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12/4: Staying Sharp

12/4: Staying Sharp

First Monday of Advent: Amos 1,2

Christians long for the second coming of Jesus, “the day of the Lord”. It will be a time of great joy for those who believe. But it will also be a terrifying day of judgment for those who do not. Jesus said, concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” (Mark 13:2). He calls his followers to wait and be ready for His coming. But for many, it will be a surprise, and they will be caught living godless lives — which will result in judgment. The blatantly irreligious will be found wanting, yes … but also many who believe they’re a part of God’s inner circle. 

amos-600mapIn Amos 1 and 2, the prophet foretells the judgments of eight nations. Six of them are “secular,” and two are the divided kingdoms of the people of God, Israel and Judah. In sum, they provide a litany of specific offenses that will lead to condemnation from God. Wartime tortures (1:3,13), human trafficking (1:6,9), denigrating other foreign leaders (2:1), forsaking peace accords (1:9), “forsaking pity” and staying perpetually hostile (1:11) … all for the sake of imperialistic land-grabs (1:13). All of these charges have to do with international politics.

But then, to the (supposedly) godly nations of Judah and Israel, God brings punishments for different reasons. Here are three:

“They have rejected the law of the Lord, and not kept His statutes. Their lies have led them astray” (2:4).  God had uniquely revealed Himself to the Jewish people. The words of that revelation through the law of Moses was their special gift, and also their distinctive measure. They had let this inheritance slip, and were letting the lies of their day pull them from obedience to mandates of their God. I can’t help but think that Christians today are following this same path. 

“They sell the righteous for silver, and the needy for a pair of sandals” (2:6). The people of God had grown materialistic. They cared more about what they could purchase for themselves than the welfare of their neighbors, especially their poor ones. They spent more on shoes than on the poor. I can’t help but think that Christians today are following this same path.

You made the Nazirites drink wine, and commanded the prophets, saying, ‘You shall not prophesy'” (2:12). God ordained spiritual disciplines, which helped keep the peoples sharp and attentive before God, were downplayed, and even forbidden. Had they become passe? No longer appropriate for their then-contemporary world? Too legalistic for their enlightened minds? Had they grown tired of all that talk of sin, righteousness and judgement? For whatever reason, their faith-lives had gone unpracticed and unfueled. I can’t help but think that Christians today are following this same path.

Amos’ Advent challenge to the people of God: Yes, the world is full of unspeakable evils. It’s easy to say, “Hey, I’m no terrorist.”  But our plumb line is different. So, we need to let our love of God and His Word keep us from falling for the lies of our culture! We need to quit living for the promotion of our bottom lines, and be generous! We need to embrace our disciplines (e.g., be appropriately religious), and amplify Biblical truths! All the more, as we eagerly await the Lord “roaring from Zion” on that final day. May we not then be found to have lost our edge, and unconsciously drifted from God.

Stay sharp! “Prepare your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as He Who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct” (1 Pet. 1:12-14).

– EO

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Channeling Your Inner Herodian

From Eugene Peterson’s The Jesus Way (2007). Sound like anyone you know today?

judeagreat“I would have been impressed with Herod [the Great] if I had lived in the first century. Herod was the biggest name in Palestine. He was the richest man in the world. He employed more people than anyone in the country. You couldn’t walk out of your house without hearing the name Herod. You couldn’t walk down any road without coming on one of his massive building operations. Herod, Herod, Herod.

“It is impossible, at least for me, not to be impressed with Herod … Politically he was able to manipulate power-hungry Rome … He was not a religious man, but he turned out to be a relentlessly aggressive propagandist…, using it as a means to political power … His building projects were absolutely stunning.

“Herod had done the ‘kingdom’ thing magnificently: his skilled brokering of power, his use of Greek theater and athletic contests to shape people’s thinking and values, his architectural splendor giving everyone a sense that their king was all-powerful and majestic. He had gathered a very diverse population of Jews and Romans, pagans and Greeks, feuding sects and uncongenial political parties, and hammered out a kind of working unity among them … Herod was not interested in God, but everything else was intact.”

Herod. Making Judea Great Again.

herodiansEven in the days of the Herods, the faith community was divided over their feelings about the powerful political family. One group was known as the Herodians, a small clique of avowed partisans of the Herodian dynasty. As godless, manipulative and culturally polluted as the Herods were, Herodians still saw this brand of rule as necessary for the prosperity of the region.

The Pharisees did not see it this way. They thought it spiritual compromise to advocate for the Herods.

Interesting … Pharisees and Herodians have two things in common, and one huge difference. In common: They both attacked Jesus, and tried to bring him down. And Jesus never directly addressed their politics. The difference: Jesus had far more negative things to say to the Pharisees than the Herodians.

What about you? Are you inclined to unite yourself to a political entity, as troubling as it may be, because it beats the alternative? Or do you find such an alliance as a compromise to your spiritual convictions? Any chance you would have a HEROD NOW sign in your front yard, or sticker on your car?

It’s an historical maxim that bad leaders only get worse with age. Take Herod the Great:

“During the last years of his life his proclivities to cruelty accelerated. He became a virtual monster, hated by everyone, massacring at whim. The famous quip from Caesar Augustus back in Rome, a close personal friend of Herod’s, would have served as an apt epitaph over his grave: ‘I would rather be Herod’s pig than his son.'”

As Peterson points out, “Jesus lived as if Herod had never existed. Jesus ignored the world of power and accomplishment that was brilliantly on display all around him. He chose to work on the margins of society, with unimportant people, giving particular attention to the weak, the disturbed, the powerless.”

– EO

 

 
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Posted by on October 4, 2016 in 21st Century, Politics

 

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Tenth Day of Christmastide ’14

Number 10 fence

Christmas … and politics? Do we have to?

“Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgement. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but alsofor the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honour to whom honour is owed.” (Romans 13:1-7)

The first Christmas was more politically charged than ours is today. The Jewish people, with their long, proud heritage of freedom fighting and military rebellion, were under Roman occupation. The ongoing hope was for the promised Messiah to come, who would lead them to their political emancipation.

magiherodThe birth story itself is soaked with politics. The very reason Joseph and Mary were in Bethlehem was because of the Empire-wide taxation program (you think signing up online for Obamacare is tough duty – try a 50+ mile donkey ride during your 9th month of pregnancy!). Jesus spent some of his childhood in the hated next-door-nation of Egypt because the local ruler felt threatened by religious prophecies. Then, Jesus grew up in Galilee, which was predominantly Hellenistic, unlike the conservatives in Judah, who would find the simple-minded “liberals” from down the hill to be at best pitiful, at worst repulsive.

It was impossible to keep from being embroiled in politics in first century Palestine.

globes ornamentsThis is good for us to hear today. Jesus came into a political situation, and lived a politically-aware life. And the incarnate one gave specific guidance for living out this reality. Be good citizens. Pay your taxes faithfully is you the payer … and if you’re the payee, please collect only what is properly due. And here, Paul echoes these counter-revolutionary ideas: Subjection. Do what is good. Have appropriate fear of the magistrate. But even more than that, it’s attitude! Respect and honor!

Merry Christmas! God has come, and has made it very clear: Life in light of Christmas leaves us inescapably in the politics of our lands … where we, like Him, will be blessed to live honorably. This is a gift of God! For it is “for your good.”

 

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