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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?

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Making Jesus Real in an Unreal World, Part 2

We live in interesting times.

 

Christians in the United States are becoming somewhat frustrated at the erosion of their religious liberties. Unlike believers in other parts of this world, there has developed within the United States an attitude of entitlement based on legislated freedoms found in the founding documents of the United States.

"Sign" of the times!

                               “Sign” of the times!

 

It seems the very blessings for which we as believers in Jesus Christ enjoy have made us complacent. I find it interesting the number of parallels between our situation in 21st century America and the Israelites under the Law in the Old Testament.

 

Yahweh-God gave the Ten Commandments (more accurately, the ten words) to the Israelites not as a means for them to perfect themselves, but rather as a stark reminder they were imperfect and could never approach the perfection God demanded. Apart from their relationship with Yahweh-God—demonstrated through the shedding of sacrificial blood through sacrifice (which only covered but did not remove sin)—the Israelites should have realized their innate imperfection and sinfulness the more they attempted to keep the Law!

 

Unfortunately, this never occurred. The aphorism, “Possession is nine-tenths of the law,” seems to have come into play in their minds. They had the Law. They were a people chosen by God through Abraham. They measured themselves by a comparison to others who may or may not have the Law. Those without the Law (and a relationship by blood to Abraham) were “dogs” and Gentiles. Those “under” the Law were subjected to a hierarchy of means measuring those who did have Abraham: “I keep seven commands and you keep only four therefore I’m better than you.”

 

The gift of the Law by Yahweh-God—allowing the Israelites to see their need of God’s grace and their inability to keep the Law—should have caused both humility and a greater dependence on God’s grace.  Instead, their response was not an acknowledgement of their need of God; their response was to elevate the importance of the keeping of the “rules” of the Law. They forgot the biblical principle James enunciated in James 2:10: “Whoever keeps the entire Law, yet fails in one point, is guilty of breaking it all.”

 

Now keep in mind, this was no easy task. Every aspect of their worship spoke of the holiness and majesty of the Lord. From the delineation of the sacrificial system, to the preparation of the sacrifices to the clothing and methodology necessary for the priest to enter into the Holy of Holies—the presence of God—all of their worship emphasized the person of God, His majesty and His holiness!

 

Yet they ignored it all and focused on themselves, their performance and how they could create a hierarchy in their society and relationships.

 

Here is the parallel I mentioned earlier: American Christianity has over the course of the years of freedom has forgotten the difference between freedom and grace, between the person of God and the mechanism He provides for blessing.

 

Yahweh-God in His wisdom has allowed Christianity in America to flourish for almost two full centuries virtually unopposed. God did this by providing founders of this country who were both believers in Jesus Christ and who were deeply influenced by a Judeo-Christian philosophy.

 

Our Founders even produced something called a “Bill of Rights,” which is a singular example of a clear enunciation of not merely human rights, but the source of those rights. While over the course of the first 200 years there have certainly been times when a complete lack of wisdom has been demonstrated by those we would refer to as “Evangelical Christians,” the United States has been an incredibly effective and fruitful source for worldwide missionary activity.

 

Yet even acknowledging all of the good American believers have accomplished, now we are seeing a huge swing of the pendulum away from the biblical moorings which traditionally anchored this country to what is nothing more than an emphasis on erotic liberty (which is driving almost all of the changes now).

 

We in the United States are now seeing the beginnings of the erosion of religious liberty. Should we use all legislative means at our disposal to fight these losses? Yes we should because God has given us all of these; the freedoms, the means and the methods for us to protect laws and to even pass new ones.

 

Sometimes we as believers act as if we think God is in Heaven looking down and thinking, “Wow, I didn’t see that one coming!” God is sovereign and He is the One who gave us a country rules through the democratic process.

 

When Jesus Christ was on this earth He stated often, “You have heard,” referring to what the Law stated and then He went on to radically apply the Law in a way emphasizing our relationship with God through Him! There was no “keeping the rules,” people would no more be able to measure themselves against others. Jesus wanted people to see our thoughts and motives is what drive our actions!

 

I am thankful for the rights we as believers in Jesus Christ have been granted through the Constitution of the United States. Yet I do not worship the Constitution. Through God’s grace and His choice of me, I worship the God who gave us this document and allowed it to exist for this time. There will come a time when God will no longer need this document to aid the furtherance of His kingdom. When that occurs, the Constitution, and perhaps even America, might well be gone.

 

Yet just as God was active in the first century Church, He will continue to be active in the lives of believers in America—just as He is active in the rest of the World today.

 

Yet is this what God must allow to happen before we really make Jesus real in this world?

 

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

From the 1963 film starring Marlon Brando

From the 1963 film starring Marlon Brando

Back in 1958 Eugene Burdick and William Lederer wrote the book The Ugly American.  It told the story of the hapless efforts of the United States in a fictional country in Southeast Asia (widely regarded to represent the US efforts in Vietnam) in the attempts of America to fulfill its quest to “contain” Communism and therefore continue to implement Truman’s famous doctrine.

Originally, the desire of the authors was to write a factual study, but the publishers persuaded them to transition to a work of fiction.  In doing this they were afforded greater creativity and even more freedom to both apply their version of “truth” as well as greatly expanding the means by which their work could be disseminated among various competing ideologies.  In other words, the work became a tool for those who espoused a decidedly anti-American and anti-Western philosophy.

Sadly, Burdick and Lederer accurately portrayed the reality of the American efforts in this region of the world.  Neil Sheehan in his book A Bright Shining Lie further highlights the incredible incompetence spawned by unchecked bureaucracy during the Vietnam War.  The cold reality dogging American efforts was reflected in the words of the Apostle Paul, our “good was evil spoken of.”

In many ways, Christians today are far too often and too easily viewed as ugly.  In my own denomination, there seems to be this almost puerile obsession with the habits of those outside of Christianity yet all the while they are oblivious to the ugly and insidious nature of the accepted behaviors within Christianity.  What is sad is many of these unattractive attitudes and practices come from those who are regarded as leaders and pastors.

Many of the problems arise from the assumptions made of those professing the name of Christ.  A whole industry has been built to fortify an almost revisionist-style history portraying the United States as a country began with solely Christian values.  While the underlying philosophy of our founding fathers was a definitely a Judeo-Christian paradigm, we were not and are not now a Christian nation.

There were many of our founders and leaders who were familiar with Christian nomenclature and philosophy—some even reared by strongly Christian parents—yet for every reference point given to “prove” the evangelical bent of these men there are equally as many proofs countering those claims.  Even though evangelical Christianity did not infuse every one of our founders, there were many genuine Christians among our founders.

So should those who are Christian handicap themselves by not referring to the importance of Christianity on the formation of this country?  Not at all; yet Christians cannot continue with their arrogant attitudes and patronizing actions if they (including myself) truly desire to reach those who do not have a relationship with Jesus Christ.

I wouldn’t want you to think I am immune from such silliness either.  Far too often I “catch” myself thinking some incredibly stuffy thought and then something inside me (I believe it is the Holy Spirit who resides in all who have a relationship with Christ) points out my foolishness.  My plan is to write a “series” (I usually can’t stand multi-part anything; I’m making attempts at maturity here so bear with me . . . . .) dealing with the subject began in this post.

My desire is the same as the United States Senator Adlai Stevenson: “Today, I come to you with the task of speaking; your task is that of listening.  Let us hope we all end at the same time.”

Hey, it’s a hope!