Obadiah 5-9

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If thieves came to you, if plunderers came by night—how you have been destroyed!—would they not steal only enough for themselves? If grape gatherers came to you, would they not leave gleanings?How Esau has been pillaged, his treasures sought out!All your allies have driven you to your border; those at peace with you have deceived you; they have prevailed against you; those who eat your bread have set a trap beneath you—you have no understanding.Will I not on that day, declares the Lord, destroy the wise men out of Edom, and understanding out of Mount Esau?And your mighty men shall be dismayed, O Teman, so that every man from Mount Esau will be cut off by slaughter.

Our age is an age that does not seem to believe in divine judgment. There are likely many reasons for this. Perhaps the Church itself has oftentimes not helped to promote a solid, biblical understanding of judgment. Think, for instance, of what it does to the idea of divine judgment when it is attached to, say, petty legalisms or when it is caricatured in an effort to frighten people.

In Umberto Eco’s novel, The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana, the character Yambo (based, at least in part, on Eco’s own life) recalls how his spiritual director frightened him and the other children with a story about judgment.

            One evening the spiritual director stood in front of the altar balustrade, illuminated – like all of us, like the entire chapel – by that single candle that haloed him in light, leaving his face in darkness. Before dismissing us, he told us a story. One night, in a convent school, a girl died, a young, pious, beautiful girl. The next morning, she was stretched out on a catafalque in the nave of the church, and the mourners were reciting their prayers for the deceased, when all of a sudden the corpse sat up, eyes wide and finger pointing at the celebrant, and said in a cavernous voice, “Father, do not pray for me! Last night I had an impure thought, a single thought – and now I am damned!”

            A shudder travels through the audience and spreads to the pews and the vault, seeming almost to make the candle flame flicker. The director exhorts us to go to bed, but no one moves. A long line forms in front of the confessional, everyone intent on giving in to sleep only after the merest hint of sin has been confessed.[1]

How horrible! A pious child had one impure thought and then was cast into hell forever! This is the kind of caricaturing I am talking about. This kind of attempt to shock and to terrify inevitably backfires and actually erodes a right understanding of judgment. Again, perhaps the church is to blame.

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The 4 Canons: “The Glory of God (Part 4)”

4canonsgears2016Romans 8

16 The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. 18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.

One of the guilty pleasures of my life is reading tweets from the Twitter account called “Werner Twertzog,” which is a parody account that purports to reflect the thoughts of the eccentric German filmmaker Werner Herzog. It is frequently hilarious, though not always so (this is NOT a wide-open endorsement of it, I hasten to add). The tweets are essentially nihilistic and pessimistic but often make rather poignant points about the absurdity of life as we have arranged it.

Anyway, it is, as I said, a guilty pleasure. I think my favorite Werner Hertzog tweet is this one:

Life is a parade of absurdities and pain, and then we die, alone, in filth. So, yes, little girl, I shall buy a box of Thin Mints.

It is, in a sense, humorous. The shocking juxtaposition of the nihilistic philosophy in the first sentence and the desire for Thin Mints in the second (along with the realization that he is saying all of this to a Girl Scout!) really just catches you off guard. And yet, it is also a sad statement. It is sad because, parody or not, there are, in fact, numerous people who view life in just this way: that there is no real and underling meaning to life, that life is a struggle we are doomed to lose, that there is no ultimate purpose, and so we should therefore try to grab what paltry and fleeting pleasures we can while we can.

Put another way, for many people, life really is nothing more than pain and Thin Mints, agony and Girl Scout cookies, despair punctuated by little and largely irrelevant bits of joy.

But that is not how Christians view the world. For the Christian, life is more than pain and Thin Mints. The Christian does not deny the pain (and most do not deny the Thin Mints!). But the Christian sees these aspects of life and interprets them in the life of Jesus Christ and His finished work on the cross and the empty tomb. Another way to say this is to say that Christians view all things – pain and death and Thin Mints and birth and life and marriage and health and disease and friendship and betrayal and all things, painful or pleasing, life giving or life-destroying – in the light of the glory of God that has been revealed in and through Jesus Christ. And that glory makes all the difference in how we view and understand a life filled with these things.

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The Four Canons: “For the Glory of God (Part 3)”

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Jack Ketchum’s short story, “The Box,” is a haunting little story (the story is better than the movie). The premise is pretty straight-forward though the story is quite enigmatic. A man, his son, and his twin daughters are on a train. There is a man sitting near them who has a box on his lap. It is wrapped like a present. The son asks to see what is inside. The man agrees and cracks open the box just enough for only the boy to see inside. The boy’s grin fades to a look of quiet puzzlement. After that, the boy will not eat. For days he refuses to eat though his parents try desperately to get him to eat. He will not eat and he will not tell anybody what he saw in the box.

A doctor looks the boy over and can find nothing wrong. A psychoanalyst can find nothing wrong either. Some days later, the father catches the boy whispering to his twin sisters. They refuse to say what they are talking about. Now, they will not eat either. Next, they tell the mother. She will not eat. So the boy, the sisters, and their mother begin slowly to waste away. None of them will eat. Soon the man has to take his entire family to the hospital. They are all dying because they will not eat.

The man presses his son: “What did you see in the box that day? What did you see?” The boy says, “Nothing.” Shortly thereafter, the son, the daughters, and the mother all die. The story ends with the father spending his days on the trains trying desperately to find the man with the box.

The story has become something of a modern conversation piece. It is taught in many high schools and colleges. The great question, of course, is, “What was in the box?” Theories are rampant concerning what the boy saw. A popular one is that the boy saw quite literally nothing and that the story is a story about nihilism, the idea that the world has no meaning inside of it and, at its base, the world offers no compelling reason to go on. Others believe the boy did in fact see something and what he saw was so horrible that it made him utterly indifferent about survival. Who knows?

It is an effective little story. It makes one think. The idea that you could see something that would lead to the gradual and then ultimate loss of life itself is terrifying. As I watched and then read this story, it occurred to me that that story is the exact opposite of the Christian story.

Two thousand years ago a group of people claimed to have seen something. They caught a glimpse of something that suddenly gave them a reason to live, and only to live but to live in a way that nobody had ever lived before! They saw something that nourished them, that gave them a sense of vitality and growth and joy!

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Obadiah 1-4

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1 Thus says the Lord God concerning Edom: We have heard a report from the Lord, and a messenger has been sent among the nations: “Rise up! Let us rise against her for battle!” 2 Behold, I will make you small among the nations; you shall be utterly despised. 3 The pride of your heart has deceived you, you who live in the clefts of the rock, in your lofty dwelling, who say in your heart, “Who will bring me down to the ground?” 4 Though you soar aloft like the eagle, though your nest is set among the stars, from there I will bring you down, declares the Lord.

I think the strongest lyric that Bob Dylan ever wrote can be found in his 1965 song, “Desolation Row.” The song is about the current and coming demise of Western culture and the line that I am referencing goes like this: “The Titanic sails at dawn.”

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The Four Canons: “For the Glory of God (Part 2)”

4canonsgears2016James 2

1 My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory.

In 1975, Calvin Miller wrote his amazing poetic retelling of the life of Jesus, The Singer. It would soon grow into a trilogy, The Singer Trilogy. It is viewed by many as a modern classic. I certainly see it as one. I will never forget reading it for the first time after my father gave me a copy. I return to it time and time again.

I thought of Calvin Miller’s Singer recently because the format of the story is so conducive to saying what must be said about the glory of Jesus Christ. In Miller’s poem, Jesus is “the Singer.” He awakes and realizes that Earthmaker (Miller’s name for God in the book) is calling Him to sing what Miller calls “the Ancient Star-Song.” He does not feel worthy to sing “the Ancient Star-Song” at first. He considers Himself a tradesman. But God tells Him that He is not a tradesman but a troubadour! What is more, the Singer alone on the earth knows the song and He knows it because He knew it with God before the world began.

So the Singer begins to sing. His song heals. His song brings hope. However, the world does not know the song. The world is under the spell of the evil song of World Hater. They do not know the Ancient Star-Song. What is more, the people of the earth are so deluded and deaf to it that there are laws forbidding the singing of new songs. The Singer knows that if He sings the Ancient Song he will likely be killed, but God has called Him to sing.

He does sing the Song. As a result, World Hater has Him killed. But the Singer rises again and the triumph of the Song goes out into the world. Now, we too are called to sing the Ancient Song, a song the world needs to hear but also a song that the world will initially hate because it threatens the song they know.

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The Four Canons: “For the Glory of God (Part 1)”

4canonsgears2016Romans 11

36b To him be glory forever. Amen.

Romans 16

27 to the only wise God be glory forevermore through Jesus Christ! Amen.

Galatians 1

5 to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.

Ephesians 3

21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

Philippians 4

20 To our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen.

1 Timothy 1

17 To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.

2 Timothy 4

18b To him be the glory forever and ever. Amen.

Hebrews 13

21c through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.

1 Peter 4

11 To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.

Jude 1

25 to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.

Revelation 1

6b God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.

Revelation 5

13b “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!”

Revelation 7

12 saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”

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The Four Canons: “Around the Whole Gospel (Part 3)”

4canonsgears2016Romans 1

16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”

Jared Wilson has imagined what the label might say if each church were forced to have a Nutrition Facts label.

Paul writes in Romans 1:16, “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes.”

Yet if we could label our churches with the Nutrition Facts found on your can of soup, I reckon many would say in the fine print, “Not a significant source of gospel.” Are we ashamed?

If the gospel is the power to save, shouldn’t it be the meat of the message, not saved for the add-on invitation or for a special service every few weeks?[1]

That is a valid question and a good one. I wonder: if our church had a Nutrition Facts label on the outside, what would it say? Regardless of what the answer is, this is what the answer should be: THE GOSPEL!

Romans 1:16-17 is a most fascinating passage. In it, Paul gives a helpful explanation of why the gospel was so prominent on his own label.

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The Four Canons – “Around the Whole Gospel (Part 2)”

4canonsgears2016Acts 20

24 But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.

Francis Chan tells an interesting but sad story about a particular guy who started attending their church.

A while back a former gang member came to our church. He was heavily tattooed and rough around the edges, but he was curious to see what church was like. He had a relationship with Jesus and seemed to get fairly involved with the church.

After a few months, I found out the guy was no longer coming to the church. When asked why he didn’t come anymore, he gave the following explanation: “I had the wrong idea of what church was going to be like. When I joined the church, I thought it was going to be like joining a gang. You see, in the gangs we weren’t just nice to each other once a week-we were family.” That killed me because I knew that what he expected is what the church is intended to be. It saddened me to think that a gang could paint a better picture of commitment, loyalty, and family than the local church body.[1]

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The Four Canons – “Around the Whole Gospel (Part 1)”

4canonsgears20162 John

1 The elder to the elect lady and her children, whom I love in truth, and not only I, but also all who know the truth, 2 because of the truth that abides in us and will be with us forever: 3 Grace, mercy, and peace will be with us, from God the Father and from Jesus Christ the Father’s Son, in truth and love. 4 I rejoiced greatly to find some of your children walking in the truth, just as we were commanded by the Father. 5 And now I ask you, dear lady—not as though I were writing you a new commandment, but the one we have had from the beginning—that we love one another. 6 And this is love, that we walk according to his commandments; this is the commandment, just as you have heard from the beginning, so that you should walk in it.

Some years back, I read a Los Angeles Times article entitled, “Church Welcomes an Atheist as Teacher.” It was about a church in Simi Valley, California, who had a popular Sunday School teacher. He was popular but also controversial. Why? Because he does not believe in God.

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The Four Canons – “Authentic Family (Part 4)”

4canonsgears2016Matthew 5

9 Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.

Makoto Fujimura is a Japanese-American artist who is also a Christian. In his very insightful book, Beauty and Silence, he tells the story of another Japanese artist, Sen no Rikyu.

Sen no Rikyu (1522–1591) was one of the greatest innovators to come out of Japanese soil. Rikyu lived in the era leading up to Christian persecution. He was born to a merchant in Osaka (Sakai) in the early sixteenth century. His given name was Yoshiro Tanaka; he later was named Sen no Rikyu in a Buddhist rite. He studied the traditional form of tea under several masters in Sakai, then at Daitoku-ji Temple in Kyoto. He had a close relationship with the warlord Hideyoshi (who eventually ordered Rikyu’s seppuku demise and ordered the official persecution of Christians to begin) and with Christian missionaries at the same time. His wife Oriki (one of two wives), who was present when he was forced to end his life at the age of seventy-one, was one of the early converts to Christianity when the capital of Kyoto took hold of the Christian message….

Rikyu gave an architectural structure to this refinement of hiddenness in his design of tea rooms. Through Rikyu’s architecture of tea the missionaries of the sixteenth century learned of tea. His were much smaller in size than most; traditionally, tea was part of a banquet culture in China, and consequently many tea rooms were quite large. The smaller size of Rikyu’s tea rooms allowed particular focus on the minute particulars of the movement of hands, subtle gestures of the placement of flowers, and often hidden messages behind the choice of utensils or paintings in the room. Rikyu was first linked with an ostentatiously ornate golden room in Osaka that Hideyoshi desired, but he began to move toward wabi simplicity as he matured in his aesthetics. His most distinct contribution is in the creation of nijiri-guchi, a small square entry port designed for the guest to enter the tea house. Rikyu’s nijiri-guchi were so small that they forced everyone to bow and remove their swords in order to enter the tea room.

Rikyu created a space dedicated to repose, communication and peace. Deep communication can only take place through a path of vulnerability. In other words, the only way to escape the violent cycle of the age of feudal struggles is to remove one’s sword; then, in safety, one can communicate truly.[1]

It is a provocative image, and one that I think is essential to the New Testament vision of relationships within the body of Christ: humble yourself and remove your swords before engaging with others. What Sen no Rikyu was doing was creating an environment for peace in which actual conversation and authentic relationship could happen. He was, in other words, being a peacemaker.

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