Thursday, February 23, 2017

Abraham's Prayer (Genesis 18)

Chapters 18 and 19 of Genesis are strange and hard to read on multiple levels. Like many things in the book, they cause us to wonder and ask questions, many of which are not answered. Why does God appear to Abraham in person, simply to tell him what He had already told him in the last chapter? Or, if that is not the main purpose of the visit, why does He tell Abraham His plans for Sodom if Abraham will not change anything? Where were Sodom and Gomorrah? How exactly were they destroyed? Why were they destroyed, when so many other cultures have been as bad or worse since then? Why did Lot persist in living there if things had gotten so bad? What was his wife so attached to that she would turn back to such a double horror? The questions go on and on.

The second question above that is the only one that we should focus on; but answers may still be hard to find.

The story seems to tell us that God was on His way to judge the evil of the cities and “happened” to pass by Abraham. Abraham has to ask them to stop. It is then, around a meal, that God mentions the prophecy He had already revealed to Abraham. This time around Sarah hears it. But it is after dinner, once the angels of judgement are already on their way, that God informs Abraham of His plans. His reasons for doing so are interesting:

“…since Abraham will surely become a great nation, and in him all the nations of the earth will be blessed? For I have chosen him, so that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the YHWH by doing righteousness and justice, so that the YHWH may bring upon Abraham what He has spoken about him.”

God seems to have a dual purpose in revealing His plans to Abraham.

First, we see that God wants to impress upon Abraham the seriousness of sin against God’s holiness. God cannot abide the sin in His creation. In Sodom and Gomorrah’s case, the sin has reached a level of crisis. God is preparing to closely examine the people there, and see if the level is as dire as the “outcry” indicates. In Abraham’s story—the story of Scripture—we see that God is on mission to redeem creation from humanity’s sin; but we are also reminded that God’s justice is complete. We will come again and again to this lesson, God is merciful and gracious, but He will always remain just and will not tolerate sin. (See also 15:16 as it relates to the taking of the Promised Land in Judges.) God wants Abraham (and his descendants, both physical and spiritual) to learn the seriousness of this issue.

But God also wants Abraham (and his descendants) to partner with Him in His mission. Abraham does not just receive the news of coming judgement silently. He begins to bargain with God for the sake of potential redeemable people. This is a prayer for God to be true to His justice. The wicked must be judged, but what about the righteous? It is also an appeal to God’s mercy and grace. If a small fraction of redeemable people exist, can the city remain?

The prayer does not change events. God knew already what would be found in the cities. He did not tell Abraham in hopes that Abraham would persuade God to change. But the prayer does change Abraham and us as readers of this event. We see that God is indeed prepared to be merciful for the sake of a tiny remnant. A mere ten people would have spared the city. Later on we see that Israel itself is granted mercy in is sin, thanks to a tiny fraction of the people who remain true to YHWH. (1 Kings 19:18, and others)

God holds creation and His mission in His perfectly sovereign plans. He knows what He is doing, and He always acts in perfect love, mercy, and grace alongside perfect holiness and justice. However, He gives us glimpses of His plans and activity so that we can come alongside Him in His efforts to redeem His creation. So that we can have the opportunity to change and align ourselves ever more with His plans. We can pray with boldness as Abraham did, confident that God will do what is best, but also attentive to what we can learn through the things God shows us.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Post Script

To those who were unfamiliar with the Baptist history yesterday, here is some that you might need to learn:

John Smyth (Founder of FBC, in the literal sense.)

“That the magistrate is not by virtue of his office to meddle with religion, or matters of conscience, to force to compel men to this or that form of religion, or doctrine: but to leave Christian religion free, to every man’s conscience, and to handle only civil transgressions (Rom xiii), injuries and wrongs of man against man, in murder, adultery, theft, etc., for Christ only is the king and lawgiver of the church and conscience (James iv. 12).” -Article 84 from Smyth’s Confession of Faith, 1612

Thomas Helwys (Co-worker of Smyth, and founder of FBC in England.)

“And we bow ourselves to the earth… beseeching the King to judge righteous judgement herein, whether there be so unjust a thing, and of so great cruel tyranny, under the sun, as to force men’s consciences in their religion to God, seeing that if they err, they must pay the price of their transgression with the loss of their souls. Oh let the King judge, is it not most equal that men should choose their religion themselves seeing they only must stand themselves before the judgement seat of God to answer for themselves, when it shall be no cause for them to say, we were commanded or compelled to be of this religion, by the King, or by them that had authority from him…” -from The Ministry of Iniquity, 1612

Leonard Busher (Author of the first Baptist treatise solely devoted to religious liberty.)

“Seeing, then, the one true religion of the gospel is thus gotten, and thus defended and maintained—namely, by the word preached only; let it please your majesty and parliament to be entreated to revoke and repeal those antichristian, Romish, and cruel laws, that force all in our land, both prince and people, to receive that religion wherein the king or queen were born, or that which is established by the law of man…” -from Religion’s Peace: or A Plea for Liberty of Conscience, 1614

“I read that a bishop of Rome would have constrained a Turkish emperor to the Christian faith, unto whom the emperor answered, ‘I believe that Christ was an excellent prophet, but he did never, so far as I understand, command that men should, with the power of weapons, be constrained to believe his law; and I verily also do force no man to believe Mahomet’s law.’ Also I read that Jews, Christians, and Turks, are tolerated in Constantinople, and yet are peaceable, though so contrary the one to the other.

If this be so, how much more ought Christians not to force one another to religion? And how much more ought Christians to tolerate Christians, when as the Turks do tolerate them? Shall we be less merciful than the Turks? Or shall we learn the Turks to persecute Christians?...” -from Religion’s Peace: or A Plea for Liberty of Conscience, 1614

John Murton (Successor to Thomas Helwys)

“…wherein is manifestly proved by the law of God, the law of our land, and his Majesty’s own diverse testimonies, that no man ought to be persecuted for his religion, be it true or false…” from the opening of Persecution for Religion Judged and Condemned, 1662

Edward Barber

Barber was a Baptist preacher in England in the 1600s. He was imprisoned for denying the tithe and infant baptism. From prison, he wrote a scriptural defense of religious liberty, the full text of which is available here.

Christopher Blackwood

An Anglican Priest who converted when he realized neither he nor any of his colleagues had an answer to Baptist arguments. He wrote The Storming of the Antichrist to instigate a thorough reformation, as he saw that the Reformation was inadequate and incomplete. In it he gives 29 arguments for freedom of conscience. He then examines 26 arguments for state-controlled religion and finds none with merit.

The Act of Toleration 1689

A groundbreaking act in the move towards religions freedom, not as fully realized as we see today after the founding of the United States, but a first, considerable step. H. Leon McBeth, in his history, The Baptist Heritage says,

“No group [other than Baptists in England] can claim more credit for the Act of Toleration.”

Roger Williams (Organized the FBC in America)

Williams exposed the fact that, those who had fled religious persecution to come to the Americas were just as capable of that persecution. In fact, it seems that they were far less interested in freedom of conscience and more concerned with having their way over any other. Williams fled and ultimately founded Rhode Island as a place where liberty of conscience would be the norm. He was only Baptist for a time, but he also wrote one of the most important books on the subject of religious liberty, The Bloudy Tennent of Persecution, 1644. Some think it directly influence Jefferson. It is readily available online. Here is a bit of the opening:

“First. That the blood of so many hundred thousand souls of protestants and papists, spilt in the wars of present and former ages, for their respective consciences, is not required nor accepted by Jesus Christ the Prince of Peace.

Secondly. Pregnant scriptures and arguments are throughout the work proposed against the doctrine of persecution for cause of conscience.

Thirdly. Satisfactory answers are given to scriptures and objections produced by Mr. Calvin, Beza, Mr. Cotton, and the ministers of the New English churches, and others former and later, tending to prove the doctrine of persecution for cause of conscience.

Fourthly. The doctrine of persecution for cause of conscience, is proved guilty of all the blood of the souls crying for vengeance under the altar.

Fifthly. All civil states, with their officers of justice, in their respective constitutions and administrations, are proved essentially civil, and therefore not judges, governors, or defenders of the spiritual, or Christian, state and worship.

Sixthly. It is the will and command of God that, since the coining of his Son the Lord Jesus, a permission of the most Paganish, Jewish, Turkish, or anti-Christian consciences and worships be granted to all men in all nations, and countries: and they are only to be fought against with that sword which is only, in soul matters, able to conquer: to wit, the sword of God's Spirit, the word of God.”

On and on it goes. Consider Obadiah Holmes, Isaac Backus, and John Leland, David Benedict, and even the Bill of Rights of the United States Constitution. Again McBeth writes:

“Historians generally agree that Baptists were included among the “great number of our constituents” [who, according to Madison, were clamoring for the amendments that would make up the BOR] and that the “one point” on which they desired further guarantees involved religious liberty.”-The Baptist Heritage, 1987

The result:

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

We can thank Baptists for those freedoms, and if we want to continue to enjoy them, we need to respect everyone’s use of them.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Dear Baptists,

If you keep up with Baptist news these days, you see that there are a lot of people and churches upset with their institutions embracing positions of religious liberty. Prestonwood has suspended its support of the convention over the issue. They are concerned that the ethics arm of the convention no longer “reflect[s] the beliefs and values of many in the SBC.”

That begs the question, does Prestonwood (or the many people it references) know what Baptist values even are?

How about you?

Do any of the following names ring a bell?

John Smyth, Thomas Helwys, Religion’s Peace: A Plea for Liberty of Conscience by Leonard Busher, John Murton, Edward Barber, Christopher Blackwood, The Act of Toleration 1689, Roger Williams and his The Bloudy Tenent. The list goes on.

Baptists have always been about religious liberty. Probably because we have so often been persecuted for our beliefs. But our “majority” status in America is perhaps why we have so thoroughly forgotten the cost of religious rule by a majority. We need to remember that our faith as spelled out in Scripture gives every man the right to be wrong. We defend that right because we also want to have the right to be right even when we are out of step with the majority. (As we ever are, by the way. If the religion of the U.S. were determined by majority and “might makes right” it would not be evangelical!)

You do not overcome other beliefs (Islam, for instance) by outlawing it. Even less by engaging it in military conflict. See the Crusades. In fact, that approach only strengthens the conflict. We engage every alternate belief with our testimony and the Truth of Scripture. And, if that does not convince someone, we should defend their right to see things differently. We do so because that is what we want for ourselves.

The minute our country starts opposing any belief legally, the minute we relax the separation of government and faith, is the minute we open the door for our own beliefs to come under attack.

And for all those who object and say that they already are, you are right. Largely due to the door we have been opening wider and wider over the past thirty years of trying to legislate morality and change our country’s heart condition through political rather than spiritual and cultural means.

People are not defending Islam by supporting the right of another faith to be practiced; they are defending our own Baptist freedom to believe free from government interference or persecution. They are opposing “the bloody doctrine of persecution for cause of conscience.”

Monday, February 20, 2017

Do Not Love Worldliness (1 John 2:15-17)

After a rather stylized encouragement to his readers, John exhorts them in a fourth quality of walking in the light. In addition to avoiding sin, obeying Christ, and the test of love, they are not to love worldliness. (John says “the world” but he uses that term in a wide range of meanings, one of which (as here) is to indicate the sinful culture of fallen humanity. He is not exhorting believers to not love God’s creation, but rather sin-prone culture. Thus, worldliness.)

The distinction between the first quality, “reject sin,” and this one, “love not worldliness” may seem subtle. However, John is not repeating himself. Worldliness is not sin, but rather the tendency of the world to embrace and relish the temptation that leads to sin.

Here, John describes worldliness in more detail:

“For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world.”

What he is describing is the rather narrow range of means by which temptation offers sin to us. Humanity is prone to stumbling when it is offered things that are physically satisfying, aesthetically pleasing, or that whisper encouragement to our vanity. It is a universal truth that we see throughout history.

Right from the start, Adam and Eve are tempted to rebel against God by seeing that the forbidden fruit is: “…good for food, and that is was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable to make one wise.” Satan used the same ploys when attempting to temp Jesus in the wilderness. He offered Him relief for His hunger, the world and all its glory, and an opportunity to reveal Himself as the Savior of mankind.

John is wise in encouraging us to not just reject sin, but to not become fond of the things in the world that tempt us. It is likely that the believers of his day were similar to those of our time. We are great at dancing on “the line.” We love to flirt with sin, to do as much as we can get away with without giving in to sin. The problem is that the line become quite blurry the closer one gets to it. What we want to avoid here are two things: the love of “nearly sinful things,” and the legalism that seeks to protect us from them.

Legalism is the cousin of loving worldliness. Adam tried to protect Eve from sin by adding rules to the command that God had given. He told her they could not touch the tree. It likely only made her more susceptible to sin, when touching the tree had no harmful affect.

Instead, John wisely encourages us to not love worldliness. Temptation makes sin seem enticing; we need to recognize its lie. Sin is not the appealing joy that it seems to be. Instead of getting as close to sin without sinning as possible; we should long for and appreciate the good things in life that God offers us. When we do that, we discover that God offers us truth where temptation offers lies. He provides us with all our physical needs in a way that He has designed them to be met. He has created so much beauty for us to enjoy that glorifies Him. And He gives us true fulfillment being the people He has created us to be.

Friday, February 17, 2017

"The Lego Batman Movie" (2017)

One of the best parts of 2014s entertaining-if-not-great “Lego Movie” was Batman. Plus, Batman. So “The Lego Batman Movie” promised to be an entertaining film.

Turns out it is also pretty great.

The film opens with a quote from one of Michael Jackson’s best songs, “Man in the Mirror.” (Amidst a non-relenting slew of very funny jokes.) It carries the theme of that quote throughout the film. (Along with the jokes.)

Lego Batman is the celebrity one would expect him to be in our celebrity-obsessed culture. He is super popular. He is also super-self-absorbed. And, being Batman—the hero created out of the trauma of losing his parents—he is afraid to form any relational attachments.

Without giving anything away, this is the story of a hero who needs to learn that the world can be made a better place when we work at changing ourselves. That is probably an oft-told hero plot, but it feels fresh and meaningful in Lego Batman. And it is something our culture needs to remember these days.

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