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The Worth of Debt

I have lost track of how often I have stated to people: Rule #1, God is sovereign; Rule #2, don’t forget Rule #1!

 

I believe the God I serve often allows humanity the opportunity to catch a brief sliver of insight into His mind and perhaps—to an incredibly infinitesimally small degree—also gain some understanding regarding His love and relationship with people.

 

Because I am a pastor, I have many friends who are in the funeral home business.  While it is a business, what they offer is service through a compassionate and loving relationship which will end up impacting every member of your family in one way or another.

 

Almost without exception, a good funeral home is built around a family who view the services they offer as both a calling and a responsibility they have to the community in which they live.  For the vast majority of the population, the OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAwhole idea of caring for the dead and preparing bodies for burial is just, well, creepy.

 

Yet this is where I as a pastor, sees how God wonderfully gifts different people with distinct gifts and abilities which meet the needs of everyone.  Those who are in law enforcement, those who serve fire departments, doctors, lawyers, plumbers—these individuals are working in an area in which they have been given a unique set of skills and abilities, which enable them to meet the needs of society.

 

The men and women who serve in these funeral homes live, work and many times they may even know the people who have died.  They provide services for people they have just met, for friends, for neighbors and sometimes even for their own families.  Again, I believe it is a calling from God which enables them to serve their communities so faithfully.  Yet they also earn their living doing what they do.

 

The fact that their “services” are also a business often causes stress and difficulties to arise.  Those in this business that I have been granted the gift of a relationship find it extremely unpleasant in having to become “insistent” regarding their fee and their ability to be paid.

 

Because of the nature of the relationship they have with their clientele, and the fact their services are always needed in emotionally sensitive circumstances, there is always extra stress and effort when they must be much more straight-forward regarding the payment for their services.

 

I have watched the verbal hurdles they face as they attempt to find a way to express the need and necessity for payment while at the same time being sensitive to the raw emotional state these families are experiencing.

 

While they have a moral responsibility to make sure they receive payment for the services they have rendered (this is true of all businesses—the employees expect those who own their business operate ethically, with integrity and do not do anything which would endanger their livelihood), they also desire to be sensitive to the needs of their clients.  Yet as many of us know and understand, there are some people with whom we must become very terse regarding these things.

 

As I have observed these service providers endure these difficulties, when they finally secure payment, there is never a sense of “having won.”  They are never jubilant over avoiding the financial difficulty of providing a service in which they will have to take a financial loss.

 

Quite the contrary; they are almost bewildered by the necessity of the confrontation.  Given the choice, they would have preferred to avoid all confrontation regarding the matter.  This kind of encounter seems to take the joy out of their calling to serve.  It makes them uncomfortable because they actually know this is part-and-parcel to business, but it is an unpleasant necessity which they make every attempt to avoid.

 

The Lord God is the great Undertaker.  While there are some who desire to teach that everyone will go to Heaven—or no one will—the Bible is very clear: “It is appointed for people to die once—and after this judgment” (Hebrews 9:27).  For those of us who have a relationship with God through Jesus Christ, the Bible also says, “The death of His faithful ones is valuable in the LORD’S sight” (Psalm 116:15).

 

Yet for those who are separate from the Lord, He says, “’For I take no pleasure in anyone’s death.’  This is a declaration of the Lord GOD. ‘So repent and live’” (Ezekiel 18:32).  God does not wish anyone to die apart from Him, this is why Jesus told Nicodemus, “For God loved the world in this way: He gave His One and Only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

Three Crosses

Three Crosses one Christ

God must be true to Himself.  He is both holy and just.  If God looked at humanity, and chose instead to pat people on their proverbial heads and say in a grandfatherly way, “Oh that’s okay, if you don’t want to pay the price for rebellion, I’ll let it pass!”

 

One of the main reasons my friends who run funeral homes cannot allow people to simply “not pay” is because they have responsibilities to others; their families, their employees and even to their communities.  If they do not follow good business practices, who would then be able to serve their communities in these instances?

 

If God did not maintain His holiness, His just nature, what would this then mean regarding the sacrifice of His Son?  The death of God for mankind demands that the value of the gift—in this case, the gift of salvation—be upheld and be protected.

 

If God chose not to punish man’s rebellion, the gift of Christ’s death on the Cross would be rendered worthless.  No longer would it be the greatest act of love mankind has ever seen.  It would be nothing more than another senseless death at the hands of a cruel people.

 

If God had did not occasionally give humanity some insight into His nature, how would we then understand the necessity of collecting debts? How would we be able to understand grace and mercy?

 

If no debt were ever collected, would anything have any worth?

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Keep Cold

Robert Frost is the quintessential American poet.  Because of Frost’s work, and the masterful way in which he found words to bring to life rural America, there is no shortage of commentary regarding his poetry.  I believe I was in Junior High (about seventh or eighth grade) when I first read Frost’s poem, Good Bye and Keep Cold.jb_modern_frost_2_e

 

Good Bye, Keep Cold seems to have as many meanings as there are commentators.  In the poem, Frost is telling an orchard which was planted “on a northerly slope” near a farm house good-bye for the winter season.  Frost laments as his imagination considers all the possible injuries which could occur to the orchard while he is away.

 

The hill which obscures the view of those in the house, could possibly allow the buds on the trees and the tender limbs to be eaten by rabbit, mouse, deer and grouse.  He wishes the orchard would call out for his help when he writes, “If certain it wouldn’t be idle to call I’d summon the grouse, rabbit and deer to the wall and warn them away with a stick for a gun.”  Frost’s desire to protect his orchard is evident in his desire to see its protection from the coming hungry wildlife.

368px-robert_frost_nywtsFrost ends his poem by giving anthropological voice to his beloved orchard when he says, “I wish I could promise to lie in the night and think of an orchards arboreal plight when slowly (and nobody comes with a light) its heart sinks lower in the sod.”  In this, Frost is exhibiting a fatherly empathy for the feelings he envisions his orchard may have in the dark of winter’s night.  Yet in the equivalent of an audible sigh, Frost pens, “But something has to be left to God.”

 

As a pastor, I cannot find anything which would allow me to assume Robert Frost knew God intimately and personally; yet I cannot ascertain that he did not.  Yet Frost’s life is filled with a gentility and sensitivity which allowed him to exhibit great empathy.  In the case of Good Bye Keep Cold, Frost could expand this rapport to even nature itself.

 

Yet the crux of this poem, its main warning, to an unsuspecting and vulnerable orchard facing wildlife and oncoming winter, is this: “No orchard’s the worse for the wintriest storm; but one thing about it, it mustn’t get warm.”  The very thing most would associate with vitality and growth and all that makes springtime and harvest possible, our poet warns against.  But why?

 

The greatest danger to an orchard is an early spring followed by a late freeze.  The buds, dormant on the limb, are waiting, indeed anticipating the coming warmth of spring.  For temperature to advance too quickly could end up killing the potential of the harvest and perhaps even kill the trees themselves.  This is why Frost advises, “How often already you’ve had to be told, keep cold, young orchard.  Good bye, keep cold.  Dread fifty above more than fifty below.”

 

While some paint Frost’s work with a brush depicting the sadness of his words as a reaction to the bleakness of the world around him, this is not what I see.  Frost understood that while in its dormant state, no sub-zero temperature could cause any damage to his orchard; it was asleep and safe until it was awoken.  Yet he was not providing mere “arboreal” insight in this poem; there is also great truth regarding the human condition.

 

Our society seems to desire great acceleration in many areas while at the same time it consistently retards and hinders natural growth in others.  Nowhere is this more clearly seen than in the Western proclivity to stimulate sexual and physical maturation of its children while simultaneously discouraging mental maturity.

 

While many reject God as Creator and designer of humanity, I embrace this as an absolute truth.  Humanity is separate from all other creation due to the fact we are created imago dei, in the very image of God.  God, in His wisdom, chose a timeline for humanity to follow spiritually, physically and mentally.  Humanity has uniformly rejected its spiritual heritage, but it cannot seem to overcome the physical changes which are inevitable in healthy people.

 

Parents today, while protecting their children from maturing and even discouraging responsibility, seem to quicken the physical appearance of their children—especially girls—through either proactive choice or willingly being held captive to the latest cultural style.  Now for those without a meaningful relationship with Jesus Christ, this is to be expected.

 

Yet for those who profess to have a relationship with God through Jesus Christ, this is nothing less than willful rebellion and the offering up of their children (permanent, enduring people with souls) on the altar of the immediate and passé.

 

This brings us back to Frost’s Good Bye Keep Cold.  Humans are beings with appetites.  These appetites are God-given and for them to work appropriately, they must be exercised according to God’s principles.  For children especially, to awaken the appetites God has reserved for those who are mature in body and spirit is the equivalent to exposing them to the dangers of which Frost warned; the “fifty above” rather than keeping them in the proverbial “winter of their content” and prematurely exposing them to discontent.

 

The writer of Ecclesiastes informs humanity, “There is an occasion for everything, and a time for every activity under heaven….and a wise heart knows the right time and procedure” (3:1; 8:5).  The rights and autonomy of humanity has not been infringed on by taking away our rights and freedom to choose.  The problem with humanity is we have lost both the discipline and patience to wait for the right time.

 

And the wisdom to keep cold.

Imagining Imagination

Are All Imaginations Created Equal?

 

Why is it some people are so much more “imaginative” than others?  Why do we value people with imagination?  Is imagination a learned behavior or a developed one?  Can “concrete” thinkers have great imaginations or does this belong only to those who are more “abstract” in their thinking?iceberg_imagination-e1337491928514

 

 

Maybe the question should be, “Does God give imagination as a gift?”

 

If you take the time to do a search of “Where does imagination come from/originate?” you will find a plethora of information ranging from opinion to scientific study.  Though, admittedly, even many in the science community communicate the elusive nature of the origin of one’s imagination.

 

Regarding the well-being and progress of humanity, we owe much to men and women over the years who have shared their “imaginings” with the rest of us.  Steve Jobs gave us the iPhone, Isaac Newton the Laws of Gravity, and The Eagles gave us one of the most recognizable guitar riffs at the beginning of their hit song, Life in the Fast Lane!

 

Well, there was the guy who gave us the Pet Rock of the late 1970’s.gty_pet_rock_150401_4x3_992

 

I used to wonder what kind of mind thought of putting a rock in a wooden cage, selling it for seven bucks and calling it a pet.

 

Oh!  Wait!  Maybe he was related to the guy who shared “Gopher Eggs” with the people of the world!

white-golf-ball-1024x819

The elusive “Gopher Egg.”

 

People without imagination only saw a golf ball sitting in green, Easter-basket grass; some guy figured out non-imaginative people would actually buy them—even if for a prank joke!

 

 

Yet I believe God encourages believers to exercise their imaginations as well.  The Apostle Paul, in his letter to the churches in the city of Rome, asks his readers to imagine what it will be like when those God has chosen recognize the Messiah Jesus for who He truly is!

 

Paul, referencing his fellow Israelites God chose through their founder Abraham, makes this statement about the Jews: “Now if their stumbling brings riches for the world, and their failure riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their full number bring” (Romans 11:12 HCSB)!

 

Here is Paul’s point: The Jews rejected Jesus during His earthly ministry 2000 years ago and the vast majority of them have rejected Him since—yet all of humanity has also rejected Messiah Jesus!  Yet Rabbi Paul was reminding his readers about the prophecy of the Old Testament—The Torah—that prophesied the Gentiles (everyone not a Jew) and the Israelites as a group will eventually accept who Messiah Jesus is!

 

So, Paul is telling his readers, “The rejection of Messiah Jesus by the Jewish people has caused me to tell those who are not Jews about Messiah Jesus!”  The result means Gentiles, non-Jews, can now enjoy a relationship with God because of the rejection by the Jews.

 

Paul could have been bitter.  He could have even been vindictive.  Instead Paul pointed out the obvious.  Gentiles are now being saved, being brought into a relationship with Messiah Jesus!  But wait!  Can you imagine this?  If people are now being brought into a relationship with God because the Jewish people rejected Messiah Jesus, can you even imagine what will happen to humanity when the Jews accept Messiah Jesus as the Old Testament prophets affirm?

 

Paul continues in this passage it will mean “life from the dead” and blessings beyond imagination on all of those who recognize Messiah Jesus!  There will come a day where the Middle East will not be a source and central location of human strife.  There is coming a day when government corruption will be unknown, justice and integrity will reign supreme and the earth will be healed ecologically!

 

If God, through His grace given to humanity, can allow our dysfunctional selves to light homes and cool them, to have cars, phones, and anti-biotics, can we ever imagine a day when war is no more, when death is not proud and where justice and righteousness is du jour and de facto?

 

Imagination is indeed a “good” thing.  Yet the right kind of imagination requires a mind made new by God.

A World without Love

 Is there such a thing as Post-Christian?

Back in 1964 (yes, we must enter the WABAC Machine from Sherman and Mr. Peabody), there was a musical duo Peter and Gordon who were a part of the British Invasiowaybackmachine3n of the early 1960’s.  Their fame came after their song, A World Without Love rocketed to the number one chart position in both England and the United States.

It wasn’t necessarily the message of the song A World Without Love that “struck a chord” (this is where the “Unrepentant Pun Alert” should go) with the musical populace, but the gently flowing music and pleasant harmonies of Peter and Gordon.  The song lame800px-peter_and_gordonnted a complete rejection of any desire to live in a world where love doesn’t exist.

Now as quickly as I just referenced 1964 and a song over fifty years old, I will now reverse course and take us screaming into the proverbial future!  I read a tremendous amount of Science Fiction.  Very few of these stories contain any reference to the Judeo-Christian God, yet they all find within their plot arcs the concept of love.

Of course, this doesn’t surprise me.  I’m not really expecting them to mention God but I have been conditioned to expect some kind of mention or obsession with love.  I enter the story understanding I am entering a humanistic, naturalistic and even atheistic worldview, so I am prepared for the onslaught of a philosophy which runs counter to my worldview.

Whether I am watching Luke Skywalker in Star Wars, Jean Luc Picard or James Tiberius Kirk in the various iterations of Star Trek or merely being wildly amused by Guardians of theleonard_nimoy_william_shatner_star_trek_1968

Galaxy, I find it interesting that all references to “God” or any supreme being has been scrubbed from these stories, yet the concept of love, its pursuit and sometimes its attainment is included and even celebrated.  Why is that?

A book I initially read many years ago but have reviewed recently, is Meaning by Michael Polanyi and Harry Prosch.  One of the most striking statements these authors make in this book is “That freedom of thought is rendered pointless and must disappear wherever reason and morality are deprived of their status as a force in their own right.”  They continue:

When a judge in a court of law can no longer appeal to law and justice; when neither a witness, nor the newspapers, nor even a scientist reporting on his experiments can speak the truth as he knows it; when in public life there is no moral principle commanding respect; when revelations of religion and of art are denied any substance; then there are no grounds left on which any individual may justly make a stand against the rules of the day.  Such is the simple logic of totalitarianism.  A nihilistic regime will have to undertake the day-to-day direction of all activities which are otherwise guided by the intellectual and moral principles that nihilism declares empty and void.  Principles must be replaced by the decrees of an all-embracing party line.

Polanyi and Prosch have made an incredible observation: science, culture and government do not have the ability to provide meaning and fulfillment to the human existence!  One of the reasons I leave many movies thoroughly entertained but completely unfulfilled has more to do with life’s meaning and purpose than whether or not the movie’s star happened to win and live to see another sequel.  Even more stark is the concepts of love found in Hollywood productions are often an odd mix of humanistic desires (“What’s in it for me?”) and compassionate empathy (“What can I do for you?”).

Even when we find ourselves experiencing all the emotions and angst of the characters on the screen, our brains are making moment-by-moment judgments regarding what is right and wrong, what is just and fair and what is real and true.  This is why we cheer when the “bad guy” gets atomized because he was thrown into a particle accelerator by the movie’s protagonist!

This is also why we recognize physical attraction between the characters, why we connect and become invested in the relationships we see building within the plot.  Even though we are entering a world, or a universe, in which there is obviously no God and even fewer moral compunctions, we still expect there to be a “right” and a “wrong.”

Yet if the movie producers want to sell the movie, the “bad guy” must lose and the “good guy” must win; unless, of course, you’re John Wayne in The Cowboys—yet John’s entourage won on his behalf!

Here’s the opening “bottom line” to this series of discussions: if there is truly no God, if absolutes do not really “morally” exist, if “love” is something which can be defined moment-by-moment pragmatically, then why is there a winner and a loser?  Why doesn’t everyone just kill a bunch of people and then everyone just go home and enjoy themselves?  Why do people place so much importance on the concept of love?

