Apologetically Speaking

I have been an apologist since shortly after finding my way back to the walk I abandoned as a teenager. Of course, I did not think of myself as an apologist. I was just a guy who spent much his life challenging anyone who admitted going to church, especially those who called themselves preachers. Now, I was suddenly telling people why they should believe, defending my understanding of the Bible, and giving my testimony through the changes in my life.

When it came to my attention, I was practicing informal apologetics. I decided I needed to know more about the subject. Imagine my disappointment when I found out that my version of apologetics was old school, ineffective, and amusing to many in the Christian community.

At one time, being told I was a minor leaguer or worse, totally without talent, might have hurt.  It might even have caused me to revert to behaviors, God helped me overcome. Thankfully, that did not happen.

Instead, I decided to become a first-string apologist.  Of course, that meant reading, study, and formal education in theology and apologetics.  For someone with eight grandkids, that sounded like a bit of challenge. Luckily, the only obstacle was surviving the truth my studies revealed.

The Almighty opened several doors allowing me to attend seminary.  Not only did I attend, but I also earned an advanced degree in theological studies. I was even considering more education, at least a certificate in apologetics, but something got in my way.

According to academic theologians, modern apologists must be prepared to go toe to toe with atheists and skeptics, including members of academe. I had no problem with that idea. Over the decades of my involvement in higher education, I butted heads over one thing or another with professors and others more times than I can remember. 

I did have a problem with the changes this attitude wrought in the area of Christian Apologetics.  Now, an apologist had to be a cross between a teacher, mediator, debater, and philosopher.  Okay, I understood the teacher, mediator, debater aspects of the matter, but philosopher? Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Nietzsche, Marx, etc. were philosophers, and none were believers in anything beyond themselves. While other philosophers might be classified as Christian or believers, most worshiped at the feet of humanity, the mind, or their own ego, not Yahweh or Jesus.

Still, it was possible to accept that one should be versed in philosophy to debate with atheists who preached the gospels of the philosophers mentioned above.  That changed for me when my young, bright and enthusiastic Apologetics professor essentially threw down a variation of Schrodinger’s Cat as one example of how arguing philosophy was essential to apologetics.  

It became clear modern-day apologists are, in many cases, merely debaters. Theologians who want to debate the other side, scoring academic wins on nebulous aspects of philosophy. Admittedly, the professor in question was only scratching the surface of the topic. Yet, his examples and explanations made it clear modern apologetics was more about mind games than belief systems.

Christian apologetics should not be an academic exercise.  It should be a serious approach to defending or explaining one’s beliefs. Indeed, an individual’s eyes can be opened by a logical argument. Still, the reality is the person’s heart must be ready to hear, or the evidence will fall on deaf ears. For example, the idea of loving God was always hard for me, until a rocket scientist turned pastor explained it from the pulpit.

Love, to me, was an emotional commitment, desire, feeling, or need toward another person or animal such as a pet. Loving some nebulous, all-powerful being, I would not meet until I died was a bit hard to grasp.  I firmly believed He loved me because the evidence of his love was always around me, once I opened up to it. Still, the idea of me loving Him was hard to fathom.

Then the logical, scientific-minded former engineer said, “Loving God is a choice. It is a choice you make, not an emotion you feel.” He went on to say emotion might come into it later, to which I can attest, but first, I had to make a choice. I could either love God or not, as I saw fit.

So, my purpose here is what? It is to make it clear we can all be apologists in our own way.  It is not based on how well we have memorized verses in the Bible.  It is not based on debating someone on the evidence supporting the accuracy of the Bible.  It is not based on one’s eloquence as a speaker. As the Bible teaches, it is based on God, making the other person receptive to the message.  If it is their time, they will hear what you are unable to say in a pastoral or academic sense. 

Our job is to share our faith whenever possible.  If we are truly living that faith, and it is their time, they will see it.  If they don’t, you may have planted a seed that will sprout when the next person responds to their skepticism, need, or fear.  Do not let your head or heart by bothered by Shrodinger’s cat or other paradoxes. Whether the cat is alive or dead, it has nothing to do with one’s Christian walk.

© sinnerswalk.com -2019

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Eating an Elephant: Even God?

Wondering what God has to do with eating an elephant?1 Wondering if this piece is going to discuss the All Mighty’s eating habits? Rest assured, that is not the case. On the other hand, I am going to write of things related to God.

