Monthly Archives: November 2015

When Opposition Strikes

When Opposition Strikes

Week of November 29, 2015
Bible Verses: Acts 4:23-31.
The Point: We can boldly face any opposition because God is in charge.

Embrace God’s Plan: Acts 4:23-31.

[23] When they were released, they went to their friends and reported what the chief priests and the elders had said to them. [24] And when they heard it, they lifted their voices together to God and said, “Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them, [25] who through the mouth of our father David, your servant, said by the Holy Spirit, “‘Why did the Gentiles rage, and the peoples plot in vain? [26] The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers were gathered together, against the Lord and against his Anointed’– [27] for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, [28] to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place. [29] And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, [30] while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” [31] And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness. [ESV]

“The early church faced opposition from the very beginning, and Luke wants his readers to understand both how they faced it and how they overcame it. It was not via any power inherent in themselves. They brought the opposition before God and prayed for His enabling. The power for them, as it is for us, must be a divine power. Prayer was the first thing they did. For them, prayer was something more than just one characteristic of their way of life among many others; it was a top priority. For that reason, although there is a sense in which what takes place here is part of a sequence of things – the teaching and preaching of Peter and John and their imprisonment – the priority of prayer is worth considering separately. This is a fundamental lesson about the priority of prayer.

There are several things worthy of note in this section. First, there is the occasion that prompted the prayer. Second, there is the shape of the prayer itself. This is a model prayer. We need help in knowing what to say in prayer, the language of prayer, and this will help shape the content of our praying. In the third place, there is the specific request of the prayer – for boldness. This is a word that Luke employs at several locations, suggesting that it is something that we need to take note of when we think of the character of the early church. Finally, there is the result of the prayer. Something extraordinary happened as a result of their praying. It is something the church in our own time desperately needs, and something that God promises to us if we, too, trust and obey.

Peter and John spent the night in prison. The Jewish authorities were not sure how to deal with men who were preaching Jesus and His resurrection, and after one night in prison they let them go, threatening consequences if they continued to engage in this activity. Peter and John’s imprisonment was something they would bring very specifically before God in their prayer. In the morning, after their release, Peter and John went to their friends and reported what the chief priests and the elders had said to them [23]. After hearing what Peter and John had said, they lifted their voices together to God [24]. Note the priority they gave to prayer. Praying was the very first thing they did. It is as though Luke, as he describes this incident, is saying to us that prayer is the chief characteristic of true Christianity. The ultimate test of our profession of faith is our prayer life.

What is perhaps most remarkable is the sense of intimacy and sincerity of their praying. The language is simple and straightforward. There is no mention of posture. There is no hint of any mystical rites or ceremonies. They simply spoke to God. The secret of their prayers was that they knew God. There must have been genuine fear in Jerusalem at this time regarding the consequences of proclaiming Jesus Christ. Barely two months previously, Jesus had been executed by crucifixion. He had warned His disciples solemnly the evening before His death that trouble would ensue for those who called themselves His disciples. The fear that they might be tried and sentenced to death as insurrectionists was very real. And if not death, there was certainly the threat of imprisonments and beatings. One might have expected, therefore, that the disciples would leave Jerusalem and head for home. The apostles, after all, lived in Galilee. But this was not what they did.

Already, they felt a bond to the church in Jerusalem. As friends, their future now seemed inextricably joined together. There was no talk, yet of fleeing Jerusalem – that would come later, at the beginning of chapter 8. But even then, although the church scattered throughout Judea and Samaria, the apostles would remain in the thick of persecution. Luke tells us something about the unity of the church at this juncture. When they prayed together, they lifted their voices together. Luke is saying that they all agreed as to the suitability and content of their praying. They were of one heart and soul [32]. Too often, our own church today is divided over the propriety and priority of prayer. Too many Christians think that collective prayer is something optional. It is a welcome addition to the program of the church, but not something I need to engage in myself. How different the early church was, and what blessings, as we will see, came as a result.

The prayer offered in Acts 4:24-30 has an urgency about it because of the situation in which it was uttered. The prayer begins with God – His greatness, especially – and recalls His word of promise in Scripture (His covenant) and then quickly moves into petition. Calvin insisted that prayer is asking God for what He has promised. The citation of Psalm 2 in this prayer is designed to accomplish precisely that. The petition is both focused and daring. Yet as we break up the prayer into various strands, there is an ostensible emphasis upon the character of God.

The prayer begins by calling upon God as Sovereign Lord [24], a title that signals their belief in the sovereignty of God. The Greek word for Sovereign is the word commonly employed of a slave owner in the first century. It was the word Daniel used in the mighty prayer recorded in Daniel 9. It is interesting that the early Christians did not employ the word “Father” or even “Jesus” at this point. They were being threatened with imprisonment, and what they needed to know was: Is our God able to deal with their threats? Is He powerful enough? However important the Sanhedrin might have believed themselves to be, they were no match for the sovereign power of God.

Two further attributes of God are brought to the surface in the prayer: God as Creator and God as Revealer. The universe is the product of divine power – brought into being out of nothing by the determination of God’s will. God also discloses His mind and purpose to us by a revelatory word. He has spoken through the mouth of David in Psalm 2 which is a messianic psalm. It envisions the hostility of the rulers of this world against the Messiah, God’s anointed Savior. The prayer shows how these early Christians interpreted the psalm. Herod and Pilate are mentioned as fulfilling the prophecy of kings and rulers united together against your holy servant Jesus [27]. Nothing that occurred in the days before and after the death and resurrection of Jesus had been outside of God’s decree. He is Creator, Revealer, and Savior.

So the events that have transpired in Jerusalem in these last few weeks had all been according to God’s predetermined plan [4:28]. As Peter had insisted on the day of Pentecost, the crucifixion of Jesus by the hands of wicked men was according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God [2:23]. The doctrine of predestination is meant to bring assurance to God’s people of the final victory God has over His enemies. Unless we can be certain of this, we cannot entertain an assurance of final salvation. If the future is contingent, ultimately, upon the fickleness of our will or ability, the possibility of assurance is impossible. This is a doctrine that is not meant to be understood so much as believed. It is designed to strengthen and embolden. The doctrine of God’s absolute sovereignty is necessary if we are to understand what occurred at Calvary. For these early Christians, Calvary was not an accident. God was the Author of the cross. In the ultimate sense, it was not Pilate or Herod who put Jesus to death; it was God the Father who handed him over! It was the action of God. God handed Jesus over to be crucified because He loved us. This is fundamentally important. The gospel is that God sent His Son to die in our place and receive the punishment that our sins deserved so that we can receive forgiveness, reconciliation, and the promise of eternal life. What the church specifically prayed for takes our breath away. One might have expected them to ask that the persecution cease, at least for a season. But instead they pray that God would make them bold to endure it.

The apostolic community prayed for three things: that God would hear their cries, that they would be granted boldness, and that God’s miraculous power might be evident in signs and wonders done through them as apostles. The prayer for boldness was answered specifically and immediately [31]. This prayer is remarkable and comes at one of the most exciting moments in the entire account of the Acts of the Apostles. Imagine, for a moment, if Peter and John had chosen to run from Jerusalem at this point, or to reason among themselves that now was not the right time for upsetting the authorities. The church, had it existed at all, would have looked very different indeed. It forces us to ask serious questions about what we might have done in this situation. The apostles could have reasoned their way out of this, and we would have understood and sympathized with them. But they did not. They were resolute and instant in their response. They decided that God’s will for them was to be faithful no matter what the cost. They recognized their weakness and prayed for the help of the Holy Spirit. Like these early Christians, we also need to pray for boldness in facing obstacles and difficulties.

We have seen the priority of the apostles’ prayer – it was the very first thing the disciples did. We have also seen the purpose of their prayer – to bring the issue of the threats they had received before the God of creation, revelation, and redemption. We have also noted the petitions of the prayer, particularly for boldness in continuing to speak the name of Jesus and for the Holy Spirit to come upon them, enabling them to preach with attendant signs and wonders. Finally, in verse 31, we see the power of prayer. Not that prayer has some inherent power in itself – it is God’s power operating through prayer, as a consequence of prayer. God answered their prayer. The entire place was shaken and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit as had been the case on the day of Pentecost.

As we have seen, believers already filled with the Spirit experienced another filling or empowering from the Spirit so that they could meet a particularly difficult situation. What is of special interest in the cases Luke describes is that the additional empowering by the Holy Spirit always enabled the disciples to witness and speak. These ordinary men and women, with no particular learning or training, without any evangelistic methods, were enabled to speak because they were filled with the Spirit. By the power of the Spirit, they were prepared to face opposition, beatings, imprisonments, and even death. They were convinced of the truth of the gospel, and they could not be kept quiet. Their hearts burned within them for the lost, as they longed for others to know the same Savior that they had come to know and love.

These men and women were speaking about Jesus Christ with boldness in the very city that had warned them of dire consequences if they continued. The Holy Spirit had come to aid God’s children. And by way of confirmation, He shook the place in which they stood. Do you pray for boldness? The situations you are facing may not be as dangerous and threatening as those faced by Peter, John, and the early church; but they are no less real to you. In your sense of weakness, pray for courage to witness boldly for Jesus Christ.” [Thomas, pp. 104-115].

Questions for Discussion:

  1. What do we learn from this passage about handling opposition in our Christian walk?
  1. What do we learn about prayer in this passage? What were the priority, purpose, petitions, and power of the believers’ prayer?
  1. Why is a firm belief in God’s Sovereignty essential for prayer?
  1. How is the prayer in 4:24-30 a model prayer for us? Note the structure of the prayer: how does it begin; what does it emphasize; what three things did they pray for?
  1. Calvin wrote that prayer is asking God for what He has promised. Try this out in your prayers this week. Make a list of things God has promised His children in His Word. Pray for those blessings this week. This is not an expression of doubt but, rather, of confidence and trust that God will always be faithful to fulfill what He has promised.

References:

The Message of Acts, John Stott, Inter Varsity.

Acts, Darrell Bock, ECNT, Baker.

The Acts of the Apostles, David Peterson, Pillar, Eerdmans.

Acts, Derek Thomas, REC, P & R Publishing.

H/T Mark Dunn, THM

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BOOK REVIEW: Philosophy In The Hellenistic & Roman Worlds

Peter Adamson must be one of those rare breed of writers open to taking on any writing challenge that comes before him. Such is the case with Philosophy In The Hellenistic & Roman Worlds (PHRW). Notice the fine print at very top of the front cover that reads, “A History Of Philosophy Without Any Gaps”. Two things came to mind when I saw this. The first was “it’s about time!” The second thing that came to my mind was “how is that even possible?” To be perfectly candid it isn’t. However, I think Adamson does an outstanding job in spite of the task before him of covering subject matter often missed in academia but doing so in an entertaining way.

Adamson starts by outlining three areas of philosophy that tend not to get too much attention. They are: Hellenistic Philosophy, Pagan Philosophy In The Roman Empire, and Christian Philosophy In The Roman Empire. From these eras Adamson hones in on key disciplines such as metaphysics, epistemology, philosophy of mind, logic, ethics, philosophy of language, and the reader will occasionally come across brushes with other disciplines. So at the outset Adamson’s work highlights philosophers and their influences through a historical thematic way providing a much larger picture of the development of thought.

I was personally interested in Adamson’s discussion of Christianity in the Roman World. Adamson explains Christianity’s emergence out of a hedonistic tradition which began conceptually with a the principle of immediate pleasure in hedonism to the understanding of pleasure as a life pursuit in Epicurianism. Christian thought began to dominate the ancient world by appropriating Plato, Aristotle, and pagan thought. It isn’t till the time of Augustine that we begin to see a uniquely Christian philosophy whose impact is still felt today. Adamson points out that Augustines’s influence reaches so far out that even non-Christians today find themselves with Augustinian similarities. One example that I can think of is Bertrand Russell’s appeal to Agustine’s view of time.

RATING: 4 STARS

James

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Theistic Atheists? Atheistic Theists?

These are strange time we’re living in. Apparently recent studies show that 21% of atheist believe in God. Not sure what to think of this. My first thought is we might be a little unclear on the definition of the term “atheist.” Traditionally an atheist is someone without a belief in God.

“Pew Forum surveys, with sample sizes of more than 35,000, found 4% self-identifying as atheist or agnostic in 2007, and 7% in 2014. Pew gets consistently higher numbers than ARIS on this question; there may be a real increase over time in willingness to claim these labels and also some difference in how Pew asks the question. Pew in 2014 found another 15.8% who said their religion is “nothing in particular,” for a total of 22.8% reporting no religion, and only 0.6% who did not know or refused to answer. . . .

Some of the no-religion people report rather conventional religious beliefs. In the 2014 Pew survey, nearly half the “nothing in particulars” and a majority of the atheists and agnostics also said that religion is somewhat or very important in their lives.

More remarkably, in the 2007 Pew survey, 21% of self-identified atheists said they believe in God or a universal spirit, and 10% of atheists said they pray at least weekly. You cannot assume that survey respondents all understand the questions the same way you do.

These answers suggest believers with no religious identity. But other Americans report a religious identity without having much in the way of belief.

When ARIS asked about the existence of God, 12.3% said “There is no such thing,” “There is no way to know,” or “I’m not sure.” These are the atheist and agnostic answers, and they appeared nearly eight times as often as people who labeled themselves atheist or agnostic.

Another 6.1% refused to answer. It seems unlikely that belief in God is an important part of the lives of those who refuse to answer the question. Another 12.1% said, “There is a higher power but no personal God.” That leaves 69.5% who said “There is definitely a personal God.”. . .

And of course, not everyone who tells a pollster he believes in God is actually religious. The religiously indifferent who rarely think about it much may report belief in God when asked. They may also live their daily lives on a thoroughly secular worldview, with belief in God rising to consciousness only when someone asks.”

Read the whole article here.

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Veterans Day

That’s right, as many of you didn’t know yours truly served in the United States Army. A fascinating chapter in my life. I was a part of the 7th Infantry Division which which itself has a long history of military campaigns and conquests.

A red circle with a green outline and black hourglass at its center

During WWI just before the Armistice from which we now get our “Veterans Day” The 7th Infantry “was shelled for the first time. Later it encountered gas attacks in the Saint-Mihiel woods. A strong raiding party made up of Hourglass (“Hourglass” was the unit insignia made up of black inverted 7s) soldiers sliced into enemy positions in mid-October and came back with 69 German prisoners. Then the infantry elements of the 7th probed up toward Prény near the Moselle River, captured Hills 323 and 310, and drove the Germans out of the Bois- duTrou-de-la-Haie salient.The first week in November found the Division, under General Edward Wittenmyer,
readying itself for the new Second Army’s drive against the Hindenburg Line. The Division launched a reconnaissance in force on the Voëvre Plain, but before it could shift into high gear the Armistice was signed and the war in Europe was over. After 33 days in the line the 7th Division had suffered 1,988 casualties. Returned to the States during June, 1919, the Division was gradually immobilized until 1921, when it was inactivated.”

Below is a chronological history of the 7th Infantry Division.

Dates Location Events & Campaigns
6 Dec 1917 Camp Wheeler, GA Division Created
10 Nov 1918 France Lorraine Campaign & Penny Ridge
11 Nov 1918 to Nov 1919 France Occupation Duty
24 Mar 1923 Camp Meade, MD De-activated
1 Jul 1940 Fort Ord, CA Re-activated
7 Dec 1941 Deployed throughout California as emergency Defense troops Sacramento Valley, & Northern Coast, Central Coast
Jan 1942 San Francisco, CA Construction of Defense camps
Feb 1942 San Luis Obispo, CA Mechanized Training
9 Apr 1942 Mojave Desert Re-designated 7th Motorized Division Trained for Africa
1 Jan 1943 Fort Ord, CA Re-designated 7th Infantry Division
Jan 1943 to April 1943 Fort Ord, CA & San Luis Obispo, CA Amphibious Training
11 May 1943 Aleutian Islands Attu landing
30 May 1943 Aleutian Islands Attu Secured
14 Aug 1943 Aleutian Islands Kiska landing And secured
Sep 1943 Scofield Barracks, Hawaii Trained for Pacific Islands
30 Jan 1944 Marshall Islands Landed on outer Islands – Enubuj (Carlson)
1 Feb 1944 Marshall Islands Kwajalein Landing
4 Feb 1944 Marshall Islands Kwajalein Secured
Feb 1944 Scofield Barracks, Hawaii Additional Training
28 Jul 1944 Scofield Barracks – Hawaii Division reviewed by General Douglas McArthur and President Franklin D. Roosevelt
15 Sep 1944 Departed Hawaii Destination – Yap Island
11 Oct 1944 Departed Manus Island Destination – Leyte, PI
20 Oct 1944 Philippines Dulag Landing
6 Feb 1945 Philippines Leyte Secured
Mar 1945 Philippines Training for Ryukyu chain invasion
1 Apr 1945 Ryukyu Islands Okinawa Landing
21 Jun 1945 Ryukyu Islands Okinawa Secured
Sep 1945 South Korea Acceptance of Japanese surrender
Sep 1945 To Sep 1948 South Korea Occupation Duty
Sep 1948 to Sep 1950 Japan Occupation Duty & Training
17 Sep 1950 South Korea Inchon landing
30 Sep 1950 South Korea Seoul secured
1 Oct 1950 South Korea Moved to Pusan for training
29 Oct 1950 North Korea Iwon landing
21 Nov 1950 North Korea Arrived at Yalu River
19 Dec 1950 North Korea Hungam evacuation
Jan 1951 South Korea Chechon-Tanyand-Chungju area
Jun 1951 South Korea Kumhwa Valley
1952 South Korea Heartbreak, Triangle, Iron Triangle
1953 South Korea Chorwon Valley, Porkchop Hill, Old Baldy, Dale outpost
Jul 1953 to Mar 1971 South Korea Camp Casey Defense Duty
2 Apr 1971 Fort Lewis, WA De-activated
21 Oct 1974 Fort Ord, CA Re-activated
1 Oct 1985 Fort Ord, CA Redesignated 7th Infantry Division (Light)
April 1987 to November 1987 Sinai, Egypt Multinational Force and Observers (5-21)
16 Mar 1988 Honduras Operation Golden Pheasant
May 1989 to Dec 1989 Panama Operation Nimrod Dancer
19 Dec 1989 Panama Operation Just Cause
30 Jan 1990 Panama Area secure
Feb 1990 Fort Ord, CA Support Training
Feb 1991 to Aug 1991 4/21/ INF Deployed to Sinai-MFO Security – Operation Desert Storm
1-10 May 1992 Los Angeles, California Riot Control
9 Aug 1993 Fort Ord, CA Re-designation as 9th RCT
9 Aug 1993 Fort Lewis, WA New Station for 9th RCT
18 May 1994 Fort Ord, CA Deactivated
15 Jun 1994 Fort Ord, CA Formally Inactive
7 April 1999 Fort Carson, CO Reactivation announced
4 June 1999 Fort Carson, CO Formal Reactivation Ceremony
10 July 1999 Kuwait & Saudi Arabia Deployment – 4 month Units of the 39th SIB (Arkansas)
15 Oct 1999 Kuwait, Saudi Arabia Deployment – 4 month Units of the 39th SIB (Arkansas) 41st SIB (Oregon)
Summer 2000 Bosnia Deployment Units of the 45th SIB (Oklahoma)
April 2002 Sinai, Egypt: Multinational Force and Observers (41st SIB: 1-186th Infantry) (Oregon)
Jan. 2003 to July 2003 Sinai, Egypt: Multinational Force and Observers / Iraqi Freedom (45th SIB: 1-180th Infantry) (Oklahoma)
Jan. 2003 to July 2003 Kuwait / Iraq: Operation Southern Watch / Iraqi Freedom (45th SIB: 1-179th Infantry) (Oklahoma)
November 2003 to 2004 Afghanistan: Enduring Freedom (45th SIB HQ) (Oklahoma)
February 2004 to 2005 Afghanistan: Enduring Freedom (45th SIB; 1/279 BN) (Oklahoma)
August 2006 Fort Carson, CO Inactivated
October 2012 Joint Base Lewis-McChord, WA

