Changing Our Paradigm of Death

Some religions celebrate death, certainly Christianity is one that should.

I know of a religious sect that mourns the birth of a child and celebrates the death of a member with feasting and great joy. As Christians, we could learn something from this small sect. Instead, our paradigm of death is one of grief and sorrow; believe me, I’ve had my share. As painful as it may be, the truth is that our grief is all about us, it’s selfish. When we grieve, we are mourning our loss, our attention is focused on what has been taken from us, not what our loved one has gained and attained, if they are a true believer.

“Believer” is a key word in this scenario. When Lazarus, the brother of Mary and Martha of Bethany, died, Jesus wept. We can imagine first that he was grieved by his own loss of a dear friend, but scripture indicates to me that he wept in sympathy, feeling the depth of Mary and Martha’s grief. In my mind I can picture the scene where Martha runs to greet him as he approaches the village. She runs to him with tears streaming down her cheeks, falling into his arms, sobbing at the sight of him, accusing him in her anger, then begging him in her desperate need for solace. Then Jesus takes her tear-stained face in his hands, looks deeply into the windows of her soul and utters the powerful words we have all heard before, but, perhaps, not understood; “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?” (Jn. 11:25)

Do you? Do you believe this? I mean do you truly believe? In Mark 9:24, a man, the father of a child possessed by evil spirits, says to Jesus,  “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!”

Perhaps we all believe with a reserve of doubt, a shadow of “unbelief,” that prevents us from experiencing the full power of Jesus’ promise to us when he said to the repentant thief, “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

Our assurance lies in Jesus’ words found in Mat. 24:35, where, in giving his disciples the parable of the fig tree, he says, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away.”

This prophesy contains a powerful promise to us, but what did Jesus mean by, “my words will by no means pass away.” On the face of it, he means that nothing in time or creation can alter or negate the promises he has made to us, but our assurance of this lies in the underlying principle of the law of the Medes and the Persians found in the book of Daniel. In chapter six of Daniel lies the story of how King Darius’ advisors tricked him into condemning Daniel to the lions den. When King Darius realizes their deception, they inform him that it is too late for him to save Daniel, by reminding the king of “the law of the Medes and the Persians,” found in Daniel 6:15, “Then these men approached the king, and said to the king, “Know, O king, that it is the law of the Medes and Persians that no decree or statute which the king establishes may be altered.””

Thus it is for God also, The King of Kings, that what is decreed cannot be altered, or withdrawn. It is a principle that is as true for the promise as it is for the curse. It is the reason that Jesus died on the cross in order to satisfy the requirement of the law, that sin deserves death. He died there for all sin, for all time, for all people, because the law can never be altered or withdrawn. (Ref. Mat. 5:18) What is true for the curse is also true for the promise and though we cannot find the proof of it in his promise to the thief, we can be assured of it in his own resurrection, that Jesus is the resurrection and the life. In John 10:18, Jesus assures us that, “No man takes (my life) from me, but I lay (my life) down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This commandment have I received of my Father.”

What is spoken cannot be altered, or withdrawn. We are assured, not only by the promise, but by the principle, by the law of the Medes and the Persians. Take heart, brothers and sisters in Christ. Celebrate, find joy in your loss, that the one you love is in the arms of God, that they have not died, but have at last found life; that Christ Jesus holds their face in his hands and looking deep into the windows of their soul, has said, “I Am the way, the truth and the life.” Welcome home.

Posted in Commentary | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Notes on “The Abolition of Man”

Chapter One:

Men Without Chests

Bruce Jenner says of his condition, “I just couldn’t continue living a lie.” What he means is that he perceives his physical, birth gender to be a lie. That perception implies that the truth lies in his feelings about his sexuality, rather than the physical reality of it. This kind of depraved thinking is exactly the concern that C.S. Lewis expressed so eloquently in his book entitled, “The Abolition of Man.”

What Mr. Lewis refers to as The Green Book is a representation of the flawed thinking being taught in our educational systems. Mr. Lewis uses the illustration of an high school grammar book to point out how easily the system can be used by those who have an agenda beyond simple education to manipulate the cultural thinking of future generations.

