Righteous Living in a Doomed Nation, Part 1

"Flight of the Prisoners" by James Tissot

Gather together, yes, gather, O shameless nation, before the decree takes effect -- before the day passes away like chaff -- before there comes upon you the burning anger of the LORD, before there comes upon you the day of the anger of the LORD. Seek the LORD, all you humble of the land, who do his just commands; seek righteousness; seek humility; perhaps you may be hidden on the day of the anger of the LORD.—Zephaniah 2:1-3

Judgment and Hope
For the past month, I’ve been teaching the Minor Prophets in my adult Sunday school class, specifically Nahum, Zephaniah, and Obadiah. You will remember that these men warned of impending national judgment—both against pagan nations like Assyria and Edom, and against the Jewish nation. The sins which brought about their ruin are familiar ones: idolatry, greed, corruption, abuse of power, exploitation of the poor and helpless, sexual debauchery, murder, violence, treachery, and cruelty. But their greatest sin (and the root of all the others) was their rebellion against the Lord (Zephaniah 3:1-2).

While Assyria and Edom suffered total annihilation, Judah’s fate was different. God offered His people a chance to escape the coming destruction by humbly repenting of their sins, seeking God’s forgiveness, and living righteously (Zephaniah 2:1-3). The prophets could not guarantee that every righteous person in Judah would escape death when the nation fell: they could only offer the hope that “perhaps” these individuals would become part of a godly remnant which would survive “the anger of the Lord” and later be restored (Zephaniah 3:17-20).

The Believer's Three Callings, Part 4


In the previous article, we began our discussion of the Cultural Mandate. The Cultural Mandate is based on the Creation account in Genesis and notes that God gave humanity dominion over the Earth as His stewards with the responsibility to develop it in such a way that promotes human flourishing and glorifies God. We explored how the Cultural Mandate applies to vocation, family, and community. In this article, we will explore some additional implications of the concept. Much more could be said about the Cultural Mandate, but all we can do in these articles is to sketch out some of areas in which it operates.

The Cultural Mandate and Work
After family and community, the next area where the Cultural Mandate should inform how we live is in our work. Historically, biblical attitudes toward work have been critical to the development of Western economic thought, technology, and prosperity. In most of the ancient world, work was looked down upon. Only slaves and the lower classes worked; the higher classes devoted themselves to “higher” pursuits such as governing, philosophy, contemplation of beauty, and decadence.

The main exception to this attitude was Judaism and then Christianity. Both of these religious communities viewed work as a positive good rather than a necessary evil. They recognized that work often involved toil and drudgery, but they saw that as a consequence of the Fall. The Bible taught that God worked then ceased his labors on the seventh day; if God worked, how could it be intrinsically evil?

The Believer's Three Callings, Part 3


In the previous articles in this series, I discussed the Great Commandment and the Great Commission and argued that these were two of the three things God has called us to do.  The Great Commandment, with a focus on loving our neighbor, means seeking our neighbors’ highest good. This finds expression in the Great Commission, since our neighbors’ eternal fate depends on their response to Jesus. Our third calling—the Cultural Mandate—is also an expression of love of neighbor but applied directly to our life in this world.

The Cultural Mandate
The Cultural Mandate is not a topic that is discussed much except in some Reformed circles. The idea goes back to the very creation of humanity in Genesis 1:

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”

So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.

And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” (Gen. 1:26-28)

In the ancient Near East, saying someone was the image of a god meant that the person had divine authority to rule as that god’s regent on earth. That this was the intention in Genesis is shown by the fact that immediately after saying we would be made in God’s image, we are given dominion over the earth and everything in it. Dominion is expressed by being fruitful and multiplying, and filling and subduing the earth.

Heavenly Sleep in Peace, Part 2


Last week a question was proposed: Is it possible in this 21st Century world to sleep in peace when conflicting and challenging worldviews continually create global chaos and unsettledness? Prompted by the last few words of the Christmas carol, “Silent Night, Holy Night,” is it possible to “sleep in heavenly peace”? Having become a nightly ritual with bedtime prayer, my granddaughter finds great solace through the repetition of this song. She slips off to sleep with the soothing and calming words of a baby born that came to bring “peace on earth” (Lk 2:14).

This baby redefined what “peace on earth” means when He grew up and fulfilled His mission on earth. Christ came to establish the Kingdom of God. When teaching how to pray to God, He said: “Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is heaven” (Mt 6:10). In establishing it, He said that He did not come to bring peace but “I came to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already set ablaze! But I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how it consumes Me until it is finished! Do you think that I came here to give peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division!” (Lk 12: 49-51 HCSB).

The plan of peace Christ came to restore isn’t earthly but is our relationship with God. While on earth when reconciled with God through Christ, we can have this peace: “Peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Your heart must not be troubled or fearful” (John 14:27 HCSB).

The Believer's Three Callings, Part 2


In the previous article, I argued that a fully-formed biblical worldview recognizes three callings on the life of the believer: the Great Commandment, the Great Commission, and the Cultural Mandate. Of these, the Great Commandment is the most important, and the other two flow from there. For a number of reasons when dealing with the commandments, Jesus, Paul, and John all put a particular emphasis on loving our neighbor; in fact, John argues that we cannot love God without loving our neighbor. The biblical definition of love focuses on action more than emotion, and can be summarized as a selfless seeking of our neighbor’s highest good. This includes dealing with our neighbor’s physical needs, but it also includes looking out for their spiritual well-being. And that brings us to the theme of this article, the Great Commission.

Heavenly Sleep in Peace, Part 1


Silent night! Holy night! All is calm, all is bright...” On several occasions, my privilege has been to not only share a bedtime prayer with one of my young granddaughters but to sing this song that has become a treasured and nightly ritual to her. No matter how hectic, troubling, or exciting her day as a preschooler has been, the calming words “sleep in heavenly peace” lull her to sleep.

The troubles and trials that overcome this preschooler in most cases are mild and short-lived in comparison to what will come later in life. Yet, this song imbedded in her mind and heart begins the preparation for the day when she becomes aware of the age-old cosmic battle that is taking place in, through, and around this world. While in this world, she not only must acknowledge it but its effects on her. To become all she is meant to be and to make her way in this world, she must face the reality of this battle and make the choice of how she will stand.

Is it possible in this 21st-century world to sleep in peace when conflicting and challenging worldviews continually create global chaos and unsettledness?

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