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The Days of Elijah, Part 1

“The Prophet Elijah in the Desert”, Eastern Orthodox icon (end of 14th Century) (PD-Art l Old-70)

This Bible Study will focus on Scriptural passages with bearing on the present day.  Some are prophetic.  Others are not, but speak to our circumstances, as if penned yesterday.  All offer us assurance and encouragement, in God’s own words.

These are the days of Elijah [1]

“ ‘But I tell you truly, many widows were in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a great famine throughout all the land…’ ” (Luke 4: 25).

Jesus, Himself, spoke of the “days of Elijah,” a time of drought lasting over three years with severe famine the result.  We are not living in the days of the prophet, Elijah, literally speaking.  For many, however, ours is a time of hardship and testing.

Christianity is often ridiculed, and persecution not far off.

While there is no longer widespread drought in our nation, the drought for us is spiritual.   We are bombarded by information, while the concept of truth has been virtually lost.  Though few realize it, we are famished for the Word of God.

Ultimately, Elijah brought rain and revival.  Christians long for the quickening of the Holy Spirit, a downpour turning this beloved nation of ours once again toward God.

Declaring the word of the Lord

“…[T]he word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, saying, ‘Do not be afraid, Abram.  I am your shield, your exceedingly great reward’ ” (Gen. 15: 1).

The “word of the Lord” is a phrase used consistently throughout Scripture to designate communication from God.  Patriarchs and prophets received their instruction in this way, then conveyed God’s message to His people.

As Christians in this modern day and age, we, too, have a responsibility to declare the word of the Lord, the Gospel message.  This is the Great Commission (Mark 16: 15).  Our audience is the world which is in desperate need of Salvation.

And these are the days of Your servant, Moses

Then Moses said to the Lord, ‘O my Lord, I am not eloquent, neither before nor since You have spoken to Your servant; but I am slow of speech and slow of tongue’ ” (Ex. 4: 10).

Despite our inadequacies, we stand on the verge of great things.  This is not greatness as the world esteems it.  Rather, this is the greatness of the Lord.  His power is beyond measure, His love beyond imagining.  And we have the enormous privilege of being His servants, His adopted children, and making Him known to the world. Read more…

Responding to Bigotry

Children from different backgrounds, Author Harald Kreutzer (GNU Free Documentation License 1.2 or later) (CC BY-SA 3.0 Unported)

WARNING:  Offensive Remarks Used for Illustration Purposes

The Southern Poverty Law Center has developed an award-winning anti-bias guide entitled “Speak Up!”.  Hundreds of stories of bigotry – in public and private, at school and in the workplace – were collected in Phoenix, AZ; Baltimore, MD; Columbia, SC; and Vancouver, WA.  The guidelines discussed here were the result.

Chances are that the average American adult has encountered bigotry many times.  Whatever our race or ethnicity, whatever our religion, whatever our political party or social status, we have seen, heard, experienced, or voiced bias at some point.

Woven into the fabric of daily life, bigotry can catch us off guard.  A stranger tells an offensive “joke” at a restaurant or in an elevator.  A classmate makes a derisive remark about the new kid in school.  An employer makes a disparaging comment.  A family member begins a familiar tirade, once again blaming a certain group for the ills of the world.

Even those among us determined to treat others in an even-handed manner may be at a loss how to respond when confronted with this ugly behavior.

Be Ready

“He’s a typical Jew.  Those people have more money than God.”

There is no set response to every instance of bigotry.  As Christians, however, we should be prepared for such encounters.

Promising not to remain silent is one way of preparing ourselves.  Having something ready to say is another.  Open-ended questions can be useful to dialog.  “Why do you say that?”  “How did you come to that conclusion?”

Even when our questions are not asked in an aggressive manner, they may seem confrontational.  We must be prepared for a hostile response.

We must keep the setting in mind, as well.  Two placard-wielding groups about to clash at a demonstration will not be as open to compromise as two co-workers talking over coffee.

Safety can be an issue, and should always be taken into account.

Identify the Behavior

“He’s one of those towel heads.  I wouldn’t trust him as far as I could throw him.”

Remember that the goal is communication.  Occasionally, reflecting back the speaker’s language or behavior in a reasoned tone may help him/her to recognize it as offensive.  “Did you really mean to imply that all Muslims are terrorists?”  But labels and name calling will only escalate the conflict.

Appeal to Principle, Empathy, and Family Ties

“Don’t Indian families prefer daughters to marry, you know, their own kind?”

What people say in a moment of anger may not be what they think at other times.  If the speaker is someone with whom you have a relationship – a friend or co-worker, for instance – a call to principle can be helpful.  “Susan, I’ve always considered you a fair person.  It shocks me that you would make such a negative statement about an entire race.”

If the speaker is a family member, an appeal to family ties may be effective.  “Your jokes are putting distance between us, Uncle Harry.  I worry they’ll wind up doing irreparable harm to our relationship.  I want to avoid that, if at all possible.” Read more…

Gloves and Ambassadors

Historic collection of gloves at Textile Center, Terrassa, Spain, Author Kippelboy (CC BY-SA 3.0 Unported)

All of you together are Christ’s body, and each of you is a part of it” (1 Cor. 12: 27).

The Bible refers to Christians collectively as the Body of Christ.  Many have described us as the hands and feet of God, demonstrating His love to the world.

That is an awesome responsibility which, sadly, we do not always fulfill.

God’s Gloves

Though the analogy does not convey the same sense of unity, we might, also, think of ourselves as God’s gloves.  There are baseball gloves, boxing gloves, and hockey gloves; opera gloves and surgical gloves; mittens and gauntlets.

Each pair serves a different purpose.   We lay them down, and pick them up, as appropriate.  We sometimes set them aside to wash or mend them.  God does the same with us.

Good Works

We are told we were created to effectuate the good works God prepared for us.

For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2: 10).

In fact, as James points out, faith without such works is dead.

What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works?  Can faith save him?  If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,’ but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit?” (James 2: 14-17).

The language here is somewhat confusing.  James is not saying that we can row our way to heaven.

We cannot achieve Salvation independent of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.  On that foundation all else rests.  We are, in other words, saved by faith.

Works are simply the proof, the evidence visible to the world.

Products of Pride

There is, however, a condition.  Our works must be the products of love, deriving from God.  They must not be the products of pride, in pursuit of worldly gain or approval [1].

“…that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love…” (Eph. 3: 17).

Televangelists preaching the “prosperity gospel” should pay close attention to this.  Those who build crystal cathedrals and megachurches the size of sports stadiums, who purchase $65 million jets, should examine whether they are not establishing monuments to their own vainglory.

Read more…

Solid Food, Part 3

Detail from Arch of Titus showing looted temple treasures, Author Dnalor 01 (CC BY-SA 3.0 Austria)

All of us have experienced prayers denied.  How is this to be reconciled with Jesus’ promise, “ ‘[A]sk, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened for you’ ”? (Luke 11: 9).

Doesn’t belief in God guarantee us our legitimate desires?  Well, not exactly.

  • The first Jewish temple was destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BC.  The Babylonian Captivity lasted 70 years, and began the Jewish diaspora.
  • The second temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD.  The Arch of Titus still stands in Rome portraying the enslaved Jews and booty from the sack of the temple.  Archaeological evidence supports a conclusion that temple treasure funded the building of the Roman Colosseum.
  • Devout Christians throughout history have been persecuted and martyred.
  • Injustice persists to the present day.  Any attorney, anywhere, has come in contact with it.

On the surface, these events would appear to contradict the promise of answered prayer.  Jesus, Himself, in the garden of Gethsemane asked that the cup be taken away.

He …fell on His face, and prayed, saying, ‘O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will’ ” (Matt. 26: 39).

Those last eight words are key.  God’s will is always paramount.  That is not merely a reflection of His supreme power, but His supreme righteousness.  And God’s purposes may not be our own. Read more…

Solid Food, Part 2

“Christ Asleep During the Tempest” by Eugene Delacroix (c. 1853), Metropolitan Museum of Art, Havemeyer Collection (CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication)

Many have endured God’s silence.

At Genesis 15: 13 God tells Abraham that his descendants will serve in a land not their own and be afflicted for 400 years.  While there is some dispute over the actual length of the Egyptian captivity, we can be sure that the Israelites prayed daily for relief.  Yet generations were born, grew old, and died without a deliverer in sight.

Another 400 years during which God was silent passed between the Old and New Testaments.

At times, God’s silence is a response to sin on our part. God’s silence does not, however, imply His absence.  That is the lesson His silence teaches us.

The process by which our faith is strengthened is painful.  We can hear the anguish in psalms like the following:

Hear my prayer, O Lord, and give ear to my cry; do not be silent at my tears…” (Ps. 39: 12).

Do not keep silent, O God! Do not hold Your peace, and do not be still, O God! For behold, Your enemies make a tumult; and those who hate You have lifted up their head…” (Ps. 83: 1-2). Read more…

Solid Food, Part 1

Enfamil Baby Formula at Kroger, Author ParentingPatch (CC BY-SA 3.0 Unported)

“For everyone who partakes only of milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a babe.  But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil” (Heb. 5: 13-14).

Too many Christians are unschooled in their faith.  They are, in effect, still babes.  Because of this, their faith is not the comfort to them it could be, and not the example to others it should be.

Confronted by the harsh realities of this existence, immature Christians are at first surprised that God has not shielded them from the pain and hardship to which mankind is liable, then angered at having been sold what they view as a bill of goods about Him.

  • Surely, Christians are not subject to cancer or plague; do not suffer amputation, blindness or other devastating illness or physical impairment.
  • Surely, Christians do not struggle with depression, anxiety or other mental disorders.
  • Surely, Christians do not have miscarriages; their children are not born with birth defects, do not die before reaching majority.
  • Surely, Christians are never in the path of tornadoes and other natural disasters.
  • Surely, they are not involved in auto accidents, plane crashes, and other results of fatal human error.
  • Surely, Christians are not the victims of bombings, rapes, and other acts of deliberate violence.

Most Christians would recognize these assumptions as mistaken. Many though would ask why they, themselves, should be subject to any of these trials.  “Why me, Lord?” is a familiar refrain.  We are so self-important we feel ourselves entitled to call the Lord God Almighty to task. Read more…

Riding the Tiger

Scene from Gazi Scrolls of Bengal depicting legend of Pir Gazi and his tiger (18th or 19th Century) (PD-Art l Old-100)

“He who rides a tiger is afraid to dismount.”

-Chinese proverb

A torch-bearing mob chants rhythmically “Blood and Soil” and “Jews Will Not Replace Us” as it winds its way through the dark.  The scene is not from Nazi Germany.  But it bodes ill for those who believe in justice, equality, and the rule of law.

New Lows

Nearly 10 months have passed since Donald Trump was elected President of the United States.  We have sunk to new lows in that time [1].

  • Pres. Trump has placed unqualified family members and acquaintances in positions of power, regardless of racist leanings, and has waived relevant conflicts of interest.  He continues to resist disclosing his own income tax returns, despite earlier promises.
  • Pres. Trump has dismissed the advice of America’s intelligence agencies, trivializing the probe into Russia’s involvement in the 2016 election at every turn [2].
  • Pres. Trump regularly vilifies the mainstream media, challenging the trustworthiness of its reporting, in an effort to undermine any criticism of himself.  Every unfavorable fact is labeled “fake news”.  Meanwhile, Pres. Trump baselessly claims that his phone was illegally tapped by former Pres. Barack Obama, and that millions of immigrants voted illegally.
  • Pres. Trump submitted a budget slashing medical research, education, public housing, and aid to the poor.
  • Pres. Trump issued a statement on Holocaust Remembrance Day that did not mention Jews, and most recently threatened North Korea with nuclear war, while the world held its breath [3].

And these are just a few of the highlights.

Pres. Trump has now added to the list a defense of the white supremacists, Neo-Nazis, white nationalists, and Ku Klux Klansmen who marched in Charlottesville, VA [4].  However, a demonstration in favor of bigotry is not the moral equivalent of a demonstration against it [5].

Why?

Which begs the question:  Why have Christians failed to take notice of the unethical behavior, constant dissembling, and worse?  Why has evangelical support for this president not wavered? Read more…

Sheep Amid Wolves

Mosaic at Immanuelskirken (Immanuel Church), Copenhagen, Denmark, Author Ib Rasmussen (PD)

“ ‘Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves’ ” (Matt. 10: 16).

Pres. Bashar al-Assad’s war on the people of Syria is well publicized.  A new report indicates 50% – 80% of Christians in Syria and Iraq have fled for their lives since the Syrian civil war began in 2011 [1].

But there are other less publicized conflicts in which Christian lives are being lost.

  • Sudan     In seeking to establish a uniformly Arabic and Islamic population, Pres. Omar al-Bashir has targeted South Kordofan, Blue Nile, and Darfur for extermination [4].  Native men, women, and children – many Christian – are killed daily.  Since 2012, over 4000 bombs have been dropped in the region.  Children have learned to run for cover at the sound of an approaching bomb.  But there is nowhere left to hide.  The displaced are living in refugee camps with meager supplies, and the limited medical aid Doctors Without Borders and similar organizations are permitted to provide [5].  Meanwhile, Sudan and 16 other African nations are experiencing the second year of a drought (and related food shortages) which have imperiled over 38 million people [6].
  • Nigeria     Pres. Muhammadu Buhari has failed to deliver on his promise to deal with serious human rights violations [2].  These include “disappearances”, arbitrary arrests, and torture.  Though Boko Haram is on the wane, most of the 2.5 million displaced in the country lack adequate food, shelter, and healthcare.
  • Myanmar (Burma)     Ongoing conflict between government forces and rebel groups has made an estimated 100,000 Christians refugees in Malaysia [3].

The persecution of Christians is a fact of life in North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Eritrea.  And yet the Christian faith burns strong. Read more…

Refiner’s Fire – Silver

“Washing table” at Laurion silver mines which supplied ancient Athens, Author Heinz Schmitz, Source Eigenes Bild (CC BY-SA 2.5 Generic)

Mentioned in the Book of Genesis, silver has long been prized.  Slag heaps in Anatolia attest that this precious metal has been separated from lead since the Bronze Age.

Refining is the method of removing impurities from the metal.  It is important not to overheat silver in the refining process.  This requires close attention to the molten metal.  While overheating will not destroy silver, it can make the metal unworkable.

Temperatures as high as 1450 degrees Fahrenheit are necessary to vaporize impurities which then form on the surface of the silver as dross.  Purified molten silver will shine with a mirror-like quality when ready to pour.

Refiner’s fire is often used as a metaphor for spiritual purification in the Bible.

David described God as having “tested us…refined us as silver is refined” (Ps. 66: 10).  The prophet, Isaiah, spoke of God as purging out dross, and removing all alloy (Is. 1: 25).  We are told by Malachi that the Messiah in the last days “will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver” (Mal. 3: 3). Read more…

Undeserving

“The Young Beggar” by Bartolome Esteban Murillo (c. 1648), Louvre Museum (PD- Art, Old-100)

“Who trusted God was love indeed
And love Creation’s final law
Tho’ Nature, red in tooth and claw
With ravine, shriek’d against his creed”

-Alfred Lord Tennyson, In Memoriam AHH (1850)

Social Darwinism – now discredited – was a late 19th Century theory by Herbert Spencer that human beings were subject in society to the same pressures of natural selection applicable to plants and animals.

Capitalism, like nature, was viewed to be red in tooth and claw.  Survival of the fittest governed.  Pity was counter-productive.

According to this theory, members of the wealthy upper class were inherently superior, as their status in society demonstrated.  Members of the lower classes were considered inherently deficient.

Social Darwinism was used to justify racism, imperialism, and a laissez-faire attitude toward societal ills like poverty and child labor.  Not to be forgotten, the theory was, also, closely associated with eugenics – the selective breeding, forced sterilization, and involuntary euthanasia programs later pursued by Adolf Hitler and the Nazis [1].

A recent PBS series, Victorian Slum House, served as a vivid illustration of social Darwinism [2].  Volunteers lived for a period of weeks under the same conditions prevailing in the slums of London during the latter half of the 19th Century.

The program highlighted the biases and misconceptions on which social Darwinism was based.  Among these were beliefs that the poor “liked” to be dirty; that they lacked initiative; that they were criminally inclined and generally undeserving, as reflected by their lowly status.

While Christians like Jane Addams were intimately involved with the Settlement House Movement which was a response to social Darwinism, modern Christians seem to have retained many of the biases underlying that theory [3][4].

Many slum conditions have not changed a great deal in the past century either. Read more…