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. 


Sunday, August 16, 2020

What is Spiritual Warfare? Keys to Victory on the Worldwide Battlefield


Spiritual warfare, for some reason it always brings to mind for me, the Lord of the Rings. Specifically the siege of Minas Tirith. If I were trying to compare our situation right now in this country to the Lord of the Rings, there is one battle that comes to mind, the battle of Osgiliath. Faramir whispers “To the river quick!” He’s got about 500 men defending Osgiliath, late at night. But the enemy is crossing the river in a sneak attack. Faramir and his men fight on the shores bravely, but are soon overwhelmed, and must retreat to Minas Tirith. Though defeats come, and the enemy attacks us from all sides, we know that in the end we will have the victory, and Satan will be crushed under our feet.

Today we address the important topic of spiritual warfare, on our journey through Key Issues of the Faith. Spiritual battles are draining, and intense. So we ought to fight them doggedly, refusing to give up, and we ought to fight heroically in them.

We are in a battle right now as Christians that has been going on for two thousand years and beyond. Ages and ages of past Christians over the centuries have fought this battle. This battle is a spiritual battle. The battlefield is the world, in which we fight for the lost souls of humanity, who need salvation through Jesus Christ, and to be freed from the dominion of Satan and hell.

The goal of spiritual warfare from the standpoint of our enemy and his forces is to stifle, stop, slow down, or defeat the work of Jesus Christ, as he works through the church. This is accomplished in various ways by the forces of the evil one. The goal of our side is to spread the gospel far and wide through the shed blood of Jesus Christ.

On one side you have the historic church, on the other you have the forces of evil. We find ourselves at a slight disadvantage due to the fact that every person born is born under the dominion of Satan, and we are challenged to try to win these people one by one to the cross of Christ, and make them into Christians. For this reason it often seems like we are constantly fighting a losing battle, it seems that there are so many people, and so little time. And each person has free will, the ability to either embrace salvation, or reject the offer of salvation. Yet we also find ourselves at an advantage because our enemy is already defeated. He was defeated by Jesus at the cross. And our God’s victory is sealed.

Each of us were once members of the world system, under the control of Satan.

Ephesians 2:2-4 says, “In the past you were spiritually dead because of your disobedience and sins. 2 At that time you followed the world's evil way; you obeyed the ruler of the spiritual powers in space, the spirit who now controls the people who disobey God. 3 Actually all of us were like them and lived according to our natural desires, doing whatever suited the wishes of our own bodies and minds. In our natural condition we, like everyone else, were destined to suffer God's anger.4 But God's mercy is so abundant, and his love for us is so great, 5 that while we were spiritually dead in our disobedience he brought us to life with Christ. It is by God's grace that you have been saved. 6 In our union with Christ Jesus he raised us up with him to rule with him in the heavenly world.”

So we were all once part of the selfish worldly reality. We did what we wanted, and lived in sin. But now things are different. God has adopted us as his sons and daughters. And we’re now soldiers on the battlefield, attempting to win the world to Jesus before time runs out.

So how does spiritual warfare play itself out? To answer this question all you need do is study the book of acts. The book of acts catalogues the activities of the early church in spreading Christianity, and clearly shows us how spiritual warfare takes place between the church and the forces of evil.

In our scripture today we see how spiritual warfare tends to play itself out. First of all, we see that Peter has been thrown in jail by Herod. Typical, the enemy finds a way to shut us up, to keep us quiet. The enemy will use church leaders that he can manipulate, or governmental leaders to hurt us sometimes, like with Peter.

What does the church do in response? It says in verse 5, “So Peter was kept in jail, but the people of the church were praying earnestly to God for him.”

This is a constant in spiritual warfare: Our chief weapon is prayer. Individual prayer, corporate prayer. Praying to God changes the situation over time.

Then we see that Peter is sleeping, bound with two chains, next to roman guards. But an angel wakes him up, and causes the chains to fall off him. He follows this messenger of God, through the gates, and Peter escapes. This can be a result of a situation of spiritual warfare, God intervenes, and you are set free from the persecution.

But it can also happen quite differently. It’s hard to predict God, he doesn’t always repeat his methods. Just a few chapters earlier in Acts, we saw Stephen a member of the early church who was captured, and brought before the rulers where he testified about Jesus. I’m sure the early church was praying for him. But the result wasn’t divine deliverance. The result was that Stephen had the great honor of being martyred for Christ. He was stoned to death by the crowd.

Still another time when the apostle Paul was put in prison, he had to sit in prison for several years. There was no angel that broke his chains. Instead, this was part of God’s plan to have him testify before Caesar in rome.

My point here is that God’s methods often tend to vary. We can’t necessarily predict how things will play out. But the tendency in spiritual warfare is that we face some sort of persecution, temptation, or demonic attack.

Generally, I can tell that I’m under demonic oppression, or in a spiritual battle by this tell-tale sign: Something in my gut tells me that what is happening is beyond worldly conditions. What I mean is we all encounter everyday problems in the world. You get a flat tire, get into an argument, or have a rough day at work. But when it’s spiritual in nature, it’s a pretty surprising sequence of events, that seems to go beyond the struggles of the world, and into the realm of demonic attack.

Write this down, stick it in your head: When you fight your spiritual battle, always remember it’s against Satan, not against people or institutions.

As Ephesians 6:12 says, “We do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”

When you are in legitimate spiritual battle, you are not fighting a person, you not fighting a group of people. Satan may be working through these people, because they are spiritually blind, or non-Christians, or Christians with dumb ideas, but inevitably it’s Satan attacking you through them. It’s not those people. They are just pawns in the game. So pray for them. Don’t hate them.

But as we talk about spiritual warfare let’s be careful not to overly spiritualize things too. Say you stub your toe on the way out the door, you hit heavy traffic, and then you realize you forgot your lunch. Listen, don’t say your in a spiritual battle. And don’t go and have an affair, or get wasted, or do drugs, and say oh look what Satan did. I mean, sure those temptations may be demonic, but it’s not a spiritual battle, it’s you made some bad decisions, and you need to pray, and start making better decisions. Not everything is spiritual warfare.

That said, be watchful. We have an enemy out there who wants to take us out. And he’ll try different ways to trip you up. He may put an old lover in your path, someone who is toxic to you, to try to trap you in that temptation. He may try to lead you back to your old ways, drugs, drinking, cigarettes, and so on. He may try to scare you into keeping quiet about Jesus through some confrontation. He may just make life hard for you, cause health problems to flare up, bring about arguments with family, and drama. But keep soldiering on. Fight through those trials, and God will bless you, and God will help you win them.

1 Peter 5:8 ESV says ,”Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.”

But also realize that you have the most powerful being in the universe living inside you. Let me say that again, you have the most powerful being in the universe, Jesus Christ, living inside you. You are a coheir with Christ, a brother or sister to Christ. You have the same authority as Jesus Christ to crush the enemy under your feet.

As it says in the word, “Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you.” -Luke 10:19

In Christ Jesus, you are mighty and powerful. And when you declare things in Jesus name, they are done. There is great power in that name, Jesus Christ. I used to say that name out loud when I was a kid in my room alone at night and afraid.

Our battle is spiritual. So we fight this battle in the power of Christ.

2 Corinthians 10:3-5 says “For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.”

So we talked about how prayer is one of the chief weapons in spiritual warfare. Similarly, apologetics, reasonable defenses of the faith, theological discussions and debates are also massively powerful weapons that we fight with. They have divine power to destroy strongholds. We ourselves destroy every argument and every lofty opinion that raises itself up against the knowledge of God. That pictures the many questions and arguments that are raised against the Christian faith in our day and age. So many objections, so many high sounding arguments, but the wisdom we have from God is able to answer every one of those arguments with divine knowledge that demolishes false arguments and pretenses.

So very good, we see these various aspects of spiritual warfare, how do we apply these principles in our lives? Well, here are some practical ways in which you can fight the spiritual battle. I encourage you to write these down.

1.-Trust God in the spiritual battle, hold up a radical faith in God.

2.-Pray against the attacks of the evil one, and request prayer from the church. A praying church family shakes the world.

3.- Recognize you are fighting demons, not people.

4- When your in deep, fast and pray. This adds power to your prayers.

5- You have the power to “cast out” demons in Jesus Christ. Invoke the name of Jesus, and pray that God’s hedge of protection be around your home, and your family. Cast out demons in jesus name, speaking out loud, in your home, in public places, casting out demons in Jesus name.

6- As you analyze the situation, seek wisdom and discern to perceive the battle rightly.

7-You have binding and loosing power. You can bind demons in Jesus name across this city, and around the world. Do so, in prayer, out loud. You can loose angels from heaven, and loose bonds from believers, so please do loose in Jesus name.

8-You also have the power to cancel demonic plans, and cancel curses and hexes on non-believers. Do this in Jesus name, out loud over the individual or over yourself.

9-Realize that a spiritual battle may mean a great deal of suffering for you, but also realize that God is using your spiritual battle to build you, and inspire others.

10-There is power in the word of God, speak the word of God outloud, to yourself, to others. God’s word bring God’s life giving Spirit.

11-Speak out against false ideas, and wrong viewpoints of God, the word, and the world. Speak up for Jesus, not in arrogance, but in humility, with gentleness.

12-When being tempted, pray, and flee the situation when possible. Trust in Jesus Christ and know he has made an escape for every temptation.

So in conclusion, how does the spiritual battle end? Well, when we are persecuted demonized, or attacked, we will go through a time of trial and suffering. Then the church prays and speaks out in truth. Then we are set free, or we are not set free, depending on the situation. But either way, we continue to speak the truth, and those who persecute us are often dealt with as Herod was dealt with. He refused to honor God, so he was destroyed. Don’t be surprised if you find that those who persecute you later meet a sorrowful end. But don’t rejoice at that. Rejoice that God loves you.

The end of the spiritual battle in Acts 12 was Peter was set free to continue to preach, and Herod died an untimely death. But we know later in Peter’s life as he preached boldly over the years, he was taken prisoner, and he wasn’t set free, instead he became a martyr, crucified upside down for Jesus. And I too hope that someday I’ll have the honor to face a spiritual battle like Jesus did on the cross, where he was not set free, but his death brought life to billions across the world. As the ancient theologians said, the blood of the martyrs is the manure that feeds the growth of the church. Jesus gave us the example, he died for us, so we suffer, and even die, for him in spiritual warfare.

The enemy’s goal: to deceive the world to hell.

Our goal: to show the world to eternal life.


Sunday, August 9, 2020

Spiritual Journey: Have you been to Cloud City? The Great Leap

"Though his warrior father had carved out a kingdom for the crown prince, it was not big enough. This prince had a voracious appetite that could never be satisfied. That craving for more would send him to the ends of the earth in a never-ending quest that still astounds the world some 2,500 years later.

The crown prince was only twenty years old when his father was assassinated. After rounding up and ruthlessly executing all of his rivals, the boy conqueror began his long march across planet Earth. His army of some thirty thousand warriors blitzkrieged from the Balkans to India in less than thirteen years. They covered some ten thousand miles on sandaled feet.

The statistics of that amazing odyssey seem almost impossible. Its empire stretched from the Aegean to the Himalayas, across three continents. The conqueror’s rule spanned more than two million square miles of earth by the time he was thirty-two years of age.

When he reached the Indus River, his weary army refused to take on the war elephants of India. The troops wanted to go home. The ancient historian Plutarch wrote that Alexancer wept like a baby because there were no more world to conquer.

With an unsatisfied hunger that still gnawed at his restless soul, Alexander marched back to Babylon, where he drank himself into a stupor. In June of the year 323 BC, he died at age thirty-two. The cause of his death is still mysterious. Most likely it was typhoid fever, but some suspect that his generals, who carved up his empire after his death, might have poisoned him.

Alexander was a man for whom the world was never big enough. His tutor, Aristotle, often lamented that young Alexander could conquer the world, but he was never able to conquer his own passions.

Pascal was right when he said that there is within us all a God-shaped vacuum as infinite as God himself. We can possess the whole universe and all that it contains and still not fill that vast emptiness within. If you have a soul hunger, you might want to remember this: When too much is never enough, give yourself to the infinite one, who is more than enough." -Quote from The One Year Book of Amazing Facts

And that today is what this message is really about. When it’s just never quite enough.  We all face down this reality of wanting more and more, and eventually facing addictions of various kinds.  The Bible calls them sins. 

The enemy’s goal is to get us hooked on sins.  The enemy wants us always searching to fill that empty feeling with stuff in the world.  And never wants us to look to God to satisfy us.

So let me ask you this question, which is the title of our message: Have you ever been to cloud city?

Cloud City, the mysterious city, from Star Wars the Empire Strikes Back.  The city in the clouds, where Han Solo, Leia, and Chewy are taken captive by Vader and the empire.  And Vader sets a trap to bring Luke Skywalker there, to try and destroy him.

Cloud City reminds me of what it’s like to get sucked in by addiction, by sin.  It seems fun at first.  It seems beautiful. It’s glorious.  It’s exciting.  The colors, the clouds, the beautiful architecture, the magnificence of it.  But soon you realize something isn’t quite right. Something is just a little off.

How does Vader get Luke to come to cloud city?

He captures his friends and tortures them. Luke can actually feel their pain in the force, and leaves to attempt to rescue them.

First point, the enemy will attack our family when we serve God, to try to hurt us.  He will attack our family. And he will use circumstances and situations to harm us.  I can sense it in my gut, when I’m in a potentially compromising situation.  Maybe I’m hanging out with the wrong people.  Or I’m in a place that puts me in front of temptation.  

Recognize this friends, cloud city is a trap and a prison.

Let me ask you this question: What is your cloud city?

For me it was drug addiction. And that primrose path soon turns into a nightmare. I promise you that.

For you it might be relationship addiction, it might be cigarettes, maybe its gossip, or constant lying, or stealing or sexual addiction, or overeating, selfishness, rage, refusing to forgive, or self destructive behavior. Maybe it’s something you do repeatedly without even realizing it.

Cloud city is the trap we all face.

But cloud city is a mine, did you know that? A Tibanna gas mine.  As beautiful as the clouds, the shining sun, the mysterious buildings, the cream colored hallways, it’s a trap.

It’s a mine. Many of us labor in those mines. The addiction is no longer satisfying anymore but we’re trapped in the mines, swinging the pick axe., serving the addiction, and it’s miserable.

But you can be free. You can escape the city. It starts with calling on one name, the name of Jesus Christ. When I was scared as a child, alone in my room at night, maybe I just had a nightmare, or I could just sense that something was wrong, I would say the name Jesus Christ out loud, and I knew that it was powerful.  And I felt safe.

So Luke Skywalker goes to Cloud City.  And Vader sets a trap for Luke.  Luke lands and begins searching the city, and he’s led to a dark chamber.

What happens when Luke meets Vader at cloud city? They fight, and slowly as the fight continues, Luke gets weaker and weaker, and Vader gets stronger and stronger.

This is how it goes when we try to battle our addictions without God’s power. 

If you recall Yoda and Obi-Wan Luke’s mentors told him not to go to cloud city.  But he went anyway.  And he was told that if you choose to face Vader now, you’ll do it alone.  But Luke didn’t listen.

When we fight addiction without God’s power, we lose.  We get weaker and weaker and the addiction gets stronger and stronger.

As Luke fights Vader they go deeper and deeper into the bowels of cloud city and you see this place is actually pretty scary, and evil, and you begin to get the feeling that Luke is trapped, and can’t escape. 

Have you ever felt trapped, like there is no way and no one to help you?  The enemy likes to corner us, and make us feel helpless.

And eventually in this battle we reach the final catwalk. We’re trapped. Exhausted at every level. Broken and defeated. 

And the enemies total power over you is made manifest, when your fighting hand is cut off, and you are disarmed and defeated.  Just like when Vader finally cut off Luke’s lightsaber hand. 

At that moment, rock bottom, you learn the awful truth.  If Christ is not your savior, it means something quite terrible. It means Satan is your father. You serve him. Horrifying to realize.  Like when Vader said, “Luke, I am your father.”  Luke discovers a nightmare about his life. His own father is the evil Darth Vader.  And Vader offers to let you join him and he’ll give you wealth and power and sex and women, whatever you want.  Sometimes people will take that offer, and stay with Satan at the moment of decision.

Luke is at a moment of decision here.  What do I do next?  Join Vader, or take a leap.

For the rest of us, we finally surrender to God.  We take that leap of faith.

Like when Luke let’s go.  And drops down. I like the version where he actually screams out, that’s just what it feels like, a cry of confused despair at the moment of the fall.  Reminds me when I cried out to Jesus.

The cloud city betrays you one last time, drops you out the garbage hatch. Your left hanging upside down nothing below you except a bottomless pit. Only one option left, death, hell, nothingness, or cry out to Jesus Christ. 

Hanging upside down with your hand cut off outside the bottom of cloud city.  If cloud city is a dreamy state of drug addiction, a merry-go-round, an after hours carnival turned dark and evil, well, then the guy hanging upside down with a hand cut off is me.  Eventually that cloud city of addiction will consume your soul, steal your heart and your life from you, rip apart your body, and then drop you out the bottom like garbage into a trash bin. Done with you, on to the next. 

But if we cry out to Jesus… we find help. The Lord sends us help. Friends maybe, the holy spirit, forgiveness, the millennial falcon, to rescue us.

And we end up on the medical frigate, the church, where He heals you, binds up your wounds, and frees you from addiction. Eventually he gives you a new lightsaber, and your sent on a new mission.  But we’ll talk about that next week.

I waited patiently for the Lord;

    he inclined to me and heard my cry.

He drew me up from the pit of destruction,

    out of the miry bog,

and set my feet upon a rock,

    making my steps secure.

He put a new song in my mouth,

    a song of praise to our God.

Many will see and fear,

    and put their trust in the Lord.

Blessed is the man who makes

    the Lord his trust,

who does not turn to the proud,

    to those who go astray after a lie!

You have multiplied, O Lord my God,

    your wondrous deeds and your thoughts toward us;

    none can compare with you!

I will proclaim and tell of them,

    yet they are more than can be told.

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