If you are an atheist, you might want to click on something else. This piece may make absolutely no sense to you, but you might be amused by some of the things said here. They might even give you ammo to use the next time you argue with one of us Bible Thumpers.  Also, some of this has nothing to do with a god, real or imagined. Rather it has to do with changing society, one small bite at a time.2

Creighton Abrams intended his comment about dining on an elephant to make a couple of points. One is obvious. It is impossible to eat anything the size of an elephant in one gulp. Beyond that, it has a second, less obvious meaning. Butchering, preparing and eating an elephant would take time, which indicates one should not dilly-dally around in processing the beast. One should get started, as early as possible.

About this time, if you are still tuned in, you are wondering, “Where is this going?”  I know I would be.  So, here is where this is going. Something has been eating the elephant of civilization and society for a long time, and modern technology is speeding up the process.  For instance, take the title of this piece. Eating an elephant is clear, but “Even God,” what does that mean?

Encyclopedia Britannica states the tragic poet Agathon was born in ancient Greece around  445 B.C. At some point in his life, Agathon is credited with saying, “Even God cannot change the past.” Certainly, in those days of poetry, philosophy, and great thinkers, the idea that Agathon might make such a comment is not unbelievable. What is a bit difficult to believe, if one thinks about it, is that people today still give the line credibility.

Now, if you are an atheist, skeptic, or just someone looking for an argument, that last sentence may have gotten your attention. You may be saying to yourself, “Yep, he is one of those Kool-Aid drinking religious nuts.” Possibly, but hear me out.

First, why would I say people today give Agathon’s comment credibility? I say that because it is a thought being shared in social media, which is where it came to my attention. It is being shared, apparently, as a motivational quote, and one can see why. If someone is hurting over past mistakes, or obsessing over them, the idea that even an all-powerful God could not change things might help them move on. 

For the record, I could find nothing that would help understand what a Greek tragic poet meant by the phrase being discussed. His work has largely been lost, and little is known about him. Still, it would make sense to believe he meant it as it was written, and as it might now be used. Don’t cry over spilled milk, as even God cannot change the past.

When I saw the meme my comment to the post was, “Really! How would we know?” The person posting the meme’s reply was, essentially, don’t shoot the messenger! He pointed out he didn’t write these things. He just shared them.  

To be fair, the person sharing the advice shares many such bits of so-called wisdom. In each case, it is reasonable to assume he is sharing them with good intentions. However, his intentions do not matter in this case.

This alleged quotation from an ancient writer, intentionally or unintentionally, attempts to put God in a box. The author may have been well-intentioned, but essentially, he was saying God is not all-powerful, at least temporally. That is a problem, for believers.

The God of the Bible is an all-powerful, all-knowing God. The Bible teaches He knew us before we were born, and one source lists 100 passages making that point. This and other factors lead many to believe God exists outside of time. Thus, He exists or can exist, at all points in time.

Of course, the debate on that issue is far from settled, as a quick internet search will reveal. Yet, if, as many believe, God does exist outside of time, He might be able to change the past. This would be especially true, if, as some believe, the universe is some form of simulation. In that case, there is likely a reset button or command available. Whatever the reality, what does all this have to do with the title of this essay? 

The nature of God is one of the all-time elephants humans attempt to devour and digest. Is God real, mythical, or a delusion is a question many have asked for thousands of years.  Christians, Jews, and others have pushed the idea that one swallows the idea more or less whole. Some Skeptics, atheists, and those who believe in other higher powers often take a similar approach to debunking what they see as a fairy tale. 

Others attempting to debunk, as they see it, the myth of an all-powerful God recognize the need to eat the elephant one bite at a time. Agathon’s quotation may be one of those bites, and it has been around since before the birth of Jesus. Regardless of the motivation behind the original utterance or publishing of the comment, the comment does imply God has limitations.

Preaching or philosophizing that God is unable to control time, is one small swipe at the concept of God as many see Him. My comments and this piece to some degree are my attempt to help others realize the seeds of doubt can be sown in a seemingly harmless aphorism. Which takes this back to my original response to this quotation.

There was a time when most theologians likely believed in the all-powerful, all-knowing God of the Bible. Oh, there were skeptics, detractors, and people attempting to teach other traditions, belief systems, or ways of life, but Christianity believed in the God of the Bible.

