Tuesday, July 29, 2014


"A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.  By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another" John 13:34-35
 According to these verses the primary definition and characteristic  of a disciple of Jesus Christ is not a  certain series of doctrines or standards; it is that they love other disciples.  Doctrines are important, and standards are great, but according to the Bible, long before  the lost world  knows what you believe and what  camp you are part of or what denominational creed you  ascribe to, they should be able to see that you love other people who follow Jesus Christ.  This is both good news and bad news. It's good news in that the   newest and most spiritually immature believer can  be counted as  a disciple if they love other believers.  This is also bad news because some  of us who like to  consider ourselves seasoned disciples do  such a pathetic job of fulfilling these verses.
In fact, the Bible  has a word or two to say about some of us. " And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ.  I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men?" 1 Cor 3:1-3 Once again, according to the Bible  the primary characteristic of a carnal Christian isn't what music they listen to or what worldly activities they do or do not engage in. The primary characteristic of a carnal Christian, regardless of how long they've been saved, is that they have a hard time getting along with other Christians. The life of a carnal Christian may not or may not be full of  wine-bibbing and head-banging, but by definition it is full of strife and division.
  The reason this simple commandment is so difficult for some of us who claim to love the truth is  found in Ephesians 4  "I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are calledWith all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love;  Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace." Forbearing one another takes work and effort. It takes  lowliness and meekness and longsuffering. Carnality requires none of these things and is perfectly in line with our Adamainc nature according to Titus 3:3.  It's natural to  divide ourselves up into camps and tribes and races and creeds and colors. Children in the playground  need no instruction on how to divide up into teams and castes and them wage war against each other. We are  born with an 'us versus them' inclination. It's also the defining mark of the life we were supposedly called out of.  The commandment of God is that, having called us out of a world where  people scheme and plan and  divide and jockey for position and clamor for pre-eminence, we show that we are no longer part of the world by getting along.
  Understanding this, it's no  marvel that the Bible  goes right to the heart of the matter in Proverbs 4, when it says "Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life". Our 'issues' aren't what we say they are.  Our life issues aren't really doctrinal or  personality clashes or standards; our 'issues' are heart issues.  We say we can't get along because of this or because of that, but the  plain truth is that we can't get along because of our horribly carnal hearts.
  If I may chase a rabbit for a second here, my crowd is probably the worst about this  among the entire body of Christ. We love the truth, and we love our doctrine, and we love our standards, but we don't particularly love each other.  We would be  quick to find fault with the liberal churches in their immodesty or wordly worship or failure to  stand on the word of God, but the truth is, in this area, they run circles around us.   They may not be able to  rightly divide the word like we claim we can, but they are light years ahead of taking the newest convert and making them feel like family.  I have wondered , if my crowd has so much truth on it's side and we are so 'right', how we blow this  one commandment so consistently?  We disobey the Bible while claiming to believe it more than everybody else.
  In the Bible , heart trouble manifests itself as mouth trouble. Whatever is in  your heart will eventually come out of your mouth, and God takes mouth trouble among his people very seriously.  In fact, he takes it much more seriously than we do.  In 1 Cor 5, the Bible says "It is reported commonly that there is fornication among you, and such fornication as is not so much as named among the Gentiles, that one should have his father's wife.  And ye are puffed up , and have not rather mourned , that he that hath done this deed might be taken away from among you.  For I verily, as absent in body, but present in spirit, have judged already, as though I were present , concerning him that hath so done this deed,  In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when ye are gathered together , and my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ,  To deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus." This is the proof text for  executing what is commonly called 'church discipline' in the American South. If  fornication is  being committed in a local assembly, and those involved do not repent, the church is instructed to break fellowship with them  until  that condition is fixed.  But the scripture doesn't stop there, because in verse 9, it says "I wrote unto you in an epistle not to company with fornicators:  Yet not altogether with the fornicators of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or with idolaters; for then must ye needs go out of the world.  But now I have written unto you not to keep company , if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one no not to eat ." Most of the church folk I know  would  agree that fornication is a serious issue and must be dealt with if a local assembly is to enjoy God's fellowship.  most church folks would not tolerate an unrepentant drunkard in the assembly. But railers?   Most people would be very hesitant to  break ranks with the  railers  that they attend services with, especially if the transgressors are in a position of leadership.
  In case you were wondering about the definition of 'railing',  take a look at Luke 23:39. "And one of the malefactors which were hanged railed on him, saying , If thou be Christ, save thyself and us." In the passage , Jesus has claimed to be the Christ and his enemies  insist that he prove this by some  notion that they came up with, some independent standard.  If he fails to jump through this particular hoop they can then feel justified in saying to themselves and others that he cannot possible be what  and who he claims to be.  If I were to  claim that I am saved and that I love Jesus Christ, and you were to  say "If you really loved God you would do the following activity".  That activity could include  anything from  running to shouting to tithing to weeping to door knocking to street preaching; all that matters is that  it's your hoop and I must jump through it.  When I fail to do that activity to your satisfaction, you  can tell yourself and others that I'm probably not saved, and I definitely don't love Jesus.   You just  engaged in what Phil Schipper calls 'performance based Christianity'  and you just committed the  church-discipline-worthy offense of 'railing' on me.  Isn't the Bible  fun?
  Let me tell you something you probably already know; we are all a bunch of filthy gossips from time to time, and preachers are probably the worst. We talk about each other , about who  we like or don't like, who we agree with or don't agree with, and we do this because  our hearts are not right with God  to the degree that we want everyone to think they are. That unrighteous heart comes out of our mouths, and we can  always find a way to justify our wickedness. According to the scriptures, railing is as wicked an  activity as fornication, and is the grounds for  church discipline if not repented of.
   The scripture doesn't  stop there. In the very next chapter, a continuation of the same thought, the Bible says "Dare any of you, having a matter against another, go to law before the unjust, and not before the saints?  Do ye not know that the saints shall judge the world? and if the world shall be judged by you, are ye unworthy to judge the smallest matters?  Know ye not that we shall judge angels? how much more things that pertain to this life?  If then ye have judgments of things pertaining to this life, set them to judge who are least esteemed in the church.  I speak to your shame . Is it so, that there is not a wise man among you? no, not one that shall be able to judge between his brethren?  But brother goeth to law with brother, and that before the unbelievers.  Now therefore there is utterly a fault among you, because ye go to law one with another."  Scripture is clear; we are supposed to get along, and if we don't, these conflicts are to be resolved among the brethren. Taking  matters of disagreement before the lost world is both unwise wicked, and should be repented of.
  As an example, let's say  that you have a disagreement with another church member.  The nature of the disagreement is  immaterial, but let's say that you had a doctrinal disagreement with them.   You are so 'burdened' to point out to everyone else how wrong they are (and by the way, how right you are) that you  go onto Facebook and  you blast them point by point. You have just railed on them, and made matters worse by doing it  before the  whole world of the Internet.  You have committed a church-discipline worthy offense, you have  harmed not only that person ("..a whisperer separateth chief friends..") but the entire  body of Christ, and you need to repent.
  It is interesting to me, and by 'interesting' I mean 'horribly disgusting', how difficult it is to leave a church without  your motives being questioned and your character assassinated.  It's horrible how  quick we are to blast everyone who doesn't agree with us. It's disgusting how quickly we can turn on people we have fellowshipped with for years and how gleefully eager we are to  believe the worst about people we claim to love! It's disgusting how  we delight in slander and gossip, taking  little thought for how our wicked unbridled  tongues are destroying reputations and ministries! I have seen situations where it was obvious that a sin problem had to be dealt with, and perhaps 1 Corinthians 5 invoked. I have seen  church members who claim to love truth and claim to love Jesus look forward with anticipation that 'so-and-so is gonna get churched'.  How wicked  that is!  It's as insane as a man looking forward to  having his own gangrenous hand   removed and  it is an attitude that is an affront to a holy God!
  In Romans 3 , a remarkable statement is made. "For if the truth of God hath more abounded through my lie unto his glory; why yet am I also judged as a sinner?  And not rather, (as we be slanderously reported , and as some affirm that we say ,) Let us do evil, that good may come ? whose damnation is just." Paul had been slandered, specifically in the area of his motives. He was trying to do right, and people just couldn't keep their railing mouths off of him, and his ministry. The verse says their "damnation is just". According to the Bible, if you  slander the reputation of somebody who is trying to do right ( and I believe the context includes people who are trying to do right despite  past mistakes) then you deserve the damnation of God.  Even though "the wages of sin is death", I find no other sin listed in the Bible where God specifically says that a specific sin in worthy of damnation. Neither drunkenness or fornication or covetousness or  even murder are given the singular spotlight of attention that you and I and our railing tongues  receive.  We should all pray for a season of repentance, and if we've slandered people, make it as right as we can.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

True Worship

  If there ever was a word that is misused in modern Christianity, it is the word 'worship'. There exists a spectrum of people who, while all well-intentioned, have formed and fashioned their mode of worship off of their intentions and their priorities, instead of the word of God.
On one end of the spectrum  are the contemporary churches who, in a sincere and laudable attempt to  reach the unchurched, will take the basic  setup of a nightclub, and stick Jesus's name on it. Every trick from blacklights and  rock music to  Zippos held aloft during  guitar solos  is deployed in an attempt to create an emotional response in the audience that can  then be called 'worship'.  Personal experience is the currency of the realm, and if you 'felt' something, the  assumption is that it must not only be true, but it must be God. That's one end of the  spectrum and,  however well-intentioned, is woefully short of the Biblical standard.
 Towards the middle of this spectrum are the Baptists (who are resembling the Pentecostals they used to make fun of more and more) who exhibit a mode of worship spoken of reverently as 'the old timey way'.  In my observation, the 'old timey way' is whatever  your father or grandfather did, regardless of whether is was right or wrong.  In the 'old-timey way', the high water mark of church life was somewhere between the 1920's and  the 1940's in the American South. Entire meetings are planned and based off of this emulation, complete with tents set up in fields and sawdust  poured on the ground in an attempt to set the stage for 'old-timey worship'.  Enthusiasm is the currency of the realm and  if people run and shout and carry on  then it is assumed that the Holy Spirit has fallen and that 'worship' has occurred.  These folks, including some of my dearest friends, want to capture the perceived spirituality of  the past, but in doing so, often  also fall woefully short of the Biblical standard
  The other end of the spectrum  are the solemn, liturgical  churches where worship consists of rote repetition of phrases penned during the Dark Ages and led by deacons/bishops/elders/presbyters who are possibly old enough to have been there when the liturgy was composed.  Such churches, in a well-intentioned respect for tradition, assume that not only does God prefer quiet, but he prefers to speak Latin.  I'm sure it's entirely coincidental that these churches are populated by an older crowd who, as luck would have it, prefer quiet.
  The solution to all this confusion is, as always, a return to Biblical definitions and standards. That  book  which contains "all things pertaining to life and godliness", also defines worship and sets the  conditions and parameters of it. It  sets this tone from the very beginning.
  In Genesis 22, we have one of the most heart-rending stories in the word of God, the account of Abram taking Isaac up the mountain to sacrifice him.  Right in the middle of the situation, the word 'worship' shows up for the first time. The Bible says, in verse 5  "And Abraham said unto his young men, Abide ye here with the ass; and I and the lad will go yonder and worship , and come again to you."  God has asked Abram to  do the unthinkable,  and it's insane to think that Abrams heart wasn't full of sadness and confusion and sorrow.  It's inconceivable that he didn't wonder if he had  understood God correctly as he prepared that trip up the mountain.  He ad no idea, and probably wouldn't have cared, that this great typology of the Lord Jesus Christ was being displayed in his life and recorded in scripture for the edification  of millions.  All he could see was that God wanted him to sacrifice the promised seed, and there is no way that it made any sense to him.  His response is that they would worship right smack in the middle of all that.
  That puts to bed the notion among the brethren that everything must be all right, for worship to occur. Not only does Abram  put a priority on worship  right  in the middle of  turmoil and  sorrow, he's not the only man in the Bible to do that.  In Matthew 9, the Bible says "While he spake these things unto them, behold , there came a certain ruler, and worshipped him, saying , My daughter is even now dead : but come and lay thy hand upon her, and she shall live ". With his daughters body  growing colder by the minute, this ruler  found both reason and ability to worship God. Job echoed this sentiment when, according to the Bible, "... Job arose , and rent his mantle, and shaved his head, and fell down upon the ground, and worshipped And said , Naked came I out of my mother's womb, and naked shall I return thither: the LORD gave , and the LORD hath taken away ; blessed be the name of the LORD".   King David, as he mourned the death of his son "...arose from the earth, and washed , and anointed himself, and changed his apparel, and came into the house of the LORD, and worshipped : then he came to his own house; and when he required , they set bread before him, and he did eat". I see nothing  in these examples to indicate that there was excitement or 'running the aisles'.  No one shouted, no one laid on the ground or flopped like  a mackerel. There is no sign of the  'whoop-whoop for Jesus' crowd in this  worship.  There is a solemnity to these scenes, and with broken hearts, these men worshipped God.  The preponderance of individual worship in the Bible appears to take place during times of  great confusion and sadness.
  In Matthew 15, a gentile woman comes to Jesus.  Everything wasn't right at her house. She wasn't even  under the covenant extended to Israel. But the Bible says "Then came she and worshipped him, saying , Lord, help me." Once again, we see that her worship involved not excitement, but brokenness bordering on despair. Her worship took the form of crying out to God for help. So often we  treat worship as a pep rally for God when that doesn't seem to be the case in scripture.
  How can a person do that? How can a person worship God  with a coffin in their view and no hope in sight? How can a person bowed down with  grief  raise their eyes to the third heaven?  The answer to that lies with  Abram.
  Abram says in Genesis 22 that both he and Isaac will worship. I have always wondered if he was planning on worshiping before or after the sacrifice. The Holy Spirit gives us a peek into Abrams heart in Hebrews 11:17-19, which reads "By faith Abraham, when he was tried , offered up Isaac: and he that had received the promises offered up his only begotten son,  Of whom it was said , That in Isaac shall thy seed be called Accounting that God was able to raise him up , even from the dead; from whence also he received him in a figure." Romans 4 explain it even further, telling us "Therefore it is of faith, that it might be by grace; to the end the promise might be sure to all the seed; not to that only which is of the law, but to that also which is of the faith of Abraham; who is the father of us all,  (As it is written , I have made thee a father of many nations,) before him whom he believed , even God, who quickeneth the dead, and calleth those things which be not as though they were Who against hope believed in hope, that he might become the father of many nations, according to that which was spoken , So shall thy seed be And being not weak in faith, he considered not his own body now dead , when he was about an hundred years old, neither yet the deadness of Sara's womb:  He staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God;  And being fully persuaded that, what he had promised , he was able also to perform " God had made no promise to Abraham of a resurrection, but he had promised that  Isaac would  inherit the land.  The very foundation of Abraham's worship was that God  cannot lie, and that somehow, despite the circumstances, this all has to work out somehow.  He was so certain of God's  truthfulness that he had every intention of coming back down the mountain with his son at his side.  It seemed reasonable to Abraham that it was God's responsibility to keep the  covenant, and if  it was necessary , God could and would  raise his son from the dead.  Abraham's worship wasn't based on feelings, it was based on the word of God.  The Bible tells us in Psalm 29 "Give unto the LORD the glory due unto his name; worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness." The strength  of our worship isn't based on who we are or what  our situation is, but rather on God's word and God's character.Because of who God is, and how God is, and the promises made to us in the word of God, we can worship with full assurance that somehow, it will all work out. That isn't wishful thinking; that's worship.
  Taking it further, it's obvious that true worship cannot be done in your own strength or based off your own ideas. It has to be done in accordance with God's word. Jeremiah 26:2  says it plainly: "Thus saith the LORD; Stand in the court of the LORD'S house, and speak unto all the cities of Judah, which come to worship in the LORD'S house, all the words that I command thee to speak unto them; diminish not a word." Paul's confession in Acts 26 is "But this I confess unto thee, that after the way which they call heresy, so worship I the God of my fathers, believing all things which are written in the law and in the prophets:" You may like the  guitar solos and the Zippos, or your soft spot may be the running and shouting spells. Maybe you're the dry liturgical type but unless those things are found in the words of God, they are your idea, not his, and do not constitute true worship. After all, Isaiah 8:20 tells us "To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them"

Tuesday, July 1, 2014


"And he went out from thence, and came into his own country; and his disciples follow him.  And when the sabbath day was come , he began to teach in the synagogue: and many hearing him were astonished , saying , From whence hath this man these things? and what wisdom is this which is given unto him, that even such mighty works are wrought by his hands?  Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary , the brother of James, and Joses, and of Juda, and Simon? and are not his sisters here with us? And they were offended at him." Mark 6:1-3

  The Bible says in Mark 6 that in his hometown, when he  began to teach and preach, the people that had known him knew him as 'the carpenter'.  The obvious implication from that is that Jesus was, after all, a carpenter, and that he had done it  long enough or often enough that his reputation was that he was 'the carpenter'.  The old joke is that people get into the ministry because they don't want to plow, but Jesus  didn't have that problem. He was  separate from sinners and undefiled, but not too good to work.  I  don't claim to be  privy to  all that is involved in being a carpenter  during those times, but I'm assuming that it  manual labor like it is now.  Despite being the express image of God, Jesus Christ wasn't too good to plane his own boards and drive his own nails.  He could  produce  food  supernaturally, but that he wasn't ashamed to labor and sweat and get tired.  This makes perfect sense when you consider that when  you first see God in the bible, he's working.   It makes perfect sense since, before the Fall, he told Adam to work. God is a working, labouring God. Not only is work  not a curse, but working apparently  doesn't degrade you as a minister.  It wasn't beneath the dignity of Jesus Christ to be  'bi-vocational'.  
  I went to a preachers fellowship once and at the beginning of the meeting they asked all of the preachers to stand up. I stood up.  They went around the room and  all of us introduced ourselves and told what church we were from.  Afterwards somebody approached me and asked me where I ministered at.  I  told them that I was a street preacher and gave them the name of my church. They  said "Uh yeah, that standing up  and introducing thing? That was for real preachers. You know,  pastors, evangelists, full time guys. I'm sure you understand."  I checked my impulse to  wallop the guy and assured him that I did understand and that I wouldn't make that  mistake again.  We certainly get some strange ideas about the ministry sometimes.
  I know what the Bible says about how you shouldn't "muzzle  the ox that treads out the corn" and how "they  which preach the gospel should live of the gospel" and I've heard the same pompousness and scorn that you  probably have  against  bi-vocational minsters . I've heard them called 'part-time preachers'.  There is absolutely no scriptural backing for such an attitude. After all, Jesus Christ apparently drove a nail or two in his day.  When presented with this fact,  some will l say that Jesus only worked a secular job until he began his ministry, then he , of course, went full-time. Presumably he had 'arrived' like them and was now a 'real preacher'.  Let's look at the Apostle Paul then.

