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I’ve been reading a very interesting book titled, “Suburbianity: What Have We Done to the Gospel? Can We Find Our Way Back to Biblical Christianity?” (2013), by Byron Forrest Yawn, senior pastor at Community Bible Church in Nashville, TN. A synopsis of the book and a few editorial reviews on Amazon.com state the following (quote source here):
Rick Warren famously wrote, “It’s not about you.” But much of the Western church seems to disagree, having settled for a self-centered message of personal fulfillment. With incisiveness and a passionate love for the church, pastor and author Byron Forrest Yawn offers a compelling call away from narcissism and back to the powerful and transforming gospel of Jesus. He shows the difference between…
- Sunday-morning life coaches selling self-help seminars, and preachers proclaiming God’s redemptive work through Christ
- promises of prosperity and comfort, and a realistic and helpful perspective on suffering
- escape from unbelievers and their godless world, and redemptive engagement with people
As Byron exposes the false gospel of “suburbianity,” he offers readers a better alternative: to look beyond themselves and embrace God’s call to be His image-bearers and ambassadors, partnering with Him as He restores people and all creation to His original design.
“Every person, every Christian, is to some degree a product of his environment. Byron Yawn’s concern is that Christians have been unwittingly and unduly influenced by the values and ideals of suburbia. Powerful gospel-centered Christianity has been replaced by impotent gospel-free suburbianity. Byron writes not as a sociologist but as a pastor, calling Christians to be shaped far more by the timeless Word of God and far less by the changing preferences of the suburbs. May every Christian heed this call!”
―Tim Challies, Christian blogger, pastor, and author
“Suburbianity is one of the most refreshing and disturbing books I have read in quite a while. Refreshing because my friend Byron Yawn has managed to make the gospel even more attractive and alluring to me. Disturbing because he makes such a strong case for all the ways we tend to miss and ‘dis’ the gospel by settling for much of what is accepted as conservative, Bible-believing Christianity. Byron doesn’t write as a cynic, but as a man who longs to see his own heart, his congregation, and our culture come more fully alive to the grace and truth of the real gospel. This is a book for believers and nonbelievers alike because everybody needs the gospel Byron highlights.”
―Scotty Smith, Pastor of Christ Community Church, author of Everyday Prayers and Restoring Broken Things
“Suburbianity is about the life-giving recovery of the most important reality in the world―the glorious gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. Found herein is delightful refreshment to the weary soul bombarded by tireless pop-evangelical trendiness. Pastor Byron Yawn delivers a welcome mix of pointed sobriety, self-criticizing humility, and yes, even some gut-busting humor. I hope Suburbianity will produce a multitude of wonderfully dissatisfied Christians who will insist that pastors unashamedly and explicitly preach Christ rather than moralism masquerading as the eternal gospel. Everyone should read this profoundly Christian book. For the glory of Christ in the churches!”
―Patrick Abendroth, Pastor, Omaha Bible Church
“This is not a how-to or 12-step self-help book. Nor is it a book of character sketches from which to draw and apply life lessons in morality and ethics. If you have ever tried to bootstrap yourself into favor with God, read Suburbianity, and you’ll approach Scripture differently. Instead of seeing the Bible as a series of stories, you’ll discover the one story of Christ’s finished work of redemption. And it will transform you.”
―Perry Stahlman, Chairman of the elders, Community Bible Church
It was the title of Yawn’s book, “Suburbianity,” that caught my eye as I was glancing through the book titles on the bargain book shelves in a Christian bookstore. Personally, I’ve never actually been a part of the suburban lifestyle in America since I’ve been single all of my life and I have lived, for the most part, in apartment complexes. In other words, I’ve never experienced the house (big or small) with a garage (or carport), lawn, spouse, kids, neighbors, or been a part of PTA or homeowners meetings, etc., (other then when I was a kid before my parent’s divorce–and that’s been decades ago and there were no home owner associations way back then).
The churches I have attended over my lifetime could be described as suburban churches, and I usually gravitated to any “singles” groups that those churches might have had (some did, some didn’t). Once megachurches became popular (and a number of today’s suburban churches fit into that category), I attended them, too. However, being a professional working woman and also being single all of my life, as I got older I sometimes outgrew, by virtue of my age, the “singles” groups (as they were in a younger age category–often college age and young unmarried professionals looking to find a spouse). I did try several women’s groups (the professional women’s groups, when they were available which was rare, were the best), but many of the women’s groups catered to wives, mothers, and grandmothers, and I didn’t fit in with that particular demographic or the topics they discussed (child-rearing, husbands, grandparenting, family stuff). So as you can see, my actual experience with “suburbia” has been somewhat limited.
I read several pages of this book in the bookstore and it certainly piqued my interest, and best of all, it was on sale, and I always love finding a good book on sale. It has not disappointed me, either. Yawn states early on in his book what his book is not about (p. 36):
This book is not specifically about gospel centeredness. That message has been so well articulated by others that any addendum by me would be the equivalent of white noise. Horton, Bridges, Keller, Carson, Tchividjian, Wilson, Chandler, and others have all honed the message for a new generation of believers. They have spread the message of Jesus, Paul, Athanasius, Calvin, Burroughs, Warfield, Machen, and a host of others. I have read their works and thank God for them all. They have each helped me reawaken my own soul to the truth of the gospel.
This book is the volume before theirs (although I in no way pretend to be their equal in influence). It’s a prologue to the details of redemption they expound so thoroughly in their works. My basic message explains why messages like theirs are so important for suburban Christians to hear (quote source: Yawn, “Suburbianity,” p. 36).
Byron Yawn is the pastor of Community Bible Church in Nashville, a church I have been to a couple of times and one I have very much enjoyed. He loves Christianity, the Christian faith, but despises Suburbianity, a contemporary perversion of that faith. Every person, every Christian, is to some degree a product of his environment. Yawn’s concern is that Christians have been unwittingly and unduly influenced by the values and ideals of suburbia.
Suburbianity is the general conviction among professing evangelicals that the primary aim of Christ’s death was to provide us with a fulfilled life. We came to this perspective by persistently reading the mindset and aspirations of the suburbs into the biblical story. It relentlessly seeps into our Christianity. It comes through in nearly all forms of Christian media, including songs, books, movies, and sermons. God has big plans for you. You are important. You should not be discontented, There’s more out there for you. This is the suburban gospel. By it we’ve saved countless sinners from a poor self-image but not much else.
Of course the Christianity of the Bible is not about this at all. It is antithetical to this. “You can’t find it anywhere in the Bible. You may cite Moses, but he never meant that. Even if you make Jesus say it, He didn’t really. Jesus never commissioned anything close to this. We’ve made all this stuff up.” Powerful gospel-centered Christianity has been replaced by an impotent gospel-free suburbianity.
Yawn proposes a three-part antidote to suburbianity. The first part of the cure is to recover the true gospel and he writes three chapters on what the gospel is and why it must be central to all of Christian doctrine and practice. The second part of the cure is to recover the true and most meaningful storyline of the Bible, looking beyond the moralisms that plague today’s churches. He gives two chapters to the Bible. The third part of the cure, which receives two chapters, is to embrace the local church as God’s plan to save the world. This antidote is so simple and so obvious, yet so commonly overlooked.
In the third part of Yawn’s book which is titled, “The Church,” the cure for suburbianity is found, as Challies stated above. In the first chapter in Part 3, titled, “Hanging On Till Jesus Gets Back,” Yawn opens with this statement (pp. 175-177:
The American church is bored. You can feel it. The giant isn’t sleeping so much as it’s twiddling its thumbs. The frustration is palpable. We’ve spent so much time asking, “What’s my purpose as an individual?” we forgot to ask the greater question: “What’s God’s purpose for the church?” For all our emphasis on personal identity, we’ve no idea what our collective identity is. We’ve no real sense of what we’re suppose to be doing as a people. The reality that defines all of us has been overshadowed by the likes of us.
Boredom creates a unique sort of desperation. As others have said, it’s a very underestimated emotion. Evangelical Christians, especially the younger ones, are desperate to experience church as God intended. Younger Christians can feel pressed between the faith traditions of their parents and the shallow pragmatism of contemporary church models. The pendulum, as it always does, has swung. There is a desire to worship. D.A. Carson observed this reaction among young Christians:
We start attending meetings because it is habit, or because it is the right thing to do, or because we know that the means of grace are important, but not out of the heart-hunger to be with God’s people and to be fed from God’s Word. Sermons are filled with clichés. There is little intensity in confession, little joy in absolution, little delight in the gospel, little urgency in evangelism, little sense of privilege or gratitude in witness, little passion for the truth, little compassion for others, little humility in our evaluations, little love in our dealings with others.
There is currently an intense push back against the failed strategy of marketing techniques and the narcissistic philosophy of seeker churches [Note: Yawn discusses the “seeker-sensitive movement” which started in the church back in the 1970’s in Part 1 of his book. Also, an article titled, “How a Seeker Sensitive, Consumer Church is Failing a Generation,” by Dorothy Greco, published in August 2013 in Christianity Today, is available at this link for additional information]. The failure is now more than obvious. Designer religion for the affluent Americans only works in the suburbs and is not designed to save. The trendy suburban seeker models have left a confused spiritual wasteland in their wake. The gospel is all but forgotten. The suburbs are the new burned-over district. Christians are leaving in droves, seeking more meaningful experiences of church. The church is suddenly getting off the couch and going outside.
Christians want to be a part of churches that are disruptive forces in the culture, not indistinguishable from it. These evangelical dissidents have no interest in over-correcting and returning to the religion of their parents. The idea of forming fundamentalist conclaves and hiding at safe distances from the culture is unthinkable. They’re not seeking asylum behind the walls of traditional church. What they want is the chance to throw grenades. They are hungry for the front lines. . . (quote source: Yawn, “Suburbianity,” pp. 175-177).
Well, you get the picture. . . . And I daresay it’s not just the younger generations that feel that way, either. While I can only speak for myself, I can imagine there are a bunch of us older folks who feel the same way, too. I’ve recently had a friend admonish me as to my lack of church attendance of late as if somehow it equates to me being “less Christian” then those folks sitting in the pews on Sunday morning. This book clarifies the situation much better than I could ever try to explain to my friend. We need to start with a definition of what genuine Christianity is really all about, and Yawn has done just that in his book, “Suburbianity.”
For those who might be bored with church but can’t put their finger on why that is the case, “Suburbianity” is a good place to start. . . .
Actually, Jesus is the best place to start. . .
So bring on those grenades . . .
It’s time to hit the front lines. . . .
YouTube Video: “Lose My Soul” by TobyMac (with Kirk Franklin and Mandisa):
The Sermon on the Mount is the sermon that Jesus gave in Matthew chapters 5-7. Matthew 5:1-2 is the reason it is known as the Sermon on the Mount: “Now when He saw the crowds, He went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to Him, and He began to teach them…” The Sermon on the Mount is the most famous sermon Jesus ever gave, perhaps the most famous sermon ever given by anyone.
The Sermon on the Mount covers several different topics. It is not the purpose of this article to comment on every section, but rather to give a brief summary of what it contains. If we were to summarize the Sermon on the Mount in a single sentence, it would be something like this: How to live a life that is dedicated to and pleasing to God, free from hypocrisy, full of love and grace, full of wisdom and discernment.
Matthew 5:3-12 – The Beatitudes
Matthew 5:13-16 – Salt and Light
Matthew 5:17-20 – Jesus fulfilled the Law
Matthew 5:21-26 – Anger and Murder
Matthew 5:27-30 – Lust and Adultery
Matthew 5:31-32 – Divorce and Remarriage
Matthew 5:33-37 – Oaths
Matthew 5:38-42 – Eye for an Eye
Matthew 5:43-48 – Love your enemies
Matthew 6:1-4 – Give to the Needy
Matthew 6:5-15 – How to Pray
Matthew 6:16-18 – How to Fast
Matthew 6:19-24 – Treasures in Heaven
Matthew 6:25-34 – Do not worry
Matthew 7:1-6 – Do not judge hypocritically
Matthew 7:7-12 – Ask, Seek, Knock
Matthew 7:13-14 – The Narrow Gate
Matthew 7:15-23 – False Prophets
Matthew 7:24-27 – The Wise Builder
Matthew 7:28-29 concludes the Sermon on the Mount with the following statement: “When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at His teaching, because He taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law.” May we all continue to be amazed at His teaching and follow the principles that He taught in the Sermon on the Mount! (Quote source here.)
Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, 2 and he began to teach them.
3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
5 Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
7 Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
8 Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
9 Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
Salt and Light
13 “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.
14 “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden.15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.
The Fulfillment of the Law
17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. 19 Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.20 For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.
21 “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ 22 But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.
23 “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you,24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.
25 “Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still together on the way, or your adversary may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison. 26 Truly I tell you, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny.
27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.30 And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.
31 “It has been said, ‘Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.’ 32 But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, makes her the victim of adultery, and anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.
33 “Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but fulfill to the Lord the vows you have made.’34 But I tell you, do not swear an oath at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; 35 or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. 36 And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. 37 All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.
Eye for Eye
38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. 40 And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. 41 If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. 42 Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.
Love for Enemies
43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
Giving to the Needy
6 “Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.
2 “So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 3 But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
5 “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 6 But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. 7 And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
9 “This, then, is how you should pray:“‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
10 your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
11 Give us today our daily bread.
12 And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
13 And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.
For Yours is the kingdom and the power
and the glory forever. Amen. (NKJV)
14 For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.
16 “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 17 But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18 so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
Treasures in Heaven
19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
22 “The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. 23 But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!
24 “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.
Do Not Worry
25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?
28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
7 “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. 2 For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.
3 “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 4 How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.
6 “Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.
Ask, Seek, Knock
7 “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.
9 “Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? 11 If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! 12 So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.
The Narrow and Wide Gates
13 “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. 14 But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.
True and False Prophets
15 “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. 16 By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles?17 Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.
True and False Disciples
21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ 23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’
The Wise and Foolish Builders
24 “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock.26 But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”
28 When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, 29 because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law.
The crowds were amazed at Jesus’ teaching because he taught as one who had authority–and Jesus has the ultimate authority, too. After Jesus’ resurrection from the dead (read about his trial, crucifixion, and resurrection in Matthew 26-28), he made this statement to his disciples in Matthew 28:18-20:
Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
In a summary on “Life, Hope & Truth,” on the “Sermon on the Mount,” the author, John Foster, states, “Nearly 2,000 years ago, Christ preached a profound sermon showing how converted Christians are to live. How essential is the Sermon on the Mount today?” (Quote source and summary at this link.) At the end of the summary he states:
The words of this sermon are as relevant today as they were when Christ spoke them! For “whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock” (Matthew 7:24-25). (Quote source here.)
The Sermon on the Mount is profoundly relevant to our lives today. I’d like to end this post with the entire words found in Matthew 6:13, of which the words in the second part of the verse are often left off in later versions of the Bible. They are found in the King James Version (KJV) and New King James Version (NKJV) at the end of the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6:13 which states (KJV): And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil:
For thine is the kingdom, and the power . . .
And the glory, forever . . .
Amen . . . .
YouTube Video: “The Lord’s Prayer” – Andrea Bocelli (w/choir):
Almost four years ago I published a blog post titled, “Invitation to the Thirsty,” which contains Isaiah 55 from The Message Bible. Below I’ve included Isaiah 55 from the New International Version along with the first two verses in Isaiah 56, and I’m adding a little background information on Isaiah, who is widely regarded as one of the greatest prophets in the Old Testament. The following background information on Isaiah is taken from Truth for the World:
Isaiah is often called “The Messianic Prophet.” He is called this because he records many prophecies of the coming of the Messiah [Jesus Christ] into the world. “Messiah” means “the anointed one.” In the Old Testament, priests were anointed with oil when they were appointed to their office (Exodus 30:25-30; Leviticus 8:10-13). Prophets and kings were also anointed with oil when they were appointed by God (1 Samuel 16:1,13; 1 Kings 19:16). The prophets foretold the coming of One who would hold all three of these offices and be prophet, priest and king all in one. Therefore, He was called “The Anointed One” or “the Messiah.” The New Testament word for “The Anointed One” is “Christ.”
Isaiah prophesied during the rule of four different kings of Judah. They were Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah (Isaiah 1:1). Isaiah was probably born in Jerusalem about 760 B.C. He likely began prophesying about 740 B.C. He was God’s spokesman to Judah for fifty years or even longer. Hebrews 11:37 speaks of some men of faith who were “sawn in two.” According to the Jews, this is the way Isaiah was killed. When he was a very old man, the evil king, Manasseh, had his body placed between two planks of wood and sawed in two.
Isaiah lived and preached during a very important time in the world’s history. During most of his lifetime, Assyria was the most powerful nation on earth. Babylon was only beginning to gain strength as a nation. While Isaiah lived in Judah, Romulus and Remus were beginning the city of Rome. The Greek cities of Athens and Sparta were just being built. It was during Isaiah’s lifetime that the Northern Kingdom, Israel, was taken into captivity by the Assyrians in 721 B.C. Micah, Amos, and Hosea were other prophets of God who lived during Isaiah’s lifetime.
During most of the time that Isaiah preached to God’s people, the nation of Judah was very prosperous. People forgot about God because they were so involved in the things of this world (Isaiah 59:1-8). The rich people lived in luxury and idleness. The poor suffered from lack of food and clothing (Isaiah 3:14-15; 32:9-15). Many of the people were drunkards (Isaiah 3: 16-26, 5:11-12, 22-23; 28:7-8). . . . Government officials were corrupt. They used their offices to oppress the poor (Isaiah 1:21-23). Even the prophets failed to do the job God had given them. Instead of rebuking sin and delivering God’s message, they preached what the people wanted to hear (Isaiah 9:14-16; 30:8-14).
The Book of Isaiah has sixty-six chapters. The first thirty-five chapters speak of God’s judgments on evil and evildoers. Chapters 36 through 39 tell of a time when the Assyrian army surrounded the city of Jerusalem. They planned to attack and destroy it. The leader of the Assyrians boasted that God could not save them just as the gods of other nations they had conquered had been unable to deliver them. King Hezekiah prayed to God about the matter. That very night God sent His angel into the camp of the Assyrians. The angel killed 185,000 Assyrians and the rest of the army fled (Isaiah 37:36-37).
The last section of Isaiah contains chapters 40 through 66. These chapters foretold that the nation of Babylon would arise and oppress God’s people. They also told of the sending of God’s Servant to suffer for the sins of the people. Finally, the glory of the Messianic Age is described. (Quote source here.)
The Book of Isaiah is one of the most important books of the Old Testament. While little is known of the personal life of the prophet, he is considered to be one of the greatest of them all.
The book is a collection of oracles, prophecies, and reports; but the common theme is the message of salvation. There was, according to these writings, no hope in anything that was made by people. The northern kingdom of Israel had been carried into captivity (722 B.C.), and the kingdom of Judah was in the middle of idolatry and evil. The kingdom of Assyria had dominated the Fertile Crescent and posed a major threat to both kingdoms; and the kingdom of Babylon was gaining power and would replace Assyria as the dominant threat. In view of the fast-changing international scene, the people of Israel would be concerned about their lot in life—what would become of the promises of God? How could the chosen people survive, let alone be a theocracy again? And must the remnant of the righteous also suffer with the nation that for all purposes was pagan?
To these and many other questions the book addresses itself.
There would be a purging of the nation because God is holy. Before the nation could inherit the promises made to the fathers, it would have to be made holy. So God would use the pagan nations to chasten Israel for its sins and cleanse it from iniquity. And even though the judgment of the captivity would punish sin and destroy the wicked unbelievers, the removal of iniquity would ultimately be the work of the Servant of the LORD, the promised Messiah. On the basis of such cleansing and purification, God would then establish the golden age, a time of peace and prosperity that the world has never known. When the holy God would make the remnant holy, then He would use them to rule over the nations rather than allow the nations again to discipline them.
The messenger of the message of salvation is the prophet Isaiah, whose name means “salvation of Yahweh,” or “Yah saves.” He was the son of Amoz; he may also have been related to the royal family, perhaps King Manasseh, by whom he was believed to have been sawn asunder (see the Apocryphal literature; Heb. 11:37). He prophesied in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, and also may have lived past Hezekiah into the reign of Manasseh. Assuming that he was a young man at the death of Uzziah in 742 B.C.when his official ministry began, he might have been 70 or 80 at the time of his death (ca. 680 B.C.). Therefore, the prophet would have ministered for at least 60 years in an effort to bring the nation back to God. . . .
. . . The setting of the first half of the book is Judah in the days of the Assyrians, and the setting of the second half of the book is Babylon, then Jerusalem again, and then beyond in the age to come. (Quote source and full article at this link).
There are several major themes in the Book of Isaiah: Sin, suffering, justice and judgment; power (human power and God’s power); loyalty; dreams, hopes, and plans; compassion and forgiveness including mercy (source here.) And within the Book of Isaiah is found one of the greatest invitations in the entire Bible–Isaiah 55:
Isaiah 55:1-13, 56:1-2 (NIV)
Back in December 1964, protester Jack Weinberg told a reporter, “Don’t trust anyone over 30,” and with that statement the 1960’s youth movement was born (source here). Weinberg (born April 4, 1940) is an environmental activist and former New Left activist who is best known for his role in the Free Speech Movement at the University of California, Berkeley in 1964-65 (quote source here). The entire story can be read in an article titled, “The Free Speech Movement,” by Gene Marine, published on December 21, 1964 in The Nation at this link. Weinberg is now 76. I wonder what he thinks about his statement now?
I was 12 years old at the time the youth movement got it’s start. And back then it became a motto for an entire generation for those us of who were under 30. However, trust is a delicate issue at any age–young, old, and everyone in between. So is freedom of speech.
For those of us living in America, we are lucky to be living in a country where freedom of speech (sometimes also referred to as freedom of expression) is a Constitutional right given to us under the First Amendment which states:
The First Amendment (Amendment I) to the United States Constitution prohibits the making of any law respecting an establishment of religion, impeding the free exercise of religion, abridging the freedom of speech, infringing on the freedom of the press, interfering with the right to peaceably assemble, or prohibiting the petitioning for a governmental redress of grievances. It was adopted on December 15, 1791, as one of the ten amendments that constitute the Bill of Rights. (Quote source here.)
The First Amendment as noted above also includes several other freedoms besides freedom of speech: the free exercise of religion, freedom of the press, and the right to peaceably assemble. These freedoms are rights that we should never take for granted.
For the purposes of this blog post the freedom in focus is freedom of speech/expression. It is defined as follows:
Right to express one’s ideas and opinions freely through speech, writing, and other forms of communication but without deliberately causing harm to others’ character and/or reputation by false or misleading statements. Freedom of press is part of freedom of expression. (Quote source here.)
Often in our society freedom of expression is used by some people or groups who are trying to silence others who don’t agree with their own particular view or agenda. For example, in this highly charged presidential election year here in America we often see the two primary opposing sides (and many of their followers) relentlessly badgering each other. While that is not unusual in political elections, trying to suppress or silence an opposing view of any kind goes against the rights of those citizens holding that opposing view, whether it is of a political nature, religious nature, or any other issue that is going on in our society.
Being human, we all have a tendency to think we are right while viewing those opposing us or our views as being wrong, or worse yet, as being irrelevant. Watching TV or spending time on social media on any given day gives us a wide variety of opinions of what people think on a particular subject/topic whether they are liberal or conservative or anywhere in between. And verbal fist fighting is nothing new when people disagree.
A friend mentioned a situation that came up recently in a church he knew of where a disagreement between the senior pastor and other members of the church leadership came to a serious disagreement that resulted in the senior pastor resigning from the church and moving to another state. My friend stated that in hindsight, the church leadership thought they were doing the right thing but ended up “shooting the pilot at 30,000 feet” and realized they had done some “really dumb things.” Unfortunately, the senior pastor won’t respond to phone calls, letters or emails. While this type of situation has occurred in other churches (often causing church splits), the travesty is when one side thinks their views are right and presses the point to where serious damage is the outcome. In this case the senior pastor resigned and now, apparently, the church leadership relents.
Unfortunately, we can destroy others with our words. Sometimes it’s intentional, and other times it is not (as is the case in the above stated scenario). Nevertheless, for the person being denigrated (or whose opinion is deemed to be irrelevant) the outcome can be ugly, and their point of view rarely gets a hearing.
In reviewing the definition of freedom of expression stated above, key in that definition is the right to express our opinion in various media forms “but without deliberately causing harm to others’ character and/or reputation by false or misleading statements.” With ever increasing frequency we tend to vocalize our views and disagreements, and in the process we can, whether intentionally or unintentionally, cause harm to another person’s character and/or reputation by spreading misleading or even false statements to prove our point of view or carry out our own agendas. And with all of the technological wonders and social media available to us to dispense our own views at a moment’s notice, it’s hard and sometimes impossible to tell the truth from the lies, especially if those being silenced are not allowed to present their point of view. It often seems that the loudest voices win, and others’ views are seen as irrelevant.
As for the loudest voices winning, sometimes it is very intentional. Smear campaigns are nothing new, and it’s a very effective method of destroying the opposition, whether in the workplace, or in the political arena, or in any other social and/or work setting. And this has nothing to do with freedom of expression that is our Constitutional right. Freedom of expression is a right of all Americans, and not just those with the loudest voices. And there are many in our society without a voice–the poor, the homeless, the marginalized, and the disenfranchised.
Jesus Christ faced constant opposition from the loudest voices of his day–the religious ruling class known as the Pharisees. With increasing frequency throughout his three-year ministry, Jesus encountered opposition from them right up until they got their way with his death on the cross. However, his resurrection on the third day brought about the way of reconciliation for all of humankind (see John 3:16-18).
Opposition and reconciliation are major themes in the Bible. Two well known stories of reconciliation are the subject of an article on “Reconciled Relationships” on Bible.org by Stephen J. Cole, pastor of Flagstaff Christian Fellowship. Here are the opening paragraphs to that article:
Two stories in the Bible evoke strong feelings in me every time I read them. One is the story of Joseph and his brothers. The other is Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son. The reason that these stories often cause tears to well up in my eyes is that they are stories of reconciled relationships.
When Joseph reveals himself to his brothers, treats them kindly, and forgives them for the terrible thing that they had done in selling him into slavery, it is a moving testimony to the power of reconciled relationships. Later, when their father has died, the brothers fear that Joseph would inflict revenge that he had been withholding. But Joseph wept and treated them kindly because he recognized God’s sovereign purpose in what had happened.
In the parable of the prodigal son, the young man impudently rejected the love of his father and chose instead the company of his fast-living, fickle friends. The father’s broken heart longed for the return of his wayward son. When he finally saw him coming in the distance, the father felt compassion for him, ran to him, embraced him, kissed him, and joyously welcomed him back into the family. That powerful story shows the tremendous joy both of reconciled human relationships and also of sinners being reconciled to the heavenly Father.
God created us to have close, personal relationships with Him and with one another. Jesus said that the greatest commandment in the Law is to love God with our entire being. The second greatest is that we should love our neighbor as ourselves (Matt. 22:37-39). (Quote source here.)
Loving our neighbors as ourselves. . . . And it doesn’t come with any “but” statements, such as in “but I’m right and he or she is wrong.” James 4:1-12 states the root cause of our problem:
What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.
You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. Or do you think Scripture says without reason that he jealously longs for the spirit he has caused to dwell in us. But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says:
“God opposes the proud
but shows favor to the humble.”
Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.
Brothers and sisters, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against a brother or sister or judges them speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it. There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the One who is able to save and destroy. But you—who are you to judge your neighbor?
As we can see from the above verses, humility has never been our strong suit. However, Philippians 2:3-4 states:
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.
Being genuinely humble is at the core of all of our relationships with others and with God. I Peter 5:6 states, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.” GotQuestions?org gives us the definition of humility:
The Bible describes humility as meekness, lowliness and absence of self. The Greek word translated “humility” in Colossians 3:12 and elsewhere literally means “lowliness of mind,” so we see that humility is a heart attitude, not merely an outward demeanor. One may put on an outward show of humility but still have a heart full of pride and arrogance. Jesus said that those who are “poor in spirit” would have the kingdom of heaven. Being poor in spirit means that only those who admit to an absolute bankruptcy of spiritual worth will inherit eternal life. Therefore, humility is a prerequisite for the Christian.
When we come to Christ as sinners, we must come in humility. We acknowledge that we are paupers and beggars who come with nothing to offer Him but our sin and our need for salvation. We recognize our lack of merit and our complete inability to save ourselves. Then when He offers the grace and mercy of God, we accept it in humble gratitude and commit our lives to Him and to others. We “die to self” so that we can live as new creations in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17). We never forget that He has exchanged our worthlessness for His infinite worth, our sin for His righteousness, and the life we now live, we live by faith in the Son of God who loved us and gave Himself for us (Galatians 2:20). That is true humility. (Quote source here.)
Keeping that in mind, I can think of no better verse to end this post with then Ephesians 4:32 which states . . . .
Be kind one to another . . .
Tenderhearted, forgiving one another . . .
As God in Christ forgave you . . . .
YouTube Video: “Speak Life” by TobyMac: