Posts tagged ‘Last Day’

ISIS Takes a Tumble

ISIS’s caliphate has fallen.

This is the news that broke last week when the Syrian Democratic Forces, who are backed by the U.S., finally broke the terrorist group’s last metropolitan stronghold in Raqqa.  The New York Times reports that:

Celebrations erupted in Raqqa, where residents had lived under the repressive rule of militants who beheaded people for offenses as minor as smoking. Fighters could be seen cheering and firing celebratory gunfire in the streets, according to residents reached by phone and text message.

One video shows a woman ripping off her burqa and chanting joyfully, overcome with emotion that her city has been liberated.

Even with this victory, Raqqa is still a plenty dangerous place.  ISIS still probably has suicide bombers in hiding waiting to launch attacks.  The terrorist group has also booby-trapped many areas with improvised explosive devices.  Moreover, the city of Raqqa itself has been devastated.  The New York Times published another article featuring images from cities across Iraq, including Raqqa.  All of them lie in ruins.

Still, this is an important milestone victory against a terrorist group whose territory, at its height in 2014, covered 34,000 square miles in Syria and Iraq and whose tactics against defectors and dissidents were nothing short of gruesomely brutal.  In Paradise Square in the center of Raqqa, later fittingly renamed Hell Square:

Prisoners were tossed from tall buildings, beheaded, lashed or shot while the crowds gathered … Hands and feet were chopped off. Others were stoned to death … Bodies and severed heads were carefully placed around the square by Islamic State militants and would remain there for days. Those who lived and escaped to tell the tale would describe how the bodies were labeled, identifying the victim’s crime in a deliberate warning to others.

Sadly, as chilling as these macabre parades were, we know that, even if scenes like these are in the past for now, they may not be in the past forever.  Wickedness is horrifyingly resilient.  But even if the war against the wickedness of ISIS has not yet been fully won, we can be thankful that a major battle has been.  We can also be thankful that, no matter how brutal a regime may be, we have a perfect Sovereign who, in the words of the prophet Daniel, graciously and often necessarily, “deposes kings and raises up others” (Daniel 2:21).

Daniel’s words about God’s power over world affairs come as he is interpreting a dream for Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon.  The king has a dream where he sees his kingdom, the kingdom of Babylon, along with four future kingdoms:  the kingdom of the Medes and the Persians, the kingdom of the Greeks, the kingdom of the Romans, and the kingdom of God.  In his vision, only one kingdom lasts.  Daniel, in his interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar’s vision, reveals to the king which kingdom will endure:

The God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed, nor will it be left to another people. It will crush all those kingdoms and bring them to an end, but it will itself endure forever. (Daniel 2:44)

Only the kingdom of God, Daniel says, will endure.  Every other kingdom, including Nebuchadnezzar’s, will fall.

In a world where a kingdom like ISIS’s can have its say, we can be thankful that the kingdom of God will eventually carry the day.  So, as grateful as I am that ISIS’s caliphate is waning, I’m ultimately hopeful for a perfect kingdom that is coming.  For when that kingdom comes on the Last Day, ISIS will not only lose the prospect of further victories like they have now thanks to the brave work of the Syrian Democratic Forces, they’ll lose even their past victories, as the death they have wrought will be swallowed up by the eternal life that Christ, by the cross, has bought.

ISIS has an even bigger loss to come.

Advertisements

October 23, 2017 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Saving Marriage from the Heartbreak Hotel

Wedding Chapel

Credit: Viator.com

It seems as though declining marriage rates are not just changing our society sociologically, but are stressing the wedding capital of the world, Las Vegas, economically.  In an article for Bloomberg, Jeanna Smialek explains how:

Roland August has officiated at thousands of weddings in Las Vegas, the self-proclaimed capital of “I do.”

But these days August – who often presides dressed as Elvis Presley – has a rare vantage point from which to observe the nation’s long shift toward “I don’t.” …

The wedding chapels where August works have seen business dwindle, he said, and Vegas is pushing to reverse the decline in an industry that generates as much as $3 billion in economic activity annually. In 2015 the surrounding county introduced a $14 surcharge on marriage licenses to pay for marketing, and local business leaders helped start a Wedding Chamber of Commerce last year.

A drop in weddings, it seems, amounts to a drop in revenue for a city that is known as being flush with cash.  Of course, this is all part of a broader nationwide trend.  The Pew Research Center reports that, whereas 72% of adults 18 years of age or older were married in 1960, now, only 50% are.  But, if the graph published by Bloomberg is any indication, the nationwide decline in marriage has hit Nevada especially hard.

Marriage Decline

In one way, none of this is particularly surprising.  For all the fun and levity, which are not bad things in and of themselves, that I’m sure Mr. August brings to the weddings he performs, vows taken without things like spiritual guidance from a pastor or other religious mentor, serious prior consideration of all the things marriage entails, a commitment to make marriage alone the sacred space for sex, and, often, even a baseline of sobriety do little more than to cheapen and make a mockery out of the whole institution.  And when something becomes cheap, it inevitably becomes expendable.  After all, if Britney Spears can drunkenly marry her childhood friend in Las Vegas and then have their marriage annulled 55 hours later, one has to wonder:  why bother with marriage in the first place?

They key to reversing the decline in marriage and the denigration of marriage is not to try to repristinate the marriage-saturated days of 1960, hoping that, somehow, marriage rates will soar again if we just yell enough at the cultural forces that have damaged the institution.  No, the key to a deeper appreciation of and desire for marriage is to consider what marriage is really meant to reflect.  So here are three things that we can say, as Christians, marriage reflects.

Marriage reflects community in Christ.

One of the great mysteries of Christian teaching is that of the Trinity – that God is one, yet, at the same time, He is also three persons:  Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Thus, God is in community, in some sense, with Himself.  For centuries, professional theologians and Sunday School teachers alike have tried to explain this mystery in a way that is comprehensible.  My Sunday School teacher, for instance, mused that the Trinity is like an apple.  There is the peel, the flesh, and the core.  These are three parts, and yet they are all part of one apple.  The problem with this illustration, however, is that God is indivisible.  He cannot be divided like an apple.  He is not made up of three parts, but actually is three persons.

Thankfully, the Bible presents us with its own object lesson to help us understand the Trinity.  What is this object lesson?  Marriage.  When marriage is given by God, He explains that it is meant to be when “a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24).  In marriage, there are two persons, and yet they are one flesh, even as in God, there are three persons, yet He is one God.  Moreover, throughout this life, a husband and wife ought to be indivisible, as is God.  This is why Jesus says divorce is so damaging – not only because it hurts the people involved, but because it tarnishes the very reflection of God!  Thus, community in marriage, even if it is broken by sin, is meant to reflect the perfect community of the Trinity.

Marriage reflects the sacrifice of Christ.

As anyone who has been married for any amount of time will tell you, marriage requires sacrifice.  It requires laying down your own wants, needs, and desires for the sake of another.  The apostle Paul eloquently explains the sacrificial nature of marriage when he writes:

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to Himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. (Ephesians 5:25-27)

Paul notes that the sacrifice a husband makes for his wife ought to reflect the sacrifice that Christ made for His church, even if that sacrifice includes laying down his very life, as it did for Christ.  Thus, at the same time marriage gives a community that reflects the Trinity, it also eats away at our proclivity toward selfishness.  Marriage is fundamentally centered not on yourself, but on your spouse, even as God is fundamentally centered on us and on our salvation.

Marriage reflects eternity with Christ.

The best marriage is not the one you celebrate once a year on your anniversary.  The best marriage is the one that is still to come:

I heard what sounded like the roar of a great multitude in heaven shouting: “Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and be glad and give Him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and His bride has made herself ready.” (Revelation 19:1, 6-7)

When the apostle John gets a window into eternity, he sees that every wedding on earth between a husband and wife is ultimately meant to reflect a perfect wedding in heaven between Christ and His people.  Marriage in this age, then, however wonderful it can be, is not an end in and of itself.  It is a sign pointing to something even greater.  This is why Jesus, when He is questioned by the religious leaders about marriage in eternity, says, “At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage” (Matthew 22:30).  Marriage between people till death do them part is meant to point to perfect communion with God where death no longer reigns.  Marriage, then, at the same time it fills a longing, should also create a longing.  It should create a longing for a deeper community that not even your spouse can meet.  It should create a longing for a deeper community that only Christ can fill in His wedding feast.

This is what marriage is meant to reflect.  It cannot be reduced, then, to a Vegas jag, or, for that matter, a well-planned out and exorbitantly expensive ceremony and reception.  These things are not necessarily bad on their own terms, but if they become the things of marriage, they reduce marriage to something that is entertaining, cheap, and contrived.  But marriage cannot stand if it is this.  Marriage must stand as a gift from God that gives you community, costs you your very self, and points you to the One who gave Himself for you so that, on the Last Day, He can walk you down His eternal aisle.

No neon or Elvis costumes needed.