C.S. Lewis wrote “The Abolition of Man” as a warning to society about a coming depravity instituted by an insidious plot to negate the power of descriptive words by relegating their meaning to subjective feelings, rather than their true, objective definition. He identifies the evil plot in a simple line of text in which the authors suggest to the student, using the story of “Coleridge at the waterfall,” that the words, “sublime” and “pretty,” have no objective value, but are instead, only subjective expressions of the men’s feelings. Mr. Lewis describes the flaw thus, “The schoolboy, [or girl] who reads this passage in The Green Book will believe two propositions: firstly, that all sentences containing a predicate of value are statements about the emotional state of the speaker, and, secondly, that all such statements are unimportant.” Unimportant because their value is only relative, that there is nothing absolute in their expression.

He goes on to warn that what the schoolboy, or girl, has learned from the example presented in the book, is insidious and subconscious in nature, that it will grow subconsciously to effect the child’s thinking in ways that extend beyond grammar, to philosophy and that, if enough children fall victim to this kind of thinking, it could completely alter cultural norms.

Mr. Lewis had to extrapolate the possible effect into an imagined future which he expressed in his novel, “That Hideous Strength.” From the future, which he could only imagine, we can now see the very real outcome, as if it were a prophecy. As I speak from the year 2017, the destruction is near complete. Bruce Jenner and millions like him in a forceful, activist community known as LGBTQ, are the proof of Mr. Lewis’ greatest fears. Thus, when the power of words to discriminate value is negated by philosophy, the result can be devastating. Words are important tools that require our care and respect, though I recognize that every generation distorts their meaning as a way of confounding the generation before them.

For the Authors of The Green Book, men he refers to as Gaius and Titius, Mr. Lewis had some rather unkind words. “Let us suppose for a moment that the harder virtues could really be theoretically justified with no appeal to objective value. It still remains true that no justification of virtue will enable a man to be virtuous. Without the aid of trained emotions, the intellect is powerless against the animal organism. I had sooner play cards with a man who was quite skeptical about ethics, but bred to believe that “a gentleman does not cheat,” than an irreproachable moral philosopher who had been brought up among [cheaters].”

He goes on to say, “The operation of The Green Book and its kind are to produce what may be called, Men without Chests, (that is men without moral compass, or conviction). It is an outrage that they, (Gaius and Titius), should be commonly spoken of as Intellectuals. This gives them to say that he who attacks them attacks intelligence. It is not so.” “…It is not excess of thought, but defect of fertile and generous emotion that marks them out. Their heads are no bigger than the ordinary: it is the atrophy of the chest beneath that makes them seem so.”

In the news, almost daily, the hypocrisy of one protest or another demanding truth and morality from our government and its functionaries, those who rule over us rather than for us, demanding that our systems of education, our social structures, even our speech conform to the fluid standard of their feelings. Lewis said of it, “And all the time – such is the tragic comedy of our situation – we continue to clamor for those very qualities we are rendering impossible. You can hardly open a periodical without coming across the statement that what our civilization needs is more drive, or dynamism, or self-sacrifice, or creativity. In a sort of ghastly simplicity we remove the organ and demand the function. We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honor and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate [then] bid the geldings, be fruitful.”

Chapter Two:

The Way

In this chapter, Mr. Lewis focuses his attention on the source of moral thinking in a universal sense. He points out that in every civilization, in every age, there is a standard of social behavior that promotes social order. He calls the source, the Tao. It is that unseen force of infinite wisdom that leads to moral and ethical codes of behavior common to all mankind and central to the survival of any successful civilization. The Chinese refer to it as the Chi, in the Hindu belief, Prana, in other religious systems, Mana, Orenda, Vayu, and so on. In Christianity we know this mysterious force of creation as the Logos, or, the Word. All of these names, however refer to a force of knowledge that is common to the spiritual sensitivity of every civilization, and from it they draw similar conclusions.

When men, however, ignore these conclusions, relegating truth and objective value to a subjective standard of relative feelings, they step onto a slippery slope that can only lead to a muddy fall. Lewis put it this way, “The practical result of education in the spirit of The Green Book must be the destruction of the society which accepts it.”

That’s a very powerful condemnation of our system of education and, in my mind, well deserved. I point out to you that today, the curse of The Green Book extends all the way from Kindergarten through College. The Green Book philosophy suggests that our social standards, our standards of behavior and morality, can be found in our instincts rather than the Tao. With regard to “instinct” being a motivation to act in support of posterity, Lewis says, “What is absurd is to claim that your care for posterity finds its justification in instinct and then flout at every turn the only instinct on which it could be supposed to rest, tearing a child almost from the breast to …kindergarten in the interest of progress and the coming race.”

