Sunday, March 02, 2014

Thomas Boston on the Sabbath

The puritan Thomas Boston wrote some thoughts on the sabbath.  I've reposted one of his sections below for your reflection.

VI. Some Improvement of this Command.
USE. Let me exhort you then to beware of profaning the Sabbath. Learn to keep it holy. And therefore I would call you here to several duties.

1. Remember the Sabbath-day, before it come, to prepare for it, and let your eye be on it before the week be done. Timeously lay by your worldly employment, and go not near the borders of the Lord's day, and strive to get your hearts in a frame suitable to the exercises of this holy day.

2. Make conscience of attending the public ordinances, and waiting on God in his own house on his own day. Loiter not away the Lord's day at home unnecessarily, seeing the Lord trusts to meet his people there. This will bring leanness to your own souls, and grief of heart to him that bears the Lord's message to you.

3. Before you come to the public, spend the morning in secret and private exercises, particularly in prayer, reading, and meditation; remembering how much your success depends upon suitable preparation. Put off your shoes before ye tread the holy ground.

4. Make not your attendance on the public ordinances a by-hand work, and a mean for carrying on your worldly affairs. If ye come to the church to meet with some body, and to discourse or make appointments about your worldly business, it will be a wonder if ye meet with the Lord. If ye travel on the Lord's day, and take a preaching by the way, it may well cheat your blinded consciences; it will not be pleasing to God, for it makes his service to stand but in the second room, while your main end is what concerns your temporal affairs. Among the Jews no man might make the mountain of the house, or a synagogue, a thoroughfare. And beware of common discourse between sermons, which is too much practised among professors.

5. When ye come home from the public ordinances, let it be your care, both by the way and at home, to meditate or converse about spiritual things, and what ye have heard. Retire and examine yourselves as to what ye have gained, and be not as the unclean beasts, who chew not the cud. Let masters of families take account of their children and servants how they have profited, catechise and instruct them in the principles of religion, and exhort them to piety.

6. When ye are necessarily detained from the public ordinances, let your hearts be there, Psalm 63.1,2; and do not turn that to sin which in itself is not your sin. And strive to spend the Lord's day in private and secret worship, looking to the Lord for the up-making of your wants. As for those that tie themselves to men's service, without a due regard to their having opportunities to hear the Lord's word, their wages are dear bought, and they have little respect to God or their own souls; and I think tender Christians will be loath to engage so. But, alas! few masters or servants look further than the work or wages in their engaging together!. A sad argument that religion is at a low ebb.

7. Do not cut the Sabbath short. The church of Rome has half holidays; God never appointed any such; it is one whole day. Alas! it is a sad thing to see how the Lord's day is so consumed, as if people would make up the loss of a day out of Saturday's night and Monday's morning, which they do by cutting short the Lord's day.

8. Lastly, Labour to be in a Sabbath-day's frame. Let the thoughts of worldly business, far more worldly words and works be far from you. To press this, consider,

(1.) It is God's command, whereby he tries your love to him. This day is as the forbidden fruit. Who does not condemn Adam and Eve for eating it? O do not profane it any manner of way!

(2.) Heaven will be an everlasting Sabbath, and our conversation should be heaven-like. If we grudge the Lord one day in seven, how will we relish eternity? We are ready to complain that we are toiled with the world: why then do we not enter into his rest?

(3.) The great advantage of sanctifying the Lord's day. He has made it a day of blessing. It is God's deal-day; and keeps up the heart of many through the week while they think of its approach.

(4.) Lastly, Ye will bring wrath on you if ye do not sanctify the Sabbath. God may plague you with temporal, spiritual, and eternal plagues. Many begin with this sin of profaning the Lord's day, and it brings upon them the wrath of God, both in this world and that which is to come.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Martin Luther King Day

Not to detract from the leadership of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr in the American Civil Rights Movement, but it is important to note, especially on this day, that behind every great leader are a host of others, named and unnamed, who give power to a movement of justice. One such leader in the Civil Rights Movement was Pastor Fred Shuttlesworth.

While I am no scholar of the American Civil Rights movement, I do believe there would be great unanimity in saying that Birmingham was the turning point of this great movement of equality. It was there Dr. King was jailed for eight days and wrote his masterful
"Letter from a Birmingham Jail". It was there that racist police commissioner Eugene "Bull" Conner unleashed his dogs and his thugs and his high pressure water hoses on peaceful marchers and children in Kelly Ingram Park. After the smoke from Birmingham cleared, the United States passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964. And at the heart of Birmingham was the pastor of Bethel Baptist Church, Dr. Fred Shuttlesworth. Georgia Representative John Lewis called Shuttlesworth "the soul and heart of the Birmingham movement."

Indeed, while King and others experienced only temporarily the horrible abuse of "Bull" Conner and Alabama’s extreme and violent racism, Pastor Shuttlesworth lived it. Black homes and churches were regularly bombed for nearly a decade before the famous march on Birmingham. In 1955, he led a delegation petitioning the city for black police officers. In 1957, he attempted to enroll his daughters in the all white high school. He was beaten with brass knuckles and bicycle chains. When the doctor wondered aloud that he wasn’t in worse condition, Shuttlesworth said, 'Well, doctor, the Lord knew I lived in a hard town, so he gave me a hard head." And it was Shuttlesworth who persuaded King to bring his movement to Birmingham, where history would be changed.

What Shuttlesworth had was a deep and abiding faith in God. And he trusted Him at every obstacle and act of injustice.

While Dr. King is the rightfully acknowledged leader of the Civil Rights Movement, he is not alone in making sacrifices that changed our nation.

Dr. Fred Shuttlesworth
March 18, 1922 -- October 5, 2011




Friday, January 03, 2014

Duck Dynasty, Free Speech, and Biblical Authority

Thanks to some alluring marketing by Yahoo pop up ads, I found my way over to a little internet screed on the Duck Dynasty flap, You know, the one that’s been going on for a couple of weeks about Phil Robertson sharing his views in a GQ interview that homosexuality is wrong behavior and condemned by the Bible.

Well, over at the Huffington Post blog today, some actor, writer, radio host guy equated Robertson’s views with hate speech, entitling his tirade "Duck Dynasty, the Bible and Justification of Hatred". It’s the same old mantra that’s been going around for awhile. If you say anything against homosexuality, you’re hateful. You can’t have a viewpoint different from the Huffington Post Blog guy and every other person who believes homosexuality is an ok behavior. If you do happen to have a different viewpoint, and dare to make it known (even if an interviewer asks you a question for a magazine article) you are "spouting hateful speech".

The Huffington Post blog writer-actor-radio host guy doesn’t hate the Bible, of course. He can share a viewpoint different from a majority of Americans and disparage a deeply held religious tenet of millions of Christians (the Bible is a source of moral authority) and not be hateful. Because, of course, "hate speech" only works one way. Besides, he gets his "moral direction" from a "higher power" – his gut. I’m not quite sure what he does on pizza night, when the somewhat digested pepperoni and cheese go to war with the Pepsi and cheese cake. Maybe his gut is more just reliable than mine.

Of course, we won’t talk about Joseph Stalin, Jeffrey Dahmer, Timothy McVeigh and the hundreds of thousands of others down through the ages who have followed their own "guts" only to do dastardly deeds. I’m sure the Huffington Post blog writer-actor-radio host guy doesn’t really believe in everyone following their "gut". The Nazis did that in the 1930s and 40s and the results were horribly sinister. He just doesn’t like the idea of a Sacred Book and accountability to a Creator God.

Somehow, having a viewpoint different than his is "believing and saying hateful things about entire groups of people" although he never says what Duck Dynasty star Phil Robertson said that was hateful.

I wonder what the Huffington Post blog writer-actor-radio host guy would say about Nazis, arsonists, drunk drivers, child molesters, the Taliban, and other such "entire groups of people". And I wonder if he would call expressing a viewpoint different from those within those groups "hateful"? If his fulmination against the Bible and its adherents is any example, I don’t think he’d be the least bit shy about haranguing any "entire groups of people" with whom he disagreed. He is after all, just following "his gut" --those good, ole trusty, reliable innards.

The problem with following your gut—your innermost visceral response, as any gastro-intestinalogist (or criminologist for that matter) will tell you, is that not all guts are created equal. There’s your gut, my gut, that Huffington Post blog writer-actor-radio host guy’s gut, and of course, there’s Phil Robertson’s gut. I reckon when he was talking to GQ about sin, he was just following his own gut. So, if that’s the higher power, what’s the problem?

Of course, our "gut" hardly trumps the Bible. It is an eternal, external, objective moral standard; not the transient, internal, subjective standard advocated by the Huffington Post blog writer-actor-radio host guy. It was not hateful for God to give us His Word, and it is not hateful for us to declare it to others, even if they recoil at its message.


Thursday, December 19, 2013

At the heart of Christmas--

The heart of Christmas is about waiting.  Whether in the physical realm or the spiritual one, if Christmas teaches us anything, it is to wait.

Do you remember when you were a child?  The universal question: “Is it Christmas yet?” plagued our parents just as much as we’ve been plagued.  It gets asked ten times a day since the day after thanksgiving.  That’s roughly 27 days before it actually arrives.  That’s about 270 times each season.  Factoring in that a child begins speaking fluently around 3 and doesn’t lose the luster of Christmas about around 13, that’s 10 years of asking…or roughly an average of 2,700 times per child.

And how about those traffic jams caused by holiday shoppers?  Weren’t cars designed to move?  If I want to sit in one I’ll go to an antique car show.  We just don’t have a chance these days.  Either we’re cut off by some dare devil road hog who nearly smashes our front fender or we get behind the most cautious driver the roadways have ever known.  You know the kind—the one who backs off the accelerator two blocks from the stop sign coasting to a complete stop; allowing seconds to elapse; then turning with deliberate intent to the right, perusing oncoming traffic.  Seeing none, they gaze to the left, scoping out the statistical possibility of a traffic skirmish.  Seeing none, what do they do?  They turn back to the right to see if the situation has changed.  And suddenly they see it—an approaching car.  It’s one and a half miles away, but it’s approaching and they’re not about to interfere with oncoming traffic.  About that time I’m hoping, just hoping and praying that they are a Christian.  Because maybe, just maybe, if they’re a Christian, they’ll have a “Honk, if you love Jesus” bumper sticker and I’ll have an excuses for blasting down on my horn!

And speaking of holiday shopping, have you ever seen all 32 cashiers at Walmart working at the same time?  The customers don’t help matters any.   There’s the one who never starts unloading their cart until the person in front of them is totally done.  Then they roll up to the cashier and start unloading their 427 items.  Or the other kind of customer starts unloading their 427 items on 4 inches of conveyor belt space.  Their stuff flowing over the bar separator, covering my own merchandise.  And why don’t people sign their checks before the clerk tells them their cost?  Do they think they’re going to get it free?

Ah, yes, the angst of waiting!

Of course there are far more serious weights of waiting.  An out-of-work father waiting for a job offer.  Or a barren couple that have invested much in fertility drugs, waiting to have a baby.  Or a wife waiting to hear a word of praise, instead of foul criticism from her husband.  Some parents wait to hear from a wayward child—not even knowing if they are alive or healthy.  Some wait for a spouse—someone to call your own and to love on.  They’d probably even settle for a date but the phone never rings and the invitations never come. 

Oh!  The weight of waiting.  But that’s one of the many beautiful things about Christmas.  It teaches us about waiting and helps us handle the weight of it with more grace and trust.

King Ahaz of Judah had to wait.  Around 735 B.C. things weren’t going too well for him.  Assyria was the regional super-power and had subjugated area countries several years earlier.  But now, Assyria’s military attention was elsewhere and countries around Palestine started to form an alliance to rebel against Assyria.  The kings of Aram and Israel were pressuring Ahaz to join their alliance.  In fact, they threatened military invasion if he would not join them.  But Ahaz was inclined to keep paying tribute to Assyria and not rebel.  This did not endear him to the super-patriots of his country.  They were ready to be free and wanted war with Assyria; thus they were more than willing to see Ahaz ousted from power.  Faced with these pressures, God gave Ahaz a promise through his prophet Isaiah: “the virgin will conceive and bear a son and will call his name Immanuel, God with us.”

This promise really went beyond Ahaz.  God was speaking to him, but in a larger sense, God was speaking to all of Judah and, in fact, to all the world.  He was telling us that the day would come when we wouldn’t have to worry about this world’s pressures—that someday there would be a good ruler that we could completely trust.  Immanuel would come and God would be with us!

At that moment, God reaffirmed the promise He made thousands of years earlier in the garden of Eden.  God promised the Serpent, our adversary the Devil that:
·          One was coming who would crush his head. 
·          One was coming who would destroy his kingdom.
·          One would render evil powerless and sin ineffective.
·          One would help rulers make wise and good decisions.
·          One who become like we are so that we can become like He is.

So Ahaz, hang in there!  Face your pressures!  Wait and hold on.  Immanuel is coming!
·          God will not turn his back on our fickleness—He will be with us!
·          God will not ignore us—He will be with us!
·          God will not be standoffish or aloof—but with us!
·          God will not be callous to our pain—He’ll come and feel it with us!
·          God will not abandon us—He will save us!

And so the wait was on.  Messiah didn’t come after the eviction from Eden and Adam and Eve didn’t see deliverance from the curse.  He didn’t come Himself to pull Israel out of their bondage, hurts and oppressions from Egypt—but sent an ex-murderer prone often to lose his temper—to be His instrument.

And Ahaz himself, the one to whom this promise was given, died before seeing the virgin conceive.  In fact, God didn’t show up in the flesh until over 700 years later.  Now there’s a thought.  The problem ripping your heart and shredding your soul will get fixed 700 years from now.  Can you hold on?

The people who believed God’s promise waited and waited and waited.

One such man who waited was named Simeon.  He waited and hoped and trusted and believed and waited some more for God to show up on the scene of human history.  He waited as powerful Romans harassed his friends and perverted justice.  He waited as wealthy and disloyal countrymen exploited common, working-class families.  And one day, his wait was over.  A young couple named Mary and Joseph brought their newborn son into the Temple to be circumcised and the Holy Spirit revealed to Simeon exactly who he was holding.  “Now let me die in peace” he said, “for my eyes have seen Your salvation!”

That’s one message of Christmas!  That God makes good on His promise!  And while people had to wait—and wait and wait—for our Savior to come—come He did!  Through His cross, sin has been paid for and our enemy’s power broken.  I can now be the husband my wife deserves, and the father my children need and the pastor God intends me to be—not because I have achieved some degree of enlightenment; not because of my own effort—I am flawed and often selfish.  I can be those things because I am saved—because Immanuel has come and God is with me!

So hang on to your promise.  Hold on to that hope!  Lean on the God who always delivers on His promises.  Your arduous circumstances will soon change.  Your pain will soon be gone.  Not today, and probably not tomorrow; and maybe not even next week.  In the meantime, let Immanuel love on you.  Let Him embrace you.  Hear Him whisper in your ear, “It will be alright—let’s face it together.”  Let His strength sustain your weakness.  Hang on to that Christmas promise—He makes all things beautiful in His time.

And because God made good on His promise in sending His Son Jesus, I can wait for Him to make good on His promise that He’ll be back.  Don’t get me wrong.  I didn’t say I like waiting or that it’s easy, I just said I can do it.  With His help and by His strength I can wait.

What I want you to see today is that while life is pretty messed up, there is a God who isn’t.  While others hurt me, there’s a God who heals me.  Life can frustrate you—God can fulfill you.

I don’t like greedy, evil abortionists exploiting vulnerable young women and maiming and torturing and killing precious children.  I get tired of the setbacks and wacko judicial rulings. I’ll work hard against those evils but I’m waiting for my King to come back and make His ruling.  Oh, it’s hard to wait, but He’s coming and children will soon be safe!



Thursday, November 21, 2013

The Postal Christmas Stamp

Having recently exhorted my son NOT to play some Christmas music he had recently checked out from the library and to wait until after Thanksgiving, I suppose I risk some degree of hypocrisy on this blog post. I believe we shouldn’t rush into the Christmas season just yet. Merchants go from orange and black to red and green overnight. And while I’m more than happy to see the witches and black cats disappear from the shelves, I wish we’d see more pilgrims and fewer Santas in November. I definitely think it wise to linger over Thanksgiving and give praise and thanks to God.

But upon opening my mail today, I noticed a flyer from the United States Postal Service advertising their domestic Priority Mail Flat Rate holiday delivery. Scanning through the little pamphlet, I noticed a section "Don’t forget your holiday stamps!" Yes, I caught the more benign "holiday" as opposed to "Christmas". But what really irked me was the picture of the three stamps they promoted.
With news of the recent Harry Potter stamps and the 2005 misunderstanding still in my mind (the USPS, for the first time in its history didn’t print a new ‘Madonna & Child’ design, but used the previous year’s design), I feared something amiss. Fortunately, a visit over to allayed my concerns. While there are more choices for non-Christian stamps than Christian ones, patrons can purchase ‘the Holy Family’ stamp or choose between two different designs of the ‘Mary & Child’ motif.

Still, that the Postal System promotes Hanukkah and Kwanzaa in their ‘holiday’ section of this pamphlet at the expense of Christmas was disturbing. My computer is running too slowly for me to research how many stamps of each the USPS sells; or how many Americans celebrate each of those holidays. But I think common sense tells us more Americans observe Christmas than the other two combined.

We are approaching Christmas. CHRISTmas. Yes, it’s all about Jesus. A Savior who was born, died and saved us from our sins. Perhaps my son can start playing his Christmas music after all.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The Gettysburg Address

Yesterday marked the 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address.

When Robert E. Lee decided to invade the North in July of 1863, luring the Army of the Potomac out of Virginia, he had no idea that he would lay the foundation of the Conferacy's defeat and set up one of the most ephocal moments in American history.  Within the span of three days, names like Devil's Den, Cemetery Ridge, Little Round Top, Culp's Hill, Peach Orchard and Pickett's Charge would forever be engrained into every American history book.  And within those same three days, nearly 8,000 soldiers died and another 28,000 injured.

During that summer, the town of Gettysburg tried to recover from the massive death toll.  Judge David Wills wrote to Pennsylvania's governor about corpses that lined the streets and other unseemly situations.  “In many instances, arms and legs and sometimes heads protrude. And my attention has been called to several places, where the hogs were actually rooting out the bodies and devouring them.”

Within a few months, Wills had devised a plan for a national cemetary and invited several dignitaries to speak at a dedicatory event.  Edward Everett was the keynote speaker, with President Lincoln giving a brief remark afterwards.  In fact, his Gettysburg Address was just 272 words in length, consuming only 180 seconds of history. 

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth, upon this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow, this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us--that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here gave the last full measure of devotion--that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Lincoln believed "the world will little note, nor long remember what we say here" but he could not have been more wrong.  Those 272 words have become the best known words of American history.  Future President Teddy Roosevelt called one of the "great classics of human eloquence--of that eloquence which shows forth its human soul."  In the view of historian James McPherson, it stands as "the world's foremost statement of freedom and democracy and the sacrifices required to achieve and defend them."

At the time, many were unimpressed.  Harrisburg's Patriot & Union declared Lincoln "the jester" and stated that "whatever may be the President's virtues, he does not possess sense."

Today, President Obama created yet another stir.  Film-maker and master story-teller Kens Burns, doing a project called Learn the Address, filmed some 61 high profile Americans reading Lincoln's Gettysburg Address.  President Obama omitted "under God" when reading "the nation...shall have a new birth of freedom."  Supposedly, Mr. Burns provided the White House with this version, called the Nicolay version.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The Subtle Erosion of Liberties

I am always amazed that the voices of our Founders, now some 240 years distant, remain as relevant in our day as when they were first spoken.  One of the firebrands of liberty was Samuel Adams, who stated:
The liberties of our country, the freedom of our civil Constitution, are worth defending at all hazards; and it is our duty to defend them against all attacks. We have received them as a fair inheritance from our worthy ancestors: they purchased them for us with toil and danger and expense of treasure and blood, and transmitted them to us with care and diligence. It will bring an everlasting mark of infamy on the present generation, enlightened as it is, if we should suffer them to be wrested from us by violence without a struggle, or to be cheated out of them by the artifices of false and designing men.

 Adams’ last statement, “to be cheated out of them by the artifices of false and designing men” is the telling one for our generation.  We often romanticize the struggle for liberty.  If faced with a tyrant like King George and his marshaled forces of the British Empire invading New York, Boston and Philadelphia, then we think we would resist.  Or if, like me, you grew up during the Cold War and participated in bomb shelter drills of the 1980s or the “Duck and Cover” drills of the 1950s, you (at least in your mind) were ready to defend America against a Soviet invasion.  So liberties “wrested” from us Americans would, no doubt, be met with a struggle.
But what of liberties “cheated” from us from “false and designing men”.  What of subtle changes that appear benign enough, but that nevertheless strip us of liberties, perhaps something as simple as choosing one’s own healthcare plan?  With the NSA spying on our telephone conversations, it is perhaps safer to blog about these things than to speak of them to one’s friend.  But it is difficult for a thinking person to reach any other conclusion than that we are, in fact, being cheated out of our liberties.

What then should we do?