Archive for June, 2014

We Must be Hopeful!

Tuesday, June 24th, 2014
Above everything else, the early church was hopeful.  In the midst of chaos and despaire, the early church was hopeful. We cannot live without hope. Walter Bruggemann, in his book Hope Within History explores the meaning of apocalyptic hope in history. Using Jeremiah as background, Bruggemann argues that the true history makers are not those whom we expect–politicians, doctors, and lawyers.  Real history makers, he argues, are those who can invest in a dream.  In spite of pretty bleak conditions–Jeremiah’s nation was about to be conquered and taken in captivity–Jeremiah was able to still have great hope.  He had apocalyptic (i.e., based in history) hope.  He understood who really had power–those who had hope in spite of the circumstances they faced.  God told Jeremiah to buy a piece of land (Jeremiah 32:6; 29:4-9).  He did.  Even though Jeremiah was never to enjoy this land, never to really own it, he invested in it anyway.  Apocalyptic hope causes us to invest in dreams we may never see consummated.  People with apocalyptic hope, assert the sovereign and omnipotent will of God in all circumstances no matter how bad things may be.  They “have a bold conviction about alternative possibilities which go under the name of hope . . . they see clearly that things are deeply wrong, but they still have hope.” Modern, existential hope of men like Viktor E. Frankl pales in the light of the apocalyptic hope of a committed Christian. “Was Du erleht, kann keine Macht der Welt Dir rauben,” (What you have experienced, no power on earth can take from you.), Frankl writes (Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning. New York: Pocket Books, 1963, p. 131).
Today, in 2014 America, we must have hope.  If we don’t, fellow Christians, no one will!

21st Century Subversives

Thursday, June 19th, 2014
Standing in front of 1000s of homeschoolers at the 1998 Indiana Homeschool Convention (IAHE) I presented the following prophetic message:
Don’t get me wrong.  What I am suggesting is  truly revolutionary, or, as Walter Brueggemann suggests “subversive.”  American Christians are being called to a higher commitment.  A radical commitment.  The choice for Christ occupies comes before everything else–before parents, children, job, and, if necessary, life itself.  The gate leading to health and wholeness in our world is not a reasonable size.  It is narrow.  In that sense, I am calling us all to a radical faith, a prophetic faith.  We are called to a major reclamation project of our views of atonement so completely presented in Scripture and in our Confessions.
Oh how my heart yearns for revival!  For our world to reclaim the centrality of the cross!  With John Stott, in The Cross of Christ, my prayer is that this new generation, haunted by so many bad memories, so bewitched by technology and social science theories, would again come to the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.  And, at the same time, I want us to reclaim the joy of this adventure–so persuasively presented by John Piper in Desiring God. That we would no longer settle for the mud pies of delight our world offers us but, like the Puritans, would reclaim the delights of a life centered on the Lordship of Jesus Christ!  That we would again enjoy the Lord–which is after all what worship and praise is.
Christian home schoolers, in your hands, and in the hands of other Evangelicals, lies the future of our country.  Millions strong, with our high SAT scores and solid families, we are part of the great revival coming.  I feel the ground shaking, don’t you!  In Lord Jim, an old, experienced captain is explaining to a young officer how to handle a storm.  ASteer neither to the right or to the left.  Pull out all the sails and steer right into it!  Home schoolers, Christian brothers and sisters, steer right into the storm!  And feel the ground shake . . .

Playing With Mud Pies

Tuesday, June 17th, 2014
Standing in front of 1000s of homeschoolers at the 1998 Indiana Homeschool Convention (IAHE) I presented the following prophetic message:
Quoting C.S. Lewis, we “are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea.”
Jesus Christ is the way and the truth and the life.  I know that this seems simplistic and somewhat chauvinistic–some in our midst are proponents of Ahab.  King Ahab had no problem with Elijah’s exuberant support of Yahweh.  What bothered Ahab, and his wife Jezebel, was Elijah’s darn, parochial, unAmerican insistence that there was only one God!  Chill out Elijah! Live and let live!
Ah, there’s the rub.  There is no other way to eternal life or present happiness.  In the Confession of 1967 the Presbyterian Church U.S.A. affirms: “No one type of confession is exclusively valid, no one statement is irreformable. Obedience to Jesus Christ alone identifies the one universal church and supplies the continuity of its traditions.”  America needs to place Christ again at the center of its theology and worldview.
The central symbol for every 21st century Christian must be the cross. At least from the second century onwards, Christians used the cross as their central symbol. I will not argue with Professor Ahlstrom who argues that Puritanism died in the 1960 American Revolution (although I grieve with J.I. Packer at its demise!).   While I do not want to see Puritanism resurrected, I fervently pray that Jesus Christ–crucified and resurrected–will again be preached in the marketplace, in churches, in the homes of 21st century America.  Paul had no trouble defining the Gospel and his life as `the message of the cross’.  On the contrary, he boldly declared that, though the cross seemed either foolishness or a stumbling block to the self-confident (i.e., modern humankind!) it was in fact the very essence of God’s wisdom and power (1 Cor. 1:18-25).  I yearn, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer did at the end of his life, for the crucified Lord to return again–as the rediscovered center–to the center of the Church and American society.  America does not need a new religion–it needs Jesus Christ–crucified and resurrected.


Thursday, June 12th, 2014
Standing in front of 1000s of homeschoolers at the 1998 Indiana Homeschool Convention (IAHE) I presented the following prophetic message:
It seems, at times that Americans are lost.  “The sense of being lost, displaced, and homeless is pervasive in contemporary culture,” Walter Brueggemann writes. “The yearning to belong somewhere, to have a home, to be in a safe place, is a deep and moving pursuit.”  I am a pastor, and in spite of our hedonistic bravado, I generally find most of my congregation members–who generally are not living a life centered on Jesus Christ–are in fact desperately unhappy.  And no wonder.  This world does not provide what we need.  No, it really doesn’t.  It once thought it did. I can remember being seduced by the august institution that was Harvard University.  In 1976, I really believed my university chaplain who told the incoming Harvard class, AYou are the next history makers of America.@ I wanted to believe it.  I needed to believe it. My acquaintance and colleague from Harvard Divinity School, Dr. Forrest Church, now pastor in a Unitarian Church in New York City, was fond of saying, “In our faith God is not a given, God is a question . . . God is defined by us.  Our views are shaped and changed by our experiences. We create a faith in which we can live and struggle to live up to it . . . compared to love a distant God had no allure.”  Indeed.  This thinking has gotten us into quite a mess.
What kind of mess?  While I attended seminary, I remember hurrying to the opening ceremony of the academic year held every September at Harvard Memorial Chapel in the Yard.  Spying an impressive group of Harvard Professors, decked out in all their academic robes and capes, I decided to follow them to Mem Chapel.  Although I knew the way quite well, I trusted these sagacious gentlemen to show me a better way.  Well, we got lost! And I was late!  In spite of their pomposity, they did not know the way after all.
One of the most disturbing essays I have ever read is an essay by Thomas Merton entitled “A Devout Meditation in Memory of Adolf Eichmann.”  “One of the most disturbing facts,” Merton begins, “that came out in the Eichmann trial was that a psychiatrist examined him and pronounced him perfectly sane.”   The fact is, given our world, we can no longer assume that because a person is “sane” or “adjusted” that he/she is ok.  Merton reminds us that such people can be well adjusted even in hell itself! “The whole concept of sanity in a society where spiritual values have lost their meaning is itself meaningless (p. 47).”

An alternative culture

Tuesday, June 10th, 2014
Standing in front of 1000s of homeschoolers at the 1998 Indiana Homeschool Convention (IAHE) I presented the following prophetic message:
Walter Brueggemann calls American believers to “nurture, nourish, and evoke a consciousness and perception alternative to the consciousness and perception of the dominant culture around us.”  And it is not difficult to feel cut-off, alienated from this culture of which we are a part.   Even among so-called Evangelicals there is a declining fervor about radical, biblical Christianity.  This Aluke warm@ Christianity is called many things: Neo-orthodoxy, liberalism, et al.   Presbyterian John Mackay’s lead editorial in the first issue of Theology Today—the handbook of luke warm Christianity–in 1944 captures the contemporary mood: “When the earth quivers beneath the flail of total war, when battles mount in fury around the globe, when the most momentous year in modern history is running its course, why should a new journal be issued? . . . because why should extremists [Fundamentalists and Evangelicals] only exhibit passion?”  There is no moderate position anymore in the American church–either we are taking a stand for Christ in this inhospitable culture or we are not.
Dr. Robert Kopp, a colleague and old friend of  mine, tells a story (taken from Derek Prince’s Foundation Series) about a young African evangelist who said to a white, American missionary: “Your churches are only storehouses, storing people for hell . . . To some people this might appear a shocking statement . . . but the great majority of the members of those churches had never once had the basic facts of the Gospel presented to them, and had never been faced with he need to make a definite, personal response to those facts.  They had exchanged paganism for a form of Christianity, they had memorized a catechism . . .but of the essential facts of the Gospel and of the experience of salvation, of these they had no knowledge nor understanding whatever.”
A further complication (but also an opportunity for Evangelism) is the fact that Alukewarm@ Christianity, Christianity that is more existential than confessional, is not cutting the mustard.  The great religious writer Unamuno creates a character, Augusto Perez, in his book Mist, who, through omniscient narration, turns to his maker (e.g., Unamuno) and cries: “Am I to die as a creature of fiction?”  Such is the cry of modern humankind.  The Christian author and Harvard Professor Robert Coles laments that we “we have the right to think of ourselves, so rich in today’s America, as in jeopardy sub specie aeternitatis, no matter the size and diversification of his stock portfolio.”   As Harvard Professor Harvey Cox  says, AAmericans once had dreams and no knowledge to make them come true.  Now Americans have knowledge to make dreams come true but they no longer dream.

Home Schooling in the 21st Century

Thursday, June 5th, 2014
Standing in front of 1000s of homeschoolers at the 1998 Indiana Homeschool Convention (IAHE) I presented the following prophetic message:
The first strophe of William Butler Yeats’ poem “The Second Coming” begins:
        Turning and turning in the widening gyre,
        The falcon cannot hear the falconer.
        Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
        Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.
        The blood-dimmed tide is tossed, and everywhere
        The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
        The best lack all conviction, while the worst
        Are full of passionate intensity.
American in the beginning of the 21st century is spinning out of control.  We are stretching our wings adventurously, but drifting farther away from our God. We are in trouble.
As part of the Symposium at the Dedication of the Presbyterian Center, Louisville, Kentucky, October 28, 1988, the theologian Walter Brueggemann surprised the Presbyterian Church U.S.A.–as well as all Americans–by calling them to repentance.  “We religionists [Evangelicals] are caught in an odd endorsing and legitimating, when in our knowing, we may want to talk about the sovereign absence of God, an absence evident in the secularization of a society which seems to manage very well by itself.”  Brueggemann further suggests that we Evangelical Christians are in exile and need to act accordingly.
The fact is, and numerous theologians and social annalists echo this, America is in a post-Christian era.  Ergo, for the first time in American history, Evangelical, born-again Christians, are most definitely a minority element in America.  Writers like William Willimon, Thomas Sine, David Wells, Os Guinness, and others echo this theme of “resident aliens” throughout America.  Increasingly we who proclaim the Lord Jesus Christ as our Savior are finding ourselves in a minority culture.


Tuesday, June 3rd, 2014
To a large degree, we are to do nothing.  We are to wait.  The Hebrew  understanding of “waiting” is “to stand firmly and actively watch God’s will be revealed.”  The Greeks and the Romans and some of us today tried to build society upon their gods.  But these gods will not be big enough because they are finite, limited.  Even mighty Rome, with all its power, did not have satisfactory answers to the questions plaguing humankind.  So they fell.  They are finished.  They were Hazael.
But we serve a God who never slumbers or sleeps.  A God who in a blink of an eye created the universe.  A God who has no beginning nor an ending.  A God, also, who loves us enough to send His only begotten Son to die for us . . . that is one response to Hazael–embrace the Son of God as our Savior–do not rewrite the rules of the game–play another game!
When the three young students refused to worship mighty Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar they were thrown into the fiery furnace (see Daniel).  “We believe God will deliver us,” they said.  “But even if we die, we shall not worship you.”
Home schoolers, are we willing to stand firm in our faith no matter what the cost?  If we are, then Hazael shall not have our souls . . . even if someday he takes our lives.
Will we stand with Joshua on the edge of the Promised Land and proclaim: “You may follow whom you will but as for me and my house, we shall serve the Lord!”
As Elisha weeps, he stands with saints of all ages–he stands on Carmel with Elijah–with Moses on Horeb–with Abraham on Moriah–and he asks us again, “If Baal is god then worship him; if God is God worship Him! But choose ye this day . . .”
I know that it seems that we are looking into the face of Hazael . .  . and we are.  But let us stand–as countless saints before us stood–let us stand firm and choose life this year. . . eternal life!  If the present home school movement does nothing else let us call our nation to be hopeful in the face of Hazael because . . . our Redeemer liveth!