When All is Not Bright

 

… a personal reflection

Tampa (AFP) – Life expectancy in the United States dropped yet again as drug overdose deaths continued to climb — taking more than 70,000 lives in 2017 — and suicides rose, a US government report said Thursday.

The drug overdose rate rose 9.6 percent compared to 2016, while suicides climbed 3.7 percent, said the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) National Center for Health Statistics.

-from Kerry SHERIDAN’s article US life expectancy drops again as overdoses climb

 

As confusion and losses stack up in a person’s life many, now more than ever, begin to seek a way out of their humanness wherein the pain is acutely felt. They will take drugs and medicate in hopes of stopping the screaming in their heads. It is the pain that tells us that we are alive and human.

I can relate. At one point in my life years ago I carried with me the same hurt locker. I had experienced losses caused by my own doing and losses beyond my control. Having been married and divorced, I then lost closeness with my children and years of my life. I lost a son in a tragic car accident. I lost a job when the company I was working for no longer had orders coming in. A truck rear-ended my car as I was on my way to a new job. I received a herniated disc in my neck and a concussion and many painful nerve-affected nights and tons of medical bills. That block of time was crushing. It was also confusing.

Trying to sort out the events, trying to make sense while inside the hurt locker, is well nigh impossible. I tried to mitigate the pain through medication, but the pains in my body and in my heart were overwhelming. There was screaming in my head that would not stop. Couple that pain with the need to continue making ends meet and trying to keep your head above water is…well-nigh impossible. And so, Impossible was the name on my hurt locker. I desperately wanted to remove myself from the locker and go to a place where I didn’t have to think anymore. When you are crying at your desk you know that something had to give. But it wasn’t going to be me. It had to be despair’s grip.

I came to the realization out of my relationship with the Lord that all of my presuppositions where being up ended. The first one to go was that I believed I was strong and could handle whatever came my way. In that dark hour I understood that the Lord had broken into my self-composed life and was making all things new. This all happened the weekend of Easter. And though I had heard the words of Easter proclamations all of my life, I finally understood that the Lord’s resurrection was the means for me to be resurrected to new life here and now. Nothing was impossible. The stone in front of the hurt locker had been removed. I was freed to be human once again. What I had endured became “I do exist, by the grace of God”.

 

It is easy for a Christian, I believe, to think that any bad thing that happens to them is a result of judgment for past sins. With all of the talk of heaven and hell in many churches it is easy to frame events in terms of reward or punishment, in almost Pavlovian ways. And, onlooking Christians are eager to point that out. Read the oldest book of Scripture, Job.

To be sure there are ways in which we dehumanize ourselves and come to believe that there can be no resurrection day and if it happened it would look like today. We live in a culture of dehumanization: abortion, drugs, ‘free’ sex, rife consumerism, and words, rites and traditions emptied of meaning. Christian holidays are paganized. Individual rights that are demanded cut people off from a community of shared human values. When body parts and their redaction become cause célèbre you know the culture is in trouble. When any thought of joy is replaced by the fatuous roose of commercialized store-bought happiness, then you know you are in trouble.

One can drink their reason for life to death. One can sit in isolation and loneliness on the internet arguing points of nihilistic bent. Social media is anything but social. Those who pattern their life after media come up empty and as impersonal as the data bytes that transfer the images to their screen.

To be sure, there are consequences that are derived from one’s sinful behavior. And, that is good to know. One needs to bump up against the wall of one’s own doing to know that there is cause and effect, a principle that even rationalists and atheists embrace.

To finally be sure, we must frame our understanding with redemption. That was the revelation that occurred to me. Resurrection and redemption. The impossible is beyond me and is only doable by the Son of Man Who loved me and gave himself for me.

 

The intent of this post is not to put a happy face on any one’s suffering or losses or pain. You do not see the sunny side of life inside the hurt locker. Rather, this post has been written to provide hope. And it is hope which brings about true-life expectancy – abundant life in this age and the age to come. Hope is born of resurrection and continues with redemption. Suicide says” All is lost. There is no hope if I can’t produce it with within myself”.  You can’t.  Hope is beyond you.

Here is hope: you are known by God. Consider that the announcement of the birth of the Son of Man was to lowly shepherds tending sheep in a field. The announcement they received wasn’t “We bring you tidings of great minimum wage!” No, the angelic message was…

And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. “This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,

 “Glory to God in the highest,

    And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.”

Some life-saving suggestions. When I was in high school, I walked many nights through the neighborhoods after supper with my family. I doubt that my siblings knew this. I walked because I needed to resolve all the inputs into my life: my personhood, and the mental, emotional and social goings on around me, including all that the sixties dropped on me, including the Vietnam war. I walked to find resolve to go on.

Some of us have pets. I currently have Henry, my parrolet, to keep me company. I am considering adding finches to my home. I relate to birds.  I placed a bird feeder on my patio. I’ve noticed that birds are flighty when they sense imminent danger but return when they feel safe. Birds remind me of life in the moment. They are fragile beings. They, like me, have open mouths to feed and so they return to the one who feeds them.  I had to return to the One who feeds me daily, in the moment.

 

We are right to cry “Lord have mercy!” And, we also right to cry “I must have mercy on myself and not do those things which bring judgment on me by their very nature! I have sinned, O God, have mercy upon me a sinner!”

 

A prayer:

Father of all mercy, have mercy on me. I am distressed. My heart is like wax. It melts before every fear. I am depressed. I am confused. I am not able to exist except at your pleasure. I am at the bottom of my life. Restore to me humanness. Return to me with Thy salvation. I’ve heard that my Redeemer lives. Redeem my life from destruction. Redeem me from all my transgressions. Restore my soul. Amen.

 

Leech or Lizard?

 

 When you think of Thanksgiving you of think family, food and football. Let me suggest a fourth focus: creature features.

 

The Book of Proverbs, found in the wisdom literature of the Bible, offers insight into the human condition. From my youth on I have asked God for wisdom, knowledge and a good understanding. I have not always used the wisdom, knowledge and understanding given me. Much of my younger life can attest to Proverb’s description of fools and folly.

Proverbs contrasts fools and folly with those who gain wisdom and avoid imprudence. Proverbs gives us examples of what one should not be like and what one should be like. Leeches and lizards are among the examples. Let’s start with leeches.

The leech has two daughters. ‘Give! Give!’ they cry. Prov. 3:15 

How would you characterize a leech? The picture that first comes to mind is that of a bloodsucker that extracts what it wants and then goes on to the next source to extract again. Personified as above, do you see them as never satisfied? As never contented? As always craving more?  Are they greedy and covetous? Are they insatiable in their appetite? Do they see themselves as deserving and therefore warranted in entering your space and presenting their unending demands? What about another space intruder, the lizard?

a lizard can be caught with the hand, yet it is found in kings’ palaces. Prov. 30:28

Lizards, the proverb says, can be easily controlled but they show up in highly respectable places, places like lavish Caribbean hotels. Lizards like to come indoors for a meal. They are attracted by an insect infestation. Due to their small size, tiny gaps or cracks around doors and windows can be enough for geckos to let themselves in. Some owners may allow a few innocuous lizards to come and take care of the greater insect problem. And, insects are not as ‘cute’ as Geckos. The GEICO commercials invite us to let them into our lives to solve insurance problems.

The creeping and crawling Lizards can be held in check but they show up anyway in king’s palaces looking for insects hiding in dark places and likely feasting on the crumbs dropped from the royal table.

The Gospels provide with us with human examples of these creature’s features:

A recent review of a first century survey (Luke 17) found that nine out ten lepers do not give thanks. Apparently, nine lepers saw Jesus, latched on to his presence and demanded ‘Give! Give! And one leper, the out of place Samaritan, saw Jesus, creeped up slowly and waited for the crumbs to fall from the Master’s table. When Jesus healed all ten of the lepers, the nine leeches went on their way feeling they got what they deserved. But the once dried, scaling, atrophic, depigmented-skinned lizard returned and gave thanks for being allowed into the royal court and receiving a new skin on life.

As we learned, one can live their life as a leech: show up, latch on, cry ‘Give! Give!’, take and feel deserving and ungrateful. Or, one can live life as the lowly out of place lizard who shows up in our King’s palace looking for the means to go on.  The latter provides us with a prime example of grace – that easily controlled lowly lizards like us are even allowed a notice and a few bread crumbs that fall from the King’s table. Thanks be to God.

 

‘Tis the Season to Rethink Equal Outcomes

 

The Progressive’s notion of equal outcomes: “income equality” realized through redistribution; test results based on tests revised so that certain people could pass the test; participation-trophy type merit; laws that ‘fix’ opportunity for certain people; verdicts and sentencing of activist judges who rule based on a defendant’s social circumstances rather than by the crime committed upon another; homosexual ‘marriage’ as marriage equality; “equal pay for equal work” which dismisses the resultant quality of what each worker produces; a state in which people have approximately the same material wealth and achieve equal levels of income; equating equal opportunities with equal results…

Economist Thomas Sowell gives us some insight into Progressive thinking:

Equal opportunity does not mean equal results, despite how many laws and policies proceed as if it does, or how much fashionable rhetoric equates the two.

An example of that rhetoric was the title of a recent New York Times column: “A Ticket to Bias.” That column recalled bitterly the experience of a woman in a wheelchair who bought a $300 ticket to a rock concert but was unable to see when other people around her stood up. This was equated with “bias” on the part of those who ran the arena.

The woman in the wheel chair declared, “true equality remains a dream out of reach.” Apparently only equality of results is “true’ equality….

…Confusion between equal opportunity and equal results is a dangerous confusion behind many kinds of spoiled brat politics. -Thomas Sowell from Spoiled Brat Politics, The Thomas Sowell Reader

To put us in the proper reflective mood for the Season to Rethink Equal Outcomes, below are three accounts from Scripture which reveal to us God’s concept of equal outcomes.

But the king replied to Araunah, “No, I insist on paying you for it. I will not sacrifice to the LORD my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing.” So David bought the threshing floor and the oxen and paid fifty shekels of silver for them. 2 Samuel 24:24

The first thing I notice about the above account is that forms of capitalism have been around for a long time. That is, capitalism, simply defined, as an economic and social system in which property, business, and industry are privately owned and directed towards making the greatest possible profits for successful organizations and people, especially as contrasted to cooperatively or state-owned means of wealth.

In the above account there was a cooperative exchange of private property between two individuals. Both were satisfied with the outcome. And, apparently God was satisfied with the outcome. David’s desire was to not give God the impression that he was doing something good for God, a.k.a. virtue signal or tokenism, but to pay proper respect and attribute worth to God through his offering.

David built an altar to the LORD there and sacrificed burnt offerings and fellowship offerings. Then the LORD answered his prayer in behalf of the land, and the plague on Israel was stopped. 2 Samuel 24:25

The second thing I notice is restraint. Though Araunah offered his property freely to king David (2 Sam. 24:23) the king did not accept it without paying Araunah its worth to Araunah  and perhaps more. That cost David. The king could have just taken the property to begin with. Beastly kings and rulers throughout history have seized property for themselves and for “the masses”. David was not about to disrespect his neighbor Araunuh or his God by stiffing either. The king did not exploit Araunuh for righteous ends.

Worth had to be accounted for with regard to Araunah’s property and with regard to a show of respect to God. “I will not sacrifice to the LORD my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing.” That is what David said and that is what the widow thought.

Then Jesus sat down opposite the offering box, and watched the crowd putting coins into it. Many rich people were throwing in large amounts. And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, worth less than a penny. He called his disciples and said to them, “I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put more into the offering box than all the others. For they all gave out of their wealth. But she, out of her poverty, put in what she had to live on, everything she had.”  Mark 12:41-44

The first thing we notice in this account is the virtue signaling and tokenism of cha-ching-ers who want to appear to profit God while incurring little or no cost to themselves. In kingdom contrast, the unassuming widow, like king David, gave an offering that cost her appreciably and was God’s Temple worthy. The widow gave her financial security. The Lord was pleased to acknowledge her gift acknowledging the God Who is Faithful (Psalm 146: 8). She loved God more than life itself. Now, did you notice in these two stories that taking into account the worth of each party and their property creates equal outcomes – both parties being satisfied and even pleased with what is exchanged? This method of accounting, making sure the ‘other’ is considered and is valued as at least equal with ourselves, can be applied to all interactions.

In a previous post I wrote:

We are told by Jesus to “love your neighbors as yourself”. To do this we must consider our own self-interest and then apply the same measure of self-interest toward our neighbors. This parity of accounting is not unlike the Lord’s accounting of forgiveness: “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive others their trespasses.” […,] the resentment worldview has a perverted accounting system: the self is to be credited and others must be debited for there to be parity in their world. If the word “fairness” is ever to be applied socially and economically to our culture then these two commands of our Lord define its limited and personal application.

As shown from Scripture, God endorsed equal outcomes are marriages of opportunities with offerings. The outcomes are not forced or determined by a higher power or the state. The individuals involved come to an agreement about the outcome. A marriage of a man and woman is the archetype of this union of opportunity and offering.

The man and woman exchange vows and rings and, over time, their lives. The opportunity: they met and each determined that an exchange of their life for the other would make both happy. The offering: they give themselves which costs everything. They do so freely. The exchange is not coerced as in a shot-gun wedding or when those in power decide to take your property by force. When things are forced and a person is acted upon without it being offered it is called rape. It is called stealing when a person’s property is forcibly taken.

The equal outcome of marriage is that the two become one. The transaction creates a greater good (including little ones) and both parties equally, with God’s help, continue to be satisfied with the outcome.

One more illustration from Scripture regarding the marriage of opportunity and offering. Remember this woman?

While Jesus was at Bethany, in the house of Simon (known as “the Leper’), a woman came to him who had an alabaster vase of extremely valuable ointment. She poured it on his head as he was reclining at the table.

When the disciples saw it, they were furious.

“What’s the point of all this waste?” they said. “This could have been sold for a fortune, and the money could have been given to the poor!”

Jesus knew what they were thinking.

“Why make life difficult for the woman?” he said. “It’s a lovely thing, what she’s done for me. You always have the poor with you, don’t you? But you won’t always have me. When she poured this ointment on my body, you see, she did it to prepare me for burial. “I’m telling you the truth: where this gospel is announced in all the world, what she has done will be told, and people will remember her.”

Matthew 26: 6-13

 

 

What do we learn about opportunity and offering from this account of a woman pouring a very expensive offering onto Jesus’ head? We learn that the Progressives around Jesus were highly offended when they couldn’t control the outcome of the “alabaster vase of extremely valuable ointment”. We also learn from Jesus about the opportunity that brought them together: “… you won’t always have me”. The woman’s offering was what she could have lavished on herself. Maybe she applied David’s words to her head: “I will not sacrifice to the LORD my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing.”

The extravagant and expensive offering given freely was freely accepted by Jesus in preparation for his burial. In fact, he tells us that the equally shared outcome of what she had done was worth proclaiming: the marriage of opportunity and sacrificial offering as an act of love.

The Rise of Resentment

 

Ressentiment is the French translation of the English word resentment. In philosophy and psychology it is a concept that was of particular interest to the existentialist philosophers. According to the existentialists, ressentiment is a sense of hostility directed at that which one identifies as the cause of one’s frustration, that is, an assignment of blame for one’s frustration. The sense of weakness or inferiority and perhaps jealousy in the face of the “cause” generates a rejecting/justifying value system, or morality, which attacks or denies the perceived source of one’s frustration. This value system is then used as a means of justifying one’s own weaknesses by identifying the source of envy as objectively inferior, serving as a defense mechanism that prevents the resentful individual from addressing and overcoming their insecurities and flaws. The ego creates an enemy in order to insulate itself from culpability. – Wikipedia

 

The resentment worldview has a perverted self-interest value system:

The resentment worldview has a perverted accounting system:

“Most economic fallacies derive from the tendency to assume that there is a fixed pie, that one party can gain only at the expense of another.” – Milton Friedman

 

We are told by Jesus to “love your neighbors as yourself”. To do this we must consider our own self-interest and then apply the same measure of self-interest toward our neighbors. This parity of accounting is not unlike the Lord’s accounting of forgiveness: “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive others their trespasses.” As mentioned above, the resentment worldview has a perverted accounting system: the self is to be credited and others must be debited for there to be parity in their world. If the word “fairness” is ever to be applied socially and economically to our culture then these two commands of our Lord define its limited and personal application.

Apart from the resentment worldview of “fellow travelers” and socialist sympathizers, I believe that many of us know that self-interest is not selfishness. We take care of our bodies. We wash and feed and exercise them. We think and dwell on good things and not on twaddle. We work and seek to pay our bills on time. We take our responsibilities to our family and to those around us seriously. In all of our transactions, social and economic, we strive to maintain a good name.

Going beyond a universal self-interest, a Jesus follower’s self-interest takes into her accounting what appears to be the opposite of self-interest – losses (see Mark 9: 43-47) or dying to self. Her losses (and subsequent gains) go right to the bottom line of her P & L statement: “What shall it profit a woman if she gains the whole world and loses her own soul?” The bottom line is what she gives out of in parity and fairness to her neighbor.

Scripture gives us God’s world view. And, early in Scripture, we read of contrasting worldviews: the worldview of resentment and its perverse self-fulfillment accounting and the worldview of God and His “on earth as it is in heaven” accounting.

In the familiar Genesis narrative (Genesis 37) of Joseph and his brothers, the brothers took account of how they thought they were treated and compared that to how they thought Joseph was treated. From their recorded behavior we find out that jealousy in the face of the “cause” generates a rejecting/justifying value system, or morality, which attacks or denies the perceived source of one’s frustration.

Joseph became the source of their envy. Born in Jacob’s old age, Joseph had the gift of his father’s love. Joseph also had the gift of dreams – presumptuous dreams the brothers thought (Gen 37:8). And Joseph was given an ornate robe from his father Jacob. They also considered Joseph a tattle tale (Gen 37:2).

Resentment rose in the brother’s hearts. Heated arguments followed and then boiled over. Joseph became the stated enemy of their egos. The brothers acted on their resentment. Joseph was sold into slavery after almost being done away with under a Democratic death sentence (Gen 37:18).

Years later in Egypt, when tables are turned, Joseph did not hold resentment in his heart. He did not reciprocate (Gen. 45). He dealt with his brothers, not by returning upon their heads the evil done to him, but with God’s accounting worldview: “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.’

 

Resentment worldview onlookers that day would have testified that something bad happened years ago and now someone had to pay. And that brings us to today.

Circumstantial Evidence

You don’t feel right. You feel unsettled and unable to sleep at night. You feel achy, restless and depressed. You wonder if there is something in the air. You feel that there is something going on but you can’t put your finger on it.

One day, on the way to work, you stop for a “Caramel Macchiato, Venti, Skim, Extra Shot, Extra-Hot, Extra-Whip, Sugar-Free” at Starbucks. Getting out of your Subaru, you see a sign across the street: “GOT CARE?” The sign is out front of the Hope and Change Clinic. Another yard sign says that the clinic accepts all patients and rejects none. You say to yourself, “Maybe this is what I need.” You call and make your first appointment.

On the day of your appointment you find the waiting room full of scrutinizing looks. You meet with Dr. Betterman. He doesn’t examine you. He tells you right off the bat what ails you. He says, “I see this all the time in my practice. My patients sense that something isn’t right and they become anxious. They often feel stigmatized by their choices. I counsel them not to worry. The problem, I tell them, is not behavioral. It is not anything you ate or did. It is not you. The problem is who and what is going on around you. A fundamental transformation is required. You will need to see me at least once a week to work through this. For payment, we accept cash, credit cards and all kinds of insurance and reject none. A copy of my best-selling book “Think Through You: 17 Steps Toward Transcendental Reasoned Being” is available for purchase at the front desk.”

Already feeling chipper, you reschedule and then stop at Starbucks, book under your arm, before going home.

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)

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

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.

 

~~~

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

~~~

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.

 

 

  

~~~

 “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