Over the centuries, naysayers and others have attempted to chip away at these beliefs.  Today, there are theologians and biblical scholars who do not believe in the God of the Bible. They may say they do, but their beliefs put limitations on God. One such limitation, is the idea that God, like man, is stuck in a time continuum. If that is the case, even He could not change the past. They are eating the elephant of disbelief one bite at a time and sharing it with those around them.

Which takes me back to my original comment about this bit of wisdom. How would we know?

 


1See The Media Circus for the inspiration for the title.

2For those who worry about the smallest possible grammar issue, the term society is used in a global sense to indicate the larger human society of which all humanity is a part, without regard to geographical, social, racial, or other differences.

© – sinnerswalk.com – 2019

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In Excelsis Deo

For a few years as a child, my mom thought I might have a singing career. She had my little brother and me singing in everything from school programs to church functions, for the short time we went to church. My most explicit memory of my performances was a Christmas program at Bluff Springs Elementary School, near Azle, Texas. David and I were singing Silent Night, and I forgot the words at one point.

Okay! I did not forget the words! My first ever “girlfriend” was in the audience, batting her eyes at me, and I got a bit distracted. I am not sure which was more embarrassing, flubbing the lyrics or everyone knowing I was paying more attention to her than the baby Jesus. Whatever the truth of the matter, I still remember that sinking feeling when I started singing the wrong words.

That was not the end of my singing career, such as it was. No, that happened when I tried out for a real singing position in junior high. My mom insisted I give it a shot and even came to the audition with me. It was not a great audition. My voice was changing, I had no idea what the notes on the music meant, and the teacher stared at me as if I had crawled out from under a rock. I gave up any formal music training that afternoon. The music teacher was kind enough to blame the problem on my voice changing, but I knew the truth. I sucked!

Of course, when you gotta sing, you gotta sing. I sang along with the radio, the record player, the television, and the movies. True, I sang mostly under my breath. I did not want anyone to hear me, but it still counted in my book. I just liked to sing. I had a great shower voice, in my opinion, and in my years as a street cop, I could rock out with the good-time radio on the night shift. I probably scared off a few bad guys driving around my district singing along with the Eagles or Willy. The bad guys probably thought I was crazy. Who wants to deal with a crazy cop?

Of course, all good things come to an end. Promotions, children, education, and other responsibilities made me hang up my air guitar. For years, singing took a back seat to everything else. I really did not know how much I missed it for years. Then, in the mid-90s, I became involved in a para-ministry of sorts. It incorporated music into a life skills or life change program.

One of the challenges of the program was to “stretch” yourself. Essentially, that meant performing a song picked for you by the training team, in costume, in front of a bunch of people. Talk about a blast! It was fantastic and one of the reasons I was involved in the program for the next decade. Nobody cared how well you sang, and you could screech to your heart’s content, it was about having fun and letting your hair down.

That program helped me find my way back to God and to church. Yes, it was that kind of seminar. It was open to anyone, and if all one could handle was a higher power, they were okay with that. Still, the focus behind the scenes was Jesus. My next musical step came in 2009. It was then I realized singing along with a record, or even singing as part of the congregation was not enough. Thankfully, the choir at my church welcomed everyone who wanted to give it a shot. Training, reading music and having a real voice were desirable traits, but folks like me were welcome. It was here, I found the true meaning of the quotation at the top of the page.

Singing of any kind can make one feel good. It can make you feel upbeat or at least less stressed. That is why many sing in the shower or sing along with the radio. Of course, singing along at a concert is a given. Singing makes you feel better, if you let it, but the quotation above is limited to a degree. Singing “Mommas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow up to Be Cowboys” at karaoke night or driving down the road can be fun. If you are musically inclined, breaking into song in response to something heartwarming can leave you with a warm glow for hours. But, what does, I am happy because I sing, really mean?

I could not find an explanation from the author of the quote. I did see some comments that might make sense, and most were similar to my own thoughts on the matter. Yet, in most of these, there seemed to be a gaping hole. What does it really mean, I am happy because I sing? You may feel differently, but for me, true happiness is more than the adrenaline rush and release, one may feel singing a favorite song or two. Yes, those are great and important, but the happiness that comes from singing alone can be short-lived.

My experience indicates true happiness comes from why one sings. I know some professional singers. They love entertaining others. They love making people feel better, helping them forget the challenges they will face when they leave the venue, and deal with the world again. Letting a gifted singer distract one for a while is terrific, and both parties can feel better as the night draws to a close. Still, there may be something missing.

Forty-plus Sundays a year, my wife and I sing in the choir at church. Fifty-one Sundays a year, we feel blessed to have that privilege. One Sunday a year, we not only feel blessed, we are truly blessed by having that privilege. We just finished that Sunday, really that weekend as the choir sang six times from Friday evening to Sunday evening.

Five of those were our Christmas Cantata performances. Our Cantata service is performed to bring glory to His name. That made us happy in a way hard to explain. Singing can make one feel happy, but singing praises to our Lord goes beyond happiness. It brings joy and peace one must experience to understand.

Remember that the next time you sing a hymn in church.  Singing hymns is not simply a group activity and tradition. It is a time to let our Lord and Savior hear us praise Him.  It is also a time for us to feel His love in return. That’s where true happiness comes from.

© sinnerswalk.com -2019

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A Thanksgiving Thought

Social media this week is filled with memes and personal posts urging us to remember those whose Thanksgiving Day may not be spent with family and friends. Those posts are a call to be thankful for police officers, firefighters, the military, and others whose Thanksgiving Day will be spent standing between the rest of us and chaos.

Prayers, good thoughts, and thanks of some sort directed toward first responders and others is appropriate and deserved. Yet, this past weekend, I was reminded there are others we should keep in our thoughts and prayers this week.

As this is being written, two old friends are facing their first Thanksgiving alone. No, they will not be without friends and family, but they will be without their partner, their soul-mate, and spouse. One has been dealing with the loss for months, while the other’s tragedy occurred as Thanksgiving plans were being finalized. In both cases, the absence was sudden and unexpected. One minute two are one, and the next minute that team is ripped asunder.

No, this is not something one expects to read at this time of the year.  This is the time of the year for reading uplifting stories about blessings and celebrations around the country, if not the world. Stories, blogs, and memes should be focused on how wonderful we feel sharing holidays with families and friends while praying our favorite football team makes the playoffs.

This year, God decided to remind me giving thanks is not easy for everyone during the holidays. Whether it occurred a few days or a few decades ago, some will be feeling a sense of loss while others are counting their blessings. While some are overeating and imbibing, others will be wishing they had one more chance to hear a voice, feel a hug, or see a smile that is now a memory.

In closing, let me suggest that each of us remember Thanksgiving and Christmas are two rough holidays for many.  So, as we give thanks for our blessings, and celebrate the birth of our Savior, I pray everyone reading this will remember those who sacrifice much of their holidays to keep us safe in prayer.

As you are doing so, remember there is someone, possibly even someone close to you, who may be having trouble being thankful or feeling blessed at this time of year. They need your prayers as well.

In Him

© sinnerswalk.com – 2019

Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash
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When the Light Fades

In some ways, every day is like the day before.  The sun rises, and the sun sets. The wind blows, or leaves hang motionless from the branches. Rain falls, or dust fills the air.  Yes, in some ways every day is the same, and then, there are the days that are different. Yes, the sun rises, and the sun sets on those days. Yes, the wind blows, or the stillness seems foreboding.  Then, something happens, and that day is different. 

One of those different days for me was a Sunday when I was eleven. I cannot forget the day, or rather I choose not to forget the day. It was the day worldly life began pushing me away from my church, my faith, and my God.   

We stayed home that day, unlike most Sundays. Most Sundays we arose and went to church.  We drove the dusty lane from home to a two-lane twisting farm road leading past the little white church by the lake.  Along with a handful of others, we crammed into the place for Sunday School and then Brother Max’s message for the week.  Be it the message of salvation, the call to sacrifice, or the encouragement to love your neighbor, we grew closer to each other and our Lord. 

We left the little church filled with the Spirit.  We left looking forward to Wednesday evening when we returned for prayer meeting and youth groups. We left knowing Jesus loved us, and God looked out for us.  We left feeling the world was a great place to love and be loved. Even on dark days, on days when the rain came down in sheets, we left feeling the light that led us. For me, that light began to fade, the Sunday we stayed home.

Don’t misunderstand. We had missed church before, for one reason or another.  Sickness, travel, dad having to work on a Sunday for some reason, or other reasons kept us away a few times.  This Sunday was different. There was no reason not to go. We just didn’t. Instead, we slept in, ate a late breakfast, and acted as if it were a Saturday.  That lasted until Brother Max drove up a little after lunch.  

The pastor was no stranger to our place. He joined us for lunch after church regularly, but he was not there for lunch on that day.  Not only that, it appeared he was not welcome, as dad was out the door and in his face almost before his car stopped. Mom kept my brother and me inside. We could not hear what they were saying, but it was clear they were no longer friends.  After a few red-faced minutes, the pastor jumped in his car and drove off. 

I would not see or speak to the pastor again for more than a decade. When I did, the discussion would be more civil. The tension, though, would be roughly the same. Max’s presence was not welcome. His unannounced visit was understandable. In some ways, it showed he was a good man at heart, as he seemed to mean well. Still, he was the wrong preacher at the wrong time in my mind.

Max’s unannounced visit was in March 1969.  To be fair, he came hat in hand to express his sympathy and condolences over the death of my brother in Vietnam.  The problem was not with him, it was with me. 

Two years before the Sunday in the front yard of our little farmhouse near Azle, Texas, Brother Max baptized me.  I accepted Jesus as my savior, and I was filled with His light. When the two men who led me to Jesus the Christ, ended up in a verbal brawl in the front yard of my home on the Sabbath, that light dimmed. 

By the time the pastor showed up on our doorstep in 1969, my anger, life in general, and my father deserting us a few years before destroyed any tolerance I had for anyone claiming to be a Christian, especially a pastor. In my opinion, I wanted nothing to do with a God who would allow people like Brother Max, my father, and a few others I had known to represent Him on this earth.

As it turned out, the incident in 1969 marked the end of the first leg of a journey through the wilderness that was triggered by the brawl in the yard. For the next two-plus decades, I did everything I could to distance myself from the foolish child who climbed down into the cold baptistry of that little white church. Not to mention, the men who led him to that frigid water, and all the people who tried to “save” him over the years.

Since you are reading this, you know somewhere along the way I grew up.  I realized men were imperfect, even fathers and pastors, and they were not the reason I should believe.  Men, even the best of them will disappoint somewhere along the way, and a believer cannot let their weaknesses define his or her faith.

Thankfully, God did not abandon that twenty-two-year-old who told Brother Max to take a hike on that day in March. Instead, He continued to work on me. Twenty-four years later, I ended up on my knees asking Him for another chance.  

The story of the walk from angry young man to grateful believer is not pretty. At the same time, it is magnificent, as it teaches how patient and forgiving God is.  I shared part of that story in Tortured Path, maybe I’ll share more of that story as time goes on.  

Blessings to you and yours.

© sinnerswalk.com – 2019

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One Man’s Treasure

Ah, parables! Merriam-Webster defines a parable as follows, “a usually short fictitious story that illustrates a moral attitude or a religious principle.” To me, biblically at least, parables are often riddles. Riddles, for the record, are defined as, “a mystifying, misleading, or puzzling question posed as a problem to be solved or guessed.” For instance, consider Matthew 13:44.

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy, he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.” (ESV)

It would seem to the casual reader this was a reasonably straightforward parable. A guy finds something of value in a field.  He conceals it so no one else can see it.  Then, he sells everything he has to buy the land.  Wow! How much clearer could it be? That depends upon whom you ask.

In this case, it seems there are at least three questions one might have or lessons one might learn from this verse. First of course is the question of the treasure. What is it? Second, who is the man? Third, are the man’s actions ethical or righteous?

Wait! You say.  The treasure is the kingdom of heaven.  It says so right there in the first few words.  At least, it implies the treasure and the kingdom are similar.  As for the man, who cares?  Someone just scored a fortune, and Jesus wants to use the story to teach us something.  What difference does it make who he is?

I am not sure how much difference it makes.  Still, there is disagreement over the meaning of the terms in this verse. Some argue the man is a believer who discovers the kingdom and realizes how valuable it is.  Others believe the man is Jesus, and the term kingdom is used to represent believers or the church. Be that as it may, it is the third question that caught my attention during a recent Bible study.

I was blissfully unaware of any controversy over the man’s actions.  It was a parable after all, and they are supposed to be somewhat mysterious.  On this day, the leader of the class made one of his off-hand semi-sarcastic comments to the effect we were not going to discuss the ethics of the man’s behavior in hiding the treasure.

This piece is a testimony to the fact he piqued my curiosity with his witty little aside. My first thought was how I would have taken his comment in my younger days.  I was quite the skeptic, and I am confident I would have pounced on the question of the man’s honesty.

I would have crowed that Jesus, God’s own son, used the unethical, possibly illegal act, of a man to make a point about the value of the Kingdom or Salvation.  Then I would have driven home the point that I found it odd no one seemed to question the man’s behavior when teaching about this verse.

The question of righteousness or moral behavior on the part of the finder would seem to matter. That is if the person is a believer or seeker. It might matter even more if the person reading the parable is an unbeliever doubting his atheism.

Thankfully, I am no longer a skeptic.  God gave me a wake-up call several decades ago,  and I am writing today as a believer and lover of God and His word.  That does not mean, I do not ask questions, and the comment by the Bible class leader led me to ponder one.  Are we overlooking or misunderstanding part of this parable?

The short answer to my question seems to be yes. People who gloss over the fact the man in verse 44 acts surreptitiously to obtain the treasure in the field may be missing one point in the parable. Please note, I am not assuming the man did anything wrong. Instead, I am saying most biblical scholars seem to gloss over any question of motive or ethical behavior. I could only find a handful of sources that acknowledged the matter, much less discussed it.

One claimed the man’s actions were allowed under Jewish law. The pastor making that point stated it was not an issue because it was clear the owner of the land did not know of the treasure.  If the owner did not know of the treasure, he did not own it under Jewish law. Since he did not own it, the buyer did not need to disclose it or compensate him for it.

I am not confident that argument would carry much weight today. The battle over mineral rights has made it almost impossible to buy land in some areas without at least some haggling over the possible value of as yet untapped, possibly even unknown, minerals. Legal technicalities aside, the idea that the person finding the treasure failed to disclose it should be of concern in other ways.

The New Testament makes it clear believers are not supposed to live as others live. If someone demands our shirt or tunic, we are to let him have our cloak as well. (Matt 5:40) If someone strikes us on one cheek, we offer him the other. (Matt 5:39) If someone treats us poorly, we are to show him kindness. (Romans 12:20) Finding something of value on someone else’s property, then hiding it so you can buy the land for a bargain does not seem to mesh well with those concepts. That sort of behavior seems to be more twenty-first century than first-century.

It is difficult to believe Jesus the Christ would use an example of immoral behavior to make His point. Nor does it seem likely he would use a legal technicality to make the actions of the man in verse 44 acceptable. So, if Jesus is not resorting to some form of verbal legerdemain to make His point, what is He doing? Maybe the following will help shed some light on the matter.

In verses 45-46 Jesus shifts from some unknown treasure to something clearly valuable. Specifically, He says, “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.”

Today, pearls are everywhere, natural, cultured, and fake.  That was not the case in biblical times. In those days, pearls were more precious. Here, it is clear both the seller and the buyer knew the pearl was valuable. Also, this was a transaction in the marketplace. There was little possibility of wrongdoing by either party. That is not the case with the man in the field.

The buyer of the field found something of immense value to him. Something he then hid so he could keep others from knowing about it, including the owner of the land. That was important because he had to sell everything he owned to purchase the land. If anyone found out he was trying to buy the property, it is probable he feared the price would go up or others would bid.  So, what could make the man’s actions righteous in this situation, and not merely an attempt to gain something of value without anyone else knowing?

Keep in mind, the man stumbled upon the treasure.  It was something that could have been found by anyone. Additionally, there is no indication he was the only person with access to this land.  In fact, there is nothing said about why he was there.  It would seem he was not treasure hunting, though he might have been scavaging for roots, grains, firewood, or other things of moderate value the owner would not care he took.

Yet, when he found the thing of value, he hid it so no one else could see it.  That brings up another little problem.  I cannot find any place in the Bible that says one is to hide the Kingdom, the Gospel, or the nature of Jesus.*  Persecution might have been a concern, but this is a parable.  It is not a treatise on evangelism or discipleship.  The parable included the hiding of the treasure for a reason, but the message is not necessarily what one might think.

The treasure in the field and the pearl are juxtaposed to drive home a point.  Many may see the value of something worldly, while only a few may understand the importance of a heavenly treasure.  Perhaps, that made it acceptable for the man to hide the treasure in the field.

The treasure was worthless to many. They could not see its value. They are looking for a pearl.  Something they can hold tight and savor in private, or possibly something they could sell for a profit.

The kingdom is something so valuable we should be willing to sacrifice everything to obtain it.  Yet, it is something we are to give away to others who can recognize its value, and there is the key. It may have been acceptable for the man to hide the treasure at the moment because the owner could not recognize or accept its true value. Of course, the question then becomes, what did the man do with the treasure after he purchased the field.

 


*Yes! I know Jesus told a few people not to tell how they were cured or who He was.  He had his reasons for giving such directions, but they are not related to this topic.

© AnOldSinner – 2018

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A Question of Relevancy: Jonah the Racist?

Many churches strive to make their teachings “Monday morning relevant.”  Whether one is speaking of the sermon delivered from the pulpit or an Adult Bible study lesson, the question of relevancy seems to be stressed quite often. Please do not misunderstand. Relevancy is a concern. Sadly, finding relevancy is a bit of a problem at times.

For example, consider a sermon preached earlier this year. The pastor was a younger member of this particular church’s teaching team. The teaching team was working through the Book of Jonah, and the pastor’s mission was to discuss Jonah’s anger with God. As I am sure you remember, Jonah, after a good deal of resistance, obeyed God by delivering God’s warning to the Ninevites. They and their city would soon be destroyed.

Sadly, in Jonah’s opinion, the Ninevites believed the prophecy and relented of their sins. As is His wont, God was merciful and spared them. To say the least, Jonah was a bit unhappy with God’s decision.

The story of Jonah ends without resolution. We are not told what happens to Jonah, or the Ninevites for that matter. We can assume they were not destroyed in forty days as Jonah prophesied, which may be one reason he was upset. False prophets were not well thought of, and if God did spare Nineveh, Jonah’s reputation might suffer. In fact, some commentaries on this book express the thought that Jonah’s pride was a big part of his anger. Unfortunately, that was not part of the sermon on this day.

On this Sunday, the primary reason for Jonah’s anger was racism. At least that was the point made by the pastor delivering the sermon.  There was also an allusion to his nationalistic side, but racism was the word of the day. It was also a way to make the lesson relevant in some ways to the modern audience. In fact, an older pastor, when asked about the use of the term racism noted the younger pastor was a millennial.  He believed pastor preaching that day used the term because it would make sense to younger believers.

While the older pastor’s comments made sense, they did not sit well with this writer, which is why you are reading this piece. To me, after spending the better part of four decades, researching, teaching, and lecturing on diversity issues, calling Jonah a racist makes about as much sense as calling Donald Trump the most soft-spoken president in the modern era. With that said, this young pastor is not the only one preaching this message.

An internet search using the term “Jonah was a racist” will locate sermons and essays covering several decades pushing that agenda. Yes, it is possible to find the occasional rebuttal piece such as this one. Unfortunately, the majority of recent articles or sermons, offering an explanation for Jonah’s ire claim racism to some extent.

To make that claim, these individuals, including the young pastor, must ignore Scripture and often their own understanding of Scripture. The sermon in question is a good example. The pastor made the charge of racism. He then went on to explain all the non-racist reasons Jonah had for hating the Ninevites.

For the record, a racist is someone who dislikes, mistreats, hates, or discriminates against others simply because of their race. That is, a racist does not trust someone simply because their skin is of a different color, or their heritage is from another racial background. In the case of Jonah, most authorities, including the pastor giving the sermon, clearly laid out Jonah and God were upset with the Ninevites because of their actions, not their skin color or genetic background.

In fact, one can argue, racially speaking, there was little difference between Jonah’s people, Assyrians (Ninevites), Babylonians, and other people groups in that geographical reason. Racial variances began to appear as one moved farther into the African continent or further east toward what we know as Asia today.[1] Racism, however, is a convenient explanation of Jonah’s resistance to God’s actions, if one views it from the vantage point of twentieth and twenty-first-century America.

The problem is our job is not to make the Old Testament conform to modern thinking.  That is not Monday morning relevance. We need to find a way to apply Scripture to the contemporary world in a fashion that makes sense. This book of the Bible makes that point clearly in a way that does not require a pastor to play to current societal issues.

Jonah was judgemental, angry, and seeking revenge against the Assyrian people, in particular, the Ninevites as Nineveh was the capital of Assyria.  Yet, his feelings for the Ninevites had nothing to do with their race. It was their past actions that mattered to him. Still, his anger in Jonah 4 was not against the Ninevites.  It was against God for being merciful.

It is, of course, easier to say Jonah was racist than explain Jonah was just like many of us. There are times we do not like God’s plan.  We may not like God’s mercy when it comes to those we feel need to be punished. In short, we can be just like Jonah, and it has nothing to do with racism, and neither does the Book of Jonah.


[1] Some would argue this point, but there is little credible evidence that racial differences were at play in this conflict.

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