Postscript to the Sons of Issachar Who Understood the Times

Do not despise prophecies, but test everything….

I wrote a piece on the Sons of Issachar recently. They are referenced in 1 Chronicles 12:32. The Sons of Issachar were 200 chiefs of the descendents of Issachar who joined David with a multitude from the other tribes of Israel when David was hiding from Saul who sought to kill David.

Saul had fallen from being Israel’s first king, which the people demanded, and God gave them, despite the fact that they were rejecting God as their king in the process. Saul got caught up in his own power and position. Saul was beginning to lose touch with reality, developing jealousy toward David and suspected David was out to get him. Thus, he sought to kill David.

God, in turn, was about to reject Saul as king because he ceased to listen and follow God’s instruction given through the prophet, Samuel. God, of course, favored David because he was a man after God’s own heart.

David, for his part, loved and honored Saul who God had made king. David had multiple opportunities to kill Saul, but he refused to do it, leaving Saul’s fate (and his own fate) completely in God’s hands.

Still, men from every tribe of Israel began to gather where David was hiding, including men from Saul’s own tribe (Benjamin), who were some of the first men to join David. The 200 chiefs of the Sons of Issachar, too, joined David, and Scripture says of them, specifically, that they were man “who understood the times and knew what Israel should do”.

That phrase has been invoked by people who style themselves modern prophets who support the presidency of Donald Trump. They claim, of course, that they are men who understand the times. They claim to know what the United States should, particularly in regard to Donald Trump.

I don’t dismiss what they say out of hand. God has spoken at various times through people who were considered prophets. One of the hallmarks of “the last days” is prophecy, visions and dreams. Peter announced the last days were starting when he stood up on the Day of Pentecost and quoted the prophet, Joel:

And in the last days it shall be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
    and your young men shall see visions,
    and your old men shall dream dreams;
even on my male servants and female servants
    in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy.

Acts 2:17-18 (quoting Joel 2:28-32)

Though some people believe that these displays of God’s power and authority were only for a dispensation in time, long enough for the Holy Spirit to lead the disciples into the truth and preserve it in what we now call the New Testament, I don’t see evidence of that in the New Testament Scripture itself. I think we should expect God to be able to work through people today through prophecy, visions and dreams, and I believe) He does!

We, in the west, are not very open to God working that way. We have staked out our position on the embankment of reason, logic, theology and sound doctrine. We are quite uncomfortable with the “messiness” of experiential phenomena like prophecy, visions and dreams.

Yet, outside our western sanctuaries and cloistered halls of learning, these phenomena are regular experiences of Christian life. People who have done short term or long term missions often encounter these phenomena in places where people are not presumptively skeptical of what God can do.

Visions and dreams are ubiquitous in the stories of Muslims coming to faith in Christ. I once spoke with a Muslim woman who described for me a vision of Jesus coming to her in the midst of a near death experience she lived through and a subsequent “waking vision” of Jesus calling to her in he knick of time to save he son from being hit by a bus. She became a believer in Jesus because of these visions though no one preached a word to her.

I think it is a mistake to dismiss out of hand the prophecies, visions and dreams that people claim to have today, but we also need to be careful. Paul admonished the Thessalonians, “Do not despise prophecies…!” (1 Thess. 5:20) But he added an important qualifier:

Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good.

1 Thess. 5:20-21 (emphasis added)
Continue reading “Postscript to the Sons of Issachar Who Understood the Times”

The 2020 Election: Daylight Had Spoken

I woke yesterday to these words:

Daylight had spoken 
So clear and so plain 
I’m the keeper of nothing 
But an old flame 
Consuming the shadows 
Caught in the light 
Blinded by hunger 
And fed to the night 

I went to bed with the presidential election in the balance, teetering on the brink of madness – madness that we are so divided as a country over, perhaps, the two most unpopular candidates in our country’s long history.

We have gotten used to the “lesser of two evils’ voting mantra. Not that each candidate doesn’t have their crazy fans. And, that’s part of the madness too.

But daylight broke once again. Like Groundhog’s Day the movie, its constancy is inimitable. So, it is fitting that the Book of Lamentations states thus (3:22-23):

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
    his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness.

In my daily Scripture reading, the passages were no less apropos:

As evening approached, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who had himself become a disciple of Jesus. Going to Pilate, he asked for Jesus’ body, and Pilate ordered that it be given to him. Joseph took the body, wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, and placed it in his own new tomb that he had cut out of the rock. He rolled a big stone in front of the entrance to the tomb and went away. Matthew 27:57-60

So, it was the night Jesus was crucified.

The passages for the day also included the description of a small entourage of women waking in the morning to bring spices to the tomb. When they got there they found the tomb empty. (Mark 16:1; Luke 24:1-3)

Finally, the passages for the day included the appearance of Jesus to Mary Magdalene, the woman from whom he had cast out seven demons. (Mark 16:9) Mary was the first person to whom Jesus appeared. That significance can not be understated.

The men back were still hunkered down where they had been since darkness draped over the world the night Jesus died. They didn’t believe her when she told them she saw Jesus. (Mark 16:11)

So it is that we arrive quickly at assumptions and hold on to them. Jesus died before them and the onlooking world. Jesus was dead. Who would believe otherwise?

Of course, he had been telling them since they met him that his body would be destroyed, and he would raise it up three days later, but they never quite got what he was saying.

I left for the office pondering these things.

The votes are still being counted today. The outcome is less than certain. There is talk of fraud, injunctions and refusing to step down, and I can’t bear to think of four years of Biden… or Trump.

But the new day has dawned. God’s mercies are new every morning. Great is His faithfulness. Jesus defied sin and death, rose again and ascended into heaven. He sits, now, at the right hand of the Father. He will come again to judge the living and the dead – so the creed goes that was canonized over three centuries after Jesus died.

Pontius Pilate, the leader who presided over the death of Jesus, is nothing but a footnote to the world’s greatest event – the death of God at the hands of His creation, for the sins of His creation, to provide His creation a real hope that cannot not be eliminated by an election, injunction or even crucifixion – and the resurrection!

So, Donald Trump or Joe Biden will become their own footnotes in history as the purposes of God unfold. The world may seem to be teetering out of control at every turn, but the only thing teetering is our illusion that we are in control. God’s word goes out, and it does not come back void. Jesus is still on the throne.

The song that woke me yesterday morning ends like this:

My search was unending 
And my soul was bare 
And Darling, you came to me like a midnight flare 
Out of the ocean 
The stars had all gone 
My heart was broken 
Lost and alone 

[Outro] 
Darling, you came to me like a beacon, leading me home

Substitute Jesus, for Darling, and it’s just about perfect.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Job poetically says of God that He gives orders to the morning and shows the dawn its place. (Job 38:12) Because of the tender mercy of God, the “Dayspring” [Dawn/Jesus] came to us from heaven to shine on us who live in darkness – in the shadow of death – to guide our path into peace. (Luke 1:78-80)

On Working to Establish a Biblical Orientation on Issues of Race

Christianity transcends all the natural barriers to human relationships.

Although the dust has settled (somewhat) on racial tensions since the maelstrom that was kicked up in the wake of the George Floyd killing in Minnesota, no one should think that the issue has been settled or will go away without some resolution. The country, including the church community, is divided on the facts, and issues, and measures that should be employed to resolve the racial tension. Even people of good will are uncertain on how to move forward.

A predominant worldview has emerged in academia that is filtering down into local communities that frames the issue and potential resolution in terms of oppression. This worldview divides the world into the oppressed and their oppressors. The people who hold to that narrative are aggressively pushing for change.

They push the people they are define as the oppressors in the racial tension. The people defined as the oppressors are white and predominantly “Christian” in name (at least). As with the laws of nature, so with the laws of natural human tendencies: when someone pushes, people being pushed naturally push back.

So it is today that the predominantly white, Evangelical Church in the United States is feeling the pressure of the desire and demand for change to address the racial disparities and tensions in our world, and we are tempted to reflexively push back against that pressure.

But how should we respond?

I have written on the differences between Critical Race Theory and biblical justice. We should recognize that the worldview based on the CRT framework is not biblical, though many of our brethren of color and more progressive white Christians have embraced it.

I submit, though, that CRT has come to prominence in the African American churches and among progressive white churches because the Church, generally, has left a vacuum, and “nature abhors a vacuum”. We have failed to recognize and address in a biblical way the deep and lasting pain of racism that continues to exist in a society that only recognized equal rights for African Americans in my lifetime.

The failure of the Church to address racial issues left room for a completely secular and unbiblical approach to sweep in. So, other than acknowledge our failure, what do we do now?

Continue reading “On Working to Establish a Biblical Orientation on Issues of Race”

Can We Find Peace in These Politically and Socially Tumultuous Times?

What if you could tap into peace, joy and gratitude regardless of your circumstances?

What year in our lifetimes has been more filled with angst and anxiety than 2020? The year, 1968, might be a close rival, politically and socially. Add to the political and social tensions a global pandemic, widespread unemployment and growing economic uncertainty caused by our response to it, and 2020 is easily the most difficult year in my lifetime.

The political anxiety and uncertainty has overflowed into tensions within families, among friends, in communities and even within churches. Collective and personal anxiety is even higher, now, with the Presidential election coming up. Hope is mixed with fear. What if the right person doesn’t get elected?

Everything seems to ride on this election, but there is that nagging doubt that even an election – even if it goes “right” (whatever you happen to believe that means) – will not calm the tensions and bring peace where current circumstances are boiling on the edge of overflowing.

We know in the pit of our stomachs that the “others” will not go down without a fight. A presidential election may shift the leverage (or not), but the fight is going to continue. It isn’t going away. COVID isn’t going away. The economy teeters on brink of failure.

The mantra during the 1960’s – the closest thing to our present circumstances – was peace and love. We don’t even dare hope for peace and love anymore. The hope held out in the ’60’s has been been replaced with anger, condemnation and unkindness. The peace has been replaced with rioting, gun violence and looting.

Not that the 1960’s didn’t see its share of violence and unrest. It’s just that we don’t pretend anymore that peace and love are achievable (or even laudable) goals. We will settle for an authoritarian dictatorship or equality forced by the arm of the law and reparations wrested from the clinging hands of people who inherited privilege.

It’s easy to feel that our generation faces difficulties that are unlike the difficulties faced by others in the past. We may feel that we are alone in these times, facing the anxiety of an uncertain future, but it isn’t so.

The details of our circumstances are unique, but nothing is new under the sun: other generations have faced similar hardships and much worse. Every previous generation shared the experience of angst and anxiety of an uncertain future, just as we do.

Looking back at history in static words written on sterile pages, we may not appreciate the common experience. In the fog of our present struggle, we can’t see as clearly as we do when we look back. Our emotions are in full flight as the noise and chaos happens around us. We don’t have the luxury of viewing the present from a comfortable chair in a quiet library.

On what basis, then, can we hold on to hope? What assurance do we have that peace will prevail?

The predominant view of politics, sociology and culture in academia today is idea of the oppressed ever rising up against their oppressors in an endless cycle of unrest, violence and change. Peace no longer has value. Hope is limited to the immediate future when the currently oppressed can change places – for a time – before the cycle repeats itself.

In the middle of our present angst and unease, I am reminded of a man who wrote about peace that defies that is not dependent on circumstances and hope that lasts beyond the foreseeable future. He wrote of peace that gave him confidence and sustained him in circumstances worse than you or I have ever experienced.

If we compare his circumstances to ours, I think most people would agree they were worse, by far, than anything we have experienced. Yet, he was fed by hope, and he experienced real peace in the midst of those circumstances – despite the circumstances. His story is worth considering.

Continue reading “Can We Find Peace in These Politically and Socially Tumultuous Times?”

God Will Not Be Mocked; His Purpose Will Be Accomplished Among Us

I have no doubt God is accomplishing His purpose, but what role we play may surprise us

21 February 2016: Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks to several thousand supporters at a rally in Atlanta, Georgia.

The Washington Examiner was the first news source to report that Republican senator, Ben Sasse, said in a “campaign telephone town hall call that went to about 17,000 Nebraskans”, among other things, that President Donald Trump trash-talks evangelicals behind their backs”. After briefly citing some points of agreement with Trump, Sasse “began to unload” on the President.

Sasse identified a litany of issues he has with Trump – careening “from curb to curb” on COVID (first ignoring it, then going “into full economic shutdown mode”), selling out allies, “the way he treats women”, spending “like a drunken sailor” and flirting with white supremacists – but the issue I want to focus on is the charge that Trump “mocks evangelicals behind closed doors”.

Sasse commented, “I think the overwhelming reason that President Trump won in 2016 was simply because Hillary Clinton was literally the most unpopular candidate in the history of polling.” It’s true, and most evangelicals I know said they were voting “only” for Trump as “the lesser of two evils”. They couldn’t stomach another Clinton presidency, perpetuating that inbred political machine in Washington that is openly hostile to concerns of evangelicals.

So, where along the timeline did Donald Trump become our champion? When did he stop being an evil? (Albeit an ostensibly lesser one)

A little googling reveals (for those who’s memory is short) that “long before” Donald Trump ran for President of the United States, he was a Democrat. Donald was registered as a Democrat from 2001-2009. Have we forgotten the criticism leveled against The Donald by Jeb Bush? “He was a Democrat longer than he was a Republican. He’s given more money to Democrats than he has to Republicans.” (Including Hillary Clinton)

To be completely accurate, Donald Trump changed his party affiliation at least five times since 1987, when he registered as a Republican. He changed to Independent in 1999, to Democrat in 2001, to Republican in 2009, to Independent in 2011, to Republican again in 2012. (See Political positions of Donald Trump at Wikipedia) But should that give us comfort?

On the issue that has been historically most influential on the Evangelical vote, abortion, Donald Trump has been described as shifting “from pro-choice to pro-life only as he planned a presidential run”. Robb Ryerse, a pastor at Vintage Fellowship in Fayetteville, AR, said earlier this year, “I personally believe that the President is cynically using pro-life voters for his own electoral purposes and doesn’t actually care about protecting innocent life at all.”

The LA Times was less skeptical in its description of Trump’s turnabout recently, calling him “a late convert” to the pro-life cause. Noting Trump’s position in 1999 (“pro-choice in every respect”), Trump told the March For Life crowd in Washington this year that “every life is worth protecting”.

The Times added: “Trump is counting on the support of his base of conservative activists to help bring him across the finish line.” While I don’t share the Times’ anti-pro-life stance, that’s what concerns me – that Trump is saying simply what a large block of his constituents want to hear. (To be fair, my skepticism runs deep with all politicians, especially in campaign mode.)

After all, moderates aren’t tolerated by voters anymore. Both political parties have “taken harder-line positions for and against abortion rights”. Trump had to choose sides. As former White House Press Secretary, Ari Fleischer, said recently, “There used to be a middle”, but now candidates must choose sides in an increasingly polarizing political environment.

Digging deeper, Trump’s political views have shifted from moderate populist (2003) to liberal-leaning populist to moderate populist (2003-2011) to moderate populist conservative (2011-12), to Libertarian leaning conservative (2012-15) to “hard-core conservative” just before the 2016 election. Interestingly, he back-stepped to Libertarian-leaning conservative, then moderate conservative after the election, but he may (again) be described as “hard-core conservative” … now that he campaigns for re-election. (See Political positions of Donald Trump ibid.)

I can’t help noticing that his hard-core conservativism seems to be timed with election campaigning, and that’s one of the things that troubles me about him. So, I began wondering today: what are his long-standing convictions? From my reading, I would say populism, authoritarianism, and nationalism, so let’s take a closer look at those threads of Donald Trump’s political life.

Continue reading “God Will Not Be Mocked; His Purpose Will Be Accomplished Among Us”