Tribulation Saint

Historic Christianity in the Twenty First Century

Month: November, 2018

WHY GIVE THANKS?

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Thanksgiving is, of course, a major national holiday.  But like many major holidays its meaning has largely been lost.  Why celebrate Thanksgiving?  The original purpose was to give thanks to God for His blessings during the previous year, and especially for a bountiful harvest.   But in an increasingly secularized society fewer and fewer people can see any reasons to “give thanks.”  Thanks to Whom?  For what?  Most people today have no idea.

The apostle Paul in the New Testament, however, gives us the underlying rationale.  In Romans 11:36 he says, “For of Him and through Him and to Him are all things, to whom be glory forever.  Amen.” (NKJV).  The first thing he says is that all things are “of Him” or “from Him.”  God is the Creator.  Apart from Him nothing would exist at all.  Everything else in the universe, the earth, the stars and planets, the mountains, the seas, plant and animal life, even we ourselves, owes its existence solely to God.  Without Him we would not exist at all.

But secondly, Paul says that all things are “through Him.”  It was common, during the Eighteenth Century, to view creation as something that ran more or less mechanically.  God was the divine Watchmaker, and having set the machinery in motion it ran on its own.  But as Paul told the Athenians, God “gives to all life, breath and all things” and “in Him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:25,28).  And in Col. 1:17 he said “And he is before all things, and in Him all things consist”; and in Heb. 1:3 we read that Christ is “upholding all things by the word of His power.”  Even scientists are forced to admit that nature does not work in a strictly mechanical fashion, at least not at the subatomic level (Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle).  And even in normal cause and effect relationships God can so control the forces of nature that He is the One who ultimately determines the success or failure of a harvest.

“Sing to the Lord with thanksgiving;

Sing praises on the harp to our God,

Who covers the heavens with clouds,

Who prepares rain for the earth,

Who makes grass grow on the mountains.

He gives to the beast its food,

And to the young ravens that cry.”

(Psalm 147:7-9)

But then Paul says that all things are “to Him,” or “unto Him.”  If all things are created and sustained by God there must be an ultimate meaning and purpose to it.  God created everything for His own purposes, and He wants us, as His creatures, to love Him and worship Him for all that He has done for us.  Again, as Paul told the Athenians, God created “every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth . . .so that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us” (Acts 17:25,27).  God is a personal Being, and He wants us to relate to Him in a personal way.

And so it is that Paul concludes by saying, “to whom be glory forever. Amen.”  If we owe everything we have to God, including our very existence, then we should acknowledge the fact and praise Him accordingly.  And that means that we should make a conscious effort to praise and worship Him.  We should frequent a house of worship on a regular basis.

“Praise the Lord!

Sing to the Lord a new song,

And His praise in the assembly of the saints.”

(Psalm 149:1)

But then especially on a day like Thanksgiving we should take the time to honor Him for all the blessings of the past year.

“Oh come, let us sing to the Lord!

Let us shout joyfully to the Rock of our salvation.

Let us come before His presence with thanksgiving;

Let us shout joyfully to Him with psalms.

For the Lord is the great God,

And the great King above all gods.”

(Ps. 95:1-3)

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THE DEADLY POWER OF THE TONGUE

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Recently the nation has been shocked by a wave of violence leading up to the election.  One person mailed pipe bombs to a number of prominent of Democrats, and another barged into a synagogue on a Sabbath morning and began shooting at the congregation, killing eleven.  Both of the men appear to have motivated by hate, and the question arose as to the role that President Trump’s sometimes inflammatory rhetoric and the social media may have played in the incidents.

In all fairness to Mr. Trump it must be pointed out that part of the blame for the overheated political climate goes to the left.  For some time those on the liberal, progressive left have chosen to see themselves as a loose assortment of oppressed minority groups and have accused their imagined oppressors of being “racist,” “sexist,” and “homophobic.”  It is identity politics, an “us against them” mentality, and it was only a matter of time before white, working class Americans would see themselves as a besieged people group and respond with a kind of white nationalism.

But none of this bodes well for democracy.  In a democratic society there has to be a free and open discussion of the issues, and the ability to reach a compromise.  Name calling and violence eat away at the fabric of democracy by intimidating people and keeping them from making their own decisions.

The First Amendment to the Constitution states that “Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press. . .”  But does that mean that people have a right to say whatever they want?  The plain fact of the matter is that we can hurt others in more ways than one by the things we say about them and to them.

The Ninth Commandment reads, “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor” (Ex. 20:16; Dt. 5:20; NKJV).  The immediate reference, of course, involves what happens in a judicial proceeding.   A person has been accused of a crime.  Witnesses are called forth to testify, and the fate of the accused hangs on the testimony of the witnesses.  In order for justice to be served it is vitally important for the witnesses to “tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.”  Anything less could result in the defendant being punished for a crime he did not commit.

But as we look through the Bible as a whole it becomes apparent that there is a broader moral principle as well.  The fact of the matter is that what we say has an effect on other people – for either good or evil.  “Death and life are in the power of the tongue . . .” (Prov. 18:21).  Gossip, for example, separates friends (Prov. 16:27,28) and causes strife.  “Where there is no wood the fire goes out; / And where there is no talebearer, strife ceases” (Prov. 26:20).   Juicy gossip distorts facts, destroys reputations and inflames passions.  Likewise someone who simply likes to argue causes strife.  “As charcoal is to burning coals, and word to fire, / So is a contentious man to kindle strife” (v. 21).  In a word, “The hypocrite with his mouth destroys his neighbor . . .” (Prov. 11:9).

On the other hand the things we say can have a positive effect on others as well.  “Pleasant words are like a honeycomb, / Sweetness to the soul and health to the bones” (Prov. 16:24).  “A man has joy by the words of this mouth, / And a word spoken in due season, how good it is!” (Prov. 15:23).  But to say the right thing it behooves us to listen first to get the facts straight.  “He who answers a matter before he hears it, / It is folly and shame to him” (Prov. 18:13).  And when responding to someone who is visibly angry it is helpful to remember that “A soft answer turns away wrath, / But a harsh word stirs up anger” (Prov. 15:1).

None of this means, however, that we should never say anything negative to others.  In its own way flattery can be just as harmful as slander: “A man who flatters his neighbor / Spreads a net for his feet” (Prov. 29:5).  And if someone is genuinely guilty of wrongdoing, even for his own sake it needs to be addressed.

“Open rebuke is better

Than love carefully concealed.

Faithful are the words of a friend,

But the kisses of an enemy are deceitful.”

(Prov. 27:5,6)

Likewise the New Testament tells us, “Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it might impart grace to the hearers” (Eph. 4:29), and that “neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor coarse jesting, which are not fitting” should “be named among you,” “but rather giving of thinks” (Eph. 5:3,4).

It is obvious, then, that words have consequences, and it is for this reason that God is concerned with what we say.  “Lying lips are an abomination to the Lord, / But those who deal truthfully are His delight” (Prov. 12:22).  And Jesus warned His hearers, “But I say to you that for every idle word men may speak, they will give an account of it in the day of judgment.  For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned” (Matt. 12:36,37).

In short,

“’These are the things you shall do:

Speak each man the truth to his neighbor;

Give judgment in your gates for truth, justice and peace;

Let none of you think evil in your heart against your neighbor;

And do not love a false oath.

For all these are things that I hate,’

Says the Lord.”

(Zech. 8:16,17)

As Americans our freedom of speech is guaranteed by our Constitution.  But we must never forget that as human beings we are ultimately accountable to a Supreme Being, and we do not possess the moral right to say whatever we please, whether it be true or false or damages other people’s reputations.  Politicians may rant and rave, giving distorted views of the facts and use inflammatory rhetoric; and this, in turn, creates a charged atmosphere in which some deranged people may resort to actual violence.  But in the end we will all answer to our Creator for what we have said and done.  May God have mercy on us all.

VETERANS’ DAY

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Today is the day that we commemorate as Veterans’ Day, the day we honor those who served their country in the armed forces.  This year’s commemoration is special, however.  It marks the 100th anniversary of the armistice that ended World War I.

World War I was a war unlike any that had gone before it.  It was the first war that saw the use of improved machine guns, tanks, airplanes, submarines and poison gas.  And the resulting casualties were staggering: about 10 million military and 7 million civilian.  And when it was over the royal houses of Germany, Austria, Russia and Turkey were all gone.

The horrors of the war were well captured by the poet Wilfred Owen:

“What passing-bells for those who die as cattle?

Only the monstrous anger of the guns.

Only the stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle

Can patter out their nasty orisons.”

In asking Congress for a declaration of war President Wilson said that “The world must be made safe for democracy.”  And yet the next few years after the war would see the rise of totalitarian dictatorships in Russia and Germany and the onset of an even bigger war, World War II.

It is, in fact, a sad commentary on human nature.  At the end of the Nineteenth Century Western Civilization was brimming with confidence.  The scientific and industrial revolutions had made tremendous progress.  Western culture was becoming increasingly secularized, and Friedrich Nietzsche could proclaim that “God is dead.”

But while technology may advance, human nature remains the same.  We no longer attack each other with stones and spears; instead we threaten each other with intercontinental ballistic missiles tipped with nuclear warheads.  The new technology has simply increased our capacity for evil.  Morally the world today is pretty much what it was when “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of the heart was only evil continually.  And the Lord was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart” (Gen. 6:5,6; NKJV).

Jesus told us that “you will hear of wars and rumors of wars.  See that you are not troubled; for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet.  For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom” (Matt. 24:6,7), and the Book of Revelation speaks of a “horse, fiery red . . . And it was granted to the one who sat on it to take peace from the earth, and that people should kill one another; and there was given to him great sword” (Rev. 6:4).  Wars are human phenomena, but God ultimately controls the destinies of men and nations.  World War I was a human catastrophe on a scale unprecedented in human history.  Might it not have been a judgement from God on a civilization that had turned away from Him?  Might it not be a sign of the end times?