Cultural Collision Coming

There is no place for both the true God of heaven and earth and the idols of humankind.  The gospel and popular culture are on a collision course.

Today’s Reading

Psalms 19-21; Acts 19:21-41

Selected Verses

Be exalted, O Lord, in your strength!
We will sing and praise your power.  Psalm 21:13

“Men, you know that from this business we have our wealth.  And you see and hear that not only in Ephesus but in almost all of Asia this Paul has persuaded and turned away a great many people, 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 may be counted as nothing, and that she may even be deposed from her magnificence, she whom all Asia and the world worship.”  Acts 19:25-27

Reflections

The Psalmist exemplifies true worship as he praises God for all He is and has done.  He thanks the Lord for His mercy, grace, and goodness to His people and  prays for God to be exalted.  He commits to sing and praise God’s power.  And he desires that God be pleased with his thoughts and words (Psalm 19:14).

On the other hand, Paul was preaching in Ephesus,a stronghold of false worship and idolatry. His message threatened the lucrative business of the silversmiths and others who profited from the cult of Artemis.  One of the tradesmen, Demetrius, called a meeting to warn the community of the danger that would come to them if Paul should succeed in diminishing the worship of this false goddess.  Chaos ensued.  The crowd worked itself up to a frenzy until the town clerk quieted them.

Think about it

Jesus said, “No one comes to the Father, except through me”  (John 14:6).  We may not impose the gospel by force on unbelievers. But the secular culture convulses when  we proclaim the truth and hearers believe.  We cannot settle for some benign multicultural coexistence because Jesus calls His disciples to tell the good news of life in His name.  They will teach, preach, explain, reason, debate, prove, and live by faith before the watching world.  Force can silence them, but they will not shrink back in fear nor shut up.

Are you prepared for the impact of the gospel on a culture which is increasingly hostile to the exclusivity of the message?  Prepare yourself.  Remember it is enough to please God with the words of your mouth and the meditation of your heart.

God or Government? Choosing Whom to Obey

God’s people understand that our secular rulers are servants of God who must be obeyed except when they command disobedience to the Lord.

Today’s Reading

Nehemiah 9-11; Acts 4:1-22

Selected Verses

Behold, we are slaves this day; in the land that you gave to our fathers to enjoy its fruit and its good gifts, behold, we are slaves.  And its rich yield goes to the kings whom you have set over us because of our sins. They rule over our bodies and over our livestock as they please, and we are in great distress.                                                                                       Nehemiah 9:36-37

But Peter and John answered them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.”  And when they had further threatened them, they let them go, finding no way to punish them, because of the people, for all were praising God for what had happened. Acts 4:19-21

Reflections

Nehemiah, the governor of Judah under King Artaxerxes, gives an eloquent analysis of the history of Israel from Abraham to the return from captivity. He sees how God has been gracious and good to them giving commands that, if obeyed, would bring them prosperity and security. Even after repeated episodes of rebellion, God showed mercy to them. Nehemiah reflects on their status in his day and sees that the people, although living back in Judah, are virtual slaves in their own land. They are not free to enjoy the fruit of their labor. They are controlled by a foreign power due to their disobedience. He calls the people back to faithful worship of the Lord and they make a covenant to respect the law. This is a wonderful example of a political leader proclaiming spiritual truth and actually facilitating the population’s obedience to God.

Fast forward to the time of Peter and John who in Jesus’ name heal a lame man in the temple. They face opposition from the authorities who prohibit their preaching in the Savior’s name. Peter says that they will obey God. Peter understands that the chief priests are under God’s authority and they will suffer if they prohibit what God commands or command what God prohibits.

Think about it

Are you aware that the powers of governments are granted by God? Officials must answer to Him as we all must. Are you ready to obey God rather than be complicit in disobedience if it comes to that? Be prepared with knowledge of His Word and trust in Him. God can give us wise leaders who fear Him, like Nehemiah. But, if He doesn’t, we will obey God rather than man.

Chaos: the old normal

Chaos is not the new normal.  It has happened before and it will happen again.  But there is a wisdom and guidance from God for His people.

Today’s Reading

II Samuel 19-20; Luke 21:20-38

Selected Verses

So all the men of Israel withdrew from David and followed Sheba the son of Bichri. But the men of Judah followed their king steadfastly from the Jordan to Jerusalem.  II Samuel 20:2

But watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap. For it will come upon all who dwell on the face of the whole earth. But stay awake at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.  Luke 21:34-36

Reflections

After Absalom was overthrown, the kingdom of Israel did not simply pick up where it left off. David created a problem immediately by going into such grief over the death of his son that Joab had to sternly exhort him lest the nation reject his return to the throne. David wisely responded and warded off a dangerous situation. But then there was a conflict between Judah and the other tribes over who should reinstate the king. That resulted in another civil war. David named Amasa as a commander and Joab promptly assassinated him. The kingdom was coming unglued on every level. Chaos reigned. David seems to have held steady through all of this until his kingdom was restored.

That would not be the last time the world would see such turmoil. Jesus prophesied that there would be a time of destruction of the temple. This occurred in 70 AD.   He further indicated that there would be worldwide terror that would come upon all people. No one would escape the distress of nations, the cosmic upheavals.  This is yet to come.

Think about it

Chaos is really the old normal. It has always been with us.  How can we handle it? We can learn from what happened in the past, and we can learn from what Jesus taught us. He said, “Watch yourselves. Stay awake. Pray for strength.” He promised that if we did we will stand before the Son of Man. Jesus said, “Watch your hearts.” Take comfort in God’s Word. Get guidance from His Word. Hold to the Lord who promised that we who do will stand before Him. To the extent that faithful men and women know and believe the Word of God they are prepared for whatever may come their way.

Heeding a Timely Warning

A person’s life and eternal destiny depends on a willingness to heed the warning. Here we see examples of one who heeded and one who refused.

Today’s Reading

I Samuel 25-26; Luke 16:19-31

Selected Verses

And David said to Abigail, “Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, who sent you this day to meet me!  Blessed be your discretion, and blessed be you, who have kept me this day from bloodguilt and from working salvation with my own hand!”  I Samuel 25:32-33

He said to him, “If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.”  Luke 16:31

Reflections

Abigail interceded for her husband and household, warning David that he would regret taking revenge for Nabal’s insult. David saw the big picture: God was his protector and judge to whom he would answer. David was quick to hear (James 1:19). He heard Abigail’s message and called off the attack.

Yet God’s judgment fell on Nabal and he died within days of this incident. What David had planned to do, God did. The result was the same, but by leaving the matter in God’s hands David did not incur guilt.

In the case of the rich man and Lazarus, the former had no concern for his soul or his eternal destiny until it was too late. He realized that his five brothers were similarly oblivious to what awaited them at death. He requested that Abraham send Lazarus back from the dead to warn his siblings to avoid the torment of Hades. Abraham told him that his brothers had sufficient information in the Scriptures, Moses and the Prophets, to escape torment and that if they did not heed the warnings already given, they would not heed the warnings of a resurrected man.

Indeed, many have heard that Jesus rose from the dead but ignore His words to their own destruction. They have been warned to flee the wrath to come but continue in complacency and unbelief (Luke 3:7; 13:1-5). Their attitude parallels that of Nabal, the fool, who thought himself safe from punishment. They assume the stance of the rich man who felt safe in his wealth.

Think about it

Have you heeded the timely warning? We cannot hold on to this life. David knew that his soul belonged to God and that his actions in this world were either pleasing to Him or worthy of punishment. He chose to heed the warning and please God. But David was not saved by his own works. Nor are we. Ultimately,  only Jesus Christ, who died for the sins of His people and came back from the dead, can make us who believe in Him worthy of eternal life. We must believe His timely warning.  Do not delay.  Believe Him now.

Battle for Morality

Reformed and evangelical Christians believe that the Bible is the only infallible rule of faith and practice.  But in our pluralistic society not everyone is reformed or evangelical.  So, many (probably most) do not hold to this belief. Moral codes and laws depend on broad acceptance and support.

Should Christians vote for and work for laws which reflect biblical views?  If they believe that all mankind is answerable to one God who has revealed His law in Scripture, then the answer is “yes.”   Bible believers will be told they are trying to impose their views on others, to make their standards normative for all.  But if the Bible is true, it is God who has imposed His standards on us all and we ignore them to our own peril.  As laws are made in our congress or state houses, someone’s view is imposed, a biblical view or a secular one.  I think a biblical view is better than a secular one, even for those who otherwise have little or no regard for the Bible.  If you disagree, don’t worry.  I have only one vote.  If it fails, I will suffer the consequences that come.  Change my belief, I cannot.

Today’s reading:

Acts 27:27-Romans 1:32

My selection:

Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them. Romans 1:32

For more reflections on this passage, see the corresponding reading in my book Cover to Cover: Through the Bible in 365 days.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

 

Discipleship:Purpose and Commitment

Today’s reading:

Acts 20:1-21:36

My selection:

 But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.  Acts 20:24

For more reflections on this passage, see the corresponding reading in my book Cover to Cover: Through the Bible in 365 days.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

A Xenophobia-free Kingdom

Today’s reading:

Micah 1:1-7:7

My Selection:

It shall come to pass in the latter days
that the mountain of the house of the Lord
shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
and it shall be lifted up above the hills;
and peoples shall flow to it,
     and many nations shall come, and say:
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
to the house of the God of Jacob,
that he may teach us his ways
and that we may walk in his paths.”
For out of Zion shall go forth the law,
and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.    Micah 4:1-2

Xenophobia is defined as “fear and hatred of strangers or foreigners or of anything that is strange or foreign.” [1]  Those strange and foreign things may include language, dress, food, and customs.  At the heart of this attitude is the idea that one’s own way of doing things is the best or only right way.

