Sunday, September 13, 2020

The Realities of Heaven and Hell: The Parable of the Sheep & the Goats

“His German name was Karl der Grosse. At age twenty-nine, he was crowned the ruler of a tiny kingdom in what is now modern-day France. Few people at his coronation thought that King Karl would one day reshape the map of Europe.

At the time of Karl’s ascension in 771, Europe was a collection of petty fiefdoms, plagued by superstition and ignorance, poverty and pestilence. Lost in the dark ages.

In this apocalyptic age, Karl rose up to rescue Christendom. By sheer brutality, he dragged Europe out of the Dark Ages. Over the next forty-two years he fought fifty-three wars. When he defeated an army or captured a city, he insisted that everyone convert to Christianity. Those who refused were slaughtered.

By the cross and sword, he carved out an empire that went from the Atlantic to Russia. Then he spent his final years building monasteries and universities, trying to atone for his reign of terror. He died as one of the most powerful men in the world.

Two centuries later, workmen accidentally broke into Karl’s burial crypt under the cathedral in Aachen, Germany. As they peered into the musty darkness, they saw a two-hundred-year-old skeleton encased in cobwebs and tied to a throne. A crown was perched sideways on a grinning skull.

As the workers inched closer, they saw a table holding a large Bible. The right index finger of the skeleton was resting on a verse in the open book. The workmen called for a priest. Holding a candle close to the Bible, he read the Latin verse of Jesus’ words: “What do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul?” (Mark 8:36).

History remembers him by a single name, Charlemagne. Each of us has been shaped by the way he transformed history. Yet as he coughed out his last, he ordered his body to be buried in a way that would give a message: both the great and small will appear equally naked before God to give an account for their lives.”

-Robert A. Petterson, The One Year Book of Amazing Stories

Today we conclude our series on key issues of the faith. We’ve only touched on a few of the important key issues of the faith, but we will certainly return in the future to many of these topics as we grow together in Christ.

I want to address one of my favorite portions of scripture today, from Matthew chapter 25. And I think this scripture gives us a good picture of ultimate reality. This is one of the many parables that Jesus Christ taught when he was on Earth. It’s a parable about sheep and goats. It’s interesting just how Jesus taught the crowds who followed him. He taught spiritual truths by referring to everyday practices and normal parts of everyday life. Typically ancient nations like Israel were designed in a particular way. There were various walled cities, to defend against invading armies. And these walled cities would be surrounded by farmlands and grazing pastures. There was no complicated supply chain to keep everyone supplied. If a city wanted food, it would have to be surrounded by farm lands and flocks and herds. It’s fairly common. If you think about Owosso it’s pretty similar, you have the inner city area, and surrounding the city you see various farm lands.

So what would everyone see and be aware of? Flocks of sheep, goats, farming, planting, and so on. So Jesus taught referencing such things. If Jesus was walking the Earth today, I imagine he would reference things like the internet, cars, colleges, industries, restaurants, and sports teams.

But in any case Jesus teaches here in Matthew 25, verses 31 through 46 about when Jesus Christ returns to Earth. We know that this will happen at some point in the future, though we don’t know exactly when. It says, “All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.”

Typically sheep will follow their master, and tend to gather in flocks. Goats are different. They are more independent and more likely to be resistant and go their own way.

And it continues saying, “34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’”

If Jesus taught this parable today he would be accused of teaching a works based gospel. Because it’s all about what people did for Jesus, right? Well, it’s right here in the word. This a parable that really fits well with the work of The Salvation Army.

I felt very early on as a Christian that I wanted to be part of a church that was really doing something, really connected with the community, really being the hands and feet of Jesus. And the Lord led me to begin working as a caseworker at a salvation army homeless shelter. I loved it.

But this is what we do right? We provide food to the hungry. We provide water to the thirsty. We provide housing assistance and motel vouchers for the homeless. We provide “coats for kids” which fulfills that mandate to provide clothing. And we’re also called to visit and care for the sick, and to visit those in jail, and believe me, I’m working on developing those sort of ministries here.

The scriptures continues, “37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’”

The amazing thing is, whenever we do one of these things for someone in need, it’s just like we did it for Jesus.

Sometimes I know full well that someone is trying to take advantage of me. I know of them around town. But then I remind myself, it doesn’t really matter, because I’m doing it for Jesus. So I help them. That’s my calling.

And apparently part of our judgment as Christians will be, did we fulfill these mandates to help those in need? And in particular, did we help other Christians in need?

Then we see Jesus addressing those on the left, the goats, “‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.””

Have you ever noticed someone in need, and the Lord was moving in your heart to go talk to them or help them or pray for them, and you felt the Holy Spirit say go do it, and you didn’t? There have been times that I’ve felt that. And I always regret it later. So if the Spirit is speaking to you, be sure to go quickly and do it. Just do it. Go quickly.

In any case, we see Jesus saying depart from me, to the goats, who did not care for him. These are the lazy Christians who did not help those in need. They didn’t serve others. They served themselves. And if we live that way, we’ll be held accountable.

Jesus actually says to them, you are cursed, into the eternal fire, prepared for the devil and his angels.” Scary stuff. And sometimes we don’t like to talk about this part, about divine accountability. God is love. God is mercy. God is gracious. But God is also a just judge.

JI Packer a famous theologian said, from his book, Your Father Loves You, “Why do men shy away from the thought of God as a judge? Why do they feel unworthy of him? The truth is that part of God's moral perfection is his perfection in judgment. Would a God who did not care about the difference between right and wrong be a good and admirable being? Would a God who put no distinction between the beasts of history, the Hitlers and Stalins, and his own saints be morally praiseworthy and perfect? Moral indifference would be an imperfection in God, not a perfection. And not to judge the world would be to show moral indifference. The final proof that God is a perfect moral being, not indifferent to questions of right and wrong, is the fact that he has committed himself to judge the world.

It is clear that the reality of divine judgment must have a direct effect on our view of life. If we know that retributive judgment faces us at the end of the road, we shall not live as otherwise we would. But it must be emphasized that the doctrine of divine judgment, and particularly of the final judgment, is not to be thought of primarily as a bogeyman, with which to frighten men into an outward form of conventional righteousness. It has its frightening implications for godless men, it is true; but its main thrust is as a revelation of the moral character of God, and an imparting of moral significance to human life.”

It matters how you live and the choices to make. The goal here isn’t to scare you into being good. The goal is to point to God’s justice and righteousness. And to remind us that we are accountable to God. And there will be a day of judgment, when we give an account for how we lived.

So we see Jesus teaches us, to provide food for the hungry, water for the thirsty, to care for the sick, for those in jail, to provide clothing, and to help meet needs in the world. This is an important calling, and one we partake in, in the salvation army. This august we distributed over 120 backpacks for children in need. We give out food everyday through our daily meals, and our pantry. I would encourage you here if you haven’t, volunteer to help with some of these services. We always needs to volunteers. But more importantly, do these things in your daily life. God will give you opportunities to help people and meet needs. All you have to do is take those opportunities.

My motivation is simple for doing what I do everyday: God is really real. The Bible is really God’s word. Jesus Christ is really my savior. Which means every good deed I do in this life for someone, is just like I did it for Jesus my dear friend himself. And more so, I know I will be rewarded in heaven for each good deed I do.

There are many who testify to having near death experiences, or visions from God, in which they see Jesus in heaven, and Jesus will show these people their house in heaven, and how every time they do a good deed, or preach the gospel, or meet someone’s need, it adds on something new to the house. And Jesus is the carpenter, building the house in heaven, preparing it for them when they arrive in heaven. How beautiful is that? I think it’s amazing. And indeed God’s word says that we will be rewarded for what we do in this life for Christ. Great is our reward in heaven, when we serve Jesus here. Every loaf of bread, every gallon of water, every piece of clothing given to those in need are jewels in your crown in heaven.

I know these things are true. So Christians, be like the sheep who follow our great shepherd Jesus Christ. Don’t be like the goats, who pretend to care about the needy, but don’t really do anything to help people. They just serve themselves. Don’t just pretend. Really live it out. 

Sunday, September 6, 2020

The Great Blessing: Attaining God-Consciousness

The Spiritual journey continues. Last week we talked about the moment of apotheosis, where we realize our identity as Christians, and it connects not only in the mind, but connects from the mind to the heart, and we begin to really feel that we are Christians. Today we consider the next step of the saga , which is really one of the great climax moments of the journey. We’ve been on this spiritual journey for a while now. And we come to the moment of the great blessing.

We finally, finally, finally go from being a Christian who yes knows our identity, but struggles to have communion with God, to a Christian who experiences daily God-consciousness.

What do we mean when we talk about God consciousness? Well, the scriptures refer to this in several different ways. Sometimes it’s called “life in the Spirit.” As Christians we have Jesus as our savior, God as our Father, and the Holy Spirit within us. And you could say that living in God-consciousness is to live with our mind and heart actively connected to the Holy Spirit within. And then we know that the Holy Spirit is connected to Jesus, and Jesus is connected to the father. You could say that the Holy Spirit is our plug in, we’re plugged into the Holy Spirit who is plugged into Jesus who is plugged into the Father. So God-consciousness is having an active mindset connected to the Holy Spirit.

1st Corinthians 2:16 says, “But we have been given Christ’s way of thinking.” And that is another way that God consciousness is referred to in the scriptures. It’s referred to as “the mind of Christ.”

So what does this mind of Christ look like? Well we get an excellent description of it, famously in Philippians 2:5-11 which says, “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,[a] 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,[b] 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” -Philippians 2:5-11

An astounding declaration is made here, it says in verse 5 right at the beginning, have this mind in yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus. You could pass over that but stop there. It says as a follower of Jesus, this mind of Christ is yours already. Wow.

God consciousness. Wow. Let me explain it this way. We all operate on three basic instincts of life. We operate from our security instinct, our social instinct and our sexual instinct. This is basic to all people. We seek food, shelter, work, protection and so on. That is our security instinct. Basic needs of life. We also have a powerful social instinct, we are drawn to have a family, to have children, to develop friendships with others, to be around other people. Very powerful, and of course we have our sexual instinct that powerful desire to meet someone of the opposite sex, get married, and be romantically involved. Security, social and sexual instinct.

All humans operate that way. But God-consciousness is the 4th dimension of existence. When we begin to operate based on a whole new 4th instinct, the instinct to serve God. And this instinct becomes the most powerful instinct for a Christian.

If you are truly a Christian, you know in your heart, that you would rather die than turn away from Jesus. If someone put a gun to my head, and said, are you a Christian? If you say no I’ll let you go. I would have to say yes, because Jesus is my savior and I can’t deny Him. Jesus is greater than my security instinct, and my social instinct. If I have a group of friends, who mock my faith in Jesus and practice sinful things, I may love those people very much, but I love Jesus more, and I will leave that group before they get in the way of my walk with God. Same thing with the sexual instinct. I’ve had many possibilities of relationships, but those women were not Christians, they were not interested in Jesus, and I know they wouldn’t want to join my church, so even though I had the chance at romance, I declined it. Because this 4th dimension of existence, God consciousness, the instinct to serve the God that made me, is greater than all 3 of those main instincts of life.

But here’s the thing about God-consciousness: It doesn’t come at first as a Christian. We start to follow Jesus and we struggle at first, for the first few years, or however long, to develop prayer times in the morning and at night, over meals. We struggle to develop times of reading the Bible, and watching Christian sermons on YouTube and so on. But as we fight those battles to engage in true relationship with God, we see our connection to God begin to blossom and grow like a beautiful growing garden. And of course week by week we go out there and pull out weeds, we water it carefully each day, we protect it from animals and birds. And slowly it grows up and becomes more and more beautiful.

Eventually we reach that point of apotheosis where we realize deep within our identity in Christ. And the journey continues. And eventually we reach this time where we begin to sense God’s presence. We begin to be actively guided by the Holy Spirit within us. We have gut feelings about dangerous situations. We stop and realize God’s loving presence is here and now with us. And we’re amazed and brought to tears by his love. Our prayer life grows beyond a few minutes to an hour a day or more. We read that bible a half hour a day, we watch YouTube sermons and listen to audio bibles. And slowly but surely we begin to actively experience God consciousness, the mind of Christ within us. This is the great blessing, the ultimate blessing, to begin to really live like Jesus.

We become bold. We share the gospel actively. We delight in God. We have an intuitive response in our minds to situations we didn’t use to be able to handle. We realize that God is doing in us, what we could never do ourselves. We have God-consciousness. We now operate from the great blessing of the mind of Christ. And we grow in the mind of Christ, to experience more and more God-consciousness until it’s the new normal for our lives. Isn’t that beautiful? So keep seeking God actively, fighting for an intimate relationship with Him and soon you’ll find yourself operating from God-consciousness, the ultimate blessing. 

Four Views of Sanctification: Lutheran, Calvinist, Keswick, & Wesleyan

Last week we talked about three views of the atonement of Jesus. Today we’re going to continue forward and talk about the concept of sanctification. That’s a big theological word, but in general sanctification is defined as the process by which a believer in Jesus is conformed to the image of Christ. In other words, sanctification is the process by which we are made slowly over our lives more and more holy, pure, and like Jesus our savior.

Salvation happens for us at the moment that we believe in jesus Christ as our savior. At that moment we are born again, we receive the holy spirit who lives in us, and we begin a new life as a follower of Jesus. That is the moment of salvation.

But now that we’ve become Christians, we live the rest of our lives following Jesus, and slowly growing to be more and more like Jesus. That is the lifelong process of sanctification. It’s also referred to as growth in holiness, growth in purity, and growth in maturity. The scriptures make consistent reference to the process of sanctification is these various ways, another way it’s referred to is as putting to death the sins of the flesh, and living by the Spirit in us.

Are you taking notes? I hope so. We’re going a bit deeper today. So I want to give you first of all the four chief views of sanctification within the church, and then we’ll focus on the Wesleyan view, which as The Salvation Army, is the theology we follow. And I think you’ll see why, it’s quite beautiful. But I want you to be aware of all the various perspectives on sanctification.

Before we start I want to tell you that is issue of sanctification really hits on a huge, huge massive issue within the Christian faith, and it’s how Christians wrestle with sin after becoming Christians. This is to me the grand question of following Jesus: How do we resolve the fact of sin in the life of the believer? Do we ignore it? Do we throw up our arms and quit? Do we focus in on Christ? Do we work to overcome it? And these viewpoints each tell us a different response to the question of what should a Christian who keeps sinning do?

First of all we have the Lutheran view. I had quite a debate with one of my professors at Liberty university who held the Lutheran view of sanctification, and I found it to be quite an unacceptable viewpoint. But in any case, the Lutheran view suggests that the moment of salvation and sanctification are one in the same. So at the moment that you get saved, you are also fully sanctified. Which makes absolutely no sense to me. Because I haven’t met many Christians who seem to be instantly just like Jesus, though perhaps it does happen from time to time, I don’t know. But from my perspectives when I see Christians growing, it’s a lifelong process of slowly, sins being weeded out one by one, and a slow growth in maturity. So this perspective believes that it’s a sort of one and done, you get saved in Jesus, and at that same time you are fully sanctified as well.

So this perspective answers the question by saying we are new in Christ, any attempt to live a holy life is just man trying to be saved by his owns, and so we just focus on Jesus, grace through faith alone, and we don’t worry about it when we struggle in sin. To me, this perspective decides to ignore and push aside the sin problem in a believer’s life.

The second view is the Calvinist view. The Calvinist suggests that sanctification occurs both at the moment of salvation, and also as a progressive process through our whole lives. Believers are considered a new person, who is also being progressively renewed in Christ. So it’s lifelong process of slow growth in sanctification that never really meets an end. So a Calvinist would say, generally, that a believer will always sin in this life. And not to worry about it, you won’t be sanctified like Jesus until coming into heaven.

Once again, the question, what about sin in a believer’s life, the answer for the Calvinist is: Yes, you keep on sinning in this life. You can never be free from sin. So this perspective simply embraces sin as a reality of this life. They would say you can resist sin in Christ of course, but you can’t ever be fully free from sin.

The third view is the Keswick “Deeper Life” view. The Keswick view is best described from the Keswick movement that took place in the late 18th century from their first publication which states, “We believe that the Word of God teaches that the normal Christian life is one of uniform sustained victory over known sin… that a life of faith and victory, of peace and rest, are the rightful heritage of every child of God, and that he may step into it… not by long prayers, and laborious effort, but by a deliberate and decisive act of faith. The normal experience of the child of God should be one of victory instead of constant defeat, one of liberty, and rest, and that this may be obtained not by a lifelong struggle after an impossible ideal but by a surrender of the individual to God, and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.” The Keswick view indicates that Christians fight a battle within themselves between the desires of the flesh, and the desires of the Spirit. And as much as believers try to fight this battle to live in the Spirit, instead of the flesh, they can’t win the battle.

So the solution for the Keswick view is a single moment at some point in the future where the believer fully surrenders to God. A complete surrender and turning over of all to God. They would say this moment of surrender usually happens along with some sort of crisis in the life of the believer. They believer realizes in this moment of crisis that they are totally powerless to sin, and so they come through this crisis to a complete surrender.

And it means, first of all that the believer completely surrenders to the fact that they can’t beat sin on their own, and secondly they put a complete resting faith in Christ. This ends the battle with a total surrender to Christ, and no more striving to be holy and pure. At that moment of surrender, the believer is given by the Holy Spirit the power to resist sin, and live holy in Christ.

So there’s a lot of good stuff there. There’s plenty to like in this view. You surrender to God, and God removes the problem. Sounds a lot like say the twelve steps of recovery groups in society.

So to the answer of the question of sin in the life of a believer, the Keswick view would say the answer is a time of crisis, that brings us to a complete surrender to God, and that resting faith in Christ delivers us from all sin. So the answer changes now, for the Lutheran and Calvinist view, sin must always remain. But for the Keswick view, sin can be overcome.

But now let’s look at the fourth view, the Wesleyan View, which is the idea of entire sanctification as perfect love. This view considers all sin a problem of the heart. Because the scriptures say that man looks at actions but God looks at the heart. It’s all a heart issue. Sin is the problem and Christ is the solution. All this growth in holiness is only done by Christ in us, and by the Spirit working in us, we simply cooperate with that and respond as God moves in us toward growth.

And I think you’ll see that the Wesleyan view actually combines a lot of the best elements from the other views.

Let’s take a look at the chart. 

So you see the moment of salvation, justification, that Jesus makes us new, washes away our past sins, and gives us a new life, we receive the Holy Spirit and we begin our Christian journey. Then we see the slow progressive growth in holiness. Similar to part of the Calvinist view. We slowly over the months and years, watch as God removes sins from our lives, removes things like pride, and ego, and gossip, and coldness, and we repent, and God removes those things.

We come to a moment of surrender, where we give ourselves fully over to God, this really heralds a time when we realize we’ve given our whole lives to God. And we’ve humbled ourselves before him. This is a time when victory begins to become the new normal. So sanctification continues, and eventually at some time in the future, we come to this point of what we call “entire sanctification” where our hearts are filled with the love of Christ. Now, this is not the removal of the constant temptation to sin, but it is the moment when we reach the point where we no longer sin in this life. We’ve repented of our sins, because God has done the work in us. And we now have the mind of Christ, and live with the love of Jesus.

You might think it ends there, but growth continues after entire sanctification. God continues to grow us in so many ways, continues to prune, and expand our ministry and we continue in life.

Then one day we die, and we come before Jesus, and at this moment we receive glorification, which means the sinful nature is removed from us, and we no longer are predisposed to be tempted by sin. We come into eternal life, and have received our inheritance.

And I think of all these views the Wesleyan perfect love view gives us the most complete version of the Christian life. We find the whole process, growth, surrender, freedom from sin, and glorification after death.

Entire sanctification is stated in the word, from 1 Thessalonians 5:23 ESV “Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

So as Wesleyans, to the question of what do believers do about sinning in their lives after coming to know Jesus? We would say continue to grow in sanctification, continue to walk with Christ, continue to repent of active sins, and one day you will reach the point of entire sanctification, when you will no longer sin in your life. You will live out true holiness in Christ.

And it’s important to remember, this is not something we do in our own strength or by works. This is a work of God, miraculously done in us over time, eventually reaching the point of full and complete freedom from sin. So we would answer: Continue to walk with Jesus, be zealous in repentance and closeness with God, and you will be free from all sin. But fear not, you are saved today. You are born again today. Live a lifestyle of repentance in the meantime and you will reach that moment of freedom from sin, entire sanctification. We affirm the truth that nowhere in the new testament are we told, nowhere, are we told that Christ and sin can abide together in the flesh. One will push out the other. Either sin will push out Christ, or Christ will push out sin. It’s a process, and it does reach a point of consummation.

I hope that makes sense. I hope you’ve been taking notes and will put this into practice in your own lives.

So in conclusion, how does this apply to us today? Well, if you are a Christian who currently struggles in active sins, have hope, Christ will set you free. Be zealous, and live a lifestyle of repentance. But not in your own power. Give these issues over to Christ, and he will set you free. Your part is the practice the opposite, and steadfastly continue in growth. Christ does it in us. We can have hope. Sin will not reign in us. We are free to live holy as Christ is holy, and as God is holy. 

Monday, August 31, 2020

Top 10 Best Deep Episodes of Star Trek Voyager

 Note: Episode descriptions are from Wikipedia's list of Voyager Episodes.

Growing up I loved watching Star Trek Voyager for the deep ethical and philosophical questions that episodes would raise.  This list will be based not on the best episodes overall, but on the episodes with the most interesting philosophical and moral dilemmas. These are simply my perspectives on the deeper issues of these episodes, they aren't specifically stated by writers from the show. 

 10. "Death Wish" - "The crew encounter a member of the Q Continuum seeking to end his immortal life."

This episode deals with complex issues like the role of the state in controlling the individual's right to live or die.  Should an individual whose life has become unlivable be allowed to commit suicide? What constitutes an unlivable life exactly?  And in particular, a being so brilliant and wise as Quinn makes the cost extremely high.  What is the state's role?  The episode determines that in the extreme case of an infinite being who has nothing left to learn or explore, the state does not have authority to prevent the individual from ending their own life; even if it means it will disrupt society. 


9. "The Thaw" - "The crew finds aliens mentally connected to a computer that has created a being that feeds on their fear."

The power of fear is explored in The Thaw.  Particularly, the theme of when fear takes us hostage.  What do we do? What is the purpose of fear? Fear protects us from danger, helps us to not take unnecessary risks. Yet fear, when it takes over and controls us, can become deadly.  It can overwhelm everything else within us, and become toxic and destructive.  Such is the case with "the clown" who has taken the last survivors of a doomed colony hostage. Yet ironically, he was created by their own minds. Isn't it the same with our own fear?  It's a product of our own mindset.

The battle is fought to overcome fear. Yet fear holds on and won't give up. But in the end, the realization comes, that the ultimate role for fear is to be faced and conquered.  

8. "Nemesis"- "Chakotay is taken captive by soldiers fighting in a war against their nemesis."

I absolutely love this episode because it pulls you in so completely, into the struggle of the Vori against the Kradin.  You travel along with Chakotay as he is taken in by the desperate struggle of the peaceful Vori against the evil Kradin.  You experience friends being killed, the villagers being taken away to extermination camps.  But in the end you realize, you've been subjected to a propaganda simulation, to trick you into fighting for the wrong side.  

How often this happens in modern politics, that we find ourselves fighting against the evil "other side" who are so terrible and oppressive, and then later on we discover, we'd been propagandized, and indoctrinated. We find out we may have been on the wrong side. We were taught to hate those we disagree with, and that hatred can blind us to the real facts and truth on the ground.  And in the end, it's a lot harder to stop hating than it was to start.  


7. "The Fight""- Chakotay lies in sickbay as he attempts to communicate with aliens through hallucinations."

 Voyager becomes trapped in a place called chaotic space that threatens to destroy the ship.  There are aliens there attempting to help the crew to escape, through activating a gene in Chakotay that provokes hallucinations.

This episode deals with the fear of growing old.  And in particular the fear of developing dementia. But it goes deeper than that, it actually deals with the underlying fear below that fear of dementia, it's the fear of chaos, of nothingness.  

The story is portrayed as a hallucination of a boxing match. Chakotay struggles with the fear of losing his mind. But ultimately faces his fears, and guides Voyager to safety. 


6. "The Voyager Conspiracy"- "After assimilating Voyager's data from the past six years, through an enhancement to her Borg implants, Seven of Nine suspects the ship did not arrive in the Delta Quadrant by accident."

 This episode deals with the question of how to analyze incomplete information.  Sometimes things in life don't add up in any normal way.  We're left with loose ends, loose change, you might say, and how do we discover the truth about events we don't understand?  

Seven of Nine begins to draw on more and more information and begins to develop a conspiracy theory, that Voyager was sent to the Delta Quadrant purposefully. She strings together various strands of information, forming a house of cards. She questions why Voyager was equipped with cobalt weapons. She questions why the caretaker sent back other ships but didn't send back Voyager.

We see this a lot in politics, and in particularly on the fringes of culture and cults.  If you string together enough random facts you can create a conspiracy theory for just about anything.  But what's actually true?  What do we do with all these loose ends?  The episode concludes by indicating that usually the simplest explanation is the most likely one.  


5. "Retrospect"- "7 of 9 remembers being assaulted by Kovin, but the situation turns out to be more complicated than they realize."

 This episode takes us in completely, as we see the petty capitalistic Kovin bartering for a big sale.  Seven of Nine gets into an argument with Kovin and hits him.  She joins with her new advocate, the Doctor, who begins to bring to the surface repressed memories in which Seven remembers Kovin assaulting her and stealing nanoprobes from her body. 

The episode makes you feel strongly that you must support Seven, just as the doctor and the crew do.  And they have the perfect target, the selfish profiteering Kovin character who is brash, petty, and rude.  

The crew, led by the Doctor begin aggressively advocating for Seven of Nine.  Kovin rightly realizes that the allegation alone will destroy his business. But we all want justice for Seven in the episode.

But here comes the twist, they discover that Seven's memories weren't real.  They were imagined.  In their zeal to protect the victim, they terrify the supposed perpetrator into destroying himself.  

This episode gives us a valuable warning about advocating for victims when the evidence isn't there.  So many in our society want to fight for the victim.  This episode brings to mind sexual assault allegations.  And that the allegation itself can ruin someone's career.  What happens in a situation when the allegations turn out to be false?  On college campuses this is becoming more and more prominent.  Sometimes we go too far wanting to protect the person who appears to be the victim, but later we learn the truth wasn't so simple. And in our zeal to protect the oppressed, we've destroyed an innocent person.  

4. "One"- "7 of 9 must guide Voyager through a nebula while the crew is in stasis."

 30 days, alone on the ship, with only the Doctor to help. This deals with the grim realities of isolation, and the demons of our past coming back to haunt us.  Time alone, in isolation often turns our thoughts inwards to our lives and how we've lived and what we've done.  This episode explores the battle of isolation, and how we fight to push through times of pain, loss, and brokenness.

What on Earth do we do with those constant nagging thoughts about the past?  "I should've lived differently.  I remember all the wrongs I did.  Can I move past these dark times?"  In the end you wonder if Seven will make it through the 30 days.

The passage through the mutara nebula reminds me of the battle against depression, addiction, or post traumatic stress.  These destructive inward struggles threaten to stop our journey through them, and leave us stuck there in the cloud of misery. But the only way past these issues is through them, processing them, facing them head on and going through the memories and the thoughts to find healing.  Often we want to side step it and escape. And we're threatened by the possibility of breaking down and being stuck there forever.

Think of how it feels to lose a loved one, or recover from an assault. It numbs us, breaks us down to a point of hardly functioning at 10% of who we used to be.  It's much like our crew is in stasis, and only a few are left to run it.  And we have to somehow courageously make it through, to the other side, where we finding healing and acceptance, and a new phase of our lives begin. 

 3. "Fury"- "A much older and more powerful Kes returns to Voyager, and attempts to travel back in time to change her history."

 Kes who was once a beloved member of the crew returns in a rage, believing she had been corrupted by Voyager and the values instilled by the crew.  She seeks to destroy Voyager by going back in time and rescuing her younger self from them.

Parents often seek to instill their vales in their children as they grow up. Often this goes well, with the children embracing those values and making them part of their own value-set.  But sometimes the children will reject those values, and become hostile to the values that they were raised with.  Often times we see this with kids going off to college, they leave with a certain set of values, and return with an entirely different set of values instilled by college professors. 

Sometimes later in life we think to ourselves, what if we could go back in time and tell ourselves something?  What would we say?  How could we help rescue our old selves from undue suffering?

Kes deeply regrets the decision she made to leave her homeworld and her people.  She believes the values the Voyager crew taught her about knowledge and science and exploration corrupted her.  She's spent years in isolation.  

And then at the end the episode raises the big question: "Can we go home again?"

The adage is often stated, "You can't go home again." 

But the episode seems to indicate that perhaps Kes can go home again, even though she's so different now, perhaps the Ocampans will accept her, and even learn from her.  Kes listens to herself, through a holo-recording she made.  How true it is that we often have an internal dialogue about this very thing and later we remember that those values we were taught growing up aren't so hateful after all.  We come home again, in a way. 


2. "Living Witness" - "A backup module for the EMH is discovered hundreds of years after Voyager on an alien planet divided over race."

Watching this episode long ago brought me to tears, I found the message so incredibly powerful and provocative.  This is really a ground breaking episode.  It deals with the idea of revisionist history.  Was Voyager a vessel of peace, exploration, and high principles?  Or was it an evil warship, one who spread it's power through violence, conquest, and the selfish desire to get home?  The kyrians have constructed a revisionist history of Voyager, where the kyrian people are portrayed as the victims of Voyager and the Vaskan people.  

But when the EMH appears from a data module, there is a living witness who saw the events that took place.  So which matters more, the narrative that the Kyrians have set up to portray themselves as victims?  Or does the truth matter?  For the main character of the episode he struggles against his own belief structure, and the new facts the disrupt his belief structure.  Eventually he is willing to hear the truth, and accepts it. 

But it greatly impacts the present day realities of how Kyrians are mistreated by Vaskans in their society.  Vaskans begin destroying the museum because they realize it's full of lies, and the Kyrians angrily protest the new information saying it doesn't even matter because oppression exists today. 

I can't help but be reminded of the two modern narratives that are vying for control of the imagination of the United States, the struggle between 1776, the perspective the USA as a nation that set forth good ideals and slowly grew in the direction toward living up to those ideals, or the perspective of 1619, that the USA was founded on racism and bigotry, and is evil to it's core to the present day and must be ripped down and rebuilt from the ground up.  Which vision is actually true?  Which vision is revisionist history?  

The conclusion of the episode jumps from the moment of the riots to ahead in the future, and it's a new museum, where Kyrians and Vaskans are living in peace. The moment of this great conflict birthed a dialogue between the two races, and it paved the way to peace, and a new respect for both divergent cultures.  That is a dream so many have for the United States, that there could be reconciliation and peace between whites, blacks, and other races as well. 

I don't think a lot of people realize how powerful this episode of Voyager was, because it's cloaked in alien civilizations and technology and such, but it really was an incredible feat of philosophical exploration. 


1."Sacred Ground""Kes is left comatose after contacting an energy field around a temple."

Kes is in a coma, but Captain Janeway discovers a way that she might gather scientific data, by going through a ritual of the Nechani monks.  Janeway believes that going through the ritual will bring about certain biochemical changes in her body that will indicate a possible treatment for Kes.  Janeway goes through a grueling ritual guided by the Nechani monks, and the doctor monitors her biochemical condition.  She hallucinates, is bitten by a snake, and has a vision of talking to the "ancestral spirits." She comes back to Voyager and the Doctor indicates that the data he has collected has provided a treatment for Kes.  Mission complete right?  The Doctor administers the treatment, and everything in Kes' body indicates that she is healed, and should be ok, only one problem, she isn't. She isn't cured at all.

Janeway returns to the monks and asks why Kes wasn't healed.  The monks explain that the entire ritual Janeway went through was simply a fulfilling of what she expected.  They simply fulfilled what Janeway thought would probably happen in a typical ritual.  But now the real crux of the episode takes place, when she sits with the three old monks.  They point out that Janeway has a sort of faith, a faith in science.  Philosophers call this "scientism" a belief that the only things true in the universe are those that can be scientifically proven.  And that ideology has failed her in this case completely.  Science can't really explain everything in the universe.  There are things beyond science.  

So she is challenged to do the exact opposite of what she thinks she ought to do, take Kes back into the biogenic field.  Every sensor reading and scan tells Janeway that the biogenic field is lethal, it would kill Kes instantly.  But Janeway is challenged, your science failed you right before your eyes, yet you still have complete faith in it?  That is a promising level of faith in a way isn't it?  So can she learn a simple faith in God, a faith that says, I don't understand, I can't fix this, it's beyond my power, and I trust God to heal this crew member who is near death.  

Janeway moves to take Kes into the biogenic field. Chakotay and Neelix try to stop her.  Chakotay says finally, "Captain, I don't understand this."  And she replies, "That's the challenge!"  It's beyond science, it's spiritual.  And she can't just ignore that.  So she moves on faith, and takes Kes into the biogenic field. And sure enough, the spirits return Kes' soul to her body. 

The last scene is absolutely fantastic.  It shows the Doctor explaining in all sorts of high sounding scientific language about what really happened, and how the biogenic field actually did this, and that, and if they had known that they could've done this and then that.  And Captain Janeway just kind of stares and the doctor asks her if there's anything wrong with his scientific analysis.  And she says no, it's very scientific.  And just kind of walks away deep in thought.  She realizes through this whole experience that faith and spirituality are valid, because indeed there are things beyond medical science, like the soul, and God, that can't be explained by science, but are certainly real. Amazing, and so contrary to what the typical plot of Voyager would normally be, it's almost always about some scientific or technological discovery that solves the problem in the end.  But in this case they take a step back and admit, not all things can be explained by science, the spiritual is valid as well.

Sunday, August 30, 2020

Spiritual Journey: Apotheosis, Realizing Our True Identity

"Every morning before shuffling out the back door, the old man told the cook to keep the frying pan hot. Tonight he was going to bring that elusive fish home for supper. All day he would sit on the same battered lawn chair, under the same Florida sun, next to the same fishing hole, holding the same rod, while dangling the same hook. Day after day, month after month, and year after year, he waited for that fish to bite.

Occasionally, visitors came from Chicago or New York to pay homage to the old man at the fishing hole. They tried to mask their dismay upon seeing him. Though he was only in his late forties, he looked old beyond his years. His brain was eaten by syphilis, his face was scarred from earlier wars, and his body had been ravaged by prison. For a brief moment, his eyes would flicker in faint remembrance. He might respond with an incoherent grunt. But always his glassy gaze would quickly return to the hook in the water.

After awkward moments of silence, visitors would sadly slip away. There was a time when old Alphonse was Big Al. As America’s most notorious and feared gangster, he ruled a crime syndicate as rich and powerful as the federal government. He was Public Enemy Number One. His detractors called him Scarface. His victims called him Sir. His stable of slick lawyers and bribed public officials kept him out of prison for years. No mobster had ever had a run like Scarface Al Capone.

But even the boss can’t mess with the Internal Revenue Service. At thirty-three years of age, Big Al was sent up the river for tax evasion. When bribed officials allowed him to turn his cell into the Ritz-Carlton, he was carted off to the new maximum security prison at Alcatraz. There he experienced the true meaning of “hard time.” After four years on the Rock, he was released for good behavior. The truth is, he was broken in spirit and addled by syphilis. He had spent most of his last year in the prison hospital, and the syndicate had moved on without him. The Feds figured that Alphonse Capone no longer posed a threat to anyone.

So old Scarface spent his final days near Miami, fishing for that elusive fish in a swimming pool that contained nothing but chlorinated water. You have to say this for addled Al: he was a persistent fisherman until the end. He died in 1947, at age forty-eight, still hoping to catch that fish.

Big Al’s fishing story may sound crazy. But it’s not as crazy as the everyday story of folks who keep fishing for what can never be caught. They actually believe they can find lasting satisfaction by hooking on to the things of this world. But the elusive fish never strikes. Maybe they’re fishing in the wrong place, thinking they can fill that God-shaped hole inside with finite and temporary things.

Most folks go fishing all their lives without realizing that it’s not fish they’re after.

The things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever."

-Robert A. Petterson, The One Year Book of Amazing Stories

Do you really realize who you are? Do you really realize that God is real? And do you understand that the hunger in your soul, that empty vacuum can only be filled by Jesus Christ the Lord of all?

The message goes out everywhere. The message of Jesus. It’s like a farmer who worked his fields, and planted the crops on new land that he wasn’t quite sure about. But he planted the seed everywhere. Some it landed with rocks and didn’t grow well. Some fell among weeds and the weeds choked out the crop so it couldn’t grow well. 

 "The seed that fell among thorns stands for those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by life’s worries, riches and pleasures, and they do not mature. But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop." -Luke 8:14-15

And that is what we are talking about today, apotheosis, the moment when we realize who we truly are. And we’ve come to a certain level of maturity, where we are hard at work producing a crop for the Lord’s kingdom.

This is the moment on the Christian spiritual journey where we realize “this is really who I am.” I am the hero. I’ve become the hero. I’m really a child of God. I’m really a new person. I really believe it. I really know it. And I’m not going to live my life completely differently.

We’re on a mission for God. This is so freeing, it’s so powerful when we really realize and believe God now lives in us. I’m the soldier of Christ now. And anything is possible.

We’ve gone through the spiritual journey, where we go from one who isn’t on the journey at all, to being one who joins the adventure. We talked about how we often make peace with family. We talked about how we face a road of trials. And we talked last week about how we face a temptation, and we also come to the moment of the union with the lover, our partner in life.

Today we talk about the moment apotheosis, when we come to realize who we truly are: the hero of the adventure. And we get to work fighting for the noble cause.

This reminds me of the apostle Paul. Before he met Jesus he was one who hunted down and persecuted the early church. But then something powerful happened to him. He saw a vision of Jesus who commanded him to “stop persecuting me” And he became a new man.

Acts 9:17-22 says, "So Ananias went, entered the house where Saul was, and placed his hands on him. “Brother Saul,” he said, “the Lord has sent me—Jesus himself, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here. He sent me so that you might see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 18 At once something like fish scales fell from Saul's eyes, and he was able to see again. He stood up and was baptized; 19 and after he had eaten, his strength came back.
Saul stayed for a few days with the believers in Damascus. He went straight to the synagogues and began to preach that Jesus was the Son of God. All who heard him were amazed and asked, “Isn't he the one who in Jerusalem was killing those who worship that man Jesus? And didn't he come here for the very purpose of arresting those people and taking them back to the chief priests?”

But Saul's preaching became even more powerful, and his proofs that Jesus was the Messiah were so convincing that the Jews who lived in Damascus could not answer him.”

Saul began a new phase of his life. He’d reached the moment of apotheosis. He realized who God was, and he now had Jesus living inside of him, the divine within him. So Saul became a new person. And he knew who he was. He finally knew the purpose of his life, to do something very special, something billions would learn about over human history.

He became the hero. He embraced a new identity. Saul, became Paul, the hero. Have you come to this moment of realizing your identity?

Do you really know now that you are a Christian? Do you really know that have been adopted by God? Do you really know that you’ve found the answer to every question about life, meaning, and God? It’s all here. And you are part of that. God is with you. And He is going to lead you through your life, as long as you continue to walk with Him. That is amazing, isn’t it? 


Soteriology: 3 Views of the Atonement

There is a savior for forgiveness. There is a way out of the wilderness. This is a journey that can be made, pain after pain, event after event, joy and sorrow, peace and unsettled, despair and ecstasy, knowledge after knowledge, humbled into pieces, reception of Christ Jesus, and reconnection born after, ever burdened by sin after sin, carrying the incredible weight of distance from his presence, but promised something we cannot see, taste, or touch, yet believing and hoping, against all odds, and on the way changing the world, sharing that fountain with others, day after endless day, eyes to the horizon, head in the clouds, feet on the ground, stunning and shaken, screaming in sadness, victorious shout, endless eternity awaiting those who can just hold out to the end. Great happiness to those who finish this journey. That's what it means to me.. being a Christian.

Today we are talking about soteriology, that is, the study of salvation. And in particular we are talking about the atonement today. We are talking about what happened at the end, when Jesus was judged as guilty, beaten, chained, and made to carry a hunk of wood to a dump to be executed.

I want to get you a general overview of the issues in the concepts of salvation that are prominent in evangelical Christianity. But ultimately I want to get to what this looks like for you practically. Essentially, we can boil down soteriology to the question: What does it mean to saved? What does it mean to possess salvation?

And for salvation, we must ultimately look to what happened at the cross of Jesus Christ. What was it about this event that was able to bring salvation to so many billions of people through history and to today?

There are three primary views within evangelicalism, they are first, penal substitutionary atonement, second, Christus Victor, and third, The Moral government view. Let’s go through these views one by one, and I think you’ll each of them portrays a good angle of what happened that fateful day.

Moral government view – This view suggests that the chief reason for the cross and how it impacts us, is for the purpose of “showing righteousness.” The idea here is that God’s wrath is shown at the cross, to show us how deadly the evil of sin is. The chief verse often used to defend this view is Romans 3:25-26 which says, “25 For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood. This sacrifice shows that God was being fair when he held back and did not punish those who sinned in times past, 26 for he was looking ahead and including them in what he would do in this present time. God did this to demonstrate his righteousness, for he himself is fair and just, and he makes sinners right in his sight when they believe in Jesus.”

So this view is that God displays his own total authority over humanity and the world, and displays the truth that the universe is fundamentally moral. Every decision we make matter. So Christ’s death on the cross shows us the sinfulness of sin and the incredible value of righteousness. That is one perspective.

Christus victor view- This view suggests that the chief reason for the cross was for Christ to defeat Satan and all the works of the evil one.

This view suggests that the chief reason that Jesus came into the world was to overthrow the kingdom of Satan, for the scriptures say that this world is under the control of the evil one. You see that Jesus often cast out demons from people, and they see this is God’s kingdom program moving forward slowly but surely and defeating and pushing back the kingdoms of darkness. And the ultimate defeat of Satan’s kingdom was the cross and the resurrection of Jesus.

So they would see that authority over the world used to belong to Adam and Eve, but they sinned, and gave their authority to Satan, who ruled over the world until Jesus came, died and was resurrected and by so doing “disarmed the rulers and authorities and made a public spectacle of them on the cross.”

So Christ’s victory on the cross sets us free from slavery to the evil one’s kingdom, slavery to sin, and slavery to death.

Penal substitutionary atonement view – This is probably the most common view, that Jesus Christ went to the cross because each of us individually owed a debt because of our sins, that we could not repay. We lived lives of sin and stood condemned before God. So Jesus Christ, the son of God came, and lived a perfect life, the sinless life none of us could live. And paradoxically, Jesus took the penalty for our sins. That’s why it’s called penal, penal refers to the penalty for sin. Jesus took our penalty for sin on the cross when he was slaughtered and God abandoned him to receive punishment for our sins. So penal, substitutionary in that Jesus stands in as a willing substitute for us. We were guilty of sin, deserved hell and punishment. But Jesus stepped in and offered himself as a substitute to be punished in our place. Penal Substitutionary atonement. Atonement, in that when Christ was punished for our sins on the cross, he atoned for our sins, he paid off the debt, and thus we are rendered perfect by Jesus. Our guilt is gone, our sin is gone, Jesus deleted it on the cross, and he rose from the dead as a display of what he will do for us after we day, raise us from the dead and give us eternal life. Jesus takes our sin, deletes it on the cross, and Jesus transfers his righteousness, his perfect life onto us, that’s why its called the great exchange. And that’s why in revelation it’s always pictured as the saints standing before the throne in white garments. That white garment is the righteousness of Jesus Christ that we wear in this life.

So those are the 3 main views, moral government, Christus victory, and penal substitution.

Now let’s scope outward for a second, because in soteriology there is also a wider debate about what salvation is. And these views can best be summed up as the classic debate between Calvinism and arminianism. I just want to give you a super quick description of this, just to give you an idea here, we aren’t going to go too far into this but, first,

Calvinism – TULIP
Total depravity- means humans are totally evil and lost and can make no approach to God on their own.

Unconditional election- nothing about us is good, God doesn’t choose us based on something about us, but in something about himself, his mercy.

Limited atonement- Christ did not die for the whole world, but only for those chosen by God for salvation.

Irresistable grace – No one can come to God, God forces us to come to himself, its not by choice.

Perseverance of the Saints- God keeps all those he chooses, you can never lose your salvation or fall away.

Arminianism 4 Motiffs
1. God loves all people – Jesus died for all people, and God wants all to be saved

2. Free Will - People are free to choose to accept or reject this love

3. Prevenient Grace - God graciously influences people to accept his love, but he does not coerce them.

4. Conditional Security - Believers must continue to maintain their relationship with God for their salvation to be secure.

These are the two main perspectives, but of course there are many variations on these perspectives. But that is the general debate within soteriology and theology today.

So how do we apply all this to our lives? I think very simply, we realize some key things about what Jesus did for us to save us. He died for us, to show God’s wrath against sin, and the great value of righteousness. Jesus also came to defeat Satan, and take back the keys of life and death, and set us free from the kingdom of darkness. And Jesus came to live the righteous life we couldn’t live and be a sacrifice for our sins.

And so we should explore theology and soteriology, Calvinism and arminianism to understand how this all works itself out. But I want you to recognize who you are in Christ:

"A Christian is not simply a person who is forgiven and goes to heaven. A Christian, in terms of his or her deepest identity, is a saint, a spiritually born child of God, a divine masterpiece, a child of light, a citizen of heaven."
- Neil T. Anderson

And to understand our place in this fallen world as Christians, those hwo have received atonement, Dietrich Bonhoeffer gives us a great understanding of that:

“Jesus Christ lived in the midst of his enemies. At the end all his disciples deserted him. On the Cross he was utterly alone, surrounded by evildoers and mockers. For this cause he had come, to bring peace to the enemies of God. So the Christian, too, belongs not in the seclusion of a cloistered life but in the thick of foes. There is his commission, his work. 'The kingdom is to be in the midst of your enemies. And he who will not suffer this does not want to be of the Kingdom of Christ; he wants to be among friends, to sit among roses and lilies, not with the bad people but the devout people. O you blasphemers and betrayers of Christ! If Christ had done what you are doing who would ever have been spared' (Luther).” ― Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Faith in Community

How does it apply to you personally?

You are saved by grace through faith in Christ alone.

And so join me brothers and sisters, indeed many of you already have, as we stand at this mission station, this citadel planted in the midst of the kingdoms of darkness and evil, surrounded by those who misunderstand and despise us, to carry the gospel day and night to win the lost to Christ…

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

God Always Shows up Big

(Guest Post - Ciara M. Blecka)

There was a time in my life when I was frustrated with God. I never had any doubts that God existed. I attended a private Christian school when I was in kindergarten and first grade and got the solid foundation I needed to understand religion and make critical decisions when it came to deciding what specific faith to believe in. 


But for a long time God and I weren’t on the best terms. I thought he wasn’t listening to my prayers. I kept up a relationship with God over the years, but I decided not to be Christian. 

In later years, my relationship with God gradually evolved and changed on its own, even though God continued to ignore my prayers. I eventually decided that even though I was a practicing Buddhist, that I wanted to be a Christian, and got interested in following a lot of Christian posts on Facebook. 

I bought a Bible and a book on Christian theology and started listening to more Christian rock with the intention of maybe just letting myself understand things better now that I was more mature. I stayed open to the idea of what God may be trying to teach me without making any assumptions or decisions.


And as I started to have success as a professional author and I made my official website as an author, something interesting happened: the main photo on the website that I chose had a woman writing something down in a notebook and she had a book open in front of her. I didn’t know it when I used the picture, but after the website was up and posted, I looked at the writing on the book, and it’s upside down, but it says GOD ALWAYS SHOWS UP BIG. So it felt like God had made a personal phone call to me. 


Now I know God has always been on my side and I’m certainly willing to give him credit for all the success he has given me so far in my career. So even if you think God’s not listening--believe me, he is.

Sunday, August 23, 2020

Spiritual Journey: The Temptress & the Union with the Lover

“There was once an African queen who heard about a powerful king in a faraway land. She was told so many tall tales about this king that she found it impossible to restrain her curiosity. So she left her Ethiopian palace and embarked on a long journey. When she arrived in the fabled kingdom, the queen came face-to-face with the world’s richest man.

His vast estates included parks, zoos, temples, libraries, universities, and lavish resorts. A thousand delights awaited him in his palace of pleasures.

This hedonist was also the greatest thinker in antiquity. He wrote four books that are among the towering classics in history, and he composed wise sayings that are still repeated today, as well as three thousand poems and more than one thousand songs.

After spending months with the king, the African queen gushed, “All that I heard is not even half of what I have seen.” You remember this Ethiopian queen by her kingdom’s ancient name, Sheba. The king was Solomon. The Ethiopian left with memories to last several lifetimes. A thousand years later, an official of the Ethiopian royal court traveled to Jerusalem to worship at the Temple. On the way home, a church deacon told him about Jesus and baptized him. The court official brought Christianity back to Africa, making the Ethiopian Orthodox Church the oldest continuing Christian body in the world —all this because a curious African queen decided to visit a king!” –The One Year Book of Amazing Stories, Robert A. Petterson, p. 609

Today we continue our spiritual journey series, and we consider, from Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces, the encounter with the temptress, and the encounter with the lover. Much like Solomon and Sheba meeting, we see these two encounters are about living with great wisdom, and how powerfully wise choices can change our lives.

This is part of our spiritual journey as we live this life. We all have an innate desire for companionship in life. Some of us are meant to be married, and have a family, others are meant to stay single and serve the Lord.

There are two encounters that you’ll face on your spiritual journey. The first is the temptress, or the tempter. The second is the union with the lover. Let’s begin with the temptress. For this description, we turn to Proverbs chapter 7. In this chapter you have a young man, and he’s on his way in life. He’s growing, prepared to meet someone and settle down together, but instead he comes across a woman that is a danger to him. And if you’re a woman, it’s a man, a tempter, who seems exciting, or mysterious, but something isn’t quite right. You’ll get that feeling in your gut.

It says, Proverbs 7:10-27, "Then out came a woman to meet him, dressed like a prostitute and with crafty intent.(She is unruly and defiant, her feet never stay at home; now in the street, now in the squares, at every corner she lurks.)She took hold of him and kissed him.”

So you have this woman, who is always out and about looking for someone to get with. Growing up me and my friends called these kinds of women ‘bar girls.’ Same thing ladies, the guy you see whose always with someone new, he’s really slick in how he speaks, he knows just what to say to get a woman into bed. You could call him ‘the bar boy.’ You get the idea.

So she just comes up and kisses this guy in Proverbs and says
"15 So I came out to meet you;
I looked for you and have found you!
16 I have covered my bed
with colored linens from Egypt.
17 I have perfumed my bed
with myrrh, aloes and cinnamon.
18 Come, let’s drink deeply of love till morning;
let’s enjoy ourselves with love!
19 My husband is not at home;
he has gone on a long journey.
20 He took his purse filled with money
and will not be home till full moon.”

So there drops the bombshell. Shes married! But her husband is away and she wants to get with this guy. Crazy stuff, right? Have you ever developed a sort of friendship with someone of the opposite sex, and they kind of lure you in, and once you already like each other in a deeper way, they drop that bomb and say “I’m married.” And your upset, you feel betrayed, but they’ve already hooked you in, a real connection has developed there. So they say something like, oh you know, its already over, we don’t even talk anymore. And we want to believe the lie because we already like that person. Has that ever happened to you? Terrible!

And that’s actually how sex trafficking can take place. A guy will just act like he’s romancing a woman. He’ll take her to fancy restaurants, take her to the movies, and they start dating. But what’s really going on is he’s grooming her. He’s establishing a romantic connection. Especially for women that is hard to break once it’s developed. And after he’s led her into that connection, he’ll begin to slowly ask her to do things that she wouldn’t normally do. Slowly but surely. And if she refuses, he may beat her, or scare her into doing things. And eventually this woman is working for this man, having sex with strangers for money. She has become a victim of sex trafficking. All through the power of romantic connection. So women, be careful of that, even men, be careful of that, sex trafficking can happen to men as well. Scary stuff.

It says verse 21, "With persuasive words she led him astray;
she seduced him with her smooth talk.”

Words are powerful ladies and gentlemen, very powerful. People can convince us of almost anything. That’s why I always caution you about believing what the news media tells you. We’re very easily manipulated by agendas, especially during election seasons. So watch for that. But words can lead us to do things we would never do otherwise. Like sleeping with a married man, or woman. I’ve even seen Christians say, well I like him so much, but he’s married, what should I do pastor? It’s just shocking how love, or lust, can make us very blind. We don’t let ourselves see the real danger.

Verse 27 concludes by saying, “27 Her house is a highway to the grave, leading down to the chambers of death.”

This is the encounter most if not all of us will face, the encounter with the temptress. Our enemy Satan knows how attack us. He knows how to set us up for failure. The person we are considering to marry may seem to be all that we desire. She or he, may seem perfect. But pray, and pray, and pray brothers and sisters. Because this person may be a tempter set up by Satan to ruin your life and your ministry. Always pray, and listen for the Holy Spirit within saying, “Something isn’t right here.”

There is a huge difference between the right one, the almost right one.

One of the best strategies when dealing with the temptress, is to flee the situation. Run for hills. That’s biblical. Get out of there. Break contact. Block. Get away from them. I don’t let myself sit there being tempted too long, I’ve gotta get away. Move back into the realm of sanity.

But once we’ve conquered the temptation, and escaped, someday we hope we will encounter the moment of the union with the lover. And we fall in love, with the one God has designed us to be with.

Proverbs 31 says: “A wife of noble character who can find?
She is worth far more than rubies.
11 Her husband has full confidence in her
and lacks nothing of value.
12 She brings him good, not harm,
all the days of her life.
13 She selects wool and flax
and works with eager hands.
14 She is like the merchant ships,
bringing her food from afar.
15 She gets up while it is still night;
she provides food for her family
and portions for her female servants.
16 She considers a field and buys it;
out of her earnings she plants a vineyard.
17 She sets about her work vigorously;
her arms are strong for her tasks.
18 She sees that her trading is profitable,
and her lamp does not go out at night.
19 In her hand she holds the distaff
and grasps the spindle with her fingers.
20 She opens her arms to the poor
and extends her hands to the needy.
21 When it snows, she has no fear for her household;
for all of them are clothed in scarlet.
22 She makes coverings for her bed;
she is clothed in fine linen and purple.
23 Her husband is respected at the city gate,
where he takes his seat among the elders of the land.
24 She makes linen garments and sells them,
and supplies the merchants with sashes.
25 She is clothed with strength and dignity;
she can laugh at the days to come.
26 She speaks with wisdom,
and faithful instruction is on her tongue.
27 She watches over the affairs of her household
and does not eat the bread of idleness.
28 Her children arise and call her blessed;
her husband also, and he praises her:
29 “Many women do noble things,
but you surpass them all.”
30 Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting;
but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.
31 Honor her for all that her hands have done,
and let her works bring her praise at the city gate.”

So you have this picture of an honorable woman, an honorable man, who is right for us, and we are right for them. She is wise, she is bold, she is a bit of everything, a teacher, a merchant, a businesswoman, good at training, and capable of training up her children. There’s so much here to study, I encourage you to take some time reading proverbs 31 this week.

But we continue, we see the union with the lover beautifully and magically portrayed in the Song of Solomon.

It says Song of Solomon 2:8, "Listen! My beloved!
Look! Here he comes,
leaping across the mountains,
bounding over the hills.
9 My beloved is like a gazelle or a young stag.
Look! There he stands behind our wall,
gazing through the windows,
peering through the lattice.
10 My beloved spoke and said to me,
“Arise, my darling,
my beautiful one, come with me.
11 See! The winter is past;
the rains are over and gone.
12 Flowers appear on the earth;
the season of singing has come,
the cooing of doves
is heard in our land.
13 The fig tree forms its early fruit;
the blossoming vines spread their fragrance.
Arise, come, my darling;
my beautiful one, come with me.”"

"My beloved is mine and I am his;” in verse 16.

"Who is this that appears like the dawn,
fair as the moon, bright as the sun,
majestic as the stars in procession?" -Song of Solomon 6:10

"Who is this coming up from the wilderness
leaning on her beloved?" -Song of Solomon 8:5

In conclusion, this whole topic of the tempter and the lover is about something critical: making wise choices in our lives. The choices we make in regard to the temptress and the lover are unique in this regard: Their consequences will last the rest of our lives. If we join with the tempter we will have a lifetime of sorrows, and if we join with the lover, we will have a lifetime of biblical love. So what choice will you make? Wise, or unwise? Flesh or Spirit? Choose wisely.

Freedom from Workaholism: The Call to Sabbath Rest

Today we’re talking about the important biblical concept of sabbath rest, as we go through our series of Key Issues of the Faith. We find this command of scripture in the original ten commandments that God gave to Israel through Moses.

Exodus 20:8-11 ESV says, “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.”

So the Lord calls us to his blessed rest. God gives us time to work, and time to rest from our work. In life we can get going so quickly. We rush around from here to there, do this, do that, and we drive ourselves crazy.

We always seem to have to have some sort of input on. The tv is on, music is playing, we’re on the computer, on the smart phone, and we’re exhausting ourselves mentally.

For those of you today who are run weary by the busyness of life. There are some words from Jesus that offer encouragement: 

“Matthew 11:28-30 ESV Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

When we give our lives to Jesus, and become Christians, we give over the heavy burdens, of our sins, our guilt, our shame, and our brokenness. And all those things we worked for become so much less important.

We all operated in the past from our basic instincts. We obsessively tried to provide security for ourselves, with work, housing, food, and so on. That’s our most powerful instinct, our security instinct. We also tried to provide socializing, and support network around ourselves, through friends and family. That is our social instinct. And we also tried to get that sexual desire fulfilled, whether through dating, marriage, or empty affairs. But that was how we lived, without real rest, constantly desperately trying to fulfill our base desires. And always in a state of quiet fear that somehow, someday we might lose our security, by losing a job, or lose our social network, through the death of a family member, or lose our sexual fulfillment through a divorce or affair.

I saw this sort of desperation play out during the COVID crisis. People who don’t have God in their lives panicked to the extreme. You saw people crazy with fear. Obsessively attempting to prevent sickness.

As Christians we didn’t have to panic over the crisis. We took precautions. We made sure we were safe. But we didn’t go crazy. Because ultimately we know, that God is in charge of the universe. And we can’t control what happens. And we know if we die, we’ll simply wake up in paradise with Jesus. This is a joke to the world, they think we’re foolish, believing myths, but they haven’t really done the research themselves either.

But during the crisis, these non-religious people knew, threw and threw that they were alone, and their only hope was to somehow manipulate events and situations to not get sick, and to somehow rush around to find food, and somehow rush around in a panick to stay safe. I saw it play out with many. They believe they are alone in the universe. They don’t believe in God. So they have to try to play god, and force things to work out just right. Which is hard when you’re facing a pandemic.

But as Christians, instead of selfishly living to fulfill our three base instincts for security, socializing, and sex, we instead have been rocketed into the fourth dimension of existence. We live for God. And we live to serve Him. And we recognize that God is in charge of the universe. We don’t control anything.

There is a great deal of rest available in simply releasing control. Have you released that control over your life to God? That is the first command I make to you today, give control over your life to God. Have you done that practically? Do you pray before you make a big decision? Do you wake up and ask God to guide you through the day?

Now don’t get me wrong, we make decisions every day as Christians. We make decisions about where we’ll go, what we’ll do, who we talk to, and so on. And that’s good, we have choices to make. But always hovering over all that I know that God is in charge, and when big decisions come, I pray to God before I make any decision.

There is freedom in that, let go of the control. I can’t control how life will turn out. I turn it over to you God. Completely. There is peace in that.

God’s in charge. So that’s the first rest I invite you to today, to rest in your mind, stop trying to control everything, and let go, and let God.

Secondly, we consider the day. Sabbath rest is a gift from God brothers and sisters. I try to take one day a week to simply rest. For most of you that day will be Sunday. For a minister like myself, I work on Sunday, but I also treat Sunday as a special day. I don’t buy anything on Sundays. I don’t sell anything on Sundays. Even if I want a snack from the store. I wait until the next day. Even if I have an order I want to place online. I wait til the next day. Sundays are the day of rest. For me, since I work on Sundays, I take Mondays as my rest day. I don’t do any work on Mondays. I simply enjoy prayer, music, movies, television, I enjoy food, and recreation on Mondays, I’ll go for a bike ride, or go for a walk, or go to the beach and just relax and read.

God has designed us for rest. God made the universe and the world in six days. And on the seventh day, God rested. Why would God rest? Does God need to rest? No, God is eternal and infinitely powerful. But God likes to rest, just as you and I like to rest.

Now I know some of you are workaholics. You love to work. But you take it too far. You work seven days a week. And then you and someone else, this is common in the salvation army, will sit down together, and have a contest in conversation as to who is more busy. This is what I call the busy contest. One will say, “Man over this last week I’ve worked 50 hours.” Then the other one will say, “Heh that’s nothing I worked 60 hours. And at my work we had to get a report together and I barely slept Thursday night.” Then the other guy will say, “Yeah well last year I actually slept on a couch at work for four days straight working on our budget.” And so the competition goes, until one of the workaholics has defeated the other workaholic with sheer busyness.

I don’t play the busyness game. I don’t drive myself crazy working 80 hours a week. I set aside time for rest. Because I recognize that I’m not god. If I work 120 hours a week, and I don’t pray, or rest, I’m not gonna get anywhere. But if I work 35 hours a week, and pray an hour a day, God is going to do above and beyond what I could possibly imagine. Because I’m showing God that he is in charge and I’m not. God prefers that. And this is why you’ll see people who work themselves silly, 50, 60, 70, 80 hours a week. And when you look at their ministry, they have little to show for it. But if you work reasonably, and rest, and pray, and give it to God, it’s amazing how God will do more than you could’ve done working 90 hours a week.

Set aside a day of rest. And pray. Let God rush about pulling things together. Fight the battle in prayer. If only we believed in God like we really should. Too many of us treat prayer like a caboose at the end, something to throw in last minute. But instead we should fight the battle in prayer the night before. That’s where the battle is won or lost, in prayer.

Rest. You aren’t God. You can’t force everything to work through sheer hard work. It’s God’s battle not yours, workaholic. Repent. But don’t be lazy either. There’s always balance to these considerations.

Jesus Christ during his three year ministry was very busy. But he also took time to rest. It says, “Mark 6:31 ESV And he said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat.”

Take a day. Rest. Eat. Drink water. Seek God on that day. Pray on that day. Read his word on that day. For you it’s Sunday. You come to morning services, for orange Sunday school, for the holiness meeting, then you come again in the evening for dinner church, and in between I hope you’re resting and praying and seeking God. That’s a great thing though, you’re filling your sabbath day with God. I love that!

Thirdly, when we consider rest, we ought to recognize that Jesus Christ is now our sabbath rest. In the time before the coming of Jesus in Israel, the pharisees had developed a very legalistic understanding of what the sabbath was. For the Jews the sabbath was on Saturday, which is considered the last day of the week. The pharisees would have all sorts of rules about keeping the sabbath. If you were caught walking around carrying something, like the man who was caught carrying his mat, to them you had broken the sabbath. One time Jesus followers were walking through a field and they started pulling of the heads of wheat to eat, and the pharisees saw that accused them of doing work on the sabbath, because they were picking the wheat and eating it. Ridiculous right? But to this day, orthodox Jews will practice those sort of intense sabbaths on Saturdays, from sun up to sun down. I’ve seen where the elevator at a building will be set to stop at every floor, because the Jews believe that pushing the button for the elevator is breaking the sabbath.

But Jesus told the pharisees something very simple, Mark 2:27 ESV He said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” In other words, the sabbath rest was a gift from God. It’s for us to enjoy. We’re not made to be enslaved by the sabbath as something we have to drive ourselves crazy on to not do any sort of thing that might look like work.

For us now, Jesus is our rest. We’ve entered the rest of Christ, our sins are gone. Hallelujah. That’s why we celebrate the sabbath rest on Sundays instead of Saturdays, because Jesus rose from the dead on a Sunday, the first day of the week. Isn’t that beautiful?

So in conclusion today, there are two big views of the sabbath, one that we must rigidly obey the sabbath rest. Some would say, like the 7th day Adventist church, that we should be meeting on Saturdays because that was traditionally the jewish sabbath. Others would say Sunday is ok, but we should be much more strict about it. On the other end, the more modern view is that Jesus is our sabbath rest, so we shouldn’t take a day to rest from work at all. Now I would tend more toward the view that we ought to practice a sabbath rest on a single day. We should not work or buy or sell on that day. But we should regard it as a good day, a special day, a beautiful day of connection with God, not a heavy burden. For God’s burden is light. For those who would suggest we shouldn’t sabbath at all, I just wonder where they get this idea from.

Colossians 2:16-17 ESV says, “Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.” Christ is certainly the substance. We live under the two great commands of Jesus, to love God, and to love others. But do you know what Jesus was summing up with those two great commands? The ten commandments. The ten commandments, commands one through four tell us how to love God. Commands five through ten tell us how to love our neighbor. So to love God properly, we ought to practice a weekly sabbath day of rest. Plain and simple. 

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