Monthly Archives: December 2012

To My Readers – Thanks For A Great 2012!

Just a final post in 2012 to thank you all for reading my sometimes disjointed, sometimes cantankerous, and sometimes even coherent posts. This has been a good year for Instrument Rated Theology, and all of you have had a part.

What I have been particularly happy about is that this blog set a “reads” record in 6 out of the 12 months this year. That shows increasing interest, and I am humbled.

Right now my monthly totals would be a horrific daily total for some blogs – but I can tell from my stats from WordPress that my readers are pretty consistent – and that is another reason I am humbled. That someone would come back to continue to read is high praise.

I hope to increase my quality of articles – and I would especially like to hear from you – if you have a question or if something I have said interests you further.

So, on behalf of me and the fine editorial crew at Instrument Rated Theology, thanks for a great 2012 and I look forward to an even better 2013.

Paul

Sermon – “Crossing the Rubicon”

Here is the text (more or less verbatim) of the sermon I preached on 12/30/12 at the Third and Kilgore congregation in Portales, NM. I do not have access to a a website that can upload sermon audio, so I had to go with a written text.

The year was 49 BC. The place – Gaul, just north of the country of Italy. The person was Julius “not quite yet” Caesar. The situation – by law if Julius, a general in the Roman army, wanted to enter into Italy he had to relinquish his military position and surrender the power of he “Imperium” he held in Gaul. As he camped at the river Rubicon he debated his options. If he crossed the Rubicon river with his army he would be declaring his rebellion from Pompey – an act of treason. He would be under a death sentence. Every man who followed him armed for battle would be under a death sentence.

The Rubicon. Crossing the river by Denis Davyd...

The Rubicon. Crossing the river by Denis Davydov Squadron. 1812. Oil on canvas. 150 x 210 cm (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

After some deliberation Julius “not quite yet Caesar” did cross the Rubicon, and as he did so he is reported to have said, “The die is cast.” There would be no turning back.

Flash forward about 80 years. A wandering rabbi sits on a mountainside and calls his disciples to him. As his disciples and others listen to his teaching, they realize that there is something unique, powerful, about this particular rabbi. They also realize that if they follow this new teaching they will be “crossing the Rubicon” in relation to their world. There will be no turning back.

I want to use the imagery of “crossing the Rubicon” to illustrate two points this morning. If I am right in these two points then the third point will be a call to respond, a call to action as it  were.

#1 – The United States has crossed a cultural Rubicon in a very profound way. It is my opinion that there is no way to alter its direction short of a major collapse or a major spiritual uprising. It has been headed in this direction for more than a generation, but has picked up speed tremendously in the past decade. The last election virtually “sealed the deal” in the mindset of the American people. Just notice, for example, the tremendous difference between John F. Kennedy and Barack Hussein Obama. Kennedy spoke those immortal words, “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.” Obama has cemented in the American mind the idea that the only reason government exists is to bestow entitlements to its citizens. A majority of Americans are now dependent upon the government in some form or fashion. How will anyone convince them to relinquish any of these “entitlements?”

Two, There has also been a staggering shift in the moral understanding of Americans. This is clearly, but not exclusively, demonstrated in the acceptance and even advancement of homosexual behavior and same sex marriage.

#2 – This first point places those who would follow the rabbi from Nazareth in a very small and shrinking minority.

If it was ever true that the United States was a Christian nation it no longer is true.

If God was truly honored and worshipped, the Constitution could be a living and vibrant document that heralds justice and freedom for all.

But, if you remove God then the Constitution becomes a wicked and humanistic piece of paper, subject to the whims and fancies of those who interpret it.

Worse, it has become an idol. It is something that is visible and on a surface level points to a supreme being, but is simply a human construct full of human depravity.

And so – we return to that mountainside and we strain our ears to hear the words of that Nazarene rabbi, knowing that those words are a call to “cross the Rubicon” and declare our allegiance to God and to reject Satan and the rule of this world.

  • Blessed are the poor in spirit.
  • Blessed are those who mourn.
  • Blessed are the gentle.
  • Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.
  • Blessed are the merciful.
  • Blessed are the pure in heart.
  • Blessed are the peacemakers.
  • Blessed are those who are persecuted for God’s sake.
  • Disciples are salt and light in a bent and broken world.
  • Avoid murder by avoiding hate.
  • Avoid adultery by avoiding lust.
  • Honor marriage.
  • Tell the truth, first and always.
  • Go the second mile.
  • Love your enemies.
  • Give without expecting return.
  • Pray as a child to a parent.
  • Fast fervently.
  • Hold to God, not your possessions.
  • Do not be anxious.
  • Do not judge.
  • Seek God’s kingdom, not your own nor that of the rule of Satan.

# 3 – So, we must decide where our loyalty lies – with God or this world.

I was truly shocked, dismayed and heartbroken when, almost within hours of the events of 12/14/12 my Facebook page was full of postings by Christians, some of them even gospel preachers, responding to the murders of 26 innocent people by declaring that the most important thing to them was the ownership of their guns. No reference to being ruled by the Prince of Peace. No thought to the fact that we are to be a people that rejects violence and turns the other cheek. No consideration to the Sermon on the Mount at all – just an endless repetition of quotations defending the Constitution and the 2nd amendment in particular.

Brothers and sisters, we must – it is imperative – we cannot overlook Christ’s demand for us to declare our loyalty. Are we going to be loyal to Christ and His kingdom or this world?

Second, we must commit. We must learn to view baptism as a “crossing of the Rubicon” in a spiritual sense. This is especially true of those who have already made this confession. When we confess that Jesus is the Lord we are saying something profoundly political. That was the most treasonous statement a person could make in the first century AD. The law was you had to confess “Caesar is Lord.” Christians could not do that. They had already confessed “Jesus is Lord.”  There could not be two Lords in their life. And so, when they said “Jesus is Lord” and went under the waters of baptism they were crossing a spiritual and a political Rubicon. They were placing themselves under a death sentence. Many did pay with their lives, others paid by losing property or jobs or family connections. We must learn the significance of those three words again. We cannot have two Lords in our life!

For those who have not made that confession, please stop and consider what you will be doing when you make the good confession. You are not just doing something so you can take communion every Sunday. You are not doing something just to make your parents happy. You are not doing something just so you will not be the last one in the youth group to be baptized. You are making a profound statement. You are confessing that Jesus is the Lord of your life. Do not make that decision lightly.

Third, we must live like this world is no longer our home. Two passages in particular come to mind as I think of this truth. Philippians 3:20 states that “our citizenship is in heaven.” There it is – no having to parse out that thought. We are citizens of the Kingdom of God and that is where our allegiance lies. Second, Hebrews 13:14 says that “here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city which is to come.” That’s right, we do not have a lasting city on this earth, but there is a city that is to come that we are citizens of, and we await its arrival. We have to choose which city we want to be a part of. It will be an eternal decision.

I want to close by giving a quote from one of my favorite authors. This short passage sums up completely what this lesson has been about. If I am correct, and I certainly do believe that I am, the words I have spoken this morning are critical words for us to hear at this time in our history. And so, these words from an earlier generation come down to us with an urgency that I hope we can all learn to feel:

The cross is not the terrible end of a pious and happy life. Instead, it stands at the beginning of community with Jesus Christ. Whenever Christ calls us, his call leads us to death. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Discipleship.

(Note: the Scripture notation was corrected to read Philippians 3:20. Sorry about the earlier slip of the finger.)

Daily Bible Reading Schedule – 2013

SAMSUNGLast year I shared with everyone what has become my favorite Bible reading schedule. The post received a fair amount of attention, and so, because this is the time of year in which people make their plans to read from the Bible every day, I thought I would repeat the basic plan, but perhaps shorter this time and maybe more to the point.

The plan calls for the reader to read through the Bible twice in a year. My own personal preference is to read from a formal translation once, and a dynamic translation the second time. This allows me to “hear” the text in slightly different ways. I have found this to be a most enjoyable manner in which to read the Bible.

A word of explanation and perhaps a bit of apologetic. There is a belief that one should only read very small sections of scripture, perhaps only a verse or a paragraph, per day. This verse or this story is then the source of quiet meditation and devotional thought – maybe as the topic for journaling. This is a wonderful way to absorb the message of the Bible. However, it has some serious drawbacks. By atomizing a verse or two per day the reader loses track of the grand narrative of the Bible. The Bible is, at its most basic level, a story. Now, I know there are many different forms of literature within the Bible, but they combine to create a tapestry of incredible complexity and diversity. A reader must never lose sight of this grand narrative. So, while I applaud this particular method of Bible reading, I would caution you not to make it your only method of Bible reading. In fact, if you so desired, you could follow the plan that I will describe and focus in on a single verse or short passage. Bible reading is not either/or. It should be both/and.

So, to follow the schedule I follow and read the Bible through twice in a give year, here is the basic outline:

  • Read 5 chapters a day from Monday through Saturday from the Old Testament
  • Read 2 chapters a day from Tuesday though Friday from the New Testament
  • On Monday and Saturday read one chapter from the New Testament
  • Each day read one Psalm
  • When you arrive at Psalm 119, read two sections (16 verses) per day

This is the basic plan, and depending on the year, it takes a small amount of tweaking. I use an Excel spreadsheet and divide everything up so that I can follow it on a printed sheet of paper.

You will notice that there is nothing listed for Sundays. I use the “Daily Texts” published by the Moravian Brethren for the reading each Sunday. This reading consists of an Old Testament passage, a Psalm (or a section of a Psalm), a reading from a gospel and a reading from Acts or one of the Epistles.

That is my schedule – you can accept it, adjust it or just plain forget it. By halving it (2 1/2 chapters per day in the O.T., one chapter in the N.T.) you can adjust it to read the Bible through once in a year. Or, you can follow the Moravian Brethren’s reading schedule and read much smaller sections and read the Bible through once every three years. They do follow a sequential reading schedule, so the major flow of the text remains unbroken. That might be the perfect solution for those who would like to spend time in the text, but have limited time or limited attention spans.

The most important thing, to me anyway, is that we need to get back into the text. We need to become a people of the book once again. We cannot do that by saying, “yeah, I really need to read my Bible more often.” We can only do that by READING the Bible.

So, the best Bible reading schedule for you is the one you actually follow.

May God bless your time with his word in 2013!

Best Book in 2012? Best Blog? Best Print Journal?

Jester reading a book

Jester reading a book (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One of the blogs that I follow is Matt Dabbs, Kingdom Living (you can find the link over on the right hand side of this page). On his blog he invited his readers to suggest the best book they read in 2012. I got some good hints reading the list, and I will check back to see what else people have been reading.

So, not to be a copycat or anything, but I decided to steal his idea and see what you all have been reading – good books, great blogs, can’t miss journals. They do not have to be printed in 2012 – some of my favorite books are decades old – but just something you read in 2012.

Thanks in advance for your contributions!

Just to get things started -

My reading was severely curtailed this year due to my Doctor of Ministry studies and a move. But Kingdom Ethics: Following Jesus in Contemporary Culture by Glen H. Stassen and David P. Gushee is for me my best read of 2012. If you are a lover of the Sermon on the Mount, or you want a good volume on Christian ethics, this is the volume you need to get.

Cover of "Kingdom Ethics: Following Jesus...

Cover via Amazon

After that volume I suggest you buy and read anything written by Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

In terms of blogs, I really like following the aforementioned  Matt Dabbs, and Timothy Archer always has good stuff in The Kitchen of Half Baked Thoughts. Tim is a fan of the San Antonio Spurs or Dallas Mavericks, I forget which, so some of what he says has to be taken with a grain of salt, but he shares good stuff and his jokes are top notch. I will be adding to my blogroll soon, so keep in touch.

In terms of journals, I read Christianity Today  and have just started to subscribe to Leadership. Print journals are kind of like dinosaurs, on their way to extinction, but I still prefer them over e-media. I like having the ability to cut or copy articles without all the side bar stuff that invariably gets printed when you want to print a copy from your computer. Note to web site hosting companies – make your print friendly links truly print friendly! Choose a readable font and have only the article print – no one wants to waste ink on advertisements that will soon be out of date!

I look forward to reading about what you are reading – and you may just turn me on to a new blogger or journal!

Book Review – You Lost Me (David Kinnaman)

03.365 (02.08.2009) Faith

03.365 (02.08.2009) Faith (Photo credit: hannahclark)

You Lost Me: Why Young Christians Are Leaving Church…and Rethinking Faith by David Kinnaman, Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2011.

At the outset I must admit a certain degree of discomfort in reading this book. Most of it comes from the title, You Lost Me. As I interpreted the title it appeared to me that the author would join with the multitude of authors who are bashing the contemporary church and are listening exclusively to the next generation(s) to fix all of the identified problems with the church. There is a sense in which the title, You Lost Me is a reflection on this youth infatuated mindset. Notice the implied accusation – you, the church, the ones who should have it all together in a nice neat little package that fits all of my needs and my wants – you are responsible for losing me, the center of the whole entire known universe. I recoil from that accusation. If that kind of accusation could be leveled at anyone, how many and with what fervor could certain individuals make that accusation against Jesus.

After reading the book I am partially convinced that this is not what Kinnaman had in mind. I say partially, because a large portion of the book is devoted to listening to the cries and complaints of those who have left the church. I understand the methodology – Kinnaman and his group at Barna desperately want the church to listen to a generation that is finding the church (and sometimes even Jesus) to be something they can do without. Kinnaman himself is passionately devoted to getting the message of Jesus out to a new and doubtful generation. He just wants the rest of us to be as “in tune” with the coming generations as he seems to be. He genuinely has a gift at understanding young people, and I applaud his efforts at teaching the rest of us who might be a bit blind or deaf to what the coming generations are saying.

With that goal in mind, I would recommend this book to all who are concerned with the youth of their congregation. I would definitely read this book along with his earlier book, Unchristian. I feel that the first book was more valuable, as the topic of that book was how non-Christians view the church and how we might be able to respond to them. This book is about those young people who, at least on some level, had a connection with the church and a vibrant faith, and for one reason (or a host of reasons) decided to leave the church. Reading the book is painful, because if you work with young people for any length of time you will recognize the stories of the young people Kinnaman profiles through your own experiences. I saw several of my friends and former students in this book, and even occasionally saw myself.

A couple of weaknesses – at least from my limited point of view. One, I never really resonated with Kinnaman’s description of the young people as “nomads, prodigals and exiles.” It seemed like he was trying to come up with a somewhat biblical way to describe these young people, and the descriptions just seemed stretched to me. I kept having to remind myself of what each group really was, because to me there was way too much overlap between the groups as he has defined them.

Two, and this relates back to my discomfort with the title, Kinnaman only tangentially places any kind of blame on those who are leaving. In other words, it remains the church’s fault that young people are leaving, the church is going to have to change, the church is the source of the problem, the church is forcing all these wonderful, saintly, kind, and most of all, brilliant young people out of its doors. This was the part of the book that just kept grating on me. To be fair, towards the end Kinnaman does in a round-about way mention that these young people are responsible for their own decisions, but it is a very subtle and almost apologetic acknowledgment.

At one point I wanted to scream, The church IS exclusive! Get over it! In an appraisal of the younger generations that I’m sure will turn most of them off, I have to say that in many respects the group of young adults from 18 – 30 represent one of the most narcissistic, inwardly focused generations I have ever seen, and that is saying quite a bit because I came along right at the tail end of the baby boomers. But stop and think about these generations – from what have they ever been deprived? What hardships have they ever faced? These were the children whose parents got into fistfights so they could obtain a Cabbage Patch Kid. These are the children who have had a cell phone virtually from the time they could talk. They have been coddled, breast-fed and then spoon fed their whole lives. They have been protected and over-protected. They do not go out without a helmet, knee pads and elbow pads. If their feelings get hurt they sue. If they get a bad grade they have their parents confront the principle. If they get a bad job review they leave – if they stay in a job long enough to get a job review. Yes, a large part of their problem relates to their parents and grandparents (the aforementioned baby boomers) but to even remotely suggest that this group of navel gazers has all the right answers and the church should somehow contort itself to make itself more “attractive” to this age group is just preposterous. Maybe that is not what Kinnaman is saying, but I know that is what many others are saying, and maybe I just misread Kinnaman.

Throughout this book I kept hearing a sub-message, “the culture has changed, the church needs to align itself with the culture to be relevant again.” I reject that premise. The culture into which the church was born was immoral, unjust, sexually dysfunctional and economically challenged. So what did the apostles and early disciples teach? “Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand.” In other words, the early church leaders said the church, God’s manifestation of his Kingdom on earth, was different. If you wanted to be a part of culture and the world, so be it, but do not claim to be a part of Christ or of his church. Joining Christ meant you left this world – not literally, but your heart, your mind, your soul was transformed. I am sure a lot of the early converts realized how radical Christianity really was and they high-tailed it back to their comfortable ways – just like people turned their backs on Jesus and walked away from him once they discovered that he really meant “cross” when he said “cross.”

I do not buy the concept that the church has to be more tolerant or accepting of homosexuals to keep from hurting someone’s feelings. I do not buy the concept that the church must relax its teaching on gender just because a few 18-30 year olds find it exclusionary or old-fashioned. I reject the call to rewrite 2,000 years of church doctrine just because someone with all of two decades of existence (or less) finds it to be out-dated or somewhat stuffy. They are more than welcome to leave the church if they so desire. It is tragic when they do, and I am not saying the church should push them out. But when they leave, they should not have the temerity to blame the church for their decisions. Every knee will bow, and every tongue will confess – but they will not be able to tattle or pass the blame.

I would like to end on a positive note, because I do feel the book is a valuable read. Kinnaman does offer some valuable suggestions along the way. I found chapter 11 to be particularly beneficial, but it was also in chapter 11 that Kinnaman returned closer to a classic view of the church and moved further away from the “let’s make the church look like contemporary culture” strain that moved ever so slightly beneath the earlier chapters. Just to tease a little, in chapter 11 Kinnaman stresses relationships, a biblical view of vocation, and a return to the way of wisdom. These are solid responses to the problem, and, as I mentioned, I found them particularly beneficial.

I want to stress that this review is purely my own response – your mileage may vary. I enjoyed the book, I recommend the book, and I suggest you listen to what Kinnaman is saying. I just wish he had offered more in response to these young people by way of challenge. There is a reason God expected young people to look up to, listen to, and respect the wisdom of their elders. Youth is full of folly, and nowhere is that folly more evident than in the narcissistic views of our youngest adults. The church will not long survive if we follow their lead. The church may be in trouble now – but let’s make sure the cure is not worse than the present disease.

Comfort Ye My People

Portrait of Georg Friedrich Händel Deutsch: Ge...

Portrait of Georg Friedrich Händel Deutsch: Georg Friedrich Händel (1733) Español: Georg Friedrich Händel en 1733 Français : Georg Friedrich Haendel en 1733 Nederlands: Georg Friedrich Händel Polski: G. F. Händel w 1733 roku Русский: Георг Фридрих Гендель (1733) Svenska: Georg Friedrich Händel (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God. Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned: for she hath received of the LORD’s hand double for all her sins. (Isa. 40:1-2)

This verse has become one of the most treasured verses in the English world, mostly due to Handel’s oratorio, Messiah. That is why I quoted it from the KJV, as it tends to be the most lyrical and measured.

I think of this passage today for a number of reasons. One, Handel’s music is flowing through my mind. And two, after a week of the kind of hell that I have lived through in dealing with the massacre in Newtown CT, I simply wanted to hear a word of comfort.

Isaiah 40:1 marks a significant change in the tone in the prophecy. So significant that a number of scholars think that an entirely different author is at work here. I reject that proposal. I think those who argue for a second (and sometimes third) prophet in the book of Isaiah simply fail to understand the nature of prophecy and the overall picture of what is going on. Just because an author changes tone and outlook does not mean that he has surrendered his pen to another writer, especially one several hundred years after he first wrote.

So, Isaiah changes tone. Why? Because he can see God’s judgment, God’s punishment. Jerusalem will receive “double” what her sins call for. She will be broken, and broken to the extent that only the LORD can call her back to health. So God also allows Isaiah to see his comfort. God has punished, but God will restore. Comfort.

I do not want to suggest that America has received “double” for her sins. Hardly. I don’t even think that God has yet fully begun to punish America for her pride, obstinacy and violence. But I do want to pray that within his punishment he reserves a measure of comfort. It is true that America stands guilty of a great many sins, but America has, primarily due to her Christian citizens, been a beacon of hope and life to countless millions of people.

I used to equate being an American as something to be proud of. I don’t think that way any more. Being an American is an accident of my birth. I did not choose America, America did not choose me. I am an American just like I am a male – it just happened that way. I am proud of America’s great accomplishments, and I am sickened by her arrogance, her overweening will to power, and her increasing rejection of all things spiritual.

However, I did choose to be a Christian, a disciple of Christ. That is my commitment. It is my belief and my faith in Jesus that will identify me as one of God’s people, not the nation on my birth certificate.

And as one of those people, I pray for God’s comfort during this time that we focus on the birth of the Prince of Peace.

This world is not my home, I’m just a passing through
My treasures are laid up, somewhere beyond the blue;
The angels beckon me through heaven’s open door,
And I can’t feel at home in this world anymore.

An Absurd Proposal

English: Red circle.

English: Red circle. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the aftermath of 12/14/12 one of the most absurd arguments that I have been hearing goes something like this: “If there had just been one armed teacher at that school several lives would have been saved.” Okay, I want to spend just a few minutes dissecting that.

Note first: these people are not saying where these arms should be kept. I assume that they mean these guns should be loaded and available, which means either on the teacher’s person or in a convenient place – a desk or shelf.

Okay, how many of these people have raised a child? How many shooting deaths occur in the United States because a child gets his or her hands on a loaded firearm? It happened not too long ago to the child of a police officer. No one is immune when stupidity is in the air.

Note second: I will give these people the benefit of the doubt and allow that they mean the guns should be kept locked away, and even possibly unloaded, just available in the event of the unspeakable. Okay, let’s parse that one out. How long would it take to get to the gun, unlock it, and load it? Now multiply that by the time it would take to do the same procedure in the fog of a real crisis, with students screaming and who knows how many assailants in the building doing the shooting. So, we are almost forced back into the first scenario, in which the teacher keeps the gun strapped to his or her person. Now this is a wonderful picture, and I wonder how many parents would feel comfortable knowing that a loaded weapon was just inches away from an assailant who did not enter with a weapon, but found one conveniently located on a teacher they could easily subdue.

Note third: people who say this are not suggesting that every life could have been saved, just a few. Okay – here is my journey into the absurd. Follow me on this one.

I want everyone who thinks this way to do a simple little project. Take some red construction paper and cut out some circles – say about 4-6 inches in diameter. We want them large enough to be easily seen, yet perhaps not too cumbersome. I want you to decide how many children you are willing to let die in such a massacre before your “armed” teacher is able to kill the assailant. How many are you willing to sacrifice? Five? Ten? Fifteen? Decide, because if you think it would take 3-5 minutes for your “armed” teacher to gather his or her weapon, collect his or her thoughts, and make his or her way to the point of the shooting you must realize that there are young children who are going to be dying. You must decide how many you are willing to let die.

Now, take those circles to your nearest elementary school. Gather those young children that you have decided are expendable and pin those red circles to their clothing. As you pin these circles to their chests, their backs, their arms, their legs, I want you to explain to them what you are doing. I want you to explain to them how you are committed to the right to own and use firearms -even if it means certain lives are going to be lost. I want you to explain to them that you want their teachers to be armed, but that the teachers will not really be able to use their guns until someone starts shooting, and if someone starts shooting with a high powered rifle or powerful handgun, some children must die. You might even use words like, “Now, we don’t want too many children to die, that’s why your teacher has a gun. But it will take them a while to shoot the killer, so, unfortunately, some of you must die. These red circles that I am pinning on you indicate that we want you to be the ones to die. Your friends, who do not have the red circles, will live, so just think of yourself as a little lamb that gets sacrificed so that others can live.”

“Now, don’t worry. We will make sure that when you die there will be lots of teddy bears and flowers and candles. We will make sure your parents get to choose some real pretty caskets to bury you in. We will offer the finest in counseling services for your brothers and sisters. We will even make fine speeches at your funerals. And then we will go about our business, and we will make sure your teachers keep their guns so that the next time someone wants to shoot up a school a teacher will have a gun to stop them. Of course, this means that we hope the teacher with the gun is not the first one killed, but that is just a technicality that we will deal with when the time comes.”

Rush Limbaugh makes a living out of illustrating the absurd with the absurd. It is my hope that by using the absurd to illustrate the absurd that someone’s eyes can be opened, and maybe we as a culture can move beyond our current inability to understand what is at stake here.

If that doesn’t work, at the very least I hope to open the eyes of a few disciples of Christ to realize just how far they have been led down the path of absurdity…

It’s Not Political – It is Spiritual

Cross & Clouds

Cross & Clouds (Photo credit: John H Wright Photo)

I want to begin by thanking many of you for the comments and observations on my post yesterday. In one response the comment was made that it was “provocative” and I must admit to a certain degree of emotion as I wrote the piece. Sometimes I do my best thinking when I am really worked up about something. On another day I would have written differently, although I stand by what I have written absolutely.

What I want to stress is that I am not writing as a political pundit. This is not political for me. It is spiritual. Governments rise and fall, powers shift in an endless ocean of greed, hate, selfishness and rebellion. That will never change, no matter what we might think or write.

But if you believe in the God of the Bible you must also believe that this world is not everything that there is. There is something beyond us – a great unknown in which all will be made right and the lion will indeed lay down with the lamb. That Kingdom, that reign of peace and righteousness is promised to those who trust utterly in the God who made this world and the world to come. The Kingdom came near in the person of Jesus of Nazareth who showed us, in incarnate human form, what the Kingdom could be here on earth if we would but “trust and obey” the reign of the King.

Although God had revealed himself in many ways previous to the coming of Jesus, mankind always wanted something better. In the garden of Eden instead of glorying in the fact that he was made “in the image of God,” man decided that it was better to be “like God” and so he threw his deepest sense of humanity away – and he ended up neither “like God” nor in the image of God any longer. Throughout mankind’s long history he has been searching to regain that lost “image” and the best he can come up with are “images” of his god in the shape of animals or totems. In the history of Israel, God’s chosen people, this happened repeatedly, until God finally punished his people by sending them into exile. The punishment worked – you never read of Israel as a nation falling into idol worship following the return from Babylon.

In the decades immediately following the death of Jesus we can see in the pages of recorded history how deeply Jesus’ message of being “reborn” in the image of God affected his disciples. When the Roman authorities would attempt to force them to utter the words, “Caesar is Lord” the disciples would refuse, because when they made the “good confession” that “Jesus is Lord” they meant it. They could not mouth the words, even knowing they did not believe the words, because even the mere vocalization of the consonants and vowels would have been bowing the knee to an idol. Because of their abject refusal to do so, many lost their lives. Others had property confiscated, were beaten, or otherwise punished.

Today, now almost 2,000 years removed from the death of Jesus, his people who live in the United States are faced with another defining moment. I have been writing, in fits and starts, about how I have come to view the Constitution as a form of an idol, an “American Idol.” The events of 12/14/12 crystalized that observation in my mind. I have been deeply touched by the fact that several, perhaps many, others are waking up to the same realization. Perhaps they have held it for many years and I was simply unaware of it. I am personally horrified to realize how long I have been blind to this reality.

If the blind shall lead the blind, they both will fall into the pit. (Matthew 15:14)

I want people to wake up and realize that this is a spiritual problem, not a political one. Oh, and I do not mean putting prayer back into the schools or posting the 10 Commandments back on the walls of the court houses. What I am talking about is removing the idol from the hearts of Christians and putting Jesus back in His proper place.

