Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The More Things Change...

Have you ever considered what a coincidence it is that two consecutive generations of one family way back in the misty past have wound up having such an unproportional influence on human history? Granted, the population of the planet then was much less than it is today, but it was, even at that time, spread broadly across the earth. Nonetheless, one family in one little corner of the earth has impacted us all through the following years like nothing or no one else ever has. I'm not talking about Adam and Eve, nor even their east African analog that "science" seems so ready to embrace. I'm talking about a non-descript drifter, well within the reach of recorded history, who never was an emperor, king or emir, and yet...

Abraham, the nomadic shepherd, had two sons* by different women in the same camp-- one was his wife, Sarah; the other his, er, mistress, Hagar. As in the case of many blended families in our day, things didn't go all that well as tensions and jealousies increased.  Finally, the straw that broke the camel's back was laid upon the situation, and Abraham was forced to send the mistress and her son away to the east with nothing, really, but an amazing prophesy for their lineage. They ended up in what is today Saudia Arabia, and the son, Ishmael, went on to became the father of the Arabs (as both the Bible and Koran attest).

Isaac, the son who stayed, had two sons too, but by the same woman. They were, in fact, twins. The older, Esau, flippantly sold his birthright to the younger for a bowl of soup after developing a bear of an appetite on a hunting trip. He didn't have the faith to believe the promise of God (which was, really, all that Isaac had to pass on), was an inheritance worth fretting about. As a result, the "potential" title to Canaan fell to Jacob, and Esau headed east to the area Hagar and Ishmael had headed to earlier. There, I have no doubts, the blood of the rejected son commingled with that of the son who rejected the promise.

The history of the son of promise has been, well, checkered at best. The line of Isaac and Jacob has been in constant rejection of the terms of its covenant, consistent in its rejection of the God of that covenant, and as a result, repeatedly rejected by the land of the covenant. Somehow, in the midst of such a debacle, the promised one came forth from the people of promise, and the world has not been the same since. Nearly a third of the world's population today at least nominally pledges allegiance to Jesus Christ, the promised Savior from the house of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

The history of the rejected has been mostly quiet with a bang at the end-- like fused dynamite! From tribes of nomadic shepherds, waylaying bandits, and unscrupulous traders a mighty nation and a worldwide religion was born. Mohammed burst on the Arab scene in 570 CE, and things have never been the same since. Near one quarter of the world's population today hear the call from the minaret five times a day and pledge allegiance to Allah and his prophet. Their zeal for conquest and conversions knows no bounds, and I think the percentage giving fealty to the Koran will rise noticeably before our eyes as we approach the end.

It's hard to imagine that such an inauspicious start so long ago has ended up effecting so much. There are 1.2 billion Chinese, and about the same number of Indians (~40% of the world's population combined), and yet it's not Buddhism or Hinduism that is at the forefront of human affairs, it's Christianity and Islam-- the promise and the rejection of the promise. One would think that would cause an unbeliever pause, but it doesn't seem to! Solomon said there was nothing new under the sun. At the end of time, it seems fitting that the spiritual battle for the hearts and souls of mankind would come out of that same struggle fleshed out between two sets of brothers so long ago.

Ultimately, the lie at the end of time will springboard from the lie of Islam-- twisting promises made long ago by God to that one family. Not a very surprising twist of circumstances if you take biblical prophecy seriously, but a periously ignorable happenstance if one never considers just how unusual it is that things have worked out they way they have. I guess when it comes to unbelief, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

*Abraham did have other "wives" and other children after Sarah died.

Monday, December 7, 2009

To Mahdi, To Madhi...

Check out this article. Could it be any more evident that there are not many tomorrows left? Do I hear singing on the wind (or maybe the airwaves)? "...To Mahdi, to Mahdi, I love ya, to Mahdi, you're only a day away!"

Thursday, December 3, 2009

The Danger in Depending on Status

John said to the crowds coming out to be baptized by him, "You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our father.' For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The axe is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire."   Luke 3:7-9  NIV

Grace and the finished work of Christ are the shoes upon which the Gospel walks, but John the Baptist's statement above should put a wrinkle into the casual way many Christians look at those shoes. Granted, John was the last of the OT prophets, and prophesied under that economy, but I think he still speaks to NT faith. What he says is wake up and don't be presumptuous.

The people he leveled these statements at were depending upon their birth status to make and keep them acceptable to God. What occured in a moment in time (through no fault of their own, no less), at the begining of their journey on earth was sufficient, in their minds, to carry them to the end of their time. They knew whose child they were, or so they thought!

John said the fact of their birth in the household of faith was not enough. It was not their history (especially an isolated moment in it) that mattered so much as their present. It seems the religious have ever been satisfied trying to establish labels written in indelible ink rather than in faithful practice, but there is no better way to give faith shoes than practice. Hence, John's comments about stones and fruit.

Fruit, like manna, has a limited shelf life. It needs to be fresh to be useful, to provide sustenance. The faith that recognizes God and therefore turns to him from sin and self is not something that can be stored on a shelf either. Faith, it seems to me, is not a status but a state, and an active one at that! Grace may not be established on works, but the one in grace will most definitely work.

For those made right by God, there's no getting past the need to bear the fruit of repentance today. You may say, "but I was born again on such and such a date, I'm signed, sealed, and delivered." I would say in response that your dependence on a birth experience seems as hollow as that of those that came to John. There is a danger, you see, in depending on status rather than fellowship with God.

Monday, November 16, 2009

The Manna of Faith

Grace is the joyful kindness which fills the heart of God. It is his pleasure to redeem the estranged and to rescue the lost. It should be noted, however, that if he were a just a big fluffy pushover, we wouldn't have been estranged in the first place! God hates sin, fundamentally, that will never change and never cease to be true of him. It means his reaction to sin will always be thorough and inescapable. Certainly, that's something to think about!

Faith is the means that this kind and severe God has established by which his grace is brought to bear upon the condition of the estranged. We are saved by grace through faith.  Humans who express such faith get saved, those who won't, don't. A statement like that is likely to bend some Calvinists into a pretzel, probably a salty one, but it reflects the Bible on the subject, what can be wrong with that? Faith has always been, and always will be the issue with human beings in regard to their relationship with God.

Faith is not a static thing, however, it has a shelf life, a relatively short one, it seems to me. To envision faith as if it was like a switch--once turned on it stays on, without thought-- is a mistake in my view. Faith is a dynamic conviction,  a motivating understading that has power while its active, but diminishes when its not. Faith has ebb and flow, it does not exist in the static universe, but only in the realm of action. Try to put it on a shelf, like oil in a lamp, unused, untended, and inactive, it evaporates and won't be there to bear light when needed. It not only has to be engaged to function, it has to function to exist.

Can we learn a lesson from the traveling Israelites, whose sustenance, like ours, was dependent upon God's grace?  Faith is like manna, it's good for today, but does not project to tomorrow. Even the pot collected to serve as a communal memorial has long since turned to dust and blown away. Faith is a working thing, and a present thing. Manna could never serve as a knick-knack, neither can faith.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Turkey Is Always Interesting This Time of Year (Updated)

Zoiks! I know I've taught this for what seems like forever with conviction and near certitude, but seeing things shaping up as they are makes the hairs on the back of the neck stand up. As I've said before, the Bible teaches that the Antichrist will rise in Turkey and control two other nations (likely adjacent) in his climb to worldwide dominion. Dr. Michael Davis published this astonishing article yesterday. YOU'VE GOT TO READ IT!!!!  Thanks Dr D for the heads up, and thanks Wikipedia for the pic.

And then there was this a few weeks ago. Hmmm, what is it that Turkey is positioning itself for? Don't tell me better relations with and economic opportunities in Europe. Something more is afoot, trust me! This is the end game, and yes, I know folk have been convinced of that before, and yet here we still are. But the totality of things prophesied have never come together so completely before. I hope you're wearing your flying shoes.  Thanks Heanous for the heads up.

Update: Dr D mentioned a Joel Richardson article in a comment to this post, but that link address doesn't work. Try this instead, interesting reading, to say the least! The source for some of his analysis is not crazy, pie-eyed religious nut jobs (like yours truly), but the US government. It should becoming clear, that something is afoot in turkey, and it's not a drumstick!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Our Abortion Battle

This story is absolutely amazing! What does it say about Crisis Pregnancy Centers shift to an ultrasound strategy for combating abortion? Whereas the scriptures say one can only believe in what is not seen, the people we're trying to persuade say seeing is believing. Regardless, God has a way of making his enemies friends! A strange way to fight a battle, I know, but apparently it's very effective, at least the early church would say so.

It is frustrating trying to know how to approach the abortion battle in America. The religious foes of abortion, particularly Evangelicals, have been waging political warfare for 30 years, with precious little to show for it. Even with pro-life majorities in both houses of Congress and a pro-life President (from 2002 to 2006) nothing, really, got done. Innocent blood continues to pay the price for American hedonism.

As a result (I hope) some have taken to more violent measures in their frustrations. I think, however, violence is likely to beget only more violence, fire is likely to be met with fire, without actually stopping the evil battled against in the first place. The devil doesn't let loose of his grasp on those that are his through unbelief. His claws are only broken by the light of faith.

Murder is worth being against in any venue. It is a justice and mercy issue. The early church was opposed to abortion within the Roman Empire, but did not have the opportunity nor the political power to do anything legislatively about it. They fought their battle passively by getting adults saved and actively by rescuing the exposed (adoption). Abortion never became illegal within their realm, even after the days of Constantine, but it all but ceased due to the power of conversion and persuasion-- a lesson for us, perhaps?

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Happy Reformation Day

Today, 492 years ago, an antisemitic monk tacked an op-ed piece on the door of a Catholic chapel in Wittenberg, Germany. The rest, as they say, is history. I am no fan of Luther or Calvin (although he did write a superb series of commentaries); really, it was the radical reformation (Anabaptists) that did anything that could be called restorational (although real restoration did not begin until 1906 and Azusa Street). Nonetheless, I think it's still better to celebrate Reformation Day than Halloween, and one doesn't need to dress up as a dead person to do so! So, Happy Reformation Day!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

The Cons of Being Anti-Antichrist

I may be reading this wrong, but my anecdotal sense is that Evangelicals often perceive their duty as citizens of planet Earth as thwarting the rise of the Antichrist. Since I came into Christ way back when, over and over again I've talked with folk that are politically and socially against policy, or action, or even people they consider furthering the cause of the coming Antichrist. I think that is a misplaced aspiration.

Please don't misunderstand me, I don't want people primed to take the mark because they've come under a delusion, especially on my part. The Antichrist is [is it prophetic that I said is instead of will be? You be the judge! ;-) ] an inherently evil person and his mark seals one's doom. In my view of eschatology, only Jews will actually face that choice; nonetheless, I think we need to understand that the Antichrist and his kingdom are just part of the fabric of what God has prepared for the conclusion of this current economy.

Since the Antichrist is a precursor to the return of Christ, he will arise at the time of God's choosing, and will mark the conclusion of God's work in human history. If you give it any thought, opposing the rise of the Antichrist is not far removed, if removed at all, from opposing the return of Christ. Who'd want to do that?

So, we'll do as we have tried to do through time--what's right, what's biblical, what's sensible--and the Antichrist will come any way. He'll still take over everything and the world will go to hell in a handbasket, it's unavoidable. God did not misspeak in revealing the sequence of events leading to the end, so there are some things we just need to resign ourselves to. Why spit into the wind?

This world is not now and never has been the home to any who followed Christ. Focusing our energies here as if it were has sapped the Spirit from the bulk of the church for the bulk of the Church Age. It has destroyed the witness of the American church since 1980. Assemblies of God minister, John Keurt once quipped when asked about his philosophy of financing a building campaign, "take out a big mortgage and leave it to the Antichrist." Like it or not, we're leaving the world and all that's in it to the Antichrist, maybe we should start living like it.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Becoming Holy

Holiness, I think I have established, is about the uniqueness of God's being, and by extension, about that which is not God being made holy by being consecrated to him. It is the consequence of anything, and eventually everything belonging entirely to the holy God. Ultimately, even the reprobate sinner and the principalities, powers and rulers of this present darkness will be his in the fullest sense of the word (that's what the Lake of Fire is all about). In this bubble of time we call history, there is an option available to us. We may render ourselves "not God's" which is but an illusion that can only last for a lifetime, or we may surrender ourselves to God believing him to be Lord which can translate into eternity.

In relinquishing ourselves to God by grace through faith, we become holy, the actual efficacy thereof coming through two impositions. First, sacrificial blood must be imposed upon that which was not intrinsically holy in order to consecrate it; and second, the divine breath (the Spirit of God) which is intrinsically holy, must be imposed upon that which was sprinkled with sacrificial blood to make holy in substance. This is the pattern of things to come revealed in the OT, and this is the fulfillment of things that are in the NT. I would call these two aspects of holiness 1) positional holiness, and 2) substantial holiness.

For humans, positional holiness can only be achieved through the application of the blood of the Lamb of God through faith. When one comes to the conviction that Jesus Christ died for his or her sin and that he or she is trusting that blood alone to make them acceptable to God, that one has become positionally holy. His or her tabernacle of flesh has been sprinkled with blood. As the Holy Spirit inhabits that sprinkled tabernacle, that one has now become one with God and is thereby made substantially holy. Since our tabernacles are made of transitory stuff, God has appointed a day when all that is passing will be transformed into that which is not. Our substantial holiness will then be perfect.

Notice, I have made no reference to efforts or toil in explaining the biblical concept and process of holiness. Had I done so, I would have been in error. Holiness is not something developed from that which is not holy of itself. Holiness is a derivative property for all but him who alone is holy. For us who are not him, holiness comes imputed and imported. To walk in holiness, then, what is required is not a supernatural effort from that which is only natural, but an abandoned cooperation of the natural with the supernatural who has come in.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

How Does One Become Holy?

In the Matrix, there is a number of scenes where Agent Smith infiltrates a person, who then goes through what looks like a very painful transformation--stretcho, change-o, then snaps back into the shape of Agent Smith. Believe it or not, I actually think that is a great illustration of how a Christian becomes holy.

We look at a statement like "be holy as the Lord is holy," and instantly jump to the wrong conclusion: we think it is something we can achieve if we set our minds to it and get it done. Nothing could be further from the truth. It just isn't in the nature of the beast for a human to be holy. God alone can be attributed with that quality.

The most fundamental way to conceive of the notion of holy is to think "other" or "distinctly separate." No one can fit that description but God (see link in post title). Everything else, everyone else is just part of the creation, generally along with countless other examples of the same sort. "Other" in the realm of the created is a relative term at best!

God stands alone (and when I say that, I mean the trinitarian Godhead). Nothing else is what he is; nothing else has independent existence as he does; everything else was fashioned by him, yet he was fashioned by nothing. We generally jump immediately to the moral repercussions of God's separateness when speaking of holiness, but to do so is to not go deep enough into the subject.

If we don't plumb far enough, however, we generally devolve into some kind of petty rule keeping regimen in order to give us some sense we're aligned with the command to be holy. Holiness, however, can never arise from that which is intrinsically unholy. So, perhaps we need to rethink the force of the command, and see it more as an invitation. Like any of the commands of God in the old covenant, the point was not to elicit actual obedience, but to make us aware of just how unholy we truly are, and thereby to lead us to the gracious hand of Christ.

Oh, it's not that it's possible to be unholy and get along with with God, it's just that we can't achieve holiness by our own efforts. If we're to be holy, as we must to get into heaven (not to earn it, but just to survive it), holiness has to come to us, imported like oil is to Singapore. Since we must be holy to co-exist with God, we must come to Christ and receive the gift of his nature which alone is holy. When the holy one is in us, holiness becomes possible for us.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Is Yours the Gospel of the Born Again?

Technically, we could define gospel as the good news about Christ. Generally, that is what we focus upon as Evangelicals-- why not? Good News is in our name. I have begun to wonder if in doing so we have actually stripped the gospel of its power. We take it as a story, that if believed, results in a change of one's status before God from lost to found. We have pressed this line of theology hard since WWII, and it seems to me, we need to consider whether or not the fractured, frayed, weak condition of the Evangelical church is the result.

A noted internal study at Willow Creek a couple of years ago framed the issue quite well, for more than their own congregation, I think. Church-going Evangelicals look more and more indistinguishable from unchurced Harry and Mary everyday. Our approach to gospel isn't producing change in hearers lives. We have had, in fact, a fruitless season of harvest. I think we have entirely lost track of a simple verity: Jesus said we must be born again.

So then, what does it mean to be born again? Is it a Toyota moment? Not to many evangelicals would like the feeling of that! Is it just an idiomatic expression which refers to believing the story. If one believes, then our Cartesian soteriology assumes rebirth-- I believe, therefore I'm born again. We might not say it that way in our theological tomes, but I think that may be the practical reality of our approach to gospel. I don't think that's what Jesus had in mind, nor is it the picture the NT paints of the born again.

It seems to me that the born again should know they're born again, and that it should not be that hard for even the non-born again to perceive it. After all, there are effects on the mind and heart; there is an awakening of an intimate perception of the Father and the Son; there is the experience of change, akin to going from dry to wet when one jumps in a lake (not a very evangelistic image, I understand ;-) ). Jesus spoke of such in crystal clear terms in regard to Zaccheus, though wee man that he was.

It's hard for the promoters of that story, such as myself, to resign ourselves to waiting upon the Lord to do that secret Spiritual thing in the soul of people that truly makes them born again. We want to know right now whether or not the hearers of that story buy the story, and we want those folk to respond right now to the telling of it. The result has been an at first slow, but now precipitating decay into methodology that delivers assent to the story while downplaying the true nature of being born again. Is it any wonder the church looks so much like the world around her?

Friday, September 25, 2009

It Keeps Coming Up Turkey! (Updated Again!)

I have gone on record here, and many of you have read it, saying that Turkey will be the country of origin for the Antichrist. Read this (HT: Paul Grabill) chilling account of what has purportedly been going on behind the scenes between Turkey, Israel and the U.S. over the last 15 years. 

Now this bit of sad news hits the headlines. Even though it's been a long time since royalty had any impact or influence in Turkish affairs, I have to wonder whether things are not converging to a ripe moment for Turkey and the world. Could a new, populist leader arise out of nowhere and repeat the type and ultimately fulfill that which Daniel spoke so long ago?

And then, there's this. The Antichrist, according to my interpretation of scripture, will start out as a Muslim. That portion of the world (at least the Shia) are primed, looking forward to the imminent arrival of the Mahdi. All things taken together, my theory doesn't look so far fetched in the real world after all-- wouldn't you say?

Thursday, September 10, 2009

A Biblical Political Platform

Christians come in all stripes politically, and those that espouse a political position (as opposed to having no real position at all) tend to do so passionately. My only question about doing so is whether or not such views are truly informed by the word of God, or are they just the ideas of mankind? I've previously written about things in the political sphere that are unbiblical, but now I would like to offer some broad principles that are biblically informed and that effect virtually every political issue.
Every politician, every office holder, every public servant is a sinner. They won't always do what is right, they won't always act in other than their own interests, their judgment is able to be swayed by other than facts and circumstances, they are corruptible by privilege, power and lucre. In view of these realities, no biblically informed and Bible believing Christian should be for anything which expands governmental imposition on people. Such actions will always result either in bondage to or tyranny from the sinful, and should be opposed insomuch as a Christian has the freedom to do so.

Because those that govern are irretrievably sinners, government should be as small as possible, and as weak as possible in comparison to the citizen. Those serving in government should do so in as limited a fashion as is possible for the shortest period that makes sense given the learning curve. Most definitely, elected officials should not be able to raise their own salaries, perquisites or pensions while in office.

The Rich and Powerful Oppress the Poor and Weak
Combine the truth above with money and power and the result is the ability of the rich and powerful to use the system and to massage circumstances to their own benefit to the detriment of the weaker and poorer. The wealthy always find an excuse, like "the market," to shuffle the benefits of production to themselves, while those who labor to make the production possible get the shaft.

Unions, minimum wage laws, and the SEC have been mere bandaids for the problem. They have the appearance of addressing the issue, but leave the wealthy relatively untouched in their ability to make the system work for themselves, and actually end up working against increased productivity. Why not allow market mechanisms to determine base wages, but have every worker share in the profits produced by corporate ventures (not necessarily just incorporated ones) equally with executives and shareholders?

Human Life Is Precious
Since each human life has its own blood, it should be protected from the womb to the tomb. Abortion is murder, plain and simple. Each abortion kills a human being that left alone would live as long as God determined. Those that perform abortions are guilty of murder, and those that have them done are guilty of conspiring to murder. Assisted suicide could certainly be considered a conspiracy to murder as well.

Family Is More Fundamental than Government
The family, particularly parents, should not be interfered with nor infringed upon. If there is not actual, physically treatable abuse or neglect, no one has any right to tell anyone else how to run their household or raise their children. All decisions, from education to healthcare rests with parents, never with government.

Government Is to Do Good to Its Citizens
Citizens that do ill need to be treated appropriately, but citizens who do not, should never be put into worse situations, or be adversely effected by government action.

One could apply these principles and make a case for everything from publicly assured healthcare to environmental protection, from preventing the seizure of private property to banning professional lobbying. The issue to be balanced in doing so would be whether any stance or proposal would transgress any of these principles in its prescription to cure some ill.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

When the Tension Snaps

Stretch a rubber band too far and it will snap. Maybe that's the explanation for the actions of the Arizona pastor in this article. In my last post, I said the the tension of living in two worlds can get the best of any of us, and that none of us would make it if not for the grace of God. Now, I know that grace is available to the fellow in question, but I don't think we could say he was making it by any stretch of the imagination. It kind of reminds me of the ka-fling of a noted figure a few years back.

Scriptures are clear about both our attitude toward governing authorities and the general tenor of our prayers concerning them. Wanting violence done to them, or sickness to come upon them, or desiring their death followed by burning hell is not in accord with the Word. Such sentiments cannot be inspired by the Holy Spirit, and can only be the result of the flesh, or even the Devil. This preacher, I can safely say, is not moving in the Spirit!

In his defense, I can understand his dismay with Barak Obama. The man is anything but a good president; in fact, he is destroying the country so fast and so thoroughly it makes my head spin. I can only hope that recent trends presage an awaking of Americans from the stupor induced by eight years of W's incoherent babbling and the repeated shots to head we took at the hands of his administration. We needed a change like a baby in a soiled diaper, but we're getting short-changed like the prince who woke up as a toad.

We don't have to like what the people in charge do, but we should always like to see them get saved. We don't have to kowtow to their formulations of policy, but we always have to give them the honor they are due. Feel the rubber band twisting in your gut? Let it go before it snaps, and your treatment of enemy here ends up making you an enemy in the hereafter.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

The Tension of Living in Two Worlds

...the time is short. From now on those who have wives should live as if they had none; those who mourn, as if they did not; those who are happy, as if they were not; those who buy something, as if it were not theirs to keep; those who use the things of the world, as if not engrossed in them. For this world in its present form is passing away.
1 Corinthians 7:29-31 (NIV)

Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world—the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does—comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever.

1 John 2:15-17 (NIV)

I have written you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world.

1 Corinthians 5:9-10 (NIV)

We live in this world but are not to be of it. That's quite a lot to pull off-- a little like taking a bath without getting wet. One of my children did that once, or so he said, but this is not a command we can get away with lying about, and certainly our Father is no father who can be lied to. So we lay ourselves down, like a rope in a tug of war, and attempt the impossible.

Whatever our hands find to do, we must do with all our strength-- not half-hearted, not lacking in ambition, whether our careers or even just avocational interests. God cannot be honored by sloppiness or lack of commitment, so we concentrate our skills and attention and yet...

We try love our neighbors as ourselves, to take up the cause of the widow and orphan, and to respond to the fallen on the way. It requires not an unnoticeable amount of time and effort, and even some material. We focus on the effort to make the world a better place by easing the suffering so prevalent, and often end up squeezing the Gospel out of the picture and embracing a humanist ideal. Hmmm....

We are citizens of the land we live in, regardless of whether we give it much thought or not. In some countries, it does not demand that much from us; in America, civic duty is always clamoring for the Christian's attention: jury duty, taxes, elections, the incessant stream of e-mail warning us that the country will go to hell in a hand basket if we don't call our congressman today. Evangelicals decided to make a political stand part of their spiritual agenda in 1980. Since then, if anything, the country's decline has been more precipitous...

This world is not our home. To be too at home here is destined to make us too strange to him who matters, and too antagonistic to his interests in our lives. To go off on our own, even as if on a mission from God, to make this world a better place is bound to corrupt the mission we do have from God, and frustrate the Spirit he gave to fill us. The tension of living in two worlds is apt to tear the best of us in two: could any of us ever endure if it were not for the grace of God?

Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Throne of Satan

In the Apocalypse, Pergamum is designated as the place where Satan's throne is. What is in mind by such a designation? Let's explore the matter.

Pergamum was a city familiar with hosting the throne of a kingdom. One developed there with Pergamum as its capital after the fall of Lysimachus (one of Alexander's generals) in 281 BCE. Until 133 BCE, Pergamum was the throne of this Attalid Kingdom when it was peacefully deeded to the Romans because its king died heirless. I find that more than an interesting crossing of paths between the Roman and Hellenistic worlds.

Under Roman hegemony, the city continued to prosper, and became noteworthy for two inventions: parchment and Emperor worship. We can be thankful for the first, not so much for the second. The imperial cult had its very first temple dedicated in Pergamum in 29 BCE, and so the city became the trailblazer in the development of emperor worship. In much the same way that the Whore of Babylon is a prophetic image that is indicative of the genesis of idolatry in Babylon, the Throne of Satan is a prophetic attribution which is indicative of the genesis of emperor worship in Pergamum.

John doesn't leave it alone at that, however, he further states that Pergamum is the place where Satan dwells. In speaking an eschatological word to the church which will be without Apostolic voice thereafter, John says Pergamum is not only the birth place of emperor worship, but is as well the very base of operations for Satan on earth. Given that the focus of the Apocalypse is the return of Christ, John's attributions necessarily focus our attentions on that place as significant in relation to Christ's return.

What do you think that might mean in locating the base of operations of the Antichrist, who will be the ultimate emperor demanding the ultimate worship? For me, it means I must look to Pergamum.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Making Sense to the Devil

Some things really bug me...

Drivers who tailgate: since they don't have the sense to drive judiciously, I have to decide for them to slow down in order to make their following distance safer. I don't like going that slow, but what are you gonna do when they're obsessed with reading the fine print on your license plate?

Dramas: what can I say? The last thing I look for when blowing some time watching a movie or show is more real life (or something akin to real life only artificially more emotional). Puh-uh-lease! Give me a good car chase, bad guys getting their comeuppance, or some good belly laughs. I get enough reality in reality!

Complainers: I mean, really, what makes them think for one second I care about their opinion? If you've got nothing nice to say, don't say anything at all-- didn't we learn that in, like, KINDERGARTEN? Groucho like, it would be nice if a banner dropped from the ceiling saying, "Here's a quarter, call someone who cares!" whenever they did their thing. Beside, "talk to the hand" is so yesterday!

Anal retentive dictators: folks who've figured out just how everything should be and expect you to follow their lead make me nauseous. It's unfortunate when they live across the street, more so if in the same house! There's not enough Pepto-Bismol in the world to soothe and coat that bellyache!

I could go on, but I'll spare you. It makes me wonder, however, what, if anything, bugged Jesus. He showed some irritation at times, but I've got to believe that a lot more bugged him than he actually let on. He was perfect, absolutely aligned with what was right and good all the time. How did he manage to walk through the sewer that is humanity without going mad, or driving us all off the face of the planet, scourge in hand?

We are all self-centered, and particularly so here, having that quality so catered to in America. We want what we want, and we look at people as those who should go along with what it takes for us to get what we want. In our own mind in makes sense, in our own eyes, it is only right and reasonable. The result, however, is that we end up looking at people more like the Devil does than does God.

God sees the blunt truth about us, warts and all, and even that which we're not even aware of, yet. Despite us, he walks with us to the end, never losing track of what we will be. It's so easy for us to become frustrated with one another, annoyed, peeved, and judgmental. We make sense to ourselves, so we think that is the same as sense objectively. In reality, the only one our attitude makes sense to is the Devil.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Take A Hot Bath, Kill A Polar Bear

The temperature of the world has been much warmer than it is now--not millions of years ago, but only about 1000. During that warm period, there were Polar bears roaming the Arctic, Polynesians thriving throughout the Pacific, and ice pack weighing heavily upon Greenland and Antarctica. At least no one is suggesting otherwise.

Yet, today, there is a chorus of panicked voices warning us that our energy usage and the carbon it pumps into the atmosphere is threatening (through the mechanism of global warming) the extinction of the Polar bear and flooding Polynesians out of their ancestral homes. In near history there have been extensive periods that were much warmer than it is today, or even will likely become according to global warming predictions. None of those things happened then.

Our collective, highly educated, global warming panic attack spurs the question, "have we finally gotten too smart for our own good? There's no question that we're too big for our own britches. We've arrived at the place where we don't need an antiquated notion like the Devil to scare the bejeebers out of us anymore. We may need truckloads of Xanax to calm our irrational side, but in our evolved hubris, we instill fear and a sense of doom just by asking, "What if?"

On the other hand...

If you live in the far north, where the polar bears roam, a hot bath may well be the safest place to be should a ravenous specimen, stressed by climate change, break into your house. That species prefers its meals swimming in frigid water, and so it may well turn its picky snout up at the likes of you. But then again, if the global warming gurus are correct, the collective energy consumed in heating the world's baths might kill off the problem before it ever comes snarling through your front door. 

So go ahead and take a hot bath despite any global warming guilt, even if you don't live in the far north. You might kill a polar bear, but then again, you might just be saving a life. 

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

When Emotions Run Away With Us IV

Judas was an opportunist. That's the way I see him anyway. Jesus Christ Superstar made him the hero of the drama, but he was anything but in real life. He was a thief, and a shameless coattail rider. Jesus was nothing but his avenue to a better life. When it dawned on him that possibility wasn't going to pan out, he shifted gears without any hesitation and started shopping his connection to Jesus for personal profit.

What was motivating him (beside the Devil, that is)? Emotionally, I would say Judas was driven by avarice. His appetite for personal gain overwhelmed every other concern and experience, and in his case, that's saying a lot. Think of what Judas saw and heard! Up in smoke all of it went because he was blinded by avarice. Those that are greedy for gain end up with destruction instead. As for Judas, so for anyone.

Barnabas had a great name in life, not nearly as great in history. He could have had both (not that we should desire such, but you know what I mean). He ran with the handpicked agent of God to the Gentiles, who understood God's voice and the Spirit's leading. Yet, over a favorite cousin, Barnabas got into such a sharp contention with Paul that the two had to separate-- Paul on to earth shaking ministry, Barnabas on to relative obscurity in his hometown in Cyprus.

What got in his way? Nepotism, pure and simple. He let his emotional attachment to family override other concerns and rejected the more objective judgment of his fellow missionary. As I read history, Paul was right and Barnabas wasn't. When we let our attachment to family override other ministry concerns, we don't help the family member and we undermine the ministry. Wouldn't it be nice if preachers today could learn this lesson?

Emotions are not the basis upon which decisions should be made. Where can we expect to go when we let the caboose lead the train? The biblical examples we've looked at teach us that. Though emotions are God given, they can't run the show.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

When Emotions Run Away With Us III

Solomon had an
auspicious start. His promise would have made him unique in history if he lived up to it. His name is great, no doubt, but so were his follies. The few things that God said a king of God's people should not do, Solomon did with relish. Hording silver and gold, horses, and whores (oops, I meant "wives" and concubines) was enthusiastically pursued: humility, faithfulness and obedience were tossed aside in his never ending search for broader experience and self-fulfillment.

Solomon may have been a poster boy for
Maslow's theory, but he was a disgrace to the kingdom of God. He let his emotional, self-absorbed quest for fulfillment overwhelm every other consideration in life. The result was a kingdom at odds with him, an existential depression with life, and a broken fellowship with God. Are dreams of self-fulfillment really that important? What will such emotional satisfaction profit a man if it cost him his soul?

Living under the shadow of ruthless conquerors, who had designs on you, your family, your nation can put a burr under any one's saddle. As conquerors go, I think it's safe to say the Assyrians put the ooh! in ruthless. Is any wonder that a person living in such a shadow would have implacable hatred for those pagan enemies, even
to the extent of not wanting a warning word from God promising judgment to reach them?

silence of God is not having a chance. In hearing, faith can erupt. Think, "September 12th, 2001;" how did you feel about Arabs and Muslims that day? Were your thoughts evangelistic? Vengeance belongs with God, it's an emotional fury we can't handle. It blinds us to the eternal significance of our enemies' souls. Instead of being like Ananias in Damascus, vengeance makes us like Jonah in the drink. Do we want to see God's enemies become his friends, or are we blinded by vengeance, and useless to the miracle of grace.

Still more to come...

Thursday, June 25, 2009

When Emotions Run Away With Us II

David took a voracious bite out of life I think his faith in God motivated. He fought for God, and every time he went into battle, even with long odds, God gave him victory. Eventually, there weren't too many enemies left. He sought out any of his bosom buddy Jonathan's heirs, and showed his sole remaining son royal hospitality, alleviating any nagging issues of loyalty and conscience he may have had. He had a grand dream to build a magnificent temple for the ark of the covenant, but God said, "Good thought, but let your son do it."

David was a man of vision and action. He'd seen it all, done it all, gone as far as he could fulfilling every dream he had, and still had a lot of living to do. People like David love new challenges, but languish under routine. Despite his spectacular history, David came to a pass where boredom set in and just couldn't motivate himself for one more charge. He avoided the necessary and eschewed his responsibility.

Against folk wisdom, his life shows us that character is not discovered in the struggle, but rather, in the aftermath of success. David let boredom get the best of him, he forsook responsibility and necessity for idleness. At that point grievous sin was a foregone conclusion: lust, adultery, betrayal, and manslaughter were waiting in the wings. Boredom unchallenged could lead to the same for any of us.

Still more to come...

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

When Emotions Run Away With Us

God is an emotional being. He's created us, in his image, with the capacity for emotions as well. Unfortunately, in our fallen condition, sometimes ours get overwhelming, or run away with us, and the results are often not pretty. Sometimes we become blubbering, incapacitated, tear factories. At other times we become focused, pursuers of ungodly ends. Runaway emotions seldom lead to good decisions, often lead to sin, and so we should endeavor not to let them get away from us as have some notable biblical examples.

Cain had some problems with sibling rivalry, and seems to me to be the first model of the sociopath. He was arrogant in regard to God and willful with respect to his own life. A stinging rejection of what he tried to shove down God's throat, combined with the ringing endorsement of his brother, Abel's offering to God touched off the anger button in Cain's psyche.

There's good reason the Word says don't let the sun go down on our anger. When we live in anger, stew in it, embrace it and make it our companion in life it will lead us to misery. Sin couches at the door looking to get the advantage over us. Anger, like my kids, leaves the door wide open for the undesirable to come in. When angry, we make rash choices and follow courses that don't lead us toward God. It's OK to be angry, it's not OK to sin.

Saul seemed to be an incredibly humble individual when he was young. I don't think it was true humility, but the distortion that arises when we compare ourselves with ourselves. When we do that and our circumstances are humble, we appear meek: when our circumstances change, so does such false humility-- into arrogance and jealousy. That is what happened to Saul.

If Saul had sought the approval that came from God, rather than worrying about the accolades of man, I wouldn't be writing this piece. But Saul was not a man after God's heart; in fact, he cared less about God's rejection than he did about being given second billing in the song of some schoolgirls. God is a jealous god. We, however, don't handle the emotion all that well. Let it run away with us and we end up running away from God, just like Saul.

Stay tuned, more to come...

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Jesus Did the Work, But the Paycheck's Mine

I have no doubt whatsoever that I am saved by works. The Bible says so, both old and new testaments. If you are saved, or ever will be saved, it will be by works or you won't be saved at all. Good theology is based on the premise that the saved are saved by works.

I'm not saved by going to church, tithing my increase, giving alms, or voting Republican-- not even by paying my taxes and refraining from kicking the dog. Generally, I hate Christian television and music, so I don't even get any brownie points for torturing myself with those things! Yet, I am 100% certain that works have delivered me unshakably into the arms of heaven.

Outrageous of me to think such, I know, but think it I do and with biblical confidence, I might add. It's not my works I'm depending on, but those of Jesus Christ. What I could not, and never could do, he did for me in my place, perfectly. He did the job so well, that it's finished with nothing that can be added to it to improve it.

His work has saved me, and I'm totally dependent on it. My life, however it not lived in the idleness of the rich and famous. Jesus did the work and I got the paycheck, so now I plan to spend all of it getting to know him.