Tuesday, October 29, 2013

C.S. Lewis on the Danger of Pornography

"Imaginary women are always accessible, always subservient, [give] no call for sacrifice or adjustment, and can be endowed with erotic and psychological attractions which no real woman can rival. Among these shadow brides, the viewer is always adored, always the perfect lover; no demand is made on his unselfishness, no mortification ever made on his vanity.  In the end imaginary women become the medium through which he increasingly adores himself. The main work of life is to come out of ourselves, out of the little dark prison of selfishness we are born in, to know God in the center of our being and from that place to offer ourselves for the sake of others. All things are to be avoided which retard this process. The danger of pornography is of coming to love the prison of self."

 C.S. Lewis
 From Surfing for God by Michael John Cusick.

Monday, October 28, 2013

The Sleep of Reason Brings Forth Monsters

I've been researching the 1920's and 1930's in Germany and comparing the similarities between that historic Christian nation during those two turbulent decades and the United States today. In politics and religion in both countries (then and now), the masses follow those with great oratorical skills. If you ever wonder how great throngs of people can be so duped, one needs to look no further than the power of speech to motivate.

Adolph Hitler came to power in Germany during 1933. For over a decade he had been speaking in pubs and rallies, swaying the German people with his extraordinary speaking ability. Interestingly, in 1925 Hitler wrote his political autobiography Mein Kampf and the Germans were shocked with the poor thought processes and logic of their future Fuhrer. People who had been so entranced by Hitler's oratorical abilities blanched at his illogical ideas. Mein Kampf was disjointed and sometimes senseless. Hitler jumped from a lengthy diatribe on modern fashions to the merits of boxing. He moved easily through a commentary on the dangers of syphilis to the majestic nature of Richard Wagner's opera Parsifal. His belief in the legend of Aryans led to a Mein Kampf rant on the perils of racial inter-breeding and the menace of the International Zionist conspiracy. In 1925 with the publishing of Mein Kampf some began to believe Hitler was insane because of his writing, but by 1933 Hitler the people of Germany elected Hitler as their Chancellor because of his speaking.

One of those swayed by Hitler's oratory was Joseph Goebbels. Hitler's close friend and the man who would become the Nazi Minister of Propaganda wrote in 1936 about Hitler's oratorical abilities. Pay close attention to Goebbels explanation for why Hitler could sway people by speaking:
There are two fundamentally different kinds of speakers: those who use reasoning, and those who speak from the heart. They reach two different sorts of people, those who understand through reason, and those who understand through the heart. Speakers who aim for the reason are generally found in parliaments, those who speak from the heart speak to the people.
(Hitler) is a rhetorical genius who developed his own abilities with no help from anyone else. One cannot imagine that the F├╝hrer ever spoke differently than he does today, or that he will ever speak differently. He speaks his heart, and therefore reaches the hearts of those who hear him. He has the amazing gift of sensing what is in the air. He has the ability to express things so clearly, logically and directly that listeners are convinced that that is what they have always thought themselves. That is the true secret of the effectiveness of Adolf Hitler’s speeches.
Ordinary life is presented in a way that grips the hearers. The problems of the day are not explained only with the difficult tools of a worldview, but with wit and biting irony. His humor triumphs; one cries with one eye and laughs with the other. Every tone of daily life is touched upon.
Methinks modern evangelical churches in America have fallen into the perilous waters of 1930's Germany; masses moved by verbal magicians. We have great communicators in the pulpits of America who move hearers with emotion, but spend little time educating Americans with biblical wisdom. When an evangelical pastor can cause his congregation to "laugh in one eye, and cry in the other" and arouse from them a standing ovation for him, all the while avoiding the critical components of Scripture that seem to teach and mitigate against his own behavior, then we evangelicals in America have more in common with Nazi Germany than we do the Kingdom of God.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Make No Apology for Desiring the Acts of Acts

John MacArthur's Strange Fire Conference last week set off a batch of Christian fireworks, exploding over Twitter and the Internet. The name calling on both side was unfortunate. Cessationists believe the gifts of the Spirit--including miracles, healings, prophecies and other extraordinary acts of the Spirit--ceased in the 1st century AD, and they claim that continuationists (those who believe the Spirit's gifts continue) are empowered by a strange fire (i.e. the devil) and 'offend the Holy Spirit and offer counterfeit worship' to God. That's pretty strong name calling. Continuationists, on the other hand, liken cessationists to people who have no fire (i.e.  'the Holy Spirit') at all, and compare them to biblical Pharisees and Sadducees. One could hope there might be a "Light My Fire Conference"  where both sides could sit down and dialogue about how they love people and do ministry inspired and anointed by the Holy Spirit since both sides believe in the Holy Spirit's anointing. How the Spirit manifests His presence and power is the point of disagreement.

Trevin Wax of the Gospel Coalition had an interesting suggestion in light of the controversy:
"If you agree with MacArthur, the best way to engage critics is not to defend him as if he were the pope, but to back up your claims by appealing to Scripture. If you disagree with MacArthur, the best way to engage the conference is not by railing against the man, but by showing specifically the ways you think he caricatured your position and by providing a calm, sober affirmation of continualist claims, backed up by Scripture."
I believe it possible to refute MacArthur's bias against the Spirit's gifting's from Scripture, point by point.  I've read MacArthur's book Charismatic Chaos at least twice. I've been told that his book Strange Fire is a repackaging of Charismatic Chaos, written over two decades ago. I don't think MacArthur has changed, nor do I think people like me will ever change MacArthur, Phil Johnson, or any other scholarly cessationists. It's not that I believe biblical arguments could not sway them, but few are in a close personal relationship with these men to even try. I cannot name one cessationist with whom I have personally dialogued on these matters who has remained a cessationist.

The Scripture teaches that the gifts of the Spirit, healings, miracles, and other extraordinary acts of the Spirit in and through His people are the normative Christian experience. I have said before "I am a theological continuationist and an experiential cessationist." That's a confession, not a calling. It means I trust in the movement of the Holy Spirit to build His Kingdom and contrary to many self-proclaimed charismatics, "I do not pretend what the Spirit does not intend."

Some might say my confession is an indictment of my ministry. I understand it to be an observation of my ministry. The Spirit moves where He wills. I pray for the expansion of God's Kingdom. I ask for God to reign in power in my life and the lives of those to whom I minister. I periodically see God break through and reveal glimpses of His unshakeable Kingdom in my very comfortable ministry, but I'm also cognizant  that real revival presupposes little life, or at the very least, a cognizant cry of God's people for Divine Power. What mitigates against any desire to see the normative expression of the Spirit's power in our midst (healings, miracles, extraordinary gifts, etc...) is the fact that Western Christianity is rich, fat, and happy.
"'You say, 'I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.' But you do not  realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked" (Revelation 3:17).
 Until we seek His Kingdom first, the Spirit cannot quench our thirst. The Spirit is never limited in power; we are limited in desire. We evangelicals in America are wealthy (look at our fabulous buildings and homes), we are egotistical (everything is about 'so-and-so's' ministry), and we are comfortable, in need of nothing -- including the Holy Spirit. Until we realize how wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked we are, we will never seek "the Kingdom that cannot be shaken" (Hebrews 12:28).

It's About the Kingdom

Throughout the Old Testament age, the prophets looked forward to the coming Kingdom of God. From the first Divine promise to fallen man in Genesis 3:15 , a promise that One would come and crush Satan's head, to all the promises of God given through the major and minor prophets to God's people, the revelatory word of God led hearers to anticipate the coming Kingdom of God. This coming Kingdom was not to be like the Jewish kingdom of old. According to Daniel 7, it would be a Kingdom for all nations and ethnic groups. The place the King would be born was prophesied (Bethlehem), the manner in which the King would come was foretold (a virgin), and most remarkably of all, the time when the King would come to the earth to inaugurate the everlasting kingdom was specifically declared (Daniel 9). The wise men (magi) from the east came to Jerusalem looking for the Anointed One and asked "Where is He that is born King ...?"  because they knew and revered the writings of Daniel. Daniel had lived among the ancient Chaldean magi of the east for over seven decades, he had died in their midst, and was buried among them. The magi knew the King was coming.

Daniel had prophesied in the 6th century BC that four world kingdoms would come before the King
of Kings came to earth (see Daniel 2). While in captivity in Babylon (modern Iraq), Daniel precisely foretold that the Babylonian kingdom of gold (609 BC to 539 BC) would fall to the Persian kingdom of silver (539 BC to 331 BC), and that the Persian kingdom would then fall to the Grecian kingdom of bronze (331 BC to 168 BC), and that the Grecian kingdom would fall to the Roman kingdom of iron (168 BC to AD 476). During this last kingdom of iron, Daniel prophesied, "the stone not cut with human hands" (Jesus Christ; see Heb. 13:10) would come and set up His everlasting kingdom. Daniel put it like this:
"In the days of those kings (Rome) the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which will never be destroyed...it will crush and put an end to all these kingdoms, but it will itself endure forever" (Daniel 2:44).
So it was, during the days of the Roman Empire, the King of Kings came from heaven, took the form of man at Bethlehem, and inaugurated His eternal kingdom. Throughout the history of  this fallen world, men had sought to establish their own kingdoms, but "the stone not cut with human hands" (Daniel 2:34) came to establish His everlasting Kingdom by crushing all earthly kingdoms through the spiritual transformation of wicked men. Mankind had rebelled against their Creator shortly after creation, but rebels can never ultimately revoke the reign of the everlasting Ruler. God's purpose for fallen man was to establish a Kingdom that would crush all earthly kingdoms that held power over fallen men (Daniel 2:44). Jesus the Anointed One, King of Kings, came to earth to fulfill the will of the Father.

In those days when Jesus came and walked the earth, John the Baptist came saying "Repent for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Matthew 3:2). When John introduced the Savior to the world he proclaimed, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent and believe the gospel." (Mark 1:15).  The Kingdom of God and the gospel are like peanut butter and jelly between two pieces of bread. You can't separate them. Where the gospel is believed, the Kingdom of God is expanded.

The definition of a Kingdom is "a King with a domain." Though the Scripture says the consummation of the Kingdom will be Christ reigning on this earth with the curse reversed, Jesus Christ inaugurated the Kingdom at His first coming and the domain of His reign is the hearts of sinners who trust in Him. "My kingdom is NOT of this world" (John 18:36), Jesus said, but His Kingdom people are in this world. This is super important, so let's say it again: Jesus came to earth to establish a Kingdom; to reign in the hearts and lives of sinners and transform them.
"Now when Jesus was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, He answered them and said, “The kingdom of God does not come with observation; nor will they say, ‘See here!’ or ‘See there!’For indeed, the kingdom of God is within you.” (Luke 17:20-21).
When one reads the New Testament, it becomes crystal clear that there are signs of Kingdom building. Without commentary, I will simply list five verses of the dozens upon dozens that could be listed about the signs of God's Kingdom work:
*If I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, surely the kingdom of God has come upon you (Matthew 12:28).  
 *Jesus sent them to preach the kingdom of God and to heal the sick (Luke 9:1-2).
*Jesus went through every city and village, preaching and bringing the glad tidings of the kingdom of God. And the twelve were with Him, and certain women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities--Mary called Magdalene, out of whom had come seven demons. (Luke 8:1-2).
*Go tell John the things which you hear and see: The blind see the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear; the dead are raised and the poor have the gospel preached to them. Blessed is he who is not offended because of Me (Matthew 11:4-6).
*Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do he will do also; and greater works than these he will do, because I go to my Father. And whatever you ask in My name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son (John 14:12-13).  
Proclaiming the good news in Christ is the responsibility of every believer, but without a doubt, when the Spirit of God begins to move in power there are certain signs that accompany the preaching of the gospel of the Kingdom. A simple reading of the New Testament indicates that healings, miracles, gifts, words of prophecy and knowledge, and a host of other manifestations of the Spirit's presence are normative. The proclamation of Christ as Lord and Savior of the world is the message of the believer, but the manifestation of the Spirit's anointing in building the Kingdom is the work of our sovereign God.

I've seen these manifestations of the Spirit on the mission fields of Africa. I have some bone chilling, amazing stories of our church members winning Muslims to Christ in the toughest, deadliest portions of our world, areas dominated by Islamic kingdoms. These kingdoms don't stand a chance against His kingdom. We've seen children miraculously healed, words of prophecy that have directed our missionaries to specific points to meet men in need of Christ, demon possessed men and women delivered, miracles too numerous to name. The Spirit is moving in our midst.

Then, we return to the states to our comfortable churches, wealthy homes, and Western cynicism of the Spirit world. Again, that's just an observation. I think I reserve any indictments toward those who discount the movement of the Spirit because they don't see Him at work in their ministries.  I long for the day when the preaching of the gospel is accompanied by Spirit-led manifestations of the expansion of God's Kingdom. Don't get me wrong. We see periodic breakthroughs of God's power at Emmanuel Enid, but I believe the Scripture teaches these manifestations of the Spirit's power should be normative. However, unlike my charismatic friends, I refuse to minister in pretense and shall swear off any attempt to put the Spirit in a box. I shall faithfully exalt Christ in the teaching of the Word, and pray for the movement of the Spirit in power, and keep praying until the cloud I see on the horizon becomes a rain shower. I cannot join my cessationist friends in condemning a belief in the continuation of the gifts and miracles of the Spirit because the Scripture teaches the expansion of God's Kingdom will manifest miracles, gifts, healings and other works of the Spirit as He moves in power upon and within His people.

Anyone who reads the Bible without presuppositions comes away with an expectation that the Holy Spirit moves in power as His people build God's Kingdom. Dr. Alan Streett, author of Heaven on Earth and Senior Research Professor of Biblical Exegesis at Criswell College, calls this The Mars Principle. Suppose an alien from Mars with no theological presuppositions (that means nobody told him what to think in advance) came to earth and picked up the Bible and read the book of Acts. Suppose he became so fascinated with the description of the lives who followed Jesus Christ that he determined to meet some Christians. Do you think the alien would expect the Christians he met to be living life the way followers of Christ he read about in the Bible lived their lives? Of course he would. The Bible would not have narrated their lives for us if the Spirit's work in and through the early followers of Christ were not to be considered normative. I would define The Mars Principle this way: "Normal Christian living is best described in the narratives of New Testament Scriptures."

I believe the day is coming when real, Spirit-led revival and awakening falls on the United States similar to what happened in the book of Acts. I believe men and women will be placed in a position where they need God to provide "daily" bread, a miraculous Kingdom promise to God's Kingdom people, fulfilled time after time in the lives of those Christians in Acts. Maybe the reason we don't see the acts of the Spirit as normative anymore is because we have no need to trust in the Spirit. Maybe we fear the acts of Acts because we love the kingdoms of this world. Most of us can explain everything we do in terms of our ministry, our goals, our plans, and our human efforts, and our government, rather than the Holy Spirit.

When I read the book of Acts I see people who are living in a hostile world, with very little possessions and with no safety net. These early Christians, disliked by the Roman kingdom, were endued with Spirit's power. Christ reigned in their hearts and they trusted nothing other than Him. I make no apology for desiring the acts of Acts because I believe that is normative Christian living. It is faith in an unshakeable Kingdom while living in a kingdom that is shakeable, shaking, or soon to be shaken.

Chinese Christian writer  and martyr Watchman Nee, author of the classic work The Normal Christian Life, once wrote "Christianity today is so subnormal that if any Christian began to act like a normal New Testament Christian, he would be considered abnormal."

I long for the day of normal.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Gamaliel's Wisdom and MacArthur's War: Fighting Strange Fires Can Also Be a Fight Against God

"Gamaliel rose and spoke saying..'Therefore, in the present case I advise you: Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God'" (Acts 5:38-39 NIV).

After the ascension of Christ, the disciples of our Lord went about Jerusalem proclaiming the risen Christ, healing the sick, and becoming quite well-known among the common people. The Sadducees were "filled with jealousy" and had these followers of Christ arrested and imprisoned. But an angel from the Lord miraculously opened the prison door and told the disciples to "go on and tell others about this new life" (Acts 5:20). Peter went straight to the Temple and began preaching Jesus. He was detained again and brought before the Sanhedrin where he was reminded he had been already arrested for preaching Christ and had been told to stop! Peter responded with his famous words, "We must obey God rather than man!" (Acts 5:29). Peter so infuriated the Jerusalem religious leaders that they cried out for his death and all those who followed this insurrectionist Man from Nazareth.

In the midst of the bedlam, a wise and respected leader of the Sanhedrin, a Pharisee named Gamaliel calmly stood up and spoke the words recorded in Acts 5:38-39 (see above). The wisdom of Gamaliel persuaded the angry Sanhedrin and the Christians were released unharmed.  The Orthodox Church made Gamaliel a saint, believing that he and his son had converted to Christianity from Judaism. The Feast of St. Gamaliel is celebrated on August 3rd. Ironically, when Christopher Columbus set sail "across the ocean blue" from Spain, he had been ordered by King Ferdinand to leave on August 2nd, which in 1492 happened to be ninth day of Av on the Jewish Calendar. The ninth of Av is a Jewish holy day called Tish B'Av, commemorating the date of the destruction of both the First and Second Temples of the Jewish nation. Columbus deliberately chose to wait and leave on August 3rd, the Feast Day of Gamaliel. I do not believe it is far fetched to say that Christopher Columbus, an ethnic Jew himself, wished to honor Gamaliel and identify with his conversion to Christ by delaying his departure. Gamaliel has been revered by Christians throughout the centuries.

John MacArthur would do well to imitate Gamaliel and stop his war against Charismatics. At McArthur's Strange Fire Conference in California this week (October 16-18, 2013), he "called out charismatic Christians." Specifically, MacArthur claims that "nothing good has come out of the Charismatic Movement." In addition, MacArthur has grouped men like John Piper, Sam Storms, Adrian Warnock, Mark Driscoll, Scott Camp and a host of other theologically sound continuationists with every far-fetched Charismatic ministry and called them all "strange fires, not from the Lord." My departed grandpa might say of MacArthur's rhetoric "Them there be fighten words!" I think Gamaliel, in contradistinction to MacArthur's tactics, would have stood up before the people in California this week and pointed out that it is unnecessary to attack Christian ministers regarding their purposes, tactics, and activities. "If it be of human origin it will fail. But if it be of God you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God." How does a ministry fail? The fires of affliction reveal the character of one's ministry. It doesn't happen overnight. Just wait. God will reveal the character and quality of all ministries and ministers. Afflictions come to us all. Times of testing are in the appointment book of God for every one of us (I Thessalonians 3:3). When those fires of affliction come, GOD will reveal the character of our ministries.

This is precisely the teaching of I Corinthians 3. Every preacher, evangelist, church leader, and kingdom worker ought to contemplate and mediate on this chapter of the Bible. Contrary to popular but mistaken dispensational interpretation, this text is not referring to the Day (of Judgment), but rather, to days of affliction in this life. This chapter, written about ministers and shepherds of God's people, is a clarion warning for us pastors to focus on our own ministries and stop worrying about what others are doing. The early Hebrew Christians would have known that a foundation in their church of "gold, silver, and precious stones" was precious gospel truth. A foundation of "wood, hay and stubble" is a ministry built on "heretical doctrines, damnable heresies" (Gill). There is no need to burn down the work of another ministry. God has a way of bringing down churches and ministries built on "wood, hay, and stubble." The wisdom of Gamaliel is a far superior than the war of MacArthur.

I do not speak in tongues. I do not have any gift of prophecy. I am a continuationist theologically and a cessationist experientially. That just means I leave these matters up to God. I was twice censured by my fellow trustees on the International Mission Board because I opposed their efforts to root out from missionary service those who believed in and/or practiced a continuation of spiritual gifts like tongues and prophecy  (i.e. President Jerry Rankin). I suggested we should leave our fellow Christians alone on this issue and preach Christ,  supporting the work of all those called by the Spirit to serve on the mission field. I am beginning to believe that theological cessationists who demand every other Christian agree with them are more dangerous than we realize. Why? Because in their attempt to stamp out strange fires, they very well may be fighting  against God. Let's leave others alone and concentrate on our own work. It's far better to allow God to burn the wood, hay and stubble of other ministries than to have Him write Ichabod on our own.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

The Prince of Evil Overruled by the King of Good

The world is filled with evil and destructive things. This week Muslim radicals cut out the heart of a little two-year-old girl in Syria. There are hundreds of links on Google News for people arrested for child rape and abuse in the United States in the last seven days. There are armed major military conflicts in over a dozen countries, and more than two dozen additional wars that the United Nations considers minor conflicts (less than 1,000 deaths a year). There are tornados in the US, earthquakes in Asia, tsunamis in the Far East, fires in the Rocky Mountains, hurricanes in the Atlantic, the world is filled with natural disasters. Crimes occur in every major city in the world, and even horrific crimes sometimes occur in rural areas. Our world is filled with evil. It does not take much to convince us of this axiom.

Those of us who believe God is sovereign over all things must be careful when we talk about evil. God is not the author of evil. Death is no more from God than poor grammar comes from the mouth of an English professor. Crime is not from God. War is not from God. Abuse, lying, stealing, murder, hate, and every other destructive act and attitude of mankind are not from God.  Hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, floods, and other agents of destruction are not from God. The "prince of the power of the air" (Eph. 2:2) is the source of death and destruction. Diabolos is the Destroyer. His minions are his agents. The devil and his legions are the enemies of all that is good and constructive in this world. The Apostle Paul states your ultimate battle as a believer in Christ is not against "flesh and blood" (humanity), but against "principalities and powers" (demonic entities), and "the wiles of the devil" -- a whole host of evil agents in the spiritual realm (Eph. 6:10-20). They are those who destroy. C.S. Lewis once wrote:
The more a man is in the Devil's power, the less he is aware of it, on the principle that a man is still fairly sober as long as he knows he's drunk. It is the people who are fully awake and trying hard to be good who would be most aware of the Devil.
Though all evil has its source from Diabolos, the Scripture states there are three great agents of Satan's destructive evil - the world (the anti-God system of living), the flesh (the internal anti-God spirit of man), and demons (fallen angels who are anti-God beings). God can no more actively create evil than rain can create fire. It is impossible.  The world, the flesh and the devils create their own destruction. Evil is against the nature of God for "Every good and perfect gift comes from above, from the Father of lights who does not change" (James 1:17). 

Yet, the Most High God is sovereign. How can God be sovereign and there still be destructive evil in this world?

(1). When a tornado ("strong wind") afflicted Job, it was sent from "the prince of the power of the air" (see Job 1) but ultimately orchestrated by God for Job's good (Romans 8:28). Our insurance companies have poor theology (as did Job's servants). They all want to call fires and winds that destroy crops and kill people "acts of God" (see Job 1:16), but in reality the Scripture is quite clear these things come from "the prince of the power of the air" or Diabolos (see Job 1:12-16).

When Jesus who is Emmanuel ("God with us") calmed the storm on the sea, He rebuked the wind and said "Peace, be still" (Mark 4:39). Literally, Jesus said, "Quiet, be muzzled." These are the same words Jesus uses when He casts out demons in the gospels. Christ treated the storm on the sea as an antagonistic and rebelling force under a dominating and unrestrained power (the prince of the power of the air). However, His word is sufficient to overrule the chaos of evil and bring calm. Conflicts, rebellions, storms, wars, and all destructive forces have their source in Diabolos, who is the author of confusion in both the physical and spiritual worlds. The King of Good can overrule him. 

This truth leads many to ask, "If God can overrule every act of evil, then why does He not overrule every act of evil?" Answer: He did not create robots. The Most High allows the wicked to be wicked. He did not make them this way. The Most High, however, "will work all things for good to those who love Him" (Romans 8:28). This verse does not mean a tornado is good. This verse does not mean an act of evil is good. It means that if God does not calm the storm, He will cover the saint. The word "work" in Romans 8:28 is the same word in Greek from which we get our English word "symphony." Beautiful music contains minor notes, and the stunning composition God is orchestrating in your life might sometimes includes minor notes. God does not play the instrument, but He sure knows how to orchestrate for your good what the devil, your flesh and this world intend for your destruction (see Genesis 50:20).

(2). Illnesses such as cancer and heart disease are not from God. Aging, loss of eyesight and hearing, physical deformities and mental deterioration are not from God. All these things are enemies to God's people. Death is our last and greatest enemy (I Corinthians 15:21). Death is not from God. It is an intrusion into life, and God is the author and sustainer of life.

Yet, Jesus Christ, the Most High God, holds the keys of life and death (see Revelation 1:18). It has been said that when Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead He cried "Lazarus, come forth" for if He  had just said "Come forth" every dead body in the cemetery would have been raised to life! Christ kills no one. Christ, however, holds the keys of life and death. He has the power to grant life, and He has the sovereignty to permit death. Death is an enemy, just like a destructive tornado, or any act of evil is an enemy to God and His people. If Christ can prevent death and evil, and if Christ can grant life and good, then why won't He prevent every death and grant everyone life and goodness?

Again, the Most High did not create robots. We are free-will agents who were created to be in submission to God. A humble heart under the sovereign reign of the King of Kings will take on the character of the King of Good. Goodness, love, mercy, kindness, patience, joy, meekness, are all fruits of the Spirit and evidence of spiritual life from God that will lead one to acts of constructive good for the world and other people. "Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God that He may lift you up in due time" (I Peter 5:6).

I believe in a sovereign God. My faith in Christ is steadied by my faith in His power. I desire my fellow believers who struggle with the sovereignty of God to realize that when I speak of the Most High's sovereignty, I am not saying He is the author or source of evil or destruction and death in this world or in our lives. Scripture teaches me that the prince of evil is overruled by the King of Good. Jesus Christ came and inaugurated an eternal kingdom that is currently in the process of overcoming all other kingdoms (Daniel 2), including the kingdom of Diabolos. In the consummation of time, the Kingdom of God will reign on a transformed earth where the curse of sin and death is fully reversed. Amen.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Hyper-Inflation in Germany in the 1920's and Similarities to the United States in the 2020's

As the U.S. Senate and House vote to raise the national debt ceiling to 18 trillion dollars and to continue with government deficit spending to the tune of nearly 1 trillion dollars a year, it would be wise for every American to pause and ask the question, "Has national fiscal irresponsibility of this size occurred before in this world?"  Answer: Yes, it has.

Germany's government irresponsibly printed fiat Germany currency (the mark) in the 1910's and 1920's to pay for government deficits and debt, subsidize the German people, and pay for the cost of war. Prior to runaway inflation in 1923, the people of Germany were unconcerned by their government's deficit spending, skyrocketing debt, and fiat currency policies.  Why the apathy among the German people? The prices for their commodities, services and consumer products were relatively stable. People only become anxious when their pocketbook is affected. The shift from relatively stable prices to runaway inflation in Germany was slow and gradual until all of the sudden, in 1923, inflation hit the German economy like a "bat out of hell." That's when the German people panicked.

There are many similarities between Germany in the 1920's and the United States today. The American economy has enjoyed relatively low inflation for the past twenty years. However, don't let that fool you. Inflation is coming. It's not a matter of if, but when. There is no scientific method to measure when the American public will begin to awaken to the cancer of inflationary pressures, but when Joe Q. Public begins to shift his expectation from price stability to price inflation, watch out. When mom goes and buys milk on Monday because she expects its price to rise by Tuesday, the hammer has fallen.

The shift from consumer confidence to panic over corrosive inflation can occur slowly or quickly depending on the public's trust in government, the speed of effective communication, and cultural awareness of inflation's dark history.  Let's learn from Germany's experience in the 1920's. In Germany, the transition from price stability to consumer panic over price inflation took six years (1917-1923). When public expectation tipped decisively from confidence to panic, Germany's economy entered a very dangerous zone.

A German in the midst of the inflationary panic of 1923 would think like this: “The value of my money is disappearing before my very eyes. I must go and buy anything, I don't care what it is, so long as I can get rid of my money and possess something other than money!"

The frantic rush to get rid of money at all costs and to buy anything else is called  “a flight into real values.” As the public's demand for money falls to almost nothing, prices skyrocket. The speed of this shift from price stability to hyper-inflation is staggering. Again, the shift usually starts slowly (six years in Germany's case), but the inflationary movement accelerates until it becomes an economic sonic boom.

In your great-grandfather's day, before Germany and the United States untied their currencies to silver and gold, a person could walk into any bank, hand over a $10 silver bank certificate, and be given $10 worth of silver (or its equivalency in gold). Germany changed that practice in 1914 and took the German mark off the gold standard and began printing massive amounts of paper currency in the late 1910's to pay for their World War I debts, cover the interest on bonds sold to other nations, and fund costs of subsidies for the German people like healthcare (sound familiar?). The United States created the Federal Reserve in 1913, but the United States moved much slower than Germany in taking the dollar off the gold standard, finally doing so in 1971. As always happens, when a central bank prints fiat money to fund debt, prices for consumer goods and commodities inflate.  America began to see inflation in the 1970's, but except for the late 1970's, America's inflation (like Germany in the late 1910's and early 1920's) was modest. However, when the inflationary hammer falls, it falls fast.

Germany's Reischbank was the central bank of Germany in the early 1900's and the bank equivalent to the Federal Reserve System in America today. The Reischbank was the sole source of Germany's paper money just as the Federal Reserve is the sole source of America's currency today. One hundred years ago Germany began printing massive amounts of money to pay their debts (wars, government subsidies, etc...), just as America today is printing massive amounts of fiat currency today to pay for government debts.

When the German public perception shifted to inflationary pricing in 1923, business and companies were forced to pay their workers twice a day. German mothers would stand at the factory gate to receive their husband's pay and then rush with wheelbarrows full of million mark notes to buy bread or any other commodity. The German people began to forsake the German mark for foreign currencies and to barter for precious commodities. The German mark collapsed in value.

What did the German government do in response? It continued to print more German marks. The printing presses were operating full force. The thinking of the Reischbank was "If our government and people need more money to pay for things because prices have gone up, we will PRINT MORE MONEY for them." Today in the United States, we don't use paper and ink to flush the economy with fiat dollars,  we use computers and mouses, but the principle remains the same. Deficit spending and fiat currency policies ultimately end in inflationary economic death.

What happened in Germany in 1923 is summarized by the outstanding book The Mystery of Banking.
"By the later months of 1923, the German mark suffered from an accelerating spiral of hyperinflation: the German government (Reichsbank) poured out ever-greater quantifies of paper money which the public got rid of as fast as possible. In July 1914, the German mark had been worth approximately 25 cents. By November 1923, the mark had depreciated so terrifyingly that it took 4.2 trillion marks to purchase one dollar (in contrast to 25.3 billion marks to the dollar only the month before). 
And yet,  despite the chaos and devastation, which wiped out the middle class, pensioners and fixed-income groups, and the emergence of a form of barter (often employing foreign currency as money), the mark continued to be used. How did Germany get out of its runaway inflation? only when the government resolved to stop monetary inflation, and to take steps dramatic enough to convince the inflation-wracked German public that it was serious about it."
In 1933 Adolph Hitler came to power in the newly formed Nazi Party. Faced with an insurmountable national debt, the country of Germany defaulted. Germany rebuilt its economy from national bankruptcy and its dictator soon took out his wrath on the rest of the civilized world during World War II.

A Lesson for the United States: When the people of a democracy figure out they can vote themselves money, and when those same democratic people get addicted to free money including government deficits, national debt, and government handouts,  then that democracy has only a few short decades left. Eventually a dictatorship will arise to take freedoms from the people "for the good of the state."

God forbid, but it seems the United States is destined to repeat the path of Germany a century ago. We Americans would do well to awake to the prospects before us and do something as a nation before its too late. Those unaware of the mistakes of the past are destined to repeat them in the future.

And, for those of us with faith in Christ Jesus, we are like Daniel during the Babylonian Empire and the beginning of the Persian Empire (609 BC to 539 BC). Our Savior is the "rock not cut with human hands" who knocks down every empire of man through the establishment of an eternal kingdom. When panic sets in for the rest of the world, we calmly respond, "Silver and gold have I none, but what I have I give to you, in the name of Jesus Christ, arise and live."

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

A Simple Explanation of Islam and How Christ Is the Answer

This week in all Islamic countries and throughout many metropolitan areas of the United States, Muslims will be celebrating Eid al-Adha, or "The Feast of the Sacrifice." A friend of mine in the Middle East wrote an interesting article explaining why Muslims celebrate this holy day and how Jesus Christ is the ultimate answer for every Muslim seeking Allah's acceptance. With his permission, his article is reprinted here.

In the country in which I live over the next few days 4.5 million sheep and 1.5 million oxen will be sacrificed, not counting the innumerable chickens and goats that the poor will slaughter for Allah. Over and above this, those with means are in Mecca going on the mandatory Hajj required for all faithful Muslims. The cost for a sheep is hundreds, for an ox is thousands, and for the Mecca pilgrimage many thousands of dollars. Why?

 Obedience. Muslims commemorate Abraham's obedience to Allah in offering up his son. So in honor of Abraham's submission to Allah's command, Muslims make offerings to show dedication and obedience just like the prophet Abraham. What is wrong with this picture?

The faith of Abraham is sidelined by the works of Abraham. Muslims during this religious festival divide their sacrifice into thirds giving it to neighbors, the poor, and then their family. It is the same as carving up a "Thanksgiving turkey" for the purpose of gaining merit with Allah. There is no atonement for sins or no assurance of salvation. For days families will be gathered together. Blood will drain down the streets and gutters. Smoke will fill the air. There will be lots of noise, traffic, new clothes, and many sweets or gifts.

This is where we enter the picture. We will be welcomed guests in this environment since foreigners honor the families visited. In the midst of celebrations we will quickly speak about Abraham the "father of faith." We will proclaim how Abraham was obedient because of his faith and this is why God honored him. This is a fine but pivotal point.

Most Muslims see the terrible manner in which some "Christians" behave, of course they think everyone in Europe or the US is Christian. This bad behavior makes Muslims feel confident and superior in their religious practices and actually feel sorry for "Christian countries." Consequently, Muslims feel secure in their "prison of good works."

When we meet with them they know nothing of Christians like us or of grace through faith. They are usually shocked and then receptive to this message of forgiveness since they are always considering the alternative. When we tell them that obedience to God's laws is our daily opportunity to show how much we love God for the redemption we have already in Jesus Christ, this is a game changer, since it moves obedience from obligatory religious ritual to a privileged love relationship.

This all takes time and prayer since they have been doing things their way for 1100 years or more. Traditions die hard, but the Truth will prevail, we just have to present it. It is sad if the Muslim  perception is correct that "western Christians" do not live obedient lives. May we never put faith and love in opposition to the law, obedience, or good works. "If you love Me you will keep My commandments."

In an ultra-religious world may we always bring honor to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and not shame Him through disobedience. Please pray as we will be in the midst of many extended families for the next few days during the sacrifice festivities. We always have opportunities to share the Good News, but during these religious holidays it is very easy to speak about The Lamb Who was slain before the foundation of the world. If your wondering what/how to pray? We are speaking of Jesus' sacrifice for sins all day, every day. Pray for wisdom, words, love, and sensitivity on our part toward each family with whom we interact!

Monday, October 14, 2013

On Louts, Jerks and Celebrities: The NY Times and Appropriate Sexual Boundaries

John Howard Yoder, Courtesy NY Times
Mark Oppenheimer is the religion editor for the New York Times and adjunct professor at Yale Divinity School. Mark has written an outstanding piece this past weekend on John Howard Yoder, the conservative Mennonite theologian whose inappropriate hugging and touching of females is a scar on Yoder's life and legacy. The liberal editor of the NY Times called Howard's behavior that of  "a lout and a jerk." I agree with Mark Oppenheimer. However, I have a question for my liberal friends, including Mark.

Who sets the boundary for human sexual behavior to be classified as that of  "a lout and jerk?" What standard or rule (canon) of conduct establishes the proper boundary for appropriate human sexual behavior? Where do my liberal friends go to find their understanding of healthy boundaries?

For example, is the ancient custom of man/boy love by the Romans considered loutish behavior? Is homosexual behavior jerkish? Is paying money for heterosexual sex the actions of a lout? Is possessing male genitalia but having surgery to become a woman the behavior of a jerk? Is advocating free love and multiple heterosexual partners the conduct of a lout?

Just asking.

It might be said "No, what qualifies as sexual behavior that crosses the line of appropriateness is when another person feels violated emotionally or physically." Really? What about the fact that some women didn't complain about John Howard Yoder's advances, but others did? What about the fact that some ancient Roman boys thought themselves to be in love with their adult male partners? What about the fact that some sexually abused girls actually long for the (illegal) sexual contact of their adult abusers, not yet capable of  knowing the damage done to them by their abusers? Are you sure you wish to set a boundary based on the feelings of another?

The Judeo-Christian ethic found in the Word of God establishes the historic boundaries for appropriate human sexual behavior in the western civilized world. It would seem to me that one must either accept the biblical boundary of appropriate sexual behavior and call out all violations of it or remain silent when men like John Howard Yoder do what they do.  I find it ironic that Mark Oppenheimer determines that John Yoder's heterosexual behavior is that of a "lout and a jerk" but then celebrates the homosexual behavior of Dan Savage by calling him "A Celebrity."

Draw your own conclusions.

Friday, October 11, 2013

The Immorality of Government Deficit Spending and the System that Enables It

Recently a friend of mine took me to task for criticizing the system that enables our government to
continue deficit spending, pointing out that the  a large church with members of differing political persuasions should have a pastor that "stays out of politics" and preaches the gospel. I affirmed his sentiments and apologized for not being clearer in differentiating between moral issues and political issues and promised to do better in the future.

This post is the fulfillment of that promise to my friend.

I am about to criticize deficit spending and the gross national debt of the United States government on moral grounds. My criticism is never aimed at persons, but rather, toward the system that allows the United States government to continue deficit spending to the tune of one trillion dollars a year and a national debt of seventeen trillion dollars.

Many reading this post will be tempted to stop reading at this point and ask,  "Why should I care about the Federal Reserve System?" As long as American people have access to their money, few care how that money comes to them. Likewise, as long as American citizens have a government that takes care of them, few citizens care how that government gets the money needed to do what it does!  We're living in a pragmatic age when people care about results and how they feel and very little about principles of morality.

Americans have forgotten that "We the People" form the government of the United States. Increased government deficit spending leading to an inability to repay national obligations (i.e. default) is morally wrong.  To borrow from lenders and promise to repay them, and then later find oneself unable to repay, is financial and moral bankruptcy. The United States government is on the verge of bankruptcy because the American people have not come to grips with the immorality of a system that allows deficit spending to continue unchecked. Again, our national debt is a moral problem, not a political one.

Currently, the United States government is spending one trillion more dollars a year than it receives in revenue. Our national debt is nearing seventeen trillion dollars. The U.S. government must borrow money in order to pay its bills.  There is a fight between Congress and the President on whether or not we should increase the government's debt limit. This is an important question, but Americans should ponder even more carefully "Who are the lenders to the United States government?"

There are three answers to that question:

(1). Foreign nations
(2). The Federal Reserve
(3). The American people

Let me explain each.

(1). Foreign nations buy U.S. Treasury securities.  When the United States government needs money it doesn't have, it issues financial "securities" which are "we promise to pay you later" instruments (i.e. bills, bonds, and notes). The purchaser of a security expects repayment by the United States government of the principle they loaned plus interest within a designated period of time. To understand how foreign nations buy United States Treasury securities watch this excellent Khan Academy Video.

There is a principle in the Bible regarding debt: "The borrower is slave to the lender" (Proverbs 22:7). This means the one who borrows money is owned by the one who lends money. The average American citizen would be stunned to know how many buildings, banks, corporations, land, and other valuable assets on American soil are being gobbled up by foreign investors with American dollars transferred to those foreign nations through our national debt. Go try to buy an apartment near Central Park in New York City and notice how many Chinese, Russian and foreign nationals own buildings in the Upper West Side. Also, pay attention to the number of corporations in America that are now "foreign owned." The debtor has become the servant to the lender. We owe trillions to foreign governments. Our dollars flow to them through the repaying of government debt. It used to be their dollars flowed to us when they purchased our industrial products (economic production), but no more! Our dollars flow to them because we are repaying them the money they are loaning us.

(2). The Federal Reserve also buys United States Treasury securities. When the Federal Reserve buys government debt, it is called "quantitative easing." That's a fancy name for "creating new money." Currently, the Federal Reserve is buying $85 billion dollars a month in Treasuries to "keep interest rates low, increase the money supply, and restore the economy." Very few Americans understand the process of quantitative easing (or the dangers of it), so let me explain.

The Federal Reserve is not "owned" by the United States government. The Federal Reserve is not Federal. The Federal Reserve is actually twelve regional banks spread out across the nation, with the primary bank being The Federal Reserve Bank of New York. The Federal Reserve issues "stock" to any bank participating in the Federal Reserve System and it serves as the "lender of last resort" for the United States government. It's important to understand that the Federal Reserve is a system of banking owned by banks.  Congress provides oversight and the President appoints the Federal Reserve Chairman, but the United States government does not "own" the Federal Reserve -- banks do.

When the United States government needs to borrow money, the Federal Reserve will buy U.S. Treasury bonds and notes through its Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC), whose office is located at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. Here is where it gets scary. The Federal Reserve can purchase United States Treasury notes through private dealers authorized to purchase U.S. Treasury bonds and then pay for those government securities by simply crediting the bank accounts of the dealers with a computer keystroke. No cash is involved in the purchase.

For example, this month (October 2013) the Federal Reserve will "purchase" $85 billion of United States Treasury securities from authorized dealers. Currently there are 21 authorized "dealers" of United States Treasury securities, all of them banks, and when the Federal Reserve "buys" the $85 billion in United States government securities from these banks, the Federal Reserve will credit the banks' accounts with new money via a computer keystroke! Again, the Federal Reserve does not pay cash to the banks for these government Treasuries. The Federal Reserve creates new money electronically, money called fiat currency (the word fiat is Latin and means "by decree").

Until 1971 the United States dollar was tied to what was called "the gold standard." If the government wanted to increase the supply of money in circulation, the government had to increase their supply of gold. Not anymore. Through the Federal Reserve, "new money" is created monthly, regardless of the nation's supply of gold.  The power to create fiat money out of thin air distinguishes the Federal Reserve from all other financial institutions and gives to it incredible clout. 

There is a direct correlation between "quantitative easing" (increasing government debt through dthe Federal Reserve creating fiat currency) and American consumer deficit spending (consumer borrowing). When the Federal Reserve creates new money in order that the American government can borrow more money, then the American consumer can also borrow more money because commercial banks are now "flush with new cash" to lend to the consumer.  Increased government debt leads to increase consumer debt because the Federal Reserve increases the nation's money supply through decree (or fiat) in time of deficit spending. Inflation will always be the result.

Read what Alan Greenspan once wrote about deficit spending, the lack of a gold standard, and the insidious nature of inflation:
In the absence of the gold standard, there is no way to protect savings from confiscation through inflation. There is no safe store of value. If there were, the government would have to make its holding illegal, as was done in the case of gold. If everyone decided, for example, to convert all his bank deposits to silver or copper or any other good, and thereafter declined to accept checks as payment for goods, bank deposits would lose their purchasing power and government-created bank credit would be worthless as a claim on goods. The financial policy of the welfare state requires that there be no way for the owners of wealth to protect themselves.
This is the shabby secret of the welfare statists' tirades against gold. Deficit spending is simply a scheme for the confiscation of wealth. Gold stands in the way of this insidious process. It stands as a protector of property rights. If one grasps this, one has no difficulty in understanding the statists' antagonism toward the gold standard.
The system that allows government deficit spending through the creation of fiat currency is as morally bankrupt as the government that eventually defaults on its debts.

(3). The American people can purchase T-bills, T-notes, and government bonds. It is generally considered a "safe" investment. However, if those bills, notes and bonds are backed "by the full faith and credit of the American people," what happens when the government defaults on its debts?

Obviously, the American people would lose faith in U.S. currency. Even worse, when the United States government defaults on its debt, the banking system as we know it would collapse. The Federal Reserve System has enabled the government of the United States to continue borrowing beyond its means. We not only have a spending problem in America, we have a systemic lending problem.

J. P. Morgan was once brought to Washington while in ill health to testify before a U.S. Senate subcommittee after the Panic of 1907. Morgan, the infamous financier and banker, was asked by attorney Samuel Untermyer about the psychological nature of banking, specifically about banking being an industry built on trust:

Untermyer: Is not commercial credit based primarily upon money or property? 
Morgan: No, sir. The first thing is character.
Untermyer: Before money or property?
Morgan: Before money or anything else. Money cannot buy it … a man I do not trust could not get
money from me on all the bonds in Christendom.

When the United States loses the trust of foreign nations, banks, and the American people in its ability to pay back her loans, the fiat currency system created to allow continued deficit spending of the United States government (and her people) will collapse. That's not necessarily a bad thing; yes, it will be painful, but not necessarily bad. In fact, I propose moving from fiat currency to a currency  based on a standard (be it gold, silver or platinum) is ultimately good.

Here's why:

It has been frequently stated that the only way for the United States to grow economically is for their to be increased “consumption” by the American people. We are told that American people buying goods and services (i.e. "consumption") accounts for between 65 and 75 percent of economic “growth" in our nation. We have been told that the need for increased public CONSUMPTION is THE REASON we need consumers to have easy access credit. It is the only way the United States can "grow" economically, we are told. The theory goes like this: The more consumer credit available, the more economic growth attainable.

It should seem odd to all of us that nobody is able to explain how a nation that "spends" more than it "produces" can ever grow. There's a good reason nobody can explain it; it's impossible to grow anything by spending more than you produce. In fact, it is an eternal principle, an axiom of human existence if you will, that the fastest way to poverty, bankruptcy and decay is for consumption to be in excess of production. This is true in families, churches, business, nations, and economies, not matter the size. It cannot be otherwise. No attempt to create new money by fiat and elasticize (stretch) the economy will ever overcome the axiom that the only way to prosperity is through production. As the Bible puts it: "If a person will not work, he will not eat" (II Thessalonians 3:10).

For those peoples and countries who have lost their moral way and have neglected to spur one another on to increased work and productivity, there is only one creative way left to give the impression the national economy is improving -- through fiat financing. When the rest of the economy whittles to nothing,  the financial sector - specifically the banking sector and the financial assets markets - can create an illusion that all is well. They can create money from nothing. No product is sold. No service is rendered. They will simply create new money by fiat. When governments resort to the financial sector to "improve the economy" then you can be sure the government is unintentionally affirming that the economy is dead. Money elasticity is never a substitute for worker productivity, regardless of what you've been told.

For a season,  (like 1971 to 2013) Americans may perceive that things are better. The U.S. government (through the Federal Reserve) has flushed the marketplace with fiat currency. Poor people can borrow to buy houses they cannot afford. Consumers may borrow to buy what they otherwise would never be able to afford. Governments give in welfare and handouts what no person has earned. The moral principle of an honest day's work for an honest day's wage is substituted for the immoral principle of something for nothing through easy money.

For a season this works. But then comes the crash.

When there is no standard by which a nation's currency is held, that nation will always be tempted to create new money to enable greater spending by both government and the people. Money becomes the one economic good which must be created out of thin air. Money must be created (by fiat) if the United States economy is to survive. Inflation becomes the by-product.

A nation with a market economy survives by means of voluntary trade between buyers and sellers, and for this trade, an unchanging medium of exchange is vital (i.e. a currency tied to a standard). But in a command or fiat economy welfare economy (as the United States now has), the fiat creation of money is justified on the premise that those being ruled over (the American people) are getting something for nothing. To give Americans all they want requires money to be "elastic" or "stretched," and the American government is hard at work creating new dollars while giving things to citizens they've never worked for or earned.

The system that enables the United States government to continue unchecked deficit spending must  be changed. It is a moral problem. If we don't change the system, America as world power will disappear. I urge you not to be offended with what I've written, but challenged. Not all borrowing is immoral. What is immoral is the expectation of receiving something for nothing. We have a culture and a people, a government and a banking system, that allows--yeah, even encourages-- easy credit and deficit spending of both citizens and government. We can't continue down this path without a collapse.

I agree with Barack Obama when he gave a speech announcing his opposition to increasing the nationals debt limit while serving as a Senator from Illinois. Senator Obama's speech was given when the deficit was ten trillion dollars less than it is today. Senator Obama said:

“The fact that we are here today to debate raising America’s debt limit is a sign of leadership failure. It is a sign that the U.S. government can’t pay its own bills. ... I therefore intend to oppose the effort to increase America’s debt limit.”

True leaders will never silenced until a solution is found.

Ultimately, only when one finds satisfaction in the eternal, and begins to live his life for things other than material possessions, power and pleasure, will there be a solution to the moral problem of spending more than one is producing. Only God brings true contentment to the soul. That's why the system that promotes deficit spending is a moral problem, not a political one. Apart from genuine revival, the political solution seems impossible, and the collapse of the American economy inevitable.

Saturday, October 05, 2013

The Handwriting of God and the Sphincter Muscle

I heard Chris Tomlin sing and Louis Giglio speak at the Chesapeake Center in Oklahoma City this past week for their Burning Lights Tour.  Rachelle and I really enjoy both these men. They are extremely gifted and passionate in living out their respective callings, and many thousands of people, including us, have been blessed by their ministries. I confess to being a tad uncomfortable by the selling of trinkets, t-shirts, and other trivial things at the concert, an action that almost made me feel I was in a gospel marketplace where the good news is being sold rather than freely shared, but I assumed the atmosphere was intentionally designed to be more like a secular concert than a gospel gathering and so that helped me ignore my discomfort. But as I heard Louis speak on the love of God "for every single person" in the event center, and of God's desire for every prodigal sinner to "come home," I couldn't help but feel something was missing in his gospel presentation. Don't misunderstand me; Louis' message on the love of God was wonderful, but it felt like a Thanksgiving dinner where grandma forgot to put the gravy on the table. Something important was left out.

On reflection, I think what the Bible calls "the fear of God" is what is absent in most modern gospel presentations, including Louis'. Yes, sinners are told they need to be saved, but it is rarely explained  from what it is that sinners need deliverance. People living egotistical, rebellious, and godless lives are never confronted with the truth that they need deliverance from their rebellion and the meeting they will one day have with their Creator from whom they have rebelled. That meeting will be a time when everything they have ever thought, done or proposed to do in this life will be exposed, weighed, measured, and judged by their Creator God. That, indeed, is a very scary coming appointment from which sinners need deliverance. The coming judgment of God is something to fear, but our world seems to only comprehend the fear of man. John the Baptist warned the people around him to "Flee from the wrath to come."  Jesus said, "Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell" (Matthew 10:28).  Yet, few in our modern day give thought to Amos' solemn exhortation "Prepare to meet thy God" (Amos 4:12). When an evangelist speaks of "being saved," he is referring to being delivered from this meeting with God where you will be exposed, weighed, measured, and found to have come short of God's standard for your life. After the day of righteous reckoning comes, you will experience God's righteous and holy condemnation for a life poorly lived. Let me give you a couple of illustrations of what that meeting will be like.

The picture to the right is Rembrandt's rendering of Belshazzar's Feast (Daniel 5). Belshazzar, King of Babylon and grandson of Nebuchadnezzar, was a wicked ruler who mocked the Most High, drank himself drunk with wine using the stolen vessels from God's Temple in Jerusalem, and gave no thought to the meeting he would one day have with His Creator where he would have to give an account for the way he had lived his life. In October of 539 BC, Belshazzar hosted a feast in the Palace Hall of Babylon, during which a hand appeared and wrote on the wall these four Aramaic words:

 Mene, Mene, Tekel, Upharsin

Literally, these four words mean "Measured, Measured, Weighed, Wanting." King Belshazzar was gripped with fear when he saw the words. The biblical account of these events tells us that when Belshazzar saw the writing on the wall "his thoughts troubled him, so that the joints of his loins were loose..." (Daniel 5:6). The phrase "the joints of his loins were loose" is a King James expression for "he soiled his pants." Literally, his sphincter muscle (the joints of his loins) was loosened. The medical word sphincter  is Greek and means "to bind tight." Combat veterans will tell you that in times of heightened fear, incontinence often becomes reality. What caused Belshazzar such fear?

(1). The Appearance of the Hand.
Daniel 5:5 says the hand appeared "opposite the candlestick of the Temple" (Daniel 5:5). The candlestick, stolen from Jerusalem by the Babylonians in 586 BC, was giving its light in Belshazzar's Palace and cast a glow toward the wall where the Hand wrote the four words. The candlestick is a type or picture of the Holy Spirit (see Zechariah 4:1-6). The presence of the Most High was in Belshazzar's Palace. Contrary to what others might say, "What happens in ____  does not stay in _______," God was in Belshazzar's palace, measuring, weighing, and bringing Belshazzar to holy judgment for a deficient, wasted, ungodly life. Jesus said "everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken" (Matthew 12:36). If one gives an account for every