Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! On this day, I like to post Abraham Lincoln's 1863 Thanksgiving Proclamation as a reminder of how much we have to give thanks to God for in America:

By the President of the United States of America.

A Proclamation.

The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consiousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom. No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.

In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the Seal of the United States to be affixed.

Done at the City of Washington, this Third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the Independence of the Unites States the Eighty-eighth.

By the President: Abraham Lincoln

William H. Seward,
Secretary of State

Also, check out Joseph Knippenberg's essay, "The Political Theology of Thanksgiving." But most of all, give thanks!

Gordon MacDonald re: Ted Haggard

Ted Haggard recently admitted to buying sex and meth from a gay prostitute. That might not make the news any other day, but Haggard is the president of the National Association of Evangelicals and pastor of New Life Community Church in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Or rather, he was. Now he is just another example of evangelical hypocrisy.

Surveying the damage Haggard has done to the cause of Christ, pastor and author Gordon MacDonald makes a few soul-searching remarks about how to proceed. Back in the 1980s, MacDonald himself committed adultery. His church discipled him, with help from leaders in the evangelical community, and after several years, he was able to resume ministry. Chastened by his experience, MacDonald has become very attuned to the ways in which pastors and other Christian leaders are tempted to go wrong. Here's a sample of his remarks:

I've spent more than a little time trying to understand how and why some men and women in all kinds of leadership get themselves into trouble, whether the issues be moral, financial, or the abuse of power and ego. I am no stranger to failure and public humiliation. From those terrible moments of twenty years ago in my own life I have come to believe that there is a deeper person in many of us who is not unlike an assassin. This deeper person (like a contentious board member) can be the source of attitudes and behaviors we normally stand against in our conscious being. But it seeks to destroy us and masses energies that—unrestrained—tempt us to do the very things we "believe against."

If you have been burned as deeply as I (and my loved ones) have, you never live a day without remembering that there is something within that, left unguarded, will go on the rampage. Wallace Hamilton once wrote, "Within each of us there is a herd of wild horses all wanting to run loose."

It seems to me that when people become leaders of outsized organizations and movements, when they become famous and their opinions are constantly sought by the media, we ought to begin to become cautious. The very drive that propels some leaders toward extraordinary levels of achievement is a drive that often keeps expanding even after reasonable goals and objectives have been achieved.

Like a river that breaks its levy, that drive often strays into areas of excitement and risk that can be dangerous and destructive. Sometimes the drive appears to be unstoppable.

This seems to have been the experience of the Older Testament David and his wandering eyes, Uzziah in his boredom, and Solomon with his insatiable hunger for wealth, wives, and horses. They seem to have been questing—addictively?—for more thrills or trying to meet deeper personal needs, and the normal ways that satisfy most people became inadequate for them.


Ever since the beginning of the Bush administration, I have worried over the tendency of certain Evangelical personalities to go public every time they visited the White House or had a phone conference with an administration official. I know it has wonderful fund-raising capabilities. And I know the temptation to ego-expansion when one feels that he has the ear of the President. But the result is that we are now part of an evangelical movement that is greatly compromised—identified in the eyes of the public as deep in the hip pockets of the Republican party and administration. My own belief? Our movement has been used.

There are hints that the movement—once cobbled together by Billy Graham and Harold Ockenga—is beginning to fragment because it is more identified by a political agenda that seems to be failing and less identified by a commitment to Jesus and his kingdom. Like it or not, we are pictured as those who support war, torture, and a go-it-alone (bullying) posture in international relationships. Any of us who travel internationally have tasted the global hostility toward our government and the suspicion that our President's policies reflect the real tenants of Evangelical faith.

And I might add that there is considerable disillusionment on the part of many of our Christian brothers/sisters in other countries who are mystified as to where American evangelicals are in all of this. Our movement may have its Supreme Court appointments, but it may also have compromised its historic center of Biblical faith. Is it time to let the larger public know that some larger-than-life evangelical personalities with radio and TV shows do not speak for all of us?


The Purpose of Theology (Romans 16.25-27)

Listen to The Daily Word online. 

What is the purpose of Christian theology? 

Since I was a high school student, I have enjoyed reading books about God. Not devotional books, however—much to my mother’s alarm. No, I enjoy reading theology books, and the bigger they are, the better. I enjoyed reading books about God so much, in fact, that I chose a career likely to pay me for reading them. 

Over the last twenty years, however, I have noticed something about big theology books. Many of them inform us about God, but they do not inspire us to worship him. I cannot tell you how many times I have turned the last page of a theology book and said, “Well, that was interesting!” rather than, “Well, it’s time to pray!” But shouldn’t prayer be the proper end of theology? Shouldn’t we learn about God in order to worship and serve him? 

Paul certainly thought so. His letter to the Romans was in many ways the church’s first theology book. It didn’t just narrate the life of Jesus and the early church, however, as did the Gospels and Acts. It interpreted their significance. It explained what God was up to through Jesus Christ. And it ended on a note of praise. 

Consider Romans 16.25-27: 

Now to him who is able to establish you by my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past, but now revealed and made known through the prophetic writings by the command of the eternal God, so that all nations might believe and obey him—to the only wise God be glory forever through Jesus Christ! Amen. 

These three verses are a doxology, a word (logos) of praise or glory (doxa) about God. “Now to him…be glory forever through Jesus Christ!” The theology of Romans centers on the grace of a God who justifies sinners by faith in his Son, Jesus Christ. If we read Romans and our only response is, “Well, that was interesting!” then we haven’t understood a word of what we’ve read. Or rather, we may have understood it, but we haven’t applied it to ourselves. Sinners who do so fall to their knees in undying gratitude. We’ve been saved from hell; we’re destined for heaven. When that realization sinks in to our brains, what can we do but give thanks? 

Who is this God we praise? He is powerful, he is revealing, and he is wise. Let’s look at those in reverse order. First, he is wise. God knows the way we ought to live. He knows how far off the path we are. And he knows how to get us back on track. Second, he is revealing. Not only does he know, he communicates. He reveals “the gospel,” literally “good news.” He doesn’t keep the way secret; he tells everyone. And third, he is powerful. God doesn’t tell us how to save ourselves. He saves us. He is “able to establish” us on the path of salvation. He is our Guide. He knows the path to heaven, tells us about it, and pulls us out of the thickets when we stray. 

It is a good thing to know more about God. I still read theology books, after all. But it is a better thing to praise more. And we have much to praise for.

God, Satan, Jesus, and You (Romans 16.20)

Listen to The Daily Word online.

Today, I want to talk about God, Satan, Jesus, and you. 

In Romans 16.20, the Apostle Paul brings all four together when he writes, “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you.” Let’s take a closer look at each phrase. 

First, the God of peace. What a wonderful description of God, especially in the turbulent times in which we live! How many times have we turned on the TV news lately only to see stories about radical jihadists who are killing innocents in the name of God? Their god, it seems, is a god of war. But our Heavenly Father is “the God of peace.” He works to create peace between himself and us, not to mention between you and me. In the Christian tradition, in other words, peace is both vertical and horizontal. It pertains equally to our relationship with God and our relationships with one another. 

And yet, that peace comes through warfare. The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. How many times have we heard America referred to by violent jihadists as “the great Satan”? Too many times! But in Christian theology, human beings are not the enemies to be crushed. As Paul writes in Ephesians 6.12, “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” Human beings are the battleground over which God is fighting the devil. We are what he is fighting for, not what he is fighting against. And in this verse, God promises us ultimate victory over the spiritual forces that attempt to destroy our lives. 

Third, the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. How does God give us victory? How does he save us? As Paul writes in Ephesians 2.8-9, “it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.” I sometimes hear Christians speak of “spiritual warfare.” They talk about prayer and other spiritual disciplines. They also talk about “coming against” the devil. That’s all well and good, of course, but I don’t hear them mention that grace is the primary weapon God uses in his spiritual warfare for us. Remember, human beings are the battleground, not the enemy. Grace is what wins the victory. 

Finally, you. On June 6, 1944, the Allies poured tens of thousands of men onto the beaches of Normandy in order to turn the tide of World War II. Wave after wave of soldiers sacrificed themselves that day to win Europe’s freedom. In the battle for you, God sends wave after wave of grace through Jesus Christ to rescue you and turn the tide of battle in your favor.  

God is for you. Satan is against you. But God gives more grace so that you can have more peace.

Spiritual Novelties (Romans 16.17-19)

Listen to The Daily Word online.

This past spring, just in time for Easter, the National Geographic Society released a documentary on The Gospel of Judas, along with the text of the gospel and a book about its discovery. That gospel was a fourth-century copy of a second-century text, purporting to describe a secret conversation between Jesus and Judas Iscariot. It did not tell us anything historically valuable about Jesus or Judas, although it did give us interesting information about a small sect of second-century Christian heretics.

So why did The Gospel of Judas get so much attention? In my opinion, the answer to that question involves three things: money, history, and novelty.

The National Geographic Society intentionally timed the release of The Gospel of Judas at Easter in order to boost sales of the documentary and books. What better time to sell a book about Jesus than a time when people are thinking about him?  

The profit motive was only one factor, however. The Gospel of Judas was a genuinely important historical find. It deserved to be published because of what it tells us about the interaction between orthodoxy and heresy in the second century. 

A third reason why The Gospel of Judas garnered so much attention was the average Americans’ desire for spiritual novelty. We are a restless people. We like whatever is new and improved. When it comes to cars and dishwasher soap, new and improved may be a good thing. But when it comes to matters of the spirit, novelty is not always in our best interest. 

In Romans 16.17-19, Paul warns us about people who peddle spiritual novelties: 

I urge you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them. For such people are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites. By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naive people. Everyone has heard about your obedience, so I am full of joy over you; but I want you to be wise about what is good, and innocent about what is evil. 

For Paul particularly, and for biblical Christianity generally, there is a real distinction between orthodoxy and heresy. In this passage, he speaks of “the teaching you have learned.” That teaching was rooted in Scripture, proclaimed by Jesus, and promulgated by the apostles. It included such basic doctrines as justification by faith, the theme of Paul’s letter to the Romans. To depart from that teaching was to walk away from Scripture, Jesus, and the apostles he himself appointed to carry on his work.  

And so, Paul warns the Romans to be on guard against anyone who tempted them to depart from orthodoxy. Be wary of the motives of people who proclaim spiritual novelties in the name of Christ. Pay attention to their rhetoric. Do they use smooth words to advance heretical teachings? And in general, use your brain. God gave us minds, and he wants us to use them. “Be wise about what is good, and innocent about what is evil.” That’s good advice in every century, whether the first or the twenty-first!

Names (Romans 16.1-15)

Listen to The Daily Word online.

The final chapter of Paul’s letter to the Romans seems anticlimactic. Chapters 1-11 teach Christian theology. Chapters 12-15 teach Christian ethics. But chapter 16 merely sends Christian greetings to 26 individuals, 24 of whom Paul names. Those greetings may seem anticlimactic, but in reality, they are the point of the entire letter. 

Think of the issue this way. The theology of Romans tells us that God saves sinners by grace through faith. The ethics of Romans tells us that God empowers those whom he has saved to perform good works. But sinners and saved are not abstractions. They are flesh-and-blood people. They have names. By concluding Romans with a long list of names, Paul reminds us that Christ entered the world not to rescue humanity in general but human beings in particular—people with names like Phoebe and Priscilla and Aquilla and Epenetus and George—and, of course, you! 

By listing individual’s names, Paul also reminds us that Christianity is an inherently social religion. Christ did not merely die and rise again to save your individual soul and to reform your individual life, although he certainly did that. Rather, Christ died and rose again to form a new community, in which people of faith form strong social bonds with one another in Christ. Notice the way he describes people: “our sister Phoebe, a servant of the church”; “Priscilla and Aquila, my fellow workers”; “my dear friend Epenetus”; “Andronicus and Junias, my relatives who have been in prison with me”; “Ampliatus, whom I love in the Lord”: “Urbanus, our fellow worker in Christ”; “my dear friend Stachys”; “Tryphena and Tryphosa, those women who work hard in the Lord”; “Rufus, chosen in the Lord, and his mother, who has been a mother to me, too.” For Paul, anyone who is “in Christ” is a family member or coworker or best friend to everyone else who is in Christ. The church is a social network of love: loved by God and by one another. 

Third, by listing individuals’ names, Paul reminds us that everyone in the church has a job to do. Many of the people he names were evidently leaders in Roman house churches. After mentioning Priscilla and Aquila, for example, Paul writes: “Greet also the church that meets at their house.” For another example, “Greet Philologus, Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas and all the saints with them.” But not everyone was a house church leader. In verse 22, we read, “I, Tertius, who wrote down this letter, greet you in the Lord.” Evidently, Tertius was the secretary to whom Paul dictated Romans. Notice also the prominent women who exercised ministry roles in the Roman church: Phoebe, Priscilla, Mary, Junias, Tryphena, Tryphosa, Persis, Rufus’ mother, Julia, Nereus’ sister. In the church, everyone has a place of service, no matter what it is and no matter who they are. 

Finally, notice that Paul considers all these people “saints” (verse 15). A saint is not “a dead Christian, revised and edited,” as Ambrose Bierce once defined the word. Rather, a saint is any Christian whatsoever, saved by grace through faith for good works. 

So, when you come to Romans 16 and its long list of names, don’t turn the page. Read the names! Look closely enough, and you’ll find your name there too.

“A New Generation of Adults Bends Moral and Sexual Rules to Their Liking”

Are Baby Busters less traditionally moral than Baby Boomers and other older generational cohorts? According to this report by the Barna Group, they are.

Do Americans share much common ground when it comes to defining appropriate moral behavior and attitudes? Most Americans say they are concerned about the moral condition of the country and the vast majority of adults describe themselves as moral people.

But the nation’s residents have difficulty agreeing on what a “moral” life should look like – much less how to make ethical decisions or how to define moral standards. A new nationwide survey from The Barna Group examines one of the largest gaps in the moral persuasions of Americans: the difference between those in their twenties and thirties (an age group comprised primarily of the so-called “Buster” generation) and those over the age of 40.

The new study shows a significant divide between the nation’s young adults and its older residents. The project analyzed 16 different areas of moral and sexual behavior and found that Busters’ lifestyles took a less traditional – some would say less moral – path on 12 of those 16 areas. The study also explored 16 different perspectives regarding morality and sexuality, finding that Busters’ views are less conventional than that of their predecessors in 13 areas. In none of the 32 facets of lifestyle or attitude were Busters more likely to possess a conventional moral position when compared with the older crowd of “pre-Busters.”

Interestingly (depressingly?), there are only slight differences between "born again" and Busters and non-born-again Busters.

Struggle by Praying (Romans 15.30-33)

Listen to The Daily Word online.

“Life is difficult.”  

That is the first sentence of The Road Less Traveled by M. Scott Peck, and it is one of the truest sentences I have ever read in any book. We cannot escape life’s difficulties; we can only struggle with them. And as Christians, we struggle first and foremost by praying. 

The Apostle Paul knew how difficult life could be from personal experience. In 2 Corinthians 11.23-28, he enumerates some of the hardships he endured in his missionary journeys: 

  • Frequent imprisonment
  • At least five floggings with a whip
  • At least three beatings with rods
  • One stoning
  • Several shipwrecks
  • Natural dangers
  • Dangerous humans
  • Hard work without sleep
  • Physical deprivation
  • And to top it all off, “the pressure of my concern for all the churches”

 If I were Paul, I would’ve been tempted to cut and run from Christian service after my first imprisonment. Perhaps Paul himself was. But he resisted that temptation and struggled on. He endured hardship to ambitiously pursue Christ’s purpose for him. And it’s a good thing he did. Because of Paul’s difficult evangelistic labors, you and I Gentiles are Christians today. 

If I were Paul, I’d also be tempted to judge others’ Christian faith by whether they were suffering as badly as me. Misery loves company, after all. If I have to suffer for my faith, you should too. And if you’re not suffering, there’s probably something deficient about your faith. It’s a good thing Paul didn’t fall prey to this spiritually immature attitude. He recognized that Christ had called him to a unique form of Christian service, with both unique rewards and dangers for his service. 

To use a military analogy, Paul considered himself a front-line soldier. Not every soldier can or should serve on the front line. The church needs a supply train, after all, as well as medics and logistics experts and battle strategists. For Paul, what is important is not where you serve in God’s army, but that you serve. Not every Christian is called into front-line warfare, but every Christian must contribute to the struggle.  

According to Romans 15.30-33, we struggle by praying: 

I urge you, brothers, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to join me in my struggle by praying to God for me. Pray that I may be rescued from the unbelievers in Judea and that my service in Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints there, so that by God's will I may come to you with joy and together with you be refreshed. The God of peace be with you all. Amen. 

Specifically, we struggle by praying for four things: rescue, service, God’s will, and peace. We pray that God would rescue us from the forces of evil, both in this life and in the life to come. We pray that God would give us success in our various forms of Christian service. We pray that we would know and do God’s will in every area of our lives. And like all soldiers, we pray for peace, both between God and us and between you and me. 

Life is difficult. Are you struggling against it with prayer?

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: