Monday, November 29, 2010

A Reminder

Ok, we've had our turkey feast, survived (or skipped) Black Friday, enjoyed a long weekend, and now are to Cyber Monday (or Black Monday if you have to return to work and school).  The Christmas season has officially started.  I know, there have been inklings of it since after Halloween, but they don't count.  As the gift buying and hinting get into full swing, and travel plans are finalized, decorations are put up, Christmas songs fill our heads, and our favorite holiday movies and specials start appearing on the tube, I offer an early reminder.  Christmas is a mashup of two words, Christ and Mass.  Christ of course meaning the Messiah prophesied in the Old Testament, the Savior of all mankind who came to us in the form of an infant to take all our sins away, and Mass, meaning a celebration.  The purpose of the day and the season is to celebrate Jesus, specifically His birth, which was the answer to the prayers of many centuries.  It can be hard among all the other things we have crammed into this last month of the year, even the important things like seeing family during the time off, and the "Reason For The Season" signs, shirts and stickers have become ubiquitous enough that they kind of blend into the other signs of the season.  So, instead of waiting for the pageant at church or Linus' famed reading, here is my reminder of what we are celebrating.  Enjoy.

 1 In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. 2 (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) 3 And everyone went to their own town to register.
 4 So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. 5 He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, 7 and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.
 8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
 13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
 14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
   and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
 15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”
 16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

(from , NIV)

Monday, November 22, 2010

Fighting The Law, and other wastes of energy

Times like this is why one keeps any and all notes, and transcribes them to as many places as possible.  This is a slight adjustment to an older piece, which saves me from missing another post.  The message still holds true, and is one of the topics that floats through my head quite often.  The inspiration came from an unusual source though.  A song.  Not a hymn or even a praise chorus, although they often provide inspiration. The song was “I Fought The Law" by The Clash.  The chorus is the main inspiration here, "I fought the law and the law won."  In the vast wilderness that is my mind, I took that thought and began traversing down many a rabbit trail. When I think “law”, especially in relation to religious matters, I immediately look at the Mosaic Law of the Old Testament.  The Israelites were given three books worth of law, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.  While study shows that many of the laws are repeated in each book, there are still many, many laws to follow.  These laws governed not only their worship and how they were to communicate to God, but also their diet, dress, and how to handle many legal matters within the nation.  The laws told them how they could atone for their sins, and what sacrifices were necessary for different sins.  It was by obeying these laws that Israel was sanctified, separated from the world and brought closer to God.  It was by obeying these laws that they were made holy and saved.  So, logic follows that if they were obeying the laws, and offering up the proper sacrifices when they failed, then the people would not need any further forgiveness.
        But included in the law was the Day of Atonement, the annual festival where the high priest placed the sins of the nation on a scapegoat, and then released that goat out to the wilderness, so that the Israelites sins were taken away from them and dealt with by God.  Leviticus 16 gives all the details of the ceremony. Lev. 16:21,22 “And Aaron shall lay both his hands upon the head of the live goat, and confess over him all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their transgressions in all their sins, putting them upon the head of the goat, and shall send him away by the hand of a fit man into the wilderness:  And the goat shall bear upon him all their iniquities unto a land not inhabited: and he shall let go the goat in the wilderness.”  And before the scapegoat is released, another goat is offered as a sacrifice for the people’s sins as well.  After all that, even with the law, the people were still in need of continued forgiveness, every year at the Yom Kippur ceremony, as well as throughout the year with their individual sacrifices.    Now, is this a flaw in the law? It cannot be, since the law came from God, and God would not give us a red herring to chase in search of salvation.  Galatians 3:21,22 confirm this. “[Is] the law then against the promises of God?  God forbid: for if there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law. But the Scripture hath concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe.” No, instead, the law was God’s way of showing us that acts and works were not sufficient to bridge the gap between God and man.  Hebrews 10:1-5 goes into great detail on this subject.  “The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming-not the realities themselves.  For this reason it can never, but the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year make perfect those who draw near to worship.  If it could, would they not have stopped being offered?  For the worshipers would have been cleansed once and for all, and would no longer have felt guilty for their sins.  But those sacrifices are an annual reminder of sins, because it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.” Those good things to come were first Jesus’ sacrifice, followed by the eventual return of man to our place, with God in the New Jerusalem, after the final battle.   We see this again in Gal 2:21 “I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness [come] by the law, then Christ is dead in vain”.  If the law can be called flawed, it is an intentional flaw, included to prove a point to mankind. 
        Back on track, however, as time passed, the people tried to fight the law.  Even as Moses was receiving the Law, the people fell into idolatry, wanting a statue to worship, even though they had just seen the plagues on Egypt, the parting on the Red Sea, and the pillar of fire and dust that led them to Mt. Sinai.  The description of Israel by God given in Hosea 4:6 tells of people who by that time had chosen to fight the law by ignoring it. “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge; because though hast rejected knowledge, I will also reject thee, that thou shalt be no priest to me; seeing thou hast forgotten the law of thy God, I will also forget thy children.”  King Saul tried to fight the law, going to the witch of Endor for answers when God would not answer his questions.  1 Samuel 28:17-19 tells us the price Saul paid for fighting the law “Because thou obeyed not the voice of the Lord, nor executed His fierce wrath upon Amaled, therefore hath the Lord done this thing unto thee this day. Moreover the Lord will also deliver Israel with thee into the hand of the Philistines: and tomorrow [shalt] thou and thy sons [be] with me; the Lord also shall deliver the host of Israel into the hand of the Philistines.
Another group who tried to fight the law in Jesus’ time were the Pharisees.  They tried to fight the law by expanding it to a point where the boundaries they set were so far behind those set by the Law that they could not possibly cross over the lines into breaking the Law.   It was an attempt to beat the law at it’s own game.  The Pharisees nitpicked the law, laying down the exact numbers of steps that could be taken on the Sabbath, or what fractions of their spices they had to toss into the offering urns to be properly tithing to God.  For their efforts they were called a brood of vipers by John the Baptist, and their teachings referred to as a yeast to be avoided by Jesus.  Luke 11:42 “But woe unto you, Pharisees!  For ye tithe mint and rue and all manner of herbs, and pass over judgment and the love of God: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.”  Paul later declared that Israel as a nation had fallen into this trap of legalism and salvation by works. Romans 9:30-33 “What shall we say then?  That the Gentiles, which followed not after righteousness, have attained to righteousness, even the righteousness which is of faith. But Israel, which followed after the law of righteousness, hath not attained to the law of righteousness. Wherefore?  Because [they sought it] not by faith, but as it were by the works of the law.  For they stumbled at that stumbling stone.”
        Even since Jesus fulfilled the law, there have still been attempts to fight the new law.  After His ascension, there were those who thought He was coming back very quickly, so rather then follow the new law laid down of spreading the Gospel, they went out and sat in the fields, just biding their time until Jesus came back.  Paul fought against many different groups who insisted that new Christians conform themselves to Jewish laws or the worship of angels.  These attempts to fight the law continue even today.  In my classes for my pastoral studies program, I read quite a bit about different ideologies and theologies that have cropped up over the last 2000 years since Jesus’ death and resurrection.  Many of them are simply new ways to try and fight the law, either trying to justify compromises they wish to make with worldly beliefs or trying to fill in the gaps with something other than faith, as they are intended to be.  There are schools of thought that claim to be Christians saying that God can save people through other religions, eliminating their need to evangelize those who follow other religions.  There are others who claim that their rituals and laws are necessary for salvation, not just belief in Jesus.  They are all continuing to try and fight the law, just as Israel did centuries ago. 
        So where do we stand now in relation to the law?  Even now, if we try and fight the law, the law always wins.  We know that the law does not save us. Gal 2:16 "Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law, for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified". Even if the law could, James 2:10 tells us that “For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one [point], he is guilty of all.”  If we attempt to become righteous by the law, fighting the new law with the old, we must maintain everything listed in those three books, which includes not only animal, grain and drink offerings, but such things as not wearing clothes made of two different materials or plant two different kinds of crops in one field. (Lev. 19:19) Instead of walking in the old covenant, which cannot save us, we can walk in the new covenant, which saves by Jesus’ sacrifice.  Rom. 8:1-6 "[There is] therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.”  Matthew 5:17 tells us that Jesus did not come to destroy the law, but to fulfill it.  Now, rather than having all the rules and regulations to sanctify us, we have faith in Jesus which separates us from the world.  Rather than having to offer imperfect bulls and sheep up to cleanse us of our sins, we have been cleansed, once and for all by the perfect blood of Jesus. 
        We can try and fight the new law, the law of grace by bending it to our own whims, or by trying to prove that the old law is sufficient for us.  We can try and fight with the old law, wrestling against it’s many edicts to no avail.  But either way, whenever we fight the law, the law always wins.  So rather than fighting it we should accept the law which stands now, the law of honoring God, treating others as we would be treated, and believing in the one way, one truth and one light that is Jesus, who finished the law for us, and wrote the new covenant of grace. 

Monday, November 15, 2010

How did we get down here, and how do we get back out?

A list came through in the never-ending information stream that is the modern communication system.  This one was a list of the most bizarre hip-hop criminals.  Interestingly enough, most of the crimes themselves weren't particularly bizarre, assault, bank robbery, drug possession, and a couple of homicides, although someone commented that a rapper who got really ripped on PCP, killed and attempted to eat someone should have made the list.  Reading through these rap sheets got me thinking about the culture and mindset that generates this kind of activity.  Unfortunately, much of the rap culture is tied strongly to the gang culture, where the objective is to live fast, die young, and take as many with you as possible when you go. Before I get slammed as an evil racist, there is a similar culture in parts of the heavy metal world, exemplified several years ago in the European black metal scene, where several murders and cases of church arson occurred, in the interest of showing how "evil" the perps were, just like the rappers were trying to prove how "thug" they are.
How does any culture get to a point where these levels of violence and antisocial behavior are goals to be reached?  It comes down to the foundations of that culture.  As Rome sunk deeper and deeper into it's own pit, the levels of deviancy rose higher and higher.  The death matches in the Colosseum, be they armed man vs armed man, armed man vs animal, unarmed man vs armed man, or unarmed man vs animal, were spectacles that the folks at UFC and WWE are only in the foothills of.  Never mind the legendary sexual exploits of the Roman Empire, the (literal) backstabbing and political games played by the emperors make the most despicable maneuverings of Washington D.C. look like tiddlywinks.  And what were the foundations of the Roman culture at these times?  Very similar, materialistic, nihilistic philosophies to the ones we see in the aforementioned subcultures, as well as many other parts of our modern society.  Think about the abortion debate.  Regardless of one's feelings on the act in general, how can anyone accept killing a late-term baby who can live outside the womb?  Only by adapting those materialistic, nihilistic ideals, and deciding that even though the baby is viable, since it hasn't gone through the birth process, it isn't really a person.  This is one ugly, but more widely accepted example of that same mindset which tells a person it's ok to shoot someone who is a member of a different gang, or simply not a member of their gang.
Pointing out problems is easy.  Offering solutions is another matter.  Both of the specific subcultures that I've mentioned have similarities in their members.  Poverty, lack of family structure, various social strata that tell people they can't move beyond their present level are all common among gangbangers, metalheads, disenfranchised punks, white trash, and any other group you can probably name.  I remember the Judas Priest trial back in the late 90's where a pair of kids decided they heard voices on the album telling them to "do it".  The blame was laid on the record, not the alcohol and pot the two had consumed at the time and in the past, not on their troubled home life.  We saw the same thing with the Columbine shooters.  Their violent rampage was blamed on video games and Marylin Manson, not the lack of parental involvement in their adolescence.  I know we don't want to add to parents grief when these events happen, but we've also got to be honest when these things are analyzed, and not make up strawmen to avoid other factors.
The world lays either a foundation of material goods and pleasures, or a foundation where those goods and pleasures don't bring any real satisfaction.  Neither of these foundations can hold up under the storms of life.  They both lead to emptiness, unhappiness, dissatisfaction, often anger, depression, and other issues that get expressed in various ways.  Not usually the severe antisocial behavior at the beginning, but it is quite disturbing when you start listening to people's stories how many of those tales boil down to thinking one of those two ways. Many religions lay claim to knowing how to rise beyond the material, yet they seem to be either setting  goal of becoming nothing (while becoming everything at the same time) or working hard enough to please deity X sufficiently to gain entrance into the afterlife.  Some folks are going to say that the second describes Christianity, and that as I move into the preaching portion of the post, I've already discounted my own solution.  They are incorrect.  Following Jesus isn't about earning anything.  It isn't about getting everything we want here on Earth.  It isn't about being constantly happy.  What it is about is believing that mankind in general and ourselves specifically are broken, and we don't have the means to fix ourselves.  What it is about is accepting that the price to fix us was paid on a hill in Jerusalem 2000 years ago.  What it is about is acknowledging that we are not our own, we simply choose who our master is, and the master we obey is the master who we will spend eternity with.  That "obey" is a major problem to our modern ears.  It's why we would rather adrenaline rushes and shiny jewelery, or fame and acknowledgment for our abilities.  But when pushed out, as history, both modern and ancient shows us we always do, those desires for worldly paradises never end well.  They always end up glorifying depravity, be it crowds cheering for the surviving gladiator or the whispered infamy of criminal musicians.  And when an entire society glorifies depravity, it is a short trip to the end of that society, as history also shows. 
Each of us can only control our own choices, but if we choose to follow life instead of death, and listen to the orders that the real Master gives us, either in His Word the Bible, or through the many other ways He talks to us, then we will be set fire, and that fire will spread to those around us.  No one of us can cure the ills that lead to the kinds of crimes that have been discussed here.  But if we hold up the Way, the Truth and the Light, and teach it to our children, and the people we interact with, then a new dam can be erected, and those types of stories can become less celebrated. 

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The cost of procrastination...

Ok, I'd like to say that this is late because I was spending Veteran's Day properly honoring the great men and women who are and have sacrificed for our freedoms, but I wasn't.  However, the day did remind me of why I need to get these notes and rough drafts off my phone and saved on here as drafts.  You see, when one has a little padding, some work ready in advance, when a busy day comes along, there is something either waiting to be dropped out the chute or something that just needs a little polishing before it's ready.  So, this short post today is a reminder to live for today, learn from yesterday, and remember tomorrow.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Is your name known in hell?

Well, the mid-terms are over, the first reminder to keep the fires going has been posted, now we can get back to more important things.  

I heard an account about an evangelist by the name of W.P. Nicholson.  He was associated with the Salvation Army in Ireland at the turn of the 20th century.  In this tale, he invited an unsaved man to a prayer meeting.  The man's response was that he had no idea what to do at a prayer meeting.  Nicholson told him to go home, read Acts, and that would prepare him for the meeting.  That evening, the man came to the prayer meeting, and after several people made their long, passionate prayers, the new comer finally stood up and said "Dear God, I want everyone in hell to know my name!" Now, this was quite a shock and Nicholson pulled the man outside the meeting and asked him what kind of prayer was that, why did he say that?  The man replied that he had read Acts, and read the account of the seven sons of Sceva, (Acts 19:11-20), where the Jewish priests had tried to cast out a demon by invoking the names of Jesus and Paul, and the demon possessed man answered "Jesus I know and Paul I know, but who are you?" and attacked the priests.  The man finished with "Mr. Nicholson, I want the Devil to know who I am!"

We don't often think like that do we?  We focus on making sure that God knows our name, and that our name is written in the Book of Life, but what about the other side of the coin?  Do the demons know your name?  Do they tremble when you come near?  Or are you just another somebody blowing hot air that is of no concern to their goals?

Besides the account in Acts where the demons declared they knew Jesus and Paul, the Gospels also tell us that the demons recognized Jesus.  A specific story is the two demon possessed men who Jesus healed by casting out their demons into a herd of pigs. (Matt. 8:28-34)  There the demons called Jesus the Son of God when they saw Him and begged for mercy.  Mark 3:11 and 12 tell us this happened several times, that the demons saw Jesus coming and fell down before him, announcing His proper title. 

We know why the demons feared Jesus, but what about Paul?  Paul was just a man, correct?  What made him so special that his name was known in hell?  Paul was known by the demons because he was a solid soldier of God, a man who took his orders and performed them, a man who laid his own life in God's hands, who preached Jesus and Him crucified to the non-believer.  The priest who got attacked by the possessed man seems to have only seen Jesus as another name to chant in order to cast out the demons.  He didn't accept Jesus, there was no Jesus in him, which meant this priest was no threat to the demon.

The devil doesn't keep track of non-threats.  If we aren't doing anything that shrinks his kingdom, neither the devil or his demons is going to bother knowing our names, because he knows that he'll have plenty of time to get to know those folks later.  But, when we are doing Kingdom work, following our directions, be that as evangelists or prayer warriors or worship leaders or any of the myriad of jobs on the Fellow-ship, then we are dangerous to the devil, we are enemies, and he makes sure to know his enemies.  So, the question falls to us, are our lives entwined with Jesus' enough to be known in hell? 

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Now the real work begins

Tues, Nov. 2, 2010 was a big night for American conservatives.  Much of the nation used the midterm elections as an opportunity to tell all of Washington, and many state capitals that they don't like the direction the country is going in, or the attempts that have been made to fix the problems we have.  No, it wasn't the great Republican blowout many hoped for, but that's ok.  We don't need a Republican blowout, much of the economic blood that has been spilled is on business as usual R's hands as well as D's.  But this is only the start of OUR work.  Yes, people, our job is not limited to making a check mark every two years.  That attitude is another big part of why we're in as deep as we are right now.  The next step is to keep our boots on the throat of D.C. (If it's a good enough phrase to for Gibbs to use on BP, it's good enough for our elected officials, right?)  As in every election, a lot of promises were made in this one.  Before the election we got a formal plan of action from the Republicans, of what they were going to do if they took back Congress.  Guess what?  They got the House, and significantly closed the gap in the Senate.  So now, We The People need to hold them to those commitments, and any that the individual candidates made as well.  This goes for you Democrats out there too.  The D's that held their seats are just as responsible for their campaign promises.   

This election fired up the the people.  Now that it's over, we can't just go back to business as usual.  We have to stay on our elected representatives, and tell them that if they aren't willing to hold up their word, then they will be putting "former" in front of their title, just like the people they are replacing.  Many of those who will be seated in January were plucked from outside the normal Washington circles.  We sought out candidates who weren't insiders, if they drink the Kool-ade, once they get in, we will just have to go find some more and vote them in.  The Tea Party movement has proved that there are still a lot of regular Americans out there who care about this nation, and are still willing to get involved.  Now we just have to stay involved, and remind everyone, including many citizens, that this is a representative republic, and those representatives are there to serve We The People, not themselves, not select groups, not but us and the nation's best interests.

You have your orders.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Side-show justice

The temp agency I've been spending my mornings at waiting for work to come in has a TV on in the corner.  On that TV every morning comes a show.  This show is a disturbing mix of The People's Court and Jerry Springer.  It's called Eye For An Eye, and the judge on the show goes by the name of Extreme Akim.  He enters to a Springer like crowd chanting his name, armed with his Bat of Justice in replacement of the standard gavel.  Various plaintiffs and defendants plead their cases, a variety of small claims court type claims, X suing Y because of this, that and the other.  There are two scary things about the show.  First is the usual verdicts and sentences.  One example, a pair of sisters were suing each other over a lottery ticket.  The verdict was the two women had to find the ticket in a dumpster of trash out in the studio parking lot.  In another, a clown was accused of showing up to a birthday party drunk and traumatizing the youth, he got to sit and get pies in the face from all the kids that were at the party.  In one more case, a stripper came in claiming that she had a tape recording of the plaintiff's father leaving all his money to her. This case ended with the judge deciding the stripper was lying and ordering her down to the nearest tattoo parlor to get "golddigger" tattooed on her.  That one leads to the second scary part of the show.  That verdict was made with an "expert" listening to the taped will, and then listening to the deceased person's voice mail message, which was still available because it was a very recent passing.  Based on hearing these two pieces of recording once each, the witness determined that they were not the same person.
Now, I'll be the first to say that our current legal system has some serious problems, the main one being too many laws for too many lawyers to manipulate.  But despite that and other problems, this type of "justice" doesn't fly either.  How is it really justice to throw motor-oil balloons at the guy who sold you a car with the odometer rolled back?  It may vent some emotion, both for the thrower and some of the people watching who have had such things happen to them, but isn't one of the reasons for the court system to avoid such emotional reactions?  Aren't judges supposed to be looking at the facts they are presented, hold them up to the law, and make their judgments and punishments based on those?  Should legal punishments be subject to these kinds of emotion?  I don't think this type of courtroom is very far removed from the Roman Colosseum, where life and death hung by the crowd reaction, or the lynch mob justice seen in parts of the US over the years.  All these events do is further deteriorate our ideas of what justice is.  No mistake, there are numerous instances we all know, famous or not, where justice was not served in various court cases.  But like so many basic ideals, such as family, love, freedom, responsibility, reducing it to the lowest common denominator just further deteriorates the foundation, and right now, most of these basic ideals are on crumbling foundations due to apathy, ignorance, and laziness, and show like this simply keep chipping away at that damaged base.  Cursory investigation of the show doesn't solidly answer if Mr. Akim is an actual judge, though he is definitely a busy lawyer before the show, which frighteningly enough has been going for about six years.  The same cursory investigation indicates the show is connected to National Lampoon, which brings the title of Judge into question as well.  Everyone's second favorite source of random information wikipedia says the show is a form of binding arbitration as opposed to an actual small claims courts, again questioning if the title of Judge applies.  I'm not blaming the show for anything, but it's another symptom of a society in decay, syndicated in
69 countries.