The Wrath, yes, the Wrath of God

Screen Shot 2016-08-10 at 4.27.56 PMPhoto – The city of Istanbul

July 31, 2016  The Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost  Luke 12:13-21

In the placid waters of the seeker-friendly climates, the voice of the church dares hardly a whisper to warn of disturbing weather provoked by the wrath of God. Hearing this, the friendly seekers would flee–not to avoid God’s wrath but to find different climates and soothing voices.

Of course, the prophet Hosea, the apostle Paul, and the Lord Himself knew no such restraint. Each of them, in the lessons for this coming Sunday, sounded the alarm of God’s coming wrath.

The question is not whether God ever exercises wrath. No, the true question is why God would ever not show His wrath. Is He not a holy God? Is sin not a stench in His nostrils? Then why on earth would we ever be surprised to learn of His wrath?

For Hosea the wrath comes from the faithless turning away from God. For Paul it comes from all forms of impurity. And for the Lord it is the sightless pursuit of more.

We see evidence of all these forms around us today. Let me mention three, and let me hope that my references do not seem prompted by any of the debates we hear today.

1. The disintegration of the prime metaphor throughout Scripture illustrating the steadfast love of God for sinners. That metaphor, of course, is the lifelong union of one man and one woman in marriage. And yet, many today reject that foundational teaching in order to conform the church to the world–in order to sanction to same-sex unions as marriage. Not only is biblical marriage misrepresented, but worse, the steadfast love of God for sinners is diluted to render our sin and God’s forgiveness irrelevant to the human condition.

2. The diminishing of Jesus Christ as the Savior of the world. There are blatant heresies on this, of course. Even those who wish to appear orthodox offer a formula that slides around the historic creeds. Christ is unique, we hear, but not exclusive. That is, He is unique as the Incarnate Son of God, but He is not the only way to the Father. The doubt that lingers from this is who else could satisfy the sin of the world, what other offering than the substitution of the sinless Savior for sinners.

3. The public discussion relating to pregnancies.  The terminology is often exclusively directed to the mother’s health. The right to abort is the right to preserve supposed danger to the woman. Not mentioned is the unborn child whose life is terminated under this guise. In many cases it is only hours that separate an abortion from child sacrifice.

4. Wanting more and getting less. This applies to seeking more money and never meeting the level of enough, of wanting more sex yet moving to uncontrolled and repugnant patterns, and pursuing “the good life” but never finding satisfaction. All that is as good a working definition of greed as is needed.

As for signs of God’s wrath, again let me point only to the most obvious. In the West we are seeing churches being closed, since the attending people are too few and the supporting income too small. Also in this year we have read of seminaries of four denominations—Episcopal, American Baptist, Lutheran, and Church of Christ—closing for lack of funds and students.

While there is nothing to point to, no divine sign writ in heaven, that identifies these closings as signs of God’s wrath, we may at least state the opposite: If we were exhibiting godly living and faithful mission, we would not be experiencing the breath of Christ exhaling from the life of the church.

A closing word again from de Tocqueville and his book, Democracy in America. “When the taste for physical gratifications has grown more rapidly than their experience, the time will come when men will lose all self-restraint. It is not necessary to do violence to such people in order to strip them of the rights they enjoy; they themselves will loosen their hold.”

World Christian Trends

Last week I wrote that I would use the records and statistics to bring a composite picture of Turkey.  The latest figures of WCT are about ten years old, so I have also gone to Johnstone’s The Future of the Global Church, and the Joshua Project.

The reason for this effort is to demonstrate the value of research in order to have a reliable picture of the country. That will help our approach for prayer and for ministry.

In the case of Turkey we know of two recent occurrences that reshape the face of the country—the influx of refugees from Syria and the failed coup and reprisals of the last two weeks. I will give some pertinent figures for the country before commenting on encouraging developments.

Population:      80 million        Population over 15:     52%     Life expectancy:     71
Ethnic groups: 57                    Literacy rate:               82%     Urbanites:               82%
Access to health care: 75%    to safe water:             92%     Universities:            424

All looks fairly normal from these figures. An indicator of turmoil below the surface, however, comes from the Universal Index for Freedom. Turkey rates 18 out of 100. In the Suffering Index it rates 47. Christian safety rates 39. Indeed, when I visited there over ten years ago, my host commented that outside churches during worship services are armed guards. They are there not to protect the Christians, she explained, but to make sure no Turks attend.

The Muslim population is 97.2% while the Christians are 0.4%.

The statistics on religion are surprising. Research shows 56 denominations (So much for unity, even in a small Christian population.) and 900 workers.  Ten years ago there were 15 Christian periodicals.

But then comes these revealing numbers: The audience for all Christian radio is 1.5% of the population, and there is the equivalent of only one evangelistic offer per person per year. Even in Turkmenistan the average is two. Tanzania has 162.

It is not surprising, then, to note that there are 81 provinces of Turkey without any Christian witness.

One of the world’s largest megapeoples with no witness is in Turkey, but recent reports show that considerable work is progressing there with evidence of spiritual fruit. Also, earlier this year there were about 100 Christians in teams around the country interceding for the people of this great country.

Surely we can adapt the closing verse of Hosea to the people of Turkey:
“They shall come trembling like birds from Egypt, and like doves from the land of Assyria; and I will return them to their homes, says the LORD.” Hosea 11:11.

About Tad

This trip accompanies several of the friends of St. Paul. We will eaves drop on their correspondence, look into their lives and ministries, and find some insights about what they were doing. I suspect that much of what we see will surprise us, some will challenge us, and all will fill in some spots of God's work then and now.
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