Christian Pagans and Disasters

Scripture: 1 Kings 22:23
“So now the Lord has put a deceiving spirit in the mouths of all these prophets of yours. The Lord has decreed disaster for you.”

1 Thessalonians 5:9
For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Reflection: Christian Pagans and Disasters
by John Tillman

Attributing disasters to angry gods is the theology of pagans. It is often a theological attack with a two-pronged, double dip of blame. Blaming the angry god is mere pretext to the true source of blame—the person or people who angered that god. The true source of blame in this view is human action and the true purpose of this kind of prophecy is to attack people with whom one disagrees. This theology has more in common with the theology of the 1990 movie Joe Versus the Volcano than it does the God of the Bible.

Unfortunately there are no shortage of Christians and Christian leaders who willingly share this theological ground with pagans. They can be found on news programs after a disaster, describing a distant, impersonal, yet somehow still moralistic god, who is vengefully punishing moral sins.

The idea that a country may be punished by God for its sins is not unbiblical. The God of scripture does use natural disasters and disastrous attacks by armies (or even wild animals) as judgment on the sin of individuals, leaders, and nations. However, on occasions in which God did so, he announced it ahead of time—with extraordinary specificity. Many times an opportunity for repentance was given by the prophet. Even odious leaders such as Ahab were given opportunities to repent and avoid judgment.

It would be wise for any current day prophets wishing to make some prophecy of God’s judgment to also keep in mind the penalty for false prophecies and instead simply cover their mouths.

The God of the Old Testament is the the same God-in-the-flesh we know in the person of Jesus Christ, and the same Holy Spirit at work within us and through us. Justice is wrought by God’s love for us. His wrath is borne by His own self-sacrifice for us. The disaster that should strike us, He caused to strike Christ in our place.

As Paul says, we are not to treat prophecies with contempt, but test them all — holding on to what is good and rejecting evil. And it would help if we remembered that true prophecy comes before disaster, not after.

Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Let not those who hope in you be put to shame through me, Lord God of hosts; let not those who seek you be disgraced because of me, O God of Israel. — Psalm 69:7

– From 
The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
1 Kings 22 (Listen – 7:51)
1 Thessalonians 5 (Listen – 2:37)

Praise and Adoration from Great Britain :: Worldwide Prayer

Scripture: 1 Thessalonians 4.6-8
…in this matter no one should wrong or take advantage of a brother or sister…For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life. Therefore, anyone who rejects this instruction does not reject a human being but God, the very God who gives you his Holy Spirit.

As this humble prayer lifts praise and adoration to God it recognizes that nationalism and faith in current governments, leaders, or other agencies of power is slavery. It is mercy and love for one another that we must fan into flame, not pride of nation or party. Pride’s only gift is in separating us from others, which is the opposite of our calling as ambassadors of the Gospel. — John

Reflection: Praise and Adoration from Great Britain :: Worldwide Prayer

Dear Father,

We praise you that we may draw near to you through the merits of Jesus, your Son, our Savior. We glorify you that your Holy Spirit continually moves in our world today. We bless you that your Spirit focuses faith on Jesus and draws us into fellowship with you and with one another.

Thank you Father for your transcendent love. Thank you that here and now we enter into fresh relationship with you through your mercy and grace. Free us from the shackles of nationality and insularity.

As we give you glory for all that you are doing through Christians around the world today, hear our prayers for one another and for those whom we represent. Fire us with your love.

Inspire our praise, our prayer, and our preaching with the gift of your Spirit and make us better ambassadors for Jesus.

We ask this in the Name of the Savior.

The Call to Prayer
Come, let us sing to the Lord; let us shout for joy to the Rock of our salvation.  — Psalm 95:1

– From 
The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
1 Kings 21 (Listen – 4:19)
1 Thessalonians 4 (Listen – 2:24)

Music of Love

Scripture: 1 Thessalonians 3.12
May the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all.

Reflection: The Music of Love
by Steven Dilla

The truth of Christ is woven into the fabric of relationship. As Christians accept, encourage, edify, and sacrifice for one another the character of Christ is displayed for those inside and outside the Church.

Yet if we were to stop at inclusion of the insider, Christianity would be no different than any other religion or social club. Friendship reaches as far as there is common ground. Business partnerships extend as far as profits. Partisanship stretches as far as implications of ideas. Tolerance only embraces others who are tolerant (there is no cultural tolerance for intolerance).

Christ calls his followers further; “Love your enemies.” Though our sinful hearts want to exclude, Christ presents us with a paradox: if they are your friend, love them; if they are your enemy, love them. Dietrich Bonhoeffer—who ministered not only to his fellow prisoners, but to the Nazi guards who held them—writes:

Spiritual love does not desire but rather serves, it loves an enemy as a brother or sister. It originates neither in the brother or sister nor in the enemy, but in Christ and his word. Self-centered, emotional love can never comprehend spiritual love, for spiritual love is from above. It is something completely strange, new, and incomprehensible to all earthly love.

Love, in the Christian faith, is not based on the recipient’s worthiness nor the giver’s character. Instead Christians look to Christ’s love as example, justification, and strength. Christ becomes the common ground; regardless of whether or not he is mutually held—it is his image stamped onto the hearts of humankind. Christ becomes the greatest benefit; we no longer look to personal gain as the evaluative tool of a relationship.

“Truth and love are two of the most powerful things in the world,” R. Cudworth preached, “and when they both go together they cannot easily be withstood.” The puritan caught a glimpse of the beauty of Christ’s love and it’s potential to transform our world, concluding:

O divine love! The sweet harmony of souls! The source of true happiness! The pure quintessence of heaven! That which reconciles the jarring principles of the world and makes them chime together! That which melt’s men’s hearts into one another!

Let us express this sweet harmonious affection in these jarring times; that so, if it be possible, we may tune the world into better music.

The Call to Prayer
Come, let us sing to the Lord; let us shout for joy to the Rock of our salvation.  — Psalm 95:1

– From 
The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
1 Kings 20 (Listen – 7:03)
1 Thessalonians 3 (Listen – 1:44)

A Berean Take on Fake News

Scripture: 1 Thessalonians 2:14-15
For you, brothers and sisters, became imitators of God’s churches in Judea, which are in Christ Jesus: You suffered from your own people the same things those churches suffered from the Jews who killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets and also drove us out.

Acts 7:11
Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.

Reflection: A Berean Take on Fake News
by John Tillman

Bereans do not have a Pauline epistle in the canon of scripture and the Thessalonians have two. However, the Jews of Berea are described in Acts as being “more noble” than those in Thessalonica. This nobility is characterized by engaging Paul’s teaching with intellectual curiosity and scriptural research.

Paul’s opponents in Thessalonica used tactics that were anti-intellectual and anti-scriptural and we should recognize them from our own Facebook feeds—exaggeration and falsification. Then as now, people ate it up. After they succeeded in running Paul out of town, they followed him to Berea, doxing him as a heretic and a political agitator. Even amongst the “more noble” Bereans, they were still able to cause enough trouble to force Paul to move on.

If you think people today are more sophisticated, more cultured, or more intellectual than those of the ancient world, you have been paying attention neither to ancient history nor to Facebook.

In our day, both progressive-leaning and conservative-leaning publications profit by pot-stirring. While it would be easy to point the finger at the media, we are responsible to choose a “more noble” path as consumers of content. Our sinfulness is the reason that inspiring fervor is much more profitable than dispensing facts and sensationalism is more clickable than sensible reporting.

In our Internet-connected world, cries of “Fake News” reverberate in the insulated echo chambers that we stroll (or scroll) through. These echo chambers are built for us by algorithms whose intent is to keep us scrolling, viewing, and reading and whose strategy is explicitly to not offend us with contradictory data, stories, images, or opinions that we don’t “like.”

Christians shouldn’t rely on algorithms to tell us what is important in the world. That is why we have Scriptures, the Church, and the Holy Spirit. Christians have a responsibility to not get swept up in hysteria, to not spread rumor as fact, and to not react in denial or anger when the facts cast a bad light on us or those we support.

It is bad practice to only trust news from organizations we feel share our values. No news organization shares your values. They value your “shares.” As Ed Stetzer has said, “Facts are our friends.” We need to seek the facts in more places than those that pander to us.

Christians need to develop a more Berean attitude about not only the scripture we read, but the news we share. It’s hard to share the incredible news of the Gospel when the rest of what we share is in-credible

A Reading
…I in my turn, after carefully going over the whole story from the beginning, have decided to write an ordered account for you, Theophilus, so that your excellency may learn how well founded the teaching is that you have received. — Luke 1:3-4

– From 
The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
1 Kings 19 (Listen – 3:53)
1 Thessalonians 2 (Listen – 2:53)

The Enemy of Pleasure

Scripture: Colossians 3.2
Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.

The pilgrim is not to despise the comforts which he may meet with by the way, but he is not to tarry among them, or leave them with regret. — John Eadie

Reflection: The Enemy of Pleasure
by Steven Dilla

Only when a person is not dependent on an object or experience for pleasure are they truly free to enjoy it. We know this, of course, because things we’ve built anticipation for regularly find a way of letting us down. On the other hand, things for which we have little—or low—expectations find ways of impressing us greatly.

In response, some people cultivate perpetually low expectations toward everything and everyone. It’s a compensatory mechanism in which they seek to avoid life’s disappointments and, if all goes well, find themselves “pleasantly surprised.” This soothes the symptoms, but leaves the cause to fester.

The problem is not in the objects and experiences themselves, but our dependence on them to cultivate joy and happiness. It is another manifestation of the root of pride—our desire to derive primary satisfaction, pleasure, and identity from our personal experiences and achievements.

“True humility,” says Timothy Keller, in summary of C.S. Lewis, “is not thinking less of yourself or thinking more of yourself; it’s thinking of yourself less.” When our lives take on a posture of humility it affects not just our relationships with others, but our relationships with the objects and pleasures of this world.

Do not imagine that if you meet a really humble man he will be what most people call “humble” nowadays: he will not be a sort of greasy, smarmy person, who is always telling you that, of course, he is nobody.

Probably all you will think about him is that he seemed a cheerful, intelligent chap who took a real interest in what you said to him.

If you do dislike him it will be because you feel a little envious of anyone who seems to enjoy life so easily. He will not be thinking about humility: he will not be thinking about himself at all. — C.S. Lewis

The Christian posture toward the objects and pleasures of the world is neither asceticism nor hedonism. Instead, our attention, passions, and desires have been so captured by the gospel that we are free to enjoy the many pleasures of this world without falling in love with them. Boasting in the cross makes us humble toward the world.

The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
So teach us to number our days that we may apply our hearts to wisdom. — Psalm 90:12

– From 
The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
1 Kings 16 (Listen – 5:31)
Colossians 3 (Listen – 3:09)

Today’s Readings
1 Kings 17 (Listen – 3:14) Colossians 4 (Listen – 2:21)
1 Kings 18 (Listen – 7:08) 1 Thessalonians 1 (Listen – 1:27)

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