practice voodoo,” and instead you speak on a different kind of line, a fault line along which earthquakes naturally occur. The people leave the church feeling quite reassured that God is nice, and the preacher too. But should a nation deeply into voodoo not repent from their voodoo anyway? Or you do not want to call America to repentance from corporate greed following a massive terrorist attack. But shouldn’t America repent of corporate greed if it is guilty of it anyway? We might tend to wince at the “loose cannon” preachers out there who jump all over every disaster as a sign of divine judgement, yet imagine what this world would be like if people actually listened to them and repented from sin? Imagine what would happen if every disaster were followed by waves of mass repentance. We would find ourselves living in a remarkably different world!

Still wearing the shoes of a preacher, consider what would happen if every funeral service were not treated as a celebration of life for the deceased, but instead a call to repentance for the living? Every death, after all, is a reminder of our rebellion against God and the consequence of that. As a preacher your popularity would go down since people do not want preachers at funerals, but rather officiants. But if every attendee at every funeral were to consider the wages of sin, which is death (see Romans 6:23), and were to repent, the crime rate would fall, addictions would lose their power, sexually transmitted diseases would stop transmitting, broken relationships would be restored, marriages would regain health, and much, much more. We would find ourselves living in a remarkably different world! And best of all, billions of people would experience the grace of God for repentance is not just a turning away from sin but a turning toward God. Jesus could not be more clear on it: “unless you repent, you will perish.” That is the negative way of stating what is very, very positive: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life” (John 3:16 NRSV).

Calamity and death have entered into this world because of rebellion against God. Bad things happen to all people. Yet out of the depths of His grace He saves us. He saves us for eternal life into the future, He saves us for Godly life lived through His Holy Spirit right now. If we see a nation or a person experiencing disaster, let us not judge. But neither let us hesitate to repent.

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
(Romans 6:23 NRSV)