The Covenanted Committed Church (Part 12)

One of the most stinging indictments of Christian hypocrisy ever penned is Sinclair Lewis’ novel Elmer Gantry. Elmer Gantry is a charlatan preacher, a hypocrite who likes money and women and fame. At the end of the book Elmer’s controversies have caught up with him and he realizes he must now face his congregation in shame. The book ends with a truly cringeworthy description of that event.

It had come. He could not put it off. He had to face them.

Feebly the Reverend Dr. Gantry wavered through the door to the auditorium and exposed himself to twenty-five hundred question marks.

They rose and cheered—cheered—cheered. Theirs were the shining faces of friends.

Without planning it, Elmer knelt on the platform, holding his hands out to them, sobbing, and with him they all knelt and sobbed and prayed, while outside the locked glass door of the church, seeing the mob kneel within, hundreds knelt on the steps of the church, on the sidewalk, all down the block.

“Oh, my friends!” cried Elmer, “do you believe in my innocence, in the fiendishness of my accusers? Reassure me with a hallelujah!”

The church thundered with the triumphant hallelujah, and in a sacred silence Elmer prayed:

“O Lord, thou hast stooped from thy mighty throne and rescued thy servant from the assault of the mercenaries of Satan! Mostly we thank thee because thus we can go on doing thy work, and thine alone! Not less but more zealously shall we seek utter purity and the prayer-life, and rejoice in freedom from all temptations!”

He turned to include the choir, and for the first time he saw that there was a new singer, a girl with charming ankles and lively eyes, with whom he would certainly have to become well acquainted. But the thought was so swift that it did not interrupt the pæan of his prayer:

“Let me count this day, Lord, as the beginning of a new and more vigorous life, as the beginning of a crusade for complete morality and the domination of the Christian church through all the land. Dear Lord, thy work is but begun! We shall yet make these United States a moral nation!”[1]

Sinclair Lewis’ point is clear enough: behind all the talk of God and morality and holiness, Elmer Gantry is the same old dog he’s always been. But if the gospel of Jesus Christ is true, we who embrace it should not be the same old dogs we always were! No, we should be different. The gospel should work itself out visibly through our lives. Toward this end we have added the next statement in our covenant:

As a body of born again believers,

We covenant to become an authentic family by

loving one another as Christ loves us,

praying for one another,

speaking truth to one another in love,

being patient with one another,

protecting one another,

considering one another as more important than ourselves.

We covenant to embrace the whole gospel by

studying God’s Word faithfully,

learning the gospel together in family worship,

giving ear only to sound doctrine,

living out the gospel in our lives

What does it mean to “live out the gospel in our lives”? What does the gospel have to do with our hands, our feet, and our tongues? How does the gospel move from “creed” to “character”?

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Habakkuk 1:12-2:5

habakkukHabakkuk 1

12 Are you not from everlasting, O Lord my God, my Holy One? We shall not die. O Lord, you have ordained them as a judgment, and you, O Rock, have established them for reproof. 13 You who are of purer eyes than to see evil and cannot look at wrong, why do you idly look at traitors and remain silent when the wicked swallows up the man more righteous than he? 14 You make mankind like the fish of the sea, like crawling things that have no ruler. 15 He brings all of them up with a hook; he drags them out with his net; he gathers them in his dragnet; so he rejoices and is glad. 16 Therefore he sacrifices to his net and makes offerings to his dragnet; for by them he lives in luxury, and his food is rich. 17 Is he then to keep on emptying his net and mercilessly killing nations forever?

Habakkuk 2

1I will take my stand at my watchpost and station myself on the tower, and look out to see what he will say to me, and what I will answer concerning my complaint. And the Lord answered me: “Write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so he may run who reads it. For still the vision awaits its appointed time; it hastens to the end—it will not lie. If it seems slow, wait for it; it will surely come; it will not delay. “Behold, his soul is puffed up; it is not upright within him, but the righteous shall live by his faith. “Moreover, wineis a traitor, an arrogant man who is never at rest. His greed is as wide as Sheol; like death he has never enough. He gathers for himself all nations and collects as his own all peoples.”

The phrase “Be careful what you ask for!” has a great deal of merit. Sometimes it feels like life has a way of responding to our wishes in ways not only that we could not have foreseen but in ways that sometimes seem downright worse than the way things were before! It is possible that Habakkuk the prophet felt that way after hearing God’s initial response to his voiced complaint in the beginning of the book. Habakkuk had complained about rampant injustice and wickedness in his own land. James Montgomery Boice notes that Habakkuk had seen a period of great national revival only to see it collapse into national godlessness. So Habakkuk complained to God about what he perceived to be God’s inactivity. “Why are you silent? Why will you not do something to right these wrongs?” Habakkuk had asked.

And God had responded.

God told Habakkuk in chapter 1 that He in fact knew what He was doing. He revealed that He was going to use another people to discipline His own rebellious people. The only problem was that the people God was going to use to accomplish His desires was the Babylonians! This was shocking for a couple of reasons, the second worse than the first. First of all, it was shocking because the Assyrians, not the Babylonians, were at that time the dominant power. It was unlikely by any human reckoning that the Babylonians would become a dominant world power. Secondly, it was shocking because the Babylonians were worse than the Jews whom God was seeking to discipline!

Habakkuk, to put it mildly, was flabbergasted. Thus, he complains again…and God answers again. We see this exchange unfolding in Habakkuk 1:12 and following.

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Habakkuk 1:1-11

habakkukHabakkuk 1

1 The oracle that Habakkuk the prophet saw. O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear? Or cry to you “Violence!” and you will not save? Why do you make me see iniquity, and why do you idly look at wrong? Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise. So the law is paralyzed, and justice never goes forth. For the wicked surround the righteous; so justice goes forth perverted. “Look among the nations, and see; wonder and be astounded. For I am doing a work in your days that you would not believe if told. For behold, I am raising up the Chaldeans, that bitter and hasty nation, who march through the breadth of the earth, to seize dwellings not their own. They are dreaded and fearsome; their justice and dignity go forth from themselves. Their horses are swifter than leopards, more fierce than the evening wolves; their horsemen press proudly on. Their horsemen come from afar; they fly like an eagle swift to devour. They all come for violence, all their faces forward. They gather captives like sand. 10 At kings they scoff, and at rulers they laugh. They laugh at every fortress, for they pile up earth and take it. 11 Then they sweep by like the wind and go on, guilty men, whose own might is their god!”

A couple of years ago a church member told me that I had been both complimented and criticized on Facebook. I guess that makes me no different than anybody else, come to think of it! I am not on Facebook, so I asked him what was said. The person told me that my name had come up and that somebody had said that I was decent enough as a preacher but that I was “an SJW.” I did get a good laugh out of that! If you do not know, “SJW” is a derogatory term that stands for “social justice warrior” and is usually applied to far left, screaming liberals who are constantly offended about this or that, whose entire life is dominated by politics, who have adopted a far-left political agenda, and whose lives are enmeshed in gender, race, and identity politics. Since I am usually criticized for not talking enough about politics from the pulpit, you will perhaps understand why I laughed! As far as what “SJW” means today as an insult against unstable people who are always protesting this or that or are hyper-sensitive to perceived slights, nothing could be further from the truth. After all, I am a pro-life conservative in my politics and, if pressed to speak to the issue, I will quickly say that I find the extreme fringes of both the political left and the right to be pretty shrill and ineffective. So, as far as the comment went, I found it pretty amusing.

If, however, I could be allowed to detach “social justice warrior” from its present-day connotation of a deranged, radical wingnut and use it simply and literally as “somebody who desires a just society,” then I very much hope that all of us would own the term. After all, the Bible is filled with condemnations of injustice. Perhaps we find the most poignant and powerful of these in the prophets. Habakkuk is certainly no exception.

In the book of Habakkuk, the prophet who goes by that name cries out to God for justice in the midst of Judah. The people of God had corrupt rulers and their corruption had seemingly poisoned the whole of society. For this reason, he cries out to God for help. Furthermore, he cries out to God because he feels that God is being silent in the midst of these injustices. Habakkuk cries out, and God answers.

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The Covenanted Committed Church (Part 11)

Covenant1Does it matter what we think about God? Does it matter what kind of theological convictions we hold, what doctrines we adhere to? Some would say no, it does not matter. For instance, consider the following article about an interview the actor Jim Carrey gave 60 minutes some years ago.

JIM CARREY TELLS ’60 MINUTES’: MORE GOD, LESS PROZAC

Thu Nov 18 2004

Jim Carrey says the anti-depressant Prozac that he took may have helped him at one time, but he’s better off without it now. In fact, says the actor, a no-drugs-or-alcohol policy and a spiritual life are the things that make him feel good. Carrey speaks frankly in a rare one-on-one interview with Steve Kroft to be broadcast on 60 MINUTES Sunday, Nov. 21 (7:00-8:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network…

During the interview at his home, he invited 60 MINUTES cameras to one of his most beautiful and private spots, his “center of the universe,” where he goes to escape the world and where he tells Kroft his feelings about God. “This is where I hang out with Buddha, Krishna…all those guys,” says Carrey about a lean-to adorned with candles and a bed built high on his hillside property in Brentwood, Calif.

“I’m a Buddhist, I’m a Muslim, I’m a Christian. I’m whatever you want me to be…it all comes down to the same thing,” he tells Kroft. Carrey says he believes they are all the same God and it is this conviction and spirituality that make him happy.[1]

That is a very modern-American thing to say—“it all comes down to the same thing”—but most people know, if they think about it, that the statement is nonsense. After all, the creeds Carrey mentions—Buddhism, Islam, and Christianity—say very different things about God and about who Jesus Christ is. They cannot all be true.

So I ask again: does it matter what we think about God? Does it matter what doctrines, what beliefs, we adhere to? As a church, we have taken the position that it does matter, that there is such a thing as “sound doctrine” and “unsound doctrine,” and that the follower of Jesus must hold to sound doctrine. To that end, we have placed a statement about adhering to sound doctrine in our church covenant.

As a body of born again believers,

We covenant to become an authentic family by

loving one another as Christ loves us,

praying for one another,

speaking truth to one another in love,

being patient with one another,

protecting one another,

considering one another as more important than ourselves.

We covenant to embrace the whole gospel by

studying God’s Word faithfully,

learning the gospel together in family worship,

giving ear only to sound doctrine

The question, then, is what is sound doctrine? What are its fruits and evidences? Why is it so important and why are we bound to adhere to it and it only?

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The Covenanted Committed Church (Part 10)

Covenant1I would like for you to hear a letter from Cynthia Sumner Mell to her son, Patrick Hues Mell, before his conversion and tremendous ministry among Southern Baptists in the 19thcentury:

My Dear Boy:

            It is high time that you and I should communicate frequently and intimately and confidentially. If this is not to be expected by the time you have arrived at fifteen when is it to be looked for? On one account I have more anxiety, even dread on your behalf than for any of my children. Earnestly as I wish a son of mine to be a minister yet I tremble at the idea of educating and devoting a son to the sacred profession without previously satisfactory evidence that his own soul was right with God…My heart burns to see youin every sense of the word a true Christian…You should exercise a jealousy over yourself lest the trifles of this world should deaden your feelings about the grand questions: what are the chances of my salvation—what have I done—what must I do to be saved?…remember they that are Christ’s have crucified their affections and lusts – crucify yours.[1]

Now thatis what a Christian parent sounds like andthatis what a family that has planted the cross deep in its midst sounds like! The next statement in our church covenant has to do with the family’s commitment to worshiping God.

