Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Social Justice and Critical Theory: Biblical Justice in an Age of Ideological Civil War

This is a personal blog. The views on this blog do not necessarily represent the views or opinions of the Salvation Army, it's employees, or partners. The views on this blog are solely of those making them, based on the teachings of the Bible, in the Spirit.

Proverbs 21:15 "When justice is done, it is a joy to the righteous but terror to evildoers."

There is an ideological civil war taking place in the United States, and in western civilization overall.  This is a battle that displays itself along political lines, social lines, academic lines, and along religious lines.  This ideological civil war is most pronounced in the partisan political battles between left and right, though it also displays itself in other ways.  Specifically, the battle for the soul of the church is a front in this battle, among many other fronts like media, academia, culture, and the sciences.  

In the church we see the same divide developing across the normal lines, left vs right.  We see both sides attempting to push their political views in the church, and this is causing a polarization. What happens in the culture we see mimic itself in the churches.  We see struggles in denominations between high and low views of scriptures, between biblical marriage and gay marriage, between social justice and traditional justice causes. We see people in the church wanting to step behind and advocate for one party or the other. In these struggles, we must always be asking ourselves, "But what is biblical?" The timeless word of God has a word for every situation we face. 

In the various movements of the churches in western civilization, we've seen a growing divide along fairly partisan lines.  There is a growing polarization, and it shows itself on social media, and in decisions by the leadership of various movements.  We see traditional evangelical theology and liberal theology vying for dominance. 

The evangelical church has in recent times re-embraced one of it's founding concepts of justice advocacy; but it's a new ideology, that they call "social justice."  And this social justice has increasingly become a concern to biblical Christians who seek to live out true justice. 

Only certain causes seem to come to the surface in this new social justice ideology.  It centers around issues like human trafficking, gender inequality, white privilege, institutional racism, immigration, LGBTQ advocacy, refugee advocacy, wealth inequality issues, intersectionality, and multi-culturalism/inter-culturalism.  

Historically in the evangelical church, justice causes had included topics like biblical marriage support, pro-life advocacy, fighting homelessness, fighting hunger, caring for orphans and widows, human trafficking, Christian education, fighting poverty, and dealing with other evils of the times.  

The new social justice causes have increasingly caused concerns with many in the church. The concerns are rooted in that many of these ideologies are not properly grounded in traditional Christian beliefs, but actually come out of the secular university system, and tend to be rooted in thinkers like Karl Marx, Herbert Marcuse, and Max Horkheimer.  These thinkers come out of ideologies that tend to be rather anti-Christian, and based around an ideology that views the social structure as a constant battle between the powerful and the powerless. We should be very careful as a Christian movement when embracing ideologies like critical theory, group identity, and class warfare.  I'm sure many of us have not given it a great deal of thought, so let's get into it a bit.

Let's identify some terms.  Critical theory is the idea that people are enslaved in various forms by society.  Therefore the fundamental reality of society is that of a constant battle between the haves and the have nots.  The chief goal then is to set people free from oppressive societal structures that perpetuate oppression.

But is this actually true?  It's debatable. There are elements within the scriptures that tell us of our need to advocate for the powerless.  Such as Proverbs 31:8-9  "Open your mouth for the mute, for the rights of all who are destitute. Open your mouth, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy."

Yet in Proverbs we also see Proverbs 28:5 "Evil men do not understand justice, but those who seek the Lord understand it completely." So it's hard to believe that a secular social theory like critical theory could be useful for us as Christians. 

But fundamentally, is society a struggle between the powerful and the powerless? Think of the United States, a country where people rise and fall largely based on their merits. A place where someone like Martin Luther King Jr. can lead a movement to bring about justice for the oppressed.  A society where a poor kid like Abraham Lincoln can become president. A society where a Dinesh D'Souza or a Barack Obama, or a Clarence Thomas or a Morgan Freeman can rise to be influential leaders. 

Our society is considered a democratic republic. For many, it's hard to see it as an oppressive power structure of racism and bigotry.  There may be individual examples of racism and bigotry, and those should be addressed. But there isn't a great of evidence to suggest it's systemic. The United States is a meritocracy, where we rise and fall based on our merits and how hard we work, not based on oppressive structures. Of course if oppressive structures do exist, they ought to be rooted out.

Critical theory is rooted in Karl Marx's ideology of power structures, that power is controlled by a select few, and only by enforcing total equality can people be free.  Marx thought the structures of society must be criticized, (critical theory) attacked, and torn down to destroy the elite ruling class (the bourgeoisie). 

Group identity is part of critical theory in some ways. It's about dividing people up into aggrieved groups.  Victim groups are people who are considered to be victimized by the oppressive power structures of society, and need to be liberated.  From this concept comes the idea of "community organizing." This is where an identity group is organized into a force to leverage political change. 

Thus we are told we must advocate for victim groups, such as women, different ethnicities, those with differing views on sexuality, and so on and so forth. So, once these various disparate groups have been organized, by community organizers, they are linked through the concept of intersectionality, to advocate on a larger scale, and also to stack victimologies. So in intersectionality, someone who is female and a person of color and transexual, would have a greater victim status than say, a white female.

Scripture in the Old Testament did refer to many peoples on the basis of groups, such as Israel, Judah, Gentile and Jew, and so forth. Generally those divisions were based on nation, or religious standing, not so much on color, gender, or sexual preference.  But in the New Testament we see a radical dissolving of all classes and groups, famously, in the scripture from Galatians 3:26-29, "So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise."

We as Christians no longer consider others to be separate based on country of origin, or gender, or skin color, instead we are all viewed as one body of Christ. 

Last term, identity politics is the process by which political movements attempt to gain power by organizing aggrieved groups. In the concept of critical theory, and thus identity politics, perceived political enemies of these groups must be criticized, or slandered, thus you see many words like "racist, sexist, xenophobic, homophobic" and so on directed toward political opponents.  This also means that anyone who departs from the group think of an aggrieved group, like people of color for example, are slandered and ostracized. You'll often see black individuals who leave the group think, like Dr. Ben Carson, or Thomas Sowell, or Larry Elder or Candace Owens slandered as "uncle toms" (a racial slur) for having differing political views.  

How have these social justice causes come to hold such prominence in evangelical church movements?  If politics is downstream from culture, the church is also downstream from culture.  The university system teaches many of these ideologies like secular humanism, Marxism, feminism, intersectionality and so on, and then those ideologies are gradually brought into the church and become part of the churches identity.  

  Gathered together under one umbrella, these various social justice causes can be considered part of the larger progressive ideology.  The progressive viewpoint tends to see the American founding from a critical theory perspective.  Critical theory says that the systems in place are in place because they are evil and stole power from the masses.  So the American founding is criticized and deconstructed.  The American founding is re-packaged as evil slave-holding white men killing native Americans and forming an evil oppressive religious theocracy that must be toppled and rebuilt from the ground up. This viewpoint is encouraged by a new movement called The 1619 Project that views America's founding and history fundamentally as 400 years of racism.

Essentially, progressivism is an utopian ideology. The idea is that the United States' existing structures must be overthrown, because they are racist and evil, and they must be replaced by an entirely new society. Only then will a true utopia come about, in which economic equality exists, and all classes are united as one classless society.

We in the churches of western civilization, we who follow Jesus Christ and the teachings of the Bible should consider carefully these concepts before embracing or rejecting them.

Many in the church are motivated by the desire to bring about justice in society.  That is a good thing. But in our zeal to rally for justice, we've embraced many ideas that upon examination appear increasingly suspect. What we really need as the church, is a biblical alternative to critical theory based social justice.  We need a biblical formula for biblical justice ministry based fundamentally on scripture and informed and strengthened by secular practices like psychology, sociology, and so on. But let's continue. 

Multiculturalism - Multiculturalism is essentially the opposite of the melting pot.  The melting pot is the idea that various cultures and peoples come to America for a new life, and they assimilate in various ways to American culture, while also enriching American culture with their own unique cultures.  Multiculturalism is the idea of cultures remaining separate and unique.  We see this play out in major cities where various cultures are divided into different parts of the city.  Multiculturalism suggests that immigrants should not learn the native language, but speak their own language.  Multiculturalism also largely rejects assimilation.  This is not good my friends.  And in the Christian worldview, we come from various cultures and societies, but we make up a unity, as the body of Christ.  We are all parts of the same body, we're not broken up into groups and separated.  

An improvement, possibly, on multiculturalism is the concept of interculturalism. This ideology suggests that various culturals intermingling in the larger society through dialogue form and shape one another, while still remaining distinct and separate. But once again, isn't the melting pot still the best option, in that various cultures and ethnicities all become part of the American culture, while also enriching it and bringing about needed growth and change? It would seem so.

White Privilege - White privilege is the concept that the white majority of countries like the USA have special advantages and abilities above and beyond those of other races and cultures.  The cure then is for whites to "check your privilege" and listen to aggrieved groups, instead of talking. According to books like White Fragility, if you attempt to argue with these ideas, you're just being racist and trying to protect the white power structure. So to repent, you must give up your power, and listen. You must advocate for victim groups hurt from harms of the past, like slavery or Jim Crow laws. 

This ideology indicates that all cultures are equal, aside from "white culture" which is evil (a misnomer because European Caucasian cultures are very diverse). It tends to place the bulk of the blame for slavery on the United States, which is a strange concept, given that slavery existed in the world in virtually every nation, including most Native American tribes, and ancient cultures like Egypt, Israel, and Babylon thousands of years before America even existed.

Your individual conduct doesn't seem to be the chief concern. Instead you are required to take group ownership, ownership of slavery, of racism, and of all the evils of white people, even if you've never personally done those things.  Even if your ancestors immigrated from Poland in the early 1900s, like mine, you still are supposed to take ownership of racism and slavery, and repent accordingly. 

Institutional Racism - This is the idea that entire institutions of society are racist and evil.  The suggestion then is that many police departments overall are racist. Government agencies are racist. Businesses and church organizations are considered racist.  They would argue societal norms are also rooted in racism.  And essentially, suggest that many, many various aspects of culture are fundamentally racist. The American flag is seen as racist. Household products like bread, or Aunt Jemima are considered racist. Even statues of Ullyses S. Grant and George Washington may be deemed racist and torn dorn, or vandalized.

Racism certainly does still exist in our society.  But it exists on an individual basis, not as a part of oppressive societal structures. We should fight racism and put an end to it forever. But not based on institutions. That's not where it exists. Racism exists on an individual level.  Identify an individual racist based on their personal conduct, and deal with them personally. Based on Matthew 18, this seems a more biblical approach to dealing with racism.  

When fighting for a more just society for all races and ethnicities, please recall the important word from Leviticus 19:15 NLT “Do not twist justice in legal matters by favoring the poor or being partial to the rich and powerful. Always judge people fairly." In other words, don't favor perceived victim groups, or favor the rich and powerful, instead treat everyone equally.  Sometimes we think we need to give certain groups special privileges to make up for the past, but that is in actuality, a perversion of justice.

Illegal Immigration - Illegal immigration, also referred to as undocumented immigration is the practice of individuals or groups crossing borders of nations without going through customs or immigration departments. Biblically speaking, we are commanded to obey the ruling authorities (Romans 13.)  Very simply, countries have laws. All countries have borders, and laws to cross those borders.  There isn't anything wrong with that. But if we do deal with those who are on the run, disobeying laws, on an individual basis, we ought to treat them with grace, with love, and reach out to care for their needs.  

Matthew 5:7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy."

We should also try to look deeper at the border crisis and it's political realities. It's been suggested that many politicians make use of the crisis, hoping to transform the voting blocks along the border states.  Which is a sad situation, but you know how it is with politicians. They are always looking for the angle.  It's also been suggested that wealthy businesses on Wallstreet want cheap labor.  There are often distinct political motivations behind these issues.  It's ugly, and grim.  But there it is. 

Refugee Advocacy - We ought to care for refugees who are in need. As Deuteronomy 24:14 says, "Do not take advantage of a hired worker who is poor and needy, whether that worker is a fellow Israelite or a foreigner residing in one of your towns."

There is no problem with advocating for helping refugees. We should also keep in mind that there can be dangers in assisting refugees, depending upon the ideologies of the places they come from. It always comes down to the struggle between compassion and truth in the church.  Recall that Jesus Christ came full of both grace and truth (John 1:14).  There is a need for balancing the two, in showing compassion, but also being discerning. 

Gender Inequality - Does Gender inequality still exist in our society? I'm sure it does. But once again, we must be discerning. One of the key talking points in this debate is the "gender pay gap." Please do be aware this study has been shown to not be accurate.  The study suggested the gender pay gap, has been debunked because it didn't take into account several factors, like job choice, for example. Of course that's not always the case.  Once you factor in differences of lifestyle choices and preferences for certain jobs, the pay gap virtually vanishes. Should women and men be treated equally? Absolutely. But not by force, in my view, but by merit. Women are wonderful, equal with men, and we shouldn't encourage an attitude of hatred or division between the sexes. Receive the promise from Psalm 46:5  "God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved; God will help her when morning dawns."

Wealth Inequality - The concept here is that wealth inequality exists because the rich are oppressing the poor.  I'm sure there are some cases where that is true.  But it's not a rule for society overall itself.  In a capitalist society, like the United States, one rises and falls economically based on various factors like education, marriage, children, and just how determined you are to work hard and do your best.  It's actually amazing how much people can rise and fall economically in the United States.  For that reason and others, it doesn't seem wise for the church to be encouraging Marxist/Marcusian ideas of wealth inequality.  We as believers are encouraged to be content with what we have, according to Hebrews 13:5 "Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”

In conclusion, instead of encouraging secular social theory in our church movements, we should look to the Bible, the scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to understand what justice is and is not.  

We as Christians need to be careful. Many, sadly, don't really love the word of God. They don't really love Jesus, in fact. They are more focused on ideologies they've been taught. As we know, in the end times there will be many false teachers, and many who turn away from the truth.  

From 2nd Timothy 3:2 "For people will love only themselves and their money. They will be boastful and proud, scoffing at God, disobedient to their parents, and ungrateful. They will consider nothing sacred."

For some, not all, the ultimate goal is to transform the church into a progressive movement, in other words, apostasy. For many more, the desire is simply to live out biblical justice.  And that's a sincere and good desire that we should encourage.

We should advocate for those who struggle and suffer. We should stand up for traditional marriage, pro-life causes, ending human trafficking, caring for refugees, advocating for religious liberty, and we should carry the gospel to the lost all over the world.  But we should reject secular social theories based on critical theory, and instead look for our causes in the pages of the Bible.  

"Look beneath the surface so you can judge correctly.” -John 7:24 NLT

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Sunday, June 24, 2018

White Garments of Righteousness: How to Get Clean and Build a New Life

Audio Message:

So here we are, fighting for our lives. We’re fighting a deadly opponent, and that opponent is addiction. We’re on a spiritual journey to defeat addiction. And I know each of you are at different points in your journey of overcoming addiction in Christ. There is no other answer to the addictions that we face, not in the intensity that we face it now. Only Christ.

All of you are at different points in your battle. Some of you don’t even know if God is really real, or if Jesus is really a living savior. Maybe you don’t even know if you really want to stay clean. A lot of you are just saying what we want to hear, and going through the motions. Some of you are even considering getting up and leaving, because your mad, or in pain, or playing the victim, and you want to go back to what’s familiar. And we’re gonna talk today, you and I.

Then there are those of you who have realized that you need God. Your eyes are starting to open. Your starting to see that lush, beautiful path of recovery opening up before you. You can hear the birds chirping along the road, you can feel the bright sun shining down, and there is hope in your eyes. Your starting to walk down that spiritual path, your mind is starting to open up, and your realizing that God is your creator. We’re gonna talk today, if that’s you.

Thirdly, we’ve got those who have taken the dive into the love of Jesus Christ. There are those of you here who are truly reborn. You’ve received Jesus as your savior. You’ve totally committed your life to Jesus. You’ve come to believe the Bible is the word of God. You’ve realized that you need to live an entirely new lifestyle of recovery and faith every week. Your going to AA, your going to NA, your working the steps, your reading your Bible and praying every day, your hungry for spiritual food, and your ready to move forward into maturity in Christ. We’re gonna talk today too.

And you’ll see as we go on, how all this fits into our scripture reading today, of the church Jesus counsels to receive gifts from Him. Jesus said to the church in Laodicea, Revelation 3:15-18 “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! 16 So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. 17 You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see.”

Jesus tells them that they are broken, pathetic and miserable. Sound a lot like addiction doesn’t it? But Jesus quickly offers the remedy: (Three things) Salve for your eyes, a white robe of righteousness, and refined gold. What does Jesus mean?

1. Salve for your Eyes

To the first group of men, those of you who don’t understand, you don’t get this God stuff, you don’t believe, I’m speaking to you now:

Jesus Christ will open the eyes of your heart. In and of ourselves, we can’t perceive spiritual things. We only see the physical, we only see this world. But Jesus will open your eyes. But I’d like to give you some knowledge to chew on in your mind first…

The question: “Does God exist?” is a great question. And God does not fear our questions. There is good evidence to believe that God exists.

Scientists tell us that the universe came into existence from a big bang several billion years ago. That may or may not be true. But if you do believe in a big bang, let me ask you this: Can a big bang explode into existence from nothing? Scientists tell us that before the big bang occurred there was nothing. And then suddenly there was an explosion that caused the universe. A fair question is: Who banged it? Who caused it? I would submit to you, that God is the most reasonable explanation for this universe’s existence. The Bible says that the universe was formless and void, and then God created.

Secondly, scientists admit that this world we live in appears to be finely tuned to allow for life to exist. A nobel prize winner once indicated that a single cell in your body is more complex than New York city. It’s true. Look around you at this world, there are stars in the sky at night. The Earth is just the right distance from the sun to allow for life. If you changed anything, moved the Earth a little closer, or a little further away, no life. If there was no moon, no life. If there was no Jupiter, to protect the Earth from asteroids, there would be no life. Without earthquakes, no life. Without lightning, no life. There are birds flying through the sky, animals walking along the ground. Plants and nature produce food just right for us to eat and survive. It’s insane. And they want to tell us that this is all random? It’s ridiculous. The best explanation for the complexity of life on Earth, is that God designed the Earth for us to live on.

Thirdly, we can trust the Bible is the word of God. There are about 5,686 ancient manuscripts of the New Testament, all matching one another; in historical terms, such evidence is unmatched, it's unheard of, a revelation, a divine fingerprint on history itself! Has it been changed over time? When comparing our modern Bible with the recently discovered Dead Sea Scrolls, which sat untouched for 2,000 years, they matched perfectly. Therefore, by all available accounts the New testament is accurate.

You can believe. You can come to understand who Jesus Christ is. You can be set free from drug addiction and alcoholism. Dare to step out in faith. Dare to believe. But all you have to do is make a beginning, and at least start down the road. But most importantly of all… let me just communicate this: There is hope. There is really hope. You’re going to have to walk through a lot of pain to heal. Take hope. Open your eyes.

2. White Garments of Righteousness

Next I’d like to speak to you guys who have begun the spiritual journey. You’re walking the road. You’ve come to realize your need for God. And now God is calling you to make a decision, and to turn your whole will, and life, and future, and soul over to Jesus Christ. Jesus is calling you to put on the pure white garments of His righteousness. I’ll tell you how, listen closely.

Jesus, born in Bethlehem, 2 thousand years ago was God himself, come into human history. Why Jesus matters is because he is not just a man, he is literally God come in person. Can your mind comprehend the expansiveness of that fact? The God who made this entire planet from nothing came into human history.

He was tempted in every way we are, and he successfully resisted. Jesus grew up, just like we do, then around age 30, He began his mission. And His mission was to save us. But to save us from what? The problem we face is sin. One of the fundamentals in understanding Jesus is understanding our own brokenness.

We’ve sinned against God. We’ve used drugs, drank, hurt people around us, and done evil. We’ve literally ruined our minds and bodies to being near death. Many of us never grew up. We lived as man-boys, serving ourselves and living for self. And now it’s time for us to grow up, and become men of honor.

But How? We can’t do it alone. Many of us have tried, and slipped back down into the pit. There is only one way: Jesus.

Jesus, in completing his mission, was betrayed, falsely charged, and sentenced to be crucified. But far from being a surprise to Jesus, this was the very reason He had come. He was going to do something on that cross that would save us.

While Jesus was on the cross, slowly dying, from noon until 3pm it went completely dark. What was happening spiritually during those 3 hours? Jesus Christ was being offered up, as a sacrifice for our sins. He became forsaken for our drug habit, for our binges, manipulations, lies and sexual debauchery. And after three hours of darkness, Jesus cried out saying: “Father, father why have you forsaken me?”

Then Jesus let out a brutal scream, and He died. But then something happened that changed everything. 3 days later, Jesus resurrected from the dead. He showed himself to his disciples. He came to Thomas, a disciple who refused to believe that Jesus could really come back from the dead. Jesus showed him his hands, holes still in them. And Jesus said, “Stop doubting and believe.” And for some of you out there today, he is saying the same thing: Stop doubting and believe.

We were in a court room you and I, and our sins were being read off against us, all the evil we’ve done in our lives. And we knew that the sentence would be eternity in hell. But Jesus Christ walked into that court room and said, judge, put those sins on my back instead, I’ll pay the penalty for him. And if you will believe Jesus Christ is your savior, and ask Him to set you free from your sins, and turn your whole will and life over to Him, then you’ll be born again. And if you live the rest of your life for Jesus, you’ll go to eternal life when you die.

Jesus will help you to turn away from drugs, from alcohol, from cigarettes, from pornography, from lies and manipulation. Jesus will help you become the man you were always meant to be. Become the hero of your spiritual journey. Become a mighty man of valor. Receive Jesus Christ, put on the garments of His righteousness.

But remember: This is a lifelong journey. This is not one and done. We have to follow Him all our days, with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. All. And as addicts in recovery, we know how to give our all to something. We gave it all to drugs, held nothing back, now we must give it all to Jesus Christ, and serve Him with that same single-minded dedication. There is no middle ground. Only heaven and hell. Jesus, or self. Make your choice.

Revelation 3:19-20 says: “Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.”

3. Gold Refined in the Fire

Lastly, to the third group. You know Christ. Your clean and sober. You’ve been here a while. You’re going to meetings. You’re going to Bible studies and services. Now, it’s time to go on into Christian maturity. Christ is calling you to be as gold refined in the fire.

God has called us to be holy as He is holy. Do this in the power of Christ. We must repent of every sin that we struggle with, and be holy and blameless. That is what God has called us to. God will set you free. He delights to. And how does God refine us as gold? Through the fires of suffering, struggles, and great trials.

When God removes a sin from my life, and sets me free… It’s like I’ve been through a storm. I open my hand, and God takes the sin from me. The storm ends, and the sun shines brightly. And I realize His presence with me is stronger and more real than before. I’ve taken another step into a larger world.

Every time we go through a trial, God is refining our heart, to make our hearts more pure. So this 3rd area is about inviting God to purify our hearts. God will then pour out pure love into your heart.

Revelation 3:21-22 says: “To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I was victorious and sat down with my Father on his throne. Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”

Applications: So how do we live this out?

Surrender is the key to all three of these areas: coming to believe in God, receiving Christ as savior, and going on to maturity. Surrendering is an act of the will, it’s a choice. Either we fight it or we do it.

William Booth founder of the SA said: “The greatness of a man’s power is the measure of his surrender.” It’s time give it all up brothers. It’s time to surrender everything to God. God must have all there is of you. Nothing less will do: Only total surrender.

Once we’ve made our surrender, at the altar, we get to work. We take dutiful, intentional action! We’ve gotta heal and grow, together. And I’d commend to you, and encourage you in 3 ways to grow in your spiritual walk:

1. Ask God for the gift of the Fear of the Lord.

2. Each Day ask the Lord to reveal anything in you that displeases Him.

3. Fast and pray once or twice a week to declare your devotion to God.

As we heal and grow, Christ then calls us to serve others. And whenever we do good for someone, we gather wealth in heaven. It’s true. In the next life, there will be mansions for each of us, and based on the good deeds you did, you’ll be rewarded with treasure. Serving others is the great calling of every Christian, and I’d commend you to the example that Braxton sets. He’s out there multiple times each week, handing out gospel tracts, visiting hospitals & jails, leading Bible studies, praying and fasting, and sharing his testimony. You can do that too!

In conclusion:

Jesus is coming back very soon. And He is coming for a Holy church, a church without blemish or defect. If we are content to toil in sinful selfishness, we shouldn’t expect to share in any inheritance with Christ. Instead we’ll inherit the lake of fire. We need a deadly seriousness when it comes to how we follow Jesus. Like the church of Laodicea, we as men in recovery, men searching for hope, and a new future, we’re in need of God’s grace. But God willing, we will have open eyes that see God’s reality, garments of the forgiveness found in Christ, and hearts of holiness refined in the fire. 

Sunday, June 17, 2018

How I Got Clean from Drugs and Alcohol

I grew up in a medium sized town named Wausau, Wisconsin.  I’m 33 years old today.  I started using drugs and drinking when I was 17 years old.  My parents got divorced around that time.  And I got expelled from high school for threatening to blow up the school while I was high.  My first drugs were pills from the doctor that made me feel good.  And I got into drinking, and smoking dope shortly after that. 

My main drinking and drugging career took place from age 17 to 27.  I really loved to get high, and drink, and smoke cigarettes.  I really enjoyed getting together with friends, going to parties, getting drunk, meeting girls, and all of that.  I had always been super nervous around people, and around girls, so I was really excited to find something that took that fear away. 

I felt like I had found “it.”  You know?  I found my magic.  I had a secret weapon to somehow deal with the world.  Everybody seemed so put together, they didn’t have anxiety like me, they didn’t struggle to find their place.  Later I found out that’s just the face people put on, they have those same struggles, they just hide it better than me.

When I was 20 I caught my first drug charges.  I ended up sitting 30 days in jail for that, then I got a drunk driving, and a disorderly conduct.  In the police car I was threatening to kill the family of the police officer who was driving.  That’s how I get when I’m loaded.  I smashed up my moms car.  I got put on papers, then got revoked off papers, then I was off papers again, then I was back on papers. 
When I was 23 years old, when I got my 2nd DUI.  So I went to a treatment center, for the first time, and I actually stayed sober for about a year after that.

And in that times, it’s just amazing what being sober can do for a life.  Everything in my life got better.  I was going to 3 meetings a week, but slowly I stopped going to the meetings. I was in college at the time, and I wanted to be able to participate in the college party life.  I felt closed in and unable to talk to people again.  I felt disconnected from the people around me.

This really began the low, low part of the journey. I was in treatment centers and mental hospitals 12 times. I kept trying to stay clean, and then I’d relapse a month later, a week later, a few months later, and I would just run out of steam and go back to what was familiar. It was like when I was clean, I felt awful.  I felt so depressed, anxious, miserable, hollowed out, like there was a big hole in my chest.

I had gotten into stronger drugs by then and my drug of choice was destroying my body.  At age 26 I overdosed, and nearly died in the ICU.  Then it happened again at age 27.  I was dangling from the cliff of death itself, and there was no hope.  None. 

The loneliest place a man can be is when he’s given up all hope that things can ever change. And you resign yourself to death.

Then came the moment.  I’d read the Bible.  I’d studied the word.  But it never quite clicked in my mind that I should cry out to Jesus from the depths of my soul for help.  But it came into my mind that night.  And I fell onto my knees, a bloated, near death, complete monster of a man, body falling apart, and I cried out to Jesus Christ for help so hard that it felt like everything around me shook, and the well of darkness within me cried out for mercy to Jesus Christ the King in Heaven.  And Jesus swept in, and over the next few days, I started going to AA meetings again. 

Jesus told me, go back to AA.  That’s the last place in the universe I wanted to be.  Anything but AA.  But I went.  And I got sober.  I stayed sober.  In my first 90 days I got a sponsor who worked me through the steps and I actually did the stuff they told me to do, I actually turned my will and life over to God, I actually wrote down my inventory honestly, sharing every awful detail, page after page, it was 47 pages long, and I just poured my soul out to my sponsor in the 5th step.  I went on for 12 hours the first day and another 4 hours the next day. 

I turned over my character defects to God, and He started removing them one by one.  I began making amends to my mom, my dad, my sister, to old friends, and to other people in my past.  I actually did it.  I didn’t fight, and argue, and complain and then refuse.  I kept doing it.  I was dedicated, I wanted recovery very badly.  Because I had hit rock bottom. 

I went to about 10 meetings a week during my first 18 months in the program.  I went to 7 AA meetings, and usually 3 NA meetings a week. And I started hitting Celebrate recovery meetings up at the church on the hill.  So I was praying each night to Jesus, asking Him for guidance, reading the Bible constantly on my computer on  And I asked Jesus what next: He sent me to a church, I asked a lot of questions, got involved with ministry, I joined the prayer team, I joined a small group, and I just kept praying and praying, and asking Jesus for another day clean. 

But something had changed. Because in the past all those times I’d tried to get clean and stay clean I was trying to do it myself.  I was trying to force myself to be a good person and go to my meetings.  But I couldn’t do it myself.  Today it’s all about God almighty. Jesus is the engine in the center in my recovery vehicle chugging me forward.  Without the engine, I would always slip back after a few months.  But now with Jesus powering the whole project, and God almighty being the one I constantly turn to in my own weakness, God provides all the power I need to stay clean and sober and work for Jesus. 

I serve Jesus now.  That’s the trade off.  There’s no half-measures.  I serve Jesus now with my whole life.  Plain and simple.  Anything else is hell, literally.  That’s what you have to do, give it all to Jesus.  And give control of your life to Him, like I mean you literally check every decision with Christ in prayer.  It ain’t easy. But it can certainly be done and more in the power of Jesus.  So all this happened by Jesus, not by me. And that’s how I got clean and stay clean each day. 

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Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Israels flight from Egypt to the Promised Land: A Divine Image of the Christian Life

The overarching theme of the book of Exodus is found in the deliverance provided by God to his people, as He delivers Israel from bondage, declares his supremacy over the false gods of Egypt, and supernaturally delivers Israel through many miraculous events.  The theme of deliverance continues from an outer deliverance to an internal deliverance in which God provides Moses with His commandments and sets Israel on a path of redemption.  The ultimate theme of Exodus is the goodness of God exemplified in his provision of deliverance, and important in this theme is the mode of His deliverance: God works through a man, but the deliverance itself is provided 100% by God himself.  This points us to the future coming of Christ when once again God would do 100% of the delivering of His own work and power. 

The narrative of Exodus follows closely the life of Moses and his interactions with Egypt and the ancient Israelite people.  Moses is undoubtedly the key individual in the book of Exodus, which follows his exploits as God begins to reach out to him to establish the deliverance of Israel from bondage in Egypt.  It’s interesting that God chooses to reveal himself to Moses through a burning bush.  

God said to Moses then,” I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey” (Exodus 3:7-8 New International Version).  

What’s revealing about God’s interaction with Moses is that God chooses to work through people, specifically one person: Moses.  God describes how He has heard the cries, probably referring to prayers of Israel and He is concerned for them.  God chooses to share and reveal parts of His plan to Moses during their interaction at the burning bush.  God works through people, is the big take away from this interaction. God shares his plans with Moses, and even allows Moses input on how things should transpire.  Moses requests help, someone to help speak for him, and God interacts with this request and provides Aaron. Of course Moses did all the talking anyone, but perhaps Aaron's presence gave Moses the courage he needed to step into his calling. 

Now we’ll look at how God interacted with the Egyptian Pharaoh. Pharaoh is a proud and stubborn leader, and God understands that about Pharaoh.  So God declares victory over Pharaoh in the ten plagues that show God’s supremacy over the false gods of Egypt.  It says several times that Pharaoh hardened his heart against Israel (Exodus 7:13, 8:15, 8:32, 9:7). And only after Pharaoh repeatedly hardens his own heart, of his own choice, does God then take that situation and magnify it to declare His own glory and supremacy over Egypt’s false gods.  Exodus 9:12 (NIV) says “the LORD hardened Pharaoh's heart and he would not listen to Moses and Aaron, just as the LORD had said to Moses.”  

God’s interaction with Pharaoh is telling, God doesn’t violate Pharaoh’s free will he only magnifies and makes use of Pharaoh’s own poor choices to magnify and exemplify His own goodness, mercy, and deliverance for Israel.  Despite critics who will bring up “God hardening Pharaoh’s heart” as some sort of evil committed by our God, it turns out once again, that we’d always be wiser to trust God’s goodness even when we don’t understand fully.  Time and careful study will always show that God is perfect and holy, and we are the ones who struggle to understand and often attribute malaise to our God, when God is perfect and we are the wayward ones.  But in our fallen nature, that’s the last thing we want to own up to.  Instead of trusting God, we turn and try to judge God, but it is always wiser to trust Him.   

There is one profound truth in the over-arching saga of the exodus from Egypt. The book of Exodus shows how the Old Testament is actually all about Jesus.  The entire saga of the Exodus points us forward to the time when Jesus Christ would come, and become our all atoning sacrifice, as the spotless lamb on the cross.  And just as death passed over the Israelites because of the blood of the lambs painted on the door frame, so the blood of Jesus would open the door for our deliverance into eternal life.  

A teacher once said that Israel's bondage in slavery in Egypt, deliverance through Moses, and testing experiences on the wilderness journey to the promise land were all a grand reference to the Christian experience. I didn't believe him at the time, but the more I think about it, the more I think he's quite right.  Or more accurately, God is right.

Let's consider it: We start with Israel completely enslaved in Egypt, being forced to construct great monuments to false gods, and build toward the pride of man.  

This is quite similar metaphorically to our situation before Jesus.  We're powerless, and enslaved to sin: sexual sin, drugs, drinking, lying, stealing, whatever sins they are.  They are our master. We are in chains to these things, and have little ability to be set free. In fact we're forced to work for those things, over and over and over, never getting anywhere.  

There is no escape on our own.  Something or someone always has to come in and make it possible.  That's where God enters the fray.  But He doesn't dive in and do it all through miraculous events.  Instead God meets with one person, Moses, someone who has lost everything, who has fled his whole life.  He's been in the desert for forty years.  And God changes his life and sends him on the mission to set Israel free.

God works through people, and often God works through one single person who is yielded to His will.  But God chooses that person, and puts that person to work.  God chooses the one to be yielded, it's important to make that distinction. We raise our hand and say "Send me Lord!" But ultimately God has set up the situation in which the offer is made, just as it was with Isaiah.  

God displays His great glory in deliverance from slavery in Egypt.  This action is a process, God doesn't just deliver Israel suddenly.  Instead there is a process of plagues and judgments that fall on the false gods of Egypt.  And Egypt undergoes punishment for their poor treatment, slavery, abuse and injustice toward the Israelites in their midst.  

It's the same with Jesus Christ and His victory over the world through sacrifice.  Jesus Christ plainly shows the world it's sinfulness, when the world so often wants to play at being ethical, and play at virtue signalling, and displaying a false sense of moral superiority.  Jesus cuts through all that.  His words pierce to the heart of who we really are as corrupt, sinful people.  His words condemn the worldly powers and worldly structures of authority.  And when Jesus returns in glory to establish His kingdom, we see very similar plagues and judgments poured out on the world at that time.  

Egypt undergoes judgment after judgment from God, and Moses meets before the Pharoah, humbling him with the power of God.  And finally, the first borns of all Egypt are visited by the angel of death.  The symbolism is rich isn't it?  It's a horrifying scene, to be sure.  The Egyptian children are dying because of the arrogance and hubris of their leaders.  Thankfully, it's clear from God's character that such children, below the age of accountability, would be saved in heaven.  In any case, we see that the sons of Egypt die because of the brutality and evil of their leaders and people.  And we see how the Israelites are saved from the angel of death: By making a sacrifice, and wiping the goat's blood on the doors of their houses.  What's interesting about this sacrifice is that they are told they must slaughter a spotless lamb without defect, and then they are told to cook and eat the lamb.  It reminds one of the Lord's supper. 

So they Israelites were protected by the sacrifice of the lamb and the blood on the doorway. And how are we saved today?  The temple of our heart, the house of our soul is washed with the blood of Jesus Christ, the blood of Jesus, which was offered up for us, so we could be free from the judgment of sin that is coming on the world.  Therefore when we do as God orders, and receive His son Jesus Christ, we are saved from judgment and condemnation, and delivered from slavery.

God declares His validity over all the false gods of Egypt through the plagues. After the death of the firstborns, finally, Pharoah allows the Israelites to leave.  But they leave with blessings and riches, as gifts from the Egyptians for their four hundred thirty years of slavery. In fact the word says that Israel was paid homage to as if it were a victorious plundering army!  It's the same when we get saved by Jesus.  Not only are we saved from judgment and condemnation and from hell, we are given adoption as sons and daughters to God himself.  We are counted as children of God, and we become heirs of the kingdom of God.  We become soldiers of God, in His kingdom program. 

One might assume that sin and death would now leave Christians alone, since they've been saved by Jesus.  But that is not the case.  Just as Pharoah changed his mind and decided to ride out and destroy the Israelites, so sin also pursues us in our Christian life.  And how can we escape it?

The Israelites were fleeing from slavery, but slavery was coming for them once again.  The chariots and armies of Pharoah were storming out to re-capture Israel.  They fled, and suddenly they came to the banks of the red sea. Moses stands at the banks of the red sea, it seems impossible, and hopeless, and they are all about to be destroyed.

This is exactly the same in the Christian life!  We struggle in sin and we think we can't possibly live a truly holy Christian life.  We think we're always going to be stuck in the messy goop of sin and brokenness, and that we can never escape it.  But that's not true!  We can live a truly holy, God honoring life.  We can be truly free from sin! But it takes a daring faith in God, and a willingness to cry out to God for deliverance from the slavery of sin.  Yes, it seems impossible.  We huff and puff over it, and grumble that we should rather stay back in Egypt, and remain in sin.  We claim Jesus, as we hide in the slave slums of Egypt, lost in sin, and truly, to stay in Egypt, to live in sin, while claiming Jesus, is simply to be on the road to eternal destruction.  

So we have to cry out to God, and dare to walk across the waters on dry ground.  That's what God does for us in the Christian life.  If we dare to believe that we can truly escape the bondage of slavery, the waters do indeed part for us.  And we walk across on dry ground.  Or if need be, we walk on the water itself, just as Jesus did, when He walked out on the water to His disciples caught in the storm.  And Peter understood this, beckoning Jesus to call him onto the water, and Jesus called him to himself.  

The sad fact is many Christians never make it past the parting of the red sea. They never dare to truly follow Jesus out of sin, because it just seems too hard.  So they go live in the shanty towns of sin in Egypt and comfort themselves at night that Jesus has washed them clean, as they live in daily slime and sin.  And there's is a fearful fate indeed.  Do not remain in Egypt!  Do not live in sin!  If you do, you will not live eternally, plain and simple.  Walk upon the waters.  Cry out to God to make dry ground for you to walk on.  He will provide.  Dare to believe.

The Israelites cross on dry ground.  And the army that pursues them is caught in the snare of the waters, and is totally destroyed.  Sin is crushed and destroyed by God, it's pursuit is broken, it's power is utterly demolished, and it's ability to influence us is smashed to weakness.  All of this is done by God entirely.  God parts the waters.  He does the miraculous work.  All we do is the foot work of believing and walking across the dry ground He has provided.  Some would say this is "works righteousness" and many will try to paint us into a corner, calling anything we do in response to God's work as "works righteousness."  Brothers and sisters this is a false, faulty argument that fails to prove true.  All we do is respond to God's work by walking through the opening He has provided.  Would our walking matter at all if He did not part the waters and provide a path to safety?  Of course not.  Does our walking along the dry ground He's miraculously provided take anything away from His mighty miracle?  Of course not.  God provides the clear pathway, we simply walk upon the road. God provides the walkway, and He closes the path behind us on our enemy, sin, when the time is right.  It's amazing.  

Next we see the people in search of water, exhausted, thirsty, and struggling in a barren land.  Have you ever felt this way in your Christian walk?  I know I have!  I've felt spiritually depleted, sick, tired, and troubled many times in my Christian life.  And those tests and trials will come!  So once again we see that Moses cries out to God, and God provides twelve wells for the people, and seven palm trees!  Symbolism much?  The twelve wells for the twelve tribes of Israel?  And what about the seven palm trees?  This reminds me of the seven lampstands before the throne of God, which are the seven angels that support the seven churches of God in Revelation.  Additionally, it could be referencing the seven spirits of God, which work in the world.  Beautiful symbolism indeed!  

Now it's important to remember that all these events in Exodus literally happened.  They literally went through these experiences in Egypt, the red sea, and the wilderness.  But what God does is He actually imbeds symbolic imagery into real life events, and then when later generations read about what happened, they see clues and pointers toward God's larger meta-narrative, His grand plan for history.  It's quite beautiful how God works in this way.  It's quite amazing, and shocking actually.  It goes to the other-ness, and the mysterious nature of who God actually is.  His abilities and ways go far beyond our own.  

Next in the narrative we see that God's people are hungry, and do not have anything to eat.  But God provides bread from heaven for His people to eat each day.  Once again we the symbolism of the Christian journey, such as in the Lord's prayer, when it says "Give us this day our daily bread."  God provides for our daily nutritional needs. But there is something deeper here as well: In the Christian life our daily bread is not the mana from heaven that God provided to the Israelites, our daily bread is the broken body and blood of Jesus that was crushed for our iniquities on the cross.  This daily bread sustains us through our daily Christian walk, as we daily walk covered in the blood of the lamb of God (Jesus) and walk in the perfect robe of His righteousness, being careful to not soil it in the sins of the world. 

Now we see as the Israelites continue their journey they enter the "wilderness of Sin."  We see once again that the people are without water, and struggling.  And they cry out to Moses for help in this situation.  And Moses seeks God.  And God once again provides water for the people, but this time, miraculously, as Moses strikes the rock.  

We see a time when Israel is going through trials, tests, and temptations.  Does this sound at all familiar to the Christian life?  Of course!  We as Christians go through endless trials, temptations, and tests by God.  These struggles are meant to test and refine our faith in Christ.  

God put the Israelites through similar tests in the wilderness.  And He taught them to trust in Him, and to be careful to obey His laws and precepts.  It should be a very stark warning to us, that this generation of Israel really failed to trust in God, have faith in Him, and obey his precepts.  The same danger is available to us as Christians, and we must be careful to obey the teachings of God in the New Testament, and the word of God overall.  

Next we see Israel coming up against an enemy, the Amalekites.  Moses appoints Joshua to be his General, his war leader, and Joshua rallies the troops to victory, while Moses stands overlooking the battle, with the staff of God raised.  This picture shows us an image of God's sovereignty.  God is sovereign over the battle, and it is His power and sovereignty that brings victory in the battle. The people simply do the foot work of matching forward, and fighting the best they can.  But victory comes from the Lord.  

God calls Moses to Mount Sinai after the victory over the Amalekites. This is similar to our deliverance and new life that we receive in Christ. Jesus has saved us. He saves us first, in our mess, in our disaster, covered in sin, he saves us. But then He calls us to himself. And He calls us to repent of all sin, and to walk in Christ-likeness all our days. This is sometimes referred to as a second blessing, or as a moment when we realize that God must have all of us, not some, but all of us. God called Moses to Mount Sinai, and said to him, "You know how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. 5 Now if you will obey me and keep my covenant, you will be my own special treasure from among all the peoples on earth; for all the earth belongs to me." -Exodus 19:4b-5 NLT

First Jesus saves us, then He calls us to total devotion to Him.  If we ignore that call, and remain in sin, falling away is certain.  

God gives his instructions to Moses, just as we receive the instructions of Jesus through the Apostle Paul and the other New Testament writers.  Then we see a division in the camp, with the building of the golden calf.  And Moses demand that those who are with God join him.  A division occurs.  In fact Jesus divided people in a similar way.  Whenever Jesus spoke in crowds, people would be divided, some would believe in him, others would reject and fight against him.  

The Levites turned to support Moses. And Moses told them they must kill those who turned against God, even to their neighbors, sons, daughters, parents, and friends and so on.  Very interesting.  Jesus said that you must hate father, mother, son or daughter in comparison to the love we have for Him (Luke 14:26). 

I could go on and on, but this brings us to the end of Exodus. Many other metaphors and comparisons can be made throughout Deuteronomy and Joshua, but we don't have time or space to go on any further!  The point is, the Christian life is a journey. And we need to be cautious to obey Jesus Christ, follow His teachings, and live a truly Christ-like life.  Too many Christians live worldly lives, we must be totally dedicated to living holy lives in Jesus.  The Old Testament, the book of Exodus, and the escape from Egypt are all pictures of who Jesus Christ is to us, and how He saves us.  Remember that, and study diligently. 

Lockyer, H. (1961). All the Men of the Bible. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.
Manser, M. H. (2009). Dictionary of Bible Themes.