Saturday, August 27, 2016

How Did We Get Here? Progress?

Progress?                                                                                8/26/16

Matthew 7:24-27, Philippians 3:7-14

We’ve been traveling through the story of Western Civilization, a world reaching system of values that has at times, lifted up biblical values. We are asking the question:  How did we get here?  How did the Church arrive at its current station in this world? We’ve learned that the human story is more than survival, that wisdom is to be pursued together, that we are to seek that which endures, that God’s announcement of good news shapes our message, that we are created for community, beholding beauty, receiving correction, and any authority that we have bows to the Lord’s authority.  Today, we look at the word Progress. 

We stop in the 1700’s when the idea of rationalism was shaping every conversation and aspect of society in a movement called the Enlightenment.  Rationalism is the idea that reason or knowledge, not belief or experience is the best order for life.  In the 1700’s, once Europeans figured that being rational was helpful for anything, then it should be helpful for everything.  Every area of life and learning was being reformed.  For example, Galileo challenged scientific principles that hadn’t been challenged since Aristotle, 1900 years before him. If Rationalism was applied, well, rationally, then the world would get better.   The application of rationale principles in society was considered ‘progress’. 

A quick side note:  the word progress continues to function as a powerful word.  We like progress.  Many people continue to lift up progress as the most important human work.  The world is changing, more knowledge has led to more confusion, and the pendulum is moving back toward experience as at least equally important as knowledge, but we still hold very tightly to the value progress.

After all, it is a tight rope to walk.  It is important to make progress, to have a goal, to work toward a better life even if two steps forward happen alongside one step back.  But progress isn’t the end goal for the Christian.  Christ is.  

Looking back, this era is fascinating precisely because of its mixed results.

Simply put, if humanity could simply apply rationalistic thought to every realm of society, good humans would choose goodness, and society would progress towards highest human expression.

*Science attempted to explain the world apart from religion and greek philosophy.

*Economic and political theories attempted to explain the world.

*Mathematics was becoming the universal language.

*Diderot and fellow French philosophers attempt to classify all human knowledge in the form of encyclopedia.  If we all could access human knowledge and past data, humans will apply it to their current context and the world will become better.  It sounds similar to internet access today, that if we just have it, we’ll all go home and increase our knowledge.

*Even God had rational principles thrust upon him in order to explain.  God was now a clockmaker, winding up history and then letting it play itself out.  Scripture doesn’t point to this as true.

But not everything or everyone made progress. The philosophical development was born out of prosperity, and assumed that people were good, or would choose good, given a choice.  But this movement ignored that Europe simply moved its wars out of sight, to foreign soils while taking the natural resources of other peoples.  It really wasn’t that people were better, or were making progress, though they did improve at exporting their problems.

The Enlightenment incorrectly taught that history was linear, a line that moved upward as time marched on.  It is good for self-assurance if you are higher on the line than someone else.  But is it true?  Yet history is neither cyclical:  History doesn’t really repeat itself, not literally.  Perhaps history is a cylinder or cone that both relearns lessons and revisits lessons from the past while continuing on.

The counter movement to rationalism was romanticism.  It attempted to keep mystery and beauty as part of the explanation of  the world, not simply mechanical principles of rationalism.  Perhaps life was more a story than an instruction manual. 

The philosopher who attempted to weave enlightenment and romanticism was Immanuel Kant. He attempted to separate truth and goodness as separate human endeavors.  Truth came through knowledge and goodness was experienced.  

Scripture is the ultimate answer to weaving together truth and goodness, order and beauty.


To hear the words of Jesus Christ, and to put them into practice.  This phrase lifts up the connection of truth and goodness, knowledge and experience.

Those that hear and practice, build upon a foundation that endures the difficulties of existence.

Those that do not foolishly choose an uncertain foundation that will ultimately experience a great crash.

Let’s take a step back and consider this word ‘progress’.  Webster’s includes several definitions for the word:

1.     to move toward a goal

2.     gradual betterment

3.     steady societal improvement

4.     a ceremonial journey by a sovereign through his realm

5.     advance towards higher or better stage

 While the Enlightenment fell short in its attempt to make progress the most important human word, there is still value in the word progress.  What does the Bible say about this? 

Philippians:   What is the goal?

Paul teaches and models this for us.  Ultimately, our goal from Scripture’s perspective has very little to do with us, and all about God.

1.     To gain Christ and be found in him  (vs 9)

2.     To know Christ:  through his resurrection, sufferings, death and our resurrection (10)

3.     To take hold of that for which God has taken hold of me (12)

4.     to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Jesus Christ (14)

Historically, Revolution was the result of Enlightenment.  Some were good and others went horribly wrong:  but revolutions popped up in The United States, Haiti, France and Russia.  I wonder if there is a spiritual revolution awaiting your response to Jesus Christ:   Whoever hears his words and puts them into practice is like a house built on the rock.  The rains and winds and storms of life cannot undo that solid foundation.  Perhaps we have fallen for the myth of progress instead of using faith as our template.

Let’s return to one of the cultural definitions of progress:  a ceremonial journey by a sovereign throughout his or her realm.           

To consider ourselves in the audience of the Sovereign, who is involved in a ceremonial journey throughout his realm.  Imagine yourself hearing that the king is coming.  You drop what you are doing in order to go out and wait alongside others for a glimpse of the King.  We are part of gathered celebration to sing the King’s praise, there are people all around us, to shout his arrival, to bow with reverence, to sing and dance with joy, to listen to the king’s words, and to obey his will for his realm.  Doing so brings life, righteousness and peace into the king’s realm.  Now that’s progress!


Friday, August 12, 2016

How Did We Get Here? Authority That Bows

Authority That Bows                                                            8/14/16

Psalm 2, Philippians 2:5-11

We have been lifting up stories from Western Civilization where Biblical values were expressed.  Our themes have been mostly positive.  Oral History teaches us that humankind is made for more than survival.  Classical Greece models the pursuit of wisdom together.  Ancient Rome sought that which endures, and was in power when God announced the gospel through sending Jesus Christ into the world.  The Medieval world teaches us that we are created for community, and the Renaissance directs us to behold beauty.  Last week, the Reformation brought correction.  Today, we look at Authority that bows.

This week is a bit different, we will lift up a negative example to remind us of a biblical truth.  We travel to Europe during the 1500’s and 1600’s and see that an unexpected result of the Reformation (a religious reforming of the continent) is political reformation.  During this two hundred year era, the role and reach of government greatly expands, and becomes the model that exists in the world today.   Roger Osbourne, in his book Civilization, writes:

          Much of the “progress” that took place in the centuries after 1500 showed
          an increasing amount of control over towns, regions, churches, guilds and
          individual lives by an increasingly centralized state.  The medieval citizen
          owed allegiance to an array of institutions—feudal lord, village president,
          extended family, local bishop, pope, guild, town duke or prince—but the state
          did away with most of these, leaving only itself and the family as the
          legitimate institutions of the modern world”   (Osbourne, 255)

Now, let me be clear right from the start, this isn’t a lecture on politics, and certainly not any partisan view.   But we bring up this historical example of the role of government precisely because Christians affirm a place for government in this life and the next:  Jesus Christ is Lord of all, and will reign forever, and demands allegiance in every aspect of our life.  That is a government that is far reaching.  It is a government that takes over.  And yet, all of the clues of Scripture speak to how good and fantastic, and life giving and peace-filled and liberating this will be.  Deep down, our skepticism of government is rooted more in historical failure than future promise in Jesus Christ.

You see, the Bible has a lot to say about government:
*Joseph 2nd in command in Egypt
*The people of Israel to be governed by God and not Egypt
*Moses writing down law for the people
*The era of the judges (tribal leaders) in Israel
*The movement toward a king (against God’s wishes)
*The promise of a descendant of David to rule
*Good and bad kings and queens in Scripture
*The references to Roman leaders
*Paul’s claiming the privilege of being a Roman citizen
*The passage in Romans that calls us to obey leaders as God’s representatives
*Revelation’s vision of God on the throne

The 15, 16 and 17th century usher in what we call the Modern world, a break with and movement away from the Middle Ages.  For today’s purposes, here are some of the broader movements of how the role of government changed during these centuries:

1.     Government became system, rather than person based.
Previous human history mostly modeled that success or failures of place depended on the strength of the king, rather than a system of government where the leader represented the goals and values of the said government.   Pre-modern the ruler was greater than the system.  In the modern world, the ruler was subservient to the system.

2.     The seeds of government services were planted, and people start to see the role of government as more than simply protection.  The state slowly takes on more and more over time.

3.     Religion was used to meet systemic ends
From our vantage point, the story of America is an attempt to correct this, with Jefferson’s vision of a separation of church and state.

4.     the capital replaced the importance of the town
this leads to an era where towns struggle, after having thrived in the Medieval world.

5.     natural resources used for the goals of national government
resources previously benefitted the place where they were found, such as river towns having tolls that supported their economy.

6.     the state overtook the importance of other institutions
             as I mentioned in the Osbourne quote earlier

7.     war grew in popularity
            an attitude started to grow that peace would produce laziness.  From the perspectives of
            governments, it was thought that war justified the existence of government.

8.     the attempt to balance power led to territorial disputes
once the continent tired of war, nations then fought their long standing family feuds on foreign soils.  This allowed European boundaries to remain, while also expanding in power and position.

I bring up these broad historical trends because some of these continue to shape the role and reach of government today.  Our Scriptures help us navigate this type of world with two important thoughts.

From Psalm two:  every human government has a beginning and end because God has announced his plan for eternal government.

From Philippians:  The plan is for Jesus Christ to reign as Lord forever, and that our announcement of his reign calls us to live a life of humility and sacrifice.

Psalm 2
This song reminds us that any act of godlessness will ultimately face the truth.  This includes the nations and leaders of the world.  God has the power to raise up and tear down.  In real time, it might sometimes look like the kings are winning in the attempt to overthrow God, but this is only because we are bound by time.  The timeless one has a different reaction to foolish, futile attempts.

He laughs.  He scoffs.  He rebukes.  He terrifies.  And then he tells what is going to happen next.

“I have installed my king on Zion, my holy mountain”. 

In this announcement; the Son has the Lord’s blessing to rule over the nations, and these nations will be as an inheritance.

The book of Hebrews teaches us about God’s Word:
The word of God is alive and active. Shaper than any double-edged sword; it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.  Nothing in creation is hidden from God’s sight.  Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account”  (4:12)

The kings of earth are to be wise.  They are on notice having been warned by the King of kings.  Fear for God, and God’s power and judgment should shape the policy making and goals of every administration.  When kings of earth do revere God, they will be blessed by their refuge in the Lord.  Ultimately, every leader with power is an authority that will bow before God.

Scripture commands believers to pray for our leaders.   Power can corrupt, and all attempts for power and influence should be placed at the feet of the All-powerful One.  Ultimately, the people are blessed when governments govern well.  This is what we should be praying about for our land, and the lands of this world.

Philippians 2
Every earthly kingdom is temporal.  This is true for San Marino, China or Japan, as well as three year old South Sudan.  Like people, nations are bound by time.  The land watches as people walk upon it.  North America was inhabited by Native Americans before European countries claimed land as colonies, before the United States was formed out of revolution.  At 240 years old, the country is relatively young compared to many throughout the world. 

Despite the old or young age of governments and the nations, all these too shall pass.  But the Lord remains.  Scripture points to a God who is interested in government.  Perhaps we have not considered that before.  But it is true.  God is interested in good government.  Because government at its best helps people.  And by announcing that Jesus Christ will rule as Lord throughout time, he displays his interest in good government.  The best one for the job will ultimately be given the job. 

Every knee shall bow, every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.  Heaven, earth, under the earth;  the whole lot.  This will bring glory to God.  God’s plan of exalting Jesus Christ to the highest place, giving him the name that is above every name will bring righteousness, goodness, holiness, correction, abundance, love, peace, joy, and blessing to the earth and its people.  This is why God has said that he will do what he will do.

500 years ago, change took place as to the role and reach of governments.  We could talk and learn about the specifics of what happened for the rest of our lives.  But we don’t have to because we generally have seen this come to be in our modern world today.  Government has reached into many realms beyond protection and security of borders.   Scripture suggests that the fear of the Lord by leaders causes a foundation for goodness and prosperity to be fostered. 

Yet their failings also teach us something.  Our hope is ultimately rooted only in Jesus Christ.  Yes, we should participate, challenge, respect, support, debate, question, vote, call or write decision makers, be on a local board.  These can all be good things.  Our faith can and should shape how we view the world.  And we should be ourselves when participating in governing roles.  But at the end of the day, our work for the eternal one should guide every word and deed.  On the final day, God will show his announcement to be true.  Jesus Christ will be exalted and we shall all bow and declare his honor.  What a wonderful thing that this announcement brings us hope, and not anxiety. 

Our hope should not cause us to be conceited, or to seek our own honor, or motivate us to have people bow before us, or sing our praises.  No, our job is to point people to God’s announcement.  We should be but humble servants of the message.  Our attitude should be like Jesus Christ:  he knew his future, yet he served, he gave his very life for others.  With hope in heart and announcement in our mouth, we should act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with God (Micah 6:8).






Saturday, August 6, 2016

How Did We Get Here? Correction

Correction                                                                    8/7/16

Matthew 3:1-12, II Timothy 3:10-4:8

A baseball season will provide plenty of examples of how to play the game, and how not to play the game.  There are lessons in the losses and slumps as well as the hitting and winning streaks.

In surveying the story of Western Civilization, we find some ways in which societies have successfully honored and been blessed by Scripture’s values.  We are tapping into some of these stories to help us understand the situation we find ourselves in as Christians, and as the Church, in today’s world.

*we are directed into the key that human life is more than survival

*Classical Greece modeled wisdom together

*Ancient Rome sought that which endures

*In the middle of 1st Century Rome, we see God’s breakthrough announcement of the gospel

*the medieval world modeled that we are created for community

*the renaissance beckoned us to behold beauty

*today, we turn our attention to Reformation, to consider the theme of correction. 

If human beings were to create a list of things to talk about, correction would probably not be high on anyone’s list.  Yet, it is a biblical idea, and therefore, essential to our Christian life.  To run or avoid correction is to avoid God’s offer of redemption and gift of salvation. 

What is the definition of correction? 
Correct (adjective):  free from error, in accordance with fact or truth

Correct (verb):  to put right (an error or fault)

Correction:  a change that rectifies an error or inaccuracy

Scripture teaches that people who accept correction are honored, show prudence and gain understanding

Scripture teaches that people who do not accept correction are hostile, stupid, resentful and display refusal.  Scripture also teaches us that refusing correction has social consequences:  “whoever ignores correction leads others astray” (Proverbs 10:17).  We should be mindful of our personal responsibility to open ourselves to correction, for our blessing, and for the people whom we relate to.

Correction is a biblical word, and it also fits with a broader theme in Scripture:  Repentance.  Repentance means to turn around.  Jesus’ first command to his disciples was to repent.  John the Baptist also begins his message with this word.  When we turn ourselves toward God and away from sin, temptation, even self (whether this is an action of the heart, mind, behaviors or literal turning around), we open ourselves to God’s will and intent. 

In our Matthew reading for today (3:1-12), we find the answer to the question:  Who corrects us?  The story provides two answers:   the Lord’s messenger and Jesus Christ himself

In the gospel story, John the Baptist was to be the Lord’s messenger, who would announce the coming of the Messiah.   He was sent to turn the people’s hearts to the Lord.  He proclaimed his message (repent for the kingdom of heaven has come near), lifted up Scripture, lived a simple life and baptized.  He also corrected the people.  He wove together the message with living the message.  He challenged the people to not rely solely on their history (we have Abraham as our father).  He commanded the people that repentance was to be followed with bearing fruit for the Lord’s glory. 

In our Christian life, we should always be open to listening to people.  We might find that God is sending his messengers into our lives, so that we might live fruitfully for the kingdom.  And we ourselves might be a messenger to a brother or sister.

Ultimately, John’s job was to point people to Jesus Christ.  The Messiah would provide the baptism that leads to everlasting life. Jesus Christ was the Lord’s answer to the question of who has the authority to correct.  He is worthy, and lived his life in perfect obedience to the will of God.  Therefore, fully God and perfect human, he can correct us, and point us in the way that leads to everlasting life.

The Lord’s messengers will always point you to Jesus Christ.  They are not different messages, nor are they working for competing devotion.  The messenger should always serve the message.  Jesus Christ is the message of Good News.

We turn our attention to the year 1517 in Wittenberg, Germany.  Martin Luther was dismayed at some of the practices that were going on around him.   He himself was working with all his might to get the message out. 

          I could use two secretaries.  I do almost nothing during
          the day but write letters.  I am a conventual preacher,
          reader at meals, parochial preacher, director o f sutidies, overseer
         of eleven monasteries, superintendent of the fish pont at Litzkau, referee
         of the squabble at Torgau, lecturer on Paul, collector of material for a
         commentary on the Psalms, and then, as I said, I am overwhelmed with letters.  
         I rarely have full time for the canonical hours and for saying mass, not to
         mention my own temptations with the world, the flesh and the Devil       
         (Roland Bainton, Here I Stand:  A Life of Martin Luther, USA:  Abington Press, 1950, pg 63)

The problem Luther saw was the growing popularity of indulgences.  The Pope oversaw the selling of indulgences, which were essentially a paper that could be purchased that declared you would be eternally forgiven of your sin.  If you paid enough, you could buy indulgences for your previously deceased relatives.  This fraudulent practice paid for building projects in the church, and town building projects.  For example, The University of Wittenberg had been approved to sell indulgences for the expansion of town building projects.   But Pope Leo had bigger plans for the sale of indulgences.  He was going to rebuild St. Peter’s Cathedral.  And he needed the sales of indulgences throughout the continent to make it happen.

This infuriated the prideful German pastor.  And Luther makes his appeal to local scholars.  He writes a lecture entitled “The 95 Theses”, and like all lectures in the day, nailed a flyer advertising the lecture to the door of the church.  The lecture highlighted 3 main ideas:  the problem of using funds to rebuild a church in Rome, the problem of the pope’s authority and the problem for the sinner who misunderstands indulgences.

And yet, the call for correction that Luther clearly saw seemed like more than just the posting of a lecture.  It was a nail that drove change into the world.

A 20th century theologian described Luther this way:

          He was like a man climbing in the darkness a winding
          staircase in the steeple of an ancient cathedral.  In the blackness
          he reached out to steady himself, and his hand laid hold of a rope. 
         He was started to hear the clanging of a bell.
         (Bainton, 64)
Correction is like a bell that sounds freedom to those willing to listen.

Paul says as much to his disciple Timothy, in his second letter.
II Timothy:   Where is our correction found?

The Lord will send his messengers, and those messengers point to Jesus Christ the Message.  But the simple answer, is that we find correction when we gather as the Lord’s people.  Paul writes that congregations:

*should model the way of life

          *should help us as we pursue godliness

          *gather us together alongside those who have taught us

          *are to be centered in the Holy Scriptures

  Holy Scripture’s job as God-breathed entity


                   --rebuking   (“to turn back or to keep down”)




Correction is a biblical value, therefore it is essential to our Christian faith. 

Here are three practical steps to prepare ourselves so we might find correction, and the blessed life that comes from it:

1.     Daily Reading of Scripture.   Daily reading shapes two  

     basic human functions:  Listening and speaking.

2.     Listen to one another.   Don’t prepare your response,

listen to what is being said.

3.     Speak Up.  Preach, Correct, rebuke, encourage, great

              patience and careful instruction.

Paul encourages Timothy to put into place the benefit’s that correction provides (vs 5).  Having received correction allows one:

1.     Keep one’s head in all situations

2.     Endure hardship

3.     To do the work of the evangelist

4.     To discharge your duties of your ministry

When we have opened ourselves to correction:   we find assurance.  This happened to Paul as he neared the completion of his earthly life.  What was his assurance?

          He knew he had fought the good fight

          He knew he had finished the race

          He knew he had kept the faith

He knew there is a crown of righteousness that the Lord will award

He knew that he was not alone.

These assurances can guide us when we wonder along the way.  Martin Luther’s lecture did not immediately stop the sale of indulgences.  But it did spark debate, as well as a return to looking to Scripture as the foundation of theology and practice.  Luther experienced extreme persecution in his fight for the health of the church.  He ultimately was excommunicated from the Roman faith.  But his Christian life helped spark a world changing movement:  the Reformation.  And we gather today in part because of his stand.  Opening himself to being corrected brought unanticipated blessings, such as translating the Bible into German so that more people could read for themselves, and eventually a counter-reformation in the Roman Catholic church which essentially acknowledged that change had needed to happen.

In closing, let us consider these definitions of correction one more time:
Correct (adjective):  free from error, in accordance with fact or truth

Correct (verb):  to put right (an error or fault)

Correction:  a change that rectifies an error or inaccuracy

The author of Hebrews says:  correction produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.


Did not Jesus say:  If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed?