The Good Lord’s Whistle

At my church, we sing a prayer of illumination before the sermon asking God to make us receptive to the message he wants us to hear. Sometimes as I listen to the sermon, especially if I pick up on subtleties, I wonder how the message is received by others. Do they hear God’s whistle?

What I’m calling God’s whistle is a message from God that can only be heard by people who are receptive to hearing his voice. God whistles to his children to gather us in.

My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me:

And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. (John 10:27-28)

A pastor is to be like a shepherd, helping and feeding the Lord’s sheep. Some pastors are false teachers who lead the flock astray. For pastors who are genuinely committed to following Jesus, it must be difficult to lead people who have fallen under the influence of deceptive, misleading voices. A pastor may have to be very subtle to get God’s message across to those who have been led astray.

A member of my church who is also a professor of theology delivered the sermon while our pastor was on a mission trip. He preached about the Hebrew word for the sin of rebelliousness against God, pesha. Dave said that among all religions, Christianity should be the most realistic about sin. Christians should call what is evil evil and what is good good. We should celebrate what is good and push back against evil. Christians today do not speak out against sin as they once did.

As Dr. Dave pointed out, we all sin and should focus our attention on our own sinfulness and not on the sin of others. After all, Jesus said, “first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”

It is difficult to speak out against sin because no one wants to be accused of being judgmental. But if we don’t speak out against evil, our silence sends the message that abhorrent behavior is acceptable.

It especially saddens me when Christians refuse to speak out against hate in all its forms. Silence in the face of evil is sinful. When we speak out against bigotry, racism, and other sins that harm others, we are being obedient to God. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German pastor and anti-Nazi dissident, said this:

Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.

Dr. Dave said that pesha is crossing boundaries – the boundaries that God placed on our behavior so that we could enjoy a healthy relationship with God and with others. He said that when wicked people are in power, pesha increases. Those who rebel against God have no fear of God. They do not submit to God’s authority. They selfishly assert themselves against God and his boundaries. They are hotheaded and angry.

When I heard Dr. Dave’s message, I hoped that those who have turned a blind eye to wickedness would hear God’s whistle. God has shown us what is good. When we see behavior that is evil, we should speak up. Watch out for wicked people in power who have crossed God’s boundaries.

Let us be strong, courageous, and obedient. Call what is evil evil. Call what is good good. Hate is evil. Love is good. If you hear God’s whistle, you know this. Fighting is evil. Peacefulness is good. If you hear the good Lord’s voice, you know this. Lies are evil. Truth is good. If you hear God’s voice, you know this.

A Man of Lawlessness Revealed

Several weeks ago when I read 2 Thessalonians, the words hit me like an omen. At the time the apostle Paul wrote this letter, around A.D. 51, many people in the church thought that the second coming of Christ was imminent. Paul wrote telling them not to be too unsettled or alarmed. The second coming would not happen, he wrote, “until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed.” Since I last read this letter, I have seen a man of lawlessness revealed and I have to admit it is unsettling.

Paul said that the man of lawlessness “will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped, so that he sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God.” While I have not literally seen this man set himself up in God’s temple proclaiming himself to be God, I have seen the power he has over the so-called church. His support among the religious is astonishing because he is the antithesis of Jesus. When 80% of self-identified “evangelicals” voted for him, it became clear that an evangelical is no longer one who spreads the gospel of Jesus Christ.

I have witnessed the rise of a man who exalts himself over all others, either by shamelessly bragging about himself or by mercilessly tearing others down. He is known for his out-sized ego, by a malignant form of narcissism. He doesn’t even have the humility to recognize the sovereignty of God and to ask God for forgiveness. Why should he? He is a god unto himself.

I do not seek signs of the second coming of Christ. Jesus said that no one knows when that day will come except the Father. But Jesus also warned his disciples to watch out for deceivers. I have been on guard against this one from the beginning.

When I read Paul’s description of the coming of the lawless one, also called the man of iniquity or the man of sin in other translations, it felt like déjà vu. Here’s the NIV translation of 2 Thessalonians 2:9-12:

The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with how Satan works. He will use all sorts of displays of power through signs and wonders that serve the lie, and all the ways that wickedness deceives those who are perishing. They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie and so that all will be condemned who have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness.

The lawless one will use all the ways that wickedness deceives. A man of iniquity uses slander and propaganda and conspiracy theories to fool his supporters. He tells lies that are easily proven to be untrue. He wages a battle against truth by calling those who expose his lies “fake news” and “the enemy of the people.” In reality, he hates the free press because it does not serve the lie.

According to Paul, the lawless one will use signs and wonders, portents of falsehood, that serve the lie. A man of iniquity plays on the fears and vulnerabilities and prejudices of his followers. He claims to be the only one who can solve their problems. He tells his followers that they are victims of the enemy. He makes them fear and resent foreigners and people who practice other religions. He even preys on their sense of patriotism even as he betrays his country.

I have seen a man of iniquity revealed. He opposes the Jesus creed: the command to love the Lord your God with your whole being and to love your neighbor as yourself. This lawless one is the enemy of civility, common decency, kindness, gentleness, and peacefulness. In him, I see clearly the working of Satan with all his powers of darkness: racism, xenophobia, bigotry, misogyny. He is Satan’s little-handed helper.

I was absolutely gobsmacked after the election. How did an amoral man manage to deceive millions of people when his lies are so patently obvious? According to Paul, people will be deceived by the lawless one because they don’t love the truth. They have no place in their hearts for truth. Like the lawless one, they delight in wickedness. They are the kind of people John wrote about.

This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God. – John 3: 19-20

It is difficult for me to read that God sends a powerful delusion so that the people will believe what is false. So I have to look beyond what I can see and put my trust in God’s greater purpose.

The unlikely rise to power of a lawless reality star turned politician may or may not be the fulfillment of prophesy. But it is an invitation to a dress rehearsal for the coming of the Lord. Put on the full armor of God and take a stand against evil.

Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.  In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. – Ephesians 6:10-18

For those of us who have been called to follow Jesus, the message of 2 Thessalonians 2 is to be prepared. Be steadfast in your faith. The Lord is to be trusted. He will strengthen you and protect you from evil.

 

Love Foreigners as Yourself

The current immigration crisis has really exposed people for the heartless hypocrites they are. What a hypocrite Jeff Sessions was to use Romans 13 to excuse this administration’s immoral and inhumane immigration policies. Sessions completely misses the heart of the gospel. For those who claim to worship God, there is no greater authority than God who said, love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord. Keep my decrees.

When one of the pages I follow listed Bible verses that specifically address how immigrants should be treated, a guy who can’t spell said this:

“I think no one who written that had expected this super-massive inmigration crysis. This applies for a normal inmigration status, but not for an invasion, because that’s not one or two inmigrants, that’s just a non declared invasion. Wake up.”

What made this guy think he can interpret God’s word better than Moses? Did he go back in time and take a head count of the number of immigrants?

Wake up yourself, you fool.

The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God.

Leviticus 19:34

I woke up in the middle of the night last night thinking about the children separated from their parents at the border. I cried and I prayed that God would protect them.

I thought about a comment I heard yesterday on K-Love radio about a child being the greatest gift God gives us. How inhumane it is that our government thinks it is just to take a child from the parents God entrusted with caring for them. How heartbreaking it is for the caregivers who cannot comfort them.

I thought about the business trip I took to New York when I saw the Statue of Liberty from a distance. It stands as an enduring symbol of this nation’s history of welcoming immigrants. “Bring me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”

The New Colossus (Emma Lazarus, 1883)

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
MOTHER OF EXILES. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

I just heard King Trump say that we’re going to move to a system of merit not luck or happenstance. I wish that he could walk even one mile in the shoes of the mothers and fathers who came to the border of this country seeking asylum. The luck belongs to those of us who were born here. I wish that Trump knew what God’s grace is. None of us merits God’s mercy.

I will end with this verse from Romans 14. It brings me comfort to know that God is watching. So then, each of us will give an account of himself to God.

Please ask questions

Yesterday my young coworker asked me if I had heard the news of another school shooting. She said eight people were dead. It’s not the first time that she has told me about a school shooting while we are at work. In a few years, she’s going to send her baby off to school. How does it feel to be a parent and know that your kids are not safe at school?

I got my phone and looked for news on Facebook. One of my classmates wrote “I. Am. Pissed.” It makes her sick to hear about another school shooting. She said that we as a nation need to get a grip on this…

I am numb. Why am I numb? Why am I not shocked? Because this keeps happening. Because I have been carrying around the grief and sadness and feeling of hopelessness about school shootings for 19 years and one month. Why am I marking the anniversary of Columbine? Because it turned my world upside down. Because people are still hurting. Because we as a nation did not learn from this.

Why am I writing at 2 am instead of sleeping? Because I am not numb. Because I woke up asking myself questions.

How can a man sit there in the White House and listen to the stories of children who survived the Parkland, Florida shooting and not be moved to do something about assault style weapons? That day, with notes in hand, I saw him reach out a hand of comfort as if he felt some empathy. What do jotted talking points say about his empathy? “What would you most want me to know about your experience?” “What can we do to help you feel safe?”

How could he then go speak at an NRA convention and tell the gun lovers that their “second amendment rights are under siege”? Why do people care more about their man-made right to own tools designed to kill people than about people?

How can people keep saying that this wouldn’t happen if we let God back in our schools? I went to school in the 60’s and 70’s and I sure don’t remember learning about God in school. I learned my love and fear of God at home and at church.

Why do young men keep doing this? What was going through this 17-year old’s mind when he saw news coverage of the last school shooting?

How can I keep watching news coverage of this when I know that nothing is going to change? When is this nation going to stop living in denial? When are we going to get a grip on this problem?

The Oleaginous Toady

I have been praying for some time that the president will be removed from office but I admit that I don’t know whether the VP would be any better. I can’t imagine that he could be any worse than 45 but people who know Mike Pence say to be careful what you wish for. That thought was expressed this week in a scathing article by George F. Will, who wrote: Trump in no longer the worst person in government.

George Will is a smart man with an immense vocabulary. I heard that the day his article was published in the Washington Post, the frequency of Google searches for the word “oleaginous” soared. I was not familiar with the word myself but now know that it means “exaggeratedly and distastefully complimentary; obsequious,” or more simply, oily or greasy. Like oleo.

Will’s article would be a great source of words for a Reader’s Digest Word Power quiz:

  • Toady – an obsequious flatterer; sycophant
  • Obsequious – servilely compliant or deferential
  • Lickspittle – a contemptible, fawning person; a servile flatterer or toady
  • Groveling – humbling oneself or acting in an abject manner, as in utter servility
  • Unctuous – characterized by excessive piousness or moralistic fervor, especially in an affected manner; excessively smooth, suave, or smug
  • Pandering – gratifying or indulging (an immoral or distasteful desire, need, or habit or a person with such a desire, etc.)
  • Mobocratic – pertaining to political control by a mob

These words do not paint a flattering portrait of the first in line to Trump’s throne. He says he is a Christian. He proudly points out that the Cabinet gathers for prayer and Bible studies. Yet he shamelessly praises a man who is the antithesis of Jesus Christ. His over-the-top praise of a person as vile and corrupt as Trump makes me want to vomit.

One of the reasons Pence is considered worse than Trump is his hypocrisy. Why did Jesus speak so harshly about hypocrites?

  • They do not practice what they preach
  • They do all their deeds to be seen by others
  • They shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces
  • They corrupt the people that they convert to their religion
  • They give money to the church but ignore the more important matters of justice, mercy and faithfulness
  • They focus on outside appearance but are full of greed and self-indulgence

Trump simply has no shame. He has no moral compass. He is amoral. Pence, with his study of the Bible, should know better. He knows that Christ said we are to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. Still, he praises people who are cruel and inhumane to other human beings – immigrants, refugees, gays, etc.

Pence is considered dangerous by many people because he knows better. He knows the difference between right and wrong. He passes himself off as a pious, moral person. And yet when it suits his political agenda, he is willing to lie. He is willing to compromise his integrity and his dignity. He chooses to flatter a narcissist to stay in favor with him and his supporters.

I agree with George Will that Mike Pence is a horrifying sycophant. Yet I am still not convinced that Pence would be any worse than Trump.