July 17, 2017 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Humans: Never for Sale

Credit:  texasgopvote.com

Credit: texasgopvote.com

Shortly before the new year, The New York Times published a short, heartbreaking article featuring stories from U.S. sex trafficking victims. Though there were only two stories, these were all that was needed to shock and grieve their reader. I share one of the two here:

Now 32, Genesis was offered her first hit of crack cocaine by her mother when she was 13. By 18, she had a criminal record. She spent her teenage years in and out of strip clubs before becoming the property of a violent pimp. By 21, Genesis had lost a baby and become addicted to drugs.

For years under a violent trafficker, Genesis said she was never allowed to leave his house. The rooms were bugged, the bathroom had no doors. She said her pimp used to tie her and other women he trafficked to a weight bench, beat them and starve them …

“I didn’t know I was in hell,” she said. “I thought it was just life. Over those years I was held hostage, shot at, beaten with a pistol. And somewhere in my sick mind I thought this is how life is supposed to be.”[1]

If only Genesis’ story was unique. But it’s not. Sex trafficking is a much broader problem. Though it’s hard to track because so many victims of sex trafficking do not report their experiences, the Department of Justice estimates that as many as 300,000 children may become victims of sexual exploitation each year.[2] Even if the numbers are lower, one case of sex trafficking is one too many.

The sadness of human exploitation struck me in a new way as I was reading Revelation 18 in my devotions this past week. John is describing the fall of Babylon, a city symbolic of the world’s evil. John describes the decimation of this world’s systemic sin once and for all:

“Woe! Woe, O great city, O Babylon, city of power! In one hour your doom has come!” The merchants of the earth will weep and mourn over her because no one buys their cargoes any more – cargoes of gold, silver, precious stones and pearls; fine linen, purple, silk and scarlet cloth; every sort of citron wood, and articles of every kind made of ivory, costly wood, bronze, iron and marble; cargoes of cinnamon and spice, of incense, myrrh and frankincense, of wine and olive oil, of fine flour and wheat; cattle and sheep; horses and carriages; and bodies and souls of men. (Revelation 18:10-13)

John’s Babylon sold many things to enrich itself. But most tragically, it sold the “bodies and souls of men.”

John’s Babylon is not far from us. Every time a young lady is prostituted out to the darkest of men, “bodies and souls of men” are sold by pimps – just like in Babylon. Every time a woman performs simulated sex acts at a club for a gaggle of wide-eyed gawkers, “bodies and souls of men” are sold by the adult entertainment industry – just like in Babylon. Every time a person sits hidden behind a flickering computer screen, staring at erotic images of the most carnal of acts, “bodies and souls of men” are sold by the porn industry – just like in Babylon. Every time a scared woman is counseled and even cajoled to abort her baby even though everything inside of her is telling her not to, “bodies and souls of men” are sold by the abortion industry – just like in Babylon.

How sick.

As heart-rending as human trafficking may be, John promises that, mercifully, this sick industry will meet its end. The “bodies and souls of men” will not be sold forever. Babylon will fall. And when Babylon does fall, the merchants who made their money off the pain of people will grieve their destruction and cry, “Woe” (Revelation 18:19)! But those who have been oppressed and sold will celebrate their liberation and shout, “Rejoice” (Revelation 18:20)!

May that day of rejoicing come quickly.

If you need help out of being trafficked, click here.

_______________________

[1] The Associated Press, “Sex Trafficking Shelter Filled With Survivor Tales,” The New York Times (12.29.2014).

[2] William Adams, Colleen Owens, and Kevonne Small, “Effects of Federal Legislation on the Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children,” Juvenile Justice Bulletin (July 2010).

January 26, 2015 at 5:15 am 1 comment

The Waning of Marriage

Marriage 1Right now at the church where I serve, we are in a series on marriage called “We Do.” As I see it, this series is important not only because many marriages are in trouble and in need of help, but because many marriages are not even getting started in the first place. The precipitous decline of marriage in this country is well documented. Take, for instance, the recent alarm sounded by Robert J. Samuelson of The Washington Post:

In 1960, only 12 percent of adults ages 25 to 34 had never married; by the time they were 45 to 54, the never-married share had dropped to 5 percent. Now fast forward. In 2010, 47 percent of Americans 25 to 34 had never married.[1]

Marriage rates are in a free-fall. But Samuelson’s explanation as to why marriage rates are tumbling is especially fascinating to me:

The stranglehold that marriage had on middle-class thinking and behavior began to weaken in the 1960s with birth control pills, publication of Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique — an assault on women’s traditional housecleaning and child-rearing roles — and the gradual liberalization of divorce laws.

The resulting expansion of personal choice has been breathtaking. Those liberalized divorce laws have freed millions of women and men from unsatisfying or abusive marriages. (From 1960 to 1980, the divorce rate rose nearly 150 percent; it has since reversed about half that gain.) Taboos against premarital sex and cohabitation have virtually vanished. So has the stigma of out-of-wedlock birth or, for married couples, of not having children. With more job opportunities, women flooded the labor market.

Samuelson connects the decline of marriage to the “expansion of personal choice.” In other words, the more choices a person has – from the choice of pre-marital sex to birth control to cohabitation to divorce – the lower the chance a person will choose to marry or, as the case may be, stay married.

Sadly, the “expansion of personal choice” does not insure against the unintended and often painful consequences of personal choice. Samuelson cites Isabell Sawhill, author of Generation Unbound: Drifting into Sex and Parenthood without Marriage:

“New choices for adults,” Sawhill writes, “have not generally been helpful to the well-being of children.” Single-parent families have exploded. In 1950, they were 7 percent of families with children under 18; by 2013, they were 31 percent. Nor was the shift isolated. The share was 27 percent for whites, 34 percent for Hispanics and 62 percent for African Americans. By harming children’s emotional and intellectual development, the expansion of adult choices may have reduced society’s collective welfare.

It is not (as Sawhill repeatedly says) that all single-parent households are bad or that all two-parent families are good. But the advantage lies with the approach that can provide children more financial support and personal attention. Two low-income paychecks, or two good listeners, are better than one. With a colleague, Sawhill simulated the effect today if the marriage rates of 1970 still prevailed. The result: The child poverty rate would drop by about 20 percent — a “huge effect” compared with most government programs.

Our emancipation from marriage comes with a price – a price born by the children of those who have emancipated themselves from marriage. A higher poverty rate is the price most easily measured, but other things, such as the lack of “two listening ears” Sawhill refers to, are also among the prices our children must pay.

I am well aware, of course, that there are certain situations where a person should not get married or cannot stay married. But these situations are far fewer and farther between than our culture makes them out to be.

At the heart of our marriage-phobia is the fact that marriage calls on us to think beyond ourselves, which is not easy when we have all the freedom in the world to make decisions for ourselves. It turns out that when we are given unrestrained freedom to make decisions, we make selfish ones.

But this is where the Church has much to offer. We do, after all, worship a Savior who not only thought beyond Himself, but lived beyond Himself and died by Himself so we could be a family in God.

Ultimately, as followers of Christ, our hope is for a marriage on the Last Day when it will be sung: “Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and be glad and give Him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and His bride has made herself ready” (Revelation 19:6-7).

If this is what we’re preparing and hoping for, we might as well get a little practice for our marriage on the Last Day by being married in this day. And that’s why marriage is good – even if it isn’t always easy.

____________________

[1] Robert J. Samuelson, “The family deficit,” The Washington Post (10.26.2014).

November 17, 2014 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

We’ve Only Just Begun

Empty Tomb 1As a kid, I remember a song my mom used to play from the 70’s by the Carpenters called  “We’ve Only Just Begun.”  The song is about a couple’s wedding day and imagines all the things still to come in their relationship.  “We’ve only just begun to live,” the song muses.

The message of this golden oldie is a message I often share with the soon-to-be-wedded couples I counsel.  “The wedding day is a big day,” I will say, “but it is only one day.  Don’t just plan for your wedding day.  Plan for all the days that come after your wedding day.  After all, when you walk down that aisle and make your vows, you’ve only just begun.”

Yesterday, we celebrated the resurrection of Christ.  The apostle Paul summarizes Christ’s resurrection thusly:

For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures. (1 Corinthians 15:3-4)

For Paul, Christ’s death for our sins and resurrection three days later is “of first importance.”  The Greek word for this phrase is protos, from which we get our word “prototype.”  A prototype, of course, is a first run of a product or procedure meant to be a test for what comes after it.  And this is precisely what Christ’s resurrection is.  For, according to Paul, Christ’s resurrection – glorious as it is – is only the beginning.  Paul explains:

Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. (1 Corinthians 15:20-22)

Paul argues that in Christ’s resurrection on Easter Day, God was doing a test run for our resurrections on the Last Day.  As glorious as Easter is, then, it is only a foretaste of what is to come.  It is only a prototype for the big roll out of resurrection and life that will burst forth at Christ’s return.  God has “only just begun” to raise people from death.  An even bigger Easter is still on its way – an Easter when we will not only shout, “Christ has risen,” but, “We have risen!”

April 21, 2014 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Luther on Christ’s Resurrection…And Ours

Resurrection 6On this Easter Monday, I thought I would share with you some words from a series of seventeen sermons preached by Martin Luther in 1533 on 1 Corinthians 15.  In this chapter, the apostle Paul speaks of the resurrection of Christ and the hope and assurance that it gives us that we too will be raised on the Last Day:

Because Christ is risen and gives us His resurrection against our sin, death, and hell, we must advance to where we also learn to say: “O death, where is thy sting?” [1 Corinthians 15:55] although we at present see only the reverse, namely, that we have nothing but the perishable hanging about our neck, that we lead a wretched filthy life, that we are subject to all sorts of distress and danger, and that nothing but death awaits us in the end.

But the faith that clings to Christ is able to engender far different thoughts. It can envisage a new existence.  It can form an image and gain sight of a condition where this perishable, wretched form is erased entirely and replaced by a pure and celestial essence.  For since faith is certain of this doctrine that Christ’s resurrection is our resurrection, it must follow that this resurrection is just as effective in us as it was for Him – except that He is a different person, namely, true God.  And faith must bring it about that this body’s frail and mortal being is discarded and removed and a different, immortal being is put on, with a body that can no longer be touched by filth, sickness, mishap, misery, or death but is perfectly pure, healthy, strong, and beautiful…

God did not create man that he should sin and die, but that he should live.  But the devil inflicted so much shameful filth and so many blemishes on nature that man must bear so much sickness, stench, and misfortune about his neck because he sinned.  But now that sin is removed through Christ, we shall be rid of all of that too.  All will be pure, and nothing that is evil or loathsome will be felt any longer on earth. (AE 28:202-203)

Luther’s final words beautifully summarize the hope of Easter:  “All will be pure, and nothing that is evil or loathsome will be felt any longer on the earth.”  Because Christ is risen, the evils of sin and death will be destroyed.  Or, in the words of the poet John Donne, because of Easter, “death, thou shalt die!”

Christ is risen!  And this means you will too.

April 1, 2013 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

A Life That Ended Too Soon…At 116 Years

Besse Cooper

Besse Cooper (Photo: David Goldman, AP)

Last Tuesday afternoon, Besse Cooper of Monroe, Georgia passed away peacefully.  She was 116 years of age.  She was also the world’s oldest woman.[1]

I was doing the math in my head.  And though I don’t know her birthday so my I may be a year off on some of my calculations, I’m still pretty close.  Besse Cooper was born in 1896.  This means when the Titanic sank, she was sixteen.  When the United States entered World War I, she was twenty-one.  When the stock market crashed the Great Depression hit, she was thirty-three.  When Pearl Harbor was bombed, she was forty-five.  When John F. Kennedy was assassinated, she was comfortably settled into retirement at sixty-seven.  When Apollo 11 landed, she was seventy-three.  And when 9/11 rocked our nation, she had passed the century mark at one hundred and five.

As I thought back over all the events to which this woman had been witness, even if only from afar, I stood in awe.  A lot of history happens in 116 years!  And yet, even a life as long and robust and Mrs. Cooper’s is hardly a hairbreadth long in the eyes of the God who gives it.  The Psalmist puts it bluntly:  “Man is like a breath; his days are like a fleeting shadow” (Psalm 144:4).  On the stage of history as a whole, 116 years occupies nary a dark corner.

Though the biblical writers may look at life as fleeting, they nevertheless do not resign themselves fatalistically to its end.  Instead, they kick mightily against the truncated span of life.  The prophet Isaiah notes that a life that lasts a mere century – or perhaps a little more – has not lasted nearly long enough!  He yearns for a world where “he who dies at a hundred will be thought a mere youth” (Isaiah 65:20).  Even one hundred years is not enough for Isaiah.  He wants more.

Finally, the problem the biblical writers have has nothing to do with when life comes to end, but with that life comes to end.  A life that ends – be that at ten days, ten months, ten years, or ten years times ten years – is a life that ends too soon.  And indeed, this is true.  For God, when He gave us life, intended life to be a gift we keep.  He intended life to be a gift that lasts.

Sin, of course, had other plans.  But this is why Christ came on a mission – to recapture and raise, by His resurrection, people who die way too soon.  To recapture and raise, by His resurrection, people who die at all.  Like Besse Cooper.  May she rest in peace.  But better yet, may she wake at the telos’s trumpet.


[1] Associated Press, “Woman, 116, listed as ‘world’s oldest’ dies in Ga.,” USA Today (12.5.2012).

December 10, 2012 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Older Posts


Follow Zach

Enter your email address to subscribe to Pastor Zach's blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 1,998 other followers

Questions?

Email Icon Have a theological question? Email Zach at zachm@concordia-satx.com and he will post answers to common questions on his blog.

Archives

Calendar

June 2019
M T W T F S S
« May    
 12
3456789
10111213141516
17181920212223
24252627282930

%d bloggers like this: