Wake Up From Your Sleep

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First Sunday of Advent

Isaiah 2:1-5

Romans 13:11-14

Matthew 24:36-44

Psalm 122

 

Allow me to take the liberty of reviewing Matthew 24:32-35, part of the introduction to Jesus’ words for today. Learn what the fig-tree can teach you. As soon as its branches grow full of sap and produce leaves you know that summer is near. So when you see all these things happening you may know that he is near, at your very door! Believe me, this generation will not disappear till all this has taken place. Earth and sky will pass away, but my words will never pass away! Phillips

The fig tree stands in the middle of a long passage in which Jesus spoke of the end times (eschatology). He wants us to see the turmoil of the end as a good sign, the sign that the tree will sprout leaves and bear fruit.

But he also spoke of the signs of the times in a general sense. Jewish rabbis used 75 years as a generation instead or our idea of 20 years, or even 40. The simple way to read the words of verses 35 and 36 is a specific prophecy of the destruction of Jerusalem some 40 years in the future at the time Jesus spoke the words. (There are other possible explanations.)

Some try to force those two verses to represent events literally at the end of this universe, or at least at the end of life as we know it on this earth. I have not seen any discussion along those lines that I can accept.

But about that actual day and time no one knows—not even the angels of Heaven, nor the Son, only the FatherPhillips This statement can refer equally to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD or the end of this earth, or more likely both. I think Jesus gave first-century believers a symbol of the final eschatology: the horror of the slow starvation and final assault of the fortress of Jerusalem, and the later the destruction of Masada.

The symbol for John, Paul, Timothy, and the many other followers of Jesus who survived the destruction was that they would also survive the end times. Also, Jesus said there would be such a destruction in their generation; it happened. We must also believe his statement that he will return.

Perhaps the symbol for us is the four airplanes that shattered our illusions in 2001. Or perhaps the nearly 16 years of war since then, with no end in sight. Or perhaps it is more personal; a car crash, a house fire, unemployment.

The signs of the end are happy signs. That is what we cannot forget.

 

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence

A Short History of American Bigotry

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It started long before Columbus, but our version does begin with the European trend to colonize the known world. The Dutch were the first to reach the Far East, setting up trade with Japan and China, using their base in Indonesia. They considered all easterners to be inferior and gradually began to develop explanations for what they ‘knew to be true.’

It is not so surprising from the Dutch because they were from the Germanic tribes that settled the northern parts of Europe and eventually captured and sacked Rome. As they became more settled in the regions north of Gaul (France), they developed a strong sense of superiority which the Vikings carried with them into the British Isles.

The English took over several of the Dutch territories, including New Amsterdam renaming it New York, and set about subduing the native inhabitants. As a part of that process, they examined the facts and determined that Indians were barbarians without souls, little more than livestock. Worse, in fact, because they refused to be good slaves.

Which brings us to the first Dutch ship that sold 19 African slaves in Jamestown, Virginia in 1619. The Dutch, as we have seen, found it easy to identify inferior species and quickly determined that Africans were the lowest of all human-like animals.

Over the next couple of centuries, white Americans, mostly Dutch, British, and German thought about the position of Africans in the culture of the world (meaning the European world).

By the end of the Nineteenth Century, most universities in northern Europe, England, and the US were teaching racial superiority as a science, complete with books full of ‘facts.’ As a Harvard graduate, Teddy Roosevelt had learned the ideas and accepted them as facts. When he negotiated the peace treaty between Russia and Japan, earning the Nobel Prize for it, he was dealing with two groups of inferior peoples. The Russians were ranked below the French, somewhere around the Italians in inferiority. The Japanese were lower than any European but were above all other Asians.

In 1905, TR sent a shipload of officials, plus his daughter Alice, to Japan to negotiate trade relations publicly while secretly agreeing with Japan that they could take over control of all of Asia. TR agreed to this because they were the superior race in Asia and could bring the rest of the continent under control, acting as the US surrogate. Alice, by the way, went with no knowledge of this. TR wanted her passion for upsetting conventional social norms to distract the press.

The Nazi death camps upset the carefully structured ranking of inferiors, even though most British and American whites believed Jews to be inferior. Killing people in a factory system simply overwhelmed the long-held prejudices. Suddenly, world leaders were talking equality.

But as the leaders talked equality, they did their best to return to the pre-1939 state of affairs. France and Britain tried to regain full control of all their old colonies. Churchill was particularly aggressive in maintaining the world empire. A young Ho Chi Min from Indo-China talked to all the leaders about granting independence for his country. President Truman did not want to upset the French, so he sent Ho packing, setting up, first the French, and then the US for long, costly wars.

As you can see, I have painted a picture with broad brush strokes. The details would fill several books. The point of this: white Americans grew up with an understanding that we are superior. While most of us would never support white supremacist like the skinheads, we all too often feel we are entitled to run things, to have the best jobs, best education, best homes, etc. We want Mexicans to pick our green beans and peaches for little pay, the Vietnamese to bring in the shrimp and sell it cheap, the Chinese to make our cheap products to sell at big box stores, but we also want to keep our high paying jobs at their expense. No white American in his right mind wants to pick green beans for a living.

I’m sorry to tell you; there is no easy solution. If whites believe in equality, then they must act on that belief. It will involve changing the way we think and the way we live.

 

Be righteous and do good

Mike Lawrence

God is Our Refuge and Strength

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Jeremiah 23:1-6
Psalm 46
Colossians 1:11-20
Luke 23:33-43

 

Now Christ is the visible expression of the invisible God…. He is both the first principle and the upholding principle of the whole scheme of creation…. Life from nothing began through him, and life from the dead began through him, and he is, therefore, justly called the Lord of allPhillips

As Thomas à Kempis said, we should be The Imitation of Christ. (His book by that title was first published in Latin in 1418 as De Imitatione Christi). It is too bad Cotton Mather did not pattern his preaching after the book; the witch trials might have been avoided.

Luke, along with Matthew, Mark, and John, described the crucifixion of Jesus in detail because it is the central pivot point of history. Jesus had to die to this world just as all of us must die. Our real lives will begin when Jesus returns to earth for the final battles against evil. When the Holy Temple and the New City of Jerusalem descends to earth, we will all take our places per God’s invitation, based on his Mercy.

What stands between us and the New Jerusalem?

Those who do not believe in God drift through this life, always searching without knowing what it is they seek. Substitutes abound: drugs, alcohol, sex, work, fame, but they all fall short over time. Many dabble at religion, sometimes jumping from one to another. Of those, many dabble at Christianity without making a commitment. They join the church the same way they join clubs; attending when they feel like it.

There is a simple test to discover if you are a committed Christian (or any other group member): how do you spend your time? Don’t simplify the answer by thinking about where you are at eleven on Sunday morning, or even if you attend church.

Do you comfort those who are suffering, feed the hungry, do what is right for all people, show mercy to everyone, seek peace between friends and strangers, or visit those in prison?

The truth is, we find the time to do the things that are important to us. Do we find the time to do the things that are important to Jesus?

 

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence

The Day Is Coming

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Malachi 4:1-2a
Psalm 98
2 Thessalonians 3:6-13
Luke 21:5-19

 

At the height of the Great Awakening in 1741, Jonathan Edwards received an invitation to preach in a church in Enfield, Massachusetts. Edwards was the major creator of the Awakening, a religious movement to get as many people to turn to God as possible. His sermon that day was Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God. It had such an impact that it has been reworked and re-preached thousands of times since that hot July day.

He did not use the text in Malachi, but he could have. Malachi was preaching to the recently returned people of Israel, all of whom had come of age in Babylon. They arrived in their homeland but did not see the presence of God, did not hear His words, did not understand His love for them, did not seek Him.

It is easy for us to approach the nonbeliever in the style of Jonathan Edwards, that is, beating them over the head with images of hell-fire and brimstone. The great drawback to following Edwards is that fear becomes the basis of living as a Christian. Jesus did not preach fear.

Jesus did preach of hard times coming for his followers. Some would say that he was describing specifically what the Apostles could look forward to, but others believe the words apply to all Christians in all times. Either way, the end times will be difficult.

Still, after describing the suffering to come, Jesus said, But not a hair of your head will perish. Stand firm, and you will win lifeNIV This statement echoes the words of Jesus in Matthew 10:39: The man who has found his own life will lose it, but the man who has lost it for my sake will find itPhillips

Paul ties this message together by warning against lazy Christians. Followers of Jesus do what he did. We are busy spreading the Good News, not the bad news. We feed the poor, comfort those in distress, show mercy as God has shown us mercy, and work to bring justice into the world for everyone.

If I am not doing (I don’t have to do everything, you need to do some things too), then shun me. But never think that what you do has anything to do with getting into Heaven.

 

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence

So Then Brothers, Stand Firm

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Job 19:23-27a
Psalm 17:1-9
2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, 13-17
Luke 20:27-38

 

Job had three friends, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar. When they heard about his troubles, they went to comfort him. They sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering wasNIV

As they talk with him over the next chapters, they begin to accuse him of being the cause of all his suffering. Job, in return, blames God.

In chapter 18, Bildad takes another turn at trying to reason with Job. In the last verse of his accusation, he said, Surely such is the dwelling of an evil man; such is the place of one who does not know GodNIV

Job responds as most of us would, but he also, after blaming God again, says, I know that my redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand on the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see GodNIV

Job cursed God but never deserted God. His faith was stronger than most of us can muster. He lost everything through no fault of his own and then had his best friends accuse him of turning away from God. He was angry with God, but he remained faithful through it all.

I know that my redeemer lives.

In the midst of his suffer, Job held on that Truth. As Jesus put it, For God is not God of the dead, but of the living. For all men are alive to himPhillips Job understood that God wanted him to live in the new world after the resurrection from death. Jesus expanded that to all men.

No matter your troubles, Stand Firm.

 

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence