Wednesday, June 30, 2021

How to Overcome the Matrix: What is the Matrix? How do we Escape the Matrix?

Do you want to know what it is? The matrix? It seems like you do. Something brought you here. Something within you that longs for something more. 

So what exactly is the matrix? The matrix is the grid of thoughts, ideas, beliefs, customs, philosophies, and unspoken codes that manipulate us into following a road that leads nowhere.

The goal of the system around us is to successfully lead us to our own enslavement.  

It functions from birth to condition us toward a certain secular modernist mindset. It functions in the entertainment realm. It functions in the public school system. It functions in the norms shared and developed by our friends and neighbors. It guides us k-12 toward a certain set of beliefs about the world around us. The process continues into college and/or the business world. It solidifies in the drive to attain wealth, status, power, possessions, and influence in society.  

Yet we can all sense that something fundamental is missing in our lives. There is a fundamental emptiness in each of us that can't quite be contained.  It can't quite be filled by any experience or substance. It can be temporarily drowned out. But it is never quite satisfied. It is a gaping maw within each of us that can't be filled. It is a bottomless pit that is never filled.

This bottomless pit urges many, many of us to ask the question: "What is the matrix?" 

It urges us after the busy day of work and play to ponder and walk into empty places trying to understand what the emptiness within us means. 

This is the beginning of the journey in which we escape the matrix. I call it the process of the night train. We begin to walk into empty places, leaving behind the busy world, at least mentally, and we begin to sonder into another world.  We walk into emptiness. Why? I'm not exactly sure. Maybe because emptiness is quiet. And beautiful. 

We can spend weeks, months, and even years in the emptiness, pondering, yearning, and dreaming.  But eventually something magnificent happens.  In the night, a train appears, and we board the train, and it takes us away.

Of course I don't mean a literal train appears, and takes us away. Instead, it is a metaphorical train. This is the moment when in the emptiness, the truth finds us. And the truth will find us.  Of course there are other ways to come to know the truth and escape the matrix.  Many, many routes lead out of the matrix.  But for me, I went by way of the night train.  I'm sure some of you have done so as well.

The night train is what some might call prevenient grace. It's the guiding force that leads us toward the truth.  And in a very real way it "takes us." We would otherwise wander in emptiness forever and never come to any knowledge of the truth. Without the train we would be lost.  And we don't really deserve the train either.

And boarding the train I don't think we even know what it is. But we can feel what it is.  It's something very sacred.  So we board the train and we realize we have a ticket in our pocket with great surprise. We've been invited. The darkness and emptiness was the train station. But if you never wander, you'll never find the train.  But as I said, there are other routes out of the matrix. This is just the one I experienced.

The train takes us away into the night, chugging along through dark valleys, and mysterious meadows, through mountains and across rivers, through the night. Eventually the train brings us to our destination. An underground cavern.  And we climb into the underground cavern and in the cavern we find the truth.

The truth is in some ways like a pair of glasses we put on. Like that movie "They Live" we begin to understand what the matrix is. We see that entertainment conditions us. We see the propaganda of the public school system. We see the extremism of the university system. We see the corruption of the political and business realms. We begin to see the spiritual battle that is being waged all around us. 

You've been thoroughly indoctrinated to believe that the material universe is all that exists. This is false. There is a spiritual realm that exists all around us, and in this spiritual realm is where the battle for our souls is fought. 

That is the real, fundamental truth of reality: You have a choice to make.  The choice is hidden from you by the system, as much as possible. The goal of the system is to build a false reality around you that is so complete and seamless that you make the wrong choice without even realizing there is another option.

You have a choice to make. That is the key function of this universe. Your choice, and what preceeds from your choice. And it's repeated each day, until you die. Choice, choice, choice... free will. And how you will use it as a free agent.

You are being graded based on your decisions. Which means the fundamental reality of the universe is moral and ethical in nature.

The choice is wide-ranging, expressing itself in infinite ways. But each choice can be broken down to two choices. There are two basic choices we can make. Choice 1, rebellion. This is the state the system around you guides you toward. Through ignorance, through deception, an argument, philosophy, through ideology, through the appeal of pleasure, whatever the scheme is, it's all designed to deceive or manipulate you into embracing rebellion. Rebellion against God. Rebellion against the moral nature of the universe. Rebellion to that which is actual. Rebellion through redefining reality to suite our own desires.

The second choice, the more difficult choice is loving the truth. Faithful trust in the moral imperative of the universe. Embracing reality as it truly is. Obedience to the truth. Faith in the truth. Allowing the intelligent designer of the universe to reshape you into a new being, declared morally perfect, guided toward moral perfection, remade to be what humanity was originally meant to be, perfect, beautiful, creative agents in a flawless, sublime universe.

We have our lives to make the choice. And the default mode of each human is toward rebellion. That is the natural reaction of our minds, our emotions, and all that we are. We prefer rebellion, in various forms. It even seems heroic to us. It seems right to us. 

But we only have our lives to make the choice. Eventually time runs out. And the choice we make in this life, whether it's rebellion or the truth, is stamped for eternity, beyond the veil of this life. 

If rebellion is chosen, hell is the result. Destruction is the result. Quarantine, away from paradise, for eternity. Why? I don't know. That's above my pay grade. It's real though. 100% real. 

If the truth is chosen, paradise is the result. Rapture is the result. Joy is the result. Perfection is the result.  And this paradise seems to be without end, just as much as the other option is without end. Apparently each human soul is fundamentally eternal in nature, it can't simply be discarded or destroyed at the completion of life on this present Earth. 

That is the choice before every human right now at this moment in history. And we all make the choice every day. We either choose truth or we choose lies. We either slide closer to God, or slide further from God.  Each day it repeats. And we make our choices. 

Even as a Christian myself, I must admit that many days, more than I'd like, I don't live out what I believe to the fullest extent that I could. Given how much is at stake, why would I do that?

The Christian lives in a tension. A tension between the new nature in Christ and the old fallen nature that still clings to the soul until death do us part. If we choose God, the old nature will eventually be removed completely and the new self can get on with a whole new adventure in the next life.  What that adventure looks like exactly is once again beyond my pay grade, though I wouldn't even hazard the slightest guess, I can only imagine it will be an incredible adventure beyond what we could comprehend now. If we choose death, then the fallen nature becomes our permanent reality. The new man fades away, and we embrace the fallenness for all time in a place called "hell" "hades" "outer darkness" and so on.  Some Christians will no doubt through continual sin or apostasy (recanting trust in Christ) will attend to hell for all time.  All non-believers will attend to hell. Those of other religions will also attend to hell. It's quite shocking when we fully realize the stakes that exist right now.  I'm shocked by it.  But there it is.  

The tension is why we often don't fully live out who we are in Christ.  That's one side of it.  Our fallen nature. The other side of it is the matrix.  Even as Christians, we can be continue to be deceived by the matrix. Particularly in our present day babylon, the United States, we are constantly bombarded with propaganda straight from the pit of hell. 

It is increasingly complete, from birth to death, it is everywhere, more so than ever in history I imagine.  Television, internet, news media slant, social media censorship, commercials, billboards, Hollywood, celebrity culture, public education, universities, late night talk shows, government agencies, businesses, consumerism, luxury, entertainment, pleasure, on and on the list goes.  It's a stifling all encompassing Vanity fair that calls us day and night to compromise what we believe in Christ.  It's a political agenda that urges us toward darkness. It's a constant cry to live for self-pleasure instead of for God. It's a constant drum beat of lies, half-truths, deceptions, social pressures, agendas, and scientisms that all attempt to drive away from faith in Christ.  We all know so many Christians that live compromised lives, and seem to have more in common with popular culture and talk show rhetoric than they do with the Bible and Jesus Christ. 

The matrix has always existed to a certain extent in every culture and society in the world. It has existed since the moment of the fall when the kingdom of darkness gained control of the world we live on. It's always been here to some extent.  Abram faced it outside of Sodom and Gomorrah. Moses faced it when he led the people out of slavery in Egypt. Joshua faced it in his battles to take the promised land. Solomon faced it in his marriage to many foreign wives.  Daniel faced it in exile in Babylon. The Jews faced it under the oppression of the Romans. Perpetua faced it when her father insisted she give up the faith and evade the arena. The early church faced it time and again in the persecutions. Martin Luther faced it in his battle against the sale of indulgences. John Wesley faced it as he fought to rally the dead churches of his day to revival. William Booth faced it in his campaigns against the evils of darkest England.  Mother Teresa faced it in Calcutta, gathering the abandoned children to safety. Richard Wurmbrand faced it in Romania when the communists took over the church and imprisoned him. Today Christianity is the number one most persecuted religion in the world.  But no one seems to care too much.  It doesn't fit the news media's narrative of colonial imperialist oppression by Christians.  

It’s important to remember that we reside in enemy territory. There is a great tension between us and the world.

The battle we face in the west is not yet at the stage of dying for Christ. It is a battle of social pressure. It's a battle of political ideologies. It's a battle of Christians being lost to deception and worldliness. The battle is within ourselves though.  Someday soon it will be against forces outside ourselves that want us dead. Today it's a battle within.  The battle between rebellion and truth. I fight it everyday. We're all our own worst enemy. He who can conquer himself is greater than he who can conquer a city. Remember that. 

How do we escape the matrix? The escape is found in Jesus Christ of Nazareth. No one wants to hear that, but it's the truth.  It was the last option I wanted. But here we are. And I've accepted the truth.  We are our own worst enemy.  I needed Jesus to come within and change me from the inside. Because the truth is I can't do much of anything at all without Christ inside me guiding me on the right path.  That is where the night train leads. It leads to Jesus. No one said we would like where the train takes us. But I've found it's quite more beautiful than I had thought. 

I realized I had propagandized not only about everything else in the world, but about Jesus and Christianity as well. I had been plastered with false ideas about these things, no doubt to keep me away from exploring them. Such a clever enemy we face. The lies of the matrix try to paper over Christianity with lies, darkness, evil, and sin. It tries to drag Jesus down into the muck, at least from our perspective, so we see it as just another dead end. But when we toss out the old false ideas projected by the matrix, what we realize, what I came to realize was, Jesus is really the truth.  When everything else fades away, Jesus is really real. 

That is the only escape from the matrix. That's how we board the hovership and begin our battle against the darkness, and begin winning minds to Christ.  But there is a second escape to be made. We can be brainwashed as Christians, turned into cancer cells to the body of Christ, I see this all the time, progressive Christians, Christians living in sin, lukewarm Christians, they turn and attack the body, instead of fighting to win souls and defeat the darkness, they turn and attack their own, they are brainwashed cancer cell Christians, who actually fight against their own brethren in Christ, because they've been successfully propagandized by the world. The second escape is effected by the Holy Spirit. Christ has delivered us from the matrix's total control of our internal world.  The Holy Spirit delivers us from the external stimuli that would threaten to shipwreck our walk with Christ. The Holy Spirit reveals the truth about the world to us, and helps us to have our final victory over the matrix. The final victory over the matrix is when we overcome the world, when we overcome the darkness, and when we overcome ourselves.  It is the victory talked about in Revelation, the final victory over ourselves, evil, and the world.  That is the final victory over the matrix, when we look like Neo did, and we see the code, instead of the lies. We see the code itself, how people are propagandized, how people are deceived, the schemes of the forces of Satan as they manipulate the masses to do their bidding. That is the moment when we become deadly, dangerous Christians who pose a serious threat to the kingdom of darkness. That is what you must become. You must become a follower of Jesus yes, but you must overcome the world, the darkness, and yourself. Only then will you have victory over the matrix and escape the matrix forever. 

To go more in depth along these lines consider taking a look at the book: Escaping the Matrix by Larson & Boyd 

Sunday, June 20, 2021

Rebuilding the Temple: Ezra's Journey


Last week we talked about how Israel was taken into captivity in Babylon. And during that time God continued to be with his people, even after they had failed him so completely. He worked through people like Daniel and Shadrach, Meshach and Abendigo. Daniel saw many dreams and visions, and even saw the coming of the messiah, and the end times.

So now we talk about the return home. And we see two predictions made, by Jeremiah and Isaiah, old testament prophets being fulfilled here. First of all God proclaimed through Jeremiah these words from Jeremiah 29:10, “This is what the Lord says: “You will be in Babylon for seventy years. But then I will come and do for you all the good things I have promised, and I will bring you home again.”

So God made it clear, Israel would be in Babylon in captivity for 70 years, but then would return home.

God also spoke through the prophet Isaiah, who wrote these words from Isaiah 44:28, “When I say of Cyrus, ‘He is my shepherd,’ he will certainly do as I say.

He will command, ‘Rebuild Jerusalem’; he will say, ‘Restore the Temple.’”

And that’s exactly what happens as we’ll see. You can open your Bibles to Ezra chapter 1. And it says, “1 In the first year of King Cyrus of Persia, the Lord fulfilled the prophecy he had given through Jeremiah. He stirred the heart of Cyrus to put this proclamation in writing and to send it throughout his kingdom:

2 “This is what King Cyrus of Persia says: “The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth. He has appointed me to build him a Temple at Jerusalem, which is in Judah. 3 Any of you who are his people may go to Jerusalem in Judah to rebuild this Temple of the Lord, the God of Israel, who lives in Jerusalem. And may your God be with you! 4 Wherever this Jewish remnant is found, let their neighbors contribute toward their expenses by giving them silver and gold, supplies for the journey, and livestock, as well as a voluntary offering for the Temple of God in Jerusalem.”

So they gather up their supplies, and it says God stirred in the hearts of the levites, the priestly class of the Jews, to lead this effort. They gather up everything they need, and Cyrus even provides for them the original artifacts from the original temple that was pillaged by Babylon, to take with them to rebuild the temple.

In total 42,360 men returned to Israel. In chapter 2 of ezra it’s actually documented how many men came from each tribe and their various lineages. 42,360 men, so if we add in women and children, it’s probably around 100,000 people who returned to Judah from Babylon.

We see two main leaders emerge from this group returning, their names are Jeshua, he is the prophet/priest figure, and Zerubbabel, the political leader. As we’ve seen in previous books of the Old Testament, in Israel there would always be a prophet and a king.

So they gather supplies and take donations from people and they begin work on rebuilding the foundation of the temple, just where the original sat. So imagine this, you’ve come back to Judah, to Jerusalem, the capital. And it’s in ruins. I mean it’s burned out. And you’ve gotta somehow try to rebuild. And not only that, the city and the lands of Judah are now occupied by foreigners who have claimed the land and begin to live there while you were away in exile. It’s an enormous task before them.

Have you ever had to come back from exile in your life? Can you relate to finding burned out ruins around you? For me I can relate in some ways. For about 10 years in my life I went into a sort of exile. I rebelled against God and my upbringing and turned toward self-destructive ways. And during that time, my whole life burnt up. It was in ruins. So returning home, when I became a born again Christian, I found endless ruins of what had once been my life. And I had to set to work to rebuild and become who I was always meant to be.

Maybe you’re in that process right now, in some ways. Keep rebuilding. Don’t give up. And I guarantee you that you will face opposition just as the Israelites did. But keep rebuilding. Don’t let anyone stop you.

So the Israelites led by the Levites, the priestly class begin working and they complete the entire foundation of the temple. It says this in Ezra 3:10-13, “10 When the builders completed the foundation of the Lord’s Temple, the priests put on their robes and took their places to blow their trumpets. And the Levites, descendants of Asaph, clashed their cymbals to praise the Lord, just as King David had prescribed. 11 With praise and thanks, they sang this song to the Lord:

“He is so good!

His faithful love for Israel endures forever!”

Then all the people gave a great shout, praising the Lord because the foundation of the Lord’s Temple had been laid.

12 But many of the older priests, Levites, and other leaders who had seen the first Temple wept aloud when they saw the new Temple’s foundation. The others, however, were shouting for joy. 13 The joyful shouting and weeping mingled together in a loud noise that could be heard far in the distance.”

So you’ve got this very powerful moment where they are celebrating the new foundation, but also this sadness and weeping in the crowd from the older people there who saw the original temple that Solomon built and they’re overwhelmed with sadness because the new one is nothing compared to the old.

Then it says in Ezra chapter 4:1-5, “The enemies of Judah and Benjamin heard that the exiles were rebuilding a Temple to the Lord, the God of Israel. 2 So they approached Zerubbabel and the other leaders and said, “Let us build with you, for we worship your God just as you do. We have sacrificed to him ever since King Esarhaddon of Assyria brought us here.”

3 But Zerubbabel, Jeshua, and the other leaders of Israel replied, “You may have no part in this work. We alone will build the Temple for the Lord, the God of Israel, just as King Cyrus of Persia commanded us.”

4 Then the local residents tried to discourage and frighten the people of Judah to keep them from their work. 5 They bribed agents to work against them and to frustrate their plans.”

So we see a serious problem arise here. The foreigners living among them want to help rebuild the temple, but Zerubbabel says no. And it’s right that he did because they were obviously up to no good. Once he refused they did everything could to stop the process.

So these forces trying to stop them actually send a letter to the king of Persia saying that the Jews are planning to rebel, and he listens to them, and basically orders the construction of the temple to stop. So these rebels take the letter they received go to the temple construction site and force the Israelites to stop building. And construction is halted for 14 years!

During this time two prophets were at work in Israel, Haggai and Zechariah. And they prophesy about the rebuilding of the temple repeatedly during this hard time. Jeshua and Zerubbabel are afraid of the enemies surrounding them, but with the support of Haggai and Zechariah they gather their courage and finally begin to rebuild the temple once again.

Once again the rebels and foreigners try to stop the building of the temple, but the new leader of Persia, Darius, actually finds the original decree of Cyrus indicating the Jews should rebuild the temple, and actually encourages them to rebuild it, instead of stopping them, like what happened in the past.

For me all of this, the back and forth, rebuilding the foundation, then being forced to stop, then the prophets rising up, then continuing to rebuild, and then support from Darius, is all an indication of spiritual warfare.

You’ve got the will of God, the rebuilding of the temple, up against the will of Satan and evil, which is to stop the rebuilding. And it goes back and forth. This is often, very often replicated in our own lives.

We see a family member or friend we’ve been praying for, for years, and they are struggling and then they come a bit closer to God, you see some encouraging signs, and then they fall away again. Then they come closer, then something happens that drives them away.

Or in our own lives. I’ve seen this happen so often, like in some project I’m working on, or with dinner church, trying to start that up and get it going. Or even with resurfacing the parking lot. We’d get everything on track, and then something would happen to really set us back. We’d have help in the kitchen, then those people would leave, we’d have a musician, then they’d disappear. We’d gather a new family, then they’d vanish again. With the parking lot project, delay after delay, problems with the company, problems with the weather, it seems like it’s always a battle.

This happens in our lives, not just around us, but inside of us. We start doing well. We overcome a sin, maybe we quit smoking. Then Satan does something to tempt us, we overcome the temptation, then a family member dies, then we have back problems, then we face discouragement and depression, and it’s always a battle isn’t it? Always a battle.

The word of God tells us that Christians will have many troubles, but that God delivers them from them all.

So after 14 years, they get back on track, and their enemies try to stop them, but they fail. And the temple is at last completely rebuilt.

Everyone gathers together, and they celebrate the Passover, the classic Jewish festival where they celebrate God delivering them from slavery in Egypt, and reminds them of the blood of Passover lambs that was placed on their doors, so the angel of death would “Passover” them. And of course this blood sacrifice points us forward to the coming of Jesus, when his blood would be poured out on the cross, so that Jesus would become our Passover. That our sins would be wiped out and removed, if we put our faith in Christ.

So they celebrate the Passover. And it’s a mighty celebration. They celebrate the festival of unleaven bread, reminding them of how they trekked into the wilderness, out of Egypt, with bread and bitter spices, for a long long journey. So much of what we do as Christians, just like the Jews did, is to remind ourselves of what God has done for us. We so easily forget and get led astray into secular nonsense and sin. That’s why we remind ourselves, every Sunday about what Jesus has done for us. It keeps us on the right track. That’s why we celebrate thanksgiving, reminding ourselves that God provides for our needs. That’s why we celebrate Christmas, it reminds us of the birth of Jesus and all that it brought. And that’s why we celebrate Resurrection Sunday, to remind us that Jesus died and rose again for us. Just like the Jews celebrated the Passover, the festival of booths, and others, it was all designed, to remind the Jews continuously of the God who they so often would lose track of, and fall away from.

Ok so, now, fast forward 35 years after the celebration of the rebuilding of the temple, and we see Ezra. The man named for the book of Ezra. He finally enters the story. And he is actually still back in Persia, but he leads another group back to Jerusalem. He is supported by the then King Artaxerxes and encouraged to go and enforce the law of Moses in Israel.

It’s interesting to note that during the 35 years in between the temple rebuilding and Ezra’s trip to Israel, is most likely when the events of the book of esther take place. And probably explains why there is such a shift in support for the Jews by then King Artaxerxes.

But you’re probably wondering, why was it necessary for Ezra to return to Israel at this time? I’m sure everything is going great in Israel now right? They’d learned their lesson, they rebuilt the temple, obviously they must be serving the Lord completely now right? Unfortunately no.

During the gap between the temple rebuilding and Ezra’s return, the Israelites had once again fallen away from God, and began to inter-marry with the foreigners around them, and to practice iniquity. So when Ezra arrives, he expects to see a holy nation that is living for God. But instead he finds trouble once again.

So when Ezra arrives, his mission is really to once again call the people back to God. They’d lost touch yet again, and begun to practice evil.

It says in Ezra 9:1-4, “…the Jewish leaders came to me and said, “Many of the people of Israel, and even some of the priests and Levites, have not kept themselves separate from the other peoples living in the land. They have taken up the detestable practices of the Canaanites, Hittites, Perizzites, Jebusites, Ammonites, Moabites, Egyptians, and Amorites. 2 For the men of Israel have married women from these people and have taken them as wives for their sons. So the holy race has become polluted by these mixed marriages. Worse yet, the leaders and officials have led the way in this outrage.”

3 When I heard this, I tore my cloak and my shirt, pulled hair from my head and beard, and sat down utterly shocked. 4 Then all who trembled at the words of the God of Israel came and sat with me because of this outrage committed by the returned exiles. And I sat there utterly appalled until the time of the evening sacrifice.”

And Ezra prayed, ““O my God, I am utterly ashamed; I blush to lift up my face to you. For our sins are piled higher than our heads, and our guilt has reached to the heavens.”

So when Ezra arrives he calls everyone to prayer and a holy fast. This is a great thing to do if you’re struggling in your walk with God or your friends are struggling, then it’s time to pray, fast, and consecrate ourselves anew before God.

So Ezra is actually laying face down in front of the rebuilt temple, utterly horrified, and more and more people are gathering around him, as he does this. Kind of a beautiful moment. He is alone in weeping, praying and fasting, and slowly others join him. Then more join him. And more. And pretty soon there is a giant crowd around the temple weeping and praying with Ezra. I love that. Eventually they beg Ezra to stand up and tell them what to do. And he calls them to repentance. The leaders send out letters calling all Israelites to return from exile to Jerusalem. And they do.

The people repent, they divorce the pagan wives they had taken, and turn away from the false religions of the peoples around them, and they return to God. The last chapter of Ezra, lists all those who had taken foreign wives and then repented. Praise God. The people once again returned to God. The entire nation of Israel was once again filled with the Jews who had returned from Exile.

In conclusion today, what a crazy ride it has been for Israel, don’t you think? We can think all the way back to Abraham, and how God promised to make a great nation out of him, then, we saw Israel in captivity in Egypt, the wandering in the wilderness, Joshua leading them in to take the promised land. The judges, the kings, the division of the kingdom into north and south, the destruction of the north at the hands of Assyria, and the captivity of the south in Babylon, now they return home, and once again attempt to be all they are called to be as God’s chosen people.

Next week we’ll examine the events of the book of Esther, and how one brave woman did great things for God.

As we transition into our time of response, let’s focus in our walks with God. Do we need to repent of false ways? Do we need to re-consecrate ourselves to God? Come forward to the altars, talk to God right now, respond to this message God has given us.

Sunday, June 13, 2021

A Letter to Commander Jesus Christ, Requesting Reinforcements for The Salvation Army

Dear Lord Jesus Christ, our Savior, King, Lord, and Supreme Commander of The Salvation Army,

I write you from the front lines of the great salvation war on this day of our Lord in 2021. Though I am quite aware that you are here with me, and within me while I write, I do write you Commander, as you are seated in glory at the right hand of the Father.

Commander, thank you first of all for your continued presence with myself and each of our soldiers and troops as they fight day and night in this great battle. 

The battle has been terribly difficult sir, and I find myself and my troops increasingly disillusioned and troubled. I myself have been on the edge of burnout though I've only been fighting from my current command for a mere 2 years. 

Sir, I am requesting immediate reinforcements, on behalf of my area of service, though I'm certain my honorable leaders are petitioning you day and night for just such reinforcements, I add my voice to the chorus, as sir I do not believe we can continue to hold our positions indefinitely.

At the current rate of attrition sir, we may lose significant ground in the next ten to twenty years, if not sooner. I humbly request immediate reinforcements, please Commander, send us additional troops to help wage the war on all immediate fronts. Reinforce the smaller commands with fresh troops, and strengthen the larger commands with additional troops and capable non-coms to lead said soldiers. 

We are also in need commander of additional officers to command our corps and citadels. Please sir, send additional officers in great numbers to our various commands, to prevent further retreats and redeployments. 

We find ourselves increasingly overwhelmed by the enemy sir. Our communities are increasingly rotten with sin, and torn apart by every sin, darkness, illness, and deception known to our enemy. The enemy seems to move with mechanical precision, enveloping entire neighborhoods, schools, colleges, government facilities, businesses, and blocks, while we move in inches, or we find ourselves barely holding our current positions, or more often than not, we find ourselves losing ground. 

Sir, our fortifications are in serious need of repair. Our fortifications are also thoroughly undermanned. Most of our positions are operating on skeleton crews, of old men and old women and young boys and girls, with few strong men and women of middle ages. In fact, many walls, battlements, battery positions, towers, and bastions are entirely unmanned. The battlements gather cobwebs. We need troops sir, fresh troops to fill those empty positions and reinforce the undermanned positions.

Additionally, our enemy is increasingly brazen, and the tone of the society around us quickly turns more and more against us. Our enemy seems to control more and more territory across the airwaves, the trenches, and everything in between. It is a bleak situation sir. 

And I would add commander, that our troops are more and more divided on tactics and deployment than ever before. Some of our troops even seem to join the enemy on certain issues and on certain fronts.  It's terribly disconcerting and moral is in some places quite low.

The last year in particular has been difficult on the troops and myself, as we've faced pestilence and isolation to go along with the endless salvation war. 

But what seems most puzzling sir, is that so few seem to desire salvation any longer.  Most seem truthfully uninterested, and unwilling to come to you Lord, for salvation and victory.  This also explains why our numbers are so diminished. People in the west no longer see their need for you commander. They are comfortable in bountiful food, safety, security, abundant shelter and transportation, with work, and excessive entertainment.  

Though on other fronts of the salvation war, such as the Africa theatre and the India theatre, as well as the Asia theatre, corps and commands are taking massive ground, and growing by the hundreds and the thousands by the year. New nations are invaded constantly!  This is greatly encouraging to us soldiers in the western theatres of Europe and the United States who see so few converts joining our ranks.

Never-the-less Commander we continue the good fight of the faith. We'll never give up.  Maybe it will take some great fall, some great new difficulty for the huddled comfortable masses of the west to remember their need for you Jesus our Commander, King, Lord, and Savior.  Perhaps that is what it will take sir.  Then again, maybe it will take more on our part, as leaders and soldiers, to pray more, study more, love more, work harder, and fight harder to win these fronts for you sir.

Help us to do that Commander. I often find myself so distracted by devices and pleasures of this world.  Help me to be bold as a lion and innocent as a dove, wise as a serpent, and defiant as a revolutionary against this present darkness. 

So I repeat my request commander for reinforcements to all our positions, in the form of soldiers and officers to continue to fight and win the great salvation war, in the Mid-west and across the United States, and throughout Europe.  

Help us Commander, to be who you call us to be.  Help us to be true heroes on these front lines of the great salvation war. Don't let us fail, Commander.

In the name of Jesus Christ, 

Sincerely,


Lt. Justin Steckbauer

Corps Officer, Owosso Citadel

Eastern Michigan Division

USA Central Territory

Americas and Caribbean Zone

The Salvation Army International

6/13/21

Saturday, June 12, 2021

The Salvation Army in the 21st Century: Five Battlefronts we Face

God is on the move! As we rally in The Salvation Army to build our base of soldiers, to enlist troops to fight on the frontlines of the battlefields of this world, with the cross of Jesus Christ as our banner, we gather our troops, across the frontlines of the salvation war, gathered in foxholes and firing lines and strongholds, scouting out the battlefields in front of us. We fight many internal and external battles as salvationists. Let us consider how we march forward into this difficult world, that seems to be growing darker, more depraved, and more divided by the day.  I see five key battlefronts for us in the salvation war. The first two issues are internal and the second two issues are external. The fifth issue is both internal and external.


The first issue we as Christian salvationists ought to address is gossip and social media use in The Salvation Army.  Gossip is a danger for any church movement.  It can be quite common, and difficult to deal with.  It often means slander and hatred are able to spread and cause divisions. Gossip is clearly viewed as a sin in the word of God.  Even if we don't like someone, or what someone stands for, we should never spread gossip or slander about that person.  Even if we think we're "speaking the truth."  Often times we think we're speaking the truth, but we're really simply spreading rumors and gossip.  I myself have been the target of gossip and rumors, and slander, often by people I don't even know in The Salvation Army world.  That's very disappointing. 

And yes, I've at times spread gossip and rumors when I shouldn't have, about people I maybe didn't agree with about certain things. I may have comforted myself that I was standing up for biblical truth, or standing against hatred. But if I'm honest with myself, I was spreading slander about people I was angry with, because we have different opinions. I'm going to challenge myself to discontinue that sort of unhelpful gossip. 

Additionally, are we obeying Romans chapter 13, to be submitting to our leaders? I had to challenge myself in that area, to make sure I'm appropriately submitting to my leaders, even if I may disagree with them on certain things. As long as it's not a gospel issue, I should lovingly submit to my leaders. If it is a gospel issue (biblical truth is at stake in a primary way) then I ought to kindly and lovingly raise my concerns with my leaders.

Social media has really been a great tool for spreading the gospel in the 21st century.  It's absolutely essential that The Salvation Army continues to utilize social media to spread the word of God and the love of Christ!  But we must be careful about how we go about doing that.  We should always do that with love and gentleness, while also speaking plain biblical truth, without cowering to culture. That is a careful balance to walk.  

Social media should never be used as a tool to bludgeon those we disagree with ideologically, religiously or politically.  And if we find something objectionable posted by someone, we ought to practice the biblical pattern of conflict resolution found in Matthew chapter 18.  We ought to contact that person directly, over phone or direct message, to deal with them directly.  If we are unable to work things out that way, only then should we contact our leaders to bring our concerns to our leaders. And we should never gang up on a person, and create a sort of "cancel mob" to try to harm someone. That is not biblical Christianity.  That is not Christ-like love.  Go directly to the person. If that doesn't work, go to leadership. But don't generate a public scene. That only hurts people and hurts the organization as a whole. Speak truth in love on social media, it is a great tool, but be careful with it. I myself have in the past been too bold on social media, too intense, and I had to change my approach to social media use to make sure I was keeping a holy balance between grace and truth. There's nothing wrong with seeing a problem and making a change. We should all be lifelong learners. 


The second issue we as salvationists should address is the growing ideological divide between urban corps and medium/small town corps. It's no secret that our country, in the USA, is more divided politically, ideologically, and culturally than ever before. Increasingly we see a divide in our society between the beliefs of urban big city areas and small and medium sized towns across the country, and of course in the Midwest.  That divide found in society often replicates itself in the church.  And we often see very different perspectives on life, culture, politics, ideology, and religion depending on our own viewpoints.  

The important question to ask ourselves, as conservatives and liberals serving in the church together, is: What unites us? Hopefully it is an overwhelming love for Jesus Christ, and a desire to serve suffering humanity without discrimination.  

We disagree on many biblical issues, we disagree on justice issues, we definitely disagree on politics, but we all serve Jesus.  And perhaps we ought to realize that conservative and liberal officers and soldiers need each other. Liberal and conservatives officers, could even be, more effective, if we fight along side each other, and not against each other.  

Yes, we will always disagree on many key issues. We will have to hash those things out for our shared future. But we can also focus on serving Christ together, as often our strengths and weaknesses compliment each other more than we might realize. Perhaps we might even realize that liberal and conservatives officers need each other, to be a strong army, focused on justice and service, truth and grace, love and boldness, looking back to our foundations and looking forward to our progress as a movement.  


The third issue we as salvationists should address is the call to biblical social justice. From the very beginning The Salvation Army fought for justice in society, whether it was providing food, clothing, and shelter for the poor, or advocating for the age of consent to be raised in darkest England. 

The challenge to fight for biblical justice is a great one for us as a movement. We find polarized political positions on both sides of the social justice debate. The danger of politics invading the church and taking over our advocacy is a real concern. So we ought to be very careful what our steps are in standing for biblical justice in a fallen world. 

Many mainline protestant churches have destroyed themselves by placing an over-emphasis on social justice and politics, instead of sharing the gospel and meeting needs. The road of biblical justice is a challenging road, but it's not one that can be ignored or rejected either.  

The Salvation Army must be on the forefront of healing, mercy, and hope in areas like human trafficking, religious persecution, abortion, racism, poverty, political corruption, and so on. But we must be very cautious to make sure we approach these issues from a framework of scripture, and not the ideologies of the world. Some church movements have come to shipwreck, by either becoming too politically focused on the right, or on the left. Often times this zeal for political change, masked as social justice, led to a decline in biblical truth, and the eventual collapse of movements into excessively progressive or fundamentalist bents. So we must sail the turbulent waters of justice ministry with biblical truth as our sextant, and the love of Jesus as our compass.


The fourth issue we salvationists should address is balancing gospel and service. Here we come to the great sacred balance we as salvationists must strike. It is a difficult one indeed. We must balance ourselves, between proclaiming the gospel and meeting human needs.  Too far on one end and we lose social services, too far on the other and we lose our ministry focus.  This is the great challenge, of mission integration.  How can we balance our ministry and social services to be one entwined mission of ministry-based social service; gospel centered, while serving all without discrimination.  That is the great and difficult balance to strike, to strike at every corps, at every facility, at every headquarters. 

How awesome and difficult a task, to balance these battlefronts! How challenging it is to fight a war on two fronts. If we are not careful, we can lose our way. But our mission statement says it well, "Our mission is to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ and meet human needs in His name without discrimination."  That is our challenge. And each new generation of officers and soldiers must face that challenge to win the world for Jesus and meet the needs of suffering humanity.  

But it is the right approach.  It absolutely is! When Jesus himself walked the Earth, he preached the gospel and he met needs. Those were his two consuming focuses, teaching the people about the kingdom of God, and meeting the needs of those who were sick, hurting, defeated, hungry, or crippled.

 

The final and most important issue I'd like to address is theology. The theology of a movement guides it in hundreds and hundreds of different ways, it's the rudder of a ship, though it may seem small, it directs the entire massive ship in our direction or another. 

The Salvation Army is a biblical movement, part of the evangelical church, a quasi-military army, focused on spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ. And we must always maintain that high standard of biblical Christianity.  Many large organizations like Goodwill, the YMCA, and Volunteers of America, to name just a few, have completely lost their Christianity identity. They swayed so far toward social work that they lost who they were. They are little more than secular charities today. The Salvation Army must never become that.  

The Salvation Army must always remain a biblical, theologically conservative Christian church movement.  But it seems like we've really lost touch with who we are as theologically.  The Salvation Army is a holiness movement church with severe, whacky, Spirit-filled charismatic tendencies.  The Salvation Army is a revival movement, a street evangelism movement, and a recovery movement.  But how little do we hear true holiness theology preached from the pulpits of The Salvation Army anymore? Have you ever heard a sermon about entire sanctification? Do we even believe in true Spirit-filled Christ-centered holiness anymore? We ought to. Because it's true and it's real. I love The Salvation Army's theology. But too often we seem to preach milquetoast feel-good messages, instead of holiness, heaven, hell-fire, and the blood of Christ! I came for blood and fire.  Too many calvationists (calvinist salvationists) are preaching 'keep on sinning' hyper-grace messages. We need to walk through the fire, and be refined in the fire, and come out glazed and clean pure and holy, not by our own efforts, but all in Christ Jesus our savior!

Additionally, many in The Salvation Army are concerned, rightly so, because the position statements of all the territories were archived two years ago, meaning they are no longer considered valid. The stated goal was to centralize the position statements which are now listed on the international website. Fair enough. However, two key positions have been left unlisted. The position statements on marriage, and homosexuality, in particular are missing.  And this has led many officers and soldiers to tremble with fear that the Salvation Army may be preparing to make a departure from biblical truth. But even if that isn't the case, and I think it isn't, even then, those positions should be listed publicly, or at least, listed as stated positions internally. This is too dangerous of an issue, with far far too many voices trying to pull us toward total apostasy on the issue of marriage, for it to remain a blank spot in our positional statements. It must be listed. Some are even making wild claims on social media, that since the position isn't listed, that must mean that any viewpoints are acceptable.  But that is not the case.  This is a gospel issue. The new testament is clear on this issue (1 Cor 6:9-11, Romans 1:21-28, 1 Tim 1:8-11). Of course we must always love, and care for, and reach out to those who need Jesus. All must be treated with dignity, and served without discrimination. That is clear. We must help those lost to turn from sin, and find freedom. But, to promote any other view than marriage between man and woman is, frankly, a blatant breach of  Old and New Testament scripture, a violation of the first doctrine of our theology, and a violation of the soldiers and officers covenant. However, I believe we will stand firm. Glory to God, who guides our movement, and I'm certain, will prevent us from slipping off the precipice, the same precipice, that unfortunately many other denominations have slipped off of. 


So as we face this continued battle, in the great salvation war, we must stand firm and continue to march forward. Many of us tremble and wonder, will the decline in corps attendance continue? Will corps continue to shut down and decline across the Midwest? Do we have a future as a movement? 

To me it seems clear, God is not done with The Salvation Army. We are uniquely positioned in these last days to make a difference to an increasingly lost, depraved and chaotic world. We are needed more than ever!

The return of Jesus Christ is imminent. This is not the time to shrink back. This is not the time to lose heart. This is not the time to slide into coldness and discouragement.  

This is the time to keep up the fight.  This is a time for hope. This is a time to see a bright future, and cry out in prayer to God to see it manifest, and to fight day and night to make that hope a reality! Our God is really real! Jesus Christ is alive, right now! Keep praying soldiers, keep leading officers, and we will win the day! God be with you sons and daughters of Jesus Christ! Fight on, and never give up! 


"With your help I can advance against a troop; with my God I can scale a wall. It is God who arms me with strength and makes my way perfect. The LORD lives! Praise be to my Rock! Exalted be God, the Rock, my Savior!" -2 Samuel 22:30, 33, 47

Wednesday, June 9, 2021

Paradoxes created by the Fall: The Tangent Universe & The New Universe

Growth as much as life itself is shot through with paradox. Though it wasn't always that way. The universe itself once used to be quite right.  It was good. Very good. And so were we.  But something terrible happened, that no one can quite understand, long, long ago. This is not legend, but a fact of our existence. 

In a perfect universe, paradox would not be necessary, aside from being something which would exemplify beauty.  But then something happened we call "fall."  

This was an event in which humanity became polluted with evil, that which is contrary to what is right and true.  And being polluted, humanity was quarantined. 

The universe became broken, by the command of God, if we're honest. The evil generated within the human heart, the desire to supplant god, and play god, and redefine good and evil to fit our emotions and pleasures became central to human consciousness and perception of reality. 

In our minds, good became bad and bad became good, in many ways, though not all. We became desirous to create our own utopia, apart from God. We became desirous to prove God wrong, and to smirk in the face of God, and to sneer toward any mention of God.  It became our base programming. 

Now this choice in the heart of our ancestors, then seems to have been magnified outside of them, and onto the world around them. That's just how central humanity is to the creation, the creation was created to house humanity, thus humanity's choice affected it completely.

Reality became fallen. Space became vast and lifeless. How was it before? Who could say? Perfect I imagine. Seasons became shattered. Conditions became difficult. The various creatures and animals having once been harmonious and peaceful, became vicious, and prone to consume one another. 

All of reality was struck through with paradoxes. Paradoxes, paradoxes, and more paradoxes. Just like two colliding storm fronts produce tornadoes, so the collision of humanity with God's objective truth created numerous paradoxes.  

Energy became limited. The human mind became debased. Earthquakes, meteors, storms, and such began to occur. Humanity knew shame and grief, and lostness and isolation from God. 

All this came about due to a choice that was made. It began with a choice made by a servant of God, named Lucifer. He apparently became prideful, and chose that path, and then attempted a rebellion against the Creator.  This rebellion failed. But somehow in this situation, lucifer managed to get humanity in on the destruction. He managed to trick us into rebellion against God. 

Now, every human born on the broken, tangent Earth is born in a default mode of rebellion toward God.  As much as we're born with the handprint of God on us, with eternal longings, we're also born with the handprint of Satan on us, defaulting toward rebellion, selfishness, and a deference for darkness. We cling to it, grasp onto it, it becomes us, and it matches us so well. We're like the horrid creatures in H.G. Well's The Time Machine in the far future, that live underground in dark tunnels, and love every minute of it.  That's the horrendous realization of our situation, we're the chief problem. And we don't often look intently at that angle because nothing in us wants it to be true.  But it is true.  And I can't help but stare at it.  It's terrible, but it's there and maybe if I can stare at it long enough, the Lord can defeat it in me.

That's what I'm afraid of.  I'm afraid that this fallen nature, this reprobate mind, this stamp of rebellion upon me will destroy me.  Even as a Christian, deeply in love with God, and following Him, I sometimes fear I will veer off course, because many times I'm so tempted, and many times, I feel the rebellion in me, and it's sway is strong.  But growing weaker and weaker as Christ works on me. But I think it's wise to have a good fear of falling away. Of course some would shout "you can't lose it!" And to those I would say, read the New Testament more, and listen to less sermons with catch phrases like that.  Read John chapter 15.  We're called to live holy and pure in Christ. Many Christians in our lukewarm era don't want to admit that. They refuse to believe that they can lose their position through endless sinning, but they can. And if they persist in it, they will. And something inside them tells them that, but they've been fed the catch phrases of popular evangelicalism too many times. And they've read too little of the New Testament. 

I'm so tired of hearing the lie of "once saved always saved." The preachers who teach this will one day have to stand before God and explain to God the Father why they taught endless millions of people that they could never lose their salvation, no matter how much they sinned. And they will have to explain why they taught endless millions of people why they must always continue sinning, and will never stop sinning, so you might as well go on sinning. They'll have to explain why they removed every impetus not to sin by telling millions of people they could never lose it, all for some theological ideology created by a man, long ago, who is long dead. But Jesus lives. 

We like to comfort ourselves in our sins, especially in the west. We don't want to have to deal with them. When Jesus tells the woman caught in adultery to "Go and sin no more" we cry out at Jesus, "How can you say that!?" We're so caught in our sins.  We love them. We want Jesus, we want Christianity, but we want to keep our little sins too. We don't want them to affect our faith in Christ, but they do. And they threaten our relationship with Christ. If you're reading these words, repent before it's too late. Let those dead things go. To him who overcomes, will be given the crown, so it says in Revelation.  

These are the sort of paradoxes we see in the fallen creation.  We can't see God here, but we believe in Him.  We are best friends with Jesus, yet we've never met Him face to face.  We're fallen yet redeemed. We bring honor for ourselves in the next life by serving others in this one. We defeat evil not by striking back at it, but by overcoming evil with good. We defeat our enemies by forgiving them, loving them, and praying for them. We achieve victory through surrender to God.  We find peace in constant trouble. We grow by constantly suffering through trials and difficulties. We are often poor and needy in this world, yet rich beyond imagining in the world to come. We are constantly in controversy as Christians, yet these controversies somehow bring others to know Christ. We find ourselves by losing ourselves. We come to know Christ by realizing our desperate lostness and brokenness. It is a world shot through with paradox.

There is a ticking clock on this reality, on this universe, on this planet, on this solar system, on every galaxy, nebula, planet, and person. In the old movie Donnie Darko, Donnie is visited by a rabbit who tells him the world will end in 28 days. Donnie has found himself in a tangent universe that will destroy itself after 28 days and his only way out is to realize that he must return to the prime universe.  With horror I realized once I'd became a Christian that though this film was fiction, it is reality for me and for every other person in existence. 

We all stand before a ticking clock, and we must somehow come to find Jesus, and come to faith in Christ, and repent of sin, and live for Jesus, before the clock runs out.  Otherwise we will perish with the tangent universe when it is destroyed and replaced with the new universe. We find ourselves in a desperately dangerous situation. Because those who do not come to Jesus will be judged before God according to their lives, which is a very dangerous thing, without Christ, no sins are forgiven, and then those sins they committed will have to be punished.  And the punishment is eternal torment in hell. How terrifying! But if they have Christ as their savior and have lived for Christ, they will escape the broken universe, and be restored to the prime universe, when the new heavens and new earth are brought about by God the Father. 

That's the goal. To wake up from the fallen Earth nightmare before time runs out.  And we can only do that through Christ. But if we do, we will escape the fall, we will escape the dumb rebellion of Satan, and be restored fully to right relationship with God. In fact that is our proper destiny, to be restored to God. That is what humans were designed for, to love and be loved by God, in a perfect universe. That is the goal, the return to paradise. And it's quite real.  It's quite a solid thing.  It's not going anywhere.  It will be real. Many will go to hell, and they won't quite be able to believe they are there. But they will be.  And there will be no escape.

I don't fully understand why it's like that.  It seems quite disturbing to me. But I don't make the rules. And from what I'd read and heard from near death experiences, which I've studied extensively, in that court room, when God shows the true evil of sin to us, in the end, after the review, we 100% agree with God when he gives us the sentence of "hell." Like, we see what we did, we see the penalty, and we end up nodding in agreement that this punish is 100% just.  So I've read and heard from near death experiences. At last those who had never seen eye to eye with God will, at their court date, when the sentence is read, of hell, be in 100% agreement, because they'll see their sins and wrongdoings and the punishment given from God's perspective and realize that it is completely and totally just. Wow. And I do believe that's true.  

I'm sure it's also true that many will attend to heaven, the New Jerusalem, the perfect reality believing that they were not quite worthy. But in fact they were, because of Jesus Christ, and what he had done for them.  So it may be surprising for many of us.  But beautiful, and truth will reign. 

But you realize then, that this whole fallen reality is simply a last chance for humanity to turn to God.  Our ancestors joined with the rebellion against God, with Lucifer and the others.  They chose to shake their fist in the face of God.  So this is really just a last chance for us. We can slide down into darkness with the rest, or we can climb up the ladder, the stairway to heaven, which is Jesus. It's that simple. This entire broken universe, this broken planet, is simply God giving us a last chance to turn to Him before time runs out.  And time is quickly running out.  We're approaching the conclusion of this reality.  So you better make that choice and put it into practice sooner than later. 

Sunday, June 6, 2021

Israel taken captive into Babylon: The Victories and Visions of Daniel


The hanging gardens of Babylon, the ancient majesty of a mighty capital city, splendid and mysterious, beautiful, yet danger lurks in every corner. This is not home. This is not the city of God. This is not Jerusalem. This is not Israel. This is the capital one might say of the kingdoms of darkness. And so enters the hundreds of thousands of Israelites, taken into captivity, by King Nebuchadnezzar. And among them, four men, who would change history forever, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, and Daniel, all well educated young men of the royal court of Israel.

Now they are placed into the service of the King of Babylon.

It says in Daniel 1:3-7 (NET) 3 “The king commanded Ashpenaz, who was in charge of his court officials, to choose some of the Israelites who were of royal and noble descent— 4 young men in whom there was no physical defect and who were handsome, well versed in all kinds of wisdom, well educated and having keen insight, and who were capable of entering the king’s royal service—and to teach them the literature and language of the Babylonians. 5 So the king assigned them a daily ration from his royal delicacies and from the wine he himself drank. They were to be trained for the next three years. At the end of that time they were to enter the king’s service. 6 As it turned out, among these young men were some from Judah: Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. 7 But the overseer of the court officials renamed them. He gave Daniel the name Belteshazzar, Hananiah he named Shadrach, Mishael he named Meshach, and Azariah he named Abednego.”

This is pretty common, they’re trying to assimilate the Jews into the culture and ways of Babylon. This tends to happen when immigrants come into a new country they assimilate to a certain extent into the values, customs and beliefs of the country they enter. But you’ll notice that throughout history, particularly from AD 70 to 1957 there was one group of people that never assimilated into the countries they spent time in, that was the Jewish people. They kept their unique cultural and religious heritage, and as a result many times they were feared and mistrusted and treated as outsiders. But it was God’s way of preserving the Jews as his own unique people, to one day be restored to Israel.

It’s the same thing here, as Israel is taken into captivity, they continue to stand out as a special people, beloved by God. Even in exile, God still loves the people of Israel and guides them.

So as they start trying to change these young men into Babylonians, Daniel decides that he is not going to submit to the reconditioning, the brain-washing, you might say, in Daniel 1:8 (NIV) it says "But Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine, and he asked the chief official for permission not to defile himself this way."

So Daniel and his friends request permission to not eat the fancy food of Babylon. And they are allowed to do this, because God is with them.

It says in Daniel 1:17-19 “God gave these four young men knowledge and understanding in every kind of literature and wisdom. Daniel also understood visions and dreams of every kind. 18 At the end of the time that the king had said to present them, the chief eunuch presented them to Nebuchadnezzar. 19 The king interviewed them, and among all of them, no one was found equal to Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah.”

God was with them in exile. He gave them wisdom, understanding, and they became advisors to the very king of Babylon. Amazing. God helps us. Even in exile. He helps us.

And we are in exile right now, as Christians. We’re in the world, a world that is not our home. We can tell too. Because the ways of the world hurt us. The evil of the world hurts us. I feel it every day, the pain of the sin I see all around me. It hurts so bad. But it’s because we’re exiles. This world is not our home. We’re citizens of heaven. We’re made for another place. And the world can tell that we aren’t part of the world, so the world doesn’t like us, it doesn’t accept us. And that’s OK. We should be worried if we feel too at home in the world.

So Daniel and his buddies are advising the king. And the king has some very disturbing dreams. He sees things in his dreams that he can’t explain. So he gathers together all his advisors and asks them to explain the dream to them. But one catch, he says, you tell me the dream that I saw, and then interpret it. I’m not going to tell you the dream, if you’re really seers and mediums and spiritual people, you should be able to tell me the dream. He’s smart, he knows if he tells them the dream, they could just make up any interpretation they want. But none of the advisors can tell him his dream. So the king says, then you’re all a bunch of liars and he orders them all put to death.

But Daniel finds out about this order, and he asks for time, to seek the Lord and try to understand the dream and it’s meaning. So God gives Daniel the information he needs, and he tells the king about his dream, he dream of this giant statue, made of various substances, bronze, gold, clay, and so on. And Daniel explained that the statue represents King Nebuchadnezzar powerful kingdom and kingdoms that would come after his. Then in the dream a rock struck the statue and destroyed it. And Daniel explains that the rock hitting the statue was the kingdom of God, that would destroy those kingdoms, and bring in the final eternal kingdom.

King Nebuchadnezzar is so impressed that he makes Daniel his chief advisor and gives him great honor, and honors the God of heaven. But later the King is so amazed with the dream and the power of his kingdom, that he makes a giant statue, just like the statue he saw in his dream. And he gathers his people together and insists everyone bow down and worship the statue.

So everyone bows down and worships this giant statue the king has made, every except Shadrach, Meshach and Abedigo. So everyone, probably thousands of people, are bowing down before this statue, and only three people are left standing, these three Israelites.

The King is so angry that he has his soldiers seize the 3 men. And his soldiers bring them to the king. And the king asks them why aren’t you bowing down before the statue? He said, if you don’t you’re going to die, you’re going to get thrown into a fiery furnace.

From Daniel 3:16-18 16 Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego replied to the king, “Nebuchadnezzar, we don’t need to give you an answer to this question. 17 If the God we serve exists, then he can rescue us from the furnace of blazing fire, and he can[f] rescue us from the power of you, the king. 18 But even if he does not rescue us,[g] we want you as king to know that we will not serve your gods or worship the gold statue you set up.”

Bold response. Basically they say, God can rescue us from you. But even if God doesn’t rescue us, we won’t serve any of your false gods. That should be our response when facing difficulties or persecutions, or struggles, look, God can rescue me from this situation, but even if he doesn’t, I’m still not turning back. Easy to say, harder to do, right?

So the King is enraged by their response and he has his guards throw them into the furnace. And he orders the furnace to be fired so hot, that the guards who them in die because they get too close.

But as they look into the furnace, to watch the 3 men die, they realize, they’re inside the furnace, completely unharmed!

It says in Daniel 3:24-26 24 Then King Nebuchadnezzar jumped up in alarm. He said to his advisers, “Didn’t we throw three men, bound, into the fire?”

“Yes, of course, Your Majesty,” they replied to the king.

25 He exclaimed, “Look! I see four men, not tied, walking around in the fire unharmed; and the fourth looks like a son of the gods.”[k]

26 Nebuchadnezzar then approached the door of the furnace of blazing fire and called, “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, you servants of the Most High God—come out!””

So the three Israelites come out of the fire, and they are completely unharmed. Their clothes don’t even smell like smoke. And King Nebuchadnezzar gives glory to the one true God. Our God.

Afterward the King had a letter sent out across his entire kingdom ordering the peoples of Babylon to worship the one true God of Israel. Amazing, how God can turn our tests into our testimonies, often times our most difficult moments will become a catalyst through which God will spread his word around the world.

Over time King Nebuchadnezzar again rebels against God, and his son becomes King. His son also rebels against God and in an incredible moment they see a hand writing on the wall of the king’s chamber, declaring destruction. Later, the next king became Darius the mede.

Daniel continues to serve under King Darius, and he once again distinguishes himself as a greater leader among the people. Daniel does so well that Darius decides he’s going to put Daniel over the whole kingdom. So now you’ve got the other advisors of the king getting very jealous of Daniel and how much Darius likes him. So they start to scheme and plot against him.

It says in Daniel 6:3-9 3 Daniel[b] distinguished himself above the administrators and satraps because he had an extraordinary spirit, so the king planned to set him over the whole realm. 4 The administrators and satraps, therefore, kept trying to find a charge against Daniel regarding the kingdom. But they could find no charge or corruption, for he was trustworthy, and no negligence or corruption was found in him. 5 Then these men said, “We will never find any charge against this Daniel unless we find something against him concerning the law of his God.”

6 So the administrators and satraps went together to the king and said to him, “May King Darius live forever. 7 All the administrators of the kingdom—the prefects, satraps, advisers, and governors—have agreed that the king should establish an ordinance and enforce an edict that, for thirty days, anyone who petitions any god or man except you, the king, will be thrown into the lions’ den. 8 Therefore, Your Majesty, establish the edict and sign the document so that, as a law of the Medes and Persians, it is irrevocable and cannot be changed.” 9 So King Darius signed the written edict.”

So these other advisors are looking for any charge they can find against Daniel. But they can’t find anything. So they trick the King into signing a decree that says no one can worship any god but King Darius himself for 30 days. They know that Daniel can’t agree to that. He has to worship God everyday.

It would be the same for me today. If congress or the president or the supreme court came out with an order and said you can’t worship any God for 30 days, or you can’t go to church for this long, or you can’t pray or read your Bible for this long, I would have to disobey that order. I would take my Bible and my prayer spot, and continue on seeking the Lord. No government has the right to stop me from worshiping God.

So Daniel continues to worship God. It says in Daniel 6:10-11 “10 When Daniel learned that the document had been signed, he went into his house. The windows in its upstairs room opened toward Jerusalem, and three times a day he got down on his knees, prayed, and gave thanks to his God, just as he had done before. 11 Then these men went as a group and found Daniel petitioning and imploring his God.”

You’ve got some spiritual warfare going on here I’m sure. This is evil at work, trying to stop Daniel from having such a big influence in Babylon. So these men see Daniel praying, he doesn’t try to hide it, he just keeps doing what he always does. So they run back, and tell King Darius.

And King Darius is in a corner now. He signed this law, it can’t be repealed, that’s how Babylonian law works. Darius spends the rest of the day trying to find some loophole to save Daniel. But he can’t find anything finally. So he sends his guards to arrest Daniel, and throw him into a den of lions.

It says in Daniel 6:16-18 “So the king gave the order, and they brought Daniel and threw him into the lions’ den. The king said to Daniel, “May your God, whom you continually serve, rescue you!” 17 A stone was brought and placed over the mouth of the den. The king sealed it with his own signet ring and with the signet rings of his nobles, so that nothing in regard to Daniel could be changed. 18 Then the king went to his palace and spent the night fasting. No diversions were brought to him, and he could not sleep.”

And it continues like this, in Daniel 6:19-24 “19 At the first light of dawn the king got up and hurried to the lions’ den. 20 When he reached the den, he cried out in anguish to Daniel. “Daniel, servant of the living God,” the king said,[e] “has your God, whom you continually serve, been able to rescue you from the lions?”

21 Then Daniel spoke with the king: “May the king live forever. 22 My God sent his angel and shut the lions’ mouths; and they haven’t harmed me, for I was found innocent before him. And also before you, Your Majesty, I have not done harm.”

23 The king was overjoyed and gave orders to take Daniel out of the den. When Daniel was brought up from the den, he was found to be unharmed, for he trusted in his God. 24 The king then gave the command, and those men who had maliciously accused Daniel[f] were brought and thrown into the lions’ den—they, their children, and their wives. They had not reached the bottom of the den before the lions overpowered them and crushed all their bones.”

The Lions don’t harm a hair on Daniel’s head. He’s safe. And the King is worried and upset he can’t sleep, and comes and brings Daniel out of the Lion’s den. Then casts those who spoke evil against Daniel into the lion’s den instead, and they are devoured.

Then Darius issues a decree throughout the kingdom that all peoples everywhere should honor and fear the God who Daniel loves. The one true living God. Once again, the word goes out, to the entire kingdom of Babylon, to worship the real God. Imagine how many came to God because of these decrees and letters going out from Nebuchadnezzar and now Daniel.

It’s an important lesson for us today, to continue to honor God. Don’t assimilate into the culture of this world, live a distinct, different life. Don’t pander to the ideologies of this fallen broken world. Instead stand out in stark contrast. Just like Daniel did by not submitting to the ways of Babylon.

When the world demands that we embrace their ideas, their ideologies, their causes, we should refuse those evil ways. Just like Shadrach, Mishach and Abendigo did, by refusing to bow down before the giant statue. And they may throw us into the fiery furnace, with cancel culture, and mockery, and attempting to get us fired, but so be it.

And thirdly, we must keep God’s laws above the laws of this society we live in. We are called to worship God, pray to God, and see the Lord, and if any law of our society goes against that, we should refuse to obey those laws, like some did in states like California, and New York, when they were told by power hungry governors that they couldn’t meet to worship God, despite the fact that sports games and other events were going on everyday. Some churches refused, and met anyway, and God honored that sacrifice.

After these events recorded in the book of Daniel, we see that Daniel experiences many dreams and visions throughout his life. And these dreams and visions are recorded in the book of Daniel. That’s why many when talking about the end times, the last days, they will point to books like Revelation and the book of Daniel. We see all sorts of prophecies, like this one, in Daniel 7

9 “As I kept watching, thrones were set in place,
and the Ancient of Days took his seat.
His clothing was white like snow,
and the hair of his head like whitest wool.
His throne was flaming fire;
its wheels were blazing fire.
10 A river of fire was flowing,
coming out from his presence.
Thousands upon thousands served him;
ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him.
The court was convened,
and the books were opened.”

This speaks of the end judgment, when God the Father will judge the peoples of the world. And again at the end of the book of Daniel, in Daniel 12:5-7 “ 5 Then I, Daniel, looked, and two others were standing there, one on this bank of the river and one on the other. 6 One of them said to the man dressed in linen, who was above the water of the river, “How long until the end of these wondrous things?” 7 Then I heard the man dressed in linen, who was above the water of the river. He raised both his hands[b] toward heaven and swore by him who lives eternally that it would be for a time, times, and half a time. When the power of the holy people is shattered, all these things will be completed.”

And again it says, “At that time
Michael, the great prince
who stands watch over your people, will rise up.
There will be a time of distress
such as never has occurred
since nations came into being until that time.
But at that time all your people
who are found written in the book will escape.
2 Many who sleep in the dust
of the earth will awake,
some to eternal life,
and some to disgrace and eternal contempt.
3 Those who have insight will shine
like the bright expanse of the heavens,
and those who lead many to righteousness,
like the stars forever and ever.” -Daniel 12:1-3

Some believe that Daniel saw Jesus, as the one floating above the waters, who declared these things to him, about the end times, when Israel would face great struggles, and the Lord would divide the wicked and the righteous to receive either punishment or reward.

Amazing, how God continued to use the Israelites even while they were in exile in Babylon. God is with you in the dark times of exile and evil, he continues to guide us, help us, and bless us. Our response is to honor Him by living pure lives, speaking truth in a dark world, and serving the people of the world to draw them to Jesus.


Wednesday, June 2, 2021

Worship of Graven Images and Icons: Should we bow down before paintings or statues of Jesus?

Should Christians bow down before statues or pictures of Jesus? Is it OK to worship a painting or sculpture or statue?

The early church leader John of Damascus makes several arguments in favor of the veneration of images. Though he rejects the outright worship of images. He deals with several scriptures from the Old and New Testament given in the law of Moses and then repeated by the Apostle Paul, but indicates that these scriptures were given to the Jews who were prone to idol worship, but delineates between the Jews, and Christians.  

He indicates that Christians are more mature, and can tell the difference between venerating images and worshiping God.  John then declares that once God comes in the incarnation, Jesus Christ, apparently then it's OK to create paintings and images of Christ, because Christ has become physical, and having that physical form, this somehow allows for humanity to create images of this person and venerate those images. John also makes the argument that various biblical figures like Abraham and Jacob worshiped people and angels, and so on. John also makes the argument that since Christ is the visible image of the invisible God this can be equated with an approval of worshiping images of Christ which are the image of God, though imperfect representations.

Those are some arguments for veneration of images and icons, though they don't seem particularly compelling to me.  The 10 commandments make it clear, we should make no "graven image" of God for the purpose of worshipping it. We serve the invisible God, the God who can't be seen by human eyes. Therefore we should make no carved images or paintings for the purpose of bowing down before them and worshiping them. Never, ever do that. It's expressly rejected by God's word. 

I was raised Catholic so I was quite familiar with the practices of bowing down before statues, and asking saints for prayers, and lighting candles and placing them around statues of saints.  I rejected that faith road and became much more protestant in my beliefs, at first being quite apposed to any practice of images or icons. 

I reacted quite far to the other end, and even felt concerned of basic items like a cross in a chapel.  However my views have softened over the years.  When I pray I will often light candles and burn incense. I have various paintings and pictures around my home that depict Christ as lion and lamb.  I have a reproduction of an old painting of Christ walking up Calvary's hill. There are others as well. But I'm still quite cautious. 

I would never bow down before a painting or an image or icon. I wouldn't want to risk that it might be considered worship of some kind.  In some ways I certainly do venerate the saints and the various historical figures, but simply through their writings and writings about them, not through images or icons. To venerate means to admire, but to worship, that is something different.  Only God should receive worship.

Share this Post!