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Tag Archives: Scripture

Recently I read Andrei Markovits’ interesting and challenging book, Uncouth Nation – Why Europe Dislikes America.  Then this morning in church I had the opportunity to listen to a sermon based on the 73rd Psalm.  What connection could there possibly be between these two texts?

Uncouth Nation, if I may provide a ridiculously short summary, explains the why and the how of Europe’s centuries-long dislike for the United States.  Markovits offers a number of reasons for this antipathy; some are plausible and others, I might say, seem stretched.

The 73rd Psalm is a confession from the writer (Asaph, the king’s poet and minister of music) about how he was nearly undone by his fixation with the worldly success of arrogant and careless men.  Perhaps my interpretation of this psalm is the result of having read Markovits’ book.  Read a sample and see whether any of this rings a bell:

…[the arrogant and the wicked] have no struggles;

Their bodies are healthy and strong.

They are free from the burdens

common to man; they are not plagued by human ills.

Therefore pride is their necklace;

They clothe themselves with violence.

From their callous hearts comes iniquity;

the evil conceits of their minds know no limits.

They scoff, and speak with malice;

In their arrogance they threaten oppression.

They lay claim to heaven,

And their tongues take possession of the earth.

…This is what the wicked are like – always carefree, they increase in wealth.

 Psalm 73 verses 4 through 7, and 12

Oddly, I don’t remember ever reading this passage before.  What strikes me about it now, entirely apart from its spiritual significance (which is great), is that this is exactly how much of the world views Americans!  What we Americans see as a virtue (confidence, a positive attitude) is construed by others as arrogance or self-superiority.  “Psychotically optimistic” was the expression that one BBC reporter used to describe American combat troops who he met in Iraq.  This description may have seemed all the more apt to the writer in light of what he knew (or thought he knew) about the American psychological makeup.

More specifically, this passage could be (probably  has been) related to our former president, George W. Bush.  His relentless optimism and determined can-do attitude, which inspired such admiration in some people, has offended the sensibilities and turned the stomachs of many more.

Obviously this passage of scripture has all got me thinking about politics, as I am prone to do.  It’s got me thinking about the difference between reality and interpretation.  Maybe what W needed in the White House was an attitude czar; someone to help him moderate his language and his attitude to avoid offending our friends and allies.  After all, the US population comprises only about one-twentieth of the world’s population, and that means that if we have no friends, we are badly outnumbered.  Maybe what W needed more, what we Americans all need, is to remember that much of the world’s population views us Americans as the winners of life’s lottery, born lucky and determined to remain oblivious.  A little bit of accommodation and a lot of genuine humility is in order if we wish to reverse the worldwide trend that sees us that way.

I am a born-again, Bible-believing, evangelical Christian man from the midwestern United States.  Tonight, before turning out my bedsight light, I was reading a book called The Heavenly Man.  The Heavenly Man is an autobiographical account of the life of a Chinese Christian known as Brother Yun.  Brother Yun is fond of quoting a scripture for every situation he encounters, and while reading his book tonight I happened upon a passage of scripture that intrigued me.  Wanting to read more of it, I looked it up and read some of the surrounding text as well.  I should say right up front that despite my faith and trust in Jesus Christ, I don’t read my Bible as much as I should, so what I share with you here, I share as a layman and as a fellow believer, not as a teacher or a preacher.

The Biblical book of Revelation is perhaps the most misunderstood (or misinterpreted) of the books of the Christian Bible.  I can say this despite my own limited and imperfect understanding, because anyone who will look can see the conflicting understandings and interpretations of its text which exist in the modern church; it just can’t mean everything that people think it means.  It’s doubtful that any of the other Biblical texts have been interpreted in so many conflicting fashions.

But one of the beautiful aspects of the book of Revelation is the messages to the seven churches of Asia, which are present in chapters 2 and 3.  At the time of its writing, the so-called seven churches of Asia were the churches of Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea.

These messages were written specifically to each church: a unique message for each of the seven churches named, each message tailored to the character of each church, its strengths and weaknesses.  For instance, the first message in the series was written to the church in Ephesus and acknowledges first the virtues of that church: hard work and perseverance, a refusal to tolerate wicked men, and discernment of which apostles were true and which were not.  And yet there is also a shortcoming in this church: it had lost the fervor with which it had originally embraced the Gospel.  “I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love…Repent and do the things you did at first.”

To each church an edifying word was sent, first praising the virtues and then pointing out the particularly grievous sin or shortcoming of that particular group of believers.

The reason I got out of bed to write this message to you tonight is found in the message to the church in Sardis.  When I happened upon this passage tonight I was struck by its perfection in describing the evangelical Christian community in North America.

“I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead.  Wake up!  Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your deeds complete in the sight of my God.  Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; obey it, and repent.  But if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you.” (Revelation 3:1-3)

I won’t waste your time by attempting to interpret this passage for you.  Its potential application to the complacent and self-satisfied modern evangelical church in North America seems so obvious to me, I’m going to trust that upon meditation you will also find it speaks to you.

Wake up, Christians!  Please share your thoughts by commenting below.

Barack Obama

Barack Obama has recently come under criticism from evangelical Christian personality James Dobson for comments he made back in 2006 while addressing a liberal Christian group.”Which passages of scripture should guide our public policy? Should we go with Leviticus, which suggests slavery is OK and that eating shellfish is an abomination? Or we could go with Deuteronomy, which suggests stoning your child if he strays from the faith? Or should we just stick to the Sermon on the Mount…So before we get carried away, let’s read our Bible now…Folks haven’t been reading their Bible.” -Barack Obama

Dobson has accused Obama of distorting the Bible, but that’s an oversimplification of Obama’s mistake. What Obama has really done is put his ignorance of Christianity on public display.

Let me break it down for you in very simple terms: The Holy Bible includes many different types of literature; civil laws, religious laws, poetry, histories, narratives, prophecies, and many other subgroupings. What Obama is citing in Leviticus and Deuteronomy are the civil code and religious laws of the ancient Hebrews. These are a part of the Christian canon by virtue of their presence in the Jewish scriptures, but they don’t govern the Christian faith in any way. For Christians, the Old Testament (or Old Covenant, to be more precise) was superseded by the New Testament (or New Covenant) nearly 2000 years ago.

What Obama did, essentially, was to borrow a common anti-Christianity red herring argument and use it to pander to a liberal Christian group.

Conservative Christians have been rumored to be flirting with the Obama campaign, but this instance ought to serve as a warning. This man claims to be a Christian but doesn’t know the scriptures or understand the distinction between different types of religious texts.