Saturday, August 17, 2019

Sometimes the way we read the Bible reminds me of the way we eat, especially in America.  Having spent half my Air Force career overseas, I've noticed how other cultures share a meal - over hours.  Here, in the land of fast food, I have a hard time remembering what I've eaten for breakfast, much less how it tasted.  What we miss in our brutally fast-paced world in which we cram experience after experience into a day without pondering the meaning of most of those experiences!
So, this year, I'm committing myself to eat slowly - and to read slowly; to meditate on each passage I read.  Too often my goal has been to plow through the Bible in a year - covering three or more chapters a day in the Old and New Testaments.  If you've ever done that, you probably have a hard time remembering exactly what the Lord was telling you that day. 
   I've read this passage in Acts 16 over forty times but some new questions popped into my mind as I slowly meditated on each of the verses.  Here are Paul, Silas, Timothy (the first mention of this young man in Acts), and, of course, Luke (the source of the "we" throughout the chapter).  They are kept out of several other provinces by the Holy Spirit but Paul is called by a dream to Macedonia.

You know the rest of the story - Paul goes to the most important city of the province, Philippi, and finds some folks gathered by the river for prayer.  Paul's regular pattern is to go to the local synagogue, teach there for three Sabbaths, and then move on to the Gentiles.    Well, there is no synagogue.  Jewish tradition required ten men for a synagogue to be formed and obviously, this little congregation was very small.  Yet God called Paul there to proclaim the good news of Jesus and people responded.  Among them was a businesswoman named Lydia.  And from that small group would spring the church at Philippi which would bring Paul much joy and encouragement as evidenced in his letter to the Philippians.

Among the questions I posed as I read this chapter was "Why this little place?  There wasn't even a synagogue there!  You'd think that the first mission trip to Europe would be to someplace more important.  Why is this place so strategic that God would send the mighty Apostle Paul and his team there?"

Although I can't answer that, I do see one important principle.  Small is beautiful.  Paul never seemed to complain that he didn't have a bigger, more influential crowd.  Except for his objection to the indignity at having been imprisoned without trial, Paul didn't seem to mind being cast out of the city, not being able to work further with the new group of disciples.  It seemed that his time in Philippi was cut short - there was no more time to disciple these new Christians, nor was there time to evangelize the predominately retired Roman soldiers who lived in the colony.  Was this a missed opportunity?  Not to the God who called Paul to Philippi and then sent him away from it. 

It all reminds me that I too, should never be ashamed in the days of small things.  At a time when so many worship "bigness" - bigger programs, bigger budgets, bigger numbers, I am reminded that God sent Paul to the tiny group of prayer warriors on the banks of the river in Philippi.    God may call any of us to ministry in a seemingly insignificant area that could bring great joy if we are only willing to open our eyes to the possibilities.    Are we willing to serve in little places where no one but God notices?  In the end, it is only Jesus who will give us that "Well done, good and faithful servant."

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

The earth is mine...or is it?

Have you noticed how the subject of climate change has become just another political football?  Many conservatives line up on the side that refuses to accept evidence that global warming is truly changing the face of our planet.  Liberals and environmentalists loudly proclaim that unless governments insist on greater protection of dwindling resources and cuts in the use of fossil fuels, we risk irrevocable destruction of our planet.
As in most political discussions I read about among Christians, the missing element seems to be "What do the Scriptures say?"  As I've been moving through God's Word in my daily devotions, I've noticed some things in Psalm 104 that may help all of us develop a different perspective of the problem. 

If Psalm 105 deals with pivotal events in Israel's history, Psalm 104 focuses on our relationship with our creator in the context of the natural world He made.  It almost seamlessly describes the beauty, variety, and utter joy in nature and where we fit into the order.  God provides us with the bounty of nature to make us happy - our hearts glad, our faces glisten, and our bodies are sustained with the food that He provides.   Lions hunt (interesting phrasing - they seek their food from God!) and we also do our work according to the seasonal rhythms that God ordained before artificial light changed our relationship with work and nature. 

Yet the end of this psalm is jarring - it is a prayer that God would remove sinners from the earth.  Why?  Perhaps because sin always has been an anomaly and ruins on every level the beauty and order God created.  But how does sin destroy this triangular relationship between Creator, nature, and us - the crown of His creation?  Any and every sin corrupts the entire created order - which is why, in the end, God creates a new heaven and a new earth - free from the corruption of sin - set free from its corruption and slavery to decay as Paul points out in Romans 8.  No longer groaning but free. 

I sense that many Christians believe that the protection of the natural world sometimes goes too far.  It is true that many environmentalists who would not bat an eye at the millions of unborn babies that are murdered would protest loudly the killing of a few baby seals.  People are more valuable than many sparrows.  Not my words, but those of Jesus.  There is an economic cost to preserving the environment and our leaders need to think carefully and deeply before making decisions that may cost the livelihood of thousands of families. 

But there is a need for balance.  Christians ought to be the first in line as environmental advocates.  We who rejoice in the beauty and order of our Creator as expressed in the variety and exquisiteness of His creation ought to be the first to sound the alarm when that creation is marred and endangered in the name of profit.  Too often we ask the wrong questions.   Are we willing to sacrifice some of our comforts to ensure that our children can receive what God has given us part of their inheritance?  If Christians are having trouble sacrificing a mere ten percent of our wealth to support our churches and missionaries (those are the current statistics), then perhaps the problem is not with the evidence of global corruption but with the corruption of our own hearts.  Sin is always destructive - to  human flourishing, human history (see Psalm 105), and to the delicate nature of our natural world.  Why should the effects of sin on human relationships be railed against while sin against the other side of nature is ignored and its advocates labeled as dangerous fanatics? It doesn't have to be babies OR seals.  Can we be pro-life in every way?

We need to face the fact that "the earth is the Lord's and everything in it. (Psalm 24:1)"  Leviticus 25 provided some very strong warnings to Israel, lest they claim that the land really belonged to them and that they could treat it however they liked.  God made it clear that they were borrowing it for awhile - that they were "strangers and sojourners (v. 23)."  Indeed, one of the reasons for the exile, was Israel's failure to honor God's command to give the land a sabbath every seven years (v. 4).  One of the saddest verses in the Bible is II Chronicles 36:21. "The land enjoyed its sabbath rests; all the time of its desolation, it rested until the seventy years were completed in fulfillment of the word of the LORD spoken by Jeremiah."

Those that belong to Jesus can be thankful that no such epitaph will be written for us at the end of time.  God will take it upon himself to restore all things in nature just as He conquered death through Christ. Still, we need to ask ourselves, do we really believe that the earth belongs to God and that we are stewards of it?  How will we give account for that stewardship in the end?   

Friday, July 5, 2019

Well, it's been ten years since my last post. Have I been sleeping? Nope. Just working, I guess. And now that I am semi-retired, I have a lot more time to devote to interactions out there in the ether. It's good to be back!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

A Plea for Civility in the Public Forum

I have been troubled lately by the responses of many of my conservative brothers and sisters in their efforts to draw attention to prominent and controversial political issues. It all started with a two-hour video of a recent town-hall meeting on the President's health care plans right here in Brevard County, Florida. I was distressed when I saw members of the liberal opposition being shouted down when they attempted to voice their approval of a public option. I then witnessed a woman rudely berate the AARP spokesperson for her failure to ensure that enough microphones were available for all (the woman had apologized for that up front and assured the audience that she had tried to get enough mics but couldn't.
I could go on....
I have witnessed the same scenario from other videos of town meetings across the nation that I've watched. Conservative speaker rises, makes blanket accusations of rising socialism to uproarious applause, then sits down. Another, more liberal member of the audience rises to challenge the statement and is insulted or does not get the chance to speak.
The final straw was the recent well-publicized incident in the halls of Congress where South Carolina Representative Wilson publically accused President Obama of lying.
Can we talk? I praise God that we have a form of government where opposition is seen as healthy and that we are able to express our disappointments in healthy ways. But what I have seen from many Christians is nothing less than a wholesale violation of scripture done in the name of freedom of speech. I also am witnessing a phenomenon that is positively un-American, one which we Christians associate with the worst excesses of the opponents of liberty: gagging those with whom we disagree. And if we can't stop them from speaking, let's just accuse them of lying.
I am appalled.
We have violated Romans 13:7 which commands us to render honor and fear to authority - whether we like them or not. Let's not forget that the Roman Imperator of Paul's day was all but absolute in power.
We have turned our back on I Peter 2:17 which also calls the body of Christ to honor the king and to show respect to authority.
We have forgotten the command that our witness to the world must be accompanied by gentleness and respect (I Peter 3:15).
We have also forgotten that, to paraphrase Augustine, our citizenship is in a heavenly city and that if we become too engrossed in the earthly city we will become disillusioned, for it will never totally accommodate the kingdom of God. We seem to forget that one hallmark of liberal theology that begat the social gospel movement was the belief that we could bring in the kingdom of God if we worked just a little bit harder for social and political change.
Now I'm not fundamentalist in the sense that we should abandon culture and politics and retreat into our holy huddles. On the contrary, as a history professor I am painfully aware of what happened in our culture, and in the political arena when we jumped ship in the latter 19th century.
I don't mind protest. I agree with Jefferson's assessment that a little revolution is healthy. But I don't think he had in mind the lack of civility that seems to be the norm today.
I am re-reading H.W. Brands' majestic biography of Benjamin Franklin and was fascinated by Franklin's assessment of the role of printing in the public form regarding opposing viewpoints:
Printers are educated in the belief that when men differ in opinion both sides ought equally to have the advantage of being heard by the public; and that when truth and error have fair play, the former is always an overmatch for the latter....
I also become concerned when Christians I know seem to know more about the political perspectives of their favorite talk show host and very little about what the Scriptures have to say about government and our responsibilities toward it. We seem to forget that every network is run by sinners. My perspective as a Reformed Christian also teaches me that all our motives and actions are tainted by sin and cannot be completely trusted. Our Founding Fathers recognized this truth or Constitution would look very different.
We have such short memories.... and few of us read anymore. If we did, we'd know how much abuse was heaped upon President Washington when he took a neutral position in the war between France and Britain in the mid-1790s. The insults he endured from those who saw his decision as a betrayal of our former Revolutionary war ally almost convinced him to return home after his first term.
We also need to remember that as much as we love Jefferson, he was touted as being an "anti-Christ" and that the US would become a godless nation if he were to become president. It didn't, of course, but that didn't stop the insults.
Come to think of it, we've never really mastered the art of civility, have we.
It's time for Christians to set the example and stop conforming to the world but be transformed by the renewing of our minds. It's time to stop setting aside the command of God to pursue our own traditions.
Isn't it time for us to heed Santayana and remember the lessons of history so we won't have to repeat them?

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Just for fun - one of my favorite spots! (Click on this title and see why!)

Last year about this time I went home to Honolulu, called my wife and stood before the camera waving to her while I talked to her. Closest I've come to Skype, I think:) Image takes about 10 seconds or so to reach Florida.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

In Tribute to the Jailer

When I was stationed on Okinawa shortly after the earth began to cool, I made friends with a young second lieutenant and former Vietnamese linguist known to those of you who visit his blogpage as The Jailer. He is one of the most godly men I know and his family also reflects the fragrance of Christ as few others I have known.
Two days ago he took command of the USAF Honor Guard. For those of you who may not be acquainted with the Honor Guard, let me just say that you can count on one hand the number of military positions with greater prestige and public visibility than this one (with the possible exception of the Thunderbirds and the Blue Angels). Anyway,in honor of the man who has everything but gives it all in the service of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Way to go, Jailer! How you shine for Christ and for our country!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

God's Judgement and Historical Interpretation

Wow! I can't believe how long it's been since my lst post!!
Anyway, I've been reviewing God's Judgment: Historical Interpretation and Christian Faith by Stephen Keillor. The book attempts to answer a question that Christian historians/history teachers either answer glibly or not at all: Does the Bible have anything to say about how God judges nations today? Many of you have probably heard comments about 9/11 being some kind of judgment of God on America for its immorality and turning from him. And that may be true. It's difficult, however, to make a case since God has not told us as he did the prophets which nations he is judging and why. Is he actively judging or just using natural events in his work? Does his judgment also include restoration? How do we know?
Yet the Old and New Testament both provide examples and models that show us when and how God "sifts" the conduct of nations over long periods of time. Keillor uses the Hebrew idea of misphat (sifting) as a template for evaluating how God judges. He then discusses aspects of US history and asks whether these case studies exhibit God's judgments or not.
What do you think? I'm trying to cull Keillor's insights into a lesson plan(s) for my own history students and I'm interested in your own thoughts.