Monthly Archives: May 2015

A Vision of Our Own Demise

I think it can be easy for us to fall into idolotrous thinking very similar to the way Muhammedans view Allah.  It is much more straighforward to view God as totally rigid, just doing his own thing with no regard for what his people say or do.  This is the god of Islam, but the Christian God has a relationship with his people.  He listens when Abraham cries out for Sodom(Genesis 18:22-33).  He hears the cry of his people in Egypt(Exodus 3:7).  But he also punishes his people when they commit spiritual adultery, when they turn to false gods and refuse to repent.  God issues both blessings and curses, and they are far from inevitable, they are conditional.  This is brought starkly to light by reading Daniel 9.

In the first year of Darius the son of Ahasuerus, by descent a Mede, who was made king over the realm of the Chaldeans— in the first year of his reign, I, Daniel, perceived in the books the number of years that, according to the word of the Lord to Jeremiah the prophet, must pass before the end of the desolations of Jerusalem, namely, seventy years

Daniel used both scripture and wisdom, the same tools we posses today, to figure out that the number of years God has promised was at hand.  But his reaction was not to sit back and wait for the rapture.  Instead he fell on his face and repented, in sackcloth and ashes.

I prayed to the Lord my God and made confession, saying, “O Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, we have sinned and done wrong and acted wickedly and rebelled, turning aside from your commandments and rules. . .

And he goes on for sixteen verses, listing the sins of his people and begging God for mercy.  He points out that the suffering of the people of Jerusalem, the chosen people, was completely warranted, but he appeals to God’s name and his reputation and asks for restoration of the people and the city.

A Vision of the Crucifixion.  Cathedral of St. Peter St. Paul. Troyes France. C.16th. Stained Glass.

Daniel: A Vision of the Crucifixion. Cathedral of St. Peter St. Paul. Troyes France. C.16th. Stained Glass.

Then Gabriel interrupts him and tells him that Daniel had him at ‘hello’.   Well almost, it is evident that at the first words of Daniel God acted.  The God of the Universe acted at the word of a man!  Let this sink in for a moment.  And don’t overlook that list of things he begged forgiveness for.  It reads like a list of complaints God might have against our country today.  And, it is almost a perfect description of the Israel that Jesus encountered as he walked on this earth.  We would do well to cry out to God in a similar manner today.  We are know, the world over, as a Christian nation, we were founded as a city on a hill, the world is watching.  And what they see is blasphemy to the name of God.  Even this week a new list of reasons why Osama Bin Laden hated America came out.  And it’s hard to argue with him.  “It is the VOTERS. . .who vote in favor of human alien satanic practices such as homosexual marriages and infant butchery in the wombs of their selfish heartless prostitute mothers.”  Obviously he has other complaints I disagree with but he got these right.  So rather than pride ourselves in our sin, or sit back and wait for God to judge ‘them’ while we get raptured.  We need to repent, and beg repentance on behalf of our crumbling nation.

The situation was almost identical in Jesus’ day, only they did not repent as Daniel did.  Oh sure the Pharisees had their perfect Systematic Theology, without a jot or tittle out of place.  But they crucified the Son of God!  He longed to gather them to himself (Luke 13:34), it was a genuine offer from a compassionate God.  It was not fake or lip service.  History could have gone a different way.  The people could have repented, but they didn’t.  And so the Church was grafted in.  But lest we get fat and lazy in our new position, remember the word of Paul in Romans 11:21-24 “For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you.”  If you don’t watch it, you might be cut out and God can graft the original branches, the Jewish people, back in.

Sure the prophecy understood and the one received by Daniel are deserving of awe.  But we shouldn’t forget the prophecy of Jesus in Matthew 24.  A prophecy which would come true less than forty years later.  I think we often do.  We forget the events that took place in 70A.D. and their significance.  This is one prophecy that wasn’t conditional.  You were either on the side of the zealots and the various anti-Roman rebellions, in which case you were dead.  Or you were fleeing to the hills at the behest of Jesus, as many did and their lives were spared.   It’s too bad we turn this and the rest of New Testament prophecy into an excuse to sit around and let our community, nation and the West as a whole, fall apart.  We have our dramatic conversion, get our fire insurance and then wait for the world to burn.  In this we are the Pharisees mocking Jesus for telling them if they destroy this temple he will rebuild it again in three days.  We mock the God we claim to serve, thinking that our superior position or our superior theology will save us.  We confuse a dramatic conversion story for the daily death-to-self, which should be standard for every Christian.  The Jews pointed to their circumcision, we point to that time at camp when we made a profession of faith.  The faithful follower of God points to earlier today, to his own sin, and he repents.  Then he receives the boldness necessary to come before a Holy God and ask that his people be spared the judgement they deserve.

 

 

 

Tomorrowland

I remember the exact day I first read Jules Verne.  I remember the exact place and how it made me feel.  The Mysterious Island was recommended to me by a good friend.  And I loved it.  I loved Cyrus Smith and his ability to bend the forces of nature to his will, physics, botany, chemistry, all to form civilization from a deserted island.  But the Island had a secret, he didn’t do it all on his own, he had a helper.  I’ll give you a hint, it wasn’t God Almighty, or Jesus his son.  I loved this story, until I found a better one.   But watching the world around me, I lament that many have not found it yet.  They still subsist with their inferior stories, ever putting their faith in those false gods.  The gods of careers, money, power, governments, the magic of science and technology.  The god of self, individual or collective.

This is Jules Verne’s superman, the engineer.  A man of applied sciences who can bend the world to his will as a magician conjures spells, to reach pragmatic ends.  Nothing can stop this man.  Certainly nothing can stop a whole nation of such men, except for reality.  This is the hero of Tomorrowland.  Also, the whole movie rings reminescient of Atlas Shrugged, but that is another topic.

George-Clooney-in-2015-Tomorrowland-Movie-Poster-WallpaperOddly enough this movie about the future takes us back to the past.  The movie asks us if we want to go forward or backward, while itself drawing from retro styling.  And not just the set design, the ideas are all old too.  It’s basic modern humanism with that special personal twist of postmodernism.  The power is within you.  Of course we aren’t supposed to answer that we want to go backwards.  It’s the worst thing in the world.  It’s all progress, and evolution, don’t you know? But, I do want to go back.  As C. S. Lewis said, if you are on the wrong road progress means retracing your steps back to the place where you went wrong.  And so we are on the wrong road as a civilization.

The movie gets many things right, as most false religions, the devil is in the details.  There is the shining city on a hill, the child of promise and the quest to gather idealistic followers.  The city is beautiful made of crystal, made of light.  Things move fast and anything is possible.  There is no pain or suffering, or even anything to stain your white jumpsuit, for that matter.  It’s heaven.  And It’s not some etherial floaty heaven, it’s a real tangible place, earth remade, in a different dimension.  All very good counterfeits.

As I awoke from the siren song that Verne sang to me, the song he sings to all his humanist pupils, I found a better story.  I found Robinson Crusoe.  Oddly it was a story read to me years earlier by my father.  But I rediscovered it, by men like C. S. Lewis, and G.K. Chesterton pulling the wool from my eyes.  Crusoe too finds himself on a desert island.  He too creates a civilization.  But he has one thing that Verne does not, purpose.  Surviving to survive is no way to live, though the Darwinians cling to it as a creed. Crusoe, exists to spread the Kingdom of heaven on this earth, he is a Christian.   As such he fights to survive to serve his creator, and he evangelizes one of the savages, Friday.

The movie gets something else right, probably without knowing it.  The Church today has become a lot like that kind sweet little girl proselytizing, for the new earth, for Tomorrowland.  Definitely similar in the sweet part but also in that she is a robot.  Christians today are a lot like robots droning on about being saved and the happy happy joy joy of it all.  It’s about as much fun as a cold metallic handshake.  And a world full of people sitting around waiting for doomsday?  Correct again, that’s the church I know.  Huddled around the TV worshipping football and stuffing their faces or wringing their hands and lamenting each new catastrophe, political or meteorological, waiting for the rapture.  We only seem to get lively when arguing about which group is going to burn.  Like it or not, the Church sets the tenor for this world, it’s just how it works.  And God’s people are doing a bad job.  It’s no wonder the world has no hope, Christians don’t either.  We glom on to every negative passage in the New Testament as if Jesus’ words were to be applied directly to our every situation.  “Yep things are going to get worse, Jesus said so”.  Except that there are many times in history when they didn’t.  Read about the founding of this nation.  Look around the world, the gospel is spreading like crazy.  Twelve fisherman in a sliver of Asia spread their message to the entire world.  Sure there were ups and downs, but things have been getting better for 2000 years as the body of Christ remakes this world.  The Gospel light is spreading.

Giving up now is silly.  But we don’t need the fake hope of Tomorrowland.  We don’t need the superman of Verne.  We need the real story behind Robinson Crusoe, we need the story of Scripture, the good news of the Gospel.  The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.  We have a crystal city,  and we a have a superman who lights that city, his name is Jesus, the Christ.  It’s all there in the Revelation of John.  Tell your friends about it, the ones who haven’t given up hope.  Lay their hands on the Book and they can get the vision too.

Blind Exegesis

Last time I mentioned a few bad types of exegesis, and only discussed one of them.  The other was this idea that we are getting behind the text to some sort of historical event.  As such the four gospels and Acts, are a mere bridge to take us to the real story behind the words.  I think this coincides with our nature as post Enlightenment, Darwinian, empiricists.  We have very little use for information gained by logical reasoning, or wisdom imparted by story.  We want to dissect reality with our own hands and take it in with our own senses before we believe anything.  And so we do the same to these texts.  We deconstruct them into little bits and then attempt to reconstruct the event behind the texts.  It’s all very scientific sounding and we like to pride ourselves in our ability to use the texts like we use everything else, for our own glory or pragmatic ends.

I think this really downplays the inspiration of the authors.  They were there they saw the events and if you believe Orthodoxy, they wrote their books by divine inspiration.  We were not there we don’t know what happened, aside from their accounts, their stories.  The same goes for the creation of the Earth.  We were not there and we would do best to consider the account of someone who was, and it’s purpose.  It is far more important to know why we exist and our place in this universe, than to know how, it is we came to exist.  It may be that science at it’s best might one day tell us the answer to the latter question, but it is completely incapable of answering the first.  Just because I know how it all went down, does not get me any closer to understanding the significance of the sun moon and stars or Jesus the Christ.

made-ofThe author of Genesis was not giving us arguments to use on Darwinian Atheists, or a way to understand the universe that we might, manipulate it more by the magic of the applied sciences.  They were telling us the story of God’s relationship to mankind, and his chosen people.  In the same way, the Gospel writers were not giving us a police report of the events that transpired from 15BC to 35AD.  They were bearing witness to the fact that Jesus the Christ came to fulfill the Old Testament, he was the predicted Messiah.  He came to usher in the end of the age of the Jewish people and to graft in a new people, his very body, the Church.  Trying to use these texts for purposes other than the author intended can be downright heretical.  And arguments over how to jam these gospel shaped pegs into modern shaped minds is really a waste of time.  You can find a recognized scholar somewhere who will blatantly reject any aspect of anything in scripture.  So let’s just ignore all of them and try to take texts on their own terms, through the Church tradition.

There is nothing wrong with comparing Gospel accounts, or trying to learn all that we can.  But when we chase controversies laid down but the blatant unfaithful, at the expense of the message the authors wanted to convey, we are wasting our time.  If we put the slice of scripture in Mark 10:46-52 into the themes of the author, we see it become clear and we can stay away from mantras that fit our fancy.

Most of Christendom saw Mark as revealing the kingly nature of Jesus.  It was a theme that went back all the way to the beginning of Israel’s history.  Their kings were representative of the people, an their kings had failed.  The whole community of Jewish people had failed.  They were the chosen people.  Yet they were in captivity.  Now Jesus was a type of Israel, reenacting their history.  Yet this time he would succeed. He would fulfill the Law, by keeping it’s every command perfectly.  Mark invokes “leaving Jericho”, not because the exact minute it happened or name of the blind man (In fact the name is probably further word picture.) was of utmost importance, but because we are to remember when Israel left Jericho.  Jericho was the first stop when Israel entered the promised land, which would culminate with David  and Solomon setting up their kingdom in Jerusalem.  Now Jesus ascends to conquer, but he is the true king, the servant king.  He will conquer through humility, he will lay down his life, and conquer the ultimate enemy, death.  And so raised to the throne of Heaven.

I think it’s a little silly to discuss this blind man’s ultimate salvation; is he a card carrying Evangelical or not?  The fact is that the man didn’t just have some generic theoretical doctrinal faith, he really believed that Jesus could heal him in the real world, and so he was healed.  Jesus says so.  That’s what we know.  Jesus again makes a point with his actions.  He draws contrast between the blindness of his own disciples and giving a man sight for seeing already, for his faith.  Now there is a time for exegeting doctrine, I guess.  Jesus sort-of did this, as he pointed to himself in Old Testament texts.  But there are more times for action, faithful action.  For every non-Christian who has a problem with some exegetical issue in the Bible, I can give you a hundred who have a problem with some Christian.  So live like one. Do what he tells you to do.  Further, live like he is the type of God who wants to restore sight, who showers gifts upon his children.  Live like he is your heavenly father, whom you can run to when you are suffering or in trouble.  Don’t run to your doctrine, or your high horse over all those with ‘incorrect’ doctrine.

“And immediately he recovered his sight and followed him on the Way.”

Christ Giving Sight to Bartimaeus.  William Blake. 18th C.

Christ Giving Sight to Bartimaeus. William Blake. 18th C.

 

Don’t Worry About Lordship

To my Journey Church Brothers:

I would be concerned to find out that my Church’s theology was exactly the same as a failed radical disciple of Jeremiah Wright,  President Obama.  But here it is, don’t worry about obeying God, or making him Lord of your life, just ‘help the poor’ whatever that means.  But the reality is that if you stop obeying God, helping the poor not only goes down the tubes but is no longer even an option.  Since when did a bunch of people given to sexual lust have time for the poor?  Only when it’s a religious cover for your sin, does it exist for a fleeting moment, until total implosion.  And I thought you people didn’t like religion.  It’s about relationship, right?  Well stop cheating on your spouse, the LORD GOD of heaven.

OBAMA: CHURCHES SHOULD FOCUS MORE ON POVERTY INSTEAD OF ABORTION AND GAY MARRIAGE

It’s the standard Judas argument; don’t waste effort on serving God, use it to help the poor.  But really all he wanted to do was pilfer some of the money for himself (John 13:6).  And that is exactly what Obama has done and does every day.  He makes a fortune and has gained the most powerful office in the land, talking about the poor, having never helped anyone out of poverty.  Even his own brother, George, struggles in abject poverty in Africa.  In fact poverty is worse here and abroad by any measure, under his administration, than it was before.  But it’s hardly a focus on poverty as much as it is a focus on attacking Biblical morality.  No President or U.S. Senator for that matter, has ever been so radical on their thirst for late-term murder of innocent children, even pushing for infanticide.  In addition to destroying the cultural perception of marriage and celebrating every anti-biblical interest group he can, be it the homosexualists, or the Muhammedans, he has not done one thing for the poor.  All this supposed focus on ‘poverty’ has led to less morality, and more poverty.

It is his shift from justice to ‘social justice.’  We no longer hold people accountable to a moral code of laws base on Biblical commands 1.  Now we throw trillions of dollars at anamorphic terms like ‘the poor’, ‘the less fortunate’, ‘the minorities’, ‘the losers of life’s lottery.  Often rewarding bad behavior in the name of rectifying past, historical accusations.  And so we lose both.  There is no social justice because there is no real justice.  It’s just how it works on this earth.  It is the message of the Old Testament.  That part of the Bible you like to skip between hip guitar riffs.  If you want social justice, repent, and follow Jesus.  And repeat it every day.

Further Consideration:

A Wonderful Sermon on the Subject from the Book of Joel.

  1.  All laws are moral, if you tell someone what to do, it’s asserting a morality, the only debate is about whose morality.  Morality is not derived from Nature, because nature is chaos, and eating your husband after sex might be a viable option, so it must be based on a transcendent being, God.  The only debate is which god, the one true God, or his opposite, the various paganisms.

Right and Left Hand Men

There are a couple of common types of exegesis that really bother me.  One is extracting doctrine or commands instead of teaching people how to love the text.  The other is trying to get to some sort of historical event behind the text.  The first is a lack of imagination and the second is imagination run wild.

I think both problems are indicative of the individualism we Americans worship.  Even many Christians, today, believe that beauty is in the eye of the beholder.  Whereas most Christians and even pagans throughout time viewed aesthetics as something that mankind only discovers.  The whole idea of the muses was a personification of something that most artists find themselves driven by as they practice their art.  Something outside of themselves.  The same certainly applies to beauty, as Christians we should realize that beauty, like morals or any other aspect of this world, is based on the character of God.  And it applies to a text that we didn’t write. Our job is to imagine a situation outside of ourselves, not to apply our view on the text.

God knows quite well how to communicate with us, he created us.  He created the world to communicate to us.  I think of Psalm 119, or Romans 1.  But above all he gave us his Word, which is mostly a book of stories.  Oh sure he also gave us the compilations of Solomon, the proverbs, which contain much advice in concise pithy sayings.  “Pride goes before destruction” says Proverbs 16:18, “One’s pride will bring him low. . .” The only problem is that Mark 10 doesn’t really say anything about pride.  It’s a snippet of a story, which Mark is telling us.  A few chapters back he detailed the transfiguration, which James and John were one of three men on earth to witness.  At the beginning of chapter ten Jesus tells his disciples that they will receive a hundred fold what they have given up to follow him.  In addition, they were making their way up to Jerusalem, something was about to happen.  The crowds felt it as they laid out palm branches a few hours later.  It makes perfect sense that they might ask him for a position of honor in his kingdom.  Of course it was political maneuvering.  But Jesus doesn’t tell them to knock it off, he tells them how to maneuver the right way.

Byzantine Mosaic. c. 540.  Jesus with John on his left and James on his right. Painted on countless churches throughout the world.  A fame like few have achieved.

Byzantine Mosaic. c. 540. Jesus with John on his left and James on his right. Painted on countless churches throughout the world. A fame like few have achieved.

We look at the situation and think they were arrogantly asking to be seated at the right and left hand of almighty God in heaven.  The problem was that they didn’t see it that way.  They were still thinking in earthly, Jewish terms.  They wanted to be earthly advisors to the a conquering prophet-king-messiah, who would put repentant Israel in it’s rightful place at the head of humanity.  And so he did that, and so much more, but they were not ready for it at the time.  Which is why they all fled when he was crucified, and were even leaving town after the tomb was found empty.  The battle was over, their messiah candidate was dead.  But that was the plan.  It was not a new plan, or a plan different from the Old Testament.  It was right in front of their face.  It was that part of Mark 10, verses 32 to 34, that they just skipped over.

“See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles. And they will mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him. And after three days he will rise.”

That’s how you conquer the Romans, and the world.  That’s how you fulfill the entire Law and Prophets.  That’s how the Jews rise to the head of the world, and then bless the world, through the Jew, Jesus, who laid down his life as the perfect sacrifice.  And because he did, he will be raised to the right hand, on the throne of thrones, in the glory of heaven.  And if we want a similar place of honor, we must do the same, we must not only suffer but die.  It’s right there in the other half of that proverb “. . .but he who is lowly in spirit will obtain honor.”(Proverbs 29:23).  Jesus gives them what they asked for.  Both men fell as their master was crucified, they fled in fear.  But they were remade, they suffered much for following Jesus.  And both became great leaders.  We see James leading the way to death on the heels of Stephen(Acts 12:2).  And John finished out the revelation of the New Testament.

If you want to boast boast in what the Lord has done for you (Jeremiah 9:23,24).  If you want a place of honor, give your life.  That is the teaching of the Old Testament, and it is the teaching of the New Testament.  But the disciples had a tendency to forget it.  We too can forget it. Don’t jostle for power as they were attempting to do, as the world always does, scrambling to the top of the rat heap.  Instead, sit in the lowest place at the table and let the host bring you up to the head (Luke 14:7-11).  You will not only find favor with Earthly masters, but with the Master of Heaven.

So, it’s not so much about shaming us or the disciples for ambition.  It’s about learning how to read the story.  Learning how how our evil hearts have turned a good thing on it’s head, and how we can make it aright.  Take that ambition and use it to serve, to lay down your life, to put others first.  And you will be a type of Christ, a living story for the world to read.  So that we all may be seated at the fathers own right hand, in glory.

 

Baron Williams

bri copyBrian Williams isn’t the first to tell such tall tales. When I was a kid I fell in love with the Baron Muchausen, well the movie version. As an adult I found I loved the movie even more and proceeded to read the book it was based on. It’s just a bunch of lies, of the Brian Williams variety. It was based on the tall tales of one Hieronymus Karl Friedrich, Freiherr von Münchhausen, who was an actual baron. He often confused his imagination with reality. And I don’t really get the appeal, it’s just a bunch of tall tales. I don’t get why you would tell such falsehoods to the degree that they are so bad that restating them is a sort of cautionary tale against lying? At least this is the best I could do at ascertaining a message. And that, I believe, is the proper way to view this world, and it’s art, to be receptive to the proper message, and to ensure that your story tells it. Otherwise you are just a wandering fool, the brunt of late-night comedy jokes.

Dore-munchausen-illustration

The Baron Munchausen, by Gustave Dore

The Baron’s falsehoods were eventually compiled into a book. It’s one of the rare instances where the movie is better than the book. Director Terry Gilliam took these stories and wove them into a real fairy tale. It’s an entertaining mix of philosophical satire and some of the great themes of literature.

I could say more, but really you should just read “On Fairy Stories” by J. R. R. Tolkien. Oh and watch the movie.