Living Confidently in the Sick Society

The following photograph is one that I took at the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibition at the Cincinnati Museum Center in February 2013 with their permission to display it on a blog for personal use. This is a series of small idols which were found in the outlying towns of Israel and Judah during the time of the Old Testament prophets, and it corroborates their declarations about what was happening in their times. In their day it was literally a ‘build your own god’ movement out of wood, stone and clay, and their choices were for a Yahweh with the characteristics of a pagan god and only the name of the one true God. Or the idols show that they would make their preferences for one or more of the pagan gods around them who wasn’t as picky on matters of personal morality and integrity as the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

IMG_1954

The prevalence of idolatry in ancient Israel and Judah during the time of the Old Testament prophets is a factor which is often rightly mentioned in current preaching and teaching as the reason for the judgment of ancient Israel and Judah. This judgment of God culminated in the destruction by the Assyrians of the northern kingdom of Israel, centered in the city of Samaria, in 722 B.C.E., then in the destruction of Judah in two phases, in the judgment from the Assyrian emperor Sennacherib which destroyed the outlying cities and towns but which God stopped short of Jerusalem in 701 B.C.E., and then in the final destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians under their emperor Nebuchadnezzar in 586 B.C.E. And certainly idolatry was at the heart of God’s indictment against Israel and Judah during these years.

There was, though, another count in the indictment which often goes overlooked: the decline in personal honesty and trustworthiness and the pervasive cheating and deceit in business matters and personal matters among his people. These were indications of how far they had departed from the one true God, and their society became more and more sick as a consequence.

The prophet Micah saw the decay of devotion to God around him and the decay of his society, and spoke strongly to the people in his day about the consequences that would come because of it. He lived about seven hundred years before Christ, and he spoke to the people of Jerusalem, in the southern kingdom of Judah, which had become a house divided and a society at war with itself. The root was that they had neglected and then abandoned God. The consequence was that sins against God had infiltrated into all aspects of their lives, and this was defiling and destroying civil institutions and families. And to those in the midst of this situation, Micah gave them guidance on the need for godly wisdom that their circumstances made more necessary than ever. Their times were difficult, and growing more difficult, but the times were certainly not hopeless. The greatest reason for hope always remained, in the almighty, all loving and all wise God of Israel, the God of the Bible. So in all that they were experiencing as their society started to crumble around them, what was called for was not despair and despondency but rather a continued faith and a confident expectation of the mighty intervention of God himself.

These words of Micah still speak to us today, because we see the same kinds of conflict happening, and the same kinds of sins still infiltrating our society and causing decay and rot throughout. While many cast off restraints in their self centered definition of freedom, there is still the same hope in the God of the Bible for each one who has been born again of the Spirit of God through faith in God, and that means that there is always good reason to remain steadfast in faith in God. Even though scripture does indicate that society will become sicker to the point of terminal illness as the end approaches, there is still every reason to remain confident in God. This is the direction for the attitude and actions of the people of God in all ages, from the encouragement of the prophet of God to remain faithful to god, and from the personal declaration of the prophet himself of his own abiding faith and expectation in the God of the Bible.

“How much heartbreak is mine!
I am like someone gathering fruit in summer, like someone picking the last few grapes of this year’s vintage,
There are no grapes to eat, no early figs for the longings of my soul.
The people who were serious about God have been obliterated from the land, and there is no one left with a modicum of honesty.
Everyone left waits in murderous ambush, each one waits for his brother with a net. The highest bureaucrat expects favors,
The judge wants bribes, and the political bosses dictate their own whims,
They all make their little plots and schemes together. The best one among them is like a briar, the most honest one like a prickly hedge.
The day your watchmen predicted, the time of God’s judgment, has come, now is the time that they all get lost in their own confusion.
Do not put your trust in a neighbor, do not even trust someone that you may know well.
Even with the wife who is in your close embrace watch your words.
Because a son shows contempt for his father, and a daughter places herself above her mother
And a daughter in law places herself above her mother in law, and so a man’s enemies are the people in his own dwelling.
And so I am looking for the LORD, I am waiting for God my Savior!
My God will hear me!”

(Micah 7:1-7, Dale’s translation).

The people of God must live wisely in the midst of the sick society. Dissatisfaction with the circumstances can mean an honest lament over where things have deteriorated, but still there is wisdom from God available, even when there is disappointment and disillusionment with other people as we live our lives in the middle of the sick society. The people of God can look out upon all the deterioration and depravity and yet find that there is a path of wisdom from God for them in the midst of all that. The circumstances are heartbreaking, though, to the person who knows God.

The deterioration of society to become the sick society is one where even the institutions intended to restrain evil and wrongdoing become accessories to the performance of evil. Rampant sin means the perversion of justice in those offices which were intended to preserve justice. While there has always been some injustice in human society, something can happen where someone realizes that he or she is living in the sick society, and this realization breaks the heart when it comes. All that is left is a lament for civil society as it is. 

The prophet begins with a lament, about how it seems like all the good stuff is all used up and all the good times are gone, and that he is left with nothing around him that gives him hope:

 “How much heartbreak is mine!
I am like someone gathering fruit in summer, like someone picking the last few grapes of this year’s vintage,
There are no grapes to eat, no early figs for the longings of my soul.”

The prophet is feeling like everything good has been sucked out of life. His ministry began in the time of Jotham, one of the godly kings of Judah who reigned in Jerusalem as his capital city, continued during the long reign of Ahaz, who was one of the most ungodly and incompetent kings from the line of David to reign in Jerusalem, and concluded during the time of Hezekiah, who was one of the most godly kings from the line of David. He seems to lived and prophesied roughly about the same time as Isaiah, but may not have lived until the time of the invasion of the Assyrian king Sennacherib that Isaiah 36-39 describes, and which happened in 701 BCE. This description of his disappointment may reflect the realization that the good times for the kingdom which happened in the early years of Hezekiah were going to come to an end, that the restoration and revival which had come with Hezekiah would give way to the judgment on the outlying cities and towns of the nation of Judah.

