Wednesday, November 18, 2020

The Proper Relationship between Church and State

What is the proper relationship between church and state? Should they be united? Completely separated? How should religious liberty express itself in a free society?

This isn't as simple as it might seem. If church and state are united, one has religious oppression. If church and state are separated, it can develop into hostility between church and state, or the state pushing faith our of society all together. It's a dangerous balance to maintain. As Christians, how should we view this issue?

A close relationship between church and state can certainly be a strength. Think of the positives: Christianity could be taught actively in every school, college, and cultural institution. And for the Roman empire situation, think of the alternative, which was persecution and death for the early church.  Christianity was effectively hated and attacked and minimized.  When Christianity became the official religion of the empire, well, it's spread was effectively completed in many ways.  A close relationship between religion and the state could certainly help encourage a culture of reverence for God and holiness as well.  And it would avoid the danger of our present situation in the United States, which is, in many cases, state mandated hostility toward religion. And not to mention, a culture and academia and scientific establishment increasingly openly hostile to Christianity. With a close relationship between church and state such evils could possibly be avoided.

Then again, a close relationship between church and state can also be a weakness. We saw the example of how power can completely corrupt even the church when the papacy became focused on control, power, and of course the practices that led up to the protestant reformation, like the sale of indulgences. Additionally, the first colonists to north America were fleeing religious persecution in Europe.  The state ordered religions became oppressive. If the King was protestant, you had to be protestant. If the King was catholic, then you had to be catholic. Separation of church and state can be a positive good, that allows for various denominations and groups to freely live out their religious freedom.

My own perspective on this discussion of the relationship between church and state, would be that there is no need for a separation between church and state in the modern way it's thought of.  It's often become a tool for activists to push Christianity out of the public square of modern society.  This is not good. Of course also, there must never be an established religion. But government must always protect religious freedom, and allow for religious freedom to exist within public education, within universities, and within the public square. That seems to be about the best we can do in this world, if we go too far in the direction of closeness between church and state, we end up with the tyranny of religious oppression. If we go too far in the other direction of division between church and state, we find state sanctioned oppression, or state mandated hostility toward religion. But ultimately, the permanent government of the universe will be a theocracy, with one King, Jesus Christ, ruling, and in that time, there will be no separation between church and state. They will be one in the same.

Sunday, November 15, 2020

Why doesn't God Love the Devil?

 

Why doesn’t God love the devil?

There is a saying and it goes like this, “No sympathy for the devil.” Have you ever heard that one?  Satan the evil one was cast out of heaven. Some might think we should have some sympathy for him and his great loss. But we know there is no hope for the devil. But the devil doesn’t really care if we feel sorry for him or not. Satan wants to destroy us. Satan’s goal in life, as our enemy, is to deceive all of us into hell with him.  He hates us. 

So this question today was submitted by someone here, for the series we’re going through, God Questions, Real Answers.  So today we’re attempting to answer this question: Why doesn’t God love the devil?

So doesn’t God love everyone? Sure. God wants everyone to be saved.  But what about Satan?  Doesn’t God love Satan as well?  Why does God condemn Satan?  It’s a very interesting question.  And we’re really talking about God’s character when we talk about this question.  Is it wrong for God to not love the devil?

Well, let’s talk about this.  And for this we have to go back to the very beginning of the universe and time and space.  Before God made the Earth, the solar system, and the galaxies, and so on, God lived in this heavenly realm, this alternative reality, in a timeless state, with creatures he’d created called messengers, or as we refer ot them, angels.

One of these angelic beings was named Lucifer. Lucifer means “the morning star.” And we get this picture of Lucifer from places like Isaiah and Ezekiel, where the fall of Satan is referenced when talking about kings who are beautiful and proud.  So Lucifer was a beautiful angel of God, I believe a leader in the angelic armies. But Lucifer was so beautiful that Lucifer turned inward and saw his own beauty, and eventually this led to corruption in his heart. Lucifer became so prideful at his beauty and power that he started to think he should be in charge instead of God. And apparently Lucifer hated the fact that God created humanity, and gave humanity unique authority over the Earth and assigned angels to be the helpers of humanity.  Because we as humans have authority over angels.  The Bible says we will judge angels. 

So Lucifer became prideful, and began to turn other angels to his side.  And apparently God sort of let this play out.  And eventually Lucifer had deceived and gotten one third of the angels to join him.  And it says in Revelation 12:7-9:

 

And war broke out in heaven; Michael and his angels fought against the dragon. The dragon and his angels fought back, but they were defeated, and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. The great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world - he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. (NRSV, Revelation 12:7-9)

And Jesus himself said,  “I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning.” (NRSV, Luke 10:18)

So Lucifer rebelled against God, started a general insurrection against God, fought against God, and was defeated, and thrown down to the Earth.  Lucifer then became Satan, which means in Greek or Hebrew “the adversary.”  So we have Satan and his demons, which were those that followed his rebellion, and we battle against them as the church of Christ on Earth.  And they are constantly attacking us, but all we have to do is speak the name of Jesus and they flee in Jesus name.

Additionally, and again we don’t know the exact order of events, but Satan came as the serpent in the garden, to tempt Adam and Eve to sin against God.  And of course we know that Adam and Eve listened to the lies of Satan and ate the forbidden fruit.  And all of humanity fell into sin as a result.

Now, here’s the question.  Despite the fact that Adam and Eve lived with God in the garden of Eden, they sinned against God, and were cast out of the garden. And the earth became an evil fallen place.  But, despite this, we today still have the chance to repent, turn away from our sins, and put our faith in Jesus Christ, and follow Him.

That door is open right now.  It’s open from the moment we are born, to the moment right before we die.  Anytime in there, we can receive Jesus Christ.  But, after we die, the time period is up. The window is closed, the door is closed, and final judgment is rendered. 

But if Adam and Eve, and the rest of humanity could still be forgiven for their sins and turn to faith in God, then why couldn’t Satan or his demons do the same thing?  Couldn’t Satan put his faith in Christ, repent of his sins, and then be saved?  The answer to that is no, actually. 

For some reason, demons cannot be redeemed.  Perhaps it’s because they lived in the direct presence of God.  They were with God.  None of us have seen God.  But these angels lived with God in heaven.  Maybe it’s because they are angels, they are not humans, so the rules are different for them.  I don’t really know.  But God doesn’t love the demons or the Satan.  They are only evil. There is no good in them.  And they will play on our sympathies to deceive us. Believe it.

There are many thousands and thousands of people out there who worship Satan, and think that Satan is going to share his kingdom with them when they get to hell. But guess what? When they get to hell, Satan is going to tell them, “You think I’m going to share my power with you?  I hate you as much as I hate Christians.”

The Bible tells us something very important: It says, hate what is evil, cling to what is good.  And it says woe to those who call good evil and evil good. Sometimes we take this concept of “love” a little too far.  Sometimes we take our sympathies just a little too far.  We have an enemy, with an army, Satan and his demons.  They are doing everything they can to make sure we don’t get to heaven. Don’t pity them.  Don’t fear them. Fight against them in the name of Jesus Christ.  Because they will be fighting against you.  There is no hope for the devil. And God doesn’t love the devil.  Our adversary is dangerous, and we need to fight him, not pity him.  He doesn’t pity us. 

Did God once love Lucifer? I’m sure God loved Lucifer dearly.  And I’m sure it’s heartbreaking to God to see Lucifer become Satan and try to destroy the humanity he loves and made. But there window is closed for Satan. But it’s open for you and me.

The 7 Mountains of Influence in Society: The Arts & Business

 

“Sean knows what it’s like to face the impossible. Twice he beat unbeatable odds. At age thirteen he came down with Hodgkin’s disease. The doctors didn’t think he would survive, but he did. When he was sixteen, he contracted Askin’s sarcoma, a rare cancer that attaches itself to the walls of the chest. The prognosis is never optimistic, and its treatment has horrible side effects.

Sean may be the only person alive to have suffered both of these cancers. For sure, no one has gotten them both in such a short span of time. Doctors say that the odds of him overcoming both were the equivalent of winning four lottery tickets in a row using the same numbers. He survived his second cancer by being put in an induced coma for a year. At one point his parents were told that he had only two weeks to live, and a priest read his last rites. When he miraculously came out of that coma, he had only one functioning lung. Yet as he lay in his hospital bed watching the Ironman World Championship triathlon on television, he vowed that he would one day compete in it.

During the months of recovery that followed, an oft-quoted line inspired the teenager to go on: “The human body can live roughly thirty days without food. The human condition can sustain itself for roughly three days without water, but no human alive can live for more than thirty seconds without hope.” He decided to test the infinite possibilities of hope. His first challenge was to crawl eight feet from his hospital bed to the bathroom. A few years later he climbed Mount Kilimanjaro. But he hadn’t yet begun to test the infinite possibilities of hope. Over the next several years this cancer survivor with a single lung scaled the tallest mountain on each of the seven continents. He became the first cancer survivor to stand atop the granddaddy of them all: 29,229-foot-high Mount Everest. But he still hadn’t tested the limits of hope. In his forties, he skied to the South Pole. Now he had completed the Explorers Grand Slam. But there was still that one remaining impossible goal. You guessed it: Sean Swarner traveled to Hawaii and competed in the Ironman World Championship.

This cancer survivor who was read his last rites has redefined the meaning of impossible by being the only person in history to climb the seven great summits of the world, ski to both the North and South Poles, and complete the Ironman in Hawaii —all on one lung. Now he is helping other people discover the infinite possibilities of hope as one of the world’s top-ten motivational speakers.”-Robert A. Petterson, The One Year Book of Amazing Stories: 365 Days of Seeing God’s Hand in Unlikely Places

Just as Sean climbed those 7 peaks, I’m challenging us as the church to scale the battles taking place in society, to influence society for Jesus Christ.

Today we continue talking about the 7 Mountains of Influence in Society. As we know society can be broken down into general spheres of influence, and various worlds that people act within.

Last week talked about the spheres of influence in the realm of education, religion, and the media. 

Today we talk about the arts, and business spheres.  First, let’s talk about the arts.  This can also be called the hill of celebration.  This is art, music, movies, and all forms of entertainment. 

And it’s important to remember that entertainment, and art, and creativity are all godly, good things.  God does approve of entertainment, of celebration, of festivals, and of dancing, and of good things.  He loves us.  He wants to give us good things.  He wants us to have times when we relax and enjoy ourselves.

The goal of Christians as we fight on this hill is to create and encourage manifestations of pure entertainment and art.  Think of paintings by Van Gogh, or Monet or Da Vinci. Some incredibly beautiful paintings that encourage our better natures.  Think of films like It’s a Wonderful Life, or The Jesus Film.  Think of books like the Lord of the Rings or The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.  These are all expressions of films that guide us toward the right. They are pure.  In fact any film that encourages the good in us, whether calling us to courage, or love or friendship or nobility or protecting the weak, have at least some level of good content. 

But the enemy is also at work on the hill of celebration. And in virtually any example, the enemy will take something that is pure, and twist it to become evil.  Like sex, sex is a beautiful act between husband and wife.  The enemy takes that, twists it and perverts it, and then distributes it in film, art, music, and so on.  And it’s incredibly powerful how much this hill of arts influences our lives.  Think of how powerful the television’s influence is on our culture.  It’s very strong.

So we battle it out on this hill by encouraging and producing pure content coming through the arts, the movies, the music industry, toys, games, and so on.  And the enemy is also on this hill trying to pervert movies, music, toys, and games so that they will have a negative influence on society.  And I was raised, deeply influenced by many shows that were vulgar and nasty, and teaching me terrible ethics, like South Park became super popular when I was young, terrible, not even a kids show, but of course kids will watch it, it’s a cartoon.  Same with The Simpsons, always on right after the football game, definitely bringing out the worst of who we are. Or Beavis and Butthead on MTV.  I remember watching those shows and feeling dirty just watching it.  The message was so vulgar and negative. 

Then again I grew up watching some shows that were very positive and a good influence on me, like Mr. Rogers neighborhood. Or Bill Nye the science guy, or Arthur, or I don’t know, Rugrats.  There were things that weren’t overtly Christian, but they sparked my creativity, they sparked ideas and bigger thoughts about the world.  That’s good stuff.  Usually. 

So who of you out there can make a difference in this sphere of society?  I love to write, to read, to watch movies and listen to music, and I’m always dreaming of Christian content that truly inspires.  I’m not a big fan of Christian rock, it’s good for worship, but I dream of really deep stuff, that explores different genres of music, indie, techno, alternative, post-rock, you name it, I want more creativity and more depth in that realm.  I dream of Christian movies that aren’t so surfacy and limited.  I dream of deep, deep stuff, allegories like Narnia, creative expressions of biblical values like The Lord of the Rings. I want some beautiful paintings of the spiritual world.  I want to see artwork of the new Jerusalem. Who of you out there have these kind of ideas, and how could you put them into practice?  That is the question.  Pray about it.  Are you one of those creative souls who can influence the world of the arts for Jesus? 

Finally, we consider the world of business.  This could also be called the hill of economy.  How does the battle on this hill play out in our world?  Well it plays out in many different ways.  First of all, this hill really influences what gets funded in the world. Where does the money go?  If top business men and women in the country are Christian, then their money goes to support Christian causes.  And this is a great thing.  The churches spreading the gospel across the world need funding. Charities need funding. Missionaries need funding. To do all these things costs money.  Really the whole hill of business can impact hugely every other hill, because the money either goes to support Christian or non-Christian work. 

One of the great things in the United States is that there is a culture of constant giving to charity.  That is not common in the world.  Most of the world, much of Europe, does not have that same culture, at least not to the extent of the United States.  Think of how George Lucas when he sold Star Wars to Disney gave 5 billion to support education for K-12 in the United States.  Think of how the widow of beneficiary of the McDonalds wealth gave 1.5 billion to The Salvation Army to build Kroc centers all over the country. 

My neighbor was a consultant and marketing advisor for Tommy Hilfiger. But he became a Christian, because someone witnessed to him, now he puts his wealth to work for Christian education.

The Salvation Army is very active on the hill of business. During kettle season we have relationships with massive worldwide corporations like Wal Mart, Kroger, Walgreens, Hobby Lobby, and so on, to bell ring in front of their stores.  It’s a great thing.  We raised millions and millions of dollars because these huge businesses recognize the good The Salvation Army does in the world.  That money is then used to preach the gospel, meet needs, and build churches in the 3rd world.  Yes, it’s true.  10% of our budget in Owosso goes to support and build churches in the 3rd world.  It’s a great thing.

So we see that we want to influence this hill for Christ.  But how are we doing? Well, we see some good things and some bad things.  We do see a lot of people who support churches and charities, and so on. But we also see a lot of business leaders who are very secular, and use their wealth for extravagant living, and evil things in the world.  So once again, the battle is fierce, but we stand our ground and continue to influence the business community for Christ.

How can you influence this hill? Well, maybe God is calling you to start a small business. Maybe God is claling you to start an online business. Maybe God is calling you to witness to wealthy business leaders.  Perhaps God will turn you into a millionaire or billionaire for the purpose of using that money to finance the building of churches across the country.  Who knows where God will call you.  But pray about, you never know what God might do, or who God might bring across your path that you can influence for Jesus.

I remember in Chicago we were evangelizing on the streets near a courthouse building in downtown Chicago, giant skyscrapers everywhere.  And I got to witness to many different people that day I loved it, I got to say to a crowd of people “Wow, God loves you all so much” and I saw a business guy kinda smile.  And then I got into quite a rousing, and polite debate with a Jewish lawyer.  We debated in a friendly manner, and I thanked him for talking. Who knows what happened later, maybe he turned to Christ.  Maybe he’ll influence a wealthy leader who will get converted, and use his wealth to fund missionaries or build churches?  You never know.  Always watch for those opportunities from God.

I’ve seen more and more people, Christians and such, on social media, with a lot of doom and gloom attitudes. The end is near. Might as well give up. Not yet brothers and sisters, we still have a mission and it’s not over, it’s to take the gospel to all nations and all languages, and that job isn’t done yet.  It’s still on, and we’ve gotta do it here, and onward into the world.

Saturday, November 14, 2020

"To be Christian, is to be Truly Human" Karl Rahner's Thoughts on a Darker Christian Realism

 I was reading a classic essay by Karl Rahner titled "What is a Christian?" And I couldn't help but find a great love for the expression of Christianity as one who is fully human.  To be a Christian, a follower of Jesus who has been birthed secondarily, is simply to be fully human. Though "his depths are divine" according to Rahner.  So being a Christian is tantamount to being fully human, a human who is properly connected to God.  This makes a lot of sense to me.  

Often times in the drudge of modern society, or dare I say, post-modern society, people can seem like mere shadows, ones who live in perpetual states of fear and irrationality, and devotion to two dimensional constructs like money or sensuality, which one can tell are not fully pleasing to them.  So those living out that secular modernist dream are actually living less human lives than those who have been connected to the Designer. 

We are so used to the "normal" of what our society tells us we are, that Christian seems like the outlier, the different. But to be Christian is to actually be more real than the brokenness of this world.

 Rahner continues, "The life of a Christian is characterized by a "pessimistic" realism and by the renunciation of any kind of ideology in the name of Christianity." 

We've renounced every worldly ideology, whether a patriotic conservatism or a protesting progressivism. He speaks of a "pessimistic" realism, though I don't know that I fully agree. I would call it a hopeful realism, or a raw realism, a realism that looks hopefully to the future without being utopian, but also raw and grounded by the sometimes grizzly nature of everyday life on Earth.

But Rahner places the idea of pessimism in that the Christian acknowledges that all things including himself must pass through the veil of death.  As much as idealistic evangelicals try to claim that this creation is being renewed, this is incorrect, in fact this creation is destined for a fire, and a new creation will come (2 Peter 3:7).  Though you and I will be renewed, and have been; the creation will be replaced. Call us escapist if you like, or utopian, it's all in the book.

 This statement I find astonishing by Rahner, when he says, "A Christian is a person who believes that in the very brief course of his existence he really makes an ultimate and radical and irreversible decision in a matter which really concerns his ultimate and radical happiness, or his permanent and eternal loss." 

Free will, yes, the choice we all make.  Will I choose to receive Christ or will I reject Christ? Will I focus on this world, or will I live for another world I have yet to see? The height of the decision is massive. The wisps of light in this world and the overpowering narrative around us tend to make us to think it's such a small thing, and so far away, but it is nearby and huge.  The decision is so huge, it's monumental, but we play and pretend that's its only something far away.  But it's not so far, and we've got to cut through the lies and see the horror of eternal destruction and the bliss eternal paradise.  They are quite real. 

Rahner reflects on the passage of time for the Christian as a constant living out of the death of Jesus on the cross.

 Rahner writes, "...we do not die at the end, but we die throughout the whole of life, and as Seneca knew, our death begins at our birth-and it is only when we live out this pessimistic realism and renounce every ideology which absolutizes a particular sector of human existence and makes it an idol, it is only then that it is possible for us to allow God to give us hope which really makes us free."

A Catholic sentiment if I've ever heard one, 'our death begins at our birth', how morose! Forgive me my prejudices.He is right, once we accept the reality of joining in the death of Christ in this life by serving others, we are increasingly joined with the concept of freedom from all earthly ties. And hope for the future.

Karl Rahner is considered one of the seminole priests and leaders of the modernist era of Christianity in the 19th century. And he certainly diagnoses Christianity in that era well. The danger was in absolutizing ideologies that would then become idols in our hearts.  

That same danger has become all the more extreme in the post modern era of Christianity. Political ideologies threaten to tear the world apart, particularly in the west. It's become not simply a debate that arises during political seasons, but it's become a part of each of our identities. We identify ourselves with these core political beliefs.  And they've become idols in our hearts, as much as we try to explain it away.  They've become identity, and identity is reserved for Christ.   

Rahner concludes his essay in this way, "...He (God) willed this so that precisely by going through this pluralism man would have an intimation that all of this is encompassed by the eternal mystery. A Christian, then, is distinguished from someone who really is not a Christian either reflexively or anonymously by the fact that he does not turn his existence into a system, but rather allows himself without hesitation to be led through the multiplicity of reality, a reality which is also dark and obscure and incomprehensible."

The idea is that a Christian accepts the reality of the pluralism of the world, not terrified of it, nor embracing it, nor succumbed to it, but living amongst it and witnessing to it.  And all of it culminates as an incredibly expansive mystery that we live in awe of.  That's what I get from it anyway. Life in all it's expressions, from strange creatures in the forests to sewer systems to dreams at night to marriage and love, to medicine and the moon, it all culminates into a great divine mystery that is accepted as part of God's mystery.  And we as true Christians are not necessarily those who have systematized our beliefs or reality, though I find no wrong in this idea of developing a comprehensive Christian worldview and exploring how it all connects together, such is a great thing to do, but beyond that to the nitty-gritty of daily life, a true Christian is one who is led through it by God, through a dark night, that seems obscure at times, random at times, beautiful at times, severe at times, and incomprehensibly wicked at times, through the vale of death, experiencing death, with hope, and moving forward into a new world.


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