As a body of born again believers,

We covenant to become an authentic family by

loving one another as Christ loves us,

praying for one another,

speaking truth to one another in love,

being patient with one another,

protecting one another,

considering one another as more important than ourselves.

We covenant to embrace the whole gospel

studying God’s Word faithfully,

learning the gospel together in family worship

What does this mean, “learning the gospel together in family worship”? What it most certainly does not mean is an awkward ten minute devotional in which everybody is peeking at their iPhones and hoping this awkward ritual will soon end! No, I am most certainly not talking about that! In fact, I am not even talking about “family devotionals” per se, though they are a part of what I want to talk about. No, I am talking about something bigger and all encompassing: building a culture of worship in your family, a culture in which the name of Jesus does not hang in the air as an unwelcome and unpleasant guest. I am talking about a family that freely discusses the Lord, freely and naturally prays together, and studies the scriptures together.

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Nahum 3

maxresdefaultNahum 3

1 Woe to the bloody city, all full of lies and plunder—no end to the prey! The crack of the whip, and rumble of the wheel, galloping horse and bounding chariot! Horsemen charging, flashing sword and glittering spear, hosts of slain, heaps of corpses, dead bodies without end—they stumble over the bodies! And all for the countless whorings of the prostitute, graceful and of deadly charms, who betrays nations with her whorings, and peoples with her charms. Behold, I am against you, declares the Lord of hosts, and will lift up your skirts over your face; and I will make nations look at your nakedness and kingdoms at your shame. I will throw filth at you and treat you with contempt and make you a spectacle. And all who look at you will shrink from you and say, “Wasted is Nineveh; who will grieve for her?” Where shall I seek comforters for you? Are you better than Thebes that sat by the Nile, with water around her, her rampart a sea, and water her wall? Cush was her strength; Egypt too, and that without limit; Put and the Libyans were her helpers. 10 Yet she became an exile; she went into captivity; her infants were dashed in pieces at the head of every street; for her honored men lots were cast, and all her great men were bound in chains.11 You also will be drunken; you will go into hiding; you will seek a refuge from the enemy. 12 All your fortresses are like fig trees with first-ripe figs—if shaken they fall into the mouth of the eater. 13 Behold, your troops are women in your midst. The gates of your land are wide open to your enemies; fire has devoured your bars. 14 Draw water for the siege; strengthen your forts; go into the clay; tread the mortar; take hold of the brick mold! 15 There will the fire devour you; the sword will cut you off. It will devour you like the locust. Multiply yourselves like the locust; multiply like the grasshopper! 16 You increased your merchants more than the stars of the heavens. The locust spreads its wings and flies away. 17 Your princes are like grasshoppers, your scribes like clouds of locusts settling on the fences in a day of cold—when the sun rises, they fly away; no one knows where they are. 18 Your shepherds are asleep, O king of Assyria; your nobles slumber. Your people are scattered on the mountains with none to gather them. 19 There is no easing your hurt; your wound is grievous. All who hear the news about you clap their hands over you. For upon whom has not come your unceasing evil?

Nineveh, the capitol city of the Assyrian empire, would fall to an opposing military coalition in the year 612 BC. In 1815, Lord Byron famously immortalized an earlier defeat of the Assyrians in their 701 BC siege of Jerusalem in his poem, “The Destruction of Sennacherib.” Byron’s description of that event is worthy of consideration when we read in Nahum 3 of Nineveh’s ultimate destruction.

The Assyrian came down like the wolf on the fold,

And his cohorts were gleaming in purple and gold;

And the sheen of their spears was like stars on the sea,

When the blue wave rolls nightly on deep Galilee.

Like the leaves of the forest when Summer is green,

That host with their banners at sunset were seen:

Like the leaves of the forest when Autumn hath blown,

That host on the morrow lay withered and strown.

For the Angel of Death spread his wings on the blast,

And breathed in the face of the foe as he passed;

And the eyes of the sleepers waxed deadly and chill,

And their hearts but once heaved, and for ever grew still!

And there lay the steed with his nostril all wide,

But through it there rolled not the breath of his pride;

And the foam of his gasping lay white on the turf,

And cold as the spray of the rock-beating surf.

And there lay the rider distorted and pale,

With the dew on his brow, and the rust on his mail:

And the tents were all silent, the banners alone,

The lances unlifted, the trumpet unblown.

And the widows of Ashur are loud in their wail,

And the idols are broke in the temple of Baal;

And the might of the Gentile, unsmote by the sword,

Hath melted like snow in the glance of the Lord![1]

Yes, this is an apt description of a shattering destruction! It is a justly famed expression of woe and of defeat. Even so, it pales in comparison to Nahum 3’s description of the demise of the Assyrians.

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The Covenanted Committed Church (Part 9)

Covenant1On August 4, 2018, Dan Moran posted an article at the blog for The Institute on Religion and Democracy entitled, “‘Uniting Methodists” Panelists: ‘The Bible is Wrong.” It reads, in part:

On July 16–18, the “Uniting Methodists” caucus hosted a conference to organize their support for the so-called One Church Plan proposal for the special United Methodist General Conference in February. Around 200 people gathered at Lovers Lane UMC in Dallas, Texas, along with another 200 watching online. The caucus urges the UMC to unite around the basic idea of ordaining homosexually partnered clergy and allowing but not requiring clergy to perform same-sex weddings, repeatedly claims that such proposals would bring unity to the denomination, and describes itself and its agenda as “centrist” despite actually being rather liberal. John Lomperis has written a series of articles analyzing the Uniting Methodists’ cause and leadership.

Many of the conference’s most memorable moments came from a panel discussion led by Rev. Mike Baughman, an ordained elder serving as the lead pastor for Union, a new church start in Dallas, Texas, and featuring four young millennial leaders from its worship planning team. Disappointingly, the millennial panel lacked the kind of theological diversity that should define any truly “Uniting” Methodists movement. All were fully LGBTQ-affirming. The unorthodox beliefs shared by these “Uniting Methodists” panelists appear to speak clearly to the heart and future aspirations of this caucus and its preferred plan…

Lauren Manza, who identifies as lesbian, was unabashed in criticizing the Bible itself. She too grew up in a conservative family, and felt conflict with her upbringing. When speaking on same-sex marriage and the verses that traditionalists use to argue against it she said, “I believe if I sat down with Paul today, Paul would say ‘I’m not down for that,’ but I think the Bible’s wrong.”…

Instead of providing a counterpoint to her attack on Biblical authority, Baughman continued Manza’s train of thought. Recalling meetings with some of these young church leaders at Union he said:

“There were times that folks like Stephen and some other members of the team would just say like ‘Can we just say the Bible’s wrong?’ and one of the things that’s been interesting is I think there is this sense among a lot of millennials that just because the Bible says something, that doesn’t mean it has any authority whatsoever.”[1]

One wishes that such views were unusual in the church today and that a chorus of protest at such a blatant rejection of scripture within the church would arise whenever such is voiced, but increasingly that is not the case. Increasingly the sentiments of these young people seem to be more and more mainstream. For our church, however, we have committed ourselves to be an authentic family around the whole gospel, and our understanding of what that means entails a high view of the authority of scripture.

“Can we just say the Bible’s wrong?” Absolutely not! For we believe it is the word of God. For this reason, our covenant contains an explicit statement about the scriptures as God’s word and our need to be deeply grounded in them.

As a body of born again believers,

We covenant to become an authentic family by

loving one another as Christ loves us,

praying for one another,

speaking truth to one another in love,

being patient with one another,

protecting one another,

considering one another as more important than ourselves.

We covenant to embrace the whole gospel

studying God’s Word faithfully

Why do we covenant to “study God’s Word faithfully”? Why should we? Why does it matter?

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Nahum 2

skeleton_assyriaNahum 2

1 The scatterer has come up against you. Man the ramparts; watch the road; dress for battle; collect all your strength. 2 For the Lord is restoring the majesty of Jacob as the majesty of Israel, for plunderers have plundered them and ruined their branches. 3 The shield of his mighty men is red; his soldiers are clothed in scarlet. The chariots come with flashing metal on the day he musters them; the cypress spears are brandished. 4 The chariots race madly through the streets; they rush to and fro through the squares; they gleam like torches; they dart like lightning. 5 He remembers his officers; they stumble as they go, they hasten to the wall; the siege tower is set up. 6 The river gates are opened; the palace melts away; 7 its mistress is stripped; she is carried off, her slave girls lamenting, moaning like doves and beating their breasts. 8 Nineveh is like a pool whose waters run away. “Halt! Halt!” they cry, but none turns back. 9 Plunder the silver, plunder the gold! There is no end of the treasure or of the wealth of all precious things. 10 Desolate! Desolation and ruin! Hearts melt and knees tremble; anguish is in all loins; all faces grow pale! 11 Where is the lions’ den, the feeding place of the young lions, where the lion and lioness went, where his cubs were, with none to disturb? 12 The lion tore enough for his cubs and strangled prey for his lionesses; he filled his caves with prey and his dens with torn flesh. 13 Behold, I am against you, declares the Lord of hosts, and I will burn your chariots in smoke, and the sword shall devour your young lions. I will cut off your prey from the earth, and the voice of your messengers shall no longer be heard.

In 1963-64, Bob Dylan wrote his song, “Seven Curses.” It is a song about a powerful judge who uses the occasion of a father’s crime to commit a crime against the man’s daughter. He promises the daughter that her father (who had stolen a horse) will be set free if he, the judge, can have her. She agrees only to discover the next day that the judge had her father killed anyway. As a result, she curses the judge with seven curses.

Old Reilly stole a stallion
But they caught him and they brought him back
And they laid him down on the jailhouse ground
With an iron chain around his neck
Old Reilly’s daughter got a message
That her father was goin’ to hang
She rode by night and came by morning
With gold and silver in her hand
When the judge he saw Reilly’s daughter
His old eyes deepened in his head
Sayin’, “Gold will never free your father
The price, my dear, is you instead”
“Oh I’m as good as dead,” cried Reilly
“It’s only you that he does crave
And my skin will surely crawl if he touches you at all
Get on your horse and ride away”
“Oh father you will surely die
If I don’t take the chance to try
And pay the price and not take your advice
For that reason I will have to stay”
The gallows shadows shook the evening
In the night a hound dog bayed
In the night the grounds were groanin’
In the night the price was paid
The next mornin’ she had awoken
To know that the judge had never spoken
She saw that hangin’ branch a-bendin’
She saw her father’s body broken
These be seven curses on a judge so cruel:
That one doctor will not save him
That two healers will not heal him
That three eyes will not see him
That four ears will not hear him
That five walls will not hide him
That six diggers will not bury him
And that seven deaths shall never kill him[1]

Dylan knew well that seven is a number of completion. His point is clear enough: when the powerful commit atrocities against the weak they are utterly and completely cursed. Sooner or later, justice will come even to the powerful. The girl’s seven curses against the wicked judge bring to mind God’s oracle of judgement against Nineveh, an oracle spelled out in devastating detail in Nahum 2. Edward Dalglish sees “the charged atmosphere” of the destruction of Nineveh as “reflected in the staccato utterances, the multiplied word pictures hastily changing from theme to theme, and the stark realism of the portrayal” of Nahum 2.[2]He is right. This is a devastating picture of complete woe and judgment against Assyria and Nineveh, its capitol.

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Nahum 1:8-15

1927_Mississippi_Flood_Levee_BreachNahum 1

But with an overflowing flood he will make a complete end of the adversaries, and will pursue his enemies into darkness. What do you plot against the Lord? He will make a complete end; trouble will not rise up a second time. 10 For they are like entangled thorns, like drunkards as they drink; they are consumed like stubble fully dried. 11 From you came one who plotted evil against the Lord, a worthless counselor. 12 Thus says the Lord, “Though they are at full strength and many, they will be cut down and pass away. Though I have afflicted you, I will afflict you no more. 13 And now I will break his yoke from off you and will burst your bonds apart.” 14 The Lord has given commandment about you: “No more shall your name be perpetuated; from the house of your gods I will cut off the carved image and the metal image. I will make your grave, for you are vile.” 15 Behold, upon the mountains, the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace! Keep your feasts, O Judah; fulfill your vows, for never again shall the worthless pass through you; he is utterly cut off.

Every time I drive over the Mississippi River I marvel at it. Almost every time I do so I willl say something like, “Man. That is a LOT of water.” And it is! In 1927, America got to see the sheer power of that much water. Here is the Encyclopaedia Brittanica’s summary of the 1927 Mississippi River flood:

Mississippi River flood of 1927, also called Great Flood of 1927, flooding of the lower Mississippi River valley in April 1927, one of the worst natural disasters in the history of the United States. More than 23,000 square miles (60,000 square km) of land was submerged, hundreds of thousands of people were displaced, and around 250 people died.

After several months of heavy rain caused the Mississippi River to swell to unprecedented levels, the first levee broke on April 16, along the Illinois shore. Then, on April 21, the levee at Mounds Landing in Mississippi gave way. Over the next few weeks essentially the entire levee system along the river collapsed. In some places, residential areas were submerged in 30 feet (9 metres) of water. At least two months passed before the floodwater completely subsided.[1]

The event has been memorialized in songs and stories ever since, perhaps nowhere more famously than in Kansas Joe McCoy and Memphis Minnie’s 1929 blues song, “When the Levee Breaks,” a song most well-known, perhaps, through Led Zeppelin’s 1970 adaptation/cover it. The original lyrics to McCoy and Minnie’s song have some powerful imagery. Here are some select stanzas:

If it keeps on rainin’, levee’s goin’ to break
If it keeps on rainin’, levee’s goin’ to break
And the water gonnna come in and we’ll have no place to stay

Well all last night I sat on the levee and moan
Well all last night I sat on the levee and moan
Thinkin’ ’bout my baby and my happy home

I worked on the levee mama both night and day
I worked on the levee mama both night and day
I ain’t got nobody to keep the water away

Oh cryin’ won’t help you, prayin’ won’t do no good
Oh cryin’ won’t help you, prayin’ won’t do no good
Whenever the levee breaks momma, you got to lose

Oh mean old levee taught me to weep and moan
Yeah the mean old levee taught me to weep and moan
Told me leave my baby and my happy home

The power of this song, in my opinion, rests in its articulation of the sense of utter helplessness those along the river felt in the face of the raging waters that rushed through the broken levees of the Mississippi. There is nothing to do before such an onslaught! With that in mind, it is telling that the image of raging floodwaters was used by Nahum to describe God’s coming judgment against Assyria in light of their wickedness and mistreatment of the people of God. Indeed, “cryin’ won’t help you, prayin’ won’t do no good” when the wrath of God finally falls.

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The Covenanted Committed Church (Part 8)

Covenant1In September of 2017, Christianity Todaypublished an article entitle, “Catholic bishop apologises and priest resigns after Hindu deity Ganesh is welcomed in church.”

The Hindu community of Spain’s Ceuta and Melilla had been completing their worshipping celebrations of Ganesh, the famous deity with the head of an elephant and the body of a child.

On their journey, they were welcomed at the Catholic Church of Our Lady of Africa, led by Father Castro. The Hindu party had been singing chants traditionally dedicated to Saint Mary, and then brought the image of Ganesh into the church and toward the Altar, where Catholics there sang Marian hymns with the deity’s image in view.

What was intended as a sign of respect on the part of the Hindu community was taken as scandalous to many in the Catholic community, who don’t share the pluralistic spirit that’s prevalent in Hinduism.

Bishop Rafael Zorzona Boy said the event was ‘regrettable’, and apologised for the cause of any ‘pain, confusion or scandal in the Christian community.’ Father Castro was ‘admonished’ for his role in the controversy, the bishop said.

A diocese statement said that in no situation was the ‘love of the members of the Hindu community or their beliefs [to be] rebuked,’ but that positive local Catholic-Hindu relations also ‘forces us to be increasingly more faithful to our Christian tradition.’[1]

This is not the first time that an ostensibly Christian minister has gotten into trouble for getting too cozy with Hinduism. Consider this 2006 article, “British priest in Kerala in conversion debate,” in The Hindu:

A controversy has broken out in the U.K. and the U.S. with the media reflecting a debate over an Anglican priest who converted to Hinduism in Kerala where he has now stayed for nearly a year, and where he regularly offers ritual prayers in a temple.

Rev. David Hart, 52, who has a fascination for Lord Ganesha, celebrated Vinayaka Chathurthi in front of his house here last month. Mainstream newspapers, church journals, popular websites and radio stations in the U.K. and the U.S. are now debating the propriety of allowing Rev. Hart to continue his “pluralist religious identity” while remaining a priest of the Church of England.

The Times, of London, in a report headlined `Hinduism no barrier to job as priest in Church of England’ (September 8), published a photograph of Rev. Hart offering prayers to Ganesha and quoted from a report in the Kerala editions of The Hindu on August 27. Church Times, of the Church of England, launched a poll on whether Rev. Hart, “who recites the Gayatri Mantram with the same devotion with which he celebrates the Eucharist or offers namaz in Muslim prayer halls” should be allowed to continue as a priest…

Rev. Hart, an Associate Professor in Theology and Religious Studies at the University of Winchester, mentions his conversion in a book Trading Faith: Global Religion in an Age of Rapid Change. Focusing on a new model for understanding religious practice and faith, it was released here earlier this year. A follower of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), Rev. Hart has changed his middle name from `Allen’ to `Ananda Krishna Das.’

He is unruffled by the debate. On September 10, the BBC’s Radio 4 did a live telephone interview with Rev. Hart for its `The Sunday Programme.’ Around 20 U.S.-based online discussion groups have sprung up debating the controversy.

Defending his decision not to inform the Bishop of Ely about his conversion while renewing his orders, Rev. Hart told The Hindu: “Becoming a Hindu has not brought about any change in my spiritual status. The act has not shaken my Christian beliefs by even one per cent.”

Also the international secretary of the World Congress of Faiths based in London, he does not find any contradiction in being identified as a “religious pluralist.”

He said: “Asking me to express my preference for any particular faith is like asking me to choose between an ice-cream and a chocolate. Both have their own distinct taste.”[2]

We live in strange times, though this last statement about ice-cream really takes the cake! The question is this: is the church, as followers of Jesus defined by a particular conviction about a particular belief that we believe to be true above all others or would we say that the gospel, the core belief of Christianity, is simply one dessert among many others? Is the gospel a non-negotiable that we dare not edit or add too, or is it simply a preference that we dare not privilege above other religions’ preferences?

I want to argue this morning that the former is true, that the gospel is not simply a casual opinion among other equally-valid opinions. Rather, it is the very truth of God that defines who we are! This is the conviction of our church, and it is expressed in the second section of our covenant, the first line of which we will consider this morning.

As a body of born again believers,

We covenant to become an authentic family by

loving one another as Christ loves us,

praying for one another,

speaking truth to one another in love,

being patient with one another,

protecting one another,

considering one another as more important than ourselves.

We covenant to embrace the whole gospel

What does it mean to “covenant to embrace the whole gospel”?

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