In my limited discussions with radical gun advocates following the massacre in Newtown the only response I get is “my right to own any gun and any ammunition is guaranteed by the 2nd Amendment.” There is no logic applied, no connection to the Kingdom of God, certainly no submission to the Prince of Peace. Just a pathetic, ignorant, reflexive appeal to a brief and profoundly misunderstood phrase in a man made and deeply flawed piece of human governance. So there you have it. An idol, shaped out of cold steel, wood or perhaps composite materials, and shrouded in an ink stained piece of parchment. Just as the ancient idols needed to be nailed to the floor lest they fall over, this idol needs to be nailed to the floor with poor arguments (guns don’t kill people…if you take away all the guns, only criminals will have guns) lest they fall over and everyone can see how pitiful their gods really are.

I cannot believe I have been so blind. I was one of those people. I mouthed the words. What is worse, at one time I actually believed those words. God forgive me for my ignorance and my idolatry. Now, we are living in a culture in which the ownership of a gun and the defense of the same is made a defining feature of what it means to be a Christian. If you are against unlimited gun ownership you are against the Constitution, and since the Constitution is founded on Christian principles (so the argument goes, I profoundly disagree) ipso facto you cannot be a Christian.

“Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter. Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes and clever in their own sight.” (Isaiah 5:20-21)

America has become so inwardly focused, so in love with its individualism that even the concept itself has become demonical. It has taken on a life of its own. America today is all about the one, the individual, my rights, my freedoms, my way of doing things. But the Scriptures teach us that the Kingdom of God is focused on the other! The primary other is God himself, but even here in our daily walk we are to consider others more highly than ourselves, we are to lift the loads of the other, we are to bind up the wounds of the other, we are to willingly surrender our rights so that the life of the other is made better. Our America is 180 degrees out of phase with the New Testament. We cannot support this American way of life and at the same time claim to be followers of the Crucified One. The cross itself is the pinnacle of selflessness, and it was in the shadow of the cross that the message of the Kingdom of God spread like a wildfire.

Therefore, it is my firm conviction that you cannot replace God’s word with a fallible, broken human document and at the same time claim to be His disciple. You cannot worship an idol and the true and living God.

“Choose this day whom you will serve, but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.” (Joshua 24:15)

Some have responded that I am being too harsh – that I cannot equate equate unqualified defense of the 2nd Amendment (or the Constitution as a whole) with idolatry. To which I simply respond: What is your definition of an idol? An idol is anything that replaces our trust, our affection, our devotion to God.

“Jesus replied, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:37, 38)

It is not political, people. It is spiritual. And, if it is spiritual, our eternal destiny hangs in the balance. Do not be mislead by fine sounding but inwardly rotten arguments. Idols have never worked. They will not work in the 21st century any better than they worked in the 8th century BC or the 1st century AD.

Please, for our children and our grandchildren – we must wake up!

A New American Idol – The Second Amendment

Nicolas Poussin - The Adoration of the Golden ...

Nicolas Poussin – The Adoration of the Golden Calf – WGA18293 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

God’s people have always been plagued by a relentless fascination with idolatry.

Oh, they use the name Yahweh, or Jehovah God, or maybe just God, or more recently the name Jesus, but the Bible makes it clear that they were idolaters in every sense of the word. From Genesis all the way to Revelation, the idea of idolatry, and of committing adultery against God is ever present.

Somehow, after the Reformation, modern people thought that they could not succumb to idolatry any more. We heard sermons, and perhaps we even preached sermons, that used the word “idolatry,” but we never really came close to naming those idols. We might wave a dollar bill around our head in some voyeuristic fashion, or point out somebody’s million dollar mansion. But we always steered conveniently clear of our summer cabins in Colorado and our 5th wheel trailers with their satellite dishes and multiple roll-outs so that we can stay comfortable when we have to be inconvenienced in being away from home.

Americans are not only idolaters, we are hypocrites too, but that is for another post.

Every since the massacre of the school children in Newtown, CT, I have been bombarded with evidence that America has fallen completely in love with another idol, and this one will destroy us just as surely as the golden calves caused the destruction of Northern Israel. The idol is the United States Constitution, and nowhere is it more directly visible than in our repulsive adoration of the second amendment.

The second amendment to the Constitution would not be so troublesome, if it were interpreted with any degree of sanity. It simply says that because of the need for state militias, the right of people to bear arms shall not be infringed. Now, notice – the clauses which precede the actual “right” that is enumerated specifically states the necessity of militias – armed military groups necessary for the defense of the people. There was no standing army as such. Men were called to duty, and organized by states, as is perfectly illustrated in the Civil War.

The insanity begins when people only look at the “right” and completely overlook the “reason.” Most people, accustomed to the 30 second sound bites on TV, think that modern efforts at gun control are somehow an infringement on the precious 2nd Amendment “right” to bear arms. I know the rhetoric well. I rehearsed it every chance I got. “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” “Take away all the guns and only criminals will have guns.” All the slogans sound so right. Bumper sticker politics at its best. Throw a line like that into a sermon and you will get invitations to go out and eat at Furr’s cafeteria for the rest of the month.

NRA

NRA (Photo credit: the|G|™)

Notice I spoke in the past tense. The murders in Newtown changed me forever. I will never use such insipid and ignorant language again. The cataracts over my eyes were ripped off in horrific fashion. I don’t know why they stayed on after Columbine, after Georgia Tech, after Aurora. But there they were, distorting my vision and making me think I was some kind of intellectual when all I was amounted to an ignorant buffoon.

That kind of does it for the politics – but what about the faith? What about the Christianity?

I’ll just be blunt and say it. I really do not think you can be a follower of Jesus the Christ and still support the 2nd Amendment as it is so devoutly defended by the NRA. And I truly do not think your Christianity amounts to a thimble of water if you are a member of the NRA – if you defend their most diabolical pronouncements. I am not condemning mere membership, although I feel that is a compromised position. What I am condemning is active defense of the most unchristian and indefensible statements made by NRA leaders and members. (Calling members of the FBI, DEA, and other Federal law enforcement agencies “jack booted thugs”  or “Nazis” comes to mind).

First, the 2nd Amendment was written by a group of fallible humans who produced a fallible document that has worked (to some degree or another) for a mere 200 + years of history. To equate it to Scripture and say that we are to follow the 2nd Amendment because it is a part of the US Constitution is to declare that we are servants to Caesar and it is to him that we owe our loyalty. Jesus said we cannot serve two masters, and that our King is in heaven. We only get one choice – God or the Constitution. Choose wisely, your eternity depends upon it.

Second, Jesus came and died to destroy the power systems of this world – Satan being the chief power behind all worldly power systems. The US Constitution is just one of those worldly power systems. The 2nd Amendment grants power to those who own a tool designed, and purchased with one intent – to kill or maim another human being. Just think of how many guns there are that are designed for uses other than killing or causing great human bodily damage. Very, very few exist. Most of those are for hunting, although a few might be described as “sporting” firearms. Every handgun ever manufactured has one purpose, and well over 90 % of long guns (rifles and shotguns) are designed to kill or maim humans. That they are used for target practice does not minimize their ultimate purpose. Just to make my point even more clear, think of how many targets that are used at shooting ranges come in the outline of a human being.

Christians are commanded to think outside of this world – to have our minds transformed by the power of the One who came to save us from ourselves. Guns are designed to kill humans. Jesus died to save us from our sins and so that we could have life, and have it abundantly. The NRA, and those who steadfastly support the agenda of the NRA, exists so that others may die. It is that plain and simple. I have never heard any member of the NRA support or propose sensible restrictions to the power of human killing guns or the ammunition that destroys so much more than human flesh.

I am horrified and not just a little nauseated that so many of my “friends” within the Churches of Christ especially have devoted so much of their time in the days following this latest tragedy to support the uninhibited and unrestrained “right” to own guns. It is unchristian, it is completely opposite of the message of the crucified one, and it is a deeply ignorant position to hold. As I mentioned earlier, I was there until 12/14/12. I don’t know why it took me so long to see the sin of my position, or it’s unfathomable ignorance. But those 20 children who lost their lives in that massacre managed to do something that no other mass killing ever managed to do. They woke me up.

I won’t go back to sleep.

America’s obsession with guns will destroy it. It has already destroyed her soul. We count little first graders as “collateral damage” and we just shrug our shoulders and say, “evil happens” as if that solves any problem, or even identifies any problem. Well, people, it does neither. And as long as we have people who claim to be Christians who defend the use of assault rifles and the mass murderers who use them, America will never be free. Schools now will have to have even more security – more metal detectors, more limited methods of entry and exit, higher fences. I know some prisons that have fewer security systems. And this is freedom?

You can have it. I want the freedom that is in Christ – the freedom that comes from surrendering my rights – and that means my so called 2nd Amendment right to own a gun designed to kill another human being.

On Second Thought…

Okay, that was short.

I thought I could hang up the pen. Not even close.

When I finished my last post I was done – fried, melted, and scorched.

But then the thoughts just kept coming – faster and faster and deeper and deeper.

I guess I’m not done yet after all. Maybe in a little while, but come to find out there was a little steam left in the engine.

I may hiss and spit more than make any forward motion, but I guess it will be my hiss and spit.

Welcome back Freightdawg – and you are cleared for take-off.

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