This description is of his emotional reaction to the sin of his people and the coming judgment of his people. He expresses this with the traditional poetic form known as lament. Earlier he had begun this book of prophecy with a lament and the lament in this current passage is reminiscent of lament of 1:8-16. Though his lament was a traditional poetic form, it is nevertheless heartfelt, and with it the prophet shows the scriptural response to heartbreaking circumstances that he was seeing. In his own society he was seeing a sick defiance of God which was daring God to take action and do something. In fact he shows us that for a godly person, witnessing a decline in personal morality throughout one’s own society is something well worth mourning over, and it is something that is worth giving one’s own heart into grieving over the evils that must provoke the holy God of the Bible as well.

We always want the joy and happiness in life, but if we look at the world and our times with the lens of scripture, we may find great reasons for sadness and sorrow. That’s why there is such a strong current of lament in the Old Testament Psalms and prophets, and why you also see lament in the New Testament also. It’s the appropriate emotional and spiritual reaction when a godly person looks out and sees a decline in godliness around himself or herself. And certainly there will be times when churches and societies increase and decrease, prosper and decline, as time goes on. So the reaction of disappointment and grief to the decline and impending judgment of God is as appropriate to godly people as satisfaction, peace and joy when the gospel spreads, people come to Christ and the church is built up. Somewhere some people get the idea that following Christ means nothing but joy, peace and happiness and that there’s something wrong with us if we experience disappointment and grief in this world. But that’s looking for the cause in the wrong place often enough – for a godly person looking out at this world the disappointment and grief may well be the sign of something really right with himself or herself – the growth in personal holiness and being able to look out at this world with a focus based on and guided by the absolute holiness and righteousness of God himself.

”The people who were serious about God have been obliterated from the land, and there is no one left with a modicum of honesty.
Everyone left waits in murderous ambush, each one waits for his brother with a net.”

Micah lamented the loss of the people who were serious about God from those who were supposed to be the people of God. His contemporary Isaiah lamented the same thing (Isaiah 57:1-2 59:1-12 for the lament). They may have been thinking about the loss of faithful, believing Israelites such as Barzillai the Gileadite (II Samuel 17:27-29, 19:31-39). What they were seeing were that the generation which had remained faithful from the days of Jotham through the reign of Ahaz to the reign of Hezekiah were dying off, and the generation which had grown up during the reign of Ahaz were gaining ascendancy. They were seeing the generation which had known previous security was giving way to a much more self concerned, self seeking and rapacious generation – those who were the children by relation shared little of the faith of their fathers. While there will always be such individuals in families who do not follow the faith of their parents, the prophets of God realized that some kind of line had been crossed in Israel and Judah during their lifetimes. And soon the judgment of God fell upon Israel and Judah: first upon Israel in the days of Hezekiah, in 722 BCE, and then upon Judah through the Assyrians later in the reign of Hezekiah, in 701 BCE.

The tripwire for the coming judgment was given as the withering of personal morality and trustworthiness in comparison to the standards of God which were held up in the Word of God. The judgment would come not just for the rampant idolatry and the attendant sexual immorality which had grown in the past generation (the connection in the ancient world between idolatry and sexual immorality was well known throughout the Old and New Testaments). The judgment would come for the cheating lifestyle: the person who is trying to cheat God out of his due glory under the Word of God that “You shall have no other gods before me,” his family out of their due honor and loyalty under “You shall not commit adultery”, and fellow human beings out of due honesty and fairness under, “You shall not murder . . .  you shall not steal . . . you shall not bear false witness . . . you shall not covet.” It would not be too much to say that one of the greatest generations had become the cheating generation.

This is a common and pernicious delusion that can take hold of a person, a family, a generation, a nation: that God doesn’t care about my personal integrity. From this delusion even the people who may claim to know the holy and righteous God of the Bible may descend to taking unfair and immoral advantage of others and using others for one’s own benefit at their expense. Yet this does come from idea that a person can build your own God. The people of Israel and Judah had come to the point where they thought that they could building a God for their own tastes from bits of the God of the Bible and the pagan gods from the people around them. So they came up with a God who looks the other way and doesn’t care about sin – not a holy God who cares about the holiness of his people. And unfortunately, this has been the same delusion that has infected believers throughout the ages, from professed believers in the USA around the late 1800s and early 1900s, to the late 1960s to the late 1970s, and now since the past decade as well.

The prophet then went on to expose how the decline in personal morality among those who were to be the people of God in Israel and Judah was corrupting the institutions of civil justice. The corrupt ruling class would lead the way for the nations which were heading insanely into the judgment of God.

“The highest bureaucrat expects favors,
The judge wants bribes, and the political bosses dictate their own whims,
They all make their little plots and schemes together. The best one among them is like a briar, the most honest one like a prickly hedge.
The day your watchmen predicted, the time of God’s judgment, has come, now is the time that they all get lost in their own confusion.”

Micah was describing what was happening with corrupt ruling class over the people of God and how they were daring the judgment of God. Isaiah also decried this, and and spoke about the coming time of judgment from God (1:23, 10:1-4). Micah’s words echo of his more graphic indictment of the predatory leaders earlier in his prophecies, in 3:1-12.

“And he says,
“’Hear now, you leaders of Jacob, and you judges of the house of Israel,
isn’t it proper for you to know justice,
you who hate what is good and love what is evil?’
. . .
‘Hear this, heads of the house of Jacob and judges of the house of Israel,
who detest justice and pervert all that is right,
who build Zion with bloodshed and Jerusalem with injustice?
Her leaders render judgments for a bribe, and her priests pontificate for profit,
her prophets read tea leaves for money.
Yet they still rely on the LORD as they say,
‘Isn’t the LORD in our midst? Nothing bad will come upon us.’””

(Micah 3: 1-2, 9-11, Dale’s translation)

The ruling class of ancient Israel and Judah, the corrupt officials whom Micah and Isaiah addressed, did not have just a secular responsibility to the nation. While in the Old Testament there is some sense of the consent of the governed, but also the ultimate responsibility of the government and the ruling class in particular was their responsibility to God and the Word of God. In the most real sense the only true theocracy the world has ever seen as was ancient Israel, especially under the godly kings, and the times of godliness were the times that the nation looked back to as the golden ages, especially the times of David and Solomon. What happened was their sense of responsibility to God and their people gave way to a cynical ‘What’s In It For Me?’ mentality, where doing anything at all in connection with their responsibilities for honesty, fairness, justice and mercy under the Law of God gave way to not doing anything except what was in their own personal advantage. But the judgment of God would come upon them, and the mark of the judgment would be their own cluelessness and their own confusion as things started to turn against them.

This abuse of human institutions meant to protect the weaker from the stronger came through the disappearance of godly and honest people from the ruling class as it became more and more corrupt. Those who were in the place of judgment and enforcement of justice themselves were falling into the deceit and greed of the society as a whole, of the society which had neglected, disregarded and disdained the God of the Bible. The corrupt ruling class were using their positions for the pursuit of personal gain and cashing in, and as such were a bitter disappointment to those who were still around who still trusted and followed the God of the Bible.

The injustice in the sick society is very much the responsibility of those in authority, of the corrupt ruling class: the responsibilities of the office are discharged no better than the personal morality of the officeholder. Too often men and women even within the people who claim to know and follow the God of the Bible have shown far too little concern over the moral convictions and personal morality of public officials, whether those officials were elected or appointed. Yet the personal moral compass of those officials has a great bearing on whether the execution of the office becomes the enforcement of genuine Biblical justice and mercy in line with the God of the Bible or the enforcement of the whims, pipe dreams, folly and immorality of others. Yet compare the reason why Governeur Morris encouraged George Washington to become accept the presidency of the United States during its infancy: “The exercise of authority depends upon personal character. Your cool, steady temper is indispensably necessary to give firm and manly tone to the new government.”

This shows very much the corrupting power of sin. Sin can turn the people in the institutions, both religious and secular, intended by God to restrain sin, into the weapons of its own warfare. And this infection of sin in the cheating generation can weaponize the civil and even the religious leaders and institutions to speak and act contrary to the righteousness and holiness of the God they claim to serve. So then, even within the professing church of Jesus Christ, within the vocational ministry and denominational hierarchy, the infiltration of this subtle idolatry, to make the generation following a faithful generation the cheating generation, can defile the ministry of church leaders. This same kind of ‘What’s In It For Me?’ mentality can infect the church as an institution as well within the vocational ministry and a denominational hierarchy. And the cheating infects the professing church as well when its leaders start to follow the idolatries and follies of the cheating generation. And the decline begins as the presence of the holy and righteous God begins to withdraw from ministries, churches and denominations which once reflected his character and experienced his power to save to the uttermost.

This shows, then, another pernicious delusion that often takes hold of those who seek and attain political power: that God doesn’t care about how I deal with others in the conduct of my civic responsibilities. It is the delusion that my personal morality and integrity in the execution of my office do not matter before God. The ruling elite becomes influenced by the behavior of others in the ruling elite – they can see others of the cheating generation doing what God has condemned, and they then eagerly follow them to make sure that they get their own pieces of the pie. And indeed so many times this abuse of political power for personal gain becomes rampant simply because  those in power and part of the ruling elite see others ‘getting away with it’ and they simply want to do what they can to get their part of the undisclosed benefits. Giving and receiving bribes and working to keep on funneling benefits to myself and my family at the expense of others becomes a normal way of life among the ruling elites.

So this build your own God mentality  can come up with a God who looks the other way and who does not care about the integrity and justice of those who pursue and receive political power. It can change within one generation, when a faithful generation gives way to the cheating generation. But this politics for personal profit will ultimately be exposed, according to the words of Jesus himself in Luke 12:2: “For there is nothing which has been concealed which will not be brought out into the open, and hidden which shall not become known.”

But this is not the whole story yet — the prophet of God then went to describe how deeply the decline in personal morality was infecting the family of the cheating generation. What was happening was horrible betrayals, with family members ratting out each other, so that no one could ever be certain of the loyalty even of a spouse. In the sick society, even family and friends are of little or no support. When the loss of truthfulness and integrity penetrates a nation and a generation, it means the loss of trustworthiness, and so within the family itself there is rampant betrayal and conflict.

“Do not put your trust in a neighbor, do not even trust someone that you may know well.
Even with the wife who is in your close embrace watch your words.
Because a son shows contempt for his father, and a daughter places herself above her mother
And a daughter in law places herself above her mother in law, and so a man’s enemies are the people in his own dwelling.”

The infiltration of the trend of society into the family circle makes the family a prime area of conflict in the cheating generation. Where there should rather have been mutual love and respect, disrespect and conflict are rampant among the cheating generation. What the prophet is describing is role reversal –  where personal arrogance results in contempt and disdain for family members and ultimately the betrayal of family members. And as far as what would be expected to be normal and praiseworthy behavior – go to the book of Ruth and contrast the humility and respect of Ruth for  her mother in law Naomi with the behavior that the prophet describes here.

Yet there would be betrayal rather than support for family members among the depredations of the cheating generation against their neighbors, even to their closest earthly neighbors. Even more, the repeating pattern of deceit and aggression among the cheating generation means that family life itself becomes a bitter disappointment. The moral that the prophet drew was that even among one’s own family members the person who seeks to follow the God of the Bible must watch his or her words and be careful of what he or she says. Thus the godly person must watch his or her back even while he or she is standing for God in the middle of the cheating generation. It is a situation where love and fidelity are sacrificed, and anything you say can and will be used against you.

So this highlights another pernicious delusion that can come from the build your own God mentality: that God doesn’t care about my loyalty to my family members and how I treat them. I can still pursue my dreams and fantasies of plenty and power and personal glory despite what it means to my family members, my closest neighbors in this world. In fact, this drive to plenty and power and personal glory often builds greater disruption and conflict within families as ambitious and ruthless family members build unholy and unrighteous internal alliances for and against other family members with those who are outside the family circle. Instead of mutual love and respect within the family, having to deal with the repeated pattern of deceit and aggression means that family life itself, intended from the beginning by God to be a blessing, a source of enjoyment and happiness, becomes instead bitter disappointment and disillusionment.

And where there is lukewarm devotion to God at best among so many with only a vague kind of religiosity – the result seen in the past hundred years in the United States and the result of liberal theology that compromises and explains away Biblical truth and dead orthodoxy which fails to live out Biblical truth – it is no wonder that the restraining influence of the church of Jesus Christ wanes. Then the infiltration of tolerated and indulged sins into the family, the increase of material good without devotion to God, gives way to an onslaught of social evils. The children may only have the bad example of the mistakes, follies and sins of lukewarm parents, and they may fall into drugs, out of wedlock pregnancy, idleness and unemployment and despair and suicide. But the responsibility of each one before God remains, and he is there and he is not silent.

So the people of God who are standing for God in this situation find may this to be the way of wisdom with untrustworthy family members. They need to be extremely careful with what they say. The situation calls for guarded and carefully weighed words – to tell the truth but not necessarily full disclosure – as the shrewdness necessary for someone who has to watch his or her back in one’s own household. And even more, this is also noteworthy as one of the problems of a church that has probably grown too large, or a church which is declining, is that professed believers become untrustworthy as well among themselves. They fall into the habits and practice a lot of petty backstabbing and backbiting, sometimes with vicious little bits of second hand gossip that are decades old. But this becomes necessary in the wake of the build your own God mentality – it calls for extreme caution in dealing with those who can come up with a God who does not care if they bear false witness against and betray the members of one’s own family.

This, then, is also something especially that believers in Jesus Christ need to note. Jesus himself, during his earthly ministry as Prophet and Teacher, referred to these same verses and said that they would continue to be characteristic of times of persecution for his church afterwards:

“Do not think that I came to push peace upon the earth; I came not to push peace but a sword, because I came to divide a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother and the bride against her mother in law, and a man’s enemies will be those of his own household. The person who loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and the person who love son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me,  and whoever does not pick up his or her cross and follow after me is not worthy of me. The person who finds his life will end up losing it, and the person who loses his life for me will find it” (Matthew 10:34-39).

During the times of the sick society and the cheating generation, there is still one thing left for the person who knows, trust and follows the God of the Bible. Despite the moral insanity of the sick society and the cheating generation, God himself remains an unchangeable and unshakeable source of security. No matter what, continuing in trust and confidence in God will always be appropriate. Only through God can discouragement, despondency and hopelessness be turned to hope, trust and confidence.

The faith that is secure in God looks forward to his intervention in the sick society. The people who follow the God of the Bible can then live with confidence in his wisdom, power, compassion and justice, and they can live with the realization that however bad the situation is and however bad it may become, God is greater than that situation, and he is never at a loss.

The prophet himself held up a lantern of the kind of faith in God that the situation was calling for:

”And so I am looking for the LORD, I am waiting for God my Savior! **
My God will hear me!”

The prophet showed the people of God to look to their God beyond all the circumstances and to wait for his solution, for his salvation in the midst of the sick society. He showed them to look to God, that whatever the wrong being done in the present, that God will judge and overrule that evil. Moreover, that time of waiting will also be the time of God’s patience in offering his mercy and the opportunity for repentance before he imposes his justice upon the unrepentant. The man or woman of God in these circumstances will then imitate the patience of God as he or she waits upon God, with the expectation that God’s wisdom will mean perfect timing for the time that he intervenes in the world that he created, which he rules and for which he takes the ultimate responsibility that justice will be served.

Note that the prophet had no schemes or resources for any changes in himself that he could do for the reformation of the sick society. The situation was so beyond the prophet and the people who followed the God of the Bible that all that they could look for was his solution to the sick society. So the prophet went on with the assurance that his prayers would make a difference since he was going to the God who would make the difference. He could say with confidence, “My God will hear me!”

As the sick society starts to unravel and disintegrate at the fringes and within, the way of the people of God has always been to trust in God and to seek him earnestly and diligently in prayer. No matter how difficult the times become, there is always an immovable basis of security in our God. He is the true and living God, the Almighty and the Eternal, who never changes. So then, he is our source of our confidence and security when we have been placed in the midst of the sick society. And the way of the godly then is to take refuge in prayer, to give full confidence to God in all the troubles of the current times. They turn to the one true God, the God of Israel, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, since he will not betray or disappoint.

And this turning to the God of the Bible will mean turning away from the gods that we try to imagine out for ourselves. The statement of confident faith of the prophet exposes the problem with the ‘Build Your Own God’ mentality: the gods we build out of our own preferences and imagination can’t hear us. They aren’t real and cannot answer us. They bring out God’s continuous taunt to those who try to build their own gods: go ahead and cry out to them and see if they can save you. And those who try to build their own gods find out quite quickly that made up gods cannot save them in the time of trouble.

But the person who turns to the God of the Bible will quickly find that he is not like our imaginary gods at all. That person will find that the God of the Bible is quite willing to be called, “My God” by the people who give themselves entirely to him and seek to live in harmony with him throughout their lives. They will know that know that his presence gives the incentive to pray and the assurance of answered prayer, as they live with him and they grow closer to him in intimacy, love and trust. They will know that the God of the Bible is a God who genuinely hears the prayers of his people, and who trust that, “My God will hear me!” when they pray to him. They will know that there is no deficiency in his ability to intervene in our world and in our lives and in his willingness to hear and answer prayer. All that he was waiting for was the simplicity of faith that trusts him wholeheartedly, to receive his answers for our lives and our world. And this will then mean actual prayer to God who hears, in response to his many invitations to pray. It will mean that our prayers are not vague expressions of hope but the actual expression of our genuine faith and reliance on what God can do and is willing to do and will do. As A. C. Dixon once said, “When we rely upon organization, we get what organization can do; when we rely upon education, we get what education can do; when we rely upon eloquence, we get what eloquence can do; and so on. But when we rely upon prayer, we get what God can do.”

So the times of disintegration in the sick society are the times which simply call for continued confidence in God. Because of the eternal, almighty and faithful God, there is never a reason to give up any hope when we look out at the situation we see in our world. When we experience bitterness and disappointment because of what we see around us, it rather calls us to seek his intervention in our lives and in our world. The need is to continue to  be in prayer to the God who truly hears and answers prayer. No matter how difficult the times become, there is always an immovable source of security in our God. He is the true and living God, the Almighty, the Eternal, who never changes. Therefore he is the source of our confidence and security, and he becomes the one to whom we turn as well to change the sick society around us.

Then let us continue to pray to our God for a revival in our churches, that our generation and the generations to come may come to a full experience of God the Savior through his Son Jesus Christ. Let us ask for the transformation of our sick society through the mighty working of the Holy Spirit, first among the believers in our churches, and then among those who have not received his salvation in our society. Let us have that reliance upon God for his work of conviction, of cleansing and of reconciliation between God and man. Let us seek for the revival of the love of Christ among us to where we see the reconciliation and restoration of families. There are known cases of people who prayed for thirty and forty years for revival, and God did answer them and brought transformation. I would hope that we would not have to wait that long, but still we can persevere with the assurance that our God will hear us.

The God of the Bible remains the same despite whatever happens in the society around us. Thus his people can remain confident in him no matter what occurs, because he is faithful and mightier than every situation. And this calls us in our day, in our sick society, to continue to in faith and prayer in our day, to wait upon God because God will hear us.

So remain in prayer, and in the way of faith in God in the midst of the sick society. Continue to look for change to happen, from the God who know and changes the human heart, hardened and sick as it may be and as it may become in the sick society. Look for his revival and spiritual awakening to come upon our sick society.

And finally, each one of you, make certain that you have taken the most urgent and necessary step to place your deepest confidence and ultimate security in God alone. I mean make certain of your own eternal salvation before God  through Jesus Christ. Enter the reconciled fellowship with him through repenting of your sins and placing your faith in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior now and for all eternity. Make certain that you can stand before God not because of anything that you have done but solely and entirely upon the death of Christ upon the cross for you, for your own eternal salvation. The security in God for all eternity is for those who have been reconciled to him through Jesus Christ. If you don’t know how to do this, simply take every word I have written in this paragraph and address it back to God in prayer, that that is what you want from him – eternal pardon and acceptance with him through faith in Jesus Christ alone – and state to him that you are now, at this very moment, repenting of all your sins and placing your trust in Jesus Christ alone for your eternal salvation.

Advertisements

Expediency or Obedience?

There’s a remarkable passage in Stephen Charnock’s The Existence and Attributes of God which speaks to a lot that is expressed in our preaching and teaching today:

“If it be agreeable to God’s will and convenient for some design of our own, and we do anything only with a respect to that design, we make not God’s holiness discovered in the law our rule, but our own conveniency: it is not a conformity to God, but a conformity of our actions to self. As in abstinence from intemperate courses, not because the holiness of God in his law prescribed it, but because the health of our bodies, or some noble contentments of life, require it; then it is not God’s holiness that is our rule, but our own security, conveniency or something else which we make a God to ourselves.”

It troubles me that in so much preaching and teaching that something may be declared as the command of God from his Word, and cited chapter and verse, but it seems that so many are unmoved until the preacher or teacher brings out some quote from some other supposed authority such as a medical doctor, psychologist or psychiatrist, and cites some statistics that people who live contrary to the declared will of God end up unhealthy or unhappy in their marriages or jobs or friendships or even unpopular. Just note when the heads turn and people pay attention: is it when the Word of God is cited or the advice and statistics of the physician or psychologist? (And how much displeasure, bitterness and resentment with others happens in marriages, families, friendships and church fellowships not because someone is disobedient to the clear teaching of the Word of God, but not living up to some expectations fostered by some outside authority upon grounds which come down to the personal expediency of the aggrieved party?)

For the person who has come to faith in Jesus Christ, who is the authority, the Holy Spirit speaking through the Word of God, or the medical doctor or psychologist? And what is the goal, our own being happy and well adjusted in this world, or to be reflections of the holiness of God by the power of the Holy Spirit?

“As obedient children, do not conform yourselves to the desires that you had previously in your ignorance, but as the One who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your behavior, just as it is written, ‘Holy you are to be, because I am holy.’” (I Peter 1:15-16).

Something Unfashionable From an Unfashionable Old Evangelist . . .

“Listen, if I heard shrieks and cries coming from a house and I ran in there and I found a great big broad shouldered whiskey soaked Joe weasel, dragging his wife about by the hair, and over here, two children are unconscious from his blows and kicks and another one screaming in terror, do you think I would apologize for being there? No! I’d knock 7 kinds of pork out of that old hog.” —Billy Sunday

I recalled having read this quote many years ago, and it brought to mind that the memory that verbal and physical abuse of others was at one time more soundly confronted in the pulpits of churches and in evangelistic campaigns as a terrible sin. Certainly Billy Sunday is more a figure of caricature to the few believers nowadays who remember his name; his blunt preaching and physical dramatics tend to be the kind of thing that many preachers now may try to avoid. His personal war on alcohol seems quaint nowadays, but in context, it was also a war on family violence and verbal abuse as well. There’s also a well documented connection of family violence and abuse to alcohol abuse and alcoholism  in modern times, so Billy Sunday wasn’t all wrong in what he was seeing and what he was confronting, however unfashionable his style and emphasis may be now.

I’m not a prohibitionist on drinking alcohol, and I’m not advocating a return to  prohibitionist preaching or preaching on total abstinence. I’m totally unconvinced by the linguistic and historical arguments of some that wine in the Bible was actually grape juice. Rather, I’m showing that the avoidance of one unfashionable and probably unBiblical emphasis in preaching may have also meant neglecting another very Biblical emphasis in preaching for a very long time.

Marriageability, Not Foolish Fixups

In a previous post I dealt with Foolish Fixups and in another I mentioned marriageability in the context of Achieving Adulthood for Adultescents. My personal experience is that those who attempt Foolish Fixups never consider what the scripture teaches about marriage. Moreover, churches as a whole do not take sufficient time in preaching and teaching to prepare adolescents, post adolescents and single adults for a godly Christian marriage. It always seemed to me that there was more on dating, which relied on the experience of the married couple doing the teaching. It also seemed to me that there’s this strange obsession to keep single adults from kissing before either engagement or marriage.

Very often, I’ve found that older, married Christian women seem to be very obsessive about fixing up single adults. To be fair,  though I’ve met pastors who are just as determined in this obsession – but I’ll deal with that later. As far these women, there is a ministry which the Bible explicitly sets out for them in regard to the younger women in the congregation. In regard to adolescent girls and single adult women, it’s reasonable to apply this passage as giving them responsibility for the marriageability of the younger women in the church, since the character qualities they are to teach deal primarily with marriage and family. It’s my belief that Christian men would take the initiative more and pursue Christian women who were schooled by this scripture, and foolish and obsessive fixups would recede into obscurity.

“Likewise, teach the older women to be reverent in the way that they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good. Then they can train the younger women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God” (Titus 2:3-5).

Here are some ways that I can see this working out in practice and the problems that I’ve seen in the church that happen when this passage is not being followed.

  • Teaching by word and example how to avoid being slanderous.

    One of the immediate disqualifications that I’ve had in my own dating life for assessing marriageability of a potential partner is finding out that a woman is vindictive and slanderous. I’ve known professed Christian women who slander the men that they are or were dating to others, sometimes even to those who may be influential in the spiritual or professional life of the man they are or were dating, when they are going through difficulties or after a breakup. I’ve known others who acted flirtatious to the face of single Christian men but were slandering them behind their backs. And the tragedy is that there were older Christian women in their lives who could have corrected them and stopped this vindictive slander. And there is little doubt in my mind that married Christian women who slander their husbands behind their backs and others throughout their lives learned that habit much earlier, perhaps even from older Christian women who knew better.

  • Teaching by word and example how to live and grow without addictive behaviors and outside and beyond the secular social culture and party culture.

    In an earlier post on the life and death of Jessie Davis, I wondered how a young woman who had been part of an evangelical church could have become involved in such a downward spiral in her life. It seemed to have started with getting involved in the party culture when she left for college. Since the older women were themselves to be examples of reverence and sobriety, it looks like she never received this kind of guidance and example. I wonder how many of the older women in our churches teach and show how to live in reverence and sobriety.

  • Teaching by word and example how to act lovingly toward a husband and children.

    One of the fallacies that some Christian leaders perpetuate sometimes is that the Bible never teaches a woman to love her husband and children, but assumes that it will come naturally. Not true! It teaches that exact thing right here. In fact, one of the signs of last days godlessness is that people will be ‘without natural affection’ (II Timothy 3:3 – the true meaning of the word that is translated ‘without love’ in the New International Version). It’s reasonable to assume that a young woman or single adult woman who grows up in the atmosphere of II Timothy 3:1-5 will need instruction in this area.

    I think that one part of this teaching by word and example will be also how to avoid putting a career, a job or even a ministry in the church or a sense of missionary calling ahead of the responsibility to love the husband and children if a woman takes on marriage and family responsibilities. My own thought is that that this can be a huge, unstated obstacle as to why many single Christian women in ministry and missionary positions do not find husbands; they have lived and acted so independently in the pursuit of their ministry in the church or missionary service that they do not prepare themselves for genuine partnership in marriage and parenthood. They have lived by themselves and tried to do it all by themselves for so long that a husband would find himself subordinate to and less significant than his wife’s pursuit of a ministry in the church or missionary service. In fact, in their single lives, they have made the blunder that many male pastors have made over the years, in making the ministry in the church or missionary service a higher priority than spouse and family.

  • Teaching self control and purity by word and example.

    I’ve often been appalled how much Christian women try to manipulate Christian men with flirtatiousness, even single women with single men with whom they intend no long range dating and marital prospects. It’s also unbelievable how much some married Christian women will try to interfere in the life of a single adult man where the Bible gives them no authority and they demonstrate no wisdom. In addition, this command of purity and self control needs to be contrasted with the many Christian women who are slaves to secular soap operas and romantic novels.

  • Teaching diligent homemaking by word and example.

    During my years in seminary, I noticed how many Christian women who were hoping to be married and serve as married women had few skills in cooking and cleaning. Even if these responsibilities were to be share strictly 50-50 in their prospective home, they still did not have the skills and experience to be competent, let alone excel, in fulfilling their own responsibilities in the home. (Note that most church kitchens are unused for most of the week and often during normal church hours. Why are they being used more to teach some of these life skills in addition to the Bible teaching available in the church?)

  • Teaching kindness by word and example.

    The Bible also says, “A kindhearted woman gains respect . . .” (Proverbs 11:16). I’ve noticed a tremendous absence of this quality often in Christian women who want and crave respect and significance. Pursue kindness and compassion with wisdom, and see if you find what your looking for on that path.

  • Teaching by word and example how to follow the godly leadership of a godly husband.

    I cannot see how an older married or widowed woman that encourages a younger woman to go aggressively after single men or conspires in a fixup scheme with a single adult woman is doing anything that encourages this quality. It seems to me that what is being taught is that a woman needs to trick, trap and manipulate a man into a Christian marriage. More than once I’ve felt that these schemes are being hatched by the wife of a henpecked husband, and that she was seeking for me to become the henpecked husband of her single adult woman friend. Moreover, these tactics seem to sabotage a man’s desire and responsibility to take the initiative to pursue a woman whom he finds desirable and marriageable.

All scripture references taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION, copyright 1973, 1978 by the International Bible Society and used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.

Notes on Achieving Adulthood for Adultescents

When I was growing up, it seemed like the demarcation between adulthood – maturity—and adolescence and childhood was clear. College students were almost adults, and they tried to act like they were adults. Even high school seniors and juniors tried to dress, act and look like adults. Adolescence was a state to be left behind as a person became an adult. That goal seemed to recede into the past in our culture over the past generation, and it has been noted by such people as Diana West and Jean Twenge.

Some time ago I put some notes together on in my personal notebook on achieving adulthood, based upon some of my experience with the young adults I’ve dealt with at work. I don’t have any specific scriptures associated with them, although many of them could be derived from the scriptures. But much of what I’ve written is more in the way of good advice, and if I understand Colossians 3:16-17 and the book of Proverbs correctly, it’s possible for us to share wisdom graciously, as long as we know that the Word of God comes first and foremost.

Here are the kinds of things that I put down for things that need to be learned besides vocational skills and a vocational choice. I wasn’t seeing much of them in some of the young adults that I saw at work. I don’t think that this is just my own post-50 crankiness; I’ve read that adolescent irresponsibility is now becoming characteristic of young men and women well into their late 20’s. It’s being called Adultescence now, and I’m seeing these things even in some who are passing 30.

  • Learn to live and partner with another adult, to pursue common goals and activities. This should be a roommate or close relative rather than a romantic interest or another person of the opposite sex.
  • If long-term romantic relationships and marriage are part of your long-term desires and goals, learn to understand the opposite sex outside romantic situations. Observe the common and uncommon habits and characteristics of your friends and relatives of the opposite sex in your daily life, so that you can get some understanding before a romantic haze hits.
  • Learn some basics on cooking and food preparation, simply as preparation for being able to run one’s own household. Learn also how to clean and take care of your home, starting with your first dorm room and apartment.
  • Learn how to handle money by following a budget, paying your bills on time, finding appropriate insurance and long term investments and retirement savings, looking for bargains and working and saving ahead for major purchases.
  • Learn how to take care of your own health by diet and exercise, scheduling physical checkups and dental checkups, and following the advice of your physician and dentist.
  • Learn how to dress appropriately for a professional setting and follow daily hygiene. This would include being comfortable in a suit and tie for a man, and the corresponding business formal attire for a woman.
  • Learn how to improve your vocational situation by deepening and broadening your skills and experience with people and with your areas of competence; achieve promotions by deserving the promotion.
  • Learn respect for others, and how to work with those who are different from you.
  • Learn respect for the property of others also. Don’t damage or destroy what is not yours intentionally or through negligence. If you do damage something which isn’t yours, attempt to provide compensation. If you borrow something, remember to return it, and return it in the same condition or better than when you borrowed it.
  • Learn respect for the privacy of others. The heartbreaks and embarrassments of others are matters for compassion and confidentiality, and are not necessarily things that you need to know.
  • Learn respect for the time and schedules of others, by punctuality and sending regrets and cancellations if unable to keep an appointment.
  • Learn respect for the feelings of others, by avoiding unfair fighting, lashing out at trivial offenses or rudely refusing mild suggestions.
  • Learn respect for the convictions and opinions of others even where you disagree. A difference of opinion is not a reason to begin a relentless battle of wills, and scorning, baiting, ridiculing and browbeating someone with whom you disagree does not lend credibility or any weight of persuasion to your position, but the opposite.
  • Learn how to broaden your interests and understanding by asking questions, being willing to learn new things, and being willing to continue to try again if you meet with any kind of initial failures.

It’s possible that these are lessons that some of us had to learn later in life, since since young college educated adults may seem to think to have a corner on the intellectual answers, that they don’t get the answers that they need in practical things of daily life.

In a previous post I dealt with the obsessive focus on Foolish Fixups among many in the church. There’s more that I’m going to write on the subject, but what I’ve put down here deals with factors that influence what the leaders and people in the church rarely focus on when dealing with their own adolescent and post adolescent children, and single adults in the church: marriageability. Those with foolish fixup obsessions usually never consider working with them to make wise decisions on their own and to prepare themselves for a growing and lifelong marriage. Rather, they seem rather to care more about trying to make a life changing decision for someone else whom they may know superficially. The real need might rather be to some conversations with some wise, confidential advice, counsel and correction about getting beyond adultescence into adulthood, and achieving marriageability (which is a desirable state even for someone who feels called to lifelong singleness).

Foolish Fixups

Updated!
 
About two decades ago I left the grounds of the Christian camp where I was, as a pastor, required to put in my week of service (Russian katorga). I went off to lunch by myself in the middle of the week. The reason that I left was because at every meal since I had arrived someone was trying to fix me up with some single woman that that person knew somewhere. Yes, I was single at the time, and have remained so. The constant fixup attempts in every conversation became unbearable, and no one seemed to be interested in anything else.
 
One of the biggest obstacles to single people — the never married, divorced and widowed — becoming involved in the mainstream of church life is this horrible tendency of some in the church to try to fix up any single man or woman that they might happen to meet with any other single person of the opposite sex that they might happen to know. This, and the habit of isolating singles off in their own little groups, are what I would say are the reasons that many single people find churches difficult to attend and become involved with.
 
Here are the reasons why I find this habit foolish.
 
  • It is an attempt to play God in the life of another believer. The Bible says, ‘ . . . a prudent wife is from the LORD’ (Proverbs 19:4; see also 18:24, Isaiah 55:8-9).
  • These fixups are often attempted with utter indifference to the expressed wishes and desires of those who are the objects of the fixups.
  • The marriages of those attempting the fixup are often not very stable nor appealing on scriptural grounds.
  • The fixups are often attempted with utter disregard for differences in age, spiritual maturity, vocation, and education that would obviously make a long and stable marriage extremely improbable. Sometimes this is even utter disregard for the matter of personal salvation, where one of those in the attempted fixup is not even a believer in Christ.
  • Sometimes the fixups are attempted with utter disregard for the actual issues in the life of one or both people involved in the fixup. For instance, I have consistently refused dating and long term relationships with women who have problems with obesity. It is not out of a desire to humiliate them, since I have rather sought to treat them as sisters in Christ. Rather, it is because I do not find obesity attractive, and, as a gym rat myself, I have sought to keep myself physically fit and healthy for many years now. Dating relationships are not fixes for obesity, vocational instability, addictions, or personal immaturity, but rather these issues need to be addressed as preparation before a stable dating relationship and possible Christian marriage.
  • Often the person attempting the fixup becomes obsessed with the outcome, and tries either to force or manipulate a relationship where neither party really wants one. The pride and self justification of the person doing the fixup becomes involved with trying to force an unwanted and unscriptural outcome in the life of other adults, without the wisdom nor the authority to do so.
  • Sometimes this behavior seems also to be characteristic of those attempting to enhance their own reputation, and this is evident where those attempting the fixup talk about it with others in social situations.
  • There is almost no relationship with the person doing the fixup, or whatever there is is extremely shallow and superficial. The person attempting the fixup usually knows almost nothing about me first hand, and has never attempted to build a relationship over a period of time to attempt to get to know me well. This person never knows much about my spiritual history, my dating history, my goals for the future, and so on.
  • Extremely immature behavior, most comparable to those in their early teens, often comes from the person attempting the fixup, such as girlish giggling or smarmy smirks.
  • Sometimes refusal of a fixup even results in disgraceful, vindictive slander. For instance, in two of the three times in which professing Christians have slandered me as being a homosexual, it came after I refused that person’s attempted interference in my dating life. (Homosexuality has never even been a serious temptation to me.)
  • I’ve often found that the most determined people who attempt fixups are those who were married shortly after high school and who cannot imagine that adulthood, maturity and singleness can coexist in the same person. I can only wonder what these will say to Jesus when they meet face to face.

I cannot believe that this kind of behavior can be excused as springing from love, since love is not proud, does not act inappropriately and is not self seeking (I Corinthians 13:4-5). Because of this, my own personal policy is that I do not accept attempts at dating fixups, and I strongly refuse anyone who persists once I have made my wishes known. Unfortunately this still does not stop some extremely devious and stubborn people, and they will attempt an ‘end around’ around this refusal. This policy, though, is not open to negotiation.

I have heard some accounts from fellow believers on some fixup attempts that did succeed. Those who attempt the obsessive kinds of fixups which I have just described almost never follow even one of the common factors for success. Here are the common factors that I’ve noted in their stories.

  • The person attempting the fixup usually has usually come to know both parties well over a long period of time. He or she knows the spiritual history, dating history, and goals and desires for the future of both parties. There’s a genuine relationship of deep Christian love already in place.
  • The person attempting the fixup usually speaks to the man first, and allows him to call the woman, make the introduction, seek a safe first acquaintance date for lunch or a cup of coffee, etc.
  • The person attempting the fixup does not let his or her ego or reputation become involved with the outcome; there is no obsession with ‘getting those two together.’ If the two parties do not hit it off, it is not a personal defeat or a black mark against the reputation of the person who made the fixup. Moreover, the relationship that this person built with both parties continues as before despite the relationship not blossoming into marriage.
  • Finally, you never hear about the fixup except from the one or both of the two people who have found the fixup to be successful. The person who attempted the fixup does not boast about it or talk about it to others.

In other words, the person attempting the fixup in this case is acting much more in tune with Christian maturity, wisdom and scriptural love. The fixup was not the priority. Following Christ and mature, respectful consideration for the single brother in Christ and the single sister in Christ were the priorities.

All scripture references taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION, copyright 1973, 1978 by the International Bible Society and used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.

Reflections on Jessie Davis’ Life and Death

It’s been a little over two years since Jessie Davis’s murder. The news of her murder went nationally here in the USA and
also, I believe, internationally. This blog entry (Jessie Davis’ murder – One year later) appeared in the print edition of the local newspaper, and there’s also a link to the local coverage of the murder at the time.

Though I’ve never met any of those involved, this murder interested me for several reasons. First, the place where her body was found was in an area which was familiar to me — it was near a road where I regularly commuted some years ago. There are also two Boy Scout camps nearby (one of which was where my parents met when they were on staff), and I was afraid when I first saw the aerial shots of the area on the first news reports that her body may have been found by a group of hiking Boy Scouts — thankfully, it wasn’t. Second, the pastor of the church where that her family attended she grew up has been a family friend for about 35 years.

According to the accounts of Jessie Davis’s life, she had a number of dreams when she was in high school that never materialized. She seems to have had a dream of being a missionary nurse, and went to college with that dream. But what happened? Apparently she got caught up in the party culture when she went to Kent State University, and her life became a downward spiral from there. How did she so easily and so quickly become a party girl?

As I’ve looked at the accounts of her life, and have shaken my head in wonder at the dreams that she had but apparently never learned how to set and attain goals in her life so that at least some of her dreams could have become reality. I’ve also wondered how she could have become involved with an abusive, exploitative loser like Bobby Cutts. I wonder if anyone ever told her anything to the effect that her heart is something too precious to be given away too easily and to the wrong person.