Saturday, December 13, 2008

Make New Friends, But Keep the Old

The link between the Old Testament and New is problematic for many Christians, and has been since the first century. A typical evangelical view might be summarized as the moral law remains but the ceremonial law has passed away. To which I say, "rubbish!"

The law as a means or a measure of relationship with God, moral, ceremonial or otherwise, is caput, beyond doubt. It never did work as means of achieving rightness with God, and it never could have-- it wasn't meant to. It was no more than a means of restraining the Jews until Christ came, and uncovering for any exposed to it the fundamental sinful nature of mankind. It actually fertilizes our inate sinfulness, and offers no remedy nor instruction as how to overcome it. Those who choose to live by a legal principle, inspired though it may be in the Old Testament, are fallen from grace and apart from the benefits of Christ, even if they call themselves Christian.

Is there some benefit to the Old that is still viable in the realm of the New? Yes, for there is a revelation of God there and the intimation of Christ. People have claimed that the Old Testament God is different than the New, but that is an utter impossibility. There is but one God and he is immutable. What God revealed himself to be in the Old Testament, he still is today and always will be. Any conception from the New Testament cannot be taken to adapt, assuage, adjust, or evolve what God was in the Old.

For some this may present a difficulty. Aligning Old Testament martial characteristics with what appear to be touchy-feely New Testament graces can prove to be a climb up Everest. God, however, does not change and we need to let his self-disclosure speak for itself. With a cat in one arm and a dog in the other, we must wrap our arms around the totality of all he reveals himself to be and embrace God for who he is, majestic and enigmatic. God, as we're introduced to him through our friends Moses and the Prophets, may be a bit scary, but in order to truly know the inviting God of our friends the Apostles, it is incumbent upon us to make new friends but keep the old.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Why Is Grace So Amazing?

We need to be near God. Just to be in his presence is to know life, and there, fullness of joy fills the air. Yes, he has charisma, but it's more-- he has substance and energy, he is zoe. If we are separated from God, death ensues. If we are not in the light of his presence, there is nothing but darkness of soul, emptiness of heart, despair of tomorrow, and vanity.

God knows we need him, and yet our sin separates us from him. The discerning among us know we need him too, and that our sin separates us. Many who have such insight, in response, ache to be holy, righteous, in order to correspond to the God who is life, so they can be near and breathe in what he is. Toil and struggle to align themselves with the holy God becomes the religious quest of such folk, but there are dangers lurking for such valiant efforts.

Glad of God, but disappointed with self, melancholy shadows their days. Grace, to them, is that God doesn't give them what they deserve: they do get to hang out with God, but with their heads hanging down, their own feet filling the view. What about grace should be about us? Grace is not obsessed with our unworthiness nor our inabilities. Grace is about God, about his kindness, his love, his desire to share himself with all he has made.

Grace is entire in its grant of acceptance. There are no ifs, ands, or buts. Grace starts out with everything being right, and then works backwards. It leaves the subject peaceful, not striving, and never uncertain. Grace moves us to a place with God; unfortunately, our thinking often has to run after to catch up. Thankfully, grace has strong hands.

Grace is amazing because it elevates us to mountaintops we could never climb ourselves. Grace is not crampons, or oxygen tanks, nor downy jackets that aid us in achieving what we could never achieve naturally. Grace is a helicopter ride to the top. It brings us near God without self-consciousness. We're not the issue, nor is our incapability of the climb-- the issue is God and how spectacular the view is standing up there beside him.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Keepin' It Real

I hate plastic! It's good for some uses, but it's terrible for others. Too much is used for moving parts in everything from vacuum cleaners to automobiles. Things that cost too much wear out too fast as a result. What a drag!

As a substitute for cold, hard cash, plastic has proven our undoing in the West. Whatever else may be said about irresponsible government deficits, overcompensated corporate executives, unscrupulous mortgage brokers, or evil oil producers, let's face it-- it was our addiction to plastic money that jumped the cushion. We thought plastic helped grease the wheels of commerce, but at some level, within tight tolerances, it only serves to seize up the whole system.

Plastic is rampant in the church. You know, plastic smiles that hide uncaring, even spiteful, hearts. Plastic hugs that forget the closeness of that contact three feet out the door. Plastic testimonies that have no semblance to the reality of our lives. Church is not a masquerade ball, yet how many churches are filled with the made-up, costumed, and scripted every Sunday?

I've come to learn that I'm never alone when it comes to feelings or reactions. Stuff that bugs me, bugs others. Stuff that seems out of place to me, seems out of place to others. Convictions that stir my heart, stir the hearts of others. So I'll share a hope that some of you probably have too.

I dream of a plastic free world. I'm resigned to its use at the gas pump, and I can live with it on the dinner table, or even in my car's transmission, but I long to see it disappear from the church. Wouldn't it be nice to be so dependent on Christ and the grace of God he embodies that we could gather as saints without costume? That our successes wouldn't serve to shame others, nor our failures serve to shame us? That we could walk with each other, as we are, and actually progress into the deeper things of God?

Plastic doesn't feel, doesn't know, doesn't love, doesn't develop, so if we're ever gonna to be more like Jesus, we're gonna have to strip off the make-up and start keepin' it real.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Subtraction by Addition

How did mankind get so depraved? Adam was not depraved when he was created, and yet he sinned while in God's company in a perfect environment! I suppose had he been a lawyer, he could have pled temporary depravity, but I don't think the Judge would have heard that excuse from a shivering barrister hiding in the bushes. Figleaves were certainly not proper courtroom attire! The simple truth is that depravity had nothing to do with Adam or Eve's sinfulness.

If I'm reading Romans 1 correctly, the pattern of depravitization is laid out with emphasis. Three times (vs. 24, 26, and 28), we are told that "God gave them over." In other words, depravity was the result of willfulness being expressed against God (sin), and God stepping back from mankind leaving them to their own devices. Therefore, depravity is a lack rather than a possession: an absence rather than a presence. Sin separates us from God and depravity is the vacuum. Depravity did not lead to sin, sin led to depravity.

That mankind is born separated from God is beyond argument. We have been born in sin, dead in spirit and depraved as a result. We are capable of perceiving the good when presented it, but are always unable and often unwilling to do anything with it. It is our distance from God that ensures our depravity; but if that is the case, then the effects of it can be mitigated by God coming near. Ultimately, that will be perfected when we are incorruptible and the the dwelling of God is with man.

In the meantime, what depraved mankind needs is to be contended for by God. That does not ensure that we won't sin or walk away from God, it's not irresistible (remember Adam, the pre-diluvians and Romans 1), but it does open up the possibilities of faith and perseverance. Mankind can never gain righteousness by ridding themselves of their depravity. Depravity is a consequence of absence. It came as an addition by subtraction, it can only be solved by a subtraction by addition.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Spreading the Wealth Around

Count off seven sabbaths of years—seven times seven years—so that the seven sabbaths of years amount to a period of forty-nine years. Then have the trumpet sounded everywhere on the tenth day of the seventh month; on the Day of Atonement sound the trumpet throughout your land. Consecrate the fiftieth year and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you; each one of you is to return to his family property and each to his own clan... In this Year of Jubilee everyone is to return to his own property. If you sell land to one of your countrymen or buy any from him, do not take advantage of each other. You are to buy from your countryman on the basis of the number of years since the Jubilee. And he is to sell to you on the basis of the number of years left for harvesting crops. When the years are many, you are to increase the price, and when the years are few, you are to decrease the price, because what he is really selling you is the number of crops. Do not take advantage of each other, but fear your God. (NIV)
I know that this cryptic passage from the book of Leviticus is not in force for non-Jews, nor for the church of Jesus Christ; nonetheless, I find it interesting in that it reveals, at least to some degree, how God looks upon the redistribution of wealth in an earthly economy. That should be interesting to any American, given that our economy is supposedly one under God (at least that's what we say on our currency!). Redistribution, the pariah of free-market capitalists everywhere, seems to be looked upon with favor, even ordered, by God. Every 50 years, God wants the scale set back to zero, the land redistributed, so that inequities in society don't become so entrenched as to produce a slave class, perpetually indentured and beholden to the rich.

And all the Republicans said, "What?!"

I've heard it said that a severe financial crisis crops up once or twice a century in the West. Hmmm, every 50 years is God's metric for resetting the playing field--do you wonder if there's any correlation? I think there may well be. One statistic that would be germane is the concentration of wealth, the measure of the "rich getting richer, and the poor getting poorer." The old adage, "it takes money to make money," is true and describes the mechanism though which wealth is concentrated. Could it be that once wealth concentration reaches a critical point amongst his people, God wants it shaken up?

Some politicians have long cited the concentration of wealth and the need for redistribution as a justification for increasing the size and spending of government; however, increasing spending among the poor doesn't make them wealthier, it only increases their share of consumption. That may not be a bad thing, but it doesn't shift the economic balance of power which is more correlated to wealth. If government actually wants to effect wealth distribution, the place to start would be reforming the Social Security system along the lines George Bush suggested just a few years ago. Making the government wealthier in no way makes the poor wealthier, it just shifts their indenturer from the rich to the government while keeping their slavery just as perpetual.

Over the last couple of months much of the wealth of the rich has evaporated into thin air. That kind of thing hasn't occurred since the Great Depression--not exactly 50 years, but close enough for government work. The poor are not likely to be statistically poorer as result of this economic downturn (we'll have to see what unemployment ends up doing), but the rich sure will be. Could the Great Depression II, which we seem to be in the beginning throes of, be God's redistribution plan? It wouldn't be the first time God took things into his own hands and spread the wealth around:

The LORD, the God of their fathers, sent word to them through his messengers again and again, because he had pity on his people and on his dwelling place. But they mocked God's messengers, despised his words and scoffed at his prophets until the wrath of the LORD was aroused against his people and there was no remedy... The land enjoyed its sabbath rests; all the time of its desolation it rested, until the seventy years were completed in fulfillment of the word of the LORD spoken by Jeremiah. (NIV)

Monday, October 27, 2008

Revival Jesus

I've written before (see the link in the title bar) about my growing lack of enthusiasm for revival. The recent pseudo-revival at Lakeland only serves to reinforce the trend. There was a time when I thought revival was just what the doctor ordered for the ailing church, for I came to Christ in the midst of a wave.

State College, Pennsylvania was a truly happening place in the late 70's and early 80's. People were coming to Christ, it seemed, hand over fist. Miracles were occurring. God's presence was readily experienced, fellowship was sweet. I was too naive at the time to know that what was happening was revival on a small scale, I just thought that was how Christianity was practiced. It was the Bible in life after all. It was only the subsequent study of church history that made me realize what had occurred, and I ached to see it occur again.

I still have that longing, but I'm reticent to get on the revival bandwagon these days. Frankly, the record of revivals since WWI has been spotty at best... "a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing." They fall like a meteor, make a splash, but given just a short time, the waters still with scarcely a ripple left to evidence that anything happened at all. Why? Imho, revival, as this generation knows it, tends to be about the heeby-jeebies or the cleansy-weansies rather than the person of Christ, the experiencer rather than the expiater.

Folk either lay in convulsing heaps regretting with loud sorrow their sinfulness longing for absolution, or fly around erratically like untied balloons in the joy of their release. Either way the emphasis is on me rather than thee, and eventually, either activity runs out of steam and things settle into a depressing, entropic sameness but lessness. A few stalwart cowboys may try to rekindle the brands and restore the sizzle of flesh on fire, but their efforts tend to be more style than substance. Then the pining begins. All those folks want is to return to the experience, like addicts trying to catch that first rush again. I have to wonder why, didn't they meet Jesus? Wasn't that what it was all about?

You see, I can't avoid the sneaking suspicion that what some of the revival hungry are really saying is that the Jesus thing doesn't truly work except in those special times. At all others, it produces substandard spirituality, with something missing, yielding no real satisfaction. The only Jesus worth experiencing is Revival Jesus. I've got to tell you, for me, that just does not compute. It's not what being a disciple, a brother, the redeemed is all about. It's not what is presented in the Bible.

It does not, and it never will get better than a personal, interactive fellowship with Christ. That is not revival, that is Christianity. I'll happily embrace, and longingly pray for a season of visitation and harvest, outpouring and filling for the church, but we need to keep our bearings straight. To love Revival Jesus better than Jesus everyday is to flirt with idolatry.

"I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ " Philippians 3:8

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Vote for Life

Approximately thirty years ago, Evangelicals, no longer satisfied sitting on their hands as part of Nixon's silent majority, decided to speak up. The Moral Majority, the Christian Coalition and some of their companion groups arose with a vision of preserving America's religious roots and returning her to them through political engagement. I've always seen that ideal as a selective reading of history, because America has always been a land of booze, getting rich quick, and the guy at the bottom of the food chain getting the shaft from the guys at the top. For the bulk of our history, Africans have been held against their wills in slavery and women have had no political or legal say-so. Are those roots we want to return to?

I do believe, however, (at least in this country where people are the government) that Christians should be politically engaged, and in both of the major parties. We the people are responsible for what our political leaders do on our behalf. We're responsible if we don't vote, because we could have, we should have. We're responsible if we do vote, particularly if the candidate we voted for wins and is seated in office. Other people in other times in other places in the world didn't have this responsibility, we do! There's no running or hiding from it, it's the cost of living in a representative democracy.

So how should we handle that responsibility? How about very carefully? Not so much about the whos of who's elected, but at what cost to our allegiance to God do we support and promote those whos. No politician is the answer to what ails us, Jesus alone has that power. No singular politician, at least under our form of governance, is going to change everything. Most of what passes as politics is bluster and lie, and needs to be taken with a grain of salt. In fact, the sooner we get these folks back to productive life after their public service the better!

There is, however, one issue that stands above all others in my viewpoint, and one for which we cannot lose heart in the struggle. When the most innocent among us are cold-bloodedly murdered day in and day out, nothing else can be right in the land. Being anti-abortion is not about returning to some fantasy about some former golden day in America, it is about life and death and we cannot shirk our responsibility. Christians must vote pro-life.

You may strategize about how to do that, whether by party affiliation or the individual candidate's stance, but make no mistake about it: you are the government and you are responsible for the choices government makes. What you can do to influence those choices is good and right for you to do, so long as it's not rebellious. The easiest thing you can do is vote for life.

Take a look at this! (HT to Paul Grabill)

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Is This the End?

When we see before our eyes the calls for a coordinated global response to the current economic crisis, we have to question whether or not this could signal the end of the age. Is this current crisis the harbinger of the rise of the Antichrist and the Great Tribulation? Who knows? For the Antichrist to arise, the psychology of the world has got to be herded toward the acceptance of a global economic currency, and a global economic regimen, and ultimately a global leader. A crisis like this one may well be just what the Devil ordered to prep the world for his last Antichrist scheme, but it is next to impossible to say so definitively.

We did have a global economic crisis, caused by the same trigger (i.e. debt), just before the seventh Antichrist scheme was uncovered. Then, the U.S. Stock Market crashed sending ripples through the rest of the world and causing economies around the world to collapse. Germany was already in a fix at that time and the wave overturned a swamped, leaking vessel. The chaos of misery was used by Hitler to undermine sitting governments flailing to cope, and eventually to gain political power democratically, though his party only got a third of the vote. It took him less than four years from the crash to do so. Since the Devil never does learn a new trick, this moment is certainly a significant one.

We're in for a bumpy ride, that no one can deny. Hope has been ripped out from under so many like a proverbial rug. Their noggins have been dinged like the dinner bell. When the fog clears and reveals a bleak landscape, who will they turn to? We survived the Great Depression and the Seventh Antichrist, but the world will not escape the eighth and last. If history is the key to the future, the Antichrist is now unfolding his gambit for power. I don't think it's Obama (I could be wrong), things are interesting in Turkey; regardless, in light of the ride were on, loosen your seat belts-- why have any drag from the world we're in when the trumpet sounds.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

When We Get Behind Closed Doors

I like NASCAR but hate country music (go figure): too many achy hearts, empty whiskey bottles, childish adulterers, and twangy vocals. That probably explains why I like the food at Texas Roadhouse well enough, but hate eating there! Regardless, an old cross-over country tune from my childhood brings to life a well worn phrase that I think has some spiritual applications.

I think virtually everyone has an outside face and an inside one. Not that everyone is markedly two-faced, or hypocritical, but they are divided. The outside face is the one people see. For apparently holy Christians, generally, that face is self-controlled, successful at its endeavors, happily married, great at parenting, doubtless in faith, and growing in Christ. For virtually all of us, especially apparently holy Christians, that is not entirely true about us when no one is looking. When we're alone in the room, we see the inside face: frustrated, confused, self-loathing, fearful, doubtful, even despairing our lot or the possibility that we'll ever be different, better.

Why do we feel the need for the dichotomy? Maybe we're afraid of what people will think, or that we'd be ostracized if we went about maskless. Maybe we're egotistical and need to prop up our self-delusion lest the statue we've painstakingly sculpted crumbles. Maybe we're just that pathetic. Regardless, our lot is all too human, too common, two-faced. Is our hypocrisy actually hypocrisy, or is it just humanity?

I think our private rooms exist, closed off, in the space between the walls. On one side of those walls is the space which all see. On the other side of those walls is the space where God sees all. In between are the secret passages, the places where rats dwell unseen. Afraid of being a rat in God's presence, or being seen as a rat in the world's, we gnaw at our inner turmoil in the hidden space in between. Why do we feel the need?

Could it be, deep down inside we don't understand Christ? This one, who with eyes wide open, went to the cross for the likes of us! Did he do that in order to become dependent on us, or because he needs us, or because he has some expectancy of us? No, he did that because he loved us, as we are, as he knew us to be, warts and all, nothing hidden. As long as we feel the need to hide our inner rat, we'll neither be free in the world nor in our own spaces. Freedom and joy come to the rat unafraid of being a rat in God's room. Grace will always be no more than a theory, until it gets behind closed doors.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

From Our Tongue to God's Ear?

Who are tongues addressed too? Some Pentecostal scholars have suggested that the audience is God and therefore the interpretation of tongues should address God as well in order to be legitimate. Under such a regimen, an intepretation that addressed people (a la prophecy) would be considered out of order out of hand. Is this intimated in scripture and should this be the standard leaders apply in accepting or rejecting intepretations?

No, for two reasons:

For anyone who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God. Indeed, no one understands him; he utters mysteries with his spirit. 1 Corinthians 14:2 (NIV)

1) Although this text says straightforwardly that a tongue speaker speaks mysteries to God, in saying so, is its intent to highlight the direction of tongues? No, in context, this passage states very clearly why a tongue speaker, in effect, speaks to God: because only God can understand him, no one else does. To people it's babble, to God it's understandable-- even if it was directed to men, only God would understand the language and comprehend the message. To extrapolate from that functional reality to say that tongues must be directed conversationally to God is to say more than, and other than the scripture says in context.
Although there are passages which anecdotally imply direction toward God (in those instances, anyhow), that is not the same as asserting that the direction has to be toward God just because it was in those instances.

In the Law it is written: "Through men of strange tongues and through the lips of foreigners I will speak to this people, but even then they will not listen to me," says the Lord. Tongues, then, are a sign, not for believers but for unbelievers; prophecy, however, is for believers, not for unbelievers. 1 Corinthians 14:21-22 (NIV)

2) When Paul quotes Isaiah to point to an OT presage of tongues, he clearly reverses the direction of communication, i.e. God speaks to men through the strange tongues other men are speaking. If the model for tongues was directed from God to men, why would anyone doubt the fulfillment could be?

Since God inspires both the tongues and the intepretation, it is up to him to determine what is done with them, especially directionally. The only objective tests we are given in scripture regarding any spoken utterance deal with content, not direction. If we listened to the proponents of directional theory, we would wind up paying undue attention to the pronouns in a message rather than its actual content. What excess or error could that possibly address? Aren't there enough real problems for charismatics to deal with that we don't have to go around turning stones over looking for intellectual trifles to stumble over? Oy vey, from my tongue to God's ear!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

There's No Business Like Show Business

A while ago, a commenter asked me to post my views on the Lakeland fiasco. Though not wishing to respond to that request specifically, I do want to broach the broader subject of fleshly inspired antics in ministry. If in doing so, I manage to ruffle your feathers, I hope you'll post a comment and help me see your viewpoint.

The realm of finance is presently teaching us what the realm of ministry has taught us over and over again: people are unwilling to call their superstars on their excesses. Success inexorably excuses excess. Despite red flags, warning sirens, and the inevitable recognition, after the fact of course, that we knew something was fishy, we look the other way if the party in question at least gives the appearance that he or she's getting it done. The Charismatic movement is in disarray because of that unfortunate trait. Are there some simple principles that charismatics could use to assess the actual spirituality vs. fleshly embellishments of ministry, before the result is another boondoggle that embarrasses everyone who cherishes the gift of the Holy Spirit? Yes, I think there are...

  • If Jesus didn't minister that way, neither should we
  • If it was not envisaged in the scriptures, it's not of God
  • Goofiness is not spiritual, it's just goofy
  • Only prestidigitators and illusionists need fanfares and distractions to perform their art
  • No one is all that special
  • Biblically, only the megalomaniacal needed music to set the tone for ministry
  • When they were slain in the Spirit in the Bible, the were buried forthwith
  • When Jesus took off his coat while ministering, he washed feet, not stoked up the crowd

More could be said, suggest a rule or two yourself in the comments if you'd like. The bottom line: if a man or woman ministers outside these guidelines, he or she is fleshly at best and an out and out charlatan at worst. That may sound judgmental, but how many dog and pony shows are we going to be subjected to before we start making the judgments Bible believing, Spirit-filled people should able to easily. Or, are we so far out at sea that we cannot tell the difference between show business and ministry?

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The Last Laugh

What a week! America teeters on the precipice of financial collapse. How does one digest that! 401K's, IRA's, bank accounts, stock portfolios, home prices, all are susceptible to sudden and large declines or losses as the grease of commerce (credit) in the consumer society dries up, and all the moving parts of our economy seize into motionlessness. Why does such bad news seem so often to come in the fall, perhaps that's the very definition of poetic justice.

Basically, we're in this fix because this generation of Americans feel we are entitled to have what we want and to have it now. It must be grabbed, after all, before we're too decrepit to enjoy it. Anyone with a bit of chutzpa can live large: dream homes; hobbies; vacations; jobs that are exciting, interesting, even pleasurable; early retirement with walks on sandy beaches. Don't work, scrimp, save, and plan for these things, that's for old-fashioned schmucks. Grow into your mortgage, tap your home equity, borrow from your 401 and pay yourself the interest, Visa is accepted everywhere, no worries--no one even plays the pipe anymore. Dream big, live large.

Wall Street will end up getting the blame for all this, not the irresponsible government and never the avaricious American people that vote it into office. American business exists to make money supplying what Americans want. If we want a stupid thing, there's plenty of smart folk out there who will find a way to market it to us. Once one smart guy finds a way to the meat, the rest of the piranhas flop over each other trying to get a bite too. Is this really surprising to anyone?

Where are the Christians in this Christian nation, particularly in the financial field, the government, and mostly on the consumer side of the counter? Jesus told us we could not serve God and mammon at the same time. Boy, have we tried to prove him wrong. Tell me, what does the the last laugh sound like when it rolls from heaven?

Addendum: This may shed some light on the question of where were the Christians on the consumer side of the counter. (HT: Paul Grabill)

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Can Anyone Be Ready for This?

Concluding positions one might take if biblical religion were actually brought into politics...

Concerning Law and Order

Every neighborhood in this country, rich or poor, should be safe enough for even a stranger to pass through without fear. Wealthier neighborhoods already are, but poorer neighborhoods often do not experience the same level of law and order. Yes, there is a different class and density of population between one and the other, but that is no excuse to abandon entire areas of our cities to the de facto control of gangs, thugs and crime. The
poor deserve safe neighborhoods every bit as much as the wealthy.

More police need to be placed on our streets, particularly the mean ones. There's not one square inch of this country that the government, under God, can justifiably cede to the rule of thuggery rather than the rule of law and order. An idea for utilizing our police forces that would help immediately: stop parking them so often along the streets in patrol cars manning speed traps and start placing them more often on the streets preventing crime!

Concerning Political Parties

The Constitution should to be amended to specifically ban elected officials at any level of government from being associated with any political party, and furthermore, should ban any association which seeks to organize candidates or office holders into ideological blocks in order to gain political power. Taxpayers should not foot the bill for party politics as it does now through gridlock; double staffing; witch hunting, grand standing inquisitions; primary elections and matching funds for campaigns. Informational and voter service agencies would not be effected.

I could go on, but I won't. Hopefully, you're reading in between the lines and can see the problem that lies ahead for any who would resolutely attempt to bring biblical religion into politics. Jesus rules, unapologetically, with a rod of iron, and we will rule with him, like him. I don't think the world is ready for that just yet.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Any Readier?

Continuing with positions someone who actually brought biblical religion into politics might take...

Concerning Crime and Punishment

Prisons, by and large, should be abolished. Criminals owe their victims, not the state. Those that commit crimes should be indentured to the victims of those crimes until restitution is made. Those too violent to put on the streets should be sentenced to death (government bears the sword not the key). Crimes that are of a personal nature should not be crimes at all.

Concerning Economic Justice

Labor should not be commoditized. The
ox is not to be muzzled as it treads the grain. It is a travesty that the most powerful sliver of the workforce uses its power to enrich itself, tapping into the harvest, while the mass of the workforce is forced into ever tighter, constricted competition for less and less. In hubris, the powerful actually believe they deserve that much more than the poor schlubs at the bottom of the ladder. God is no respecter of persons and has no respect for greed. Neither should the law! Whatever profit a corporation disburses in dividends to stockholders and bonuses to the top tier of management should be at least matched and distributed among all of its employees, including the janitor and the receptionist. Sole proprietorships and partnerships should follow similar rules.

Concerning Welfare

Those who will not work, should not eat. Those who cannot work, should be shown mercy. Those who cannot find work ought to be put to work serving the public good.

Concerning Reparations

The bulk of idle federal landholdings, not held in trust for Native Americans, ought to be divided among and deeded to all those who can trace their lineage to former slaves. Those slaves were not only often abused and mistreated, but were given nothing upon achieving freedom, and that needs to be rectified. Whether it's 40 acres or not doesn't matter (presumably, it would be much more); regardless, no mules will be distributed.

Are we having fun yet?

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Are You Ready for Religion in Politics?

Dr. D asked a question to any takers about religion and politics the other day on his Charismatica blog. He had no takers, and wound up starting the discussion himself. I appreciated his thoughts, but I thought it best to address the issue here from my own, unique (read: outrageous/extreme) point of view.

Biblically, I see the only
purpose of government under God as protecting the innocent from the evil doer. This is an absolute secular necessity if life amongst sinners is to continue until Jesus comes back. In the best of worlds, we wouldn't need it, in ours (even in the Millennium) we desperately do. We are told that government doesn't bear the sword for nothing, and we should cooperate with its purposes in ensuring justice. Of special note in all this is the conclusive fact that government bears the sword, not the key. Government is not in place under God to tell anyone what to think, how to run his or her life, what to do for retirement or education, what to do with private property, what to do medically, and certainly never to enforce a belief system (though it did in ancient Israel). Government, at its most fundamental, is there simply to keep the powerful and the violent from doing harm or oppressing the rest of the population (I think the this aligns with the OT prophets as well).

With that Biblical and worldwide mandate in mind, let me suggest a few policy positions a politician who actually brought biblical religion into the realm of politics might take:

Concerning the Use of Deadly Force

  • The Death Penalty should be enforced, without pity or mercy, upon anyone who willfully or callously takes another life.
  • No other government or body should be allowed to kill or oppress the citizens of this country while they are in their own lands, without incurring the response of the sword (which requires a strong, ready and able military).
  • Abortion should be illegal, unless the unborn child is causing immediate, physical distress that realistically threatens the mother's life. A practitioner, or anyone else, who performs an illegal abortion should be sentenced to death.
That will be sufficient for now. If this has legs under it, I'll add some more. If not, que sera sera!

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Just How Depraved Are We?

The natural spiritual state of mankind is both the subject of theological debate, and homespun philosophy apart from any consideration of religious doctrine. Folksy conclusions drawn from the observation of life can be stated succinctly, running along a spectrum, from "nobody's perfect," to "everyone has some good in him," to "children learn what they live." The parallel theological spectrum runs from Calvinistic total depravity to Pelagianian free will. One would think that Paul put the issue to rest with Romans 7, but the debate lingers on.

In trying to assure that God gets all the glory in salvation, many feel they have to diminish man in order to elevate God. I wonder, does God need us as a step ladder? While the desire to glorify God is commendable, diminishing his stated plans, purpose and design for man in order to do it is, at least, misplaced assistance. So, how does Worm Theology glorify the Creator in whose image the "worm" was made and the Son of God was incarnated? Of course, in the opposite vein, overstating the quality or abilities of natural man will induce self-dependence, which can only result in frustration and loss.

The problem outlined in Romans 7 for natural mankind is not that a sinful person is unable to perceive the goodness of the law, nor even to understand what is good conceptually, but that he has something within him which frustrates his ability to actually do anything about it. Now I should add, there is no clue that the natural person is able to derive what is good on his own or has any desire to (although he is able to discern the nature of God that way). However, the natural human is definitely capable of seeing it when God graciously presents it.

The godly sorrow that results in that perceiving, as their ensuing exasperation burgeons, is what leads the natural man to abandon self-reliance and to put trust and hope in Christ. To the depraved Christ proclaims his life saving message, "Repent, and believe the good news!" For those that do, the frustration of personal depravity yields to the peace of his ability.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Background Noise

It's been said that the mass of humanity is sheep-like, following whomever seems to know where to go. There doesn't have to be a logic to it, boldness is sufficient to turn the masses. Hitler's strategy was to tell the biggest lie he could as boldly as he could, and the sheep would follow in tow. Hitler as Bo-peep, now there's an image you won't find on the average blog, boy, I wish I had graphical skills!

It doesn't take anything as dark as Hitler to reveal this quality in the human race, we see it in the rather silly and less threatening realm of fashion and celebrity. A star wears the outrageous or impractical and the stores can't stock enough to staunch the crescendo of bleating. Though we're all adapting to the concept of the viral in the internet age, I wonder if its roots trace wa-a-a-a-ay back before Al Gore's famous creation to the fawning of a new age introduced by bobby-soxers' hysteria over Frank Sinatra. Does one little match really set the forest aflame?

It makes one wonder, at least it does me, where my ovine tendencies are leading me. Whether it be election year musings, or some more profound stirring of soul, I'm asking myself whose lead am I truly following. We all know the PC (preferred Christian) answer: Jesus!-- but does an investigation of our trail here, to this point (reading this silly blog), confirm or belie that contention?

There are many whose wool rises above the heights of any other's in the vicinity. They write books for dummies, testify to the greener grass in the pasture they know the way to. They host TV shows, wool carded and sounding not b-a-a-a-a-d at all. They get on soapboxes in the public square and blather until we choose, between them or that other blatherer standing on a different colored soapbox, which to follow. Where are we going following them? To a spot to stand until the next one rises, or perhaps, to the jaws of a ravening wolf.

It's time for us to begin checking credentials at the door. You know, that door to your life (thanks Bill Bright). We're not made of iron and these stars we follow are not made of neodymium. We can't follow two masters, two gurus, two directions at once. Jesus rose from the dead, his credential trumps all others. So, regardless of what anyone is selling, or supposedly knows, or thinks they can guarantee, put all your eggs in Jesus' basket. We don't need to be like the world, we don't need to have what the world thinks we do, we don't need to fit into their mold, and we don't have to see things their way. I am a sheep that follows Jesus, the bleating of other sheep and the howling of wolves are nothing but background noise.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

What's A Guy Gotta Do?

Jesus was asked one day, "What must we do to do the works God requires?" His answer, "The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent."

I am Arminian in theology, not because I feel any particular bond or loyalty to James Arminius, but because I believe the Bible clearly teaches that salvation is not accomplished without, and is predicated upon, the the conscious choice of the saved. It's not that God isn't involved nor even providing the impetus toward salvation, but that belief in Christ is a response made by, not for, the saved. It's a question of personal faith, and, given the wooing of the Holy Spirit, it is possible for everyone.

Believing in Jesus is, in fact, the work that God requires of us. As Mark Knopfler might say, "that ain't workin'!" But that is the way we do it! Faith is not the product of sweat and toil, nor the fruit of planning and vision. It's a response to a circumstance, a reaction to a stimulus. The word of the Lord (stimulus) came to Abraham, faith was his response, righteousness his reward. Jesus died for our sins and rose from the dead on the third day for our justification (circumstance), faith is the reaction of the saved, eternal life is the repercussion. Where's the work in all this?

The answer is that it is excluded. The work was done by God, we only respond to it. It is by grace that we are saved, through faith, not of works so that no one can boast. Jesus was being tongue in cheek when he answered that question that way that day. It must have struck a perplexing note in his hearers--"what kind of work is that?" they might have asked themselves. That's just it, it isn't one, and that is what the Lord wanted to highlight.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Abortion's Reluctant Champion?

Here's a remarkably well done analysis of Sen. Obama's response to the abortion question Rick Warren posed last week during the Civil Forum. Generally, I wouldn't put something this partisan on my blog, but it is wonderfully expansive and can be applied more generally to the arguments anyone uses to excuse abortion out of one side of the mouth while they despair over it out the other. Enjoy reading, and saying, "that's what I'm talkin' 'bout," (that's more fun than amen when dealing with political subjects!). Then come back and tell me if it's possible to be a reluctant champion of abortion.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

How Do You Mend A Broken Part?

The Todd Bentley affair has brought into sharp relief one reality church folk never seem to be able to remember: every minister who has ever lived, or ever will, is just an ordinary human being, like anyone else. They have strengths, they have weaknesses, they sin. Whatever gift they pass along is no more their fault than the waters of the Mississippi are attributable to the towns she meanders through. As gravity, not determined will, dictates her muddy course, so to the Spirit of God, not the merit of a man, decides who is gifted and how.

The thud of the mighty falling awakens us from reverie. Startled, we're aghast and thirsty for blood. They may not have actually been giants, but looking up to them, our perspective made them seem so. Their failure calls into question all we so readily received at their hands and shakes our very foundations. We've been had, we reason, and we want our dignity returned along with a pound of flesh from the guilty. In no time flat, we mob together at the Place de la Concorde, shouting, "off with his head!"

It would be nice if we never had occasion to get this right in the future (we will), but I fear we're already over the threshold of getting it wrong in the present. We seem unable to learn from the Bible or the past, and so we repeat the same missteps over and over and over and over again. Every time we do, the church looks more like a petty social club than the body of Christ--the only army in the world that kills its wounded rather than dressing their injuries, and especially so if they're officers.

What should we do? Look to the word: 1 Timothy 5:19-21; Galatians 6:1; James 5:19-20; and 1 Corinthians 5:9-12 give us plenty of instructions about how to deal with this kind of thing. Matthew 18:15-17 is also helpful, but is trumped by the Timothean passage when dealing with an accusation against an elder. I think the process can be summed up this way: confrontation, admonition, contrition/excommunication, restoration. In the case of an elder (church leader) transparency is commanded and necessary.

What should be jarring about this process is that disqualification is not one of the steps. That is not a biblical concept in either the Old or the New Testament. Samson didn't cease being a judge of Israel, even as he milled grain before the derisive glares of his pagan enemies. David didn't boot Saul out of office before his time, despite God rejecting Saul's kingship. Saul was qualified by God when he became king and he remained the Lord's anointed until he died. David's only recess in service occurred as a result of rebellion, not justice. Peter never stopped being an apostle in Jesus' mind, though he denied the Lord in the time of trial. In fact, one of the things I best love about the biographies in the scriptures is that we are shown the godly, warts and all--the good, the bad and the ugly!

Their stories tell us that God's servants are his servants, even when they prove themselves all too human.

Arbitrarily removing God's servant from service is a fleshly concept from the world, not even hinted at in the NT. The gifts and callings of God are without repentance. Though one must meet certain qualifications to embark in ministry, once the mooring line has been released, that ship has sailed. There is no indication whatsoever that a failing minister has to requalify (read: go through a lengthy process leading to restoration) in order to serve. Imho, these automatic ministerial decapitations are completely unscriptural--more akin to the ravenous French mob drooling in front of the guillotine than the body of Christ. God forbid!

So what would a biblical process of correcting elders look like? When an accusation against an elder is substantiated by witnesses, that elder is to be confronted by the witnesses and a fellow elder. If the charges are admitted and the accused wants to repent, confess and go on with ministry, he should be publicly, and I would add specifically, rebuked before his church. The accused elder should then publicly acknowledge his guilt fully and honestly before his congregation, and humbly announce what actions are being taken to turn from the sin. His ministry should then continue, but with transparency concerning the issues of the fall.

Hiding things under the carpet until the dust settles, or having experts beat that carpet clean in their secluded workshops is not what the Bible commands. Neither are arbitrary suspension periods, or restoration processes--these are human inventions not scriptural mandates. They have not served the body well, imo, and only serve to cover a wound rather than healing it. Healing and deliverance occur in the light: it's the truth that sets us free.

If a minister will not repent or accept correction, or is not willing to be transparent about the process, he or she should be publicly excommunicated, even if in absentia. There are, as well, certain legal transgressions that will make it impossible for a minister to ever lead corporately again. Regardless, our aim and hope should always be restorative, for there are way too many wasted gifts and way too much avoidable damage done in the body of Christ, not due to the sin of the minister, but the way that sin is dealt with.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

The Rise and Fall of the Antichrist V

When the sixth angel empties his vial of wrath upon the Euphrates River near the end of the last seven years, it will set in motion the events we call Armageddon. The river will dry up allowing the armies of the east to cross over it unhindered. Where will they be heading? Northern Israel is my guess. Honestly, I am not certain that this is the invasion Ezekiel speaks of, but that is my working hypothesis. In that case, the nations that would be involved would include Russia, her Caucasus underlings and her former central Asian republics, Iran, Libya, and Sudan. I don't think it necessary to envision China or India, or even much of the rest of the world as participating. It is possible, but it is not clearly indicated by scripture.

According to Daniel, the Antichrist will find the initial news of these armies stirring alarming. He immediately puts the spin machine into gear and gets out in front of this action. Whatever freelance or rebellious quality these movements may have had at first will be transformed by spiritual deception into a patriotic effort supporting the mission of the Antichrist. Israel, as in the time of Hitler, will be made the fall guy, but I think the key to turning the situation around for the Antichrist may be convincing the world that an alien invasion targeted at Jerusalem is afoot. It's not like mankind isn't being primed for that even now!

Of course, it won't be aliens invading, it'll be Jesus Christ and his church returning! On a rise, somewhere in the Jezreel Valley near Megiddo, the armies flying the banner of the Antichrist will be utterly destroyed. So complete will be their annihilation, it will take the Israelis seven months just to bury the dead. The Antichrist and False Prophet will be caught alive, however, and thrown immediately into the Lake of Fire which burns forever. The Devil will be shackled and thrown into the Abyss, and Jesus and those who have believed in him will begin to rule for a thousand years. Though the Devil has tried to accomplish the Antichrist scheme for so long, when he finally succeeds, he'll falter rather quickly and end up going out with a whimper rather than a bang.

Index to the Entire Series

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The Rise and Fall of the Antichrist IV

Will the Antichrist usher in and reap the benefits of an era of peace, security and unity unknown previously upon the face of planet earth? Although such a case could be made using some passages of the scripture, that's not quite the whole picture the Bible paints. Though the Antichrist may be a mesmerizing messianic figure to the world, ultimately, it's his use of the big stick that gets things done. The question the world asks that elicits its acquiescence is not about his program for peace nor his prowess in the supernatural, but his ruthlessness in war.

Because of the head wound passage (and this one), it is often supposed that the Antichrist suffers an assassination attempt and recovers in a seemingly miraculous way--a pseudo-resurrection of sorts. That interpretation is wrong because it mixes metaphors and thereby misses the point. The heads of the beast, its horns and its crowns refer not to the physical person of the Antichrist, but to the nations or kingdoms that make up the beast empire. A wound to one of the heads of the beast, therefore, is not a physical wound to the Antichrist's person, but the loss of political control over one of the kingdoms in his empire. 

My reading of Daniel and Ezekiel tells me that the wound will be a rebellion of the King of the South (Egypt). It is put down with such a ruthless, callous, cunning, and overwhelming display of willfulness and power that whatever independent spirit might have remained in the Gentile world at that time evaporates in a flash. "Who is able to wage war with him?" they'll ask themselves acquiescently. The Antichrist will then be poised to expand his hegemony from the Middle East to the world, though he'll need a friend to do so.

Jay Leno learned a valuable lesson shortly after taking the reigns of the Tonight Show. When one is in the limelight, it can be very helpful to have a sidekick (a foil that makes the big dog look good). He hadn't planned for that when he took over for Johnny Carson, and Branford Marsalis wasn't willing to play that gig. Kevin Eubanks was, hence his rise into the spotlight.

The False Prophet will play a similar role for the Antichrist. He provides a sense of spiritual legitimacy, backed up by signs and wonders, for the Antichrist's claims of divinity. He's the foil that makes the Antichrist look good and the lieutenant that advances and executes the spiritual component of the Antichrist's agenda. He will be the Roman Catholic Pope alive at that time, and his doom will be as inevitable as is that of the Antichrist he serves.

Index to the Entire Series

Thursday, August 7, 2008

The Rise and Fall of the Antichrist III

Since the Antichrist's kingdom is typified by the King of the North (the Seleucid Kingdom) and his empire is bounded by the area controlled by both Alexander and the Romans, we can make some fairly certain statements about what will and what will not be part of the ten horns. The European Common Market is out, almost entirely: no England, France, Spain, Italy, Germany... you get the picture. The ten horns will be in the Levant, the Balkans and Africa.

The specificity of a revived Kingdom of the North ensures that Syria, Turkey, Iraq and Lebanon will be included. Jordan and Saudi Arabia (Ammon, Moab and Edom) are specifically excluded, whereas Egypt, Libya and the Sudan (Cush) are specifically included. That leaves three others which would have to come from the Balkans (Bulgaria, Greece, Macedonia, or Albania).

Israel is not one of the ten, it merely signs a covenant with their leader, who happens to be the Antichrist. Daniel's prophecy has to be taken as situating the time of this covenant with the ultimate abominator (as opposed to the type of the abominator) as falling after the Roman destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in 70 AD. Jesus mentioned the abomination in question as yet to come, not as fulfilled by Antiochus Epiphanes, and the events of 70 AD do not even remotely resemble what Daniel prophesied. 

We have not considered the potential of Palestine being one of the ten nor the producer of the Antichrist, because Palestine is not a biblically legitimate entity. Even though the area had a large Gentile population in the days of Antiochus, and though there are efforts afoot to incorporate an Arab state in the Beautiful Land today, Canaan is Israel's, given once and for all time to her by God. Israel is is being restored to her land in these last days and Jerusalem to her people. 

The Antichrist will worship a god unknown in Daniel's day. That is the implication of the descriptive phrases used by Daniel-- not the god of his fathers, not the one desired of women, a militaristic god unknown to his fathers, a foreign god. Whenever something is described prophetically that will only exist in the far future, it tends be a bit weird, hence the cryptic language.

Let me ask you, "what new god has arisen since the days of Daniel, that is totally outside the bounds of previously existing pagan pantheons and is militaristic: a god of fortresses (literally, strongholds) who assists its followers in overcoming the mightiest of citadels?" In my mind, this is a perfect description of the jihadist god, Allah of Islam. The Antichrist will be a Muslim, which makes sense considering his locale and his international ambitions. Nominal, however, only because he ends up repudiating all gods, except for himself.

Index to the Entire Series