Archive for the ‘Mores’ Category

An Unshakeable Kingdom

Peace be Still by Arnold Friberg

“Peace, be still,” by Arnold Friberg

The tragic mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton have many Americans on edge, as they struggle to understand what is causing it all. Sadly, such tragedies have become common in our country. The public and government responses to these shootings are predictable: the left calls for stricter gun control laws, while the right emphasizes the Constitutional right to bear arms and attributes the shootings to mental health problems. Unfortunately, most Americans fail to recognize the root cause of the problem. Why is this?  Perhaps it’s because we live in a country where, for many, the idea of good and evil has become an archaic concept, something associated with ancient religious superstitions.   

The Rev. Canon Phil Ashley of the American Anglican Council explained it like this. We face a culture that is “…increasingly shaped by the forces of aggressive secularism, moral relativism, religious pluralism, individual autonomy and a utopian hope in secular authority.” As more and more Americans push God out of their lives, social, cultural and spiritual chaos is filling the vacuum. When a country or society pushes God out, it opens the door for the enemy to come in. 1 Peter 5:8 says, Satan “…prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” Those lacking a solid spiritual foundation very easily become his prey. Yes, evil is real.

Chaos often breeds isolation, which for some people means empty lives nearly devoid of human contact. Isolated and confused, they might seek meaning in their lives through narcissism—an egoistic admiration of one’s self, which is a form of idolatry. Narcissism is easily fed through social media, where one can simply manufacture a false persona in an effort to gain approval from others.

Over prolonged periods, isolated individuals can  become enveloped by darkness.  Some may seek meaning or self-purpose through infamy—mass shooters are not soon forgotten.  Mass shootings are only one symptom of the problem however. It manifests itself in many other ways, including drug and alcohol addiction, pornography addiction, child abuse, human trafficking, suicide and countless others.

To begin to fix the problems in America, we don’t need more laws or more gun rights.  We need a spiritual revival of our Judeo-Christian roots. Dr. Jack Graham, the pastor of the Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, TX explains it like this, “All of us are involved in some kind of a spiritual battle—a warfare that’s going on increasing.  A battle that is getting hotter and hotter right now and predictably so.  In fact, the Bible tells us that in the final hours of human history that perilous times will come.  Difficult dangerous times will come.” Dangerous times are not exclusive to American Christians.  Persecution of Christians because of their faith is running rampant around the globe.

Of the shootings in El Paso and Dayton, the Rev. Franklin Graham wrote, “The Word of God tells us to ‘mourn with those who mourn,’ and that is what our nation is doing. We grieve the tragic and devastating loss of life in El Paso and Dayton this weekend. The number of victims of the mass shootings is much higher than the headlines reveal, because each mother, each father, each sister and brother, each wife and husband, is also a victim—a victim of the heinous and senseless evil unleashed by two murderous gunmen. Their loved ones have been stolen from them.” And “”As we mourn with these families and communities, let’s continue to sincerely lift them up in prayer before the Lord.” Despite what some politicians have said, prayer is a proper response to mass shootings.

Fortunately, Christians needn’t despair at what they see happening around them. They can be confident that God is in control of their lives, even when the world appears to be coming apart all around them. Throughout the scriptures Jesus remains as solid as a rock. We see this vividly portrayed in Mark chapter 4, when Jesus and His disciples are on a boat in the midst of a terrible storm. Jesus is asleep on a cushion when his frightened disciples wake Him, fearing they are about to perish. Jesus rises and speaks the words the simple words, “Peace, be still.”  Immediately, the wind ceases to blow and the water grows calm. His disciples then marvel that even the wind and the sea obey Him.    

The same Jesus who calmed the storm is in control of our lives today. Hebrews 12:28-29 says we live in an unshakeable kingdom. “Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.”  

Christians have nothing to fear in the midst of today’s chaos.  As the late Rev. Dr. Billy Graham said, “I’ve read the last page of the Bible. It’s all going to turn out all right.” Christians need only do their best to imitate the life of Christ. God will take care of the rest.

Transformed not Conformed

Parthenon

The Parthenon (Temple of Athena) Athens, Greece

The lines between right and wrong are growing increasingly blurry in American society today.  Modern culture encourages us to be more accepting and inclusive. Our elected officials have passed many laws at the national, state and local levels that conflict with a Christian world view. Americans are bombarded with modern culture images, messages and social mores in the broadcast, cable, print and web news sites, as well as on the ever-increasing social media and other Internet websites.   

Despite the rapid social changes and pressures to conform, for matters of Christian faith and living the deciding question remains “what does the Bible say?”  When the Apostle Paul and Silas visited the city of Berea on a missionary journey, Paul preached the Gospel in the local synagogue, where it was received with great enthusiasm. Acts 17: 11 (NIV) says that the Berean Jews “…received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.” The Bereans recognized the authority of the Scriptures. Acts 17 goes on to tell us that as a result of Paul’s preaching there, many Berean Jews believed, as well as many prominent Greek women and men.

My wife and I are currently participating in a small group study examining the collision of Christian, Jewish, Roman and Hellenistic cultures during the ministry of the Apostle Paul.  Hellenistic culture was the pervasive Greek culture that influenced the entire Mediterranean region during Paul’s time.

Paul’s journeys led him to Corinth, a flourishing, modern Roman colony that Julius Caesar had intentionally populated with second rate Roman citizens, most of whom had failed in life while living in Rome. In Paul’s day, the city was wicked and corrupt, filled with prostitutes, crooks, swindlers and lowlifes. Corinth had a Jewish synagogue and Paul was eager to share the Gospel there.

Paul arrived in Corinth with only the possessions he was carrying.  Shortly after arriving, he met a Jewish, Christian married couple named Priscilla and Aquila. Like Paul, they were tentmakers by trade and they owned a business in Corinth.  They took Paul into their business and invited him to live in their home, where Corinth’s first house church was established. 

Paul frequented the synagogue in Corinth, but met with much resistance from the Jewish leaders.  Growing weary of Paul’s message, these leaders eventually drug him before the local Roman proconsul Gallio in AD 51 and brought a series of charges against him. When Gallio learned that the dispute was about Jewish law and that Paul had not violated any Roman laws, he refused to judge the case and told the Jewish leaders to settle the matter themselves. Paul’s attempt to convert the Corinthian Jews failed.

After this, Paul turned away from the Jews in Corinth and took his message to the local gentiles.  Subsequently, many converted to the faith.  These converts included a high-level Corinthian leader named Erastus. The NIV translation of Paul’s epistle to the Romans refers to him as the “Director of Public Work” in Corinth. After Paul’s eventual departure from Corinth, he wrote to the Corinthian church, telling them that their bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6:19). What a concept for people surrounded by pagan shrines and magnificent Greek and Roman temples!

Paul also journeyed to Athens hoping to spread the Gospel.  Athens was the center of Hellenistic culture, a city full of temples and idols.  There Paul had the opportunity to preach to the Areopagite Council (or Areopagus), a powerful, court-like body made up of Athenian aristocrats.  Despite Paul’s immense knowledge of the Scriptures and his skills in persuasive speaking, he failed to persuade the Areopagus. Paul failed to establish a church in Athens and departed the city in disappointment. 

Like Paul, Christians today will not always succeed against the tide of negative cultural change and influences, but they can remain steadfast in their beliefs without succumbing to cultural pressures. Paul succeeded in forming churches in some places and failed in others, but his approach was always based upon the same foundation—a deep knowledge of the scriptures; reliance upon the guidance of the Holy Spirit; and living in a manner that glorified Christ.

As Christians living in modern American society, we can learn a lot from Paul. We live in a culture filled with idols—people or objects we value more than God.  We may not literally bow down to these idols, but we worship them all the same.  Rather than existing as statues and shrines, today’s idols are more likely to adorn the covers of gossip and fashion magazines, make movies, play professional sports, or work in politics, i.e. modern cults of personality.  Some people idolize inanimate objects like money, expensive cars, exquisite homes, extravagant vacations, or their jobs. Others make idols of wealth, drugs, alcohol, cell phones, social media or Internet porn. I shudder to think what negative effects the advent of the sex robots will have on our culture. 

Today, in a world that’s filled with idols, Paul’s warning to the church in Rome is more relevant than ever:

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.  Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good,  pleasing and perfect will.  Romans 12:2 (NIV)

J.B. Phillips’s, author of the bestselling book Your God is Too Small, paraphrases Romans 12:2 like this: “Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mould, but let God re-mould your minds from within, so that you may prove in practice that the plan of God for you is good, meets all his demands and moves towards the goal of true maturity”

Christians must let God’s spirit shape their lives, not the influences of modern culture. Let Colossians 3:12 (NIV) be your guide:

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved,  clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.

Christians in the early Church influenced the culture around them because they loved one another and cared for the sick, the homeless, orphans, widows, lepers and other disenfranchised members of society.  The conversion of Rome to Christianity didn’t occur through power and intimidation, but through weakness and self-sacrifice. Think about these words from Paul:

That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults,in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties.  For when I am weak, then I am strong. 2 Corinthians 12:10 (NIV)

Christians in America cannot stem the tide of the negative cultural influences that constantly collide with our lives and Christian world view, but we can focus on the presence of God’s Holy Spirit to shape our hearts and minds. In this politically charged era, we still have certain obligations to our laws and government that we must adhere to as the price for living in this great nation; but as  Jesus said, we must “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, and render unto God what is God’s.”  We must obey the laws of the land and work to change those laws when necessary, but we must not allow our Christian beliefs to be conformed to modern culture. In every situation, remember to ask, “What does the Bible say?”