Dead to Rights

 

Close to 800 000 people die due to suicide every year, which is one person every 40 seconds. Many more attempt suicide. Suicide occurs throughout the lifespan and is the second leading cause of death among 15-29 year olds globally… There are indications that for each adult who died of suicide there may have been more than 20 others attempting suicide. –Mental Health, Suicide Data, World Health Organization

 

Overdoses killed young and middle-aged Americans at a breakneck pace as the country battles a crippling opioid crisis, adding to the first two-year drop in life expectancy since JFK was President.

More than 63,600 people died of a drug overdose in 2016, the National Center for Health Statistics found. The startling rate was 21% higher than the number of fatalities a year earlier. – Opioid overdoses kill more people in U.S. than guns or breast cancer

 

The numbers quoted above are not insignificant. These instances of mental illness are not insignificant. And, these statistics represent only a small fraction of the de-humanizing effects of mental illness. Most of the effects of mental illness are hidden from the public eye until a person’s mental illness reaches a peak. The media then reports the violence done to others or done to one’s self in the form of suicide. Mentioned briefly by the newscaster: mental illness and the need to find a way to deal with it.

Again, the numbers quoted above are not insignificant. The quotes tell us in effect that mental illness influenced a person’s choice to self-harm. The quotes (and newscasts) do not tell us the choices that led to a mental illness that in time led to an act of violence. A post about mental illness could go in many directions. Here, I will take the path less traveled. I want to talk about what I see as the genesis of most mental illness – people’s choices.

 

Certainly, there are forms of mental illness which are not based on a person’s choices. Some prominent forms of mental disorder such as Bi-Polar Disorder have been ascribed primarily to a person’s genetic make-up. Some mental disorders are related to a chemical imbalance. Either abnormality can result in abnormal brain structure and function. Much progress has been made to mitigate the effects of these disorders. Some mental disorders may have come about through a child’s early environment. Talking in therapy and building good trust relationships can bring about healing.

Beyond physiological and early childhood causes, there is a spectrum of mental illnesses due to a person’s choices, choices that have been assessed and weighed based on one’s belief system and emotions. Each of us make deliberated decisions using our free will.  We may choose to act in a mentally healthy way or in a mentally harmful way. We may choose to turn the other cheek or we may choose to imitate revenge (Copy-Cat Revenge). We may choose to endure pain or we may choose to commit copy-cat suicide (the Werther Effect). Choosing to choose to act against God, oneself and others is evil-based mental illness. Evil-based mental illness involves a person’s choices.

Adam and Eve made a choice and learned of evil through their disobedience. Their son Cain made a choice when he murdered his brother Abel. God, acknowledging Cain’s mental distress, let him know that his choice figured in his distress:

Then the LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.”-Genesis 4:6-

One’s choice makes all the difference for one’s mental state. And, when a person makes the wrong choice, there are public and private consequences. There are mental health consequences. A descent into madness is one of the consequences.

“This is the interpretation, Your Majesty, and this is the decree the Most High has issued against my lord the king: You will be driven away from people and will live with the wild animals; you will eat grass like the ox and be drenched with the dew of heaven. Seven times will pass by for you until you acknowledge that the Most High is sovereign over all kingdoms on earth and gives them to anyone he wishes. The command to leave the stump of the tree with its roots means that your kingdom will be restored to you when you acknowledge that Heaven rules. Therefore, Your Majesty, be pleased to accept my advice: Renounce your sins by doing what is right, and your wickedness by being kind to the oppressed. It may be that then your prosperity will continue….

Immediately what had been said about Nebuchadnezzar was fulfilled. He was driven away from people and ate grass like the ox. His body was drenched with the dew of heaven until his hair grew like the feathers of an eagle and his nails like the claws of a bird.

At the end of that time, I, Nebuchadnezzar, raised my eyes toward heaven, and my sanity was restored. Then I praised the Most High; I honored and glorified him who lives forever. – Daniel 4:24-27, 33-34 (emphasis mine)

We live in a world where choice is king. And, people want to reign as king or queen of their choice. What you won’t hear these choice-driven folks say is that they are responsible for the choices they make. If their choice doesn’t work out the way they planned they blame others, including the government. Scapegoating is a characteristic of evil-based mental illness. For example, I was once accused by LGBT advocates on Twitter of likely going on to cause the depression and suicidal death of gay community members because I spoke out against homosexuality. The advocates of the LGBT will tell you that any resistance to the homosexual lifestyle equates to depression and death for the LGBT. People want choices and want to rule in them but it their choices which cause the mental breakdowns, depression and worse. Resistance to accountability is another characteristic of evil-based mental illness. The Apostle Paul insists on accountability to the Lord as he reminds the Ephesian church that there are those who by their choices have darkened their minds:

So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, and they are full of greed. But that isn’t what you learned about Christ. -Ephesians 4:17-20

A darkened mind, evil-based Mental illness, starts with small concessions to evil. One acknowledges and then accepts these concessions and compartmentalizes them in part of the psyche. They are filed away from the conscious and away from public view. One goes on to absolve and protect oneself from outside reference with a half-truth: “It’s a hard life and I must do what I have to do to make it”.

One goes on to concede more ground to evil because the appetite for defiant free will choice has been whetted and there have not been any immediate consequences. The addiction to compromise has begun. The conscious is silenced. One’s mental health begins to deteriorate because thoughts are confused and growing darker; the light has been switched off. One becomes duplicitous. A public face is put on because one’s sanity is on shaky ground but others must see you as proudly self-assured and in control. And what better place to hide your self-deceit and look respectable:

Since the primary motive of the evil is disguise, one of the places evil people are most likely to be found is within the church. What better way to conceal one’s evil from oneself, as well as from others, than to be a deacon or some other highly visible form of Christian within our culture? … I do not mean to imply that the evil are anything other than a small minority among the religious or that the religious motives of most people are in any way spurious. I mean only that evil people tend to gravitate toward piety for the disguise and concealment it can offer them. – Martin Buber 

When mental illness is discussed, evil-based mental illness should also be discussed. But I believe the reason evil-based mental illness isn’t discussed is because it involves putting people’s choices under scrutiny. Twitter users become afire when I speak against homosexuality as a lifestyle acceptable for the church. They have told me that I am not like Jesus; I am judgmental. In truth, as a Follower of Jesus, I am trying to help the world around me become fully human. In the process, I’ve come to learn that Evil is defensive of its territory – humans.

Because Evil is nothing and has no substance, it must have access to human choice to act. Evil can, by human will, pervert what God created and called good. A glaring example of this hideous conversion from the good and absolute to sliding scale values and Epicureanism is the growing Christian acceptance of homosexuality as an acceptable good. In truth, it is a queering, a perversion, of the good.

It is a curious state of affairs today and a clear indication of evil’s degenerative effect: there are those today who demand rights for this and that while at the same time say they have no control of themselves or they can’t help themselves in their behavior. They want special human rights and the right to live as animals at the same time. They take Pride (Month) in this. De-humanization (e.g., giving over your free will and conscious to animal impulse) is a guaranteed effect of the choice to dwell in mental illness. Renouncing sin and turning back to the One true God will begin restoring your humanity and sanity. Just ask King Nebuchadnezzar.

 

The church should be the place for evil-based mental illness to be addressed. Sadly, many mainline churches have been comprised and now affirm evil as good, thereby increasing evil-based mental illness among its members. Read the Word and receive the Eucharist. The Word and prayer can help put you back in your right mind.

I am laid low in the dust;
preserve my life according to your word.
I gave an account of my ways and you answered me;
teach me your decrees.
Cause me to understand the way of your precepts,
that I may meditate on your wonderful deeds.
My soul is weary with sorrow;
strengthen me according to your word.
Keep me from deceitful ways;
be gracious to me and teach me your law.
I have chosen the way of faithfulness;
I have set my heart on your laws.
I hold fast to your statutes, Lord;
do not let me be put to shame.
I run in the path of your commands,
for you have broadened my understanding. -Psalm 119: 25-32

 

 

Are You a danger to yourself or to others? If so, what choices have you made to bring you to this place? You are dead to rights accountable for the wrong choices. But your life doesn’t end there. Have more fear of what you may end up doing than talking to someone. Seek out a Christian and begin talking. Ask God for wisdom and do so with no doubt of receiving it, as a matter of mental health. For, “A person who doubts is like a wave of the sea which the wind blows and tosses about. Someone like that should not suppose they will receive anything from the Lord, since they are double minded and unstable in everything they do.”

 

Interactive media has influence on your mental health, if you let it. Added 6/19/2018:

What is gaming disorder?

Gaming disorder is defined in the draft 11th Revision of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11) as a pattern of gaming behavior (“digital-gaming” or “video-gaming”) characterized by impaired control over gaming, increasing priority given to gaming over other activities to the extent that gaming takes precedence over other interests and daily activities, and continuation or escalation of gaming despite the occurrence of negative consequences.

For gaming disorder to be diagnosed, the behaviour pattern must be of sufficient severity to result in significant impairment in personal, family, social, educational, occupational or other important areas of functioning and would normally have been evident for at least 12 months.

 

Reflections on Separate and Not Equal

 

 For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.  Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools  and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles. Romans 1: 21-23

 

How do you view God? One’s view of God is critical to one’s image-bearing reflection of God. Holding and acting on a proper pan-Scriptural view of God one can reflect the nature and glory of God in one’s humanity. Holding and acting on a low or inadequate view of God will result in a reflection of a baser, beastly, and barbarous nature. There are plenty of examples of the latter.

If a person says there is no god, then that downward blank stare is reflected back as a life devoid of the transcendent. This person’s life lacks meaning and purpose that God has provided (Col. 1:16). This person’s life is full of questions and no answers. This person’s life demands control of outcomes. This person may become suicidal.

If a person says God is a female, then what is reflected back is a person’s belief that God’s self-revelation to us as Father, Son and Spirit is male privileged and not ‘inclusive’. Therefore, God must be ‘repackaged’ as humanized, feminized, and popularized for the masses. Those with this view of God have determined that God must not be separate and must be on par with us. These Gnostics ‘know’ what’s best.

If a person says God is many, then that person reflects back a dilution of truth in the form of pluralism. Such a person is open to all kinds of error and deception to maintain their ‘inclusive’ view.

If a person says God is distant and not available for comment, then that person reflects back an ‘On the Road’ life: avoiding pain, seeking pleasure, and surrounding themselves with like-minded friends.

These few examples, of course, represent only a sample of the effects of a false image of God. A false, replaced or non-existent image of God will always result in a false, replaced and non-existent humanity. As a comprehensive study of history reveals, a people with dysfunctional views of God can result in barbaric societies. Focusing on these corrupt images means that one cannot reflect back the image of God. And, a false, replaced or non-existent image of God will always result in an egregious beastly rule over oneself and creation. Time will reveal the same truth.

Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground. Genesis 1:26

God let it be known from the start that Idolatry and its images, whether material or projected, is perilous to one’s image bearing reflection of God. The reason: we become like that we worship. Idolatry is worship of a lie. Living out worship of a lie results in a life that is a lie. Idolatry also dehumanizes, since it is a reflection of less than God likeness. Much less. Again, there are myriad examples of this in history and surrounding us today.

Idolatry reduces God to His creation, either as a creature or to an element such as gold. For the idolater, reducing God to a creature or to an element means that God can now be controlled and molded into the image that works for him or her. But it is God who is the Image Grantor and Generator. To make an indelible impression on us, God took created elements – tables of stone – and wrote out, “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image“.

Over and over again in Scripture we read that God made it very clear that all focus was to be on Him the Creator. To remove that focus was to bring down His wrath. God is a jealous God.

for the LORD your God, who is among you, is a jealous God and his anger will burn against you, and he will destroy you from the face of the land. Deuteronomy 6:15

Exodus tells the story of Israel’s God removing His people from the false Egyptian gods. And in the desert God lays down the law to tell His people how to be image bearers. As noted above, the Lord God is to be their focus and not idols. And throughout the history of Israel, the Lord reminds His people of the consequences when they change their focus. Later, Israel asked God for a king because their focus was set on other nations. Their first king, Saul, was an ego-centric control freak who turned mad.

Much later, the prophet Isaiah spoke the rebuking words of the Lord to those who took the focus off of Him and focused on themselves:

Woe to those who quarrel with their Maker, those who are nothing but potsherds among the potsherds on the ground. Does the clay say to the potter, ‘What are you making?’ Does your work say, ‘The potter has no hands’? Isaiah 45:9

We become what we worship. I see examples of it every day at the fitness club. Often at the club, two Kim clones work their bodies to create a Kim-sized booty. To paraphrase a bumper sticker, “You can’t take your booty with you”.

Since we are created in God’s image and likeness to have dominion over creation, it is easy for us to assume a self-important stance before God. We are prone to see ourselves as the center of life itself and the Son revolving around us. And, as shown over and over again in the history of mankind, some men and women will convert their ego-centrism into a form of self-divination. These will expect and perhaps demand that others recognize them and even worship them as transcendent or divine. I am talking about those who see themselves as exalted based on power or status or one’s physical appearance. Examples would include Pharaohs, Assyrian Kings, Roman emperors, rulers of nations, heads of state, celebrities, politicians, and superheroes (you worship them with your time and dollars).

What image of God did three exiles have to be able to say “No” to a powerful King? (And, who taught them about a sovereign unseen God who is able to deliver? Who taught them that no other God shall be worshipped?)

King Nebuchadnezzar made an image of gold, sixty cubits high and six cubits wide, and set it up on the plain of Dura in the province of Babylon. …the herald loudly proclaimed, “Nations and peoples of every language, this is what you are commanded to do:  As soon as you hear the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipe and all kinds of music, you must fall down and worship the image of gold that King Nebuchadnezzar has set up.  Whoever does not fall down and worship will immediately be thrown into a blazing furnace.” …you must fall down and worship the image of gold that King Nebuchadnezzar has set up.

But…there are some Jews whom you have set over the affairs of the province of Babylon—Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego—who pay no attention to you, Your Majesty. They neither serve your gods nor worship the image of gold you have set up. Daniel 3

By their continued resistance (The exiles had already made their stance known to the king and to his men), the three exiles made it very clear to king Nebuchadnezzar that their focus was always going to be on the one true God and not on their fate tied to idol worship. What the three exiles said next would have made the King very hot under the collar. The NIV does not translate their words in the Daniel 3:17 text well, especially as it pertains to the King’s earlier glowing acceptance of Daniel’s god after Daniel interpreted the king’s dream (Daniel 2:24). The revised text is in italics:

Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to him, “King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If our God whom we serve exists he is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace and from your hand he will but if not then be it known to you we will not serve your gods anyway. Daniel 3:16-18

The three exiles were not doubting God’s existence. Just the opposite. They were adding fuel to the fire. They made sure that there would be no shadow of doubt in their reflection of the existence of the One True God. Their words turned up the heat. And once their God-reflecting humanity was miraculously delivered unsinged from the beastly hot furnace, the King was left without excuse and with plenty to think about. He could easily imagine his giant golden image melting like wax before the separate and not equal God.

 

 

And Hezekiah prayed to the Lord: “Lord, the God of Israel, enthroned between the cherubim, you alone are God over all the kingdoms of the earth. You have made heaven and earth. Give ear, Lord, and hear; open your eyes, Lord, and see; listen to the words Sennacherib has sent to ridicule the living God.

“It is true, Lord, that the Assyrian kings have laid waste these nations and their lands.  They have thrown their gods into the fire and destroyed them, for they were not gods but only wood and stone, fashioned by human hands. Now, Lord our God, deliver us from his hand, so that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you alone, Lord, are God.” 2 Kings 19 (emphasis mine)

Copy-cat Revenge

 

“How many children around the globe, we continue to ask, are growing up with “jihad,” “war,” “crusade,” “revenge,” “hatred” not only inscribed in their names but woven into the very fabric of their lives! For reconciliation to take place, the inscriptions of hatred must be carefully erased and the threads of violence gently removed. This, I think, is one important lesson of Jesus’ proclamation of the reign of God”.  – from Miroslav Volf’s book Exclusion and Embrace: A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness, and Reconciliation

~~~

“Here Comes Revenge”

Little grave I’m grieving, I will mend you
Sweet revenge I’m dreaming, I will end you

I’ve been here since dawn of time
Countless hatreds built my shrine
I was born in anger’s flame
He was Abel, I was Cain
I am here
I’m hell unbound
Burn your kingdom to the ground
To the ground

Here comes revenge, just for you
Revenge, you can’t undo
Revenge, is killing me
Revenge, set me free
Eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth
A life for a life, it’s my burden of proof
Revenge, just for you
Revenge
You ask forgiveness, I give you sweet revenge

I return this nightmare, I will find you
Sleepless, cloaked in despair, I’m behind you

Man has made me oh so strong
Blurring lines of right and wrong
Far too late for frail amends
Now it’s come to sweet revenge
Desperate hands
That lose control
Have no mercy on your soul
On your soul

Here comes revenge, just for you
Revenge, you can’t undo
Revenge, is killing me
Revenge, just set me free
Eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth
A life for a life, it’s my burden of proof
Revenge, just for you
Revenge
You ask forgiveness, I give you sweet revenge

Here comes revenge, just for you
Revenge, you can’t undo
Revenge, is killing me
Revenge, set me free
Eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth
A life for a life, it’s my burden of proof
Revenge, just for you
Revenge
You ask forgiveness, I give you sweet revenge

Sweet revenge

 -Metallica, Here Comes Revenge

 

Revenge has media backing. Entertainment media is suffused with violent images of revenge. Is not most of what is called action and drama cable programing and movies about taking revenge? Gladiator and Kill Bill come to mind but there are hundreds of revenge programs and movies. Tough guys and gals go settle scores via jihads, wars, crusades, etc., and pander to the basest of emotions for entertainment dollars. Revenge is valorized. 

Revenge is shown as what the character (and the viewer vicariously) must do to obtain closure. So, the ‘victim’ becomes the avenger. After killing the perpetrator, the avenger walks off mollified that he or she has justifiably killed another. Yet, in reality, taking revenge is never the end of the story. Revenge never brings the curtain down. How is this impulse for revenge, as depicted so often on the screen of black box, inscribed into our lives?

On Twitter a while back I engaged a woman in a conversation. As the thread became about control gun around a school shooting, I jumped in with a reply and stated that the media and those who consume those things are also blameworthy. I said that what is shown on TV and in movies and video games reinforces the idea that violent revenge is the answer to injustice.

In her replies to me, the woman was adamant that the media was benign. She replied with several of her Google search findings which she felt supported her position. I could tell from her responses that she also had a vested interest in saying the media was harmless. I learned that the kids she was caring for played video games. I ended the conversation with her mentioning that the sheer volume of programing that depicts violent revenge as the answer to a wrong must influence a person’s behavior subconsciously. She was resistant to the notion.

What I wanted to add: commercials are made to influence consumer behavior. The hourly and daily repetition of the same commercial will soon have a person, in Pavlovian response, finishing its jingle or its phone number or reciting the words of its comical product sketch at the office. Clearly, those who want to influence behavior use the media. The nightly newscasts that talk about “gun violence” are meant to stir up emotions against guns and their owners. Consider what the volumes of violent revenge images in the media do to the viewer, especially to the lone viewer and to the viewer with unresolved anger at some perceived offense? The scenarios do not depict reconciliation. The scenarios depict anger and rage fulfilled.

Consider also the effects of the news media’s attention to mass killers.

Most copycats have their private agenda in a rampage killing but seek to tie it in to other events that received a lot of publicity. In this way, they bask in the reflected publicity, so to speak. In many cases, the rampage killer wants to commit suicide but opts to take others with him…it is difficult to escape the conclusion that copycat killings are partly inspired by the publicity surrounding the original. Quote from Copycat Killings: Making sense of the senseless

 

As I thought about revenge and the incessant revenge depictions, the image that came to my mind was the one invoked by Jesus:

You heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you: don’t use violence to resist evil! Instead, when someone hits you on the right cheek, turn the other one toward him.  Matthew 5: 8-39

As I try to wrap my mind around those words, I come to some conclusions:

A slap of my face would be a stinging rebuke. A slap of my face means someone is in my face about some matter and it is personal.  A slap of my face is a challenge prodding me to answer back with equal force or to walk away in shame. A slap in my face is a show of power.

A person acting out ‘An eye for an eye’ revenge says to himself, “There is no God who will hold the other accountable and therefore I must avenge myself.” Or, “There is a God but he is off somewhere. I will have my vengeance.” A person acting out revenge says to himself, “I am not responsible for what happens next.”  A person acting out revenge says to himself, “I will not stop the cycle of violence until I have conquered the other and have brought them to their knees.”

A person acting out revenge rejects the words of Scripture…

Don’t take revenge, my dear people, but allow God’s anger room to work. The Bible says, after all, ‘Vengeance is mine; I will replay, say the Lord.” Romans 12: 19

 

I am told by Jesus to turn my other cheek into the line of fire. Doing so is the real show of power – restraint with the knowledge that God sees the offense. My Father in heaven, who also sees me when I pray in secret, will make things right. How can I be sure? Jesus, with servant-restraint, made it clear as he stood before Pilate that there is a Kingdom not of this world where he reigns as king. Jesus let Pilate know that there was a new power in town and with it comes a new justice system based in truth.

How can I be sure? Jesus endured whipping and slapping and mocking – evil’s stinging rebukes – and yet Jesus did not retaliate. Jesus did not call down angels to annihilate his accusers and torturers. Revenge would not reconcile the world to himself.

This is how it came about: God was reconciling the world to himself in the Messiah, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting us with the message of reconciliation. 2 Corinthians 5:19

 

Turning the other cheek is about the ministry of reconciliation. To take revenge is to reject reconciliation. To not forgive as a means of revenge is to reject reconciliation. To copy-cat violence back onto another is to reject reconciliation. To take revenge with words is to reject reconciliation.

The message of reconciliation will be offered out of red swollen cheeks. Keep that image in mind and reject the images of revenge. The inscriptions of hatred must be fully erased and the threads of violence yanked from the media. End “sweet revenge”.

 

Interactive media has influence over you if you let it. Added 6/19/2018:

What is gaming disorder?

Gaming disorder is defined in the draft 11th Revision of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11) as a pattern of gaming behavior (“digital-gaming” or “video-gaming”) characterized by impaired control over gaming, increasing priority given to gaming over other activities to the extent that gaming takes precedence over other interests and daily activities, and continuation or escalation of gaming despite the occurrence of negative consequences.

For gaming disorder to be diagnosed, the behaviour pattern must be of sufficient severity to result in significant impairment in personal, family, social, educational, occupational or other important areas of functioning and would normally have been evident for at least 12 months.

 

Only One Thing Matters

 

Three scenarios, two Marys, and only one thing matters:

Jesus’s parents used to go to Jerusalem every year for the Passover festival. When Jesus was twelve years old, they went up as usual…

After the festival, Joseph and Mary left Jerusalem for their home in Galilee. They went on for a day’s journey thinking the boy was with the traveling party. But Jesus had remained in Jerusalem. When it as discovered that Jesus was nowhere to be found, Joseph and Mary returned to Jerusalem. There, they found the boy in the temple courts sitting among the teachers. He was listening to them and asking questions. Those who heard him were astonished at his understanding and his answers. And the teachers were not the only ones who were taken aback. When Joseph and Mary saw the boy they were quit overwhelmed.

“Child,” said his mother, “why did you do this to us?” Look—your father and I have been in a terrible state looking for you!”

“Why were you looking for me?” he replied. “Didn’t you know that I would have to be getting involved with my father’s work?”

 

It appears from Luke’s Gospel text that Joseph and Mary assumed that the boy Jesus was mature enough to make his way home within the traveling party and without oversight. Maybe at that time Mary was caring for or carrying another child. Chasing a twelve-year-old boy around would have been too much.

What we do know is that Mary did keep track in her heart of what the angel had said to her before her pregnancy. No doubt she also remembered that she and Joseph had escaped the rage of a king. And, she must have told Luke after the resurrection and ascension that the boy Jesus was “full of wisdom, and God’s grace was upon him.” (Luke 2: 40). Yet, with such unique events (including wise men appearing) surrounding the child, I wonder why a closer eye wasn’t kept on the boy. It appears that Mary did not comprehend Jesus.

One observation, based on this early account of Jesus’s life, is that Jesus isn’t in the ‘business’ of making people, his own parents in this case, feel OK about him. His parent’s assumptions, in fact, had them carry on thinking all was well. But the harsh reality had them turn around and look for Jesus.

 

It is said that Saint Teresa of Avila once remarked to the Lord, regarding not being OK with how he treated her, that, “If this is the way you treat your friends, it’s no wonder you have so few!”

Now, let’s turn to a wedding. (No, not that wedding.)

 

Roughly eighteen years after Joseph and Mary catch up to Jesus, Jesus and Mary attend a wedding in Cana. Mary invokes mother privilege when the wine runs out. What prompted her to think Jesus should do something about empty wine glasses? Did she remember boy Jesus asking, “Didn’t you know that I would have to be getting involved with my father’s work?” Had she seen Jesus perform other such miracles? Was she simply trying to get him involved in procuring more wine for the wedding feast? I assume that Mary, like most mothers, was concerned about guests being taken care of. The wedding invite likely meant that she was close to the wedding family. In any case, mother gets involved…

 

Jesus’s mother came over to him.

“They haven’t got any wine!” she said.

“Oh, Mother!”, replied Jesus. What’s that got to do with you and me? My time hasn’t come yet.”

 

The apostle John records (Chapter 2) Jesus’s act of transubstantiation — turning water into wine — as the first sign of Jesus’s public ministry. The One who is involved with his Father’s work knew that once the signs of his kingdom had begun publicly, that everything would change. It would be the end of a quiet family life. The public ministry would involve throngs of people around him. It would involve choosing disciples from the locals. It would involve facing down all the powers in heaven and on earth. It would involve the ultimate sacrifice, his death on a cross.

Mary did not see this coming. She only saw in Jesus what most Jews had hoped for – a promise come true, a covenant kept, a prophet, a teacher and, a triumphant Messiah — one who came and conquered. The Jews of the first century believed a Messiah would come to save God’s people. Going up to the Passover festival every year would reinforce that thinking. Their Deliverer was coming. It was Mary who said, [God] “has rescued his servant, Israel, his child, because he remembered his mercy of old…”.

The Jews assumed that this Messiah would be a special human, a “full of wisdom, and God’s grace was upon him” human. They assumed wrong. And, when the wine ran out, did Mary assume that she could force Jesus to deliver the goods and reveal himself to the world? Others would later demand a sign from Jesus (Matthew 12:38).

Jesus counters Mary’s assumption on that “Oh, Mother!”’s Day: “My time hasn’t come yet.”

One observation, based on this account of Jesus’s life, is that Jesus isn’t in the ‘business’ of making people, his own mother in this case, feel OK about things. Mary’s assumption, in fact, likely had her thinking all will be well if Jesus just does what she asked of him. Wine glasses were empty and more wine was needed immediately for the celebration to continue. An honest need. But, more wine depended on the Father. Listening to the Father was the only thing that mattered to Jesus.

 

Now, let’s turn to a third scenario found in Luke’s Gospel account 10: 38-42.

 

On their journey, Jesus came into a village. There was a woman there named Martha, who welcomed him. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the master’s feet and listened to his teaching.

Martha was frantic with all the work in the kitchen.

“Master,” she said, coming in to where they were, “don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work all by myself? Tell her to give me a hand!”

“Martha, Martha,” he replied, “you are fretting and fussing about so many things. Only one thing matters. Mary has chosen the best part, and it’s not going to be taken away from her.”

 

A Proverbs 31 woman/host has major setbacks when that woman is determined to lord her peace of mind over another. That was what Martha sought to do to Mary. Martha assumed that her demands would be met. She assumed that the Lord would put Mary in her place – the woman’s space. I think it is safe to assume that Mary was sitting at Jesus’s feet listening to Jesus as he talked to Mary’s brother Lazarus, as they sat together in the men’s space.

We are told in John’s gospel account chapter 11: 2 that this Mary was the same Mary who would anoint the feet of Jesus with myrrh and then wipe them with her hair. Listening to Jesus and then responding to him with extravagant love defines the ultimate woman and more so than Proverbs 31 could ever do. 

 

Assumptions about Jesus can make us frantic, as when Joseph and Mary, after thinking that Jesus was under control, had to turn around and look for their missing child. Or, assumptions about Jesus can make us fret, as when the wine runs out at a wedding feast. Or, assumptions about Jesus can make us fussy when we make a demand for satisfaction. Discard assumptions about Jesus. Turn off social media. Turn off noise.

There is only one thing that matters and we see it restated in the three scenarios above. First, Mary and Joseph find the missing boy Jesus instructing the teachers in the temple. Those who heard the boy Jesus were astonished at his understanding and his answers. Second, Mary tells the servants at the wedding to listen to Jesus. And finally, Jesus honors Mary because she is listening to him.

If you think you know what Jesus would do, you don’t. You begin to know him as you listen to him and not to your assumptions about him. To listen to him means to be at his feet without your Smartphone assumptions. Choose “the best part” and not frantic fussy fretting. Choose the one thing that matters and you won’t lose it, empty it and, it’s not going to be taken away from you.

Slippery Slopes are Not Defensible Positions

The following Tweet appeared in my Twitter feed. As one can see, the Tweet is not a response to a particular person. Rather it is a scourging of the topics discussed in a Tennessee Sunday School, as noted in the article posted. It is also obvious that the Tweet was meant for Janet Mefferd’s followers. My response was to the content of the Tweet and its implications for those who call Jesus “Lord”.

There were several responses to my reply, including, “Total capitulation. So sad professing Christians think they need to do this.” It was if I had succumbed to the world and had become a carnal Christian in accepting a scientific understanding of creation.

One woman had a most vehement disagreement with me regarding my use of science. She has since blocked me.

Her arguments against my positing evolutionary creation were not arguments at all. Rather, she quoted Scripture verses denouncing me as promoting false doctrine and 1 Cor. 1:27:

But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.

And in keeping with Mefferd, she also posted slippery slope warning diatribes denouncing evolutionary creation as the road to outer Darwinism.

This woman’s responses implied that since I held to a science-explained creation that I did not know Scripture and that I was not a Rock-solid Fundamentalist and therefore already on a slippery slope. She would only accept a literal 6-day (24 hour/day) creation reading of Genesis. Here is one of my responses to her:

To allay misunderstanding, I was not trying to win an argument when I posted my replies. I did state my position in my initial response. I did try to further discussion of the science versus Scripture and Faith issue that seems so prevalent in Christian circles. I did try to jump start a conversation about evolutionary creation. And, in so doing I implied that it is appropriate to discuss science in church. I also felt that I had to stand up for scientific study, as nature is God’s revelation to us along with Scripture.

But, the minds of those who replied were in lock-down mode. They would not hear of such a thing. They became defensive. And, that is the implication and force of Tweets like the above: to shut down any thinking that comes from outside the narrative and to reinforce the closely held narrative. I am reminded of Plato’s cave allegory (see below). The mind-shackled use the shadows – illusions- on a cave wall as their shared narrative.

As anyone can observe today, groups on both Right and Left have their hard-drive narratives and fire-walls set up against any knowledge that would corrupt their narrative. Offensively, ultraconservative Fundamentalists use dictatorial piety with a formatted Sola Scriptura narrative to counter-spam the ultraliberal dictatorial piety of Progressives and their formatted Sola Pretium Affectionis (Values) narratives. And, vice versa.

Both groups use virtue signaling in social media to reinforce their narrative to their followers and to ward off criticism of and debate about their narrative. Both groups use slippery slope scenarios to buttress their narratives against challenges. Both group’s narrative reinforcements are those whose personal version of God is one created in their own image. As such, both group’s absolutist narratives allow one to presume to know all there is about an issue. Both group’s narratives are for the simple-minded: the narratives make no demands of you; the narratives require no effort or thought; the narrative only requires that you repeat its words over and over. But, as someone also observed, “Nothing ventured, nothing gained” (Chaucer, 1374).

 

You can go to a church week after week and have your narrative reinforced. Or, you can go to church and have your narrative brought out into the open and challenged. Jesus challenged hard-wired fire-wall protected absolutist dictatorial narratives. Disciples followed to hear more. Others walked away and back to their safe space narrative cave.

In the world where a Christian’s replies instantly equate my inquiry and debate to heresy and to precipitous slippery slope scenarios or to Fundamentalism, nothing is ventured and nothing is gained. Fear of the unknown is what is being defended against with such rebuffing Tweets directed at me from the narrative cave. The Gospel was NOT being defended or upheld for all to see with such dismissive Tweets directed at me from the narrative cave. And that’s because the Gospel is not cave-ridden. Those who embrace the Gospel walk in the light. But for some, tweeting from the safe space narrative cave about slippery slopes outside somewhere is all that matters.

 

The heart of the discerning acquires knowledge,

for the ears of the wise seek it out.

Proverbs 18:15

 

 As iron sharpens iron,
so one person sharpens another.

Proverbs 27:17

 

~~~

Some things to ponder:

Allegory of the Cave

 

“Despite the efforts of a few evangelical intellectuals like B. B. Warfield and James Orr, to work patiently through the mid-level science literature of the day, evangelicalism as a whole relied more on popular argumentation aimed at democratic audiences, rather than on discriminating advanced learning, to counter the anti -Christian uses of modern science.  Powerful social forces fueled this populist approach.”

-Mark Noll, Evangelicals, Creation, and Scripture: An Overview

“The fact that the human and chimpanzee genomes exhibit striking synteny with only subtle differences in genomic organization has been known for some time, based on chromosome staining and molecular hybridization techniques.The main differences between human and chimpanzee chromosome sets are nine intrachromosomal inversions and one chromosome fusion. These observations have now been confirmed at the molecular level by whole-genome sequencing of humans and chimpanzees.”

-Dennis R. Venema, Genesis and the Genome: Genomics Evidence for Human-Ape Common Ancestry and Ancestral Hominid Population Sizes

“Now we Reformed Christians are wholly in earnest about the Bible. We are people of the Word; Sola Scriptura is our cry; we take Scripture to be a special revelation from God himself, demanding our absolute trust and allegiance. But we are equally enthusiastic about reason, a God-given power by virtue of which we have knowledge of ourselves, our world, our past, logic and mathematics, right and wrong, and God himself; reason is one of the chief features of the image of God in us. And if we are enthusiastic about reason, we must also be enthusiastic about contemporary natural science, which is a powerful and vastly impressive manifestation of reason. So this is my question: given our Reformed proclivities and this apparent conflict, what are we to do? How shall we think about this matter?”

