Monday, December 30, 2013

King of King and Lord of Lords

Today is the second day in our 52nd week, reading the Bible through in a year.  Our scriptures today are:  Job 31-33; Revelation 19; Psalm 103.

Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war.  His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself.  He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God.  And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses.  From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty.  On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords.
(Revelation 19.11-16 ESV)

I don't know about you, but I think that Jesus has the coolest tattoo in the world!

Today, I'm away at a youth gathering.  I invite you to check out my blog post entitled, "Is it a Sin to Get Pierced or Tattooed?"  It's my most-read blog post, and just happens to correspond with today's scripture.

Happy New Year!

Cranky Old Man

Okay--I admit it.  Sometimes I get off-track.  But somebody could have let me know, eh?  It figures that at some point in our year of reading the Bible through, I'd get bumfuzzled, but so close to the end?  In all my postings last week, I was saying that we were in the 50th week--but the readings I gave (which were the correct readings, based on all that was previously read) were for the 51st week.  That means that while I thought we were entering our 51st week now, we're actually beginning our final week.  So here are the readings for WEEK FIFTY-TWO:

-Job 28-30; Rev 18
-Job 31-33; Rev 19; Ps 102
-Job 34-36; Rev 20
-Job 37-39; Rev 21; Ps 103
-Job 40-42; Rev 22; Ps 150

In Job 29-30 (ESV), our titular character recalls the days of his blessing and vigor, as well as the days of his turmoil.  

29 And Job again took up his discourse, and said:
“Oh, that I were as in the months of old,
    as in the days when God watched over me,
when his lamp shone upon my head,
    and by his light I walked through darkness,
as I was in my prime,[b]
    when the friendship of God was upon my tent,
when the Almighty was yet with me,
    when my children were all around me,
when my steps were washed with butter,
    and the rock poured out for me streams of oil!
When I went out to the gate of the city,
    when I prepared my seat in the square,
the young men saw me and withdrew,
    and the aged rose and stood;
the princes refrained from talking
    and laid their hand on their mouth;
10 the voice of the nobles was hushed,
    and their tongue stuck to the roof of their mouth.
11 When the ear heard, it called me blessed,
    and when the eye saw, it approved,
12 because I delivered the poor who cried for help,
    and the fatherless who had none to help him.
13 The blessing of him who was about to perish came upon me,
    and I caused the widow's heart to sing for joy.
14 put on righteousness, and it clothed me;
    my justice was like a robe and a turban.
15 I was eyes to the blind
    and feet to the lame.
16 I was a father to the needy,
    and I searched out the cause of him whom I did not know.
17 broke the fangs of the unrighteous
    and made him drop his prey from his teeth.
18 Then I thought, ‘I shall die in my nest,
    and I shall multiply my days as the sand,
19 my roots spread out to the waters,
    with the dew all night on my branches,
20 my glory fresh with me,
    and my bow ever new in my hand.’
21 “Men listened to me and waited
    and kept silence for my counsel.
22 After I spoke they did not speak again,
    and my word dropped upon them.
23 They waited for me as for the rain,
    and they opened their mouths as for the spring rain.
24 I smiled on them when they had no confidence,
    and the light of my face they did not cast down.
25 I chose their way and sat as chief,
    and I lived like a king among his troops,
    like one who comforts mourners.
30 “But now they laugh at me,
    men who are younger than I,
whose fathers I would have disdained
    to set with the dogs of my flock.
What could I gain from the strength of their hands,
    men whose vigor is gone?
Through want and hard hunger
    they gnaw the dry ground by night in waste and desolation;
they pick saltwort and the leaves of bushes,
    and the roots of the broom tree for their food.[c]
They are driven out from human company;
    they shout after them as after a thief.
In the gullies of the torrents they must dwell,
    in holes of the earth and of the rocks.
Among the bushes they bray;
    under the nettles they huddle together.
A senseless, a nameless brood,
    they have been whipped out of the land.
“And now I have become their song;
    I am a byword to them.
10 They abhor me; they keep aloof from me;
    they do not hesitate to spit at the sight of me.
11 Because God has loosed my cord and humbled me,
    they have cast off restraint[d] in my presence.
12 On my right hand the rabble rise;
    they push away my feet;
    they cast up against me their ways of destruction.
13 They break up my path;
    they promote my calamity;
    they need no one to help them.
14 As through a wide breach they come;
    amid the crash they roll on.
15 Terrors are turned upon me;
    my honor is pursued as by the wind,
    and my prosperity has passed away like a cloud.
16 “And now my soul is poured out within me;
    days of affliction have taken hold of me.
17 The night racks my bones,
    and the pain that gnaws me takes no rest.
18 With great force my garment is disfigured;
    it binds me about like the collar of my tunic.
19 God[e] has cast me into the mire,
    and I have become like dust and ashes.
20 I cry to you for help and you do not answer me;
    I stand, and you only look at me.
21 You have turned cruel to me;
    with the might of your hand you persecute me.
22 You lift me up on the wind; you make me ride on it,
    and you toss me about in the roar of the storm.
23 For I know that you will bring me to death
    and to the house appointed for all living.
24 “Yet does not one in a heap of ruins stretch out his hand,
    and in his disaster cry for help?[f]
25 Did not I weep for him whose day was hard?
    Was not my soul grieved for the needy?
26 But when I hoped for good, evil came,
    and when I waited for light, darkness came.
27 My inward parts are in turmoil and never still;
    days of affliction come to meet me.
28 go about darkened, but not by the sun;
    I stand up in the assembly and cry for help.
29 I am a brother of jackals
    and a companion of ostriches.
30 My skin turns black and falls from me,
    and my bones burn with heat.
31 My lyre is turned to mourning,
    and my pipe to the voice of those who weep.

Life is unfair, exchanging our good deeds for times of trouble and rewarding our benevolence with pain.  They say, "No good deed goes unpunished," and at times this feels all too true.  instead of giving theological commentary on this scripture, I'll simply share a poem with you, that I read today on Facebook.  The following anonymous poem was posted by on Facebook. 

To celebrate the New Year here is the very popular cranky old man story going for another round!!!!!

When an old man died in the geriatric ward of a nursing home in an Australian country town, it was believed that he had nothing left of any value.
Later, when the nurses were going through his meager possessions, They found this poem. Its quality and content so impressed the staff that copies were made and distributed to every nurse in the hospital.

One nurse took her copy to Melbourne. The old man's sole bequest to posterity has since appeared in the Christmas editions of magazines around the country and appearing in mags for Mental Health. A slide presentation has also been made based on his simple, but eloquent, poem.

And this old man, with nothing left to give to the world, is now the author of this 'anonymous' poem winging across the Internet.

Cranky Old Man

What do you see nurses? . . .. . .What do you see?
What are you thinking .. . when you're looking at me?
A cranky old man, . . . . . .not very wise,
Uncertain of habit .. . . . . . . .. with faraway eyes?
Who dribbles his food .. . ... . . and makes no reply.
When you say in a loud voice . .'I do wish you'd try!'
Who seems not to notice . . .the things that you do.
And forever is losing . . . . . .. . . A sock or shoe?
Who, resisting or not . . . ... lets you do as you will,
With bathing and feeding . . . .The long day to fill?
Is that what you're thinking?. .Is that what you see?
Then open your eyes, nurse .you're not looking at me.
I'll tell you who I am . . . . .. As I sit here so still,
As I do at your bidding, .. . . . as I eat at your will.
I'm a small child of Ten . .with a father and mother,
Brothers and sisters .. . . .. . who love one another
A young boy of Sixteen . . . .. with wings on his feet
Dreaming that soon now . . .. . . a lover he'll meet.
A groom soon at Twenty . . . heart gives a leap.
Remembering, the vows .. .. .that I promised to keep.
At Twenty-Five, now . . . . .I have young of my own.
Who need me to guide . . . And a secure happy home.
A man of Thirty . .. . . . . My young now grown fast,
Bound to each other . . .. With ties that should last.
At Forty, my young sons .. .have grown and are gone,
But my woman is beside me . . to see I don't mourn.
At Fifty, once more, .. ...Babies play 'round my knee,
Again, we know children . . . . My loved one and me.
Dark days are upon me . . . . My wife is now dead.
I look at the future ... . . . . I shudder with dread.
For my young are all rearing .. . . young of their own.
And I think of the years . . . And the love that I've known.
I'm now an old man . . . . . . .. and nature is cruel.
It's jest to make old age . . . . . . . look like a fool.
The body, it crumbles .. .. . grace and vigor, depart.
There is now a stone . . . where I once had a heart.
But inside this old carcass . A young man still dwells,
And now and again . . . . . my battered heart swells
I remember the joys . . . . .. . I remember the pain.
And I'm loving and living . . . . . . . life over again.
I think of the years, all too few . . .. gone too fast.
And accept the stark fact . . . that nothing can last.
So open your eyes, people .. . . . .. . . open and see.
Not a cranky old man .
Look closer . . . . see .. .. . .. .... . ME!!

Remember this poem when you next meet an older person who you might brush aside without looking at the young soul within. We will all, one day, be there, too!

PLEASE SHARE THIS POEM (originally by Phyllis McCormack; adapted by Dave Griffith)

The best and most beautiful things of this world can't be seen or touched. They must be felt by the heart!

I hope that when you take care of your elders, that you remember their times of blessing, and that you remember their times of turmoil.  I hope that you'll be mindful of the fact that the person you see in this moment isn't the person they've always been.  If someone had met Job for the first time during his moments of sickness and pain, they would have formed an entirely different opinion of him than they would, had they known him earlier in his life.

Remember that almost all the people you know in life, you see only a snapshot of who they really are.  Take care of the people you meet who are in the midst of tough times.  You never know who they were--or who, by God's grace, they are going to become!

Friday, December 27, 2013

Antidisestablishmentarianism and Antichrist

Today is the final day in our 50th week, reading the Bible through in a year.  Our scriptures today are:  Job 24-27; Revelation 17.

What's the longest word in the English language?  Some have suggested it's "antidisestablishmentarianism," but others say that it's "smiles," because there's a mile from one s to the other.

Today, I don't want to talk about smiles, but about antidisestablishmentarianism.  The Free Dictionary defines it as: 

the doctrine or political position that opposes the withdrawal of state recognition of an established church; - used especially concerning the Anglican Church in England. Opposed to disestablishmentarianism...
the principles of those who oppose the with-drawal of the recognition or support of the state from an established church, usually used in referring to the Anglican church in the 19th century in England.

This word comes from a 19th century debate, where some English citizens (disestablishmentarians) wanted to withdraw their tax support from the Church of England, thereby dis-establishing religious preferences by the government.  Antidisestablishmentarians were in favor of established religion, and opposed the disestablishmentarian movement. 

In this debate, any Christian who was not a member of the Anglican Church resented having their tax money go to support an institution that they did not agree with--or may even be opposed to.  Yet for centuries, the kings of Christendom used the authority of the church to enact their wishes--and vice versa.  Since the time of Constantine, when Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire, a marriage has existed between church and state.  It's only within the past few centuries that the notion of the separation of church and state has existed.

So, what do you think about the separation of church and state?  It's a concept that is greatly misunderstood in America today.  Click here for a Wikipedia article, if you want to read about this concept around the world.  In America, the concept began with believers who wanted freedom from state-sponsored religious persecution.  Many of the first Americans immigrated to New England because they were trying to escape state-sponsored religious persecution in Europe. That is why, when the US became a nation, they lobbied so hard for a separation between church and state.  What the Constitution actually says is:  

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

This means that the state doesn't sponsor religion, and that religion doesn't try to use the power of the state to accomplish its purposes, either.  It also means that the state cannot impede the freedom of religion.  So, for example, a teacher cannot say, "Gather round while I lead us in prayer, class," a student can elect to attend a student-sponsored religious group on campus.

And this is a good thing.  It keeps the government's hands off of religion, and religion's hands off the government.

Through the years, I've heard a lot of conservative Christians bemoaning the fact that "they took prayer out of the schools," or "the Bible out of the classroom."  First of all, I'll say that's hogwash!  Someone once said that as long as there are exams, there will be prayer in schools!  What was removed wasn't prayer--but state-sponsored prayer.  What was removed wasn't the Bible (which, incidentally, is still used in student-led Christian meetings throughout the country)--but the use of the Bible in the classroom, where it's part of the curriculum and where non-believers can't avoid it.

Many conservative Christians grieve the days when the teacher could lead kids in a devotion and prayer.  But to those people, I'd ask, "Would you want your kids to be subjected to a Muslim-led Koran study and prayer?  Or Buddhist services being imposed on your children?"  Of course not--so why would you want a state employee to lead your children in Bible study?  And besides--what if that teacher isn't a Christian?  Or, if they're a different kind of Christian from you?  Would you want their theology imposed on your kids?

We tend to be in support of a Christian government...if we're Christians ourselves.  But what about the right of a non-Christian to be free from state-sponsored religion?  And...have you ever wondered what might happen if another religion becomes the dominant religion in the US?  Rather than the majority religion calling the shots, it truly is better to have religion and state completely separate.

So, the separation of church and state is a good thing.  Baptists have traditionally been strong supporters of it.  At the most recent meeting of the Baptist General Association of Virginia, that body voted to say no to an amendment in the Virginia Constitution that authorizes prayer in public schools and government meetings.  Click here to read the entire story.  

A while ago, I shared this news on Facebook, and my post met with mixed reactions.  Some agreed with this move, while others mourned the passing of prayer in schools--misunderstanding the reasons for the resolution.  The Associated Baptist Press reports:

“Virginia Baptists collectively have traditionally and consistently taken the position that religious expression coming from or endorsed by government is inconsistent with the free exercise of religion according to the dictates of conscience,” notes the resolution presented by the BGAV’s religious liberty committee. “Sectarian legislative prayers have the effect of utilizing civil government as a mechanism for advancing faith, and Virginia Baptists have historically held that individuals and not the government should advance faith.”

Baptists were once a religious minority, persecuted by the state and ridiculed by society.  So it stands to reason that we support the separation of church and state.  Just because a civil leader someone prayers "your kind of prayer" in a school or government meeting, that doesn't make it right to impose it on others--any more than it would be right for an idolater to force his kind of prayer on you.

"The Whore of Babylon"

And so we come to today's prophetic passage.  In Revelation 17, we read about a woman, called Babylon, who is described as a prostitute and who represents false religion.  Verse 2 (NIV) says:

With her the kings of the earth committed adultery, and the inhabitants of the earth were intoxicated with the wine of her adulteries.”

Revelation 13 also talks about false religion and deceptive, that have the power of the state as its backing.  When kings and religions make alliances with each other, watch out!  

Rather than try to identify the kingdoms and religions that might be suggested by these passages, I'll just make a general statement that when the state uses religion as its puppet, we're all in trouble.  And, when religious leaders have the power of the state at their disposal, it never ends well.  

So yes, as a Baptist, I'm a disestablishmentarian.  To all those dear antidisestablishmentarian souls who wish we could go back to the good ol' days when your children's teacher had the authority to lead them in prayers and devotions in school--I'll say that I'm glad those days are behind us.  I want my kids to get their religion from their parents' teaching, and from their church--not from the public school system.  To do anything else is antichrist.  

Thursday, December 26, 2013

My Eyes Will Be on the Faithful in the Land

Today is the fourth day in our 50th week, reading the Bible through in a year.  Our scriptures today are:  Job 21-23; Revelation 16; Psalm 101.

I hope that you're having a wonderful Christmas, and that you're able to spend it with family and friends that you love.

In Psalm 101, David talks about his choice of people who are around him.  He knows it makes a good deal of difference, who you surround yourself with.  He chooses to allow only people who are of good reputation and behavior in his presence, because he knows that they have an influence on you.

 I will sing of your love and justice;
    to you, Lord, I will sing praise.
 I will be careful to lead a blameless life
    when will you come to me?
I will conduct the affairs of my house
    with a blameless heart.
 I will not look with approval
    on anything that is vile.
I hate what faithless people do;
    I will have no part in it. The perverse of heart shall be far from me;
    I will have nothing to do with what is evil.
 Whoever slanders their neighbor in secret,
    I will put to silence;
whoever has haughty eyes and a proud heart,
    I will not tolerate.
 My eyes will be on the faithful in the land,
    that they may dwell with me;
the one whose walk is blameless
    will minister to me.
 No one who practices deceit
    will dwell in my house;
no one who speaks falsely
    will stand in my presence.
 Every morning I will put to silence
    all the wicked in the land;
I will cut off every evildoer
    from the city of the Lord.

This psalm was likely written early in David's reign.  It might have been immediately after the death of Saul, when he began to sit as king.  Or, it may have been when he began to rule over all Israel, when the ark was brought up to Jerusalem.  Either way, it was certainly before David's "fall" from glory--his sexual sin with Bathsheba and his murder of Uriah.

David's troubles really began when he looked with longing upon the pleasures of sin.  When he invited it into his house, it only brought pain.  How much better it would have been for him, had he continued the commitment that we find in Psalm 101!

As you touch base with family and friends this holiday season, I encourage you to be careful of the connections you make.  Some relationships are good for us--they encourage our hearts, lift our spirits, and spur us on to good works.  Other relationships bring us down, opening the door to sin in our lives.  I hope that you'll share--and keep--the same commitment that David made, early on in his rule.  I hope that you'll be careful of the friendships you make, and of the influences that you allow in your life.  This is the way to keep your heart pure, and to please God in your relationships.