Sunday, March 8, 2015

Theft # 12 - Stealing Back God's Boundaries

I'd thought I'd check in with a Biblical lesson/homily on being Christian in the USA as provoked by thoughts of Independence Day, Scripture, Rich Mullins, and just because I think about this quite a lot anyway. Don't mind that it's only March and I'm referencing the 4th of July. I think this topic is a rather big deal for American Evangelical Christians the whole year. So here goes:
What do you think about on the 4th of July? Historically the holiday called Independence Day celebrates the document by which the original 13 colonies declared their intention to withdraw from British rule and establish self-government.
However, in 21st Century America, what does Independence Day mean? That is, what does it mean beyond the fireworks and the parades and the flags? The people of Jesus Christ should be asking that question of themselves especially at a time when Christianity has lost much of her favored status in the government and culture of the United States.
What does it mean to be a Christian in America today? More pointedly, how do I, as a Christian, speak to non-Christian America about Jesus Christ? If you open your Bibles to Acts 17:16, we'll take a look at one way the apostle Paul spoke to his culture, and discover what we can learn about speaking to ours.

The Boundaries of Truth: Acts 17:16-34
  • 16 Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was being provoked within him as he was observing the city full of idols. 17 So he was reasoning in the synagogue with the Jews and the God-fearing Gentiles, and in the market place every day with those who happened to be present. 18 And also some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers were conversing with him. Some were saying, "What would this idle babbler wish to say?" Others, "He seems to be a proclaimer of strange deities," -- because he was preaching Jesus and the resurrection. 19 And they took him and brought him to the Areopagus, saying, "May we know what this new teaching is which you are proclaiming? 20 For you are bringing some strange things to our ears; so we want to know what these things mean." 21 (Now all the Athenians and the strangers visiting there used to spend their time in nothing other than telling or hearing something new.)
  • 22 So Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus and said, "Men of Athens, I observe that you are very religious in all respects. 23 For while I was passing through and examining the objects of your worship, I also found an altar with this inscription, 'TO AN UNKNOWN GOD.' Therefore what you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you.
  • 24 "The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands; 25 nor is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all people life and breath and all things; 26 and He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation, 27 that they would seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; 28 for in Him we live and move and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, 'For we also are His children.'
  • 29 "Being then the children of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and thought of man. 30 Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent, 31 because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead."
  • 32 Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some began to sneer, but others said, "We shall hear you again concerning this." 33 So Paul went out of their midst. 34 But some men joined him and believed, among whom also were Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris and others with them. (NASB)

Input: God Has Placed Boundaries on Human Existence to Draw People to Himself. Specifically: God Has Placed Boundaries on Life in the United States to Draw People to Himself.
I. God Has Placed Physical Boundaries on Human Existence - Acts 17:26-27
  • A. Geographic - simple enough: oceans, rivers, mountains, forests,
  • B. Ethnic (racial) - cf. v26 "He made ... every ethnic group ..."; includes:
  • C. Language - esp. from Gen. 11-tower of Babel and division of languages; but Pentecost and universal "translation" for sake of gospel
  • D. Political: seems man-made: but ultimately determined by God as much as both of the above, and usually includes many geographic and ethnic boundaries within political boundaries.
  • 1. Roman Empire established political boundaries around a variety of ethnic groups and geographical features; Christian mission was furthered by Greek as a common language and relative peace kept within the political boundaries of the empire
  • 2. Same in the United States - Christian mission furthered by English as a common language and relative peace within the political boundaries of the nation.
II. God Has Placed Philosophical and Religious Boundaries on Human Existence - Acts 17:16-19, 21, 22-23, 29
  • A. Human beings feel a need to explain their existence. That need creates a variety of philosophies and religious practices.
  • 1. Athens was full of idols, but couldn't settle on a common religion: Note Epicureans and Stoics: both firm in belief but totally opposed to each other in philosophy.
  • 2. they always wanted something newer; we would say they latched onto every new religious fad that came along. The ultimate futility of this situation is the altar dedicated to "an unknown God."
  • 3. Again, the U.S. experience is becoming so similar.
  • B. This variety of explanations leaves people empty and despairing, or fanatical and militant. Why? They fall short of the truth and are ultimately unable to provide the meaning of existence humans seek. God will not bless religions and philosophies not based on His Word and His Way. He is not in those "temples" (cp vv 24, 29).
III. God Has Placed Chronological Boundaries on Human Existence - Acts 17:30-31 
  • A. The obvious . . . Death !!! Death of individual people. Death of civilizations. What is the most obvious chronological boundary for everyone? Death. We would think mainly of individual human death; but what about the death of civilizations? You don't have to read much history to see a pattern in the rise and fall of nations, of empires, of entire cultures. How much longer will the United States exist as a nation? The Bible says that when the people and leaders of a nation willfully resist His will, He brings that nation down, sometimes through the use of another nation. God used Assyria and Babylon to punish His own people for disobedience, but He also used Babylon to bring down Assyria, He used Persia to bring down Babylon, He used Greece to bring down Persia, and He used Rome to conquer the Greek empire established by Alexander the Great. We know this because it is prophesied in the book of Daniel. Does God still do things this way? Was the United States used by God to help bring down the ungodly Nazi kingdom? Could the United States be brought down hard if our people keep ignoring God? Ultimately only one kingdom will last forever, the kingdom of God brought in by Jesus Christ.
  • This brings us to the final boundary: Read 17:30-31 
  • B. Ultimately . . . Judgment !!! The human race as a whole is now at the edge of judgment. God the Father has already decided on a day of judgment to be carried out through Jesus Christ. Furthermore, God proved that Jesus is His Chosen One to rule and judge the world when He raised Him from the dead. Human history as we now know it will come to an end when Christ returns. That boundary is given as a primary motivation for human beings to repent, to turn from idols, from sin, from false religion, to the True and Living God.
Output: God's People are Responsible for Declaring God's Truth within God's Boundaries - Acts 17:17, 18b, 23b
  • This probably should be "self-evident," but the reality is that all of the boundaries mentioned in Acts 17 still exist, and we still must declare God's truth within them. *I know a quick protest will be that we have cell phones, the internet, and all kinds of ways to break down some of these boundaries, but that is an double-edged sword: the boundaries still exist, and--I think--communicating with a Far East country over the internet creates the illusion that we have penetrated the culture, when in reality we have only "masked" the cultural barriers and probably created no end of miscommunication. Even within the boundaries of continental North America there are all kinds of cultural nuances we miss on the web, and even on no-limit international calling plans. In the end, we are never forced to examine at how faith in Christ might look different in China or India or even Canada, as opposed to Northwest Ohio, USA, for example. Those American missionaries who have actually gone to those foreign fields were obligated to understand the culture, and adapt there methods to it, at least in the mid to late 20th Century and beyond. No more "let's make everyone into American Christians," but more like "Yikes! How do we even speak this gospel in a way that makes sense to these folks?"
Extra Credit - Characteristics of Paul's Response to Athens: 1. He was bothered by the idols, but did not lobby the Roman government to have them torn down or try to block their entrances. 2. He talked to everyone he could about Jesus Christ and the resurrection of the dead. 3. He corrected false ideas about God by declaring Biblical truth. 4. He understood the culture he was speaking to well enough to communicate the gospel in terms the people could understand.
Later in Christ,
The Thief

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