When I look at what’s happening across the country, I see a common theme that for the most part has remained unnamed. The current news reports—of demonstrations, restrictions on free speech, increasing numbers of murders and other crimes, hate-filled rhetoric, accusations and “cancellations”—highlight symptoms of a far larger issue. Ultimately, it’s not about politics, or the environment, or even morality and social justice. The root of it all is spiritual.
Cancel Culture is big in the news this morning, as a number of liberal celebrities have signed onto a letter calling for an end to it. Of course, as soon as Harper’s published the letter, others started attacking it, which leaves us with people attempting to cancel a letter urging us to cancel cancel culture.
If you follow the church calendar, we’re now in the season of Lent, a time of introspection and confession leading up to Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday. The idea is to do some personal housecleaning, and hopefully grow closer to God as a result. Instead of giving up meat—or chocolate, or TV (which I rarely watch anyway), I’m trying something a bit different this year. Since I’ve been reading Deuteronomy, I’m asking God to search my heart as I focus on each of the Ten Commandments. How am I doing with obeying God?
Are you a selective Christian? A Biblical cherry-picker? Are there some parts of God’s word that you embrace, and others that you disagree with, and therefore ignore?
To be honest, I think we all do that to some extent. I have short hair, in spite of Paul’s words to the Corinthians (see 1 Corinthians 11:15). I don’t stay silent in the church, either, even though some commentators believe 1 Corinthians 14:34 tells me I should. Am I doing something wrong?
As you made your New Year’s resolutions, perhaps you committed to read through the entire Bible this year. You’ll start in Genesis and finish in Revelation, and you are determined to plow straight through. No skipping the boring parts.
Yes, we start with great intentions. We zoom through Genesis and Exodus, although the detailed descriptions of the tabernacle slow us down a bit. So do all those laws. But it’s when we get to the genealogies that we really get stuck. We stoically plug along until we compromise and skim over all those names, but why not? What could we possibly learn from reading lists of people, most of whom we know nothing about? Lists are boring!
But wait. This is the book that God wrote! How can there be boring parts? As I once again found myself plodding through the begats, I thought—maybe I’m missing something.
Yes indeed I was.
Our missions pastor recently showed this video in our “Outreach” adult Sunday School class. I was astounded.
I have known for years that Biblical names have meanings. For example, Abram means “exalted father” while Abraham means “father of nations”—a fitting sobriquet for a man who literally fathered nations through his two sons, Isaac and Ishmael. But did you realize that the meanings of the names listed in the “boring” genealogies actually tell a story? Watch and learn, and be amazed:
One of my favorite passages in the Bible is found at the very end of Matthew. It’s part of the Great Commission. We usually focus on the “doing” part of this paragraph, where Jesus tells us to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”
But there’s more to this passage. In fact, we can’t obey this command unless we also include both the verse immediately before it and the verse that follows. What comes first? Jesus announces that “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go…”
“God can’t steer a ship that isn’t moving.”
“God can’t steer a parked car”
You are likely familiar with one or both of these phrases—they’re two of those Christian truisms that we hear repeated over and over—while no one thinks to ask whether or not they are actually true. The idea is that we should ask God what to do in any given situation, then start doing something while we wait for His answer. After all, God can’t….
Have you ever read through the entire Bible? I’ve done this several times, and my new Bible—this one with ruled margins for note-taking!—was a good reason to do it again. One reason I commit to reading every page (even the genealogies) is that I can’t skip the parts I don’t like—the parts that make me cringe. Yes, I have some issues with parts of the Bible, but I don’t blame God. It could be that His ways are simply higher than mine, and I can’t possibly see His viewpoint. It could be that I just don’t understand the context. Or, it could be the translation.
One of my favorite passages in the Bible is found at the very end of Matthew. It gets me though the hard times, the good times, and all the times in between. It reminds me of my source of comfort, joy, and power. You’ll find Matthew 28:20b at the end of the Great Commission, where Jesus says, “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
What kind of times are we living in? Are you an optimist, believing that the world is getting better and better? Or and things going downhill? What are the problems we face? What are the solutions?
One of the advantages of accumulating a lot of birthdays is that we gain perspective. We have a longer view, and can more easily see trends. Pete’s 80+-year-old grandmother (right) frequently observed, “The world is going to hell in a handbasket!” Being in our 20s, we thought it was just old age speaking. Now that I’m considerably older, I’m beginning to share her perspective.
Some things are obvious. On a positive note, science and technology have improved our lives to a great degree (and also caused a host of new problems). Due to the civil rights movement, past injustices are being corrected. In spite of the dire claims you hear, the environment is actually much cleaner than it was when I was coming of age in the ’70s. On a global scale, extreme poverty and child mortality are down, literacy rates are rising, and overall, if we look at the standard of living, a majority of people are living healthier and more comfortable lives.[i]