  In Acts 18, we see in the life of Paul that "After these things Paul departed from Athens, and came to Corinth;  And found a certain Jew named Aquila, born in Pontus, lately come from Italy, with his wife Priscilla; (because that Claudius had commanded all Jews to depart from Rome:) and came unto them.  And because he was of the same craft, he abode with them, and wrought : for by their occupation they were tentmakers.  And he reasoned in the synagogue every sabbath, and persuaded the Jews and the Greeks." He was of the "same craft" and  "wrought".  Nine chapters or so after being 'called to preach', Paul was still making tents to make ends meet and pay for his living expenses and his ministry.  Being a working  man didn't keep him from preaching, and it didn't make him any less of a preacher. 
  Do not let the brethren or the devil ( who appear to be in league with each other some times) beat you up  if you get up every morning and go to work to pay your bills and feed your family, as if somehow you are entangled with the world or a second-class minister.  If you  take care of the   things in life you are commanded to take care of (1 Tim 5:8) and  preach when the  opportunity presents itself, you have done what the Bible commands and you have nothing to be ashamed of.   If your ministry supports you, you should thank God that you  are allowed to  do the work of the ministry full time.  You also ought to really do it full-time, by the way.  Your life  is made possible because somebody else  gets up and goes to work and takes part of what they earn and gives it to you. Your opportunity costs them something.  Act like it. They do that so that you can labour, not so you can sleep in and go play golf with your preacher buddies.  You ought to work at least as hard as anybody that contributes to your ministry, because the truth is, you owe them.  But if it  doesn't work out that way, and you  still go to work every day, you haven't done anything wrong.
  I have a friend named Jack who lives in Wisconsin.  Jack and his wife  are  publick ministers, and they have never  managed to  garner any significant financial support.  Every year, Jack works a job in Wisconsin and he and his  wife live very frugally until they save up 10 or 12 thousand dollars. He then quits his job and they travel around the country preaching until the money runs out.  When the money runs out they start all over.  Jack's perspective is that the Bible does not say 'Go ye into all the world and somebody else will foot the bill'.  Along the same lines,I am a fully-funded evangelist.  I  acheive my fully-funded-ness by   getting  up and going to work.  I pay my bills, I feed my kids, I support other ministries financially, and I take whatever is left over and I fund myself. I  work overtime to  buy gospel tracts, or to put gas in a vehicle to go minister. That's not a burden, it's an honor.
  We have such a  warped perspective that if we go somewhere to minister and we don't get an offering, we feel as if we have been wronged somehow  Nobody owes you anything for preaching or singing or praying or encouraging or edifying. What's wrong with paying your own way? What's wrong with putting gas in your car, and  giving your time, your gifts, your  energy to a bunch  of people , saved or lost from whom you will receive absolutely nothing  in return?  What's wrong with being 'bi-vocational'?
  2 Corinthians 8 says "Moreover, brethren, we do you to wit of the grace of God bestowed on the churches of Macedonia;  How that in a great trial of affliction the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded unto the riches of their liberality.  For to their power, I bear record , yea, and beyond their power they were willing of themselves;  Praying us with much intreaty that we would receive the gift, and take upon us the fellowship of the ministering to the saints. And this they did, not as we hoped , but first gave their own selves to the Lord, and unto us by the will of God." Great works of God are not only financed by  carpenters and tent makers and  people that work at Wal-Mart and people that fix air-conditioners, but great works of God are also performed by such people who feed their families and pay their bills and  pay other  people's bills and  keep their cars running and  pray and weep and give and preach.  I have seen people fawn over the big-name evangelist, but let  me let you in on a little secret; he doesn't exist. There is no such thing as a big-name preacher.  He is a big pile of damaged goods that God , in his mercy, allows to serve, and if both of you are obeying the Bible, neither of you is doing any more for God than the other.
  You may look  at the guy with the big ministry in the spotlight and say to yourself that, by  comparison, God isn't using you.  Says who?
  I  recently preached a Sunday night  service and afterwards a young girl wanted to speak to me. She went on and on about what a help the message was ( which makes me very uncomfortable, but I haven't figured out a way to politely make them stop) and she began to fawn a bit.  She acted like it was a big honor to  talk to me, but the truth is, she is more important than I am, and it was an honor for her to take her time to talk to me.  Let's keep some perspective, shall we?

Friday, June 27, 2014

Sin Makes You Free

  In case you aren't familiar with the above slogan, allow me to translate it for you; work makes you free.  That sign  hung above the front gate of Auschwitz as well as a number of other German camps, and was often the first thing  the detainees would see as they were hustled through the gate.  That sign isn't there by accident; it was yet another part of a great violation perpetrated by a monstrous regiment. I am of the mindset that  this  particular sign is as evil, if not more evil than anything that  happened inside Auschwitz's gates.  Long before you were sorted into a 'live' or  'work to death' group , you saw this sign.  Long before your  belongings were  taken from you and  you saw your  wife and children for the last time, you saw this sign.  Long before you were  offered a shower, you saw this sign.  Long before you were tattooed with a number, you saw this sign.  That sign was there to keep you from panicking, to keep the crowd under control.  It was a calculated lie so at odds with  all other evidence that you didn't resist until it was too late.   Some camps, particularly Treblinka, were made to look like railway stations, complete with fake train schedules and  landscaping.

  People strolled casually along, and although there were armed guards and  vicious dogs and towers and barbed wire, the detainees assured themselves that  their concerns must be misplaced.   Surely no one would hang a sign up  promising freedom if all they offered me was slavery and death, would they?  Nazi guards even offered to hold the  teddy bears of small children while they took a 'shower'.   The effect was very successful that, according to survivor Olga Albogen.

"…We didn't even say goodbye to Mother and the little ones. We just had some food yet from home and I gave it to my mother and said, 'We'll see you tonight.' And that was it and I never saw them again. It was such a commotion there in Auschwitz… So many people… And when they emptied the wagons, thousands and thousands and trains kept on coming from all over Europe, not just Hungary. It was just unbelievable."
  The Nazi's make convenient villains,  in that their actions were so very horrific, but dastardly characters of exactly the same stripe still roam among us, and the tactic is still the same; come with us , and we'll make you free.  These villains show their face in  the advertisements for beer, wine and liquor.  The advertisements always show a group of smiling people having a blast. The men are all  handsome, the women all busty and friendly.The message is clear; these people are having fun, and our product got them there. Drink will make you free.
 These villains show their face in the plotlines of movies and television shows where adultery and fornication  or perversion are portrayed with great glamor. Basic animal urges are indulged with  reckless abandon, and no consequences.  The message is clear; indulging your flesh will make you free.
  These villains show their face in the  sitcoms where the  bumbling dad is rescued from his own ineptitude by his strong-willed wife or his smart-mouthed kids.Over and over again, they preach their gospel of  how the kids know best, or the wife knows best. The message is clear; the old ways are foolish.  Rebellion will make you free.
  Just as the villains of old  didn't mention the  gas chambers, or the mass graves, or the starvation, their modern day counterparts leave out quite a bit.  The liquor ad conveniently omits that  the fun party girl doesn't really look like that, and even if she did, their product will wreck her beauty in short order.  The  bartender doesn't mention the wino at the end of the bar who has been playing this game, and losing, long before you came along to try your luck at it.  If battered wives and shattered homes and broken vows are mentioned at all, they are  used as an example of someone who took it too far.  The poor sap  at the bar stool is reassured, in a hundred different ways, that the debris field of ruined lives is the exception not the rule.  Pay no attention to what's right there in front of your eyes, just remember that you're having fun, and having fun will make you free.
  The cinematic villains will never show you the hospital beds and broken hearts and seared consciences that the life they promoted has caused. If they do, they will do their best to ennoble  the AIDS patient or glamorize the unwed mother.The movie stars , by their wealth and celebrity are  often shielded from the  consequences of their actions, but you aren't.  You know this, if you  stop and look at what is  right in front of your eyes. But most people won't because after all, there's a sign up that says we can be free if we play their game.
  The sitcom villains will never show you the bitter wife who has struggled to be in charge then found it to be  an empty , unfulfilling thing.  They won't show you the estranged families that result from  rebellious children. They will white-wash over parents ashamed by their children, and children who are strangers to their parents. Whole generations can be destroyed this way. Rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, but they still claim it will make you free.
  In fact, the only place where you can get the truth about those signs is in an old black book that  sits patiently waiting at the heart of  human  experience. It sits there as a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart, watching humanity  walk around it and pretend it's not there. It warns that "the wages of sin is death" and that "the soul that sinneth, it shall surely die".  It says, to whoever will  listen that  "he that commiteth sin is the servant of sin" It speaks of a day in which God will  "judge the world in righteousness". It tells you  to "flee from the wrath to come."
   Imagine a man standing at the gate to Auschwitz proclaiming,  "Look at the guard towers, look at the  dogs, look at the soldiers with guns. This is  not freedom, this is death!"  How many people would ignore him? How many people would look at the sign and say to themselves "Poor deluded fool. Can't he see the sign? Work makes us free."  How many people would argue with him, or mock him?  How many people would say to him "I agree with you, but this isn't the way to warn people. You have to be their friend first."  If you sincerely believe that  most people wouldn't just stroll on by into the gaping  maws of their awaiting captors, I submit to you that you  haven't spent much time spreading the gospel.  That is exactly the nature of the opposition and exactly  the nature of the  ministry.  We stand at the  gates of sin and  sorrow  proclaiming that there is another way; repentance towards God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Humanity strolls by, some indifferent, some hostile but most of them  continuing on through the gates of death to the consequence-free liberty they have been promised. 
  It would make no sense to  build a building with comfortable seats and air-conditioning off to the side of the gate and invite people  going through the gate to stop by, if it wasn't too much trouble.  The urgency of the  hour demands that we  "lift up our voice" and "cry aloud",  The seriousness of  what's inside the gates demands that we  stand in the way, and  compel whoever we can, even as we know that they "hate him that rebuketh in the gate".  This is the gospel ministry. C.T. Studd said, "Some wish to live within  the sound of church and chapel bell. I want to run a rescue shop within a yard of hell!"

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Napoleon May Have Been Right

"What is history, but a fable agreed upon?"
-Napoleon Bonaparte

  I am a  history geek.  You have to know this going in.  At any given point I am reading  4 or 5 books simultaneously, and at least 1 of them will be a history book. As we speak I  am reading a history of the New Testament churches as well as an introduction to  a study of the Middle Ages.  My  specialties tend to be American history with a  Civil War emphasis, and church history( which is why most of my examples in this article come from those two worlds). I have read more  church history than anybody I know , except maybe Doug Stauffer. I have  read Esebuis and Plutarch and  Josephus. I  have multiple copies of Foxe's Book of Martyrs and Philip Schafer's work on church  history. I have Mannheim's ecclesiastical history , and  reports from most of the major English missionary societies from the 1830's.  I've got books on the major revival movements in Scotland and Wales, and  at least 2 or 3 books on the Waldensians and the Lollards.    I have even tried my hand at writing a history book  which apparently will never be finished.  In researching it I  read scores of  obscure smaller histories, and it has become  apparent to me that the  thing I love so much about history also completely validates the Napoleonic sentiment.
  The truth is that you never have all the facts.  It is literally impossible to have all the facts.  When I was researching my own history book I found that, at a certain point you no longer have any primary sources.  What you have is somebody who quotes an earlier work; you don't have the earlier work itself.  You have to, by necessity,  trust that the quoter is giving you the proper context of the information.  In case you  have ever wondered what the big deal was about the library at Alexandria; that's it. A lot of primary sources went up in smoke, and all we have is people citing other people.
  But even if you have the primary sources, the problem of not having all the facts doesn't end there.  As an example, most of the early church history  (the first  3 centuries especially) we have was written by the enemies of the church.  We know who the martyrs are because their oppressors kept records of who they killed, but all you know about them is what their murderers wrote down.  It's hardly an unbiased source, and hardly gives you the complete picture of who that person was.  All you have is a brief snapshot of that persons life, usually at the very end of that life, written by people who thought the subject was deluded or dangerous, or both.
  Even if you have the primary source, and the source is  unbiased, the next problem is that any attempt to chronicle history involves, by necessity, oversimplification and generalization.  If you take one life, that life  literally touches  dozens or hundreds of other lives, and to get the story that you're trying to  get, you have to at least briefly touch these other lives.  For example, General Robert E. Lee's father  was 'Lighthorse' Harry Lee, a Revolutionary War hero who, after the war,  acquired such massive  debts through bad business deals that he only way his son Robert could afford  college was to  attend West Point.    Without Lighthorse squandering the family  funds,  Robert never goes to West Point and never becomes the famous general.  He would most likely have  studied engineering like his older brother and died in complete obscurity.  Nobody exists in a vacuum and any story leads to a hundred other stories. It's impossible to have all the facts, and the facts you do have almost require a certain amount of omission.
  Part of this oversimplification process involves making sweeping statements, some of which are pretty hard to  back up by themselves.  Groups don't have beliefs, people do, and to make a statement like "The early church believed.." or "Antebellum Southerners felt.." means you have to take the opinions, convictions, and passions of hundreds of thousands of people and  condense them into one or two statements. It's impossible to say the early church 'believed' anything because within that community you could literally find scores of  opinions on any given subject, just as you could today.  But the  attempt to  tell a history sometimes  forces you to present a group of people as a homogenous  glob of opinion whether you intend to or not.  It's easier with individuals. I could say "Robert E. Lee said.." and then provide a quote, or "General Lee did.." and then describe a concrete, verifiable action.  But the  further you get away from the individual, the less accurate your history becomes, and I don't know of any way around that.
   Undaunted by all these hurdles, the historian will sit down with his incomplete facts and his  tangential accounts  and try to make a coherent narrative of it all.  Here is where  the Michael Alford Principle of Life #2 comes into play; to wit "Everybody has an agenda."  I have an agenda, you have an agenda. Everybody has an agenda.  Having an agenda isn't a bad thing, but to understand anything about a history, you have to understand that the agenda exists.  You don't have all the facts, and  all the facts you do have aren't relevant, so you as the historian have to decide what facts to include. Whatever your agenda is will determine what you include and what you discard. Generalizations and simplifications are almost always crafted to fit a narrative.
  Let's say two men sit down to  write a biography on Elvis Presley. One of them doesn't care  very much for him, so he chronicles the  drug habits, and the  constant fornication. He mentions the obsession with the bizarre, and he touches on  Elvis's poor hygiene.  He highlights the  manipulation from  Elvis's  inner circle that eventually contributed to  his death. The picture of Mr. Presley  that he  presents would be one of, as Steven Banks would say, "poor white trash turned rich white king".
  The other biographer mentions Elvis's start in and lifelong love for gospel music. He talks about Elvis's strong family connections and his  perpetual generosity.  He  dwells on the  isolation that Presley's fame brought him, and the very real tragedy of such a good man trying to satisfy the constant demands from  the not-so-good people around him.  Both biographers are presenting facts, and  both sets of facts are completely true.  Both biographies are crafted to fit a narrative.
  When you consider all this, you have to agree with the famous Frenchman, (who may not have even actually said it) that history really is a fable we all agree upon.  I would  go a step further though and say that  most history is not only a fable we all agree upon, but a fable carefully crafted to present a certain view and to fit a certain narrative.  There's always more to the story, and always something you're not being told.  Frankly, that's the part I love, and also the part that drives me crazy.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Happily Intolerant

 It's  an odd but constant refrain when we minister in public that we are 'intolerant'. This is usually parroted by  someone who refuses to tolerate us. We are  often called 'hateful' or 'judgmental' by people who are being hateful and judgmental. If we were truly any of those things, at least the accusations would make sense, but since people hear what they want to hear it's fairly common for exhortations  of God's love as displayed on Calvary to be called 'hate speech'.  We tell them God loves them, and they hear that God hates them, or at the very least they  hear that we hate them.   The evidence that we hate them is the fact that we spend our own money and our own time to go tell them that God loves them.  We  quietly and  graciously (for the most part)  take their  verbal abuse while pleading  with them on the Saviour's behalf. We do this because, apparently, we hate them. Hmmm....

 In the George Orwell  opus 1984, Big Brother  was constantly changing what words mean. This was done  in order to not only steer the conversation of  his subjects, but to  steer their thoughts.  We don't have a Big Brother ( although we're getting really really close) but we do have a woefully mis-educated public that can no longer think, opting instead to   repeat  buzz words or catchphrases whose  true meaning they no longer understand. It's not just that they all use words that  don't mean what they think they mean, it's that there is a frightening uniformity as to the vocabulary of the scorners.This groupthink (another Orwellian contribution) is  quite obvious when you   realize that over the last  two decades while preaching to thousands on both coasts in cities big and small, the same phrases and words are hurled at us over and over again. Words like 'intolerant' and 'hateful' and  'judgmental' pop up as if  on some spiritual level  everybody was reading off the same cue cards.
  But to the scorners, I'll  will play your game. I will concede that there are at least 2 definitions to these words; the correct ones and then  the ones you use.  I will grant you that although I  may not be intolerant or hateful or judgmental according to the actual definitions of the words, I may  very well be all those things in the scorner-alternate-universe dictionary.
 Tolerance in the scorner lexicon appears to mean that you are willing to tolerate sin without once mentioning it.  It's akin to having  supper at someone's house without mentioning the  rotting corpse underneath the table.  No matter how bad it smells, and now matter how  many flies circle around your head, you are expected to smile and continue eating. You are  expected to choke back your gag reflex and  , for the truly tolerant, praise the presence of the corpse with  cheerful words like "He  seems so lifelike, except for the squishy parts!" To point out the obvious , such as 'What's up with the stiff?', would be the height of impoliteness.  The more sin you are willing to ignore, the more tolerant you are.  The more tolerant you are, the more understanding and enlightened you are. The  more understanding and enlightened you are, the better a person you are. A good person will ignore or even  approve of  gross, and destructive behavior.  Maybe your dinner host likes the smell of rotted flesh during their meal. After all, who are you to judge?
  Which  brings us to the next  term; judge. To judge is to ascertain that one item or activity is better  or preferable to another.  Judging  implies an objective standard;ergo water is superior to arsenic for drinking purposes. That is the true definition of judge, but in the scorner dictionary, to judge is commit an unpardonable crime against society.  Water is not necessarily superior to arsenic , you know.  And corpse dinner company  isn't necessarily superior to non-corpse dinner company. How intolerant of you to suggest such a thing!
  Rounding out this ridiculous trinity is the word hateful. Now hateful is a tricky one, I must admit. You would think that to  scream verbal abuses at a total stranger would  be hateful.  But  in the thesaurus of scornfulness, hateful behavior  can only be displayed by the intolerant. In fact, anything done or said by  the intolerant can be declared hateful by a tolerant person. Having  sufficiently displayed how tolerant they are (by welcoming the fetid corpse of sin with open arms) the tolerant are then free to  abuse the intolerant by yelling or  swearing or even throwing things.  Such behavior is actually virtuous in the scorner lexicon, and should be protected  behavior by the authorities. Conversely intolerant behavior such as public preaching or tract distribution or standing for righteousness should be punished. If this is  hard for you to get your brain around, it's because you're intolerant. And stupid.  So says the  tolerant who are being neither judgmental nor hateful.
  I guess there is no need to beat around the bush, I am, by their definition, all three.  Guilty as charged. I am intolerant in that I point out   things that grieve God according to the Bible. I  judge that such things bring condemnation upon those that practice them. And I am completely hopelessly hateful in that  I stand in public and point out the corpse of sin under the dining room table, and I do so without apology.
  The reason I  am happily intolerant (by their definition) and happily judgmental (by their definition) and happily hateful (by their definition) is because their definitions are absolutely moronic.  Their definitions are upside down and backwards and are not only an affront to  linguistics, and an affront to common sense but they are an affront to the God that made them, and to whom they will give account.