-Alvin Plantinga, When Faith and Reason Clash: Evolution and the Bible

“Usually, even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other elements of this world, about the motion and orbit of the stars and even their size and relative positions, about the predictable eclipses of the sun and moon, the cycles of the years and the seasons, about the kinds of animals, shrubs, stones, and so forth, and this knowledge he hold to as being certain from reason and experience. Now, it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn. The shame is not so much that an ignorant individual is derided, but that people outside the household of faith think our sacred writers held such opinions, and, to the great loss of those for whose salvation we toil, the writers of our Scripture are criticized and rejected as unlearned men. If they find a Christian mistaken in a field which they themselves know well and hear him maintaining his foolish opinions about our books, how are they going to believe those books in matters concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven, when they think their pages are full of falsehoods and on facts which they themselves have learnt from experience and the light of reason? Reckless and incompetent expounders of Holy Scripture bring untold trouble and sorrow on their wiser brethren when they are caught in one of their mischievous false opinions and are taken to task by those who are not bound by the authority of our sacred books. For then, to defend their utterly foolish and obviously untrue statements, they will try to call upon Holy Scripture for proof and even recite from memory many passages which they think support their position, although they understand neither what they say nor the things about which they make assertion.” [1 Timothy 1.7]

-Saint Augustine (A.D. 354-430) in his work The Literal Meaning of Genesis (De Genesi ad litteram libri duodecim) (emphasis mine)

From Rage to Rage or Age to Age the Same

 

It seems that for much of the Evangelical Christian world today, the driving narrative concerns getting people saved from hell and then setting them on the path of a fundamentalist political narrative. The right people must be elected by the right people to protect the rights of the right people. For heaven’s sake.

It also seems that for the Progressive Christian world today, the driving narrative concerns saving folks from material concerns and then discipling them to be a fellow traveler in the Long March toward cultural hegemony where individuated rights reign supreme. For social justice’s sake.

Are the two narratives ascribed above oversimplifications? Judging by their social media content I would say they are not. And though there are narrative differences, both groups do let their narrative identify them politically. Both groups wrangle for power over the other to gain narrative advantage. Both group’s worldview is refracted by their narrative window. Both groups tend toward stream of consciousness narratives: reacting to events as they go along and providing their own context. And yet, as I read Scripture, I find that the Christian world has already been defined by the all-encompassing Kingdom of God narrative handed down to us.

As there is one God, there is one narrative. From the beginning Word (John 1), God gave His people the storyline. His people, for the most part, were and still are the characters in that storyline. His people have and still must walk in that narrative because they and us are held accountable for what we do with that imperishable narrative. So that there was no doubt as to what narrative eclipses all others, Jesus told his disciples, “Heaven and earth will disappear, but my words will never, ever disappear”. The Kingdom of God people narrative was not going away with a vote or a change in government or with new laws passed.

 

What is that narrative handed down to the Kingdom of God people to walk in? The account was written down by several of God’s chosen people. Israel was to be the personification of the narrative, as the creation and covenant people, a people holy and separated unto God and for His glory. What characterizes the Kingdom of God people and their narrative? There are several aspects.

They are monotheistic. The Shema is the central prayer in the Jewish prayer book and usually the first scripture a Jewish child learns: “Hear O Israel, the Lord is our God; the Lord is one.” Israel was strictly warned by God to not make idols of false gods or to make any image of God.

The Kingdom of God people come to understand that God is both personal and transcendent. The narrative they pass onto to their children is that not only is God the Creator but that He is also personally involved with his creation. The Kingdom of God narrative does not include deism.

God’s Kingdom people are temple-centered people. The temple is where the personal-infinite God dwells with man. The temple is where heaven and earth come together.

God’s people rely on God’s covenant faithfulness, God’s righteousness. God made promises to Abraham and to David. His people expect those promises to be fulfilled within the same narrative.

God’s Kingdom people are Exodus people. They know what God had done for their ancestors. They expect God to take them out from under the rulers of this world.

God’s Kingdom people are the Messiah people. They expect a Savior to take his place over the rulers of this world and bring ultimate justice. The Messiah – God’s faithfulness to His covenant or God’s righteousness – is their hope (Gal. 5:5).

God’s Kingdom people are eschatological people. They believe that God would ultimately put the world right and restore His creation, and dwell with man in His temple forever.

God’s Kingdom people are Holy God people. They were given the Commandments and Laws of a Holy God. And though Wisdom tells us (Eccl. 1:9) that “there is nothing new under the sun”, ‘Enlightened’ Post-modernist Progressives seek to rewrite God’s moral laws to fit an Epicurean culture. But, the Kingdom of God narrative of a holy God has never changed.

 

In previous posts I have given you accounts of how the Kingdom of God people narrative has played out in some character’s lives. The accounts of Joseph, Esther and Daniel provide us, the Kingdom of God people, with an understanding of how to live in this world but not like this world. In other words, how to live out the Kingdom of God narrative. Their stories relate confrontations between the Kingdom of God and the kingdoms of this world. 

Because Joseph and Esther and Daniel embraced the Kingdom of God narrative as their own, they held fast to their separate-from-the-world ways. Each character knew that God was not off somewhere and uninvolved in their situation. From the accounts of their ancestors, each understood God to be a personal and yet transcendent God. Their desire for God’s dwelling place with man is at the center of their lives, even in exile. And, each knew that God would ultimately put things right. As such, none of the three wavered into other narratives to secure power or a safe space or to receive praise from men.

Esther points out the evil.

Their accounts relate how the Kingdom of God people can live in the most adverse circumstances and yet live out the Kingdom of God people narrative. Each faced life and death choices. Each came through the fire to be found faithful. So, they were rewarded in a way that gave God the glory.

In each of their stories, Joseph, Esther and Daniel, were chosen out from their lowly and displaced estate and placed into exalted positions. They were chosen based on their wisdom, insight and character qualities in line with the Kingdom of God people narrative. 

 

The only narrative that matters is the Kingdom of God narrative. All other narratives will pass away. Those who call Jesus “Lord” will walk in the Kingdom of God narrative. It is their storyline. If they don’t, they will likely receive a written message from the First and Last Narrator:

 

“Now write what you see, both the things that already are, and also the things that are going to happen afterward.” The Revelation of Jesus Christ 1:19

Joseph, Esther and Daniel:

The Gift That Keeps on Forgiving

Haman and Hate (and Hamas by Proxy?) Meet the Hangman, Part One

Haman and Hate (and Hamas by Proxy?) meet the Hangman, Part Two

Haman and Hate (and Hamas by Proxy?) meet the Hangman, Part Three

Haman and Hate (and Hamas by Proxy?) meet the Hangman, Part Four, Conclusion

All the Difference in the World

The Grace Given to Each of Us

 

My job is to make clear to everyone just what the secret plan is, the purpose that’s been hidden from the very beginning of the world in God who created all things. This is it: that God’s wisdom, in all its rich variety, was to be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places – through the church.” The Apostle Paul, Ephesian 3: 9 & 10

 

This weekend is our church’s 150th anniversary of the chapel. The church: St. Mark’s, named after the Evangelist.

St. Mark, the Evangelist

The Anniversary booklet states,

St. Mark’s origins go back to the earliest days of Geneva, around 1830, when Episcopal services were held in a log house belonging to Mrs. Charity Herrirngton, which stood at what is now State Street near River Lane. These were the first religious services held in Geneva [IL].

And this,

Early in 1868 plans were drawn and a contractor selected to erect a church in the Gothic style, built of local riverstone with limestone sills and hood moldings, to seat 250….

There is much more of St. Mark’s history to recount. But here, I’ll share my St. Mark’s experience and the photos I shot today after the 8:00 service.

 

I came to St. Mark’s after moving into the area. At the same time, I was moving away from attending Bible churches. Raised in Evangelical churches and then attending them for years as an adult, I became desirous of a higher church setting, one that honored the beauty of words, of music, of architecture and the sacred. The Bible churches and many others, it seemed to me, were becoming more and more like the surrounding culture in their desire to be relevant.

I like Anglicanism’s emphasis on the Word and Sacrament along with the informing elements of tradition (the practices of the historical church) and reason (involving the intellectual). I like how the liturgy (worship hymns, reading of Scripture, offering, sermon, confession, the Creed, the Peace) points to the apex of the service – the Eucharist. In the churches I attended previously the service is centered around Scripturally illiterate sermons.

The words of The Book of Common Prayer have a stately beauty and sacredness to them. The wording should be so. We are petitioning royalty. Who in turn, points me to the Eucharist — the REAL Presence of Jesus Christ offered to me each week. It is the main reason I attend St. Mark’s.

The church has been a tremendous blessing to me over the almost eleven years I have attended. And, that is why I also must mention the many good people of St. Marks. They have been generous with their grace towards me. What they have received they have passed on to me.

One last word. I have spent many a time alone in St. Mark’s Chapel. This occurs during the Good Friday night vigil. I sign up for an hour alone before the cross, keeping watch. As such, it is a sacred time at 4:00 am. It is my time to come away and meditate on the cross. I come away from the chapel with a gift of grace, given to me “according to the measure the king used when he was distributing gifts. That’s why it says…

When he went up on high

He led bondage itself into bondage

And he gave gifts to people.

(Ephesians 4:7 & 8)

 

St. Marks’ is a gift of grace to me. Rulers and authorities would be wise to take note.

Pentecost mural by Louis Frederick Grell (1919)

Burning Bush

 

~~~
Imagine 150 years of marriages and baptisms and confirmations and funerals and friendships and giving, and the Eucharist, and witness for Christ to the community. Imagine the Kingdom Continuum.

All the Difference in the World

If anyone had a reason to be politically correct it was the deported and exiled Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah. But, confronted not with a raging Twitter feed or a riotous SJW protest but with life or death choices, they acted in full confidence in who they were.

They were the chosen people of God. They knew what they were about even when their names were changed to Babylonian names. Chosen once again out of the Jewish exiles because of their unique qualities, these four were to become advisors to Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon. It was during the start of their three-year training that Daniel balked at eating the royal food.

The food may have been offered to idols. Eating the food may have gone against their ritual purity. Most likely, saying no to the food after being given Babylonian names would have been a political statement: “We will not let you redefine us as Babylonians”.

 But Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine, and he asked the chief official for permission not to defile himself this way.

Daniel then said to the guard whom the chief official had appointed over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah, “Please test your servants for ten days: Give us nothing but vegetables to eat and water to drink.  Then compare our appearance with that of the young men who eat the royal food and treat your servants in accordance with what you see.”  So he agreed to this and tested them for ten days. – Daniel chapter one

 

You know the story. Though it would have been politically correct to eat the King’s food, Daniel and the others knew that if you drink the King’s wine, you sing the King’s songs. They instead chose to be faithful to God even in this small matter. So, God gave them greater things to be faithful in. One of those greater things was a smelting furnace.

King Nebuchadnezzar made an image of gold, sixty cubits high and six cubits wide, and set it up on the plain of Dura in the province of Babylon. …the herald loudly proclaimed, “Nations and peoples of every language, this is what you are commanded to do:  As soon as you hear the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipe and all kinds of music, you must fall down and worship the image of gold that King Nebuchadnezzar has set up.  Whoever does not fall down and worship will immediately be thrown into a blazing furnace.” …you must fall down and worship the image of gold that King Nebuchadnezzar has set up.

But…there are some Jews whom you have set over the affairs of the province of Babylon—Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego—who pay no attention to you, Your Majesty. They neither serve your gods nor worship the image of gold you have set up.” Daniel chapter three

 

Though bowing to the image would have been politically correct, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego would have nothing to do with worshiping anything other than the one true God. So, because of the decree, they were thrown into a seven-times stoked blazing furnace. This furnace is likely the oven where metals were refined to make idols like the “image of gold, sixty cubits high and six cubits wide, and set it up on the plain of Dura in the province of Babylon.” But that kind of heat is nothing to the Creator of the Big Bang, especially with regard to his faithful ones. In the heat of the moment, the true God was revealed:

Then King Nebuchadnezzar leaped to his feet in amazement and asked his advisers, “Weren’t there three men that we tied up and threw into the fire?”

They replied, “Certainly, Your Majesty.”

He said, “Look! I see four men walking around in the fire, unbound and unharmed, and the fourth looks like a son of the gods.” Daniel chapter three

 

 

In Daniel chapter six we read that Daniel, a newly appointed satrap (basically, an overseer of a district) was the focus of the other satrap’s and their social justice jealousy. The satraps didn’t like it that Daniel had qualities and favor they didn’t possess. So, they devised a devilish edict formulated to depose Daniel from King Darius’ good pleasure: “the decree that anyone who prays to any god or human being during the next thirty days, except to you, Your Majesty, shall be thrown into the lions’ den.”

You know the story. Being thrown into the lion’s den is something Daniel’s Creator God could also handle. The Lord God shut the lions’ mouths and the mouths of the ends-justifying-the-means SJWs.

By now you should be able to glimpse that the book of Daniel provides us with, among its telescoped history, its dreams and interpretations, an understanding of how God’s people are to live in this world and under its rulers. God’s chosen appear different, peculiar, to those onlookers standing outside the furnace and outside our place of prayer and outside the lion’s den. The reason the world does not know them is that it does not know the One True God.

 

 

In the Apostle Paul’s second letter to the Corinthian church (chapter 6), Paul pleads with the readers to see what he and others have suffered to bring them the good news of Jesus Christ. He lists the adversities they encountered. He tells them that the hardships and their Christian character throughout are confirmed “by speaking the truth, by God’s power”.

The Corinthians Christians certainly may have presumed that because Paul and the others faced so many adversities and challenges, that they could off in their messaging. Paul wanted them to know that their messaging, though it kicked against the goads of the Roman empire (“Jesus is Lord”) and popular opinion (“food for the stomach, the stomach for food”), was not an attempt at politically correct virtue signaling. The message cost him and others dearly. The grace of his Lord cost him the cross. At the beginning of chapter six Paul appeals to the Corinthians saying, “when you accept God’s grace, don’t let it go to waste! Paul was not talking about cheap grace. Dietrich Bonhoeffer would later sum up cheap grace:

Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession…Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.

 

 

Unlike many church leaders today, Paul, Apostle and pastor, made sure his message and his character were one and the same. Otherwise, the Gospel would be compromised. Again, Corinthians six:

We put no obstacles in anybody’s way, so that nobody will say abusive things about our ministry. …

We have been wide open in our speaking to you, my dear Corinthians! Our heart has been open wide! There are no restrictions at our end…

Don’t be drawn into partnerships with unbelievers. What kind of sharing can there be, after all, between justice and lawlessness? What kind of partnership can there be between light and darkness? What kind of harmony can the Messiah have with Beliar? What has a believer in common with an unbeliever? What kind of agreement can there be between God’s temple and idols? We are the temple of the living God, you see, just as God said:

I will live among them and walk about them;

I will be their God, and they will be my people.

So come out from the midst of them,

And separate yourselves, says the Lord:

No unclean thing must you touch.

Then I will receive you gladly,

And I will be to you as a father,

And you will be to me as sons and daughters,

Says the Lord, the Almighty.

 

 

So, my beloved people, with promises like these, let’s make ourselves clean from everything that defiles us, outside and inside, and let’s become completely holy in the fear of God. (2 Corinthians 6: 1-7-1)

 

Reading this passage, do you think that Paul was talking about how the church should become acculturated to better evangelize? Do you think Paul was talking about the church assimilating the Post-modern New Age Epicurean culture surrounding it?  Do you think Paul was talking here was about being inclusive? About diversity? About unleashing one’s feelings as the criteria for love?

The words Paul wrote to the Corinthian church came from the narrative God gave to his people long ago – to be a people unto himself. This is the same narrative that Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah understood and honored. In the passage Paul references the prophet Isaiah. His language is priestly temple language. Holiness is to be narrative of God’s people. Holiness separates them from an ego-centric life full of earthly desires to be a nation for God. Holiness is an upward and outward movement of the soul towards the Father, whereas narcissism, promoted in the world since the beginning of our time, is just the opposite, focusing the soul inward and downward towards the baser elements.

The Apostle Peter wrote in the same fashion (2:9-10):

But you are a “chosen race; a royal priesthood”; a holy nation; a people for God’s possession. Your purpose is to announce the virtuous deeds of the one who called you out of darkness into his amazing light. Once you were “no people; now you are “god’s people.” Once you had not received mercy; now you have received mercy.

 

 

 

There are several abhorrent notions going around in churches that rubber stamp Jesus on their narratives: all religions seek the same God and are equal in that respect; Jesus talked about loving your neighbor, so advocating for a social gospel akin to Marxism is acceptable to God; Jesus talked about loving your neighbor and not judging so you must love sinners and accept their values; America is a Christian nation; our priority as Christians is to make a just and fair world; illegal immigration is an acceptable form of lawlessness; homosexuality is just another version of human sexuality. Sex/gender are not binary; prayer doesn’t feed the thousands, Progressivism’s social gospel does; prayer is a nice sentiment but action and advocacy move mountains; democracy is the best and desired form of government for everyone; revealed values trump revealed truth, as values are based one’s sincere feelings.

That is the short list.

 

As a teenager I read Dr. Luke’s historical account The Acts of the Apostles. As I read, I encountered a living and vibrant church whose members were not politically motivated and who demanded nothing of the Roman empire other than for it to honor its laws and to maintain order. The church was the church and the state was the state. The early church was not democratic. Leaders were Godly men. Prayer, prayer, prayer, reading Scripture, prayer, the words of the Apostles, preparing for the return of the Lord, and, prayer, was the culture for the early church.

The early church did not push for Constantinianism. The church knew that governments were in place, by God’s will, to provide order. They prayed for those in authority. They had their own political reality.

The early Christians only political motivation, their only ideology came down to a personal statement: “Jesus is Lord”. Everything and everyone fell underneath his jurisdiction, since all things were created for Jesus and for his good pleasure. The early Kingdom Christians also anticipated and prepared in holiness for the Lord’s return to fully establish his kingdom on earth. Today’s Christians anxiously await the election of their candidate to establish their kingdom of values.

As the world asked, “What is truth?” the early Christians put on Christ and became Truth incarnate. The church became a community of Truth. The embodied Truth suffered persecution and martyrdom just as their Lord told them they would. The world looked on and saw that the early Christians were turning the world upside down. They were making all the difference in the world. Today’s Christians are letting the world turn them upside down and that is making all the difference in the world, too.

 

 

 

As I finished writing this post, I heard the Lord say to me, “Write these words: ‘I am with you and will never forsake you.’”

 

~~~

Here are two church position statements I came across this past week. I endorse their message.

Adapted from American Anglican Council’s “A Place to Stand

FOR TRUE INCLUSIVITY

In grateful response to Christ Jesus, in whom there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, we will extend the welcome of the Church to every person, regardless of race, sex, social or economic status, sexual orientation, or past behavior. We will oppose prejudice in ourselves and others and renounce any false notion of inclusivity that denies that all are sinners who need to repent. (emphasis mine)

 

 

FOR HUMAN SEXUALITY

Sexuality is inherent in God’s creation of every human person in his image as male and female. All Christians are called to chastity: Husbands and wives by exclusive sexual fidelity to one another and single persons by abstinence from sexual intercourse. God intends and enables all people to live within these boundaries through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and in the power of the Holy Spirit.

 

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Here are some interesting links I came across this past week:

 

 

Wheaton Offers Scholarship Named for Former Professor Who Said Muslims, Christians Worship Same God

The Gift That Keeps on Forgiving

 

Love prospers when a fault is forgiven,
but dwelling on it separates close friends.

-Proverbs 17:9

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If anyone had a right to settle accounts it was the young dreamer Joseph. Cast into a hole in the ground by his brothers over a dream he relayed to them and a love gift his father imparted to him, Joseph had every right to be up in arms.

 

Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers, they hated him all the more.  He said to them, “Listen to this dream I had:  We were binding sheaves of grain out in the field when suddenly my sheaf rose and stood upright, while your sheaves gathered around mine and bowed down to it.”

His brothers said to him, “Do you intend to reign over us? Will you actually rule us?” And they hated him all the more because of his dream and what he had said. …

 

So Joseph went after his brothers and found them near Dothan. But they saw him in the distance, and before he reached them, they plotted to kill him.

“Here comes that dreamer!” they said to each other. “Come now, let’s kill him and throw him into one of these cisterns and say that a ferocious animal devoured him. Then we’ll see what comes of his dreams.” (Genesis 37)

  

The dream and the ornate garment where not prompted by Joseph. The God of Jacob gave Joseph the dream. Jacob, Joseph’s father, out of love for the son of his old age, gave Joseph an ornate garment. As father he had the prerogative to give whatever he wanted to whomever he pleased. But, the brothers decided that such a dream and such a gift to one member, a younger brother at that, and not to the many represented a horrible injustice. So, they brought about their version of justice: kill Joseph and dump the object of their resentment into a dry cistern. After Reuben’s pleas they dumped Joseph alive into the dry well. Joseph’s flesh and blood did not want flesh and blood on their hands. So, it was decided by the brothers that Joseph should be sold as a slave instead of done away with. To throw their father off the trail of Joseph’s whereabouts, the ornate garment yanked off of Joseph was dabbed with blood. The brothers wanted their father to think Joseph had been eaten by wild animals

What the brothers didn’t know, and didn’t know all along, was that in spite of the being tossed into a pit, Joseph had a different perspective. Sure, he questioned his brothers from the pit. “Why have you done this? What have I done to you?” Joseph had every right to be up in arms. But in that pit Joseph laid down his claim for justice and looked to the Sovereign God for resolution.

The resolution brought Joseph to Egypt and away from his father. We never hear of Joseph griping about the injustice done to him, though. Over time God would reverse Joseph’s slave status making him a master of much of the Egyptian people.

The resolution also brought his brothers to Egypt. There, they would not stand trial before Joseph for their crimes. But they would be tested by him to see if they could be trusted anew. 

After the testing, a reconciliation would ensue, brought about by Joseph. It happened when their father Jacob died:

After burying his father, Joseph returned to Egypt, together with his brothers and all the others who had gone with him to bury his father.

When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “What if Joseph holds a grudge against us and pays us back for all the wrongs we did to him?” So they sent word to Joseph, saying, “Your father left these instructions before he died: ‘This is what you are to say to Joseph: I ask you to forgive your brothers the sins and the wrongs they committed in treating you so badly.’ Now please forgive the sins of the servants of the God of your father.” When their message came to him, Joseph wept.

His brothers then came and threw themselves down before him. “We are your slaves,” they said.

But Joseph said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.” And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them. (Genesis 50: 15-21)

 

We read in Genesis 39:2 that, “The LORD was with Joseph, so he succeeded in everything he did as he served in the home of his Egyptian master.

 

Alternative ending: After being thrown into a cistern and then sold as a slave, Joseph vowed to take vengeance on every last one of those who did him wrong. Once in Egypt, he slaughtered the slave traders who bought him there. He slaughtered their families and his task masters and their families. He returned home and slaughtered his brothers and their wives and children. He threw their bodies into a cistern. He became a warlord and began ransacking and raping those he came upon. He rode into towns wearing the ornate garments he stole from those he killed. He slew anyone who looked at him the wrong way. His father Jacob would not bless Joseph after Joseph’s murderous rampage. Joseph slew his father after he forced a blessing out of him with torture. Nothing would stop Joseph’s quest for justice. Accounts had to be settled.

 

I don’t have to tell you that we live in a litigious world. There are caseloads of lawsuits in the courts. Closer to home, in the social media realm of words, the hyperbole used to describe offense taken is akin to that of an attorney who makes his case to the public.

Certainly, there are legitimate offenses that occur. Just as certain, there are also illegitimate offenses that are drummed up for the sake of personal benefit. Much of what is on TV is highlighting offenses taken. You never see forgiveness highlighted on TV. It is as if forgiveness is a sign of weakness in a world where power is the most sought-after commodity.

 As mentioned in my last post, people hold grudges. Many will take an offense if any one looks at them the wrong way or drives the ‘wrong’ way or words are not received in the manner given. There are those who generate their own offenses by their very nature. Some are envious. Some are covetous. Many, as seen this last presidential election, take offense that some folks have what they consider a bigger piece of pie, which they translate into a larger share of power over circumstances. Their form of social justice is not much different from Joseph’s brother’s. The envy-driven will call for the wealthy to be taken down and to have their costly ornate ‘garments’ removed and given to others before throwing them into a financial pit.

 

Parenthetically, it is important that I use both Old and New Testament accounts in my posts. I’ve learned from social media that many people consider the Old Testament a relic, outmoded, and archaic.  They contend that Jesus came to throw away all of those rule-ish books. But, nothing could be further from the truth. All of Scripture is one narrative about God’s interaction with His creation, from Genesis to Revelation. As you read Scripture from cover to cover you will come across many parallel situations revealing God’s relationship with man. You will have to come to Scripture to find highlights of forgiveness. The world’s narrative is about highlighting those maintaining power.

The story of Joseph contains a dramatic turnaround – from victim of the merciless to merciful forgiver. The next account contains another dramatic turnaround – from mercifully forgiven to merciless.

 

Then Peter came to Jesus.

“Master”, he said, “how many times must I forgive my brother when he sins against me? As many as seven times?”

“I wouldn’t say seven time,” replied Jesus. “Why not—seventy times seven?

“So, you see,” he went on, “the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle up accounts with his servants. As he was beginning to sort it all out, one man was brought before him who owed ten thousand talents. He had no means of paying it back, so the master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and everything he possessed, and payment to be made.

“So the servant fell down and prostrated himself before the master.

“’Be patient with me,’ he said, ‘and I’ll pay you everything!”

“The master was very sorry for his servant, and let him off. He forgave him the loan.

“But that servant went out and found one of his fellow servants, who owed him a hundred dinars. He seized him and began to throttle him. ‘Pay me back what you owe me! He said.

“The colleague fell down and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I’ll repay you!’

“But he refused, and went and threw him into the prison until he could pay the debt.

“So when his fellow servants saw what had happened, they were very upset. They went and informed their master about the whole affair. Then the master summoned him.

“’You’re a scoundrel of a servant! He said to him. ‘I let you off the whole debt, because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have taken pity on your colleague, like I took pity on you?’

“His master was angry, and handed him over to the torturers, until he had paid the whole debt. And that’s what my heavenly father will do to you, unless each of you forgives your brother or sister from your heart.”

        Matthew’s Gospel account 18: 21-35

 

I suspect like many in his day and in our day, Peter wanted to know if there is a limit to enduring an injustice. He likely wanted to know when he could settle accounts. Perhaps he was wondering to himself, “How long do I have to keep my anger in check?’ Jesus responded with the multiplicity of forgiving with mercy as the gift that keeps on forgiving. Jesus would not only tell the crowd that his kingdom encompassed those who forgive over and over the myriad offenses taken in. Jesus forgave those of the world their myriad offenses. About the matter of settling accounts, The Lord God spoke these words through Isaiah the prophet to the descendants of Jacob:

I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more. Review the past for me, let us argue the matter together; state the case for your innocence. Isaiah 43: 25-26

A truly good Man was sentenced to die the horrific death of the cross. I wonder. Did Jesus think of Joseph in the cistern when he said, “I am counted among those who go down to the pit; I am like one without strength.” (Psalm 88:4)? What we do know is what the Only Begotten Son said from the cross:

“Father, forgive them. They know not what they do.”

 

 Those of us who call Jesus “Lord” are a ‘storied’ people. Our narrative is Scripture, from Genesis to Revelation. Our narrative contains the Creator and Creation, the life of Christ, the Cross, the Resurrection, and the Kingdom of God. Our narrative highlights forgiveness. Our narrative contains the Lord’s teaching prayer. From that prayer we learn that we settle accounts with one another by forgiving one another.

Our story reveals that the Mercy shown to us is the Mercy we freely offer to the world around us.

Mercy, the gift that keeps on forgiving.

 

 

  

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 “Where do wars come from? Why do people among you fight? It all comes from within, doesn’t it – from your desires for pleasure which make war in your members.” James 4:1

A lack of forgiveness is absent in détente. Tit for tat aggression is the rule: you affected the means of our pleasure and now we will deal with you.

How can there be peace in this world? Holding up a placard and the peace sign doesn’t work. Holding up a palm branch of forgiveness just might. But, to not forgive is to say there is no sovereign God who will put things right someday. Because there will be the ultimate putting right of things, forgiveness does not seek revenge. Forgiveness can let go of control because there is One who will ultimately bring justice and put things right. And, don’t forget: “Vengeance is mine. I will repay says the Lord”.

 

Coming up: To Remain the Church, The Church Cannot Remain Tolerant

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

“Behold! Watch me pull a resentment out of my high hat!”.

 

If you’ve spent any time on Twitter you are well aware that people hold grudges – election result grudges, offense taken grudges and reply grudges generated when someone disagrees with your entrenched point of view. The ‘magic’ of holding grudges is that one can take offense out of thin air and then present the illusion of an injustice done to them for all to see

Holding a grudge has become a national pastime. On Twitter there seems to be a reply thread competition to see who can hold the bigger grudge and hold it the longest. With such carrying on, I am somewhat surprised that there isn’t a National Offense Taken Day. In the meantime, though, one can watch The Real Housewives of Bitter End County to get their fill of outrage. Week after week resentments are pulled out of thin air and viewers keep coming back for more high-hat hocus-pocus. There is even a show about the shows to summarize offenses taken.

I sense that behind all of the chicanery is a hot bed of unresolved anger. One person cannot forgive their parent for perceived wrongs. Another cannot forgive a friend who said something to someone about something. A parishioner cannot let go of her hurt and so she talks to others. Many others, as it seems to go. Soon a flock of resentful sheep head out the gate, creating a schism in the church. One national group decides that it must be the angry #Resistance against another national group who they feel is not like them and therefore does not give them pleasure. Such fuming unresolved anger is given new firewood to burn by social media, the place to disengage the “other” at will and without personal cost. Where does all this unresolved anger come from? It is the internalized desire to be justified.

“Where do wars come from? Why do people among you fight? It all comes from within, doesn’t it – from your desires for pleasure which make war in your members.” James 4:1

Guernica by Pablo Picasso

Those entrenched and warring members of your soul do not stay entrenched. They are brought out to the light of day in pursuit of validation. Remember the illustrative story Jesus told his disciples about the tax collector and the Pharisee?

He told this next parable against those who trusted in their own righteous standing and despised others

“Two men,” he said. “went up to the Temple to pray. One was a Pharisee; the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed in this way to himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like the other people – greedy, unjust, immoral or even like this tax collector. I fast twice week; I give tithes of all that I get.’

 “But the tax collector stood a long way off and didn’t even want to raise his eyes to heaven. He beat his breast and said, ‘God be merciful to me, sinner that I am.’ Let me tell you, he was the one who went back to his house vindicated by God, not the other. Don’t you see? People who exalt themselves will be humbled, and people who humble themselves will be exalted.”  – Jesus, Luke’s Gospel record 18: 9-14

 

The Pharisee, in trying to justify himself before God, pulled a resentment out of his high hat: God, I thank you that I am not like the other people – greedy, unjust, immoral or even like this tax collector.

The Pharisee gave himself and his audience the illusion of being justified before God. But his self-justification was not validated by the Lord. And, that is the heart of this parable: you cannot justify yourself to the Lord. You must come humbly before the Lord for his assessment of your motives and your behavior. His light must reveal your heart and motives. Trusting in your inner ‘light’ or your sincerity is self-deceiving artifice.

Now, I have seen this parable used on Twitter to decry looking down one’s nose and judging others. In that context, a Jesuit projected condemnation onto conservatives, implying that they judge sinners and that, by contrast, Progressives love the sinner and do not judge. Yet, this application of Jesus’ parable is exactly what Jesus is teaching against: self-justification.

It seems to me that we learn to self-justify. We learn early on to measure ourselves by the perceived good or bad of others. We always find someone who we feel is beneath us. I would suggest that since the Enlightenment, though it brought about many good things, there are some self-justifying folks using mis-guided reason as a measuring stick. They see themselves as “too good, too smart” to believe in a Creator God or the concept of sin. They resent anyone telling them that there is a God and that one day we are held accountable. They belittle you If you say so.

Self-justifying resentment is used to disengage and distance oneself from the “other”, as seen in the case of the Pharisee. This disengagement, in my thinking, is also the origin of malignant use of power over others. Resentments are employing the troops of warring desires to destroy the “other”. Resentments use the force of self-justifying power to isolate and then crush the enemy – the “other”. Holding a grudge is the use of self-justification to disparage the “other” and then abandon them on the field to bleed out.

Resentment, and its unresolved warring desire to be justified at all costs, excludes the “other” who does not validate them. The person holding resentment begrudges others. This state of heart, left unchecked, can lead to violent revenge. And self-justifying exclusion of the “other” leads, not to love but to fear and hate and, even murder. When resentment is deployed on a national level there are wars and genocide.

 

Every time you pull resentment out of your high-hat to feign offense its root of bitterness is exposed. The audience can see it even if you do not. You fool no one. Before another self-justifying ‘illusion’ cut that root off, curse it and throw into the fires of hell. Though you once provided a showy diversion for your audience you provided nothing of substance. (See the Gospel of Mark 11:12-14)

If you do not deal with that root, it will continue to grow until it chokes the life out of you and others before too long.

 

 

 

Coming up: Forgiveness is Never Optional

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Two-minutes of hate can turn into fifteen minutes of murderous infamy:

 

“A 38-year-old woman who was angry at YouTube and believed the company was discriminating against her videos, causing her to lose money and views, opened fire with a handgun at the video-sharing website’s California headquarters Tuesday, wounding three people before fatally shooting herself…

“Nasim the Persian Azeri female vegan bodybuilder, also animal rights activist promoting healthy and humane living.”

Nasim Aghdam: 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know

 

Aghdam shot three victims in the courtyard of the YouTube campus in San Bruno on Tuesday. Police say she then killed herself. Law enforcement officials say they believe that the motive behind the shooting is a domestic-related dispute.

Suspect in YouTube Shooting Posted Rants About the Company Online