Why do we insist on reflecting the characteristics—and love—of a non-existent God?

Making Jesus Real in an Unreal World, Part 1

Ok, sure, I’m a pastor……

While some of you make think that’s great, far fewer may think it’s cool and perhaps many of you may think I only work one day a week, I can boil the most visible part of my job (the teaching part) down to a very simple parallel: I’m a mailman.

Me, the Pastor-dude!

Me, the Pastor-dude!

Now unlike the guy who drops off your mail at your home or business, I read your mail; I read it for my information and I in turn read it to you.  I have even gone to school to learn how to read your mail properly and accurately!  I have become an expert in reading your mail because the mail of yours which God has sent to you was originally written in Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek!  I guess I am an expert at reading God’s mail addressed to people!

Now since it is the Bible which identifies what sin is (at the behest and will of God) I am bound by my relationship with God through Jesus Christ the Son to deliver His Word (His mail, if you will) truthfully.  For me to not tell you what His Word identifies as sin would lack integrity and love.  It lacks integrity because I am purposely and willfully hiding the Truth of God from those who want and need to hear what God says.  It lacks love because I do not really love you if I won’t tell you what God says.

The Bible says divorce, lying, cheating, murder and overeating (among others) are all sin.  It also says homosexuality, abortion and same-sex sexual relationships of all kinds are also sin.  All of these actions (and I have not listed them all) are all sin and God views them all equally as rebellion against Him.

Remember, I’m the mailman!

Do I believe these things are sin?  Yes I do.  I also believe the Bible when it says, “All have sinned and missed God’s intended target of perfection (sinlessness).”  Even in the Jewish Old Testament (the first part of the Holy Bible) a prophet many hundreds of years before Jesus stated, “There aren’t any righteous people anywhere; everyone has sinned.”  This means every single person is guilty and there isn’t a single human anywhere who isn’t guilty of sin—we are all equally guilty!

This means when I identify a particular act as sin, I must do so knowing there isn’t any sin the Bible identifies which would be beyond my ability to do.  I am capable, under the right circumstances and the right temptations to engage in overeating, divorce, homosexuality and lying.  True, some things are fairly easy to do while others may take much more motivation, but I am capable of any and all sin.

So this is where I am: I’m a full-blooded human with all of the capabilities and predilection to commit sin.  I am also a pastor; I am fulfilling God’s design and plan for me through ministering to people and teaching them about God’s Word and the good news of His Son.  My role often means I put on my “Captain Obvious” cape and identify as I teach the Bible what the Bible calls sin.

Yet this is the important part: I must do so without personally judging anyone in the process.  If it wasn’t for God’s grace and His power in my life (it’s all God and Jesus!) I could be caught up in the same things the Bible states is sin.  If I am who I claim (a pastor and a believer in Jesus Christ) then there should be evidence of my claim.  If I live like there is no evidence of who I claim to be, at best I am a liar and at worst I am severely deluded!

Why is any of this important?  Because as I live my life, I am to make Jesus real in an unreal world!  This world is unfair, unjust, cruel, brutal, out-of-control and often incredibly stressful.  Believers (those with a relationship to God the Father through Jesus Christ the Son) must hold their faith and their testimony to others carefully and gently.  We must desire to have every part of our lives testify and proclaim who Jesus is in our life.

This also means we must understand even in our obedience to God’s Word and His Son we must allow those who do not believe as we do see the love of God in our life.  Will this remove all of the misunderstanding and hatred we may face because of our desire to be obedient?

christian-cross-christ-field-18619705  Unfortunately it will not; just as there will be those who will absolutely hate my        identification of what some people are doing as sin even in this blog, I have to    remember it really isn’t about me.  I am to obey and sometimes in the process of  obedience, I will become a target of opportunity by those who dislike what the  Bible (and me in this context) says.

Yet they better see God’s love in everything I do.  Otherwise, I am in danger of being judged by the same God I claim to be serving!

 

Is God Fair? Should We Be?

Is God fair?  Should we be?

Blind Justice

Blind Justice

Most cultures are familiar with the statue of Lady Justice holding the scales by which a judgment is determined.  In the Latin, she was referred to as lustitia, the Hellenists called her Themis.  While there are depictions of her not wearing a blindfold, many depictions show her wearing a blindfold in order to emphasize her impartiality.

Seeing Themis

Seeing Themis

Generally people claim to want “fairness,” yet what they truly desire is “justice.”  Fairness is a concept unknown to the ancients and really didn’t begin to come into our modern vernacular until fairly recently in human history.

I really know of no one who wants everything to be “fair”—an imbalanced impartiality which fails to take into account the specifics of each and every event.  Fairness, as a concept, is dependent of the subjective nature of the one rendering the decision.  There is no consistent measure against which something is measured; regardless of the competency of a person, the circumstances in which an event occurred or the degree of an act, every decision must be equal and every instance and person treated alike.

Yet we are not all alike.  We do not discipline a child who throws a toy in the same way we would judge an adult who throws a bomb.  Regarding the child, we weigh whether this is a repetitive action, his age, how he was provoked and of course whether any real harm was done.  In the case of an adult, we hold them to a much higher degree of condemnation and their judgment is based on whether life and material was lost.

We also consider a person’s educational level, their capabilities and their intellect.  Did they truly understand what they were doing?  Are they able to comprehend the value of life and the consequences of its loss?

I am also unaware of anyone who desires to only qualify for a “fair” wage.  If someone has taken the time to do well in school, achieve the ability to attend a university and incurred the debt of both time and money to do so, they will want to be paid for what they know.

There is an old story about a Nuclear Power Plant that was experiencing a potentially dire problem and they had to call in an “expert” to remedy the situation.  On presenting his bill to the plant owner for $1 million dollars, the plant owner asked, “Why am I paying this amount of money?”  The expert calmly replied, “The switch I turned on only cost one dollar; the remainder of the bill is payment for me knowing which switch to turn.”

As a pastor, I have met many people who believe God is most certainly not fair.  We as a people have no issues with a “good” God who acts like the proverbial “Fairy God Mother” who gently touches our heads with her wand bequeathing gifts of joy on us.

Our problems come from the realization there exists an all-powerful God, who is good (and we understand this from His Word) yet evil and suffering still exist.  We have no problems receiving good things, but we are decidedly unhappy receiving what we deem as evil……….and unfair.

Our problem is we simply do not understand either what we want or what we need.  In many of the problems we encounter, we don’t really want fairness; what we need is justice.

God is not fair.  Your neighbor who won the lottery may not have really “won” anything; in fact, statistically, the vast majority of lottery winners are bankrupt in less than five years!  Your neighbor may have, in reality, been given exactly what he wanted to have; unfortunately, many of the things we “want” God gives to us knowing we will reap judgment by our own desire and hand!

No one wants fairness, because I know of no one who wants to be treated like everyone else.  When we experience difficulty as believers in Jesus Christ, we do not want God to be fair (especially since everyone deserves to go to an eternal Hell), but we want God to be just—to exercise His judgment righteously according to His person and Word!

Should we then seek to be fair?  As a parent, do you treat all of your children the same?  The Proverb says, “Train up a child in the way he should go” (ESV).  The writer had in mind every child must be taught according to how he was made.  I learn especially well through reading and seeing; yet others learn better by doing and others still by hearing.

Being “fair” is too easy.  It requires very little thought or effort when rendering a decision.  Yet to make a “just” judgment, this means we must understand the person, the problem and what we are using as the rule which guides our judgment.  Both the judge and the lawyer must know the law; for a believer in Jesus Christ—if you desire success before the Lord—we must know His Word!

Besides, if God were not “just” in His judgment, we would have never been able to experience His grace!

Three Crosses one Christ

Three Crosses one Christ

Just sayin…………

Noah: “People are the Disease. Judgment is the Cure!”

[Spoiler Alert: Some {not all} key plot facts are discussed in this blog!]

 

In May 1986 the movie Cobra starring Sylvester Stallone premiered in the US market. While this movie made a respectable showing over the course of its release, it has managed to get on the website www.imdb.com’s list of “Movies So Bad They’re Good.”

"Crime is the Disease.  Meet the Cure."

“Crime is the Disease. Meet the Cure.”

In many ways, Stallone may be underrated as a talent; in other ways, quantity does not always equal quality . . . .

The most compelling aspect of the movie Cobra was its tag-line: “Crime is a disease. Meet the Cure.” This short seven word phrase communicated the entirety of the movie’s plot; Stallone is a tough cop who will clean up the mean streets filled with crime.

It would have been better, however, to simply add as a reprise from Rocky III the Survivor ballad, “Eye of the Tiger” to mitigate some extremely sad screenplay . . . .

This past weekend my wife and I went to see the movie Noah with some longtime friends of ours. After spending enough money to secure a very nice steak dinner and tip at the steakhouse, we settled in for the 138 minute long interpretation of the biblical story of Noah and the Ark. While Stallone fought crime, Russell Crowe fought the ecological equivalent of ignorance: people!

Darren Aronofsky who is both a writer and the director of the film Noah stated in an interview with the Washington Post he didn’t have much detail to work with from the four chapters in the book of Genesis (where the story of Noah is contained). Aronofsky observed in the book of Genesis not one word of Noah is recorded; he also points out the name of Noah’s wife, nor the names of any of the wives Noah’s three sons, were recorded. He made this point in the context he had taken liberties with the biblical story. He did take liberties, but eight minutes of spoken word cannot equal 138 minutes of film; he had to add “something” to the story!

For the moment, let’s examine some of the additions and the messages inherent in the film. The biblical story mentions nothing regarding the environmental impact of the pre-flood humanity on the earth. The film makes it clear everywhere man was prior to the flood he also destroyed the environment. Animals were hunted to extinction, lands were deforested and there was a clearly implied element of cannibalism in one of the scenes near the end of the film.

Darren Aronofsky's Noah

Darren Aronofsky’s Noah

The biblical account makes it clear there were eight people on the ark: Noah, his wife and his three sons and their wives. The biblical account also gives us a means to understand Noah’s sons were around 100 years old when they entered the ark.

Tubal-Cain, the name of a genuine biblical character listed in the Genesis genealogies, managed to become a stow-away on the ark only to be killed when discovered by Noah with Hem’s assistance. What is noteworthy about Tubal-Cain is his position as the antagonist in the movie and what he is given to say. It was Tubal-Cain who told Hem, “We are made in the Creator’s image” and man had a will to be exercised; the irony of this statement was accentuated with him stating these things while eating raw an “innocent animal!”

One of the greatest mysteries of Scripture is the awesome fact man was created in the “image of God” (imago dei); it is this fact which places the true value of man and human life into perspective. Man has value because he was created by God, made in God’s image and because of Christ’s death on the Cross, we belong to Him. To place this statement in the mouth (no pun intended here) of Tubal-Cain undermines the integrity of this fact and its importance; it also prejudices the viewing audience against the statement we were made in the image of God.

One of the most gratifying things of this movie was Aronofsky’s depiction of the ark. This was the most realistic and biblically accurate representations of the true size of the ark I have ever seen. I read several interviews of Mr. Aronofsky and his Jewish heritage and upbringing surely influenced his desire to show deference to the biblical story. I did not go to this movie expecting either biblical or orthodox accuracy, but the movie was majestic in its sweep.

For all it had, it was what it did not have which misrepresented this story of judgment, salvation and mercy! Gone was the concept of grace—a loving God choosing one man and his family from the midst of a fallen, depraved and incredibly sinful humanity. God chose Noah not because Noah was good, but because God was good and chose Noah to demonstrate His goodness to him and his family!

Aronofsky’s Noah is following a Creator who neither prepares His chosen spokesman nor provides clear evidence of His existence through revealing His plan to Noah. Russell Crowe’s portrayal of Noah, while believable and empathetic, is more akin to a wild-eyed jihadist rather than the man of God who served his Lord for 120 years—one who served his Lord while building the ark and testifying of God’s coming judgment.

The movie neglects to mention how God shared with Noah not only His intentions (judgment of all who have the breath of life in them and detailed instructions for building the ark), but also the reason why God was judging the earth; the Genesis story relates it was because of the wickedness of man which spread throughout creation. The movie would have its viewers believe it was the aggression against nature, its animals and the eco-system man had destroyed which caused the Creator to destroy the earth with a flood.

The message of the movie is just as man is destroying and has destroyed the ecology of this planet today, humanity prior to the flood did the same. In the biblical story God sent the rainbow as a testimony He would never use water to destroy the earth again (the next judgment from God will be fire according to 2 Peter and Revelation), yet it is almost ironic environmentalist today are using global warming to herald a new era of coming floods with rising sea levels which will again destroy our world.

The denouement of the movie occurs in the final few minutes of the film. Noah, in an act clearly running counter to the stated goals given to him by the Creator, refuses to following the thus-far revealed “will” he is to accomplish. Rather than choosing to end the lives of the two infants, Crowe’s character states, “As I looked I them I was filled with love” and he chose to allow them to live!

The dramatic license taken with the facts of the biblical account and even to the point of changing the motives, attitudes and milieu of the characters was understandable and I even accepted all up to this point. Face it, I did not come to this movie to receive a brush-up lesson in biblical theology! Yet the implications which resonated from Crowe’s utterance was unmistakable; when it comes to a choice between following God (in the movie, “the Creator”) or listening to what is in the heart of man, man far too often has a superior morality based on love rather than retribution from a judgmental Creator.

I am not angry about the message the writers and director are sending. The message being communicated is this: while man has destroyed the Creation (and in this movie, the creation is treated with an almost god-like worship) and the Creator has judged and destroyed man and all life for doing so, only man is capable of overriding the will of the Creator (judgment) through a perceived superior moral claim, love.

This is unfortunate in the extreme. Whether through a purposely motivated decision or through an unfortunate experience of circumstances, this movie portrays God as a capricious hateful being who forces those who would serve Him to guess and surmise His will through inference. Even though in Scripture God never expects nor asks man to act on or be judged by that which man does not know, in the movie Noah, it is Crowe’s Noah who rises above the circumstances and provides the true rescue and salvation.

Crowe’s character believed God chose him and his family to be the last of humanity for the purpose to provide a means to reseed the animal kingdom on the newly cleansed earth. It was only through a change of heart in Crowe’s Noah which allows man the opportunity to repopulate and multiply on the earth once more. After his family saw the protection of the animals and their release after the subsiding of the waters, humanity would have ended with them; in some ways this would have been but a slight change in the motivation behind some of today’s suicide bombers. They will surely die, and others with them, but it is a necessary death needed to accomplish the will of their god and guarantee them paradise.

Noah is a fast moving film with plenty of drama and action. The PG-13 rating is due to the scenes of violence and implied animal violence. The acting is superb—which is what motivated me to see this film—but the film leaves one feeling there has to be something more; a better reason, a better explanation or even a better plan for such an event to occur.

God’s intention for the believer, non-believer or even someone who is merely searching, is for them to see the need of a Savior through the events of the Genesis account and the events of our world today! Christ is our ark and our salvation who bore us through the judgment of God. Yet it was God who initially chose Noah and his family to be saved. It was God who provided an ark, the plans, the guidance and the animals to allow life to begin again on a cleansed earth. Of course in the Noah epic, man was still flawed and capable of sin and poor decisions, yet God had a plan to eventually bring His Son to this world so all people who accepted His gift of salvation could come to Him!

Those of us who know Christ are also chosen by the Father! Those who know the Son as Lord are rescued even though our bodies are corrupted by sin.  We will live again in Heaven with God when we have accepted the salvation the Father freely offers to us. One day Christ will return for us; there will no longer be crime, or disease or flaw or flood or death, for all will be perfect.

And perfection needs no cure.

Assuming America

All of us make a number of assumptions every moment of our lives.

We tend to assume what we order at McDonalds will be what we get.  We assume the person coming from the opposite direction on a highway or motorway will stay on their side of the road.  We assume the lights will come on when we flip the wall switch.

Aside from the adage claiming “When we assume, you dare make an ‘ass out of u and me,’ our assumptions far too often prove to be wrong!  The chances your McDonalds order is correct is proportionate to how far away from the restaurant you are when you check it; the person driving toward you often crosses the dividing line while answer their phone and we are always surprised when the lights do not come on as we “flip the switch.”  It’s always risky making assumptions!

One of the tacit assumptions made in history for over two-hundred years is the continued existence of America and its influence—this is especially true of its citizenry.

Please keep in mind the underlying assumption I am making here (one I make by faith—and one in which there has never been a disappointment) is the validity and truth of Scripture (remember, I am a pastor-dude).  Regardless of the pundits and the critics, Scripture and biblical prophecy has never been proved as wrong.

I remember being interviewed by a German independent documentarian when I was living in Illinois.  The question came up regarding the history of the world and Scripture; basically, what the Bible says about the future.  As I explained the Bible’s declaration of the future coming anti-Christ and the re-subjection of Europe, the Middle East and much of Asia by his government, she stated many people in Europe would be highly offended by this interpretation.

Artist's rendition of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse

Artist’s rendition of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse

I asked her if she understood the prophecy as a statement of further American hegemony; in other words, was she assuming Christianity and its belief system were synonymous with America and its culture?  Being from Germany and being thoroughly secular in her ideology, she saw no difference between “America” and “Christianity.”

What I then told her almost left her speechless.  I informed her there are no symbols nor is there any mention of “America” in any biblical prophecies; for whatever reason, the sovereign entity of the United States plays no role in the affairs of the world in the prophecies contained in the Bible regarding humanity’s future.

Does this mean America is no more?  Has it been marginalized politically by world events or the rise of new and more powerful world powers?  God in His wisdom does not inform us.  All we can know with surety is there is no mention of the United States in end-times descriptions.  While there are many who will try to insert an American presence into the events of the last days, it simply is not there if one follows the normal rules of interpretation.

I believe what we see playing out in the newspapers, RSS feeds and televisions news coverage certainly grants us insight into the beginning of the demise of America.  America has lost much of its influence internationally.  Because we have failed to discipline ourselves financially (especially personally), our government sees no reason to do so and our private, personal actions has granted them the permission to do likewise.

We have lost all semblance of a “moral high ground” due to our own hypocritical stances domestically—it is difficult to chide other countries for their mistreatment and slaughter of their own peoples when we have systematically killed over 50 million babies through legalized abortion.  When other countries choose to kill a group of people like this, we refer to it as genocide!

The Bible states “Righteousness exalts a nation but sin is a disgrace to any people.”  It isn’t a particular sin—it’s not homosexuality or divorce or overeating or overspending—it’s sin!  There is a reason why so many in other parts of the world assume there is a direct link between Christianity and America; for many decades this was a legitimate fact.  Yet when those who have identified themselves with Christ so blatantly ignore the very commands of God, God judges those who know Him more harshly!  The Apostle Peter reminded his readers judgment begins first with “God’s household.”

Here is something to keep in mind as those of us who seek comfort from God’s Word study it: the prophecies of Scripture never demand a particular method or means, they merely tell us what “will be” and sometimes they give us insight into the results which follow.  God has given us prophecy for the same reason He gives us all things: to increase our faith in Him.

Trusting in God’s control of our future and eternity is not an assumption—it’s a surety!

The Ugly Christian Part 3

Is there Acceptable Collateral Damage?

 

 

The term “collateral damage” was unknown prior to about 1970.  The terms specific meaning is tied directly to war and the idea of “elements not directly associated with an intended target being damaged or destroyed as a result of a specific action.”  From the first Gulf War until the most recent action in Afghanistan, our military has taken great pains to develop “smart” bombs which are able to pinpoint their targets with a minimum of collateral damage.

 

A large amount of material, expense and effort is expended to identify what is an appropriate target and what is not.  Of course the enemy, knowing America and her allies desire to not harm those deemed to be non-combatants, will often set-in-place their operations in the midst of schools, hospitals and mosques in order to insulate them from attack.  Of course, far too often the press overlooks this callous disregard to life and put all the more pressure on those who desire to eradicate the threat.

 

Perhaps one of the sharpest aspects of the double-edged sword of war is militaries—unless of course they are being utilized by a dictatorship—often find themselves fighting against an antagonistic camera and press as often as an enemy action.  Such is the nature of war in our modern milieu.

 

Christianity is also involved in warfare.  Of course, the Bible makes it abundantly clear our warfare is not waged against “flesh and blood” combatants, but rather in the spiritual realm; one unseen and filled not merely with spirits, but with ideas and philosophies.  What manifests itself in the physical realm—whether in the form of atrocity, sin, death and immorality—is but a result of what is and has already occurred in the spiritual realm.

 

One of the scourges of our society is “abortion-on-demand” which has been available since the 1973 Supreme Court ruling.  I am unashamedly pro-life; the Bible teaches we are made in God’s image and life begins not merely with conception (which is our only means of observation as humans) but life is something ordained by God who is the Creator of all that lives.  As a Christian and a pastor, God expects me to not merely believe this, but also to proclaim this through my life and teaching.Abortion Protest signs

People are a complex mechanism.  By God’s design no two of us are alike.  We do have commonalities which are measurable across the masses of society (a reason for the existence of the disciplines of psychology, sociology and even history) and these provide us with incredible insight into human nature.  If my desire is to communicate the message of Scripture—what Christians refer to as the ‘good news” (Gospel) of God’s love for us and His desires for us—I cannot then ignore the reality of human nature.

 

One of the most difficult things we are faced with as believers in Jesus Christ is our call to “hate the sin” (action, attitude, idea, and philosophy) but also “love the sinner.”  I have heard those outside of Christianity scoff and ridicule this concept; they believe it is impossible to separate the individual from what the individual does (there is a whole economy built on the existence of this concept—this also ensures people will always be “defined” and “enslaved” by their sin and issues as well).  Again, I defer to what Jesus taught: “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

 

Those who proclaim and claim the name of Jesus Christ are capable of getting “caught up in the emotion of the moment” just like anyone else.  The difference between those who have a relationship with Christ and those who do not is this: those who have a relationship with God the Father through the work of Christ have both the Holy Spirit and God’s Word to constantly judge and check their own actions.  One of the hardest to remember is that we are to “love the sinner.”

 

It is far too easy to simply allow hate to season our speech and actions.  Standing outside of abortion clinics with signs proclaiming “Abortion is Murder” and the like makes as much sense as standing outside of funeral homes with signs stating “Sin Kills!”  Abortion is murder—I agree completely!  Yet is it actually loving to paint with such a broad brush that we alienate those who are captives of their own circumstances and decisions?  Oh, and let’s not overlook the incredible sense of love fostered by those holding those signs.

 

Our churches need to communicate they are more of a place of refuge for the hurting and injured rather than a staging point for those with a desire to be “culture warriors.”  We are no more in a war with culture than a fish is at war with water!  We can battle ideas and philosophies, we can tend to the wounded and we should confront those who actively engage in what the Bible describes as sin.  Yet as we do all of these things, we cannot fail to communicate the love by which we are motivated!

 

Jesus Christ came into this world as a baby.  The Lord of Creation, the One who by His very hand created all there is and by His very existence holds all of reality together, came into a world as one of us.  He struggled as He grew; He worked in order to provide for food and clothing for Himself and His family.  He formed relationships with those around Him and the Bible tells us He grew in “wisdom and stature” with God and people.

 

His ministry was marked with compassion, healing, confrontation of sin and wrong and ultimately, He proved His love through His action: He died so those who believe in Him might live forever with Him.  The reason His words were accepted is because His love was clearly demonstrated; even the crusty Centurion who stood at the foot of His cross when He died stated “surely He was the Son of God.”

 

If Christians desire people to take us seriously, we are going to have to seriously love them!

Deciding Our Fate

Follow along class: “suicide” is self-killing; “herbicide” is weed killing; “homicide” is the killing of another human; insecticide is the killing of insects and “genocide” is the killing of a whole group based on race. When we “decide” we are killing off options, the other possible realities we could experience when we make a decision.

Very few people have even heard of Kermit Gosnell, a Philadelphia abortion doctor whose trial over the last five-plus weeks has illuminated the dark, bloody and heartless world of late-term abortions. The fact almost no one has heard of this man is a testimony to the complete apathy of the major news outlets regarding their responsibilities—implied or otherwise—to keep the nation informed.

Dr. Kermit Gosnell

Dr. Kermit Gosnell

As it turns out, few members of the national media consider this a worthy subject to cover.

While I find abortion abhorrent, despicable, cruel, and as an act, nothing short of legalized convenience-killing, my desire is not really to focus on abortion per se, but rather what its practice and tolerance says about us as a people.

Over this past month our country has been shocked with the violence of the Boston Bombings. How could these men choose to do these things? How is it the majority—if not all—of these types of violence been committed by young men obsessed with killing and “striking at” a perceived lack in their world?

As a pastor and a Christian who believes in the authority of Scripture and the exclusiveness of salvation through Jesus Christ, the 1973 SCOTUS decision of Roe-v-Wade which legalized abortion on demand is a watershed event in our country. Regardless of the arguments now forming in your mind, Roe-v-Wade did more than merely legalize abortion; it validated and rationalized an attitude toward newborn life in particular and “life” in general.

The generations born since this turning point of societal and cultural thinking have realized life is nothing more than a whim; a decision of an adult dependent on circumstance and convenience. According to society and now mandated by law, all children have been a mere subject of choice, a convenience and nothing more than the proverbial whim of the mother. Gone is the idea of intrinsic value of life, of its gift and the imprimatur of Deity on it.

It is no wonder why life is viewed as “cheap” and of no value. Life has become nothing more than the result of a choice. Some may say, “Life is what you make of it, what you do!” While I may be able to comprehend the sentiment, what happens when we as a people fail or we are hurt or crippled? What do we do when we get too old to “do” anything making us significant?

The atheistic mind believes life is found only in the “now” (because when you’re dead you’re dead and there’s nothing but nothing) and the past is nothing more than something we “hope” (an avenue of faith I might add) we may improve on.

The evolutionary mind sees us essentially as “Humanity 1.8”; the apes, Cro-Magnon and Neanderthal species we have surpassed prove our superiority. Homo-Sapien-Sapien has overcome, has evolved and survived as the fittest of the species and “Humanity 1.8” is the latest release in the evolutionary line. We are “better” and therefore more valuable because we survived and do survive.

Yet may I point out this rings hollow for those who lost life and limbs in Boston, on September 11 or any other of the mass killing occurring throughout the twentieth century until today.

Do we as a people sacrifice everything on the altar of the convenient? We are taught through the actions of society we all have our “rights” and how dare anyone violate our rights or offend our sensibilities! Those right-wing whackos clinging to their God and their guns are the reasons we have violence and hatred still in our country!

How quickly we have forgotten Nazi Germany outlawed guns and Hitler replaced God. Lenin and Stalin outlawed both God and guns. The resultant loss of life: Hitler killed over 6 million Jews and millions more undesirables; Stalin, not wanting the Nazis to outdo him, conservatively killed over 45 million people.

So much for God and guns, eh?

Yet I offer an observation: if the fittest survive, if we all have a choice, if we all have our rights—especially our right to never be offended—what do we then do with those who cannot speak, cannot stand or especially those who are never given a chance to speak, to stand or even to live?

As a country we mourn our losses—especially difficult are the ones we view as “senseless.” Yet contrary to our words, our actions scream our attitude; life is cheap because choices are easy. We are unable to know the full extent of those choices because we have nothing oppositional giving us a comparison; once we de-cide we have literally “killed off” all of the other realities providing a comparison to our choice.

And after all of the killing and maiming we have witnessed lately, shouldn’t we be more judicious regarding our killing decisions?

I mean, seriously?