Break down every idol: Cleansing the Temple

Greg_18This is the sermon I preached yesterday at the installation of Rev Alolfo Tembe as the new Principal of the Seminário Nazareno em Moçambique in Maputo, Mozambique.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture passages are from the Common English Bible (2011).

————-

SCRIPTURE READING: 2 Kings 23:24-25

“Josiah burned those who consulted dead spirits and the mediums, the household gods and the worthless idols – all the monstrous things that were seen in the land of Judah and in Jerusalem. In this way Josiah fulfilled the words of the Instruction written in the scroll that the priest Hilkiah found in the LORD’s temple. There’s never been a king like Josiah, whether before or after him, who turned to the LORD with all his heart, all his being, and all his strength, in agreement with everything in the Instruction from Moses.”

– PRAYER –

I.  INTRODUCTION

We are a holiness church. What does that mean? It means that we are called to be the righteous people of God, set apart for God’s sacred use. We understand that 1 Peter 1:16 – “Be holy, because I, the LORD your God am holy” – is not a command for the distant future. It is God’s expectation of us right now.

Yet for the disciple of Jesus, both saved and entirely sanctified, it is not enough to point to 2 experiences in the past, no matter how meaningful and wonderful those experiences may have been. We must constantly present ourselves before God. Like the Psalmist, we must pray:

Examine me, God! Look at my heart!

Put me to the test!

Know my anxious thoughts!

Look to see if there is any idolatrous way in me,

then lead me on the eternal path!

- Psalm 139:23-24

 

Continue reading

When necessary, use words: the power of preaching

black female preacherPreachers today get a bad rap.

“Don’t preach at me” figures on the list of most popular comebacks, along with “Stop judging me.” In modern usage, to preach at someone is to set oneself up as superior, to condescendingly render a verdict on another’s behavior. It is the pop star Madonna pleading with her father: “Papa, don’t preach.”

Yet preaching wasn’t always devalued. There was a time when “preacher” was a term of endearment, a little less formal than “Reverend” but respectful nonetheless. As recently as 1996 in the film “The Preacher’s Wife,” Courtney Vance portrayed Reverend Henry Biggs, an African-American pastor who – while insensitive to his wife’s needs – was nevertheless committed to his work, selflessly serving the members of his inner-city flock. Being a preacher was cool.

So if the term “preacher” has lately fallen on hard times, why do the people of God continue to use it? To answer this question, let’s briefly look at what the New Testament has to say about preaching and its importance to the life of the Body of Christ, the church.

John and Jesus: the preaching cousins

A good place to begin is with the second cousins, John and Jesus. John went into the wilderness and took up a simple lifestyle, wearing clothes made of camel’s hair and eating locusts and wild honey (Matthew 3:4). People streamed to John and he baptized them with water as a sign of their abandoning their sinful ways. Yet the baptizing followed preaching. We don’t have a lot of detail about what John preached, but it wasn’t for the faint of heart. He urged people to produce good fruit, proof of their changed ways. He called religious leaders “snakes” (Matthew 3:7), demanded that tax collectors not collect more than they were required, and warned soldiers not to accuse people falsely or to extort money. Instead, he told them to be content with their salary (see Luke 3:7-14). John’s boldness in preaching knew no social boundaries, and he paid for his boldness with his head (Matthew 14:1-12).

Yet John was always a warm-up act for the main attraction. About Jesus of Nazareth, John testified: “He must become greater and greater, and I must become less and less” (John 3:30, NLT). Filled with the Holy Spirit, Jesus passed his test in the wilderness, resisting the temptations of the devil (Matthew 4:1-11). After this testing, what did Jesus do? He immediately began to preach: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near” (4:17). In fact, the kingdom of heaven and the parables Jesus drew from everyday life became the staple of his magnetic preaching. Just before returning to heaven, Jesus commanded his disciples to preach the Gospel (literally, “good news”) to all creation (Mark 16:15). We preach because it is the command of our Lord to do so.

Continue reading

How big is too big? On Goldilocks and the devil

1346445103-chair

Next Saturday, we’ll return to our series Christlike Disciples, Christlike World: The Transformational Mission of the People of God. For today, here’s one from the archives.

—————————————————-

The story of Goldilocks and the three bears is a children’s favorite. A little girl takes a walk in the forest, and comes upon a house. She knocks, but when no one answers, she opens the door and begins to explore. Besides three  bowls and three beds, she spies three chairs in the living room. Sitting in the first two, she concludes that they are too big, but the third one is different. “Ah, this chair is just right,” she exclaims.

When it comes to the devil, Christian theologians disagree on how large a “chair” he should occupy. Some argue that he should only be a bit player in salvation’s drama. After all, Satan goes unmentioned in the early affirmations of faith, including the Apostles’ Creed (2nd century CE) and the Nicene Creed (325 CE). Henry and Richard Blackaby, in their devotional guide Experiencing God Day-By-Day (Broadman, 1998), are of this persuasion. In their thoughts for October 31, they observe:

Christians can become preoccupied with battling Satan. This deceives them to invest their time and energy attempting to do something that Christ has already done for them. If Satan can divert you to wage a warfare that has already ended in surrender, he will have eliminated your effectiveness where God wants you. Fearing Satan is fearing a prisoner of war.

Dr Rob Staples, Professor Emeritus of theology at Nazarene Theological Seminary, recalled when he was a boy that his mother asked him to choose one of their farmyard chickens for dinner. When he lopped off the chicken’s head with a axe, the headless chicken danced in a frenzy for a while before dropping over dead. “That is an image of the devil,” Staples told us. “Jesus, through the Cross and Resurrection, chopped off Satan’s head, and all that we have seen since is his death dance.”

On the other hand, some reserve too large a place for the devil in their thinking. In 15 years of ministry in Africa, I have resisted calls for inserting a “demonology” course in our curriculum. While several courses with a different focus touch upon the issue, to dedicate an entire course to the topic reminds me of Goldilock’s comments about the first two chairs: “This chair is too big!” I’ve been in church services where the first ten minutes are given to the congregation raising its voice to chase the devil away. I’ve challenged pastors to consider whether they are unwittingly sowing fear in the hearts of believers. After all, if it takes 200 Christians ten minutes of concerted, high-volume prayer to chase the devil on a Sunday morning, what will the poor saint do on her sick bed when she senses spiritual attack and can only manage a whisper?

The New Testament truth appears to lie somewhere between the position of the Blackabys and Staples and the exaggerated view of some African pastors. It is a view that recognizes the eventual defeat of the devil (Rev. 20:1-3), a final defeat begun via Cross and Empty Tomb.  Satan was wounded, there can be no doubt, yet is this the mortal wound of Staples’ headless chicken? If so, then the “death dance” has lasted 2,000 years!

Peter chose another animal to which he compared Satan:

Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8, NIV).

Paul joins Peter in his assessment, lamenting that to-date he had been unable to visit the Thessalonians, since Satan had “hindered us” (1 Thess. 2:18, NIV). Yet the same Paul did not hesitate to cast out of of a slave girl in Philippi a python spirit of divination (Acts 16:16-19). His spiritual preparedness to confront whatever the devil threw his way is epitomized in Ephesians 6:10-20, where we are to “put on the full armor of God” so that we may “stand against the devil’s schemes” (v. 11). Unlike the Blackabys, I do not believe that the devil has already surrendered, though one day he will.

When it comes to our understanding of the devil, there is a position – like the chair Goldilocks chose – that fits the biblical evidence “just right.” I wonder: If we insist that “Satan is a defeated foe” – rather than “Satan is wounded and will finally be defeated” – could this lead to spiritual complacency?  A wounded animal is particularly dangerous. To downplay this reality may risk being naively blind-sided while serving the Lord. We may consider something a “test from God” that is instead an attack from Satan. On the other hand, to place the devil center-stage in our thinking is to do what neither creeds nor Scripture have done. This can lead to an unhealthy fascination with darkness. It may sow fear in our hearts, a fear that is unbecoming a Christian’s confidence in the victory of Christ, now and in the future.

Meanwhile, in this great parenthesis between Jesus’ ascension and his final enthronement at the Second Coming, we ask the question contained in Francis Schaeffer’s book title:

How should we then live?

We live in neither complacency nor fear in this time of “already, but not yet.” We live a vigilant life, aware of the devil’s schemes (2 Cor. 2:11). With the Blackabys, we refuse to be distracted from the work to which God has called us, preaching the Gospel, binding up the wounds of the brokenhearted, and in victory over Satan awaiting the day when God shall in Christ bring all things to fulfillment. What a day that will be!

————————

Photo credit: Missoula News

Theology in Overalls: Why it Matters

Pelham Lessing

I was asked by Dr Crofford to consider writing a short essay on a practical theological theme or to write up a book review as a way to introduce me to the readership of his blog: Theology in Overallswhere theology meets everyday life – by being what he calls a guest voice. Instead of thinking about a practical issue to write about or to decide on which of the books I am currently reading would make for a nice book review, I became absorbed by the name and description of the blog-page. So instead of writing a book review or on a practical issue I want to write about Why Theology in Overalls Matters and apply it to one particular sphere.

This got me thinking about the current issue of overalls being discussed in South Africa’s parliament, theology and its practical implications. The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) is a leftist political party in South Africa. One of the aims and objectives of the party is “to create conditions for total political and economic emancipation, prosperity, and equitable distribution of wealth of the nation.” The EFF are currently embroiled in an argument with government and or parliament on wearing red boiler suits and overalls to parliamentary sessions.

According to the EFF their dress code is a symbol signifying their disassociation and dissatisfaction with the ruling party, the African National Congress (ANC) who the former claim are not living up to the Freedom Charter[1]. The African National Congress (ANC) has accused the EFF of not respecting the dress code of institutions and a failure to understand decorum, which according to the EFF is relying on colonial imagery. The EFF in turn says that their dress code is used as a symbol of the plight of the poor and working class. For the EFF politics must be practical and speak to life-based (rooted in life) issues. As I read articles and listened to reports on the radio regarding the overall debate, my mind started to focus once more on the practice orientated nature of the gospel.

Continue reading

God and Coffee: A Story

Newlyweds Kevin and Naomi Nye
Newlyweds Kevin and Naomi Nye

For the next 2 Saturdays, I’ll be featuring guest voices here at Theology in Overalls. Today, I’m pleased  (with permission) to repost  “God and coffee: A story,” from the weblog of Southern Nazarene University alumnus, Kevin Nye.

Kevin is a writer who gently shakes up  your unexamined assumptions. Even if you’re not a coffee connoisseur, you’ll enjoy how Kevin uncovers God in everyday things.

————————————————————————

GOD AND COFFEE: A STORY

In this, my first “meaty” post about God and Coffee, I simply want to tell a story. It’s a story you may know if you know me personally, or might have a connection to in some other way. It’s nothing more than a personal story about how coffee, and a small little world made possible, changed my life. This felt like an especially poignant story to tell because of all the news and opinions about mental illness surrounding Robin Williams’ death.

This is only a story, and you may wonder, “What does this have to do with God and coffee?” Well, this story has coffee in it, and it has God in it, so that’s my first qualification. But mostly, I tell this story because I think this whole situation was made possible because coffee is something that most of the world shares in common. It’s something that almost all of us drink, young and old, and unites us with the rest of the world: where coffee drinking, farming, and distributing take place. It’s a shared experience, and I think God is in it.

In 2005, an espresso and smoothie catering company called Dirty Water Coffee Co. was started in Oklahoma City by an ambitious, but driven 20 year old named Taggart Dertinger, affectionately known by the name Tag. From scratch, Tag developed a fully mobile coffee and smoothie shop that could be set up in 15 minutes or less, and offer everything from espresso shots to Busted Bean Frappuccinos, or the classic Snozzberry smoothie. By the time I joined the company in 2011, Dirty Water was doing upwards of 20-25 events per week, with four full setups that could be in different places at once.

Continue reading

Fear or faith? Mrs. O’Leary’s cow and the Ebola virus

Mrs-O-Leary-s-Cow-Realizes-How-She-Can-End-the-Carnage-in-Chicago-s-SlaughterhousesYou’ve heard of a scapegoat. How about a scapecow?

From October 8-10, 1871, the Great Chicago fire cut a huge swath through the city, resulting in $ 192 million in damage to property, killing 300 and leaving 100,000 residents homeless. Urban legend has since blamed Mrs O’Leary’s cow, though a board of inquiry never conclusively established the fire’s cause. A popular poem nonetheless assigned blame:

One dark night, when people were in bed,

Mrs. O’Leary lit a lantern in her shed.

The cow kicked it over, winked his eye and said,

“There’ll be a hot time in the old town tonight.”

It has been 143 years since the Great Chicago fire, but some things don’t change. We still want to assign blame. The latest example is a group of more than 100 Liberian clergy who – in a statement reported by  the Liberia Observerblamed “homosexualism, etc.” for the “plague” of Ebola. One may wonder why homosexuals – a tiny minority of citizens – were singled out by name when others in the majority only merited an “etc.”

Continue reading

The Eucharist: God’s winsome invitation to grace

eucharistPeople were asking questions. Their pastor was new and – so far – had celebrated communion every Sunday, something they’d never done before, so they decided to ask him about it. “Don’t you think it will become routine if we do this together every week?” The pastor was quiet for a minute, then posed a question of his own. “Do you think God is in heaven looking down at us and saying, ‘Stop it, people! Don’t do that so much!’ ” His listeners laughed; they took his point. The next Sunday, they gladly went forward during communion time.

Sacraments are dramatic rites/ceremonies – or to use Augustine’s term, “visible words” – modeled by Jesus and instituted by him that he intended the people of God to practice as well. In the last chapter, we spoke about one such sacrament, baptism. Baptism is the initiation that marks off individuals as belonging to the people of God, the church. Another sacrament regularly observed by the church is the Eucharist, sometimes called “Holy Communion,” “communion,” or “the Lord’s Supper.”

The term “Eucharist” comes from the Greek verb, eucharisto, meaning to “give thanks.”  The night before his crucifixion, Jesus took bread and wine and gave thanks for them before giving them to his disciples (Matt. 26:27, Luke 22:19; see also 1 Cor 11:24). Luke 22:14-23 picks up the story:

When the hour came, Jesus and his apostles reclined at the table. And he said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God.”

After taking the cup, he gave thanks and said, “Take this and divide it among you. For I tell you I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.”

And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.”

In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you. But the hand of him who is going to betray me is with mine on the table. The Son of Man will go as it has been decreed. But woe to that man who betrays him!”  They began to question among themselves which of them it might be who would do this. 

Continue reading