In other words, the only system of values that can be expected from a value system based on instinct is one of self-preservation, survival of the fittest and a “kill, or be killed” philosophy of life. Those are the values of instinct, a system that is willing to sacrifice its own children to an indoctrination that insures the same empty values, that the same fate will be passed on to the next generation, and the next, making them slaves to progress alone, with no regard for morality, or humanity.

In a footnote of this chapter, Lewis wrote,  “If Good= “whatever Nature happens to be doing,” (as Dr. C.H. Waddington suggests), then surely we should notice what Nature is doing as a whole; and Nature, as a whole, I understand, is working steadily and irreversibly toward the extinction of all life, in every part of the universe, so that Dr. Waddington’s ethics, stripped of their unaccountable bias towards such a parochial affair as tellurian biology, would leave murder and suicide our only duties” to one another. In fact, Dr. Waddington’s legacy includes promoting the genetic engineering that produced “Dolly.”

If Truth is relative and there are no absolutes, as generations of our children have been taught, then every axiom of social ethic and morality becomes superstition. Lewis put it this way, “What purport to be new systems, or ( as they call them today) “ideologies,” all consist of fragments from the Tao itself, arbitrarily wrenched from their context in the whole and then swollen to madness in their isolation, yet still owing to the Tao and to it alone, such validity as they [may] possess. If my duty to my parents is a superstition, then so is my duty to posterity. If justice is a superstition, then so is my duty to my country or my race. If the pursuit of scientific knowledge is a real value, then so is conjugal fidelity. The rebellion of new ideologies against the Tao is a rebellion of the branches against the tree: if the rebels could succeed, they would find that they had destroyed themselves. The human mind has no more power of inventing a new value than of imagining a new primary color, or, indeed, of creating a new sun and a new sky for it to move in.”

Chapter Three:

The Abolition of Man

Looking to the future, one can feel a sense of hopelessness, unless we remember, daily, that in Christ Jesus, there is no such thing. For, no matter what men do or accomplish in this world, on this planet, or another, these three remain, “Faith, Hope, and Love.”

In this third and final chapter Lewis writes about “Man’s Conquest of Nature” through science and technology. He posits the question, “…is man the possessor of increasing power over nature?”  Then he looks at three specific examples of man’s technical progress, travel, communications, and medicine. For travel he chooses the airplane, for communication, the wireless, (radio), and for medicine he chooses contraceptives. He points out, “Any or all of the three things… can be withheld from some men by other men – by those who sell, or those who allow the sale, or those who own the sources of production, or those who make the goods. What we call Man’s power is, in reality, a power possessed by some men which they may or may not allow other men to profit by.”

Today, scientists all over the world cause us to worry, as they do, about our utter extermination by some natural and unavoidable event of Nature. They scan the skies for the terminal asteroid that the Bible calls “Wormwood.” They lay the ground with instruments to measure the movement of the earth, concerned about earthquake and the possibility of a super volcanic eruption such as Yellowstone. They plan interplanetary travel and colonization for fear that the earth will not long be capable of sustaining its human population. They know, as I do, that a simple shift the earth’s magnetosphere could doom the planet to destruction, just as it did Mars, their unfortunate choice for colonization. Biologically, science worries about pathogens and the possibility of pandemic that could wipe out the entire human population if not thwarted by scientific advance. The fact is that Man’s Conquest of Nature is a complete myth, an errant religion we shall call Scientism. The fact is that “Nature,” at any given moment, could completely annihilate the entire planet in any number of ways. Science must worry about such things because they have no Creator God to sustain them in His mercy. They must rely on human endeavor, on science, on Progress, but Progress, like any other human endeavor, comes at a cost. “For every action there is an equal and, opposite reaction.”

I love the song, “One Thing Leads to Another,” by The Fixx, because it so well expresses the reality of human life. For every advance, for every security, every convenience, every comfort, there is a price to be paid, another scar on our planet, a certain loss of individual freedom, the enslavement of the body, mind, and soul. C.S. Lewis put it this way: “Man’s Conquest of Nature, if the dreams of some scientific planners are realized, means the rule of a few hundreds of men over billions upon billions of men. There neither is nor can be any simple increase of power on Man’s side. Each new power won by man is a power over man as well. Each advance leaves him weaker as well as stronger. In every victory, besides being the general who triumphs, he is also the prisoner who follows along behind the triumphal car.”

The truth is that Man’s Conquest of Nature is really man’s sinful need to be his own god and that sinful need is the result of Satan’s express desire to rule in God’s place, he who declared “I will ascend into Heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God.” “…I will be like the Most High,” has condemned the sons of Adam to follow along with him and, unless we choose, individually, to do otherwise, we are cursed to progress alone, without God’s mercy, into an uncertain future. A planet spinning out of control in a universe who’s Nature is to bring all life to extinction. Man’s new religion is Science and the priests and acolytes of that temple of Satan are sorely determined to dominate the earth with their godless ways and doctrines. You and I are compelled in every way and in everything to serve somebody, to serve one or the other. To serve God, or to serve the evils of This World.

In conclusion, just seventy three years since C.S. Lewis penned this warning to mankind, the intent of The Green Book has been more than successfully fulfilled. The destruction that it promised, that Lewis warned us about, can be seen everywhere around us, in every corner of the globe. Soon, the Puppet Master will make himself known and man’s fate upon the earth, his doom will be sealed. But I implore you, “Now is the time of God’s favor, today is the day of salvation.” So, “Choose this day whom you will serve …as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”

Posted in Discipleship | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Over These Prison Walls

I feel like, and have felt for a long time, that the church has been imprisoned by its own walls. That through its history, the church has created a prison fortress that has defined it since the beginning of the industrial age. When I study the history of the church, that is the institution that lies within the control of men, I am saddened at how quickly it departed from the model of Christ to become a deterrent to the gospel of His coming, rather than the encouragement he intended.

Oh, I can feel your outrage, but the scriptures are clear concerning the power of God, the “keys of His Kingdom,” and the authority of the church to use that power. Yet, as I look at the world around me and the history of its journey to this point, it is clear that the church has failed to use the power of God, as it was given, and has hidden the keys away, beneath an alter to, what, or whom, I’m not sure. What I am sure of is that the church, as an institution of men, like their father, Adam, has chosen the Tree of The Knowledge of Good and Evil, that is, dependence on the power of men rather than the power of God. I don’t exclude myself from error, but I simply identify cause and effect, observing what is obvious to a lost world, if not to ourselves.

Over the last century, the general model of the church has been to meet for worship on Sunday morning, to, in some cases, eat a meal together, then to close the doors of the church, that is the building, and go home to resume a secular life until next Sunday.

Even so, for many of those years, the gospel was still preached from the church’s pulpits, without neglecting the realities of sin, or the price that was paid to reconcile us and to save us from an eternity in Hell but the model has all along promoted a “feeling spiritual” worship experience, along with cheap grace, lazy discipleship, the promotion of programs rather than relationships through the power of the Holy Spirit, and an inclination toward exclusion, “separating” ourselves from the sinful world that surrounds us, as if we were somehow better than they. That kind of thinking has created a deeply flawed “us and them” mentality. As a result, the worship experience today is more focused on “feel good religion” than it is on the problems of a sinful world, and it seeks solutions more from  government than from God. The entire enterprise reminds me powerfully of the message in the story of Jonah, so often missed by those who claim to believe, but we have become like Jonah, defiant and disobedient in the face of Christ’s command to “Go,” and to “make disciples,” not converts.

As it is, a few do occasionally “Go,” and others occasionally “make disciples,” mostly, however, we insist that the lost world “come,” to us, to enter our fortress, our private club, where we can share the lie of cheap grace, telling them they are saved through an insincere prayer, a salvation that requires no recognition of sin and, therefore, no true repentance.

When rarely we are compelled to “Go,” we often go grudgingly, like Jonah, with sour faces and sour hearts then we wonder why the world shows our religion no respect. We complain about the trampling of our constitutional rights and the worsening conditions of morality in the world outside our fortress. We seek out politicians who will agree with our utopian goals and promise to fix the problems that offend us rather than see the truth, that the problems are spiritual in nature and our goals fall short of the Kingdom of God.

Something has to change. I keep praying for a new vision for the twenty first century church and the answer that consistently comes is the model that Jesus left for us in the gospels. Jesus said, “My Father has been working until now, and I have been working.” (John 5:17)

As I read the scriptures I see that this was consistently the case, that Jesus was always working, “doing good,” on the Sabbath. It stirred the ire of the religious leaders of his time, as the suggestion will today, but if you step out of the fortress and look around, you will see a world in desperate need. Our duty as His disciples is to minister to those needs. That ministry begins by forming community, that is, putting ourselves among them, where they are. Only in community with the lost can we convince them that we care enough to commit ourselves to making things better by the power of God and the gospel of Jesus Christ. That process means spreading the tent of God’s Kingdom to include the lost where they are, a feat that can only be accomplished by faith, earnest prayer, and the power of God. No politician or political solution will ever alter our path to destruction. Abraham bargained for Sodom and Gomorrah, but the lack of ten righteous persons brought about its destruction. Today, with the advantage of the cross, Jesus’ sacrifice and the Holy Spirit, people can assume righteousness in God’s eyes, but they have to make that choice themselves, by faith. Only earnest prayer can accomplish that and the church, that is The Body of Christ, is the source of that prayer. So I ask you, where is the prayer? Where is the sack cloth and ashes of earnest intercession? I don’t see it. What I see is a lot of people divided over music, hog tied by an order of service, fighting over budgets and preaching to the choir while the world plunges ahead to its prophetic destruction. Surely there must be a better way.

Following earnest prayer, the gospel requires us to “go” out from our zone of comfort and form community with the lost around us, as He sent the seventy before Him, (ref. Luke 10:2 – 6). As we go, led by the Holy Spirit, the many needs for ministry and God’s love will be revealed around us. As an example, there are elderly widows and even couples among you who’s homes are falling down around them because they lack the strength and, or financial ability to maintain them. This is a place for the church to work on the Sabbath, as Jesus worked, a place to gather for worship and share the love of Christ and His gospel in a way that He would have approved. It puts the church out there, visible in the community, a testimony to God’s love for those who don’t know Him. Worship should not be a rut that traps the followers of Christ in a comfortable routine of shallow commitment to an order of service. Jesus wants more from us, yet what He calls us to is not complicated, it’s simple, just like His gospel, a simple church.

Posted in Discipleship | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Silent No More

islamic-terrorismGen. 16:12

“You shall call his name Ishmael…  He shall be a wild man; His hand shall be against every man, and every man’s hand against him… “

On the advice of family and friends, well meaning Christians all, I have held my tongue for a very long time on the subject of religious violence in our world, but the time has come, in this year, the 16th since the 9/11 attack, to speak out. Before I begin pointing fingers, however, I want to make clear that history is replete with religious violence and Christianity, as it has been defined, is as guilty as any. Indeed, the “church”, as an institution of men, will have much to answer for when it stands before the Living God. That said, however, I want to point out a very important distinction. What people most often see and identify as the “church,” buildings, assemblies, people who identify as “Christians,” various political movements, or some involved in cultural activism, often are neither Christians, nor the Church. They are, more often, religious fanatics more interested in cultural and political outcomes than they are in a relationship with God through Jesus Christ. Jesus refers to them in Luke 13:27 where He says, “I tell you I do not know you, [or] where you are from. Depart from Me all you workers of iniquity.”

You see, the true Church, cannot be seen with human eyes. It is a spiritual entity called, “The Body of Christ”, a spiritual bond between God and persons, through Jesus Christ, who joins them together in unified purpose, both individually and collectively, in a Kingdom that is invisible to the world around it.

The Church’s purpose does not include violence against any people, but it does include participation in a spiritual war against the powers of darkness and all that darkness represents in the world. Therefore, to say that the “Church” is guilty of the war and violence attributed to it in the past, is a lie, but the truth concerning God’s will and purpose is much more complicated than any simple statement. For example, God is perfectly capable of using the violence that men perpetrate in the world to suit His will and purpose. He is equally capable of using those who oppose Him in the world to carry out His judgments against nations, groups, or individuals who turn their backs on Him, but these are difficult concepts for anyone to comprehend. Suffice it to say that God is God and He is sovereign over His creation. His ways are not our ways and His thoughts are not our thoughts. He is, in fact, to us, for the most part, an enigma.

Now to the matter at hand:

In an article in the January 2015 issue of Decision Magazine, Bob Paulson writes about the Muslim worldview of death and violence. He makes the following opening remarks in his article:

Around the world, multiple daily news reports reveal the bloody carnage wrought by followers of Islam who simply seek to obey the clear instructions of their scriptures and sayings – the Quran and the Hadiths. While the politically correct establishment in Western nations refuses-or fears-to acknowledge that this is the true expression of Islam, millions of Muslims take literally the explicit commands to fight, seize, kill, crucify and to smite the necks and cut off the hands and feet of those who do not follow Islam.” […or those who break its oppressive laws.]

Mr. Paulson then goes on to list a record of events from the month of November, 2014. The list is shocking, citing 89 murdered and 79 wounded in 4 separate attacks in 4 separate countries, but what’s more shocking is that his list is only a tiny piece of the larger picture. I thought it would be interesting to look at the complete history of the last decade or so since 2001 and to begin an ongoing record of offenses. I wanted to begin with just the offenses and locations from 2014 and if that isn’t enough to wake you up to the reality of this “peaceful” religion, then, I will begin loading the numbers from incidents worldwide for the past decade. Instead, I’ve decided to open with just the complete numbers from November, 2014, a 30 day snapshot that should surely open your eyes.

In the month of November, so called jihadists murdered 5,042 people in 664 separate attacks, in 14 different countries around the world. Specifics regarding these attacks can be found here. The data and the daily news verify Mr. Paulson’s assumption that “this is the true expression of Islam.” Millions of Muslims around the world, including in the United States, take literally the [Quran’s many] explicit commands to fight, seize, kill, (etc.), as an example:

Quran: K 5:033

Set 21, Count 54

The punishment of those who wage war against Allah and His apostle and strive to make mischief in the land is only this, that they should be murdered or crucified or their hands and their feet should be cut off on opposite sides or they should be imprisoned [Pickthall and Yusuf Ali have “exiled” rather than “imprisoned”] 

As for Islamic terrorism, here are some key statistics:

In 2015, according to the US State Department’s Country Reports on Terrorism, 11,778 terrorist attacks in 92 countries resulted in 28,328 deaths. Of that number, 6,924 were the terrorists themselves, all the rest were innocent victims. The list of terrorists was dominated by four groups: the Taliban, Boko Haram, ISIL, and al Qa’ida. All four are Islamic Jihadists, all four claim the Quran as their guiding scripture, and all four claim Mohammed as their Prophet and guiding authority. All four worship a god they call Allah and, though they themselves and most of the secular world are convinced that Allah is the same God worshiped by both Christians and Jews, I assure you that they could not be more wrong. They have, in fact, believed in a lie.

Some will try to minimize these statistics by citing traffic accidents, or homicides, but I point out that in God’s view, murder is homicide whether it’s part of a crime, or done in the name of Allah. I will also point out that the above statistics do not include the victims of the many wars raging in the Middle East today, all for the sake of Islamic Jihad. If those statistics were included here, the numbers would be dramatically higher, remembering that numbers and statistics cannot begin to reflect the human suffering they represent.

Let’s face it, the fact is that Islam has a Great Commission, just as Christianity does. The difference between them is that Islam is given permission, by its founder and by its sacred scriptures, to accomplish both religious and political goals by any means necessary, including murder, rape and the violence of war, while Christianity’s Great Commission requires its people to go humbly forth and spread the good news of Christ in peace, gentleness and selfless acts of love. There is no authority from Christ to commit violence in this world and those who do so, calling themselves Christians, are living as much a lie as any other religious zealot. There is no comparison between Islam, a political movement cloaked in religion, and Christianity, a relationship with The Living God that is rooted in faith. The one is a dark lie while the other is “The Way, The Truth and The Life.”

Posted in OpEd | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

It’s Not About Your Happiness, Dammit

llph-ss-640x400I recently read an article about, “The Gospel of Happiness.” No disrespect to Joel Osteen, but if happiness is your goal in life, then you’ve missed the boat entirely. In fact, your religion is Hedonism, no matter how thickly you may have draped it in Christian themes. Nowhere in scripture do I find God’s purpose, stated or implied, to be our happiness. In the Garden God’s clear will is for Adam and Eve to resist the Serpent’s guile and choose life over misrepresented self-interest. Sadly, their failure to conform to God’s will has resulted in a tragic struggle to save mankind from the penalty for sin. At the other end of the Bible, in John’s Revelation, we see open war, including all the conditions of suffering that war always brings; up to and including the utter destruction of both Heaven and Earth. Jesus Himself tells us of these events in Matthew 24. Then also, In John 15:20, He reminds us that “the servant is not greater than his master; if they persecute me they will also persecute you.”

Where is this mythical happiness everyone pursues? Be advised that the Peace and Joy promised by our Savior is not the same thing as earthly happiness. Many Christians have been led into that misunderstanding. We attend our “churches” for Sunday worship, lift our hands and sing God’s praises, listen to motivational messages of hope, happiness and prosperity, all designed to make us feel good, to make us feel “spiritual.” Well I have bad news; being spiritual and feeling spiritual are two different things. The truth is that being spiritual does not often feel good, ask anyone who has truly “picked up their cross” and followed Christ.

Being spiritual means reaching into people’s messy lives, lives corrupted by sin, and doing what is necessary to bring a healing balm and the light of Christ’s salvation to the dark corners of the world. Being spiritual seldom feels good, yet, truly being spiritual is God’s purpose for “The Body of Christ.” It includes worship, ministry, discipleship, fellowship and evangelism, all balanced together in action that models the work of Christ in the world, work that was strongly opposed by the religious leaders of the time.

In large part, the misunderstanding lies in the church’s failure to properly disciple its members, to teach them that the reality of scripture is a war between good and evil, a battle between the forces of darkness and those of light. How could we have missed that? Why is it that most Christians are speechless at the question, “How could a loving god have let this happen?” The answer is simple, it’s because “war broke out in Heaven,” (Rev. 12:7), and that heavenly war has spilled out on the earth.

Anyone who has experienced war will tell you that, among the priorities of battle, “happiness” is fairly low on the list. But there is great joy in victory, so it’s important that you choose the winning side, and choose you must though the choices are few. A commonly heard phrase in time of war is, “you’re either with me or against me.” There is a large measure of truth in that adage, because in war as in peace, “you’re going to serve somebody.” It’s important that you choose this day whom it is you will serve, whether it will be “the gods of the Amorites,” or The Lord, the God of all creation. No one can guarantee your happiness, but the Lord will guarantee you eternal life with all the elements that lead to it. Choose today. Choose life.

Posted in Discipleship | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

This Valentine’s Day Beware a Cold Heart

heart-of-christ-webI was saved in a Baptist church and blessed to find myself under the tutelage of one of the finest Bible scholars I have ever heard. In that atmosphere, as a young Christian, I was happy to accept whatever doctrine was advised to me, not only by my mentor, but also by those good Baptists who surrounded me in fellowship. As a Southern Baptist, I was committed to live and die by the Southern Baptist Faith and Message. Understand that I did not follow that doctrine blindly, those who know me, know that the very idea of me following blindly is laughable. I read the Faith and Message to near memorization and I dug into the Bible with the conviction of a monk.

I accepted Southern Baptist doctrine because it made perfect sense to me… in theory, at least. It took a number of years for me to recognize that, in practice, there was a great deal of error. When the SBC changed the Faith and Message in June of 2000, adopting an exclusionary doctrine that was clearly errant and elitist, I left the confines of that fortress to “Go” into the world and seek the Kingdom of God. In the course of my search, I have rejected the model of denominational Christianity and the institutional church altogether. I find that, like all of the institutions of men, the model is broken beyond repair. I am convinced that God will soon and undeniably support my claim, for I am not alone in hearing God’s voice in the rapidly changing flood of circumstances that have come upon us.

One of the things that troubled me most within the walls of the fortress church was the tendency toward Phariseeism, a need to separate ourselves from the world based on a misunderstanding of scripture. That tendency creates an “us vs. them” view of the world that ignores the church’s true mission. In addition, the “us vs. them” worldview engenders legalism and the idea that the solutions to our nation’s problems are political, rather than spiritual. Because of this view, false prophets have entered the fellowship, “wolves in sheep’s clothing,” bringing with them the most dangerous religious thinking on earth, the worldview of Utopianism, an elitist doctrine that says, in effect, “You’re doing it wrong. Do it my way and together we can make a perfect world.”

It is the kind of thinking that, on any scale has failed over and over in the past while, on a grand scale has been responsible for great violence and suffering in the world. It is a worldview based on a doctrine that believes the end, a perfect, utopian society, justifies any means necessary to accomplish the goal.

Look around you today, look into history, and see the prevalence of Utopian theory and the dark consequences of its practice. It is Utopian Elitism that drives “us vs. them,” thinking, the kind of thinking that leads to every kind of violence men can conceive.

Utopianism within any institution can only lead to division and strife. It becomes fortress thinking, the building of walls to separate one group from another. It is the enemy of freedom and leads to endless, restrictive rules, and enforcement intended to control every behavior, even one’s thoughts. It is a worldview that enslaves populations, especially those who are not members of the elitist party in power. Remember, it was Joseph Stalin who said, “Ideas are more powerful than guns. We would not allow our enemies to have guns, why should we let them have ideas.”

I say all this to set the stage for a scripture that spoke very loudly to me this week, a word from God that ought to be preached from every pulpit in our land. It is one of those obscure scriptures that compels you to stop and think, to reassess doctrine you have come to accept, and cause you to question the security of your own salvation. It is one of those hard scriptures that includes the words, “But he who endures to the end shall be saved.”

We are living in a time of great division and strife that is being driven by spiritual forces invisible to this temporal world. We are living in a time long prophesied in many scriptures of the Bible, as far back as the days of Noah, or the story of Sodom and Gomorrah. We are living in the day of Romans, chapter one when God is pouring out the poison of our own depravity upon a world that has despised His Son and turned its back on Him. The stage is being set for the grand entrance of the Man of Lawlessness and the final confrontation between good and evil. As I watch, I have seen the church fall into the lie of utopianism. I have watched the walls go up and seen the fortress gates closed, locking the “elect” inside. That’s why I am calling to you today, warning you of the danger, speaking with the very words of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

“Because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold. But he who endures to the end shall be saved.” Matthew 24:12, 13

I implore you to search yourself. Can you feel the cold creeping over you as the love of Christ fades from your heart? Are you thinking more in terms of us, vs. them? Do you seek solutions in politics and the institutions of men? If so, you have believed in a lie called Utopianism. I implore you to come out from behind the shuttered gates, come out from the fortress walls. Repent of the seat of judgement, fill yourself with the love of Christ and GO into a lost world with His gospel. GO with nothing, willing to suffer and to sacrifice, as He did, for the mission we have all been given, to share the good news that has overcome the world so that many will be saved.

“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9

Posted in Discipleship | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A New Year’s Resolution

Redefining Purpose:

3635

I’ve been very neglectful of this blog over the past year. There are innumerable reasons for that, among them, a great deal of tragedy and suffering and the ministry related to it, but also family, travel, and a major focus on completing my latest novel. It’s that focus that has to change in the coming year.

A while back I read Bruce Wilkerson’s excellent advice in his great book, “The Dream Giver.” A truth lies in that book that I have struggled with ever since I finished reading it. The truth it revealed to me is the principle of the New Testament tithe, a principle that is well and intentionally misunderstood by the church, who conveniently adopt the old testament tithe of ten percent. That’s all well and good, but it doesn’t represent the call of Christ that we are to die to self, so we might “live as Christ.” (Ref. Mark 12:41-44)

In the New Testament there are many examples of the principle Wilkerson suggests. Overall, the clear message from Jesus to His disciples is what I call, The Change.” The change is a paradigm shift, announced by John the Baptist, whom Jesus referred to as the “Greatest of Prophets,” a change that says we cannot be constrained by the law alone, living only for the flesh. History, and the record of the Old Testament have proven Him right again and again. Jesus teaches us that, what is important to God is not so much our behavior, as our motivation. God would prefer that we be motivated by our love for Him, more than our fear of the law and its consequences. Jesus led a selfless life in just that way, by loving God more than He loved Himself.

Again and again, He made a point of the priority of spirit over flesh. For example, in Mat. 5:27, 28, Jesus tells us that Moses has said, “do not commit adultery. But I tell you, everyone who looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (And ladies, you are not pardoned from this charge.) Also, as example, in the case of Annanias and Saphira, beyond their lie and at its root, is the selfish motivation of their hearts.

In conclusion, the only way for us to be changed is to die to self, as we symbolically represented in our baptism. The challenge to us all, following that symbolic commitment, is the requirement for our intentional effort to accomplish it, to “pick up our cross, daily, and follow Him.”

So the tithe is no longer ten percent, but our willing sacrifice of the whole check, placing it before Him as our voluntary offering, motivated by our love for Him, and allowing the Holy Spirit to lead us from there, asking only for “our daily bread” in return. In the same way as that symbolic check, we must also place our dreams, that thing we perhaps covet, we must place it on the Alter of God, for His determination.

In “The Dream Giver,” Wilkerson puts it this way, “When your relationship with God deepens into a genuine trust in His character, you will be ready for the final invitation. … Now God will ask you to consecrate yourself to Him — and surrender your dream.”

That’s the threshold I stand on today. Having completed the first draft of the manuscript for my next novel, the time has come for me to take my dream of being a novelist, and surrender it to Him. I do so with a trembling heart and the knowledge that I must trust Him in every area of my life. I must commit myself now to prayer and meditation on His word, to discipleship, worship, ministry, fellowship and to sowing the seed of His Truth, while I wait for His determination in my life.

Posted in Commentary, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments