Friday, June 17, 2011

Does Love of Country = Hate for God? ...

Is it possible to be patriotic and maintain our Christianity?  What if the country you are referring to is NOT the United States, but perhaps Iran, or China, or Saudi Arabia, or Japan?  American instinctively associate patriotism with Christianity and believe firmly that our nation was founded by Christians, and on Christian or Biblical values.  But many citizens of foreign nations around the world also believe their countries allow for them to be both patriotic and still maintain their spirituality, albeit in many different forms.  One could argue that Italy is also a largely Christian nation, as is Germany.  Yet both fought against our country in a massive world war.  While Hitler and Mussolini may not have reflected Christian values, the soldiers on the front lines were likely praying to the same God we do.  How can we ask God to take sides where it comes to preserving our nation, particularly if it comes at the expense of another; how can they?

The most fundamental “Christian” value that the USA was founded on is that of separation of church and state.  The Bible is clear that conscience of man CANNOT be compelled either to accept or to reject God.  Each of us must make an individual choice as to what we are going to believe about God.  To attempt to force another person to believe in the moral standards I hold, or the method in which I choose to worship God, is to do the work of Satan himself.  The irony of our greatest Christian principle is that it protects the rights of an Atheist to reject the God we believe in.  In this we echo the character of God.  Where we seek to blur the lines between church and state, we embark on the work of the evil one.  Lest a zealous Christian think it is a good idea to unite the laws of the land with our particular version of religion, imagine what it would be like if the majority religion in this country was Muslim rather than Christian.  Would you still believe it to be a good idea to enforce religion based on the majority when the particular views on religion are not ones you share?
Atheists have long accused religion as being the motivator for the greatest atrocities committed in our world.  The crusades are just a single example of religious fervor turned into bloodshed across a continent.  Religious persecution is what drove the pilgrims to flee England in order that they might practice their own version of Christianity without being compelled by the reigning Church of England at the time.  The Catholic Church persecuted those who would not covert at the edge of a sword for over a thousand years.  Even today Muslim countries strictly forbid the spreading of any other religion but their own on pain of death.  Exclusionism.  Persecution.  Torture.  Genocide.  All words easily associated with attempts to force one group to believe as another does.  Even Christ Himself was put to death for standing against the power structure of the organized religion of His day.  The Romans might have cared less how much love, peace, and humility He preached; but the Pharisees could not stand his lack of subservience to their leadership on spiritual matters.  They killed Him over it.
Long have men seeking to have control over the hearts and minds of others, attempted to use religion as a way of inciting deep passions and fundamental beliefs of those to follow their cause.  The crusades would not have happened at all absent any religious implications.  Why bother invading a foreign nation to secure a capital you have no economic or other interests in?  But add religion into the mix, make it a matter of defending the honor of God (as if such a thing is possible, let alone required) and men willingly lay down their lives in the effort.  Patriotism blended with religious fervor becomes a dangerous thing.  Most often those who incite it do so to gain power over others.  Look at Osama Bin Laden for example; He did not learn to fly planes and crash them into the towers himself.  Instead he had others do it.  He did not suicide bomb his own enemies, but he freely encouraged his followers to pursue this course to paradise.  His cowardice is masked by claiming religious piety.  Yet he does not choose to die as an example, only to compel others to believe they should in his cause.  It is nothing more than a tool of control.
The problem with love of country is that most countries do not share the same values as our God, including our own.  Countries seek to maintain borders and immigration controls.  They cannot by practicality welcome everyone without precondition as God does.  Countries maintain a strong defense in order that they are not overrun by their enemies.  Yet God tells us to pray for our enemies, turn the other cheek when they strike us, and give the thief more than what he steals for free.  Countries maintain laws to maintain order.  God asks us to learn how to love each other and in so doing become free from the laws that are required to restrict our evil behavior.  Countries or perhaps better stated governments, seek to maintain power.  God asks us to have no interest in power, and instead focus on humility and simple trust as that of a small child.  Governments tend to favor the rich.  God is no respecter of persons.
The inherent values of any country run directly counter to what our God advocates.  The fundamental problem is that God teaches the true equality of man.  Respect for each individual, and their choices.  He offers love to lure us to Him, so that we might escape the pain of evil.  But He does not compel us to choose escape.  In the end, God will terminate evil and all those who refuse to let it go, but not before every opportunity has been given to avoid this fate.  Countries exert power over people, placing some in control and most under their influence.  With power concentrated on the few, the natural tendency is to do whatever is required to maintain that power.  Thus corruption enters the equation.  It is considered rare to find an “honest” politician.  And honesty seems to be the least harmful weakness we find in those who wield great power over others.
Still, Christ does not advocate revolution by force.  Instead He advocated revolution by example.  Living a life of love and service to others will have more effect than elaborate speeches and absent deeds.  Learning to accept all our neighbors and love them as ourselves will make more of a direct impact on making the world a better place than will passing laws to attempt to limit what they believe or how they express it.  Satan’s methods of control simply do not work and are not sustainable.  If they did work, he would be in control and Christ would have lost.  Christ won.  Game over.  Love conquers all, not because love has more ability to constrain, but because love has the only ability to liberate.  Liberty can only be found in the expression of love from one to another.  It is only in freedom from evil that true freedom is discovered.  Freedom is not merely an abstract concept men die for in wars with other nations.  Freedom is a reality found when submission to Christ results in the removal of evil from our desires and our actions.  This is not something any government can offer or require.
I submit that when we learn to love as Christ loves, our nationality becomes far less important to us.  We care much less whose flag flies over us, and more about whose light dwells in us.  I can accept my brothers from Iran, Saudi Arabia, China, Germany, Italy, and Japan – NOT because they believe as I do.  But rather because we share the same Father God, who loves each of us as the family we all are to Him.  It is His banner alone that matters not our territorial ideologies, political persuasions, or cultural differences.  It is Heaven that unites us all, for ALL of us will walk the same streets in the same city, and no one will call it America.  It will not be pictures of Chairman Mao that decorate the walls of heaven, but instead the beauty of love in each of its citizens.  We will not pray on mats facing east, but send our petitions to our God face to face.  Heaven has a way of melting all the ideas of nation we cling to so firmly here as being completely unimportant.  Heaven will be the true melting pot of humanity when every barrier we erect now disappears entirely.  I doubt any of the redeemed will identify themselves as being from their former nations, but instead as being personally saved by His grace.
Let us love our countries most by seeking His reformation in our hearts and minds.  Let us live lives of love and service to others as He did.  In this we give our countries of origin a gift like no other.  In this we show our patriotism steeped in TRUE Christian values, not ones you just hear about on TV.  Let us protect vigorously the rights of those who disagree with us while giving them an example of a life lived without the self-inflicted pain of evil.  A life of love is a compelling thing.  It is hard to ignore and harder to find fault with.  It is an argument that stands without equal.  Were we to learn to love as our Lord, we would influence the halls of power more so than any reflection of our votes, or in taking up arms.  Gandhi brought about reform through peaceful civil disobedience.  Perhaps Christians could bring about an eternal kingdom of God, by simply taking Him up on His offer to save us from the evil that so infects our minds.  This might be the greatest form of nation building a Christian could ever engage in, one that has eternal ramifications.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Modern Prophets ...

How do you sort out the nuts?  In the last days your young men will dream dreams, and your old men will prophesy.  Scripture foretells that the supernatural will increase before the Lord returns.  Many believe that a “latter rain” will fall before time ends, where the outpouring of the Holy Spirit will combat the forces of Satan in attempt to turn the hearts of men to the true God.  All of these beliefs predict that there will be forces of the supernatural at work in our world, both for good, and for evil.  Even using the Bible as the basis for truth, there are those who claim the Bible and yet still prophesy of things and events that seem bent on destruction or greed.  So how do you sort out those who are “touched” by God from those who are simply “touched”?

Scripture gives us several criterion to use when evaluating the counsel of those who believe they commune with something larger than themselves.  First … “to the law, and to the testimonies, if they speak not according to these, there is no light in them.”  Those who would claim that a divine Spirit has revealed truth outside of the Bible, or to disregard scripture in favor of the supernatural, are in error.  God does not contradict Himself.  God could not logically claim to be both the inspiration and protector of the Bible, and also claim that He has revealed the “real” truth only to another individual.  The logical exclusion would prevent Him from being God.  This is not about how one interprets scriptures, this is about disregarding them entirely.  Those who would reject the Bible in favor of the supernatural forsake truth and follow only the ways of deceit.  Their conclusions can only be based in error and we should take care to disregard them accordingly.
Scripture also declare who God is; the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Those who would claim parity or equality with God, or would claim that the “true” Messiah is themselves, are also in error.  It is rumored that Jim Jones, David Koresh, and Reverend Moon all claimed parity with God or Christ.  It is possible these claims are exaggerations of the media; however all seem to demand total servitude in order that enlightenment be achieved.  Christ Himself stated false Christ’s would appear in the deserts or in the secret places.  He warned us to avoid them, as when He returns every eye would see Him.  Those charismatic individuals who take their spiritual zeal and morph it into cult like allegiance do themselves and their followers a disservice.  Though He worked many miracles beyond explanation during His ministry, Christ always pointed His followers to His Father.  He was a constant servant, not looking to be served, but to serve others in all things.  Most of the spiritual guru’s of today are all too happy to garner attention and devotion, pointing to no other but themselves as the way of salvation.  In this they blaspheme the ministry of Christ, and point out the error in their teachings.
Scripture tells us to examine their “works” or their “fruits” to see what they yield.  If the results of their counsel increases love, peace, hope, faith, and service to others – it is far more likely to be from God, than if it results in greed, ambition, fame, or destruction.  God does not spend His supernatural energies in the destruction of mankind, but rather in its salvation.  The devil predicts doom and destruction.  The Lord always predicts a way of escape with any impending doom.  Noah preached for 120 years before the flood.  Sodom and Gomorrah were visited in person before their destruction, and Lot was spared.  Israel was warned repeatedly that destruction would follow disobedience, these warnings reached fulfillment when they forsook following God in favor of temple orgies and casting male babies into the fires of Moloch.  At that point invasion always followed until repentance was sought.  When a “prophet” preaches only of doom, and never of salvation, their inspiration is from the one who deals only in doom and never in salvation.
Scripture also tells us … “that God is no respecter of persons”.  This means while we tend to make distinctions between ourselves, God sees us all as His children; each of equal value and equal importance.  We make false distinctions between rich and poor, male and female, young and old, royal and common.  God sees none of these.  He has used Samuel at age 7, and Christ and age 12.  He has used Noah at age 400, and Abraham at 100.  He has used Miriam to prophesy along with her brothers Moses and Aaron.  He revealed His plans for the world to Pharaoh, and to Nebuchadnezzar despite that neither of these people were servants of the Most High.  Servants of God have only humility in common.  They have only willingness to serve in common.  They come from every walk of life, from every background; from the Messiah born in a stable, to Solomon born to a King; from a slave girl called Miriam, to a Hebrew raised in Egyptian royalty.  Truly the Lord does not draw the distinctions that so often prejudice our willingness to listen.  We prefer to listen to Warren Buffet or Bill Gates, than to listen to the six year old in Kindergarten, or the homeless man on the corner.
Scripture also gives us countless examples of the imperfections of our Lord’s servants.  None of the Biblical authors were perfect, or led perfect lives.  Christ alone was without blemish.  God does not demand or expect perfection from those who speak His truths.  Instead He asks for willingness to serve and humility to speak His truths and not our own.  Often the messages are unpopular and put the very lives and wellbeing of His servants in jeopardy.  He does not make them speak unpopular truths for the sake of being different or unpopular, but only to reveal error, and redeem unto salvation.  Elijah’s prophecies of drought for 3 years made him public enemy number one to the wicked king Ahab.  But it was not the Lord’s intent to simply stop the rain, but rather to turn the hearts of the people back to the source of all blessings.  Daniels interpretations of Nebuchadnezzar’s dreams that foretold the end of his kingdom no matter how glorious did not sit well with the monarch, who sent him away and built a 90 foot statue of solid gold in defiance of the words of God.  Joseph’s interpretation of Pharoah’s dreams of feast and famine could well have resulted in his head on a pike, particularly since he would not bow to the “son of Ra” on earth.  But all spoke in an effort to save, despite their own character flaws, sins, and imperfections.  We must learn from the Bible to separate the truth of the message from the expectation of perfection in the instrument of delivery.
Our tendency when presented with truths from God that we do not relish is to find a way to disregard them.  In this we are no different than any of the kings, or peoples of the past, that also tried to find a way to ignore unpopular truths.  We tend to focus first on the person delivering the message.  Can we criticize them for some sort of hypocrisy?  Can we catch them in public sin?  Is there something in their past we can use against them, claiming perhaps it is still a part of their present.  We may not like their age, their gender, their socio-economic standing, their lack of education, their sexual preference – any imperfection we can find to use to disregard the message they are willing to bring.  But to eliminate all messages that do not come from people who we believe are imperfect, is to eliminate all truth and scripture itself.  God has only sinners available to Him to speak His truths.  There are none of us perfect instruments for him to use.  We are ALL broken and dysfunctional.
It is a testament to the love and grace of God, that He uses us in His service in spite of our weaknesses and failures.  Out of the mouth of a murderer came the blessed words of the Torah.  Out of the mouth of an adulterer, serial womanizer, and murderer came the Psalms of praise to our God.  Out of the mouth of a man controlled by his baser sexual passions came the wisest proverbs ever penned by man.  Out of the mouth of a traiter who betrayed his nation for the sake of greed came the account of the gospel of Christ.  Out of the mouth of a religious zealot who used his zeal to kill those who followed our Savior came the most wonderful letters of the love and salvation of the Christ he used to condemn.  Out God is able to use imperfect people to work wonders that live well beyond the scope of their lives.  How many have read the letters of Paul and come to know the Christ of our salvation in the perfect love he describes for the last 2000+ years?  How many have read the words of Moses in the Torah and have learned of the great miracles of salvation God did for His people even before the Messiah entered the world?  How many have read David and Solomon and learned wisdom in the study of our God?  All these men are long dead, but their work of redemption lives on.
One should not disregard truth because it is misused by others.  People seeking greed and control over others have long used the Bible in an effort to gain control over the lives of those they wish to dominate.  It does not make the Bible less true, because someone misuses it.  It only means the devil seeks to exert control by misusing the very love letter God penned to the world to show them redemption.  A young woman named Ellen White has also been misused by those within the Seventh Day Adventist church as a tool of condemnation rather than a tool of redemption.  Counsel given to provide context, or to avoid pain, has been turned into ruthless condemnation by those seeking only to exalt themselves above others.  They do not use her works to redeem only to beat into submission those with opposing ideas, generally when those ideas are steeped in love and liberality.  It makes her counsel of no less value, it is only a repeat of how the devil attacks anything that might lead man to redemption or discovery of the one true God.  The devil seeks to turn words of love and hope into a tools of condemnation  and reproach.  It is an old technique that he will continue to use.  But it does not diminish the truth of the love of God as revealed by His servants willing to serve.
Atheists demand prove they will never choose to accept.  Yet scripture foretells that the incidents of the supernatural are to increase as time grows short.  Things that cannot be explained in normal or scientific terms are destined to become more prevalent in our world.  Perhaps God waits for a people who will not seek the fame of these miracles, but like Christ seek to steadfastly avoid it.  But in any case as time grows short, the nut-balls will be crawling out of the woodwork.  The devil will counter truth with a plethora of mixed lies, and alternate explanations.  He will try to drown the truth in the noise of the day, supplanting the plain truth of God, with the convoluted lies that feed the egos of men.  His attacks will be relentless, but God will not have his truth or His words drowned out.  The world is destined to hear the final warnings and calls to redemption.  God would not have us ignorant of His plans or His love.  Miracles will happen.  They will occur on a wider and wider scale.  Let us be judicious in sorting the nuts, but also humble to accept truth without demanding perfection in the person who delivers it.  Let us not let our prejudices deny our ears.  But rather let us absorb His truths and integrate them into our lives, as we did with Moses, David, Matthew, and Paul.  There is much God may yet have to say to our world as its time grows short.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Cornerstone of Faith ...

What is truth?  What is fact?  Lawyers argue “the facts of case” each seeking to convince a jury that their own position is the correct one.  But how can both be right, or wrong?  Discerning truth becomes a challenging thing when evil’s influence in pervasive and powerful.  Evil cannot defeat truth, but it can mask it, obfuscate it, bury it in enigma, or make it seem unpalatable.  If evil is able to convince you to question the source of truth, how can you ever know what truth is?  With so many competing voices that all claim to know what truth is, we are faced with the dilemma of choosing where to put our faith and trust.  It is easy to say we will trust our God, but then who’s God?  The God described in the Old Testament of the Bible, the New Testament, the Talmud perhaps, the Quran, Hindu writings, those of Confucius, where do we turn to find a basis, a cornerstone from which to discern truth?

Christians point to the Bible as the source of truth.  But Lucifer has not been idle in putting forth arguments to destroy the credibility of the scriptures.  The idea that truth has been somehow “lost in translation” from scrolls that date back nearly 3000 years has merit from a logical perspective.  Any child who has ever sat in a circle and played the gossip game can attest to this.  Then there is the dilemma that even ancient texts written in the time of the Bible may not be directly attributable to sources we believe to be inspired.  Recently a “gospel of Judas” and a “gospel of Mary Magdalene” have been discovered.  Neither agrees with New Testament writings but both have been put forth as viable additions to our current collection.  Even those that were in existence at the council of Nicaea were debated with some being excluded from what we now refer to as the New Testament.  Add to this the Catholic church’s position that scripture must be the sole province of priests to interpret and what scripture there is had to be preserved and copied in caves for nearly a millennia until the printing press was invented.  Even if we accept the current collection of writings that compose the books of our Bible, there exists today no less than 10 significant “versions” of the same text.  Attempts to simplify the language of the King James version has resulted in widely differing interpretations of the same base texts. 
Science, or rather men who profess that scientific thinking is the only viable method for finding truth, have proposed that the “evidence” of evolution outweighs the miraculous accounts of our creation in the Book of Genesis, therefore the portions of scripture which deal with the fantastic must be allegories written by enlightened philosophers in an attempt to make men better than they are.  These scientists have all but declared that there can be no basis in truth of the Bible, at best idealistic ideas, at worst superstitions designed to control men by appealing to their fears of the unknown and death.  There are “creation scientists” who seek out evidence supporting the ideas of creation and the flood for instance, but as they approach science with a predefined set of ideas they are derided by their peers.  Many modern Christians seek to find a balance between the big bang / evolution and the accounts written in scripture – deciding that where science can be proven, it is there that scripture is in error.
Atheists claim their ideology, or rather lack of ideology, is the fastest growing segment in modernized nations.  The implication is that with higher education, and higher IQ, comes a lack of belief in scriptures.  Atheists assert that intellect is the key to the discovery of truth, and being bound to texts of ancient superstition is merely a cherished part of our past.  They assert that freedom from the ideas of punishment or reward at death liberate one to live in the here and now.  They have a point actually.
It is a wonder that any Christian can maintain faith in our Bible.  But then what is faith but a choice as to what to believe.  The evolutionist chooses to believe that despite the inability to take base elements from the periodic table and create life, it was done anyway.  They believe that even though it requires billions of years as the variable to evolve, combined with trillion to one odds, it happened as theorized anyway.  There are many facts on the other side of the evolutionist aisle, enough to cause doubt in the mind of any true scientist, making the theory of evolution one of choice as well.  The Atheist too must also make a choice not to believe in anything beyond what they can see, feel, touch, and describe.  Atheists do not do well with mysteries, and completely discard supernatural phenomenon, until it happens to them.  Belief is about choice first and foremost.
To answer the question of the accuracy of the content of our Bible, and the validity of the books that were included in it, one must examine the question “why” would it be our basis of truth.  The purpose of the Bible is not to define condemnation for evil, it takes no such volumes to accomplish such an obvious goal.  Rather, the Bible is a love letter that speaks incessantly of hope, love and redemption.  The Bible is given to man by a God who explains why evil exists, how to be free from it, what love means, and of an eternal destiny that will unite us with Him in the absence of all evil permanently.  The Bible is about making an informed decision as to whether to follow the God who stands behind its inspiration.  If the Bible is a lie, then the God who purports to be behind it does not exist.  There is no middle ground.  God cannot expect man to make an informed decision to follow Him based on partial truth, omissions of critical facts, or ideas that were lost in translation.  Man can only choose to love God if an accurate picture of God is provided in scripture.
If what is in the Bible is incomplete, then we do not have enough information to make our decision for or against the God of the Bible.  If the information in the Bible has been altered by the designs of men, then the God who stands behind it cares not enough to preserve His own letter to us.  If the information is mere allegory then why is it presented as fact.  If the Bible is a lie, whether in part, or in full, then hope is a lie – redemption is a myth – purpose and individuality are meaningless – and death is the only real escape from the evil that surrounds us and inhabits us.  The Bible if accurate, answers all these dilemmas and gives us a complete picture of love and of evil.  Not all the things that occur in scripture are by the will of God.  Many are acts committed by men in various circumstances that illustrate evil and the consequences of evil.  But with every instance of death or destruction in the scriptures are even more instances of mercy whether accepted or rejected.
Those Christians who seek to integrate competing ideas of evolutionism and creationism are attempting to blend completely counter ideologies.  We were either created by design, or not.  There can be no middle ground.  To try to annul portions of scripture is to deny the power of the God who stands behind them.  Why bother with scripture at all, if the God behind it is a liar.  Those Christians who believe we should take the writings of Paul out of the Bible, equally deny the God who has stood behind our Bible for nearly 2000 years.  The Bible has been preserved at great peril by those who chose to abandon their homes and run from persecution in order to preserve the sacred word.  To have them die in vain for the writings of Paul, so that “modern enlightened” Christians who do not like what Paul says can remove them only now, is to have their martyred deaths and persecuted lives for nothing.  That too is not a picture of a God in whom I would serve.
But if the Bible is not a lie, if it is indeed the absolute truth, then love is real – a finality to evil is real, both in me and around me.  If the Bible is the unvarnished truth it does not change over time.  The study of it will yield even more truth as we submit ourselves to the God who was its inspiration and protector for all these generations.  The God who means to communicate with us through the instrument of His written word, longs to lead us to understand it as it was meant to be understood.  He longs to show us the deeper meaning in the stories, lives, writings, songs, failures, and successes we find throughout scripture.  He does not bury the truth in numerology that would require a supercomputer to decode.  He presents it plainly in language the audience of the day could understand.  Its principles and values live on as if written only yesterday.  Its message is truly timeless, as truth itself is timeless.
One could argue that every religion has “sacred’ texts, and that our Bible is no different than any other competing set of written works.  But there is one difference that remains, in every other religious ideology lives the notion that service must be offered in order for favor to be granted.  Only does our Bible teach about a God who does the work of saving His creations from evil – even while they choose to number themselves as His enemies.  Our God reaches out to us in love, even before we know who He is.  Our God does the work of reforming, transforming, and recreating a new character within us as we submit to Him.  In every other ideology, man finds enlightenment through his actions or abstentions – only in the Bible is man offered wisdom as a gift.  Only in the Bible are the enemies of God loved by Him, with incessant offers to save them from the evil they choose to embrace.  This difference is substantial.  It is the reason why Christianity and the scriptures behind it offer a better life than ALL the other competing ideologies.  Man simply cannot save himself.  This is a demonstrable scientific fact.  Only the Bible offers man a future without evil as a gift.
Those who argue that the Spirit of God has informed them to disregard portions of scripture are essentially arguing that God cannot make up His own mind about His word.  If God is the God behind the scriptures, why would His Spirit decide some of them should not be there?  In order for God to be God He must be consistent.  In order for truth to be truth it too must be consistent and accurate.  If the Bible contains inaccuracies or partial truths it cannot claim to be “the” truth.  Our interpretations of the meaning of scripture varies, but the words themselves remain, unchanged, and there by the intentions of a loving God.
Scripture can be used as a cornerstone of faith.  One must ultimately make a choice as to what to believe.  But putting our faith in scripture is our best hope to discover what truth is.  It is a choice to put our faith in something over which we have no control.  It is an act of trust in the God who is behind the words in His book.  It then becomes a doorway into discovering who He is, what it means to love and be loved.  It is our gateway to truth.  We will finally know truth, when we see Him face to face.  For Christ is truth.  Everything about Him is truth.  Everything about His Father, and His Spirit are truth.  There is no guile, no deceit, no omission of facts, no exaggerations, no partial truths in anything that God has said to us, or will ever say to us.  It will forever be only truth, and with that truth will come the freedom of truth, the beauty of truth, and the truly profound discovery of truth itself.  I make this choice gladly and would happily encourage anyone else to do the same.  In God, and in His word, I safely put my trust, for He alone is truth.