Wee Little Repentance
Worse for the wear, repentance is a Christian teaching that has become thin and threadbare with misuse. Once viewed as a substantial Christian teaching, repentance is now viewed as little more than a passing emotional reaction. Some regard repentance as being complete, in other words, immediately after emotions of guilt or remorse have passed. This thinned-out view of repentance is challenged by Luke 19:1-10.
A "Wee Little Man"; A Silly Little Man?
Zacchaeus was a wee little man,
And a wee little man was he.
He climbed up in a sycamore tree
For the Lord he wanted to see.
Made famous by this children's song, the story of Zacchaeus is more about genuine repentance than about diminutive size and tree-climbing skills. "He was a chief tax collector, and he was rich" (Lk. 19:2). This verse reveals a lot between its lines. Tax collectors were hated in Bible times because they were typically crooked, and had gained their wealth by mistreating taxpayers.
Unlike today's expensive and expansive tax codes, Roman tax collectors earned their jobs with the highest bid. When a tax collector position came open, those who vied for the position submitted bids, and the highest bidder was selected because he would gather the most money for the Roman government. That high bid also became a contract price that the winning bidder had to meet.
Unhindered by codes and laws, Roman tax collectors could charge any amount they could collect by force, and the Roman army provided the force. Once they met their contract amount, all of the extorted overage was theirs. So even more than today's IRS agents, or even "Revenuers" in the hills of Tennessee, Bible-times tax collectors were hated (see Lk. 19:7). It was common knowledge that they were cheats.
This historical background of enrichment by hook or crook illuminates Luke 19:1-10. After climbing a tree to see Jesus, and being called down from the tree, Zacchaeus was reduced to repentance in the presence of Jesus.
What did he do (as opposed to how did he feel)?
And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.” And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house " (Lk. 19:8-10).
"Silly Man!" say the advocates of hyper-grace. Sweeping through contemporary Christian thought, hyper-grace is the religious teaching that grace trumps all other Christian teachings. Even repentance is trumped by hyper-grace, since hyper-grace teaches that repentance is nothing more than a brief heart-felt flutter before grace sweeps, and continues to sweep, every sin away. According to hyper-grace spokesmen, "We have no need of repentance, or of confession; there is no need for identifying sin or rectifying sin."
Jesus did not think of Zacchaeus' reaction as silly. Jesus did not correct Zacchaeus. Jesus did not prevent Zacchaeus from doing the following.
Not Silly At All
Instead of being silly, Zacchaeus should be seen as a perfect model for active, regenerative repentance. What did he do (as opposed to how did he feel)?
- Zacchaeus was floored by consciousness of sins, but his response did not stop there.
- Zacchaeus recognized that a proper response to Jesus necessarily included a life changed by moral and religious responsibility - "the half of my goods I give to the poor."
- Zacchaeus recognized that repentance included making straight what evil ways had made crooked - "if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold."
Hardly passing emotions, #2 and #3 required much of Zacchaeus. No one doubts that emotions of guilt and remorse form the foundation of repentance. No one should doubt that we must build changed lives and responsible restitution on that foundation for our building of repentance to be whole.
You Really Ought To Know About
The Christological Controversies
Christianity was not born into a Christian world. Students educated in generations of Sunday Schools did not greet the spread of Christianity. Instead, especially in lands previously influenced by Greek culture, the Gospel spread into minds that had been dominated by secular philosophy.
Philosophically-educated minds did not comfortably accommodate the Christian Jesus. As Paul explained, "The Greeks search(ed) for wisdom," and found "foolishness" in the preaching of Christ (I Cor. 1: 22-23). Why? Their secular logic just could not accept that "the Word became flesh and dwelt among us" (Jn. 1:14).
Still, Christianity spread broadly - but shallowly. As the Gospel spread out of caves and into cathedrals, eventually becoming the state religion of Rome, many converts were essentially unconverted "in the spirit of (their) minds" (Eph. 4:23). They truly liked the idea of forgiveness, but the foundational truths wrankled them, and even contradicted their secular rationality. Finding a happy place for grace, they found no place in their thinking for Christ as 100% God and also as 100% man.
Creativity followed - someone has said that creativity is the mother of apostasy. Rejecting the Jesus of 100% divinity and 100% humanity, they recreated Jesus into forms that suited their rationality. This led to the Christological Controversies (Christology is the study of the nature and person of Jesus).
The Christological Controversies
From the second century onwards, shortly after the age of the Apostles, controversy raged within Christianity for several hundred years about how the human and the divine combined within Jesus. These were known as the Christological Controversies. The competing views argued across the spectrum from (i) Christ was entirely human and not divine at all, to (ii) Christ was entirely divine and not human at all. Somewhere in between was the orthodox view that Christ was entirely unique and that Christ entirely upended rationality by possessing two 100%s.
Here is a brief summary of the positions that were taken, and of some of the position takers (ignore the big words - I certainly so - and focus on the easily understandable summaries).
- The denial of Christ's Divinity - which lead to the heresies known as Ebonism, Arianism, Nestorianism, Socinianism, Liberalism, Humanism, Unitarianism.
- The denial of Christ's dual natures - which created heretical beliefs such as Monophysitism, Eutychianism, Monothelitism. These all confuse the two natures of Christ; i.e., absorbed one of His natures into the other.
- The denial of Christ's humanity - which gave rise to Docetism, Marcionism, Gnosticism, Apollinarianism, Monarchianism, Patripassianism, Sabellianism, Adoptionism, Dynamic Monarchianism.
The Controversies Settled - Temporarily
Tamping down the Christological Controversies became a full-time job. Four major "Church Councils" addressed the issue. At Nicea (325 A.D.), Constantinople (381), Ephesus (431) and at Chalcedon (451), great gatherings of Christian leaders hammered at religious errors and hammered-out the conclusion that has since dominated. The conclusion was that Jesus, in one person, possessed "the whole fullness of deity" (Col. 2:9), and was also "made like His brothers in every way" (Heb. 2:17). The summary, 100% God and 100% man, is apt.
The Controversies Revived
With the secular and purely rational again in ascendance, the importance of an orthodox understanding of the nature of Christ is again important. Rejecting the divine in Jesus, the modern secular mind has reformed (and demoted) Christ into a great but fallible religious leader who ranks high on the intelligence and goodness scales, but who is still just a man. The Liberal/Progressive Jesus lived (possibly), performed miracles (maybe), was resurrected (unlikely), and has left a record of himself (debatably). A possible, maybe, unlikely, and debatable Jesus allows for lots of wiggle room. The orthodox Jesus does not.
"Are Conservative Christians Religious Extremists?"
Prepare For Further Christian Marginalization, And For Further Bail-Outs
The Atlantic magazine does not have much influence along the Texas Gulf Coast. With a far-Left editorial policy, and with a target readership of "serious readers and thought leaders" (ahem), The Atlantic is far more at home along the Red-State coasts of the Northeast and California. Why would a church bulletin give any attention to The Atlantic? In a recent article, The Atlantic presented a rationale for the further marginalization of Christians.
Christianity has been and continues to be under attack. John said, "Do not be surprised, brothers, if the world hates you" (I Jn. 3:13). Jesus explained why: "If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you" (Jn. 15:18). Any respite of relative popularity enjoyed by Christianity in the latter half of the 20th century is fast disappearing. We are rapidly realizing again that "All who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted" (II Tim. 3:12).
Although the ultimate steps in Christian persecution are life- and career-threatening, the lead-up steps are less dramatic. Instead of being thrown to the lions, Christians will be thrown out of the mainstream. This is marginalization, "The process whereby a group is pushed to the edge, accorded lesser importance, and ultimately excluded."
Marginalizing a previously popular group, like Christians, is not an easy thing to do. As a character in the movie Gladiator said to Maximus, “You have a great name. They must kill your name before they can kill you.” In order to marginalize Christians and Christianity, "they" must kill-off our good name by constantly criticizing us and pushing us off the edge of society's approval.
"Are Conservative Christians Religious Extremists?"
Here is where The Atlantic and its attempts to shape thought comes in. In the March 10, 2016 edition, The Atlantic asked, "Are Conservative Christians Religious Extremists?" Borrowing from previous studies entitled The Fundamentals Of Extremism: The Christian Right In America (Blaker, 2003) and Good faith: Being A Christian When Society Thinks You Are Irrelevant And Extreme (2016, Kinnaman and Lyons), The Atlantic cleverly concludes that "Christian's beliefs and practices are so far outside of the norm that they deserve one of society's ugliest epithets: extremist."
- "Most Americans consider the beliefs and practices of traditionalist Christians to be extreme."
- "Conservative Christians share striking similarities with Taliban terrorists." (Give this some thought. The Atlantic is asserting that Willo Dean, Phillip Cottle, and Jo Ella, the heroes of last week's bulletin, are no different than Taliban terrorists. How credible is that?)
- "Traditionalist Christians seek to indoctrinate youth with oppressive views of women, minorities, and LGBT persons through mind-control tactics and intimidation."
- "Because Americans think that many Christian beliefs are extreme, it makes sense to apply the same label to anyone looking to spread those beliefs."
- "Americans also believe even more mundane but common beliefs are extreme. [For example] if your teenage daughter commits to abstain from sex until marriage...she's an extremist too."
Christians will respond to this, and to other attempts at marginalization, in one of two ways. First, feeling the pressure to either conform to society's expectations, or to at least be quiet, many Christians will disregard the attempts. They recognize that "We must endure many hardships to enter the kingdom of God" (Acts 14:22), even the "hardship" of being outside of society's mainstream. They will even "rejoice insofar as [they] share Christ’s sufferings, that [they] may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed" (I Pet. 4:13).
Second, others will be horrified at the thought of not being accepted, of not being popular, or of not being approved. Fearing marginalization, feeding off of social approval, and fearing worst of all any description as extremists, they will adjust their belief and practice to a comfy place in the bosom of contemporary culture's approval. Recognize that The Atlantic attacked Conservative, Traditionalist, and Evangelical Christians. The Liberals and Progressives were left alone.
More Great Programs
In our January 1, 2017 bulletin, "Two Great Programs - Two Areas Of Great Need" were highlighted. Our Food Bank, and our Best Friends in Faith (BFF) were put forward as signature efforts of the Liberty Church of Christ, and as two programs that deserve your time and effort.
The article must have done some good. For some time, we have needed additional helpers to pick up (literally) some of the BFF kids. Susan Smith and sons responded to the article by volunteering to round up kids and return them home - thanks Susan and sons!
I know that others also read the article. Why? Several pointed to other great program of the Liberty Church of Christ. This article is written to highlight those programs, and to encourage your involvement in them.
Bible Classes And Bible Class Teachers
Bible classes are a standard, "core" church program. Because they are standard, they and the effort they require get lost in the shuffle as people look for something new and exciting.
Bible classes are a great way for congregations to take care of one of the core responsibilities of churches - the building up members with Bible study (Eph. 4:15-16). The Liberty Church of Christ has XXX Bible class teachers.
Opportunity for involvement: we need a teachers for our Wednesday Evening 4-5 Year-Old Class.
Opportunity for involvement: attend Bible class every Sunday morning and Wednesday evening.
Ladies Bible Class
Rita Upton does a spectacular job with our Ladies Bible Class. Scheduled from 10:00-11:00 A.M. every Wednesday (and typically including lunch afterwards) our ladies meet to study subjects of particular interest.
Opportunity for involvement: attend Ladies Bible class.
Another regularly scheduled small-group program, our ladies meet every first Monday of the month at 7:00 P.M.
Opportunity for involvement: attend Ladies Devotional.
Men's Prayer Breakfast
Like the regularly scheduled Ladies Devotional for women, our men meet once a month for breakfast and a devotional at 8:00 A.M. in our Family Life Center. This activity takes place every third Saturday of the month.
Opportunity for involvement: attend our Men's Prayer Breakfast.
Sunday Evenings In Tarkington
The small Church of Christ in Tarkington benefits from our help every second Sunday of the month when our young people lead their worship. Many of those who are involved with Sunday evenings in Tarkington also help the small church in Anahuac - way to go Danny and Daniel Balch!
Opportunity for involvement: attend Sunday Evenings in Tarkington.
Nursing Home Singing
Is it for them, or is it for us? Also on every second Sunday at 4:00 P.M., we meet for about 30 minutes of singing (who can't spare 30 minutes?) at a local nursing home.
Opportunity for involvement: attend the nursing home singing.
Every Thursday, several of our ladies meet to share their quilting passion. The Quilting group provided some wonderful Christmas presents for our BFF kids.
Opportunity for involvement: participate in the Quilting Group.
Providing opportunities for more small-group involvement and acting as the structure for our responses to crisis needs like funerals, our Brothers Keepers meet monthly.
Opportunity for involvement: participate in Brothers Keepers.
Several activities are a regular part of our annual calendar: Valentines Banquet (February), VBS (July), Fall Festival and Homecoming (October), Holiday Party/Luncheon (December).
Opportunity for involvement: enjoy these activities with the rest of us.
Good Days, And Bad
I remain deeply touched by the wisdom in Phillip Strickhausen's prayer during last Sunday evening's worship service. As he prayed us into 2017, Phillip asked God to give us blessings in the coming year, and also to help us with the trials and tribulations that will surely come our way. The sober realization that not every day will be delightful reflects the Bible's teachings about who we really are and about the lives we really live, and contradicts the contemporary notion that the quality of our life is measured by the broad width of constant smiles. This article is written to present the Bible's teaching about the nature of man and the nature of life.
"Don't Worry, Be Happy"
Released in 1988, Don't Worry, Be Happy was a worldwide pop music hit by singer Bobby McFerrin. The song neatly summarized the (then) growing pop cultural, pop psychological, and pop religious dogma of "Positive Psychology." Rooted in uniquely American optimism, in the humanistic psychologies of the 1960s, and in the "Positivity/Possibility Gospel" of Norman Vincent Peale and Robert Schuller, Positive Psychology now dominates American social and religious thinking with its "moral imperative to stay cheerful." Positive Psychology and its religious counterparts teach, in other words, that psychologically healthy and religiously faithful people Don't Worry, Be Happy without fail.
Stand by for irony: Bobby McFerrin's life ended in suicide and Robert Schuller's "Crystal Cathedral" ministry ended in bankruptcy.
Critically evaluating Positive Psychology, Psychology Today (www.psychologytoday.com/blog/straight-talk/201306/dont-worry-be-happy) asked, "Does Positive Psychology Have a Dark Underside?" and found reason to doubt "the relentless promotion of positive thinking" saying,
This value...leads to an insidious type of oppression that marginalizes and silences those who are suffering...and judges them as failures...There is a limited tolerance for sadness, and other painful emotional experiences.
Stand by for more irony: Sigmund Freud, the father of Psychology, had "a pessimistic perspective...And emphasized the importance of acknowledging and accepting the hardships, cruelties and indignities of life."
Several of our members are struggling with chronic illnesses and with chronic pain, are supporting family members who are suffering with chronic life issues, and are enduring other kinds of unhappinesses that appear to be chronic. How foolish, and how heartless, to somehow assume that they are to be blamed because they are disheartened. Instead, we ought to "weep with those who weep" (Rom. 12:15).
Go Ahead And Worry Sometimes, And Be Unhappy Occasionally
Weeping with those who weep recognizes three important truths about who we really are and about the lives we really live. The first truth is that life includes things that lead to weeping. The second important truth is that healthy and faithful people must incorporate weeping within their world view, and also must possess the capacity to weep. The third truth is that others need to be responsive and supportive to those who are enduring life's dark seasons.
And life does have dark seasons:
- Following the Fall of man, God condemned us to,
"Cursed...ground...In toil you will eat of it All the days of your life. Both thorns and thistles it shall grow for you... By the sweat of your face You will eat bread, Till you return to the ground, Because from it you were taken; For you are dust, And to dust you shall return (Gen. 3:17-19).
- Solomon wrote that man's "days are full of sorrow, and his work is a vexation. Even in the night his heart does not rest" (Ecl. 2:23).
- Jesus' first two Beatitudes are "Blessed are the poor in spirit," and "Blessed are those who mourn" (Mt. 5:3-4).
- Paul described our internal struggles between good and evil impulses as "wretched" (Rom. 8:18).
- Peter concluded that “All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls" (I Pet. 2;24).
Conclusion: A Question Of Balance
As is always the case, all of the Bible's teaching on a subject must be blended in order to understand its truth. We cannot ignore the Bible's teachings about the dark clouds that will occasionally shadow us in 2017, just as we cannot dismiss the Bible's teaching about the light at the end of the tunnel. "The sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us" (Rom. 8:18).