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Confront Sin

Confront Sin

Week of November 15, 2015

Bible Verses: Daniel 5:17-28

The Point: Call sin what it is and point to what God says about it.

[17] Then Daniel answered and said before the king, “Let your gifts be for yourself, and give your rewards to another. Nevertheless, I will read the writing to the king and make known to him the interpretation. [18] O king, the Most High God gave Nebuchadnezzar your father kingship and greatness and glory and majesty. [19] And because of the greatness that he gave him, all peoples, nations, and languages trembled and feared before him. Whom he would, he killed, and whom he would, he kept alive; whom he would, he raised up, and whom he would, he humbled. [20] But when his heart was lifted up and his spirit was hardened so that he dealt proudly, he was brought down from his kingly throne, and his glory was taken from him. [21] He was driven from among the children of mankind, and his mind was made like that of a beast, and his dwelling was with the wild donkeys. He was fed grass like an ox, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven, until he knew that the Most High God rules the kingdom of mankind and sets over it whom he will. [22] And you his son, Belshazzar, have not humbled your heart, though you knew all this, [23] but you have lifted up yourself against the Lord of heaven. And the vessels of his house have been brought in before you, and you and your lords, your wives, and your concubines have drunk wine from them. And you have praised the gods of silver and gold, of bronze, iron, wood, and stone, which do not see or hear or know, but the God in whose hand is your breath, and whose are all your ways, you have not honored. [24] “Then from his presence the hand was sent, and this writing was inscribed. [25] And this is the writing that was inscribed: MENE, MENE, TEKEL, and PARSIN. [26] This is the interpretation of the matter: MENE, God has numbered the days of your kingdom and brought it to an end; [27] TEKEL, you have been weighed in the balances and found wanting; [28] PERES, your kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians.” [ESV]

So interesting how the Son follows in the foot steps of the father in this case. It wasn’t as if Belshazzar was ignorant to his father’s transgressions and how God dealt with him. Daniel even says in verse 22 “And you his son, Belshazzar, have not humbled your heart, though you knew all this”. Belshazzar had first hand account of his father’s actions but in spite of this failed to humble his heart. In Daniel says to Belshazzar “but you have lifted up yourself against the Lord of heaven” 23. Not a very wise place to be in.

The question then before us is what did Belshazzar do. Well, aside from defiling the Temple vessels an act of apostasy against God; Daniel also says that he has “praised the gods of silver and gold, of bronze, iron, wood, and stone, which do not see or hear or know, but the God in whose hand is your breath, and whose are all your ways, you have not honored” 23. Belshazzar fixed his gaze upon earthly things which became his gods and rejected the God that gives Him life.

As a result, like his father, Belshazzar’s days were numbered.

What does Daniel 5 teach us about Belshazzar?

What lessons can we learn from God’s treatment of Belshazzar?

What do we learn about God in this passage?

How has God shown His mercy on you?

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TITLE: Hoping Against Hope

AUTHOR: John D. Caputo

PUBLISHER: Fortress Press, October 1, 2015 (224 pages)

Hoping Against Hope: Confessions of a Postmodern Pilgrim is the latest from the pen of John D. Caputo, Thomas J. Watson Professor of Religion Emeritus (Syracuse University). Only this work is slightly different from what you have read from him in past publications. As the subtitle eludes to this is a confession or a personal narrative where Caputo articulates his fascinating journey or pilgrimage through his life of faith.

Almost immediately one can find expressions in this book with which they whole heartily disagree and without hesitation write the book off. For this reader I would encourage you to take down your hasty judgements momentarily. I too came to this book with reservations about Caputo’s religion and philosophy which I haven’t changed. However, this is a personal narrative that covers similar difficulties that we have all experienced in life’s journey.

To communicate the broad range of experience Caputo introduces very early in the book three separate characters that represent himself through different phases of his life. For example, Caputo introduces us to “Jackie” which is his younger self. Jackie is a young impressionable alter boy who through out the book represents the timidness and piety of  pre-Vatican II American Catholicism. As a former Catholic (post-Vatican II) I was the recipient of the vestiges of this form of Catholicism giving me the ability to resonate with Jackie.

We are also introduced to “Brother Paul”. Brother Paul represents a more mature Caputo but not fully culminated into the final character the “Professor”. Brother Paul was zealous for the Catholic faith. He has grown spiritually and in knowledge ready to take down what is contrary to the teachings of the Church but not quite as mature in these respects as the “Professor”. The Professor represents his current self who has reached a level of maturity giving him the ability to think independently invoking resources from theology and philosophy to cultivate himself and those he instructs.  The outcome is a “religion without why”.

Typically what we find in religion is something counter intuitive to the “religion without why”. In most cases the bottom line motivation for religious practices is fear of punishment and hope for reward. The Professor scoffs at such a crude motivation. For him understanding God comes in the form of a type of praxis where to ask the question “why” is an absurdity. Why do we practice mercy, compassion, love, etc. because that is what we do and to invoke fear of punishment and hope for reward is to observe a crewed form or religion. At certain points the Professor refers to this as the “nihilism of grace.”

PERSONAL REFLECTION

As I stated above, this is a personal confession. As such we are looking deep within the experiences and thoughts which culminated into the Professor.  Many of us have had similar experiences / thoughts that have either been left responseless or have convinced ourselves of easy answers so that we can keep our pre-commitment to our religion of choice. Not the case with Caputo. For that reason alone I see this as an important book. The fact that the experiences of the Professor have brought him to a Post-Modern interpretation of religion also makes this book important.

However, I will also say by invoking a Post-Modern narrative we are brought no closer to a religion without illusion. In fact what we are tacitly doing is invoking the preformed thoughts that already exist in our thinking or what Caputo refers to as the “religion without why”. The fear that I find in Caputo is that a religion with a why necessarily imposes a system of merit. However that isn’t necessarily the case.  As one example and I will leave this alone, in Christianity the good works that we do are not solely done for fear of punishment and hope of reward but out of a genuine gratitude for the grace, mercy, and peace we experience with God.

This is just one counter point. Like I said above I found Caputo’s book to be a very interesting read. I enjoyed and appreciated his dialogue with Jaques Derrida and Jean ean-François Lyotard. Caputo is an outstanding writer and thinker. In spite of my critique I still believe there is plenty to glean from him.

RATING: 4 Stars

James

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Stand Courageously

Stand Courageously

Week of November 1, 2015

Bible Verses: Daniel 3:13-30.

The Point: Be ready and willing to stand for God.

Faith in the Furnace: Daniel 3:13-30.

[13] Then Nebuchadnezzar in furious rage commanded that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego be brought. So they brought these men before the king. [14] Nebuchadnezzar answered and said to them, “Is it true, O Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, that you do not serve my gods or worship the golden image that I have set up? [15] Now if you are ready when you hear the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, bagpipe, and every kind of music, to fall down and worship the image that I have made, well and good. But if you do not worship, you shall immediately be cast into a burning fiery furnace. And who is the god who will deliver you out of my hands?” [16] Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered and said to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. [17] If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. [18] But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.” [19] Then Nebuchadnezzar was filled with fury, and the expression of his face was changed against Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. He ordered the furnace heated seven times more than it was usually heated. [20] And he ordered some of the mighty men of his army to bind Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, and to cast them into the burning fiery furnace. [21] Then these men were bound in their cloaks, their tunics, their hats, and their other garments, and they were thrown into the burning fiery furnace. [22] Because the king’s order was urgent and the furnace overheated, the flame of the fire killed those men who took up Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. [23] And these three men, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, fell bound into the burning fiery furnace. [24] Then King Nebuchadnezzar was astonished and rose up in haste. He declared to his counselors, “Did we not cast three men bound into the fire?” They answered and said to the king, “True, O king.” [25] He answered and said, “But I see four men unbound, walking in the midst of the fire, and they are not hurt; and the appearance of the fourth is like a son of the gods.” [26] Then Nebuchadnezzar came near to the door of the burning fiery furnace; he declared, “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, servants of the Most High God, come out, and come here!” Then Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego came out from the fire. [27] And the satraps, the prefects, the governors, and the king’s counselors gathered together and saw that the fire had not had any power over the bodies of those men. The hair of their heads was not singed, their cloaks were not harmed, and no smell of fire had come upon them. [28] Nebuchadnezzar answered and said, “Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who has sent his angel and delivered his servants, who trusted in him, and set aside the king’s command, and yielded up their bodies rather than serve and worship any god except their own God. [29] Therefore I make a decree: Any people, nation, or language that speaks anything against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego shall be torn limb from limb, and their houses laid in ruins, for there is no other god who is able to rescue in this way.” [30] Then the king promoted Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the province of Babylon. [ESV]

VERSES 13 – 15
This passage shows us the way power has the ability to corrupt. Notice that where power takes Nebuchadnezzar. He is in the position to say that he himself is greater than all gods because none would be able to save Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego (SMA) from him and his fiery furnace. That is a very bold assertion. This example of Nebuchadnezzar’s pride reminds us that we ought never to mindlessly attach ourselves to any religion (even the non-religious religions i.e.atheism) but rely on God and His authority.

VERSE 16 – 18
In this account it is important to notice the precommitment that SMA had for God. The option to worship false idols was not even an option they were willing to entertain even in the face of the death. For SMA the only option was to maintain their obedience to God. In verse 17 when they say that our God is powerful enough to protect but either way we are prepared to die or like in verse 18 that the option to worship your fake gods is off the table for us; they point out to us what our thinking ought to be when we are faced with trials. First and foremost is the importance of your lives to God which ought to cause us to put our trust solely on Him. Secondly this type of obedience doesn’t just grow in our hearts unless our mind is also engaged.

VERSES 19 – 23
Now this account shows us that there is no better place for us to be than in God’s care. Neb was angry mostly with the fact that SMA completely rejected his offer and with the confidence with which they did it. In essence while SMA were respectful in their reply their words undeified Neb and brought him to reality. Not a pleasurable place for an ego maniac. As a result he commands that the heat of the furnace be increased 7 times. Such a high temperature was so dangerous that those who attended SMA to the furnace were not simply burnt they were killed by it. Because these attendants had worshiped false gods they could not be protected by these gods nor could Neb protect them, nor would I venture to say that he would even care to protect them.

VERSE 24 – 30

QUESTIONS
1. What two goals did Nebuchadnezzar’s statute have? Why did Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refuse to bow down and worship this statute?

2. How does our culture put the same pressure on us to put our God in second place? Have you seen this pressure increase in your lifetime. What do we learn from 3:17-18 concerning our response to this pressure to put anything ahead of God?

3. Every believer is confronted with the following question: Am I going to declare the Lord to be my God when my faith is put to the test or will I bow down to the multitude of idols that the world presents to me?

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