Monthly Archives: October 2012

The Ebb and Flow of Time

U 995, Marinemuseum in Laboe bei Kiel

U 995, Marinemuseum in Laboe bei Kiel (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I am somewhat of a WWII history buff, mostly interested in aviation on the one hand and the submarine struggle on the other. I know that is a weird combination, but hey, consider the source. I am particularly interested in the U-Boat offensive that the Germans launched against the British, and later, American shipping. I am utterly fascinated by how just a different decision here, a changed emphasis there, and the war could have ended with a completely different result.

Consider Admiral Doenitz‘s request at the outset of the war against England that he be given 300 U-Boats. He wanted 100 on their battle stations, 100 in their ports being repaired or refitted, and 100 in transit, either on their way to their battle stations or returning home. At the outset of the war he had far fewer than 100, many of those were not battle ready, and Hitler had no intention of taking resources away from his surface navy or from Goering’s air force. Mistake number 1.

Or consider the design of the U-Boat. Technically, it was far superior to anything the allies had, but it was still just a “submersible” surface craft, with greatly reduced underwater speed and limited battery life. However, German technicians had the capability of building a true “submarine” that could stay underwater for significant lengths of time and at speeds that could outrun any British or American surface warship. Had Hitler decided to pursue these later designs, and produced them in significant numbers, the results would have been catastrophic for the allies. Mistake number 2.

Three, consider the invention and deployment of radar. At the beginning of WWII radar was in its infancy, but British and American designers worked feverishly to both reduce the size and also increase the power of radar units. The result was that radar equipment could be installed not only on small surface vessels such as destroyers, but also in airplanes. German U-Boat commanders could not figure out how a destroyer could pop out of a fog bank bearing down on them at full speed with guns blazing. Or, how in the middle of a pitch dark night a bomber could train a spot light on them and then attack mercilessly. Doenitz had been warned that such electronics were possible, but he was convinced that with the low profile of the U-Boats, radar would be ineffective. It took increasing losses and the urgent pleading of his surviving commanders to press for more elaborate counter-measures, which only allowed the U-Boats to dive sooner. They often survived, but their effectiveness was greatly curtailed.

So, if Hitler had listened to Doenitz, if the Germans had invested heavily in the newer submarines, if Doenitz and his technicians had been more open to the idea that the allies had greatly improved the radar technology, how different would the war have been? No one knows, no one can know. Hitler was, among many other things, a fool. Doenitz, although a brilliant military leader, missed some critical information himself.

Time and circumstances ebb and flow. Ecclesiastes contains as much truth today as it ever did. There is nothing new under the sun. There is a time and place for everything. Nations come, and nations will go (even the United States!). Greater knowledge is only valuable until someone else out smarts you. Studying is a great weariness to the flesh.

Only one thing remains – to fear God and to honor his wisdom. Enjoy the life we were given, and quit worrying about the life that we have no idea what it would have looked like if it had been given to us. The past is dead and gone – the future is unseen. Worry changes nothing, so why do it?

I have often wondered if God had a special hand in protecting the world by helping the Germans make those wrong decisions. Just one different decision here or there and how much the world could have changed. But, time ebbs and flows, and our leaders today seem utterly bent on destroying what generations of our fathers and mothers built. Is God’s hand visible in the inexorable decline of the “American dream?” What will my daughter’s world look like 20, or 30 or 40 years from now?

“The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.” (Ecc. 12:13, ESV). Time ebbs, time flows. But God remains true and faithful. Let us put our trust in him.

For Such A Time As This

Have you ever stopped to consider why you are here? I don’t mean here reading this blog. I mean here on the earth at this particular time. Here, right now, wherever you are.

King Josiah was all of 8 years old when he was placed on the throne of Judah. Grandson to the evil Manasseh, son of the evil Amon, Josiah did not have a lot going for him. Judah was in a pretty wretched state of affairs when Josiah’s father was murdered and he found himself wearing the throne of the kingdom. But Josiah had some good advisors, and undoubtedly a pretty strong security force, as he managed to survive those first few dangerous years. Josiah also had a heart that turned toward God and away from his familial problems. Josiah became a great shining star in the lineage of Judean kings.

Who would have thought that an 8 year old boy would end up leading a massive spiritual and physical restoration movement? And, considering his grandfather and father, who would have thought that the physical and spiritual restoration would have come from anyone in that family? Josiah was a person born for such a time as he was needed.

We are living in perilous times. The political rhetoric is becoming more shrill by the month, sometimes it seems it is becoming more shrill by the week or day. The election that is before us will solve nothing – it only stands to make things much worse. If the pre-election polls can be considered worth anything (and that is a HUGE if), the margin of victory will be razor thin for either candidate. Neither will receive a true “mandate” to lead in a particular direction. Of course, the polls and I could be all wrong, and there could be both a popular and electoral college landslide for one candidate or the other. In that case there WOULD be a mandate to lead in a particular direction. I just do not see that happening.

So, what should the response of the disciple of Christ be? Respect the office of the winner, and declare the ultimate Lordship of Jesus.

It matters not one little whit whether a democrat or a republican sits behind the desk in the oval office. Either God is our Sovereign, and Jesus Christ is Lord, or God and Jesus are just a myth. I grow weary of all the hand-wringing and opining that somehow or another God is just absolutely terrified that “his” candidate will lose the election. Here is a thought for you folks – God does not have a candidate. If God wants someone to win the election, that person will win. The term “candidate” indicates at least the possibility that the person could lose an election. If a person is running in an uncontested election, they are not properly defined as a “candidate.” That person is “nominated” by one party or the other, then following the “election” (which is in reality more of a “proclamation”) they take their position. God does not have “candidates.” God has nominees. God nominates people for uncontested positions. God places people where he wants them, whether that person is Pharaoh, Moses, Cyrus, or Josiah. Notice – very few people run for the position in which God ultimately places them. Moses and Jonah attempted to resign from their nominations. Cyrus probably was just as stunned as anyone that he was “chosen” to let the Israelites return to Jerusalem.

Imagine the shock we will all feel if we discover, an eternity from now, that God actually put Pres. Obama in the oval office to fulfill a plan only HE could envision.

So, as utterly bereft of any sense of morals or Christian values as I may feel afflicts either Pres. Obama or Gov. Romney, one of them will be confirmed as President following this election. But God will still be Sovereign, and Jesus Christ will be Lord. God is not the least worried about what this silly little election is all about.

With all the wars, violence, disease, and cataclysmic disasters that are afflicting human kind right now, I hardly see where some piddly little political skiffle is going to keep God up at night.

The real question I am concerned about is this – are Christ’s disciples going to maintain their allegiance to Christ, or are they going to go off and skulk because their candidate somehow ended up on the short end of the ballot? Or, assuming their candidate wins, are they going to go off and gloat thinking that because “their man” is in the White House that all will be hunky-fine in the world?

Way back in 1980 I bought into the “this is the most important election in the history of the United States” propaganda. It happened again in 1988, in 1992, in 1996, in 2000, in 2004 and in 2008. No surprise that we are hearing it again in 2012. Hogwash, bologna, and hooey.

The most important election in the history of the United States takes place every morning when the disciple of Jesus wakes up and makes up his or her mind that today he or she will believe, speak, and act as if God placed him or her on this earth at this particular time for this particular purpose. If the disciple votes for God in that election revolutions and restorations can happen. If the disciple votes for the other guy – well, we can all read about how that works out. Check out the references to “Judas” in your search engine.

Do you believe God has placed you on this earth for such a time as this? It is time to make your vote count in the only election that really matters. This November, let us remember who is truly our LORD.

Meditations for American Christians

AVHRR satellite image of the 48 contiguous sta...

AVHRR satellite image of the 48 contiguous states of the United States. Español: Mapa de los 48 estados continentales contiguos de los Estados Unidos. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As I write this the political rhetoric is heating up on both sides of a bitterly contested election. The words I offer here are appropriate for this time, but I also believe they are appropriate for every time – I hope they transcend the limits of a particular time and circumstance. So, I offer a few meditations that I hope you will find are worthy for us as disciples to consider, now and at many times in the future.

1.  America, the United States, is a wonderful country, but it is not the “promised land” of the Old Testament nor is it the “new Jerusalem” of the New Testament. We are a creation of time and circumstance, both blessed and cursed by our constitutional republic, and susceptible to every vice and sin known to other countries.

2.  Disciples of Christ in America have taken advantage of our great freedoms and opportunities and have done great things both in America and throughout the world. We need to be thankful for our forefathers and foremothers.

3.  Disciples of Christ in America have done untold damage both in America and throughout the world. We are not perfect, and to say that we have not been guilty of racism, militarism, greed, and covetousness would be to utter a profound lie.

4.  While it would not be wrong to pray for God to “Bless America,” neither would it be wrong to pray for God to “Bless Canada, Mexico, England, France, Germany, – in fact, the whole world!” We are not God’s chosen country. We are not God’s chosen people. We certainly have enjoyed many blessings – but God makes the sun rise on all this place we call earth, not just the United States.

5.  While it would not be wrong to ask for God to “Bless America,” it would be far more appropriate to pray that America would once again honor God. Let’s face it – why should God want to bless us when we so utterly disrespect him? We have removed God from the city square, from our schools, from the center of public discourse and increasingly we have removed him from the pulpit of our churches. And we want him to bless us? Um, I ask again, why should he?

And so, as recipients of some of the greatest gifts and freedoms that have ever been enjoyed by human beings, we as Christians in the United States need to pray a prayer of thanks to God – thanks for things that we receive that we have not earned and that we have no right to expect. We need to pray for forgiveness – for the sins of our fathers and our own failings. And we need to ask God for strength to do better – to right the wrongs that we see and we need to pray for vision to see the wrongs to which we are currently blind.

As disciples of Christ, we should be far less concerned about the political situation in our country and we should be far more concerned about the spiritual condition of our own places of worship and our own hearts. It is always easier to stick our noses in someone else’s business than it is to take care of our own. The world has a right to reject our call to follow Jesus if we who claim the name refuse to play the game. While we do not need, and it would actually be wrong, to forget the world and only focus on ourselves, let us be careful to “remove the plank from our own eye” before we attempt to “remove the speck from the world’s eye.”

Our Heavenly Father, so many times we get things all wrong. We ask you to bless us when we are cursing you. We place ourselves in a position of expecting blessings for which we have no right to ask. We congratulate ourselves for victories we did not win and we blame others for our own miserable defeats. In other words, we are following in the footsteps of so many of our spiritual fathers and mothers.

We pray for forgiveness of these and our other many sins. We are proud, stiff-necked and rebellious. We glory in our military and our self-sufficiency. We claim to be gloriously attired, not realizing how poor and naked we really are. Forgive us, Father, not because we deserve it, but because it is in your nature to do so.

We ask for strength to do better. We need to clean up our own nest. We need to tear down our idol poles and our high places and we need to burn them in  Gehenna. We need to purify our places of worship, and then we need to purify our public square. But first, Heavenly Father, we pray with David that you will purify our hearts. Make us new people, and then possibly we can make our world a new world.

Teach us to be more grateful, dear God. We are such a blessed people, even when we are blind to those blessings. We are free. We are prosperous. We have more natural resources than we can possibly use. We have more beauty than we can see in a lifetime. We are well fed. We have more leisure time than any society before us. And yet we complain and whine and bicker. Before we lose what we have, teach us to see it, and to be thankful for it.

Bless our neighbors with your love as you have blessed us. Show others the depth of your grace as you have shown it to us. Let others see the love of your Son as you have shown him to us. May we be instruments of your mercy as others have demonstrated your mercy to us. Let us shine your light in every dark corner of our country, and then in the world.

We are sorry for our arrogance, but we are thankful for your love. Like disobedient children who see the pain we cause our parents, we do see the pain we cause you, and we are sorry. As a loving parent who must discipline, yet who forgives a wayward child, we ask you to discipline us in your love, but to forgive and to hold us close to your loving breast.

We ask, for we cannot do any other, in Jesus name,

Amen.

The American Judicial System – Can We Save It?

English: Lady Justice

English: Lady Justice (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Two kinds of people amaze me. One is a group of people who refuse accept that a problem exists no matter how much evidence they are given that the problem exists. The other group is comprised of people who are convinced that a problem exists and yet refuse to do something to fix or overcome the problem.

Consider our American judicial system. Few people are willing to stand up in public and admit that it is broken. I think even fewer are willing to actually take the radical steps it would take to repair it.

To begin with, I believe our system is designed to protect a principle. That principle is that an individual is “innocent until proven guilty.” Notice how this principle is illustrated in our statuary. On or in many courthouses there is the image of “Lady Justice,” always properly blindfolded and holding a set of scales in her hand. But what is she supposed to be weighing? Is it truth? Hardly. What she is weighing is a decision about the relative merits of two conflicting arguments, and which of those arguments has the preponderance of reasonable evidence.

Eventually, as crass as it may sound, that decision boils down to which side has the most money. In most cases the advantage falls to the state. When the state wants to prosecute a case it has almost limitless resources to procure a guilty verdict. Visit any prison in America and you will find the same result: the poor and minorities make up a majority of inmates. Which then points to another obvious fact. Some defendants can simply buy their verdict. Do you think the average black male could have afforded the defense put on by O.J. Simpson’s lawyers? The state does not always enjoy the advantage of financial superiority. When the defense can afford to outspend the state, most often that advantage falls to very wealthy, white defendants.

What is missing in almost every judicial case in America? “Lady Justice” should be measuring truth. But the concept of truth has long since been erased from our judicial system. Until we find a way to re-insert it, our system will continue to die the death of a thousand cuts.

When I think of the elegance of God’s judicial system compared to our flawed system I cannot help but wish that we could get rid of “Lady Justice” and bring back the “Faithful and Merciful Judge.” Let’s just see how God’s system is vastly superior to ours:

1.  No prisons. Nowhere in the Bible do you read of God ordaining or even approving prisons. Crimes were to be punished according to their nature. Thefts were to be repaid, plus limited “punitive damages.” Violence was to be dealt with according to the violence perpetrated. Extreme violence (murder, rape, kidnapping) was to be punished with death. Once meted out, the punishment was forgotten. No “20 years to life.” No warehousing criminals. In our current system, once prisoners are out of sight they cease to matter. So is the crime they committed, and so is the victim they hurt. We need to establish public forms of punishment, where the crime and the criminal are never “sent up the river” and soon forgotten.

2.  Emphasis on the victim and the crime, not the accused. Here is perhaps the most vulnerable “Achilles heel” of the American system. The victim receives no benefit from our system. In fact, the victim is largely removed, except for a few courtroom theatrics. When someone breaks into a house and robs the homeowner the violence is not just the items that are stolen. There is a real sense in which the person(s) peace of mind has been violated. No amount of prison time can fix that. If we truly shifted the focus of our system to the victims, then we could more appropriately define and dispense adequate punishment. This, of course, would have to be tied to the elimination of prisons and penitentiaries, and the death penalty would have to be made a permanent part of our judicial system. I do not see any chance of this actually happening.

3.  An absolute emphasis on truth, not principle. God is not concerned with the defense of some arcane principle of “innocent until proven guilty.” God only has one goal: do not convict the innocent, do not acquit the guilty. What God is concerned about is an honest and fair search for truth, adequate but not excessive punishment for crimes committed, and genuine restoration to community for those capable of receiving and promoting it. However, this will not happen today for one obvious fact: trial lawyers make far too much money defending our current system. If discovering truth was the ultimate goal of every trial, where would lawyers make their money? Consider defense attorneys. If they know, or come to learn, that their client is guilty, they currently have nothing to gain by confessing that to the court. In fact, as I understand it, they are ethically barred from disclosing that truth. They are in reality not defending a client, they are defending a principle. On the other hand, prosecutors routinely hide exculpatory evidence, or prosecute as a matter of vengeance, as is proven by the number of reversals on appeal. You may say that proves our system works. I say that proves how broken our system is. Everything is designed to create income for those promoting the system.

Truth is the first victim of our current judicial system.

Notice God’s procedure for dealing with false witnesses: Deut. 19:15-21. Accusations are brought against an accused. The accused, naturally, disputes the allegations. The parties are brought before the LORD, in the presence of the priests (religious caretakers) and judges (civil caretakers). Diligent inquiry is made concerning the truth of the allegations, and the truthfulness of the witnesses. If the allegations are found to be false, and the witnesses are proven to be “false” (not just mistaken or confused) then the punishment that the prosecution intended for the defendant is instead meted out against the accusers! Radical? You bet. Absurd? In our world, yes. Effective? Indubitably. It would not take very long to correct our abusive system if both prosecutors and defense attorneys had to be publicly flogged or had to pay restitution to aggrieved parties in legal disputes. In our current system risk is only assigned to one party – the accused. Imagine what would happen if the same risk were applied to the prosecutors, defense attorneys and witnesses. Real reform would occur very quickly!

4.  Punishments were swift and public. As noted, care was taken to protect the rights of an accused up to a point. But once guilt was proven the fair and appropriate punishment was dealt and dealt publicly. Society was always reminded of the seriousness of the crime, and the seriousness of the punishment, even if it was restitution plus 4 or 5 extra sheep.

5.  Where ever possible, the goal was reconciliation and re-involvement with the community. We do not punish our children when they misbehave in order to exclude them from the family, but to teach them proper behavior within the family. Punishment is always with the goal of re-establishing that which was broken by their misbehavior. So it should be within society. We should not punish to “remove” the criminal, but always where possible to “restore” the one who broke the bonds of society. Here again we must come to grips with the fair and equitable use of the death penalty, as there are simply some crimes which must be punished with death. You cannot restore life – you cannot restitute life. It is the health of society that the judicial system must protect, not the extended life of one or two people who refuse to accept the value of human life.

Some people defend our judicial system by saying it is the best in the world. That’s kind of like saying that even though our pollution is killing us, it is still the best pollution in the world. We can do far better than what we have. We can – the question is do we have the resolve to do so?

The Greatest Insanity of All

English: Gustave Doré: Don Quijote de La Manch...

English: Gustave Doré: Don Quijote de La Mancha and Sancho Panza, 1863 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This world is just insane. Sorry to be so blunt. I can’t say it any other way. This world is bent, it is broken. It is simply insane.

Within just a matter of weeks, two little girls have been kidnapped and murdered, both making national headlines. How many others went unreported is anyone’s guess. If you are not of the right nationality or have blond hair and blue eyes the world does not seem to care very much. It is disgusting. It is tragic. And it is our fault.

We coddle disobedient children and explain away their bad behavior. We refuse to discipline young children who are showing signs of violence and anti-social behavior. We make excuses and defend and protect and when the little miscreants turn 18 we expunge their record and allow them to walk free in a society that is absolutely defenseless against their sociopathy.

We have eliminated the death penalty as a painful and sure end to a murderous life. Now the only thing a murderer, a rapist, or a kidnapper has to fear is a short term sentence in a place where they are protected, given all the food and medical care they want or need. When they are released society once again falls prey to their murdering fetishes.

We normalize the murder of innocent children by calling it “freedom of choice.” How many blond haired, blue eyed little girls have been murdered in-utero? And how many dark haired dark eyed little girls? And how many pudgy cheeked little boys? The numbers are nauseating.

We glorify violence in movies, in books, in TV shows and in video games. As “normal” sinks lower and lower into the depths of the sewer, we hear more and more people defend the “rights” of these pornographers to produce this level of filth.

One of the most powerful movies based on a novel and transformed into a screen version was “Man of La Mancha” starring Peter O’Toole and Sophia Loren. The movie was based on the play which was based on the novel, “Don Quixote” by Miguel de Cervantes about an old man who finally has enough of reality and goes off to fight the demons he knows exists, but no one else can see. In one “blink of an eye” scene which really serves to define the entire story, the character of Cervantes (played by O’Toole) says wearily, (and I am paraphrasing here, my memory is not that sharp), “The worst form of insanity is to see the world as it is, and refuse to see the world as it should be.” (update: the exact quote is, “…maddest of all is to see life as it is, and not as it should be.” Thanks to the incomparable YouTube. Search for Man of La Mancha, ‘too much sanity is madness.’)

As I age and my brain “dries up” and I brood and brood and brood and brood on the condition of the world I become more like Don Quixote by the day. I would much rather fight an enchanter that I know exists than to ignore him and let him win just because a bunch of other people keep telling me that such a foul knight only exists in my head.

I may not win, but I’ll be damned if I don’t fight.

Meanwhile – I pray for the families who have lost their little girls, all of them, not just the ones who make the headlines. May God give them peace. He has received the little ones into his arms, and they are now safe.

Our society – not so much.

Of Faith and Science

Does God exist?

Does God exist? (Photo credit: Nextors)

I think I have posted on this before, but if I did I can’t find it. (Just one of the benefits of a fading memory, being able to hide your own easter eggs is the other.) But I am struck by a profound and disturbing paradox: many people want to “prove” beyond any shadow of a doubt that their God exists, without understanding that the minute they do it (if they are able to do so) they cease to have God at all. If a being can be reduced to the barest essentials of having been “proven,” it ceases to be what the Bible says of God. I wish more people would understand this. The whole attempt to “prove” the existence of God is nothing more than a highly sophisticated attempt to reduce God to something that we can control – it is the most elegant form of idolatry that exists. If we “prove” God, we in essence become God, because only God can know enough to prove his own existence.

I am aware of all the various arguments of the existence of “a” God, and some are quite fascinating and some are even (to my mind) quite convincing. But they by no means “prove” that the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob exists, or that Jesus was resurrected from the tomb. What those arguments lead to is a firm conviction that a being must exist that is vastly superior to man. But humans throughout the centuries have created a whole pantheon of gods that explain that particular understanding.

In my understanding, what separates a biblical faith from a “faithless” attempt to prove God is that a person of faith is willing to live in such a way that transcends the limits of human understanding. A person of faith is not opposed to science – he or she should love and follow the path of the sciences where ever they lead. But a person of faith transcends the limits of those sciences. Archeology is a great tool, so is anthropology, astronomy, chemistry and comparative anatomy. They all have tremendous secrets to tell us about the human life. But they cannot teach us about the human soul, and the human striving to know its creator. For that we must turn to the Bible, and to understand the Bible we must possess faith, not a Ph.D. in thermodynamics or microbiology.

Just my two cent worth, but I really wish many Christian would tone down the rhetoric about “proving” the existence of God. Quite frankly, I do not want my God to be so small that he can be proved. At that point I no longer would have to get out of the boat or roll back the stone. All I need to do would be to buy a book, read it, and presto-chango – God would be indisputably within my grasp and control.

As tempting as that may sound, no thanks. I want my God to be bigger than me, bigger than my favorite theologian (Bonhoeffer and Lewis combined) and bigger than my favorite scientist. While God might reveal himself to me in the most mundane of situations, he must always remain transcendent – or he simply becomes my pet.

How America Can Become Like Christ

 

Picture of Jesus with American flag

Picture of Jesus with American flag (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Yesterday I suggested that Americanism and Christianity were incompatible. Today I want to share with you what I think can happen if disciples of Christ truly want it to happen, pray for it to happen and work for it to happen.

So, speaking positively now, how can we influence a majority of Americans to become disciples of Christ?

First, those who are disciples of Christ are going to have to start thinking, speaking, and acting like Christ. That may sound simple initially, but what I am suggesting is actually a radical re-orientation in how we think, talk and act. The way it worked 20, 30 or 50 years ago is not working anymore (if it ever did). We have to start living in the 21st century.

One of the main problems I have with my fellow Christians in this country today is that we have surrendered our spiritual birthright for a pot of political stew. We equate patriotism with Christianity. “How have we done that?” you ask. The answers are legion, but I will choose just one.

Consider the uproar that is caused when someone or some group opposes the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance to the American Flag. Most Evangelical Christians get their underwear all tied up in a knot because invariably the focus is on two little words, “under God,” that were not even a part of the original pledge. But my problem with the pledge is the first six words, “I pledge allegiance to the flag…” Why would a Christian demand that pledge be recited, and why would a Christian condemn someone for refusing to recite the pledge? Read and consider the following passages: John 18:36, “Jesus said, ‘My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place.'” Or read Philippians 3:20, “But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ.” Or how about Hebrews 13:14, “For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come.” (all passages are from the NIV). Now, how do those passages square with the phrase, “I pledge allegiance to the flag…” Just what does “allegiance” mean? What happens when the “republic, for which it stands” decides that it will do something that is in direct opposition to the will of God? But on an even more basic level, can we pledge allegiance to two powers equally? Can a man serve two masters? Can a man be devoted to two Lords? Jesus said a person could not. So, when we pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, what are we saying? When patriotism = Christianity, pledging allegiance to the flag is no problem. But is patriotism really Christianity? In the first two and a half centuries of the Christian era many disciples lost their homes, their property, their health and even their lives because they would not pledge their allegiance to Rome or to Caesar. Today a person is considered not to be a Christian if they refuse to pledge allegiance to the flag. Has Christianity changed? Or has our allegiance to Christ changed? These are questions that we must discuss.

Second, disciples of Christ are going to have to return to a biblical worldview, and reject a worldview that is centered around the United States. The entire story of the Bible is one of expansion. God created a single individual, then created a marriage, then created a family, then created a nation, then created a church that would unify all nations. Americanism focuses on making all nations think and act like the United States. Discipleship to Christ focuses on creating disciples who think and act like Jesus Christ, whether they are Americans, Canadians, Mexicans, French, German or Iranian. In Christ there is no national distinction. God promised Abraham that through him all nations would receive a blessing. That blessing was Jesus Christ. Disciples of Christ must return to this entire biblical worldview in order to share the story of Christ with all peoples.

Third, disciples of Christ are going to have to live lives that are authentic. A little boy was walking home with his father from a church they had just visited. The Bible school teacher had been discussing being a Christian. The little boy asked his dad, “Daddy, what is a Christian?” His father explained that a Christian was someone who believed in Jesus, who loved their neighbor, who did good things, who prayed regularly and worshipped God, and who tried not to sin and who asked for forgiveness when they did sin. “Cool” said the little boy. After a few more steps the little boy asked his father, “Daddy, do we know any Christians?”

In study after study one of the reasons people give for either leaving the Christian faith or for not believing in Jesus is the hypocrisy of Christians. Understand, they are not speaking of Christians who fail to live up to their own standards and who are honest about it. What jaded Christians and non-Christians see in the church is blatant hypocrisy. They see a Roman Catholic church that demands abstinence from its priests, and yet protects those priests when they sexually abuse young children. They see major evangelical preachers lose their families and their ministries because of sexual and financial misconduct. They hear Christians preach on Sunday about “loving your neighbor” and then hear those same Christians tell racist jokes on Monday. In the words of a great Ray Stevens song, they hear preachers beg for $10.00 when he is wearing $10,000 on his arm. Weakness does not offend non-Christians. Hypocrisy does.

Christians are going to have to start walking the walk, instead of just talking the talk. We are going to have to demonstrate to non-Christians that we truly love the world, and all the peoples of the world, before they are going to accept that we love them. Picketing a Planned Parenthood office may get our picture on TV or the newspaper, but it is going to reinforce the idea to many people that being a Christian is simply about imposing your will on someone else. Jesus did not sign his apostles up to picket the next meeting of the Sanhedrin. Jesus grabbed a towel and washed the disciples feet. Disciples in every city and town and village and neighborhood are going to have to figure out a way to translate “foot washing” into a language their neighbors can understand. But until we do, we should not expect the world to come beating a path to our beautifully manicured and well maintained church buildings.

In the first century the disciples of Christ turned the world upside down for Christ. The same thing can happen again, and will happen again, if we really want it to, if we pray for it to happen, and if we begin working for it to happen. But in order for it to happen in the United States, Americanism must die. And that is a painful choice that we are going to have to make.

For all of our sakes, I hope that we are going to be able to make that decision.

Why Americanism and Christianity Will Never Be Reconcilable

English: This is a high-resolution image of th...

English: This is a high-resolution image of the United States Declaration of Independence (article (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A word of warning here. Hard-core, dyed-in-the-wool, wrap the Bible in the American flag, “America first and always” patriots are not going to like this post. If you have an open mind you may want to continue reading. You may still disagree with me, but that is okay. You may even prove me wrong. But you have to listen to my argument before you totally discount what I have to say.

There is a considerable amount of angst these days in conservative Christian circles about what has happened to the American culture. So many culprits have been blamed – the wicked Supreme Court for their decisions regarding school prayer and abortion, the homosexual lobby and their efforts to destroy the sanctity of marriage, the communists and their godless society, the evolutionists and their godless education – and that list does not begin to be comprehensive. I have a more fundamental reason that the American culture is what it is today – the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States. If you are going to explain the problem, you have to get to the source of the problem. The seeds of our cultural problems were planted when we were planted. It has just taken 200 years for the plant to mature and for the buds to fully blossom.

If you were to identify the one, single defining concept of our American system, what word or phrase would you use? To me the answer is crystal clear: individualism. Our Declaration of Independence and our Constitution are built primarily upon the concept that the individual has priority over all else. The Bill of Rights protects the rights of the individual first, and the community or the society only in a secondary or derivative manner. For over 200 years the decisions that have been handed down by the Supreme Court (and are therefore precedent setting decisions) have been focused on protecting the rights and privileges of the individual. As the nation has aged those rights and privileges have been expanded, but the concept, the precedent, goes back to the framing of the Constitution itself. Our judicial system is a hyper-developed example of this individualism. We cherish the concept of “innocent until proven guilty” and we go to great lengths to provide a defense for the accused and an impartial jury system to safeguard the rights of the individual (at least in theory…our practice has been somewhat less than sterling).

So, what is the problem? Why is this concept inimical to the biblical view of mankind, and therefore to the Christian worldview? To answer that question we only have to go back to Genesis 2:8. God has created a perfect world. He has created everything that man needs to survive and to thrive. The creation of everything up to this point has been “very good.” But then God looks down at man and says, “It is not good that man should be alone.” So God created another being, this time a female, to make the male complete. In other words God created a marriage, a union of two souls. Then he commanded them to reproduce and therefore create a family. Many generations later God chose a family to become his chosen nation, and through that nation all the nations of the earth would be  blessed. Ultimately, God sent his Son to redeem all nations and peoples and create one community, the church to be the final unity of all mankind. From Genesis to Revelation we see the emphasis that God has placed on plurality, union, community, sharing, the idea of “one with another.” The focus for God is community, the individual only has significance as a part of that community. Once removed from that community the individual ceases to be important. In the United States the process is exactly reversed. The individual is the ultimate; the community only has significance as a collection of individuals. If the individual does not care for his or her community, he or she simply leaves to find another, or creates another, or lives in isolation. The individual, not the community, is primary.

This has profound implications for the church. What is the root cause for denominationalism? What is the root cause of all the splintering and division within denominations? What is the root cause of all the splintering and divisions within single congregations within the divided denominations? The answer to each of these questions is “individualism.” In America I am not bound by the decisions and structures of the community, I am free to decide and define my own choices. If I do not like your definition of Christianity, or if I do not like the decisions of the elders or the board of trustees, or if I do not agree with the choices for the interior decorating, I simply go across the street or across town and find something more to my liking. Or, maybe I just leave organized communities of faith altogether and start my own personal brand of worship. That way at least I know that I am pleasing 100% of the congregation 100% of the time. In American churches the individual is the ultimate source of power, and the community only exists to support his or her individual decisions.

And that, dear reader, is why Americanism and the pure, biblical form of Christianity will never be compatible. In order for the two to exist one or the other must be modified. Either the individualism of the founding documents of America must be modified to fit the biblical pattern for God’s will, or the church must be modified to fit the American concept of individualism. It is my firm conviction that we have elected to modify the church to fit our Constitution.

There can be no true community, no “one-for-another” as long as the prevailing attitude is that of pleasing the individual. There can be no church discipline if an individual is free to simply change membership from congregation to congregation, or from denomination to denomination, or free simply to walk away from the church altogether. To expand the argument, there really can be no ultimate form of morality if I am free as an individual to make my own moral choices.

Like it or not, Americans in the 21st century are waking up to the reality of what the founding fathers created in the 18th century. Our chickens have come home to roost. If we take a hard, “literalist” view of the Constitution then we cannot outlaw homosexual marriage or deny homosexual “partners” equal benefits to heterosexual couples. The real angst that many Christians are experiencing stems from the fact that somewhere deep inside them they sense this paradox. They want to be good Americans, to defend and be loyal to the Constitution, all the while realizing that the very document that grants them the freedom to do and act as they wish also guarantees the rights of those with whom they disagree to do and act as they please. And therein lies the internal conflict. And therein lies a choice that Christians in the 21st century and beyond are going to have to make. Are we going to be more loyal to an 18th century, flawed human document or are we going to be loyal to the inspired Word of God?

As I see it the Bible, and the New Testament in particular, is profoundly counter-cultural to Americanism. Jesus’ call to discipleship is radically different that the call to American patriotism. In the past 20 – 30 years we have seen just how radical that difference can become. At one time, several generations ago, the difference may not have been as stark as it is now, and so the response of Christians may not have been so clear cut. However, those days are long gone. They will not come back. Christians in the 21st century need to learn to act like Christians in the 21st century. We need to face the culture that we have now, not the one we grew up with, nor the one we wish we had.

Dear Christian reader – are we going to follow the Constitution or Christ? I believe it is about time we made that decision.

The Mystery of God

Aristotle

Aristotle (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I am teaching a course in the Philosophy of Religion. Initially I was less than enthused, but I am warming to the subject with each passing week. Part of it is my class – six wonderful young people who help me tremendously. But, another reason is that the course is forcing me to ask some questions that, to be quite honest, I am uncomfortable asking. Growth is never painless, so I hope that means I am growing. But pain is never fun, so there is a sense in which I could do without the mental workout that I am forced to expend every week.

From my own faith stance I am coming more and more to the realization that we cannot put God in a box. I know that phrase is used to the point that it has become trite. But it is absolutely, beyond any shadow of a doubt, positively true. When we attempt to put God in any kind of a box, but particularly a box of Greek thinking, He will always find a way to destroy that box. Another way to say it is that we cannot define the indefinable. As soon as we say “God is…” we limit Him. We put Him in a box. The only definitions I am comfortable with are those give specifically in Scripture, and you may or may not be shocked at how few those definitions are. John comes the closest, telling us that God is love. From my study however, I am wondering if that is as much a “definition” as we have made it out to be.

When I was younger I assumed the basic trilogy of “definitions” as given by Greek philosophers – that God is omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent. I just assumed that they were given in Scripture somewhere, perhaps the book of First Opinions or maybe Second Tribulations. And, if you want to believe in these definitions there are certainly verses you can pull to defend your belief. It is said that God knows our thoughts even before we do, that He can create the world with the simple spoken word, that there is no place on this earth where we can go to escape God.

There are at least two problems with this “Greek philosophy” kind of thinking. One is that there are other passages of Scripture which suggest that God is not omniscient, omnipotent, or omnipresent. For example, in Gen. 22:12 the angel of the LORD stopped Abraham from harming Isaac and said, “…now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.” Well, if the LORD only knew now then he could not have known before now what Abraham would have done. Or consider 2 Chronicles 32:31. “…God left him [Hezekiah] to himself, in order to try him and to know all that was in his heart.” God allowed Abraham to “bargain” with Him in regard to the number of righteous people that would spare Sodom and Gomorrah. God allowed Moses to “bargain” with Him in regard to destroying the Israelites and starting all over again with Moses.

Examine the concept of omnipotence as well. Can God do everything? God could not keep Adam and Eve from sinning, could not keep the Israelites from deserting him time and time again, could not stop Judas from betraying Jesus. Jesus could not stop the rich ruler from walking away from him. Well, you argue, God gave man free will, so all of these examples are times in which men used their free will. But if you argue thus you just made my point for me – man’s free will limits God’s omnipotence. Or, perhaps stated more accurately, God invokes his own self-limitation in order to give free will to man. Self-limitation is a limitation none-the-less, so the purest definition of omnipotence is false when it is applied to God.

What about omnipresence? Is God everywhere? I have a lot of fun with this one. One commonly held belief [that I most emphatically do not agree with] is that God abandoned Jesus on the cross. One of the supporting reasons given for this belief is that God cannot be in the presence of sin, and since God made Jesus to be sin for us, he could not be in the presence of Jesus, therefore God abandoned Jesus on the cross. Now, this particular belief has more problems than a fish net has holes, but let’s just play with it for a minute. If you believe that God cannot be in the presence of sin then you have just limited God’s omnipresence, and if you limit it, it is no longer omni. Now, because I do not believe in the idea that God abandoned Jesus, I also reject the idea that God cannot be in the presence of sin, but I never-the-less reject the concept of God’s omnipresence. If there is any realm in which the presence of God cannot extend, then God cannot be omnipresent. I would argue that there is such a realm in which God’s presence cannot extend – the realm of “hell” or eternal punishment. If God cannot go there, or to be more precise once again, removes his presence from that realm, then he is limited. There may be no place on this physical earth where God is limited as to his presence, but any time omni is limited it ceases to be perfectly omni.

So, if we attempt to put God in the omni box, whether it is omniscient, omnipotent or omnipresent, we put Him in a box. And we cannot put God in a box. He refuses to stay there. This is particularly true of Greek philosophical boxes. He simply shatters them, and if we put our faith in our boxes instead of in God, we end up with a bunch of shattered boxes.

The second problem I have with Greek philosophical terms to define God is that they are ultimately self-contradictory. If God is omniscient, omnipotent and omnipresent then there is simply no way you can avoid the conclusion that God created evil, and not only created it but actively uses evil in the world. This, however, is in direct contradiction to the concept of God as all loving, benevolent and good. Philosophers and theologians have been tying themselves in knots for centuries trying to untangle themselves from one or more of the resultant issues related to these philosophical terms, which is good for Philosophy of Religion teachers because it gives us job security. But no one has solved the puzzle yet, and due to the fact that the issues are self-contradictory, it will never be solved using these definitions.

When we listen to the text of the Bible we learn much about God in the way He wants us to learn about Him. But, ultimately, He remains God, He remains mysterious. “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways” God tells us through Isaiah. Why can’t we learn this? Why do we keep trying to put God in boxes?

And, as I ponder all of this I am drawn to perhaps the greatest definition of God – that of Jesus Christ. God did not give us Greek philosophical terms so that we could understand Him. He gave us his Son – He gave us Jesus. And Jesus died on the cross to redeem mankind from its foolishness and sin, so that we could once again enjoy God’s Divine presence. I know that does not answer all the questions about omniscience and omnipotence and omnipresence. But those are our questions, not God’s questions. I do not have to answer those questions. Paul said it best – “I want to know Christ, and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.” (Phil. 3:10-11).

That is all – to glory in the mystery of God, and to share in the life of his Son. The transcendence and the immanence of God. That is my calling.

Aligning Ourselves With God – The Ultimate Front-End Alignment

English: An illustration of alignment and non-...

English: An illustration of alignment and non-alignment. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve learned a lot about alignments over the past few years. Mostly because I have a bad back, and I can tell even before I get out of bed if the day is going to be good or one long exercise in getting straight. I know every part of our body is important, but if you have a bad back there ain’t nothing that works right.

So, I was thinking the other day about alignments – how if things are in a straight line things just work so much better. Cars work better if the tires are in alignment. Guitars depend on correct alignment to sound right. Archers know that if the bow is warped the arrow will fly past it’s target. If you let one tiny little mirror get bumped in a telescope the whole thing turns into an expensive kid’s toy. There are many, many areas of life in which alignment is everything.

Which then got me to thinking – do we have the church in alignment with God? That is such an elementary question, but one that I fear goes unasked let alone unanswered. It does not matter if we have one or two things about the church correct if we have half a dozen other things all wrong. If we are not in alignment with what God intends, we will never achieve what he wants us to achieve. Since the church is not growing (or is actually shrinking, depending on which metric you use) I am justified in asking the question – do we have our thoughts, our intentions, our goals, and our efforts in alignment with God?

Alignment number one – God wants mankind to be “in his image.” That is how he created us. That was not good enough for us, so we tried to make ourselves to be “like God.” I know I have railed against using foreign terms if English terms are just as good, but here is where Latin helps us out a little bit. I think most everyone can work through the terms here – God made us to be in the imago Dei. That is, he made us to be in his image. But we wanted to be sicut deus. That is, we wanted to be like God, knowing good and evil. So we traded the imago dei  for the sicut deus and we have been out of alignment ever since. Jesus came to this earth to get us back into alignment – to show us how we can have the imago dei once again. That is, Jesus came to teach us how to be fully human. As long as we are trying to be like God we will fail to even be what God created us to be. We need to surrender our craving to be like God so that we can accept being made in the image of God. Once we get that alignment right, several others will fall into place. (I am indebted to the writings of Dietrich Bonhoeffer for this insight. It clearly was above my pay grade to achieve this insight.)

Within the church are we teaching people how to be fully human? Are we stressing that Jesus, the very image of God himself (Col. 1:15) came to this earth to “redeem” us, that is to bring us back to our created relationship with God? Or are we, like those Pharisees that we love to beat up on, just trying to get people to see things the way we see things, that is, are we trying to be “like God” in the eyes of the world? There is a world of difference between living in the image of God and living like God. The one is a humble but glorious acceptance of what we have been given, the other is a rebellious declaration that we do not need God as long as we have our own intellect and strength.

I think that if the church (as a collective human being) simply tried to live as if it were made in the image of God instead of trying to be God it would be receive the blessings that God intended for it to have. Or, we can keep trying to “be like God” and we can go out and pick goat-head thorns for a living. Not much of a choice if you ask me.

Alignment number two – doctrine is important, but important only as it relates to proper behavior. In technical terms, orthodoxy is important, but only so far as it results in orthopraxy. In Jesus’ own day it was the Pharisees who were the guardians of orthodoxy. They had doctrine down to a fine point. They had all the “book, chapter and verse” citations they needed to accuse and condemn Jesus – especially in regard to ritualistic Sabbath keeping (see Ezekiel 20 especially). But they were utterly bereft in the proper application of that doctrine. Merely having the correct book, chapter and verse did not make their actions right. Jesus taught them what “sabbath keeping” was all about, and it was not what they had in mind. But Jesus’ teaching was in alignment with what God intended, and therefore we are to listen to Jesus and not the Pharisees.

I have written in other posts that I consider myself to be fairly conservative, and as such I must admit that this is one of my weaknesses. As a conservative I tend to look very suspiciously upon anything that looks, smells or feels like an aberration from the “tried and true.” I live by the motto, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” The only problem is many  times something is broken; but because I have figured out how to use a broken tool quite effectively, I do not realize it is broken. I have to force myself to reexamine my beliefs to determine whether I am holding onto something that is truly “in the image of God” or something that only resembles the truth and is in reality something that is “like God.”

I never want to give up on orthodoxy. I am firmly committed to the concept that God has revealed his will to us, and we must accept and obey that will. In that respect I reject the suggestions of many “moderates” or “progressives” who want to change the church to be more “postmodern” and more in tune with its surrounding culture. Once again, I believe those individuals are simply a modern day example of Adam and Eve in the garden. They want to be “like God,” making their own decisions and deciding what is good and evil instead of wanting to be in the “image of God” and letting God decide what is good and evil. But on the other hand I never want to be so “conservative” that I become “reactionary” and therefore reject the correctives of Jesus when it comes to straightening out my orthodoxy. I have to learn what the intent of the doctrine is so that I can correctly apply the correct doctrine. In terms of the gospel, I never want to become so fixated on proper sabbath keeping that I fail to offer healing and restitution to another human created “in the image of God.”

guitar

guitar (Photo credit: imadoofus123)

Whether the object is an automobile, a guitar or your own spine, it is critical for everything to be in proper alignment. Nowhere is that concept more true than in the Lord’s church. I think we need to go in for a check-up. We need to go in for the ultimate front-end alignment. Let us focus on becoming a people made in the image of God, and then we can focus on the proper application of doctrine.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 371 other followers

%d bloggers like this: