Friday, May 13, 2016

Every tribe, every tongue, every tastebud.


"When the hour came, Jesus and his apostles reclined at the table.  And he said to them, "I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.  For I tell you the truth, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God.""
Luke 22:14-16

"After this I looked around and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the lamb."
Rev. 7:9

Nice picture, eh?  That one's actually pretty tame.  I was looking for one from a meat market in the old city of Jerusalem.  Way back when, I went to school there.  I remember my first day wandering around the old city and seeing skulls of sheep & goats hanging on the wall, all skinned but with the meat & eyes still attached.  I thought I had wandered onto an album cover for the Rolling Stones or Black Sabbath.
We had a pet goat at the school.  It had wandered through our rather wide metal gate, but couldn't figure out how to wander back out.  A goat makes a very cool pet, actually.  We named it "Schwarma," which is Arabic for "Spiced Meat."

Take a wild guess what became of it after it had matured?

Hey, we donated it all to a local orphanage.

I still dig goat meat and Middle Eastern food.  As I understand it, if you go to a Beduin feast it's usually some type of massive goat platter, complete with bowls of goat soup with little hooves sticking out.  If you are the guest of honor, the head sheik will pop the eyeball out of the goat's head and pop it in your mouth.  YUMMY! (Never had the chance to experience that.)

I doubt there is a single food out there that I won't try at least once.  Just because something is different or unusual, doesn't mean it's bad.


I'm a butcher.  I work in the meat department of a Co-op in the Twin Cities.  I love what I do.  I like the people I work with.  We're all "Foodies."  We talk about meat, produce, fish, and recipes all the time with each other and with customers.

In fact, this past week I created a new brat/sausage, in honor of a college kid who works there and gave me the initial inspiration.  I call it "Prince of Wales Lamb Sausage."  It is ground lamb mixed with leeks, carrots, potatoes and garlic.  Like I said, I love what I do.  It's fun.


____________________



Last Friday, the Festival of Nations was in town.  So I took my sister over to see it.  They pick a theme for the festival and build exhibits around that theme.  They also have music, dance and lots of interesting foods.  The weirder, the better, as far as I'm concerned.

(You might be able to figure out why, hard as try to work out, I simply cannot get 6-pack abs.)


So anyhoo, when I was there it got me thinking.  I love other cultures.  I wish I could do a lot more traveling than I have.  It fascinates me.

When I see other cultures, I get a glimpse of what heaven will be like, and what the earth will be like when Jesus' restores everything.

The Western mind is soaked in Greco-Roman thoughts and world views, which don't generally line up with the bible very well.  This translates into how we view the afterlife.  The Greeks thought that the body was a bad thing.  A prison of sorts.  Go read Plato's thoughts on The Cave analogy.

Or I suppose you could just watch this video...


The goal for the Greeks was to escape the body and just be a spirit.  That was what was pure & true.

This is why you will see images of heaven with angels, harps and clouds.  I should state for the record that if that is what heaven is like, I don't want to go.  Also, it simply isn't biblical.

To the ancient Hebrews, they eagerly awaited a bodily resurrection.  Check out Martha's conversation with Jesus before he resurrects her dead brother in John 11.  Also, in all three accounts of Jesus' transfiguration, both Moses & Elijah appear in the flesh.  Apparently, what ever heaven may be like, you do get to walk around in the flesh.  Certainly, in the restored earth you get a physical body.

The idea that there wouldn't be some type of physical existence in the next world was completely foreign to the Jews of Jesus day...except for the Sadducees, I suppose.

It is also interesting to notice that the bible does hint strongly of joyful feasting in both places, along with numerous other physical activities.


I really like that thought.


My dad tends to fuss a bit over the thought of eating in heaven.  "Will we have to poop" he'll ask me?  I just retort that we'll have to get the compost from somewhere.

I guess my thought is that why would God give us these sensations of pleasure in this life, only to take them away for good in the next one?


When I think about the restoration of all things under the new & perfect order that Jesus' reign will bring about, I get excited at all of the new things I'll be able to experience & learn.  Think of all the cultural flavors, music, art and so on, that will be brought to the table.  It's mind blowing!


Personally, I'm of the opinion that Jesus will request me as one of his personal salsa makers.  I can't prove that biblically, but the Spirit of the Lord has anointed me with much skill with hot peppers and other spices.

Also, call it blasphemous all you want, I'm going to challenge Jesus to a slider eating contest.  If I'm lucky, maybe I'll be able to get a 6-pack with the new/perfected body...

Hey, you never know!



Peace

Joe


What the heck...



Saturday, April 23, 2016

Symbols & the Image of God


"So YHWH created man in his own image, in the image of YHWH he created him; male and female he created them."
Gen. 1:27

Don't be deceived, my dear brothers.  Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of heavenly lights...:
James 1: 16 & 17


It was about 9:45AM when I heard it on the radio.  MPR said that Carver County deputies had rushed to Paisley Park studios because someone was down.  I thought, "That's not a good omen."

I was out running errands, and had to enter a store.  By the time I returned to my car, it was official.  Prince Rogers Nelson was dead.

Paisley Park studios is about 11 miles from where I live. I thought about driving over there just to take a look.  There weren't that many people over there at that time of the morning.  Maybe it's a good thing that I didn't.  By the time of the afternoon rush hour traffic, thousands of people had gathered over there, and Hwy. 212 was backed up for miles.

By night time, 1st Avenue (The venue where Prince first achieved notice) was holding an all-night dance party.  It's Saturday morning now, but near as I can tell the dance party is still going on.  The 35W bridge across the Mississippi river will be lit in purple for the next week.



Love him or hate him, if you live in Minnesota you have to appreciate Prince.  This is a large State with a small population.  Yet, for some odd reason we have come up with Post-it Notes, Roller Blades, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Garrison Keillor and his Prairie Home Companion, "Surfin' Bird," the Guthrie Theater and Bob Dylan, among many other cultural achievements.  St. Paul can even boast of having the nation's largest occult publishing company, Llewellyn. (Hurray?...)

Yet Prince put Minnesota and the Twin Cities on the map in ways that no one else did.  Primarily because he stayed here.  He grew up in North Minneapolis and chose to move to a western suburb.  He had a massive affect on the local music scene, and it's no secret that he mentored scads of up and coming musicians.


I was in High School when Prince began to gain attention.  I was a senior when I fist heard bits and pieces of the "Controversy" album.  I can honestly say that I had never heard anything like it.  It had New Wave, funk, pop, and rock in it.  Totally original.  Other than some interesting musical styles, the lyrics were the strangest I'd ever heard.

He would combine overt sexual innuendos with spiritual themes. (More on that, later.)  It was shocking, offensive and intriguing all at the same time...with a beat you could dance to.

"1999" came out when I was in college, and that's the album that catapulted him into the stars.  I got to see him on that tour at the old Met Center before they tore it down.

It was the original line up of his creations.  Vanity 6 opened the show.  Three good looking gals in their skivvies singing.  What 19yr old boy didn't like that?  Then it was The Time.  Morris Day and Jerome almost brought the house down.  Then it was Prince.  He only played for about an hour, but it was something else.

Don't tell Prince this, but The Time actually out performed him. :)


____________________


So what does his death have to do with a blog that explores the church in modern America?


To be honest, I had a hard time with a lot of Prince's music.  Some of it was so overtly dirty that I just couldn't handle it.  I recognized that he was a musical genius, but those dirty lines really turned me off.  Still, unless you chose not to pay attention, there was clearly something more going on...




There are folks out there who have a difficult time with the ancient language and culture of the bible.  The nuance and profound depth can confuse and bother them.  They keep wanting to make the bible fit our modern cultural and scientific context, and it simply wont.  I think it's much wiser to let the bible be the bible and speak it's ancient wisdom on it's own terms into ours, whether it's modern America or 3rd World Nepal.  If you let it do that, you will find that a good deal of the time, it is smacking us "Moderns" over the head and essentially saying, "You think you so baaaaaad?  You don't know jack!"


"In the image of YHWH he created him"

The term "The image of God" is used at various times in the bible.  In James and the aftermath of the flood account in Genesis, referring to humans as image bearers is what gives all humanity value, worth and dignity.  However, in the first creation account, baring God's image is what gives humans function and purpose.

Read through it.  
If you let it speak for itself, without an agenda, it's really fascinating.

You may notice that when God brings living organisms into existence the phrase, "according to their kind" is stated and restated as the agenda and purpose for plants and animals.  They are to recreate themselves.  But when it comes to humans, that phrase is dropped.

I wont bother going into detail about what the Hebrew words "Radah" and "Kabash" mean, but suffice it to say that humans were created to be CO-creators with God.  We were built to work and make things.  As God's stewards on his good earth, we were made to tend his good world and bring even more creation into it.

Which is why it always galls me that the majority of "Evangelicals" in America don't think that pollution is a big deal.  "It's a socialist myth that farting toxic fumes into our air could possibly have nasty side effects!"

Not in any way that we are to think of ourselves as Mini-gods as Oprah might.  However, we bare His image.  We are naturally creative.  We bare HIS image in a way that nothing else in creation does.  How could we not be creative?




I don't "Get" a lot of modern art.  But I still like to see it.  Even stuff that might rub me the wrong way.  I figure if it is purposely offensive, then it must be that way to challenge me on some level.  Don't get me wrong, there is plenty of junk out there.  I've got some artist friends.  They are the first to say that a huge chunk of artists are simply posers who want to live the whole Bohemian life style...and have the tax payers fund it if possible.

Still, sometimes I will see a painting, drawing, photo, or hear some music, and I will swear that I glimpse a piece of God in it somehow. (Could be that I'm just plain nuts.  Meh.) I remember seeing Neil Young play "Like a Hurricane" live and I KNOW I heard the image of God flowing out of him.

"You are like a hurricane.  There's calm in your eyes."
It has since become a very personal hymn for me.


And that's where it gets interesting.  You can be a complete raging, militant, Jesus-hating atheist...and you are still made in the image of God.  You can have little to no overt knowledge of Christ, but he still created you, he values you and you share some of his characteristics.

That's why I can see God testifying to humanity and to himself 
when I see his image doing creative works.

"Every good and perfect gift is from above..."


It breaks my heart that someday those very qualities will come back to haunt those who reject Christ when they finally stand before him.

____________________


Prince.  An interesting fellow.  I don't recall the name of the Lutheran church in Minneapolis, but in his teen years, he did attend the youth group there.  Later in life, he became a Jehovah's Witness. (There are stories, which may be urban legends, of him showing up at people's doors with his bodyguards to hand out Watchtower tracts.  And that's funny!) I know that he changed the lyrics to his dirty songs after he became a JW.

Like I said before, if you were paying attention to him, you could see that there was more going on then simply dirty lyrics.  Why else would someone meld sex with spiritual thoughts?  Prince was looking for something.  I don't know if he ever found it, but I'll give him credit for at least looking.  Most folks don't even bother to try looking for more.  That's beyond pathetic if you ask me.

I'm not one to judge most folks in their last moments.  Who can tell what was going on in their heads at that time?  I recall that when the militant atheist, Christopher Hitchens, died, his close friend, a Believer, refused to condemn him.  They had been friends for a long time and often debated publicly.  Hitchens knew the Gospel message.  In his dying moments, perhaps he cried out to Christ.  It is not for me to condemn.

So Prince?
His last minutes were spent in an elevator at his home/studio.
Did the image speak to him?  
Did he hear the dove cry?



Do you? 


Peace

Joe

____________________

Incase you're curious about truly talented Prince was, take a look at these two videos.  Prince could play around 30 instruments with perfection.  I think about that when I here a whiny fraud like Kanye West talk about his own "Art." (Sure buddy, you forgot to add the "F" to the beginning of that term.)

You'll have to wait a bit on this first one.  But do give it a view.  I don't know who the first guitar player is, but contrast that with what happens around the 3:30 mark




And...




Saturday, April 16, 2016

The Tactics of Grace



“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them."
Matt. 5:17

"So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets."
Matt. 7:12


"Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through.  A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy.  He wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short he could not see over the crowd.  So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way.
 When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him,“Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly.
All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.
 But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.”
 Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham.  For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” 
Luke 19:1-10


Let's say that your out taking a walk some where.  You're minding your own business.  Up ahead, you see a group of folks holding signs.  As you get closer, you begin to be able to read the signs.  They read something along the lines of, "You suck!"  "YOU are a horrible, messed up jerk."  You need to join our club, or you be a complete and total loser FOREVER!!!!"

As you get closer, this group begins to turn it's attention to you.  A few of them even start walking to you to hand you leaflets that explain your worthlessness.  They tell you that they care about you, they don't want you to be the jerk that you are.  They want to help you to stop being such a loser.

A quick aside: This actually happened to my and two friends from Bethel Seminary.  We were going to see Neil Young and Crazy Horse in Minneapolis.  For some odd reason, there were people outside the Target Center carrying signs that basically said, "Turn or Burn!"

We found this to be odd, because it was Neil Young and NOT Bette Middler...in which case I would have fully understood.


Anyway.
How receptive might you be to their message????



Exactly. 
____________________



This morning, a friend of mine had "Liked" this on Facebook.  I didn't think about it much at the time.  However, as the morning wore on, it began to gnaw at my brain for some reason. (Mostly because I think it had to do with John MacArthur.)

MacArthur's not a bad guy.  As far as understanding the basic essentials of Christianity, he a good resource.  However, after that you better know what you're getting into.

He espouses "Dispensationalist" theology, which has some merits, but can also quickly descend into all sort of kookery. (I.E. John Hagee and his blood moons, or those awful "Left Behind" movies.) He doesn't believe that catholics...or probably orthodox christians can be saved. (Which pretty much cancels out the entire church up until the Reformation.)

He has also earned a solid reputation for not exactly being the most gracious or merciful guy, even though his catch-phrase is "grace to you."

I've often believed that the theology we embrace has as much to do with us and our personalities, as it does with what the bible says.  That's something I try to be on guard about at all times, because I can easily wish that bible and God would do what I want them to do...and that rarely works out very well.

At any rate, in this instance I think it's absolutely true, because by and large, what MacArthur is saying simply DOES NOT match up with the tactics that Jesus used when it came to dealing with sinners.  Jesus never, ever confronted sinners with how sinful they were, or how they could never get the law right.  He never berated, condemned, or told anyone how unworthy they were.  You can't find it in the bible, and I dare you to prove it otherwise...


I'll wait a moment while that rolls around in your head.


____________________

A HA!!!!!!

I was wrong.  Jesus actually DID condemn certain sinners, didn't he?  At which specific group of sinners...and we are all sinners...did Jesus save his most blasting condemnations for?

That's right.  The professional religious class.  He routinely tore those guys a new one almost every chance he got.

Something to think about...

____________________


The thing is, I'm not in any way, shape or form trying to minimize sin and the sinful nature, nor what it does to people.  I struggle with my own crap every single day.  I hate my sin.  I hate the fact that I'm really, really good at it.  I am fully and completely aware of it.

And I think that most people, including non-believers are too, on some sort of level, anyway.  Most people I know already realize that they are messed up on some level.  They might not understand what "Sin" is, but they know they have issues to deal with.  They don't need someone to come along and shove it back in their face like a puppy who just pooped on the carpet.  They need someone to come along side them and extend love and mercy.  You know, kind of like Jesus did with Zacchaeus.

It's also been my experience that, other than Donald Trump and his supporters, the folks who have the least awareness of their sins and sinful nature are my fellow Believers.  It's not exactly a secret that outsiders view us as being judgmental and hypocritical.



Recently, I've been wanting to write about the whole Transgender thing that now seems to be becoming more popular.  I've read and listened to some bits on this that really disturb me to my very core.  My soul tells me that this sort of self-mutilation is wrong on every level and has deep spiritual warfare roots to it.

However, I'm having trouble writing anything due to the simple fact that I hardly know anyone for whom this is an issue.  I've only had two trans acquaintances through my job, and both of them have left.  I never got the chance to develop the friend relationship that I wanted.  I want to hear their stories. I want to understand THEM,...their fear, guilt, shame, etc.  I admit it.  I can't wrap my head around something like this.  Until I do, I think it unfair of me to say too much on this issue one way or the other.



And that's the crux of the matter.


If you look at the character that Jesus displayed in the Gospels, you rarely see him saying much to the "Sinners."  He talked a lot to his disciples and followers.  He certainly had some good speeches and buffets for large crowds.  However, there simply isn't much recorded of what he had to say when he was sitting down for a meal, or being alone with those sinful types...be they hookers, traitors or what not.  All you see is that he hung out with them when everyone else looked down on them.

That very act on the part of Jesus seemed to have some amazing impacts on those folks.  It spoke volumes without a word.

"The Silence is Deafening," is a favorite quote of one of my old seminary professors.



Maybe Jesus knows something we don't.



Islam?  Get yourself some muslim friends.  Atheists?  They're great to have extended conversations with.  Buddhists?  You might learn a thing or two about materialism in America from them.  Gays?  Unless you have some as friends, you have no business speaking about them. (Besides, I had one once who was the BEST to go shopping with.  I have no fashion sense.  He had it in spades.) In fact, unless you are going to expend a bit of effort to get to know various people, what business do you have saying anything to them?  It's great to pontificate in public, but the final and ultimate meat of the Gospel is found in relationship.  That's where the rubber meets the road.



Maybe Jesus still knows something that we, you and I still haven't figured out.

Peace

Joe



Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Stupor Tuesday.


"Of them the proverbs are true: "A dog returns to it's vomit," and "A sow that is washed, returns to her wallowing in the mud."
2 Peter 2:22

"What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun."
Ecc. 1:9


As incredibly rebellious and unfaithful as I am, at the end of every day I am thankful for the faithfulness of Jesus.  It's his faithfulness that saves.  Not mine.  I'm a dead man walking if I had to depend on myself for salvation.

I've said this many times, but I'll say it again; Jesus never misses.  He always wins.  He never loses.  He has my back.  So, of what should I be afraid?

____________________


Back in the early 90s, I worked for my cities' water department during the summer while in school.  We only had AM radios in our trucks, so it was either classic rock or talk radio.  There was a new voice on the air who was entertaining.  His name was Rush Limbaugh.  I listened to him a lot.

As entertaining as he could be, I couldn't help but notice that he had a thorough and brutal mean streak in him.  He liked to call himself a "Conservative," but over time I just thought he was mean.  I grew tired of him...and his callers in particular.  Most of them simply came off as uninformed at best, or simply really dim-witted.  Anyone who challenged Rush on an intellectual level, or with facts, Rush would hang up on.

One of the ways to make me angry is to misuse the bible, or treat Jesus like a whore for your own ends.  One day, Rush was commenting on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.  He said something along the lines of there being no reason to work for peace over there because nothing could be done.  "It's all right there in the Book of Acts," he said.  Click!  That was the last time I ever listened to Rush Limbaugh. (For those of you who don't understand, most likely he was speaking on End-Times theories, which most likely would reference the Book of Revelation.  Having read Acts more than a few times, I have noticed that Luke never comments on Palestinians.)



Rush was just the beginning.  Soon, there were numerous far-right talk show hosts.  Each one trying to "Out-Right" the other.  They call themselves "Conservatives," but they're not.  To be a proper Liberal or Conservative is to subscribe to a philosophy, an intellectual assent to a set of principles.  David Brooks is a Conservative.  So was William F. Buckley.  These guys are anything BUT intellectual.  In fact, they mock intellectuals...Glenn Beck in particular.

What guys like Rush, Hannety, Beck, FOX news and even Alex Jones have done is to give a fig leaf to kooks and crazies.  They have given permission for Traditionalists...people simply afraid of change, racists and all manner of extremists to call themselves "Conservatives," when in reality they are  willfully ignorant or just plain stupid.

"I believe that Obama is destroying this country with his socialist ways, and by allowing illegals to take our jobs."  Translation; "We have a Nigger in the WHITE house and beaners make my hamburgers at McDonald's!!!"


____________________



This morning on Facebook I posted the following, "Repeat after me; "Congratulations, Madame President!""  It was me laughing at the fact that the Republican Party is continuing it's ritual Seppuku with Super Tuesday being an over all victory for Donald Trump.  If it continues, Hillary Clinton will almost certainly be the next President.  For that matter, the Democrats could put a tumbleweed up as their candidate, and it would most likely beat Trump.

Personally, I would prefer Sanders.  If you think the kooks are out in full force now, just wait until you get a Jew in the Oval Office...and a self-proclaimed "Socialist," no less.  Talk about entertainment value!

The sad fact is that the Republicans have done it to themselves.  They tolerated and encouraged the talking heads on the radio and TV to stir the pot of anger and fear, so long as it suited them.  Well, now Roger Ailes' Frankenstein is off the reservation and whooping the establishment.


____________________

I had this past Friday off.  I was driving around and tuned in to listen to the GOP debate from the previous night.  Bad idea.  It made me so angry that I had to pull over and park for a while.  Middle School tantrums.  That's what that debate was.  Donald Trump wets his pants?  Marco Rubio has big ears?  Really now?!?!

To their credit, Kasich and Carson tried to stay positive.  That's why the moderator rarely called on them.


Who's fault is this?

It's yours!
It's mine!
It's all of ours!!! 

Newspapers don't sell well if the front page has happy, positive stories.  "If it bleeds, it leads."  Why do you think gossip rags like Star, or the National Enquirer stay in business?  We can't get enough of the trash.  To have it play out on a national stage with the fate of the country and national prestige at stake?  Even better!

The one who says the most ridiculous and absurd statements?  The one who can stoke the rage, fear, paranoia and anger the most?  They win.



You can get frustrated over your situation in life.  We all do.  Still, odds are that it wasn't the fault of the jews, blacks, mighty-whitey, the gays, the straights, a cabal of Free Masons, some vast right-wing or left-wing conspiracy.  If you want to blame someone for your life of anger and fear, walk into your bathroom, look in the mirror and bust in the mouth with your fist the person you see staring at you.


____________________


The good news?  
As I said at the top; Jesus never misses.  
He always wins.  
He never loses.  
He has my back.  
So, of what should I be afraid?


I have been seeing more and more of my far-right and extremely conservative friends waking up.  They are shocked that so many people who call themselves "Christians" supporting someone like Donald Trump.  They are baffled and terrified.

For the record, I absolutely and firmly believe that supporting Trump is a Sin!!!!!  There are plenty of politicians that I like and don't like.  I've never said that about any American politician in my life.  But I mean it.  To support Donald Trump is an absolute betrayal of, and a stab in the gut to, Jesus Christ!


So many Christians are waking up.  They didn't pay attention to Billy Graham when he warned about this back in the early 80s.  Now they are reaping what they sowed, and they don't like it.

This is good!  This is a sign of potential repentance.  The purity of the Gospel, the Good News of Jesus' kingdom, has been whored out long enough for the sake of political expediency.

Let there be a clear divide in the church.  Let those who want to embrace political idolatry follow their false messiah with a bad haircut.  Let those who want to follow the king let go.  Hold loosely to the trap of secular politics.

Someday, some day there will be no America...or any other nation for that matter.

Someday, some day it will be like this...
Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea.  I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.  And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.  ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
Rev. 21:1-4

So I look at the results of Super Tuesday.  I'm not pleased, but I'm at peace.  I do get the giggles at the absurdity of all of it.  But as I get ready to shower and head off to work, I consider this...

And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.  Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.   Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.
Phil. 4:7-9


Peace

Joe



Monday, February 15, 2016

The Last Trumptation of Christ...


But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days.  People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God - having a form of godliness but denying it's power.  Have nothing to do with them.
2 Timothy 4:1

For the record, this post is going to be more of a rant than anything else.  I just need to get some stuff off my chest.


The state of American politics frustrates me to no end, especially as it is related to the church.  Perhaps it would be better to say that it frustrates me because of the way the church is related to it.  To my mind, it's one of the biggest forms of idolatry in America.

Don't get me wrong.  I enjoy the game of politics.  I have ever since I was a little kid.  I'm a nerd.  I am.  I even ended up teaching Civics for years.  So it's a big part of me.  However, it isn't my religion the way it is for so many...christians in particular.

To be clear, I was (Emphasis on "Was.") a life-long Republican.  I still tend to lean that way.  However, I will never, ever, under any circumstances be "Partisan" again.  In fact, I would encourage other Believers not to be partisan either.  I'll explain why in a bit.

Back in 2008 when Obama was running for office, I voted for McCain.  I knew that Obama was going to win, and I wasn't freaked out by that.  I just have always admired John McCain.  Simple as that, really.  HOWEVER, what happened after Obama was elected literally blew my mind.  Like I said, I've followed politics since I was a kid.  I was used to hearing crazy stuff come out of the mouths of the opposition.  I remember hearing that Reagan was the anti-christ, then Clinton, blah, blah, blah.

But when Obama got elected, it was as if all the doors of the asylums were thrown open.  The kooks and crack-pots came out of the woodwork.  Within a year, I recall reading various reports from the FBI and Southern Poverty Law Center pointing out that "Hate Groups" had blossomed 300% and more.  The TEA Party sprang out of nowhere, fueled by the Koch Brothers and Glenn Beck, and conspiracy theories began to grow like weeds.  Now we had a Muslim Marxist President from Kenya trying to take away our precious guns while FEMA sets up death camps for christians.

BTW: Want to have some fun?  The next time some willfully ignorant moron throws around the terms "Fascist, Marxist" or "Socialist," immediately ask them for the definition. 19 out of 20 times they wont know it.  They just know it's a handy insult because Limbaugh or Maddow can fart it out of their mouths.

My reaction to all of this lunacy was to make a complete break from any of what began to pass for "Conservative" or "Republican."  I thought, "These guys are nuts.  I want nothing to do with them.  I guess I must be a Liberal."  And I stuck with that for awhile.

Oops!

Turns out, the far left is just as goofy as the far right.  I have a friend who loves to preach to the choir on Facebook.  Even this morning, his usual screed was up and running.  I am of the opinion, based on what he puts forth on a regular basis, that he is one step away from saying that all Republicans want to tear the beating heart of infants from their chests and drink the blood in front of their parents.  I don't even bother to look at his stuff anymore.  I just scroll on past.


So what does this make me?


It doesn't make me anything.  

I'm not a "Moderate."  If you want to give me a worldly label you could call me a pragmatic realist.  Sometimes you need the government to do some stuff, other times just leave it to the free-market.  Considering the state of our national infrastructure, roads, bridges, power lines, etc., I think we need a massive investment...and privatizing our interstates is not the way to do it.

But you almost never hear a candidate talk about that.  Why?  Because it's not sexy.  It doesn't go "Boom," or make sand glow...to the glory of God.  It's must more fun to make stuff up as you go, like building a giant wall on our border and forcing another sovereign government to pay for it. (Damn Canadians!)

____________________


Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.  
Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is - 
his good, pleasing and perfect will.
Romans 12:2


When I hear a Believer say that they are a Liberal or a Conservative, what I hear them say is that they are only half a christian.  Sure they follow Jesus, but they really, really want to be defined by an earthly label, too.

The bible never defines anyone by a worldly label.  You're not a conservative or a liberal.  You're not gay, bi, straight.  Your not even primarily to be known by your nationality.  For starters, you are the image barer of God...even if you don't believe in God.  But if you are a Believer, well, you start out as a sinner saved by grace, and you end with being the righteousness of Christ, his joint heir, a child of the king.

That sounds a whole lot better to me than some stupid political or economic ideology created by flawed, fallen, imperfect people...or for that matter, letting yourself be defined by the latest social science fad, that will be gone in 50 years, that allows you to be six different genders at once. (Hey, whatever might be going on between yours ears, turn that over to Jesus.  Your plumbing doesn't lie.)


If you go by the bible's definitions, you see the world differently.  Instead of following Man's ideas and philosophies, you let Jesus renew your mind.  And that's why it's tough to follow Jesus and be very partisan.  For starters, to be partisan you have to shut of at least half of your brain.  Your side is always right, their side is always wrong. (I thought you were supposed to do away with that type of thinking after Middle School.) It's ridiculous!

"To be biblically consistent, you have to be politically inconsistent."
Ricarcd Cizik

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So what does any of this have to do with a picture of Donald Trump's mouth as a toilet bowel? (Other than the obvious.)

Since the end of the 70s, the church in America has become increasingly tied to far-right politics.  The Left has some of it, too, but not nearly as much as the Right does, for whatever reason.  This isn't even remotely good for the church.  All you had to do was watch the big political shin-dig in Iowa a bit ago to see that Christians are lumped in to the cause of the far-right.  This means that those outside the church think that to follow Jesus, you have to hold to a particular political stance.  That is NOT the good news of Jesus.

I am convinced more and more, that if I took the average American christian and dropped them off in Nepal with my friend Bobby (A missionary with Tibetan refugees) they would have almost no frame of reference to follow Jesus.  They wouldn't know "How" to be a Christian.  They'd start looking for the local chapter of the NRA or TEA Party.  The concepts of "Liberal & Conservative" would have no meaning in that context.  They would be lost.  Bummer.



It's been pointed out that the majority of Donald Trumps supporters are Evangelical Christians.  A man who goes through wives the way some men go through socks.  A man who preys on the vulnerable with his casinos...

Fascism: "A political ideology that encompasses an extreme form of nationalism, militarism, authoritarianism, usually mixed with xenophobia and the exploitation of the fear of outsiders."

...in other words, a man who is a fascist.

His biggest supporters are those who claim to follow Jesus.

(Yes, I just threw up in my mouth a little bit)


This man walks onto Liberty University and can't even read or pronounce the bible remotely correctly, and is endorsed by Jerry Falwell Jr.  This man is endorsed by Sarah Palin, Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee, who all claim to follow Jesus.  This man...

I know what your thinking, Santorum & Huckabee didn't actually say they endorsed Trump.  However, when you walk onto a Trump's private stage while smiling and waving as you are in the process of shutting down your own campaign...


The only saving grace in any of this is that some of my far-right friends are beginning to notice that something is terribly wrong in the church and with politics when this is happening.

His biggest supporters are those who claim to follow Jesus.

Really.


____________________



Now let's talk about Grandpa for a while...I mean, Ted Cruz.

It has been said many times that a "Fundamentalist" is a person whose arrogance is mingled with ignorance. This applies to both religious and purely secular forms of fundamentalism.  Militant Vegans are fundamentalists in their own meatless way. (And boy, are they easy to beat up!)

Teddy from Canada is both a religious AND political fundamentalist.  He is very certain that his campaign is divinely directed.  He is doing God's will, and don't try to tell him otherwise.  Like when he shut down the government a few years ago, because he didn't get what he wanted.  He spent a portion of his filibuster speech quoting the militant, Jesus-hating, atheist Ayn Rand.  His shut down cost American business roughly $20-24 billion.  Clearly, this was all God's will.


Here's a thought that many politicians don't seem to understand.  In a "Democracy," you don't get everything you want.  That's why you have to do this thing called "Compromising."  You see, that's how a representative democracy works.  When you get everything you want, all the time, that's what's called a "Dictatorship."  Since Ted is doing God's will, I think he would be very happy being a dictator.

Take a wild guess at who the biggest supporters of Ted are?

That's right.
His biggest supporters are those who claim to follow Jesus.

____________________

For a man who claims to follow Jesus, I don't recall anyone with less humility than Ted Cruz.  The only thing a follower of Jesus should be certain about is that Jesus is who claimed to be, the son of God, the Messiah, the only hope for humanity.  After that, we better have a decent does of humility.  Ted has none of that.

I won't bother rehashing too much of what's already been said, but here is an excellent article written by the Conservative, David Brooks...

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/12/opinion/the-brutalism-of-ted-cruz.html?_r=1

Ted is NOT a nice guy.


Then there is the charming character trait of Ted's where he mixes his arrogance with his very, very willful ignorance.  He puts a cherry on the Sundae, too, by being incredibly rude. (BTW: You can read the transcript, but it's even better if you actually listen to it)

http://www.npr.org/2015/12/09/459026242/scientific-evidence-doesn-t-support-global-warming-sen-ted-cruz-says

By the by, here's a link to N.A.S.A.s site which Ted apparently can't or wont read, saying that Ted is full of moist, steamy, you-know-what...

http://climate.nasa.gov/


Not to fret, all of this is obviously God's will.  How do I know this?


That's right.
His biggest supporters are those who claim to follow Jesus.



SMH!!!



Peace

Joe

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Daniel, Advent and the Second Christmas


After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem  and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”
When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him.  When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born.  “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied...

Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared.  He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.” After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was.  When they saw the star, they were overjoyed.  On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.  And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route...

When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi.


I can write a Christmas blog post after December 25th if I want to because in the Russian Orthodox church, today IS Christmas.  Perhaps Santa had the church spread out the celebration so as to have more time to go down chimneys.

____________________



Magi, a.k.a. "Wise men."  Most folks in the church know very little about these guys except for what they see on nativity scenes...which are almost always dead wrong.

We get the idea that there were only three of them because of the three gifts that they brought.  We make the mistake of thinking they showed up on christmas day, too.

So who were they?

Most scholars believe that these folks were Zoroastrian scholars from the Persian empire.  They studied astrology and the stars. (That was what passed for science back in the day.) Whatever it was that they read in the sky, told them that a prophecy had been fulfilled in the neighboring empire. (That would be Rome, their enemy.) So off they went.

Odds are that there were quite a few of them, along with their body guards and all the servants guiding the camel train.  So, most likely a sizable caravan.  Also, it would appear that they didn't get to where they needed to get for about two years.  Hence Herod having all of the boys two and under in Bethlehem killed.

Put yourself in Herod's shoes.  You're the laky king of a hostile, occupying power, who bought yourself into that position.  A bunch of the leading scholars from a hostile empire located roughly 50 miles away show up at your palace asking you, the king, where the real king was just born.  Solution?  Killing spree.

BTW: This event was never recorded by other historians at the time.  Only Matthew makes mention of it.  Not to fret, Herod was such a murderous, paranoid creep that it probably wasn't worth the mention.  After all, he's the guy that had his own, very popular nephew, strangled upon his death so that people would actually mourn.

Also, Bethlehem was a tiny town, so probably not all that many murders occurred...thankfully.

Makes you wonder what family reunions were like at the Herods.

____________________


So what does any of this have to do with the Prophet Daniel?

Well, Daniel lived sometime in the 500s BC.  He must have been a child of some privilege because as a part of the exiles taken into captivity, he and his friends were put into the service of Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon.

BTW: Many scholars date the book of Daniel at a much later date, i.e. the mid-200s to 100s BC.  I personally don't have a problem with the idea that there was editing done to the Old Testament before it was finally compiled into the version that Jesus used. (He didn't have a problem with it, since it was his spirit that was behind any editing.) However, the bulk of of Daniel certainly seems to me to be from his own hand.  Other wise it just doesn't seem to make any sense.


The book of Daniel itself is split in half.  The first half records Daniel's life from exile through his service to the various kings and emperors.  The second half is a record of the prophetic visions that he had.

I'm usually more interested in the first half of the book.  One practical reason is that the second half with all of the prophecies can really confuse me.  I've seen crazy preachers like John Hagee and other Dispensationalists come up with all manner of goofy pronouncements based on their interpretations.

However, the main reason I like the first half is that you get to see the change in Daniel's outlook and character, and if you read between the lines, you might actually see something else, too.


When Daniel and his friends are first pressed into service for the Babylonians, he was a teenager...probably a young one.  He and his friends didn't want to pollute themselves with the particular foods that were served in the court.  Daniel shows his diplomatic skills by making a deal with his trainer to eat something else.  Clever kid.

Then the arrogant dim-wit, King Nebuchadnezzar, has a freaky dream.  He tells his advisors to interpret it or die.  They reply, "What the king asks is too difficult.  No one can reveal it to the king except the gods, and they do not live among men." (Dan. 2:11) This makes Nebu so mad that he intended to kill all of his "Wise men." (Think of Nebu as the Ted Cruz of his time.  If he doesn't get what he wants, when he wants it, he shuts down the government.)

Daniel catches whiff of this and intervenes.  The bible describes Daniel using "wisdom and tact."  He asks Nebu for time, then he and his friends pray to the "God of Heaven."  And here's where it starts to get really interesting...


You see, back in the day, gods were localized.  They really didn't leave their territory, unless they got their followers to conquer some new place.  That was one of the reasons for doing ethnic cleansing, wether you were Babylonian, Assyrian, what ever.  You pulled the original inhabitants out, brought them somewhere else, and there went their tiny, little god.  Poof!

However...

"El-Elyon"

"Most High, Above All, God of gods"

The God of the bible is not your typical god.  You know the Beach Boys' song, "I get around?"  Well, so does this God.


My favorite example of this is from the prophet Ezekiel.  In the very opening chapter, the God of the bible rolls into Babylon, the gods Nabu, Marduk, Ishtar, Anu and bunch of other's home turf, in his massive Merkeva/Chariot.  It must have been a totally pimped-out ride, because when the bible describes the wheels it says, "Their rims were high and awesome, and all four rims were full of eyes all around." (Ez.1:18)

Gods weren't supposed to do that.  They were suppose to stay put unless they were out conquering.  Yet here comes YHWH, in his tricked out ride, cruising down the Babylonian strip.  This causes Ezekiel to go into apoplectic seizures of joy, practically soiling himself.  God then commands Zeke to do all manner of performance art, some involving human poo, and give the exiles all sorts of revelations.  It's something else.

Anyway, if you're paying attention you might notice an evolution in the understanding of the God of the bible.  Most of the ancient Hebrews were Polytheists.  They believed in a lot of gods.  We know this because worshipping other gods is what got them into trouble.  Most of the time, they simply thought their God was the best one.

But now this God is breaking into the territory of other gods.

____________________

Back to Daniel and Nebu's dream...

So Daniel gets an answer from the "God of Heaven," and goes off to see Nebu.  He tells him, "No wise man, enchanter, magician or diviner can explain to the king the mystery he has asked about, but there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries..." (Dan. 2:37) And then proceeds to tell Nebu what his dream meant.

King Nebu's reaction is interesting.  He got off his throne and fell prostrate before Daniel.  He told Daniel that his god must be El-Elyon, the King of all Gods.  He then ends up putting Daniel and his friends in key positions of power throughout the empire. (Dan. 2:46-49)

Yes, the story of the fiery furnace comes next.  So it's clear that Nebu didn't learn his lesson completely.  But don't fret.  It's a comin'.

____________________


Did you catch it?  Did you notice a change in the perception and understanding of the God of the Hebrews?

Remember, gods didn't wander off into the territory of other gods.  The God of Abraham, Issac & Jacob did and does.  He's different.  And even the pagans began to notice it.

____________________


Throughout the book of Daniel we can see the God of the bible intervening at key moments to the amazement of the pagans.  The result is the Hebrew God being referred to over and over by the pagans as El-Elyon.  They were still polytheists, but they had come to understand that one God towered over all the others.

Probably a good idea to get his followers on your side.

Daniel and his friends are given more and more power and responsibility in Nebu's kingdom.  To the extent that you see a change in the relationship between the king and Daniel.

In chapter 4, Nebu has another freaky dream.  This time Daniel reacts out of genuine concern for the king.  He is no longer simply a servant.  Daniel is his friend.  Daniel has to tell the king that his arrogance is going to cost him his sanity for years to come, and he doesn't want to.  He warns the king to repent.  He actually cares about him.

Unfortunately, the king didn't listen.  A year later he's walking on the roof of his palace thinking he's all that and a bag of chips.  El-Elyon speaks to him to tell him that he's taking him to the wood shed for a painful chat.  The next thing you know, King Nebu is eating grass and thinking that he is a cow of some sort.  Apparently this lasted for roughly seven years.

Seven years?


Who ran the kingdom for those seven years?  Who was in charge.  Why didn't his rivals simply kill the crazy king and take his place?

I may be reading more into the story than is warranted, but I have a theory.

Daniel.  Daniel was the caretaker.  Everyone in the administration knew about Daniel and his connection to the unusual and frighteningly powerful God, El-Elyon.  Do want to go up against a guy like that?  I think that Daniel protected the king while he was insane, and kind of kept the shop running.  When the time was up and Nebuchadnezzar repented, Daniel gave him his keys back.

Let's not forget, Nebu had all of this story recorded and proclaimed throughout his empire.  He was a guy who knew how to repent...



"At the end of that time, I, Nebuchadnezzar, raised my eyes toward heaven, and my sanity was restored.  Then I praised the Most High (El-Elyon); I honored and glorified him who lives forever. His dominion is an eternal dominion; his kingdom endures from generation to generation.  All the peoples of the earth are regarded as nothing.  He does as he pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth.  No one can hold back his hand or say to him: "What have you done?" 

At the same time that my sanity was restored, my honor and splendor were returned to me for the glory of my kingdom.  My advisers and nobles sought me out, and I was restored to my throne and became even greater than before.  Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and exalt and glorify the King of heaven, because everything he does is right and all his ways are just.  And those who walk in pride he is able to humble." (Dan. 4:34-37)


I am convinced that I will see Nebuchadnezzar in heaven.

____________________


Nebuchadnezzar dies and his son takes the throne.  His son is a snotty, trust-fund baby.  He gets his own freaky vision from El-Elyon.  However, this one happens at a banquet, and all the guests see it too.  Long story short, Daniel gets called in again.  It is hinted that this new king hadn't paid much attention to Daniel or his "King God."  To late.

What I find interesting is Daniel's interaction with the king, and in front of all the nobility, no less.  Then Daniel answered the king, "You may keep your gifts for yourself and give your rewards to someone else.  Never the less, I will read the writing for the king and tell him what it means." (Dan 5:17) A modern translation might be something along the lines of, "Oh great king, go get bent!"

Daniel must have been 40ish by this point.  He had seen all sorts of revelations from God by this time.  His absolute confidence in this God is unshakeable.  He wasn't the least bit afraid to give the king some extremely bad news in front of everyone.  What could this king who, "had been weighed on the scales and found wanting," possibly do to him? (Dan. 5:27)

You know the end of that story, too.  The Babylonian empire is conquered by the Persian Empire.  Daniel becomes a trusted advisor to King Darius.

But you also know the story that comes next.  Daniel has a reputation.  He is scrupulously honest and trusted by the king.  So some jealous rivals trick the king into an edict that gets Daniel in trouble.  Daniel gets tossed into the lions den as a death sentence.

I love the reaction of the king.  He realizes he was tricked, and doesn't want to sentence his friend Daniel to this fate.

BTW: The Medes and Persians had an unusual legal system.  If the king signed something into law, he could never repeal it.  If he did, he, himself, would be killed.

The king stays up all night worrying.  The next morning, he runs to the lions den and says something interesting; "Daniel, servant of the Living God/El-Elyon, has your God, whom you serve continually, been able to rescue you from the lions? (Dan. 6:20)

I also find it interesting that there is no record of Daniel offering a word in his own defense up to this point.  It isn't until after the the king returns that Daniel states the obvious, that he is trustworthy and loyal.  It is after this that Darius himself issues a royal proclamation throughout his empire praising El-Elyon.

I believe that I will see Darius in heaven.

____________________

The Magi and Christmas.

What does any of this have to do with them?



The ancient Hebrews were polytheists.  Not all of them, but most of them.  They went into exile and began to understand that their God wasn't like the other gods.  The pagans around them began to understand that also.  The pagans referred to the God of the Hebrews as the King of all Gods.  By the time the Jews left exile roughly 70 years later, they were staunch monotheists.  They understood that there is only one God...and they really were supposed to be his people.  He loved them.


Daniel and his friends.  They ended up carrying a great deal of influence in the Babylonian and Persian courts.  They were advisors, consultants and "Wise Men." Odds are that Daniel told plenty of people about his visions, including the "Wise Men" that he worked with.  Certainly Ezekiel's crazy visions and performance art caught people's attention.  Some of these visions spoke of a coming Messiah...

a King...

of the Jews.


I've never put much stock in modern astrology.  Mostly seems beyond silly to me.  But back then, things were different.  Who knows?  If El-Elyon seems to relish cruising down the strip of some other god's capital city in his funky hot-rod causing a scene, then if he wants to use stars and planets to communicate his Gospel, who am I to tell him not to?


Daniel.  Somewhere in the middle of 500 BC having adventures, getting visions.  Sometime around 5 BC, pagan Magi show up in Jerusalem asking about a king from a long ago prophecy.

I believe I will see the Magi in heaven.



That El-Elyon, he gets around.

Merry Christmas!


Peace

Joe