A Worldwide Kingdom

The Church of Jesus Christ has spread to every nation of the world as foretold in Scripture.  Jesus sent His followers to make disciples of all nations and so they did.  The gospel unites us across national and cultural lines but it does not obliterate cultural differences, at least, not entirely. So there is no place among God’s people for xenophobia.  We ought to welcome those of other cultures and be careful about imposing our culture on them unless a violation of God’s word is at stake.

No culture is without sin, but there are vast areas of culture which are left to our discretion.  For example, from the Bible we understand that polygamy is sin.  Some cultures allow or even promote it.  As the gospel enters those cultures it impacts practices like polygamy and those who come to believe will seek to conform to Scripture, despite their culture.  There is no reason to expect that every area of every culture will be changed by the Bible.  Modest dress is a principle but western dress is not.

Enjoy the beauty

The kingdom of God is global, encompassing many nations and cultures.  Enjoy the beauty of this diversity that has already begun and let there not be found xenophobia among us.

For more reflections on today’s reading, see the corresponding reading in my book Cover to Cover: Through the Bible in 365 days.

[1] http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/xenophobia

A Dose of Reality

Moving from one book to another, as we do in today’s reading (Proverbs 31-Ecclesiastes 1-2) brings a jolt, a strong shot of reality.  While Proverbs ends on a high note exalting the blessings of a virtuous wife and mother, Ecclesiastes sounds a somber note that “all is vanity” (Ecclesiastes 1:2).

Which view is correct?

Both are correct in their own way. Marriage can be delightful.  Sometimes it is and sometimes it isn’t.  But even when it is as good as it can be, it is never the ultimate experience.  Its pleasures however glorious are not permanent.  The accomplishments of the wife and husband are, at best, limited to a lifetime and no more.

Is this all there is?

Somehow it’s not enough. This is what we learn from the Preacher.  He had it all. He tried it all. It didn’t satisfy.  What is his solution?  Spoiler alert: there is a glimmer of hope ahead. Keep reading.

 A better inheritance

Meanwhile, keep in mind that God’s word equips us for everything for His service including a dose of reality in the midst of the pains and pleasures of our earthly lives.  Ultimately, we have a better inheritance than all this world can offer (1 Peter 1:3-9).

[For more reflections on this passage, see the corresponding reading in my book Cover to Cover: Through the Bible in 365 days].

A Warning against Stereotyping

Why is it so tempting to engage in stereotyping?  With a little reflection on today’s reading (Proverbs 28-30) we can see that there are exceptions to the profiles we tend to develop.   For example,

Better is a poor man who walks in his integrity
    than a rich man who is crooked in his ways. Proverbs 28:6 (ESV)

Rich people may be honest or deceptive.  Poor people may be lazy or diligent.  Although society tends to honor material success, God holds up the honest, hard-working poor as better than a wealthy swindler.

We stereotype because we resist thinking deeply about truth and reality.  In the present atmosphere of my country, deep divisions and animosity rock us.  These are often based on this dangerous practice of painting with a broad brush various categories of people based on ethnicity, political views, gender, religion,  or socioeconomic status.

What can we do?

Christians are commanded to pray. Paul wrote:

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people,  for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.  This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior,  who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. 2 Timothy 2:1-4 (ESV)

Pray for our national and local leaders. Pray that we will not fall prey to a simplistic way of seeing everything.  Pray that God’s people will model wisdom and speak the truth in love.

[For more reflections on this passage, see the corresponding reading in my book Cover to Cover: Through the Bible in 365 days].

The Lost Virtue of Humility

Whatever happened to humility?  Can you imagine a candidate for some high office being introduced with the description “above all, he is a humble man” or “she excels in humility”?  I don’t think so.

But in today’s reading (Proverbs 22-24) we find this:

The reward for humility and fear of the Lord
    is riches and honor and life. Proverbs 22:4

Once again God’s Word turns conventional wisdom on its head.  God calls us to believe Him and to seek Christlikeness, the characteristics of the Son of Man who exemplified what is truly praiseworthy.  He died for our sin to make us His own, new creations in Him.  Be humble. Fear Him.  Your reward awaits. Riches and honor and life.

[For more reflections on this passage, see the corresponding reading in my book Cover to Cover: Through the Bible in 365 days].