Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Going Down the Rabbit Hole of Perceived Reality: What is the truth beyond tyranny and consumerism?

It began with a question... Why am I here? What is the truth behind this blue green ball flying through space? It felt like something new began when I started that question.  I broke free from the 9 to 5 life, from the television, the bars, the social media, and all of that, and came into a larger world.  

I began a journey.  A journey into truth, and deception, lies and delusions, power structures, and beyond.  And we'll see how this journey led me to two extremes: authoritarianism and consumerism. 

The common phrase in college at the UW was "it's all relative."  Hedonism is the lifestyle of the day.  Living for pleasure is how the lifestyle was on campus.  If it feels good, do it.  Anything goes as long as you don't hurt someone.  

What is society really?  What is the nature of reality?  Evolutionary biology, of course is the basis.  There is the post-modern pseudo-intellectualism.  And there is a general disregard for any ethic other than utter self interest or conversely, a fiery Spanish-inquisition style of social justice.  

Anything spiritual seemed down right silly.  That's what I was taught.  Public school, college, all of it.  I wasn't really encouraged to question anything outside the bubble.  The bubble would be the universe. And I was always told to poke around all I wanted inside the bubble.  But don't consider anything outside the bubble.  Don't ask the question: Where did the bubble come?  And God-forbid that you ever consider what the meaning of the bubble is!

But there was a common answer I was given by writers, elite social theorists, and the expert class of our society: You make your own meaning.  You bring the meaning to the situation.  And almost immediately I had to ask myself: Why would that be so?  

That is moral relativism.  The underlying belief then is that there is no objective, overarching meaning to anything.  What a disturbing concept.  Of course that is the required conclusion of a naturalistic worldview.  The worldview is smuggled in behind the statement.  But most people don't see reality from a purely physical standpoint.  Most people would acknowledge that there is something beyond the physical, and almost everyone would at least acknowledge non-physical realities like, say, consciousness.  

I felt suffocated by that limited view of reality.  I felt it was being forced on me actually.  I had always thought religious folks were such proselytizers, but I quickly discovered that naturalism is much more forcefully taught than that, it's a downright all encompassing indoctrination of our society.  You are not allowed to question naturalism, evolution is undisputed fact, and if you believe differently you are a danger to our society and must be stopped.  That is a scary concept.  In fact it starts to become it's own sort of religious indoctrination, it's just a new religion, the religion of naturalism.  

Nihilism was never particularly appealing to me.  And those who profess it tend to be a little pushy about their dark nihilism.  So that always bothered me.  Reality is not as dark as you are perceiving it.  Now I'm not saying all nihilists are cynics, and hedonists, but that trio does tend to walk together. 

Around that time I was spending a lot of time at a house with a bunch of hippies and hipsters.  And we all thought we were so slick.  We had it all figured out.  Peace and love.  Go up on the hill, camp fires, drugs, hemp, and reading Hunter S. Thompson, and Abbie Hoffman. I thought I had found the moral high ground, here are the people who have the moral high ground.  They're the "woke" ones.  But very soon I discovered that just wasn't the case.  We'd always sit around and talk politics, philosophy, and spirituality.  But we'd usually be drinking and using drugs.  I found out one of the guys in our circle had drugged and raped a girl. That sort of burst my bubble about the moral high ground thing... 

It's astonishing how wide spread this sort of lifestyle was at the UW.  And moral relativism seemed to transcend all the little subcultures, whether it was the intelligentsia, or the musicians, the hipsters, the sports people, it was almost universal.  And I found it quite bizarre that there was no truth allowed anywhere.  Everything had to be relative.  Well, aside from the tuition fees, and the grades, and basically anything concrete.  That's not relative, that's fixed and objective.  Quite convenient. 

I realized over time that I was being scammed by the university systems.  The cost of tuition was so extremely high that fellow students were dropping into tens of thousands of dollars of debt.  Something was very wrong there.  

But I was locked in, so I continued.  I was also locked in to consumerism and materialism.  I didn't consider myself an atheist, or agnostic, I just pursued my material desires, pleasure, selfishness, and popularity.  I desired approval from my little social circle.  I took all sorts of prescription pills, trying to force my body and mind to accept reality as it was.  But something was wrong with reality, that much I could tell. There was something terribly wrong with the world.  Doctors try to diminish it through pills and prescriptions, but those inner aches are not extinguished by pills and benzos and anti-depressants, but seeking after that which is truth in a strange world.  

But more and more I was beginning to believe that there was an objective point of reference.  I started to seek after a spiritual solution to the issue of the existence of a complex universe. I started to think along the lines of people like Jung who postulated a meta-consciousness binding the thoughts of humanity together.  I explored alternative spirituality, and new age beliefs.  I was seeking after something higher.  I believed in science. But I didn't think science alone could explain everything about the universe. 

One of the great turning points of my life was reading 1984 by George Orwell.  Particularly part II caught my attention, as it was a break down of how tyranny can take over.  Later I read Animal Farm and saw it from another dimension.  From there I just started reading various classic works.  I read Brave New World by Huxley and saw tyranny from yet another perspective, that of commodity and materialism's ability to convolute and destroy human freedom from within.  

I read Alice in Wonderland, Sherlock Holmes, Hell's Angels, The Hobbit, The Time Machine, Dante's Inferno, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Walden, and others. 

I knew something was terribly wrong with the world. But I couldn't really understand what it was, or why it was.  But we each seem to have that inner realization, that something has gone terribly wrong on planet Earth.  

For a while I believed it was the danger of 1984 being realized in society.  Political correctness? Mass incarceration?  Video cameras on every corner?  Crippling national debt?  What was really happening?  

For a season I found myself listening intently to the likes of Alex Jones, Media Matters, Jesse Ventura, Salon, Gerald Celente, and so on.  But soon enough I wised up to the doom porn, even if there were elements of truth in what they were saying.

For a while I felt like capitalism must've been the problem. But it didn't take long for me to realize that capitalism, the free markets had left me in the lap of luxury, with cell phones, laptops, endless food, free water, and the best education in the world.  So that didn't really add up.  But still, something seemed wrong.

I knew that humanity was becoming progressively dumber as time went by.  It was pretty obvious, just by turning on MTV or CNN.  I dreamed of people reading again, and understanding their rights and taking hold of their destiny again.  Maybe Huxley was right.  As the great entrepreneur had said in the heyday of american consumerism: "Sell them their dreams and they'll always be customers."  I'm paraphrasing, but the idea is to get people to believe that their dream is to have what is being sold, the car, the perfume, the home, and so on.  And when the material becomes the dream, then the sales go up.  Sadly, when the material becomes the dream, the dreams become a sad merry-go-round that lead nowhere but to more and more grossly excessive needs.  Huxley was definitely right.  The endless pursuit of things, of materials, of luxury, was a deadly hole to humanity.  In fact in the extreme a materialized person ceases to be human, but becomes a consumer, a fashion show on speed. What a sad state for a soul.  I found it quite appalling.  

This reality of consumption and desire for things is brutally pervasive in society.  I can't escape it.  Have I?  Or have I not?  Do I still endlessly need new technological wonders and softer pillows to justify my existence?  I hope not.  

I recall the romance in 1984.  And it's important to remember that Orwell was an atheist.  Here is the great end, and it is the most gloriously cynical and dismally depressing end imaginable.  The main character falls in love with this woman, and they sneak off together and they want each other, so they have sex.  Then they are both arrested, and he is taken to room 101.  He is tortured with his worst fear, and condemns the woman.  This kills his love for her, because he turns on her.  And she does the same to him.  So at the end you see them both at this cafeteria.  And they hate each other.  And as the march of the oppressive regime and the great leader appear on the screen the main character cries tears of joy and love for the great leader having apostatized completely and been totally brainwashed.  The end.  Charming.  

But that wasn't really reality either.  Few governments in the world are that oppressive, aside from maybe North Korea or China.  And life isn't that dismal.  There's some sort of silver lining to life that makes it gather to be more than the sum of it's parts.  I could never embrace the hedonism and cynicism of gen x or millennials for that matter.  Life isn't empty like that.  

And the fact is we sit on the platform of absolute truth, natural law, civil liberties, and objective laws and governance as we denounce truth as relative, nature as pitiless indifference, socialist totalitarianism as preferable to liberty, and legal positivism as superior to a higher universal standard. It's quite ironic really. 

The pessimism and cynicism is bred from our own self-destructive ideology that we've created in the past 30 years to try and supplant the ideologies of the past that had carried society relatively safely to the present. We've prospered on the truth of the past while simultaneously tearing it down at every turn, then we complain about the results of our own destructive tendencies.  

Huxley and Orwell were both atheists.  And they saw a materialist world destroying society in two ways, one through the power of government, and one through the unrestrained effects of consumerism.  They were both right in many ways, but they were both also quite wrong.  Wrong in that the world has persisted beyond those dark prognostications. And wrong in seeing the world as nothing more than a culmination of self-interest and materialism.  There's more to life than that.  There are things that hold society together, somehow.  It's as if we've been guided to this moment by some unseen force.  

So increasingly I began to move from the school of Athen's painting one might say, from the position of Aristotle pointing down toward the material, and toward the position of Plato, who points up toward a transcendent reality.  One can never understand the truth about life, the world and everything by examining the material world. Though such examinations are certainly helpful.  Instead one must look outside the perceivable world, outside the box of measurable matter. 

So it began, my search for God.  Is God really real?  Which God is it?  Which world religion was right?  Were any of them right? 

It is ironic though, now that I think about it, that an observation in the material world, the flapping wings and beak of a hummingbird gave me the realization that an intelligent designer must be necessary.  That kind of combines the idealistic reasoning of Plato and the material analysis of Aristotle. But in general the complex yet harmonious systems of the planet Earth really made me realize beyond a shadow of a doubt that there absolutely must be an intelligent transcendent all-powerful being.  There is absolutely no statistical chance that time + matter + chance produce any of this complexity, from rocks and stardust to edible fruit and eyeballs.  Princeton did a study on just such a possibility, they found the likelihood to be practically 0.  Or if you like the exact numbers, one in ten to the 124th power, which is a number higher than the number of particles in the entire universe.  Additionally, where had it all come from?  A universe begs the question: Where did it come from?  The best and only reasonable explanation is that an infinite all powerful being created it. They call those two concepts the anthropic principle and the first cause argument.  

Deism didn't really seem too logical to me.  Why would a God make a universe and then ignore it?  It didn't make sense.  

Agnosticism seemed lazy to me.  "Well we can't really know."  Humans have faculties and abilities to reason, study, and understand things.  I think we can use those power to gather data and make decisions on what it true and false.  We do it everyday when we work, pay bills, eat, drink, and so on.  So that didn't work. 

I explored "new age" beliefs for a while.  But they didn't seem grounded on much of anything.  In fact the more books I read, the more it seemed like Tolle and Chopra, and Oprah, and whoever else were just kind of making it up as they went along.  

Hinduism had millions of gods and goddesses.  That just didn't seem to make sense.  Plus that religion didn't seem to have done much good for that part of the world with the caste system and the untouchables and so on.  So that was out. 

Buddhism was a sort of reaction against Hinduism's many gods. In fact in Buddhism there is no god, just a sort of way of life prescribed by the Buddha.  And I had already reasoned past the concept of atheism, so Buddhism I set aside.

Islam, being the second largest world religion was a possibility. But I found the teachings of Allah were quite disturbing.  There were prescriptions for many wives, and killing people who wouldn't convert to Islam, and pushing for sharia law.  It was strange, and the terrorist attacks around the world were almost always done by Islamic extremists so that turned me off as well.  

So I came to Christianity, something that really, really turned me off. I hated Christianity, for some reason. I considered it an ugly, dead sort of thing.  I had read about things like the crusades, the spanish inquisition, the protestant wars, and the decrees of Popes, and all of it had made me very wary of such a religion.

But it was the number 1 world religion, with 2.2 billion adherents worldwide.  The Bible had survived human history, and was the number one best selling book in human history.  So I decided to read it.  Several Christians had treated me kindly, which began to change my view of who Christ really was.  So began a search and a journey into the depths of that faith.  

Often times the truth is surrounded by a bunch of lies people have smeared it with to keep people away from it.  After all the truth is dangerous to people who want money and power.  The Bible is banned in something like 52 countries.  I had certainly been blasted with old ideas about Christianity.  I had been told it was harmful, that it was based on ignorance, that it was all about taking your money, and that the bible had been changed by the Nicean council. On and on the lies went, and as I studied I discovered each of those things were actually false.  But boy had I been taught to hate it quite thoroughly without much cause.  

It's interesting that science, technology, and medicine have become such blessings to society, and people today ascribe that to atheism or agnosticism. But actually, most of the great scientists throughout history were Christians.  Many of the great Nobel peace prize winners were Christians.  Hospitals, orphanages, and universities were all developed by Christians throughout the west.  

All of history had turned on Christianity, right down to B.C. and A.D. though the historical and scientific revisionists of our day have gone about laboriously to rewrite history, and have even changed our measurement to BCE and CE.  If you ever study historical revisionism, believe me, it's quite astonishing.  Also, try studying the errors in science textbooks, you'll be amazed how icons of evolution used in textbooks have been debunked as myths.  But still they are used to justify evolution to this day.

I was quite astonished to learn that the Bible hadn't been changed over time.  I was also quite astonished to learn that thousands of manuscripts of the Old and New testaments provided incredible authenticity when cross-referenced with each other.  There are 5,686 manuscript copies of the New Testament that match each other at a rate of 99.5% accuracy.  I was also quite astonished to learn that the Bible matches with known human history. And Jesus Christ is mentioned by historians of ancient times recorded outside the Bible.  I think the most astonishing realization was that science and faith weren't at war.  We had created this false dichotomy.  In fact science and faith easily walk hand in hand, one interpreting the physical world, as Aristotle advocated, and the other interpreting the spiritual world in principles and ideals, just as Plato believed was vital to know the truth.  

With all of that truth and study before me, I was indeed quite astonished, that at the great depths of the rabbit hole of perceived reality, beyond the 9 to 5 life, beyond the drugs and strong drink, beyond the governments and capitalist economic systems, beyond the conspiracy theories, and philosophies of post-modern times I had found in the depths that Jesus Christ of Nazareth, a humble peasant born of a virgin in the deserts of the middle-east was a real, living savior, a God over all the Earth.  I had finally, at last, found the meaning of life. But maybe more accurately... the meaning of life found me.  And it was a God-person, Jesus Christ, "God with us" who came into human history to save his people.  I began a living relationship with the author of the universe.  Can you imagine anything more exciting than that?  Truth revealed itself to me.  It's quite amazing.  Many won't be able to accept that. But I suppose the question is, will you?  

Related Posts:
  1. Eternity & Christ: The Promise of Life
  2. The Paradox of Victory through Surrender: Rise Above
  3. The Heart & Mind of Humanity: Reflections on Suffering
  4. Coming into Maturity: Grace, Love, and Service
  5. A Cause Worth Dying For: Materialism, Millennials, and the Radical Mission
  6. Life after Death: Law, Eternity, and the Changed Mind
  7. Wisdom from Above: Living in Light of the Victory of Christ
  8. The Mindset of Christ: Teach Me How to Live, Lord
  9. Sex, Cuisine, and Television: Overcoming the World
  10. What is the will of God?

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

10 Testimonies of Heaven & Hell: Visions, Dreams, & Near Death Experiences

"In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams." -Acts 2:17

This is a fascinating topic of study, the area of near death experiences, visions, and dream testimonies given by people who claim to have seen things from God. This is not an easy topic, as many think this is not a good thing, that God doesn't act in this way anymore, but I would contend that the scriptures say that people do and will experience these things.

Of course we have to test everything by the word of God, and prayer. So if anything below doesn't match with the scriptures, or with what God says about himself in the scriptures, then it should be disregarded. But we shouldn't discount the possibility of witnesses being given visions, dreams, and other experiences from God.

Yes it's true, someone could be making these things up. But as Christians we can't discount all of something ,just because there are a few who will lie and abuse a truth. I'll admit it's tough for me, because I'm a person who cares so much about the inerrancy of scripture, and the importance of doctrinal truth, and scriptural authority. But though I am very orthodox in my views of scripture, I'm also a firm believer that God interacts with us today. His Spirit goes further in the world and in our lives than we might realize.

So I just ask that we prayerfully consider these experiences. Test them against the word of God. Please do that. But please also consider in the Spirit, that perhaps God did give these experiences to these people to give us glimpses of things to come. Or to warn us of places we don't want to go.  

“I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed." -Daniel 7:13-14 (ESV)

1. Bill Wiese's Experience

2. Jordan's Testimony

3. Mary K. Baxter's testimony

4. Colton & Todd Burpo "Heaven is for Real"

5. A Glimpse of Eternity Near Death Experience

6. Howard Pittman's Testimony

7. Laurie Ditto in Hell for Unforgiveness

8. Mario Martinez shares his experience

9. Bryan Melvin's testimony of Hell

10. Sarah Boyanga's Testimony

Related Posts:
  1. To Those Who Overcome: How to Be Free from all Sin
  2. Israels flight from Egypt to the Promised Land
  3. A Heart of Love: What am I seeking in Life?
  4. The Forgotten Teaching in the Church: Holiness
  5. The Army of God will have Victory after Victory
  6. The Church of Laodicea & The Church of America
  7. How Holiness Theology Transformed My Understanding
  8. Fasting and Prayer: Why You Should Fast Twice a Week
  9. An Investigation of the Biblical Concept of Hell 
  10. Why Do I Exist? A Quick Look at the Human Life

Saturday, January 19, 2019

10 Examples of Christian Symbolism in the Lord of the Rings

J.R.R. Tolkien did not consider the Lord of the Rings books to be a straight allegory.  However, he instead believed that the best way to give a witness to Christ in the Lord of the Rings was to weave the ideas of Christianity, and images of the faith throughout the series from different angles and through varying lenses. He seemed to create symbols that were constantly being arranged and re-arranged throughout the series.  Let's take a look at ten examples that I've noticed. Now, I'm not saying that these are the only ones, or that Tolkien intentionally placed these, though it's possible, I am saying that from my perspective these seem like such examples.

1. The Battle of the Last Alliance

I see in the opening scene of the movies a great deal of biblical imagery.  You've got the forces of goodness, humanity, and elves (the sort of angelic beings of the Middle Earth universe) against an evil army of monsters, the orcs (representative in some ways of demonic forces of the spiritual realm.)  And you've got a leader of the evil forces, Sauron, who is so very powerful.  This is the introductory mythos of the LOTR series.  Sauron has systemically deceived the peoples of middle earth through a seeming gift of rings. Each of the races take the rings, which they assume gives them authority and power.  But instead, each of the rings put the leaders of middle earth under the authority of the secret ring Sauron forges, "one ring to rule them all."  The symbolism here is the garden, and the fall of man.  The serpent tempted the first humans to sin against God, telling them they would become gods themselves.  They would have special authority.  But instead, what happened in the fall was humanity was placed under the cruel authority of Satan, just like the rings gifted by Sauron were a deception, that turned the 9 leaders of men into ring wraiths, and gave Sauron ultimate power over middle Earth.

Then we see this battle, where the forces of light gather together to appose Sauron, and they march on the gates of darkness.  Every generation in human history has had to contend with the evil of it's age, and gather together in a unity, and march upon the gates of darkness in hope of vanquishing the evil of their age.  Long, long ago was Israel and the Canaanites.  I think of Martin Luther and the reformation. I think of MLK Jr. and the civil rights movement.  I think of World War II when the allies rose up to push back Hitler's armies.  I think of today, as we fight back against so many evils of our day.  

2. Frodo stabbed on Weathertop

In this situation we see Frodo and the hobbits surrounded by ring wraiths on weather top.  Frodo is cornered and stabbed with a nasgul blade.  

Here I see symbolism of the cross of Jesus Christ.  Frodo represents Jesus Christ, who is pierced by Satan on the cross.  We see this happen in a different realm, when Frodo puts the ring on.  Frodo is stabbed and he begins to descend into darkness, slowly becoming a wraith, becoming darkness and evil...  Just like Jesus became sin for his people, taking on their own darkness and destroying it in himself.  Now at the moment Frodo is stabbed we see Aragorn jump into the scene, and the blade is pulled back from Frodo's heart.  Aragorn represents God the Father, wielding a sword, and a flaming torch.  The flaming torch is representative of the Holy Spirit.  Now you have the god-head present. So we see Christ temporarily removed from the god-head in his death.  The trinity enters to save Christ, and resurrect him from the dead.  The ring wraiths are left exposed, and are defeated by Aragorn, just as the cross was a trap for Satan, and a defeat for Satan, who was robbed of much of his power through Christ's victory at the cross. 

3. Gandalf faces the Balrog at the bridge of khazad dûm

Here we see more symbolism of the cross.  Gandalf takes on the role of the Christ-figure, stepping between his friends and the ultimate power of evil, to declare: "You shall not pass!"  

Gandalf uses the Balrog's own strength against it, by damaging the bridge, block's it's attack, and the Balrog falls into shadow.  But Gandalf's foot is caught by the Balrog at the last moment.  The symbolism here reminds me of the scriptures where Satan tempts Jesus in the wilderness. Satan says to Jesus that he should throw himself down and God's angels would 'keep his foot from striking a stone."  Gandalf has to pay a price for protecting his friends, and he has to pay a great deal, indeed, his life, as he fights the Balrog in the lower parts of the world and defeats him.  As it says in the scriptures, Jesus descended to the lower regions and set the captives free, before he resurrected from the dead. And in the same way Gandalf dies as the grey, and is resurrected as Gandalf the white.

4.  Boromir's betrayal and last stand

The saga of Boromir has always touched me greatly.  I'm not sure why, but there is something very, very powerful about Boromir's story and his ultimate end.  It cuts to the core of my being whenever I watch the movie.  

Boromir is vulnerable, opportunistic, and especially vulnerable to the sway of the ring.  Yet his character is easy to love as well. You want to like him in some ways.  And when he shares his heart about dreaming of somehow saving Gondor from decline and failure, and defeat from enemies, his desire is so pure and honest.  He loves his home and desperately wants to protect it.  He's caught in a situation where Gondor is being systematically defeated, and he sees the ring as a weapon that might stop the destruction.  

Boromir leaves his shield behind as he pursues Frodo to take the ring from him.  Boromir fails, and realizes what he has done, and cries out for forgiveness.  He finds himself in battle against a flood of orcs, and he attempts to defend the hobbits against them.  Boromir regains his honor through his heroic defense of the hobbits.  But what he has done cannot be undone.  He has left behind his shield, and he is pierced by arrows, and killed.  He dies with his lord before him, Aragorn, and he keeps his honor, but pays with his life.  And Aragorn promises to Boromir that he will protect the white city.  

Boromir is you and me.  We all struggle with sin and darkness. We try to fight it, yet it overcomes us.  We want to do the right thing, but selfishness and the desire for power leads us astray.  

As Paul wrote, "I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. 16 And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. 17 As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. 18 For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature.For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out." -Romans 7:15-18

5. Internal struggle between Gollum and Smeagol 

The internal battle within the character of Gollum is of course quite telling of the struggles we all face between our desire to do good, and our desire to be self-serving.  The Smeagol in each of us hopes for a bright future, but the Gollum in each of us wants what it wants.  

If you recall at the beginning of the third movie we see the transition of Smeagol, as he becomes Gollum over time.  This is how sin destroys us over time.  The most physically visible of sins is of course drug addiction, and I myself was once such as this.  Just as Smeagol had a beautiful calm, rather average life of fishing in the sun with friends, just as quickly, when the addiction begins to take over, do you go from that bright spot, to madness among the rocks, and then soon you find a cavern entrance, and go underground.  Your skin turns pale, you lose touch with friends and family, and your love for the drug becomes the all encompassing fact of your life.  Everything revolves around it.  And soon you are in darkness, in the deepest caverns, away from society, messy hair, pale as a ghost, eyes red, clutching the one ring with equal powers of love and hatred.  Few ever return from this deep darkness.

We see addiction playing out in Gollum, as Gollum struggles with his desire for the ring, and also his desire for friendship and love. Frodo begins to call him Smeagol and Gollum dreams of possibly becoming him again.  But ultimately the desire for the ring's power wins out in Gollum.  But will it win out in you and me? 

6. The Battle of Helms Deep

Too often in human history we find ourselves at helms deep, don't you think?  I think of Christianity in America.  We're surrounded by evil, the church is in decline, and we find ourselves a few hundred hold outs in an old citadel, under siege by tens of thousands of warriors twice our size.  

I think of David and Goliath.  I think of England trying to hold out in World war two before the entry of the United States.  So often we find ourselves as the army of light outnumbered, outflanked, and in dire straights.  

I wonder why that is?  Well, perhaps it is because God shows his glory in our weakness.  What did God say to Gideon when he gathered an army to fight off the Midianites?  God says, "You have too many soldiers Gideon, you need less."  And he ultimately brings Gideon's army's size down from 32,000 to about 300 (Judges 7).  

Think of the Battle of Thermopylae, when 7,000 Greeks defeated over 1 million Persians.  (By the way, I know modern histories claim it was much less the Persians had, but modern historians are wrong about a lot today).  

At Helms Deep we see a morally and physically defeated army gathering to try to fight an army of ten thousand.  We see ourselves, defeated and trying to stand firm in the darkest times of history in our disturbed modern world of deceptions, lies, and immorality.  But God does not leave us there.  He sends elves to strengthen our defenses.  And we fight.  But we find ourselves losing the battle, despite the fact that God is with us, the trinity of Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli fighting with us.  But just when we think defeat has come, and we are tempted to give up all hope, Christ calls us to rally.  As Aragorn said to King Theodon, "Ride out with me."  At the end of the lost battle, we must jump on our horses and charge the enemy in one last act of defiance against evil.  And when we do that we'll see the shining morning sun, and Christ coming with reinforcements to route the enemy and save us.  But we must ride out in the face of defeat, and scorn the shame, and dare to boldly fight back against all evil even when it seems hopeless. 

7. Sam, Faramir, Golom and Frodo at Osgiliath

At the end of the Two Towers we see Faramir struggling with a decision, to either take the ring from Frodo, just as his brother Boromir tried to do, or to let them continue on their quest.  Osgiliath is then attacked by the Nasgul, and hope is dwindling fast.  But Sam, Frodo's trusted companion makes a powerful series of statements, that changes the entire situation in a moment.

"Frodo : I can't do this, Sam.

Sam : I know.
It's all wrong
By rights we shouldn't even be here.
But we are.
It's like in the great stories Mr. Frodo.
The ones that really mattered.
Full of darkness and danger they were,
and sometimes you didn't want to know the end.
Because how could the end be happy.
How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad happened.
But in the end, it's only a passing thing, this shadow.
Even darkness must pass.
A new day will come.
And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer.
Those were the stories that stayed with you.
That meant something.
Even if you were too small to understand why.
But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand.
I know now.
Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back only they didn’t.
Because they were holding on to something.

Frodo : What are we holding on to, Sam?

Sam : That there’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo. And it’s worth fighting for."
-Script of the Lord of the Rings the Two Towers

Despite all we see in the world as Christians, and let's be real it isn't pretty, there still remains hope.  We suffer everyday.  We fight to live in holiness. We see people dying everyday. We see churches compromising on the truth. We see Christians persecuted in the middle east.  We see Christians jailed and their churches bulldozed in China.  We see chaos and disaster, hurricanes and earthquakes, abortion mills, and brutal world poverty.  

Yet despite all of this evil and strife and struggle, we don't turn back.  We don't give up. We keep fighting our way forward, because it's part of a greater journey.  And every single evil we suffer bravely through brings glory and honor to Jesus Christ. 

8. Frodo and Sam and the giant Spider 
The trio of Frodo, Sam, and Gollum is quite telling. To me it represents the struggle of the believer.  Frodo wants to do the right thing, but he's under the influence of the ring.  Frodo is influenced for good at times by the Spirit of good, represented by Samwise.  And Frodo is also influenced by the spirit of evil, represented by Gollum.  It's the same for a Christian who walks in the world.  He is influenced by the Holy Spirit within, yet also influenced by the world, the flesh, and the devil.  

In the Return of the King we see Frodo slipping more and more as he endures the burden of the ring.  He is eventually tricked into abandoning Samwise. And he goes alone with Gollum.  And Gollum leads Frodo into the spider's lair.  This similar to when a Christian succumbs to evil.  They believe a lie of the enemy, and follow after the darkness thinking they will gain pleasure or power by doing so.  Instead, they find themselves wandering into a trap.  

Once in the spiders lair, without the help of the Holy Spirit, the believer is left alone to fight a pitch battle against a giant spider, in it's own lair.  

Frodo is overcome and stabbed by the spider, and wrapped in webbing. He is defeated, shackled by sin, one might say.  But what happens next?

Samwise comes to the rescue.  Just like the Holy Spirit rescues us when we slip into sin.  The Holy Spirit comes, rescues us, defeats the enemy, and saves us.  Thanks be to God for that. 

9. Aragorn's Army fights at the black gates

Sometimes, when the battle is hard, and the warring has been going on so long, and you've found yourself battling a great and mighty enemy, you must march out with all you have and make war at the gates of hell.  

So it was when Aragorn finally embraced his destiny as king. Having gathered the forces of Gondor and Rohan, he marched his army against the gates of Mordor. 

They fought the enemy at the black gates, and if you noticed they were terribly outnumbered, but it didn't matter.  Their armor shine brightly, and what caused it to shine?  The overwhelming evil, the eye of Sauron pointed angrily upon them.  When we fight defiantly, despite being outnumbered greatly, we often shine brightest when we stand in the face of evil. The evil we fight forces out the very best in us.  

10. Frodo & Gollum fight for the ring

In the final moments of the series we see that Frodo finally falls completely to the darkness and temptation of the ring.  He takes the ring and puts it on, which causes him to disappear.  It's interesting that one disappears when they put on the ring.  It's much like sin causes us to disappear piece by piece, part by part, until we are only slaves to sin.  We are gone, sin only remains.  Obsession takes total control.  

Gollum attacks Frodo, they fight for the ring, and Gollum falls to his death, taking the ring with him into the lava. Frodo is hanging by the cliff's edge.  And Samwise reaches out to help him up.

This is much like the situation when one gets saved by Jesus.  We suffer, struggle, clutch to our sin so stubbornly.  And when our sin finally turns on us, and ruins our lives, we are left hanging by a thread above a pit of burning fire.  But God doesn't leave us there.  Just as Samwise reaches out his hand, insisting Frodo takes it, so God holds out his hand in Christ Jesus begging, pleading with us, insisting with us that we take the free gift of Christ Jesus.  

We can see in Frodo's eyes that he wants to let go.  He doesn't want to be saved.  He wants to fall to his death, because of all he's been through.  It was much like this when I got saved... I didn't want to have to come back.  I wanted to die.  But the Spirit, just like Sam, called out to me: "Don't you let go! Don't give in! Reach!" And I reached out my bloody hands to Christ reaching down to me, and I took his hand, and he led me out of the caverns of fire, and into the safety of eagles wings, rising me up, higher and higher, to safety.

As it says, "Those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength;
They shall mount up with wings like eagles,
They shall run and not be weary,
They shall walk and not faint." (Isaiah 40:31

And again it says, "He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart." (Psalm 91:4)

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3 Unconventional Ways to Connect with the Word of God

I love the word of God, but sometimes I have trouble forcing myself to read and study.  Of course I still force myself to do this at night at the end of each day.  But there are other ways I can encounter God's word.  Let's consider a few.

1. Bible Gateway's Free Audio Bible
I listen to the audio Bible a great, especially at night when I'm trying to get to sleep.  Listening to the Bible is great.  It's a good thing to do, or just to have on in the background.  One can also purchase audio bibles and put them as MP3s on a phone or mp3 player.  

2. The Life of Jesus - Here is the word of God in movie format.  The script of the movie is precisely matched word for word with the gospel of John.  There are others as well, like the book of Acts from the same company.

3. YouTube - There is so much Christian content and scripture reading on Youtube these days I can spend all day listening to Bible, scriptures, sermons, and devotionals from today and throughout history.  Specifically I'll mention the Bible Project, they do short videos explaining books of the Bible.  

Related Posts:
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  4. Logic, History, Mathematics, and Science
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  6. Coming into Maturity: Grace, Love, and Service
  7. Shepherds in the Night
  8. Delta Force Christians - Be One
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  10. Does God Exist? Sex Scandals, Scientific Inquiry

Friday, January 18, 2019

When Political Activists Take over your Church

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.
Have you ever noticed how ministries can become politicized over time?  It's a real concern in our day and age, where political ideology has the country polarized, that same political activism can push its way into the church.  

I've noticed this particularly in inner-city churches, where political ideology begins to take over as the driving force behind the church, and the Christian faith begins to take a back seat to the latest political cause or social theory that is going around.  

It's ironic that churches in the heart of major cities, where hundreds of thousands of people don't know Jesus lose their way in this manner. It's a sad irony that churches positioned so perfectly for ministry to so many lost souls would instead focus their attention on identity politics, dividing people up by skin color, presidential politics, perceived wealth inequality, war of the sexes, racism, sexism, and all the various isms of secular-progressive political discourse.  With so many millions without the light of Christ, shouldn't evangelism, discipleship, and worship be front and center for these inner city churches?  

Unfortunately, it seems that political activists often work their way into churches, organizations, and institutions. Indeed, in the area of social work, many social justice and socio-political activists get involved to distribute social services, and advocate for victim groups and so on.  

Oddly enough, over time we find that many people in key leadership positions will use those positions to advocate not for the proclamation of the gospel, but for the proclamation of their political beliefs.  

With evangelical Christians there is always the danger of moving too far conservative on the political wheel.  So it becomes more about patriotism, presidential elections, campaigning for candidates, or worse: The gospel can be drowned out over time.

With mainline protestants, it's moving in the other direction, toward secular progressive ideology. Soon ministry becomes more about political ideology. Instead of the gospel it becomes social justice, racial identity politics, liberal feminism, wealth redistribution, attacking traditional culture, gay pride, and fighting perceived power structures.  The gospel gets drowned out, it's a secondary concern to the political ideology. 

I just want to raise a warning flag for people out there who may have noticed this activism begin to take place in their church, or in their church headquarters.  I want to indicate some warning flags to watch for, and I want to indicate some ways to push back against it. 

Let's look at three warning flags: 

1. Buzz words like "Intersectionality, multiculturalism, micro aggressions and trigger warnings."  
These sort of social theory buzz phrases are appearing more and more in church movements.  These ideas are a mixed bag, there are some good points to them certainly, but also some negatives. 

Overall diversity is a good thing.  But enforced diversity is something different all together.  When quotas are being instituted, and when the language becomes more and more about politics, power structures, and “white privilege” then it’s fair to recognize that secular social theory/ideology has begun to infiltrate the church.

In the Bible, in the New Testament, do we ever see God dividing people up in this way?  No.  God's body is a unity in diversity of different peoples and nations all coming together to form one unique body, the body of Christ.  One of the strengths of the body of Christ is diversity.  

Multiculturalism, once again, not an inherently negative concept, churches are very often self-segregated, and multiculturalism is the idea of bringing various cultures together, and different ethnicities together in a single church, to worship together.  That's biblical!  It's definitely a good thing.  But once again, there are excesses to multiculturalism, like the idea of rejecting any assimilation to American culture, or the idea of blending disparate cultures together on a political level through mass immigration, has been in some cases disastrous for different parts of the world.  

2. Dividing People Up into Groups - When people are divided up into groups, and then pitted against each other, you are beginning to see something called "identity politics" at play.  

This is an ideology where white people are pitted against black people. Women are pitted against men. Black people are told they are victimized by white people.  White people are told they're racist and privileged.  Hispanics are told Americans hate them, young people are told old people are the problem, the economically impoverished are told that rich people are the reason they are poor.  It's all about dividing people up, and pitting them against each other.  And it leads to division, anger, and even violence.  But it's part of something called "community organizing."  Community organizing is something done in inner cities by some organizations. The goal in community organizing is to gather people together in outrage against perceived injustices.  They look to the concept of "self-interest" that these groups have interests that are common, and they need to be organized to fight against systemic oppression.  

Now the scriptures do talk about advocating for the poor and the powerless, but I don't think God had in mind dividing people up into victim groups and turning the oppressed into the oppressors.  God's purpose in society is that we would do justice, and show no favoritism for or against any people.  (Deuteronomy 16:19). 

“Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great, but judge your neighbor fairly.” – Leviticus 19:15, NIV

3. Theology and Doctrine begin to be changed - This is really more than a warning sign, it's a sign that the end is near. Your movement or denomination is now openly changing their viewpoints on key concerns, and even core doctrines of the church are suddenly thrown into question by these political / social justice activists.  Their concern for the Bible and theology is secondary to their political ideology, that is the main issue. They don't care about historic doctrinal views or even about what the Bible says, what they care about is their social ideology and their political positions.  If the Bible conflicts with their ideology, it has to be changed. 

Those are three common warning signs, but there are many others.  Watch the publications of your movement or denomination.  Watch their magazines and online articles.  Stay up to date with the leaders of your movement and what they share on their social media accounts.  And keep an eye on what is being taught at your denominational conferences.  Often times political activists who are at work in your organization are strategic climbers, they know how to get into positions of authority, and use those positions to bring in more like-minded individuals to push their agenda.  Often times these sort of mass-changes in church movements will manifest from the top, and be forced downward from there.

Now let's look at three things you can do to make a difference. 

1. Write a Letter or Email to your Leadership - Write out a well thought out letter, and make sure you use clear evidence when you are detailing what you've noticed.  Maybe you've noticed something at a conference, or something at your local church, or something on social media, and you're concerned.  Document your evidence, write out a letter, and send it to your leadership, either at your local church, or to your headquarters.  

Believe me, there are a lot of good people out there in high up positions who just don't know what they don't know.  They haven't noticed the activism.  They don't deal directly with that person or ministry.  Let them know!  If you’re afraid to go down on record, send it anonymously, but I think it's wiser to go down on record and show them you're a caring member of a body of believers.  Just remember to be kind, encouraging, and detailed in your communication.  

2. Organize with like-minded individuals - It's important to organize in your own denomination when you find yourself threatened by political activists. Gather together in your community or if necessary on a Facebook group.  Discuss what is happening, share information, get organized, and begin to speak up for biblical truth.

3. Become a Leader Yourself - You can make a difference as a leader. Of course this is a calling, it shouldn't be done for any other reason, but as a calling to ministry.  But perhaps you are called for just such a time as this. We need godly Christian leaders who love the word of God, and the gospel of Jesus Christ. 

But even if you aren't a leader, you can still speak up.  If something bothered you at the conference, or event, let leadership know.  If something seemed wrong, or unbiblical, communicate with your pastor or leader, and ask them to pass your concerns on to their leaders.  If you’re in a break out session or group and something non-biblical is being pushed, don't be afraid to raise your hand and ask a question, or if necessary, simply walk out. 

In conclusion, we have to be very cautious in our current age of moral relativism, post-modernism, and political polarization that the ideologies of the surrounding culture don't take over and subvert our churches. Our mission is too critical. The world needs Jesus, all peoples, of all cultures, and all nations. We can and should engage in biblical justice in society.  But that should always be secondary to the gospel.  Don't ever let politics, ideology, or social theories separate you from the holy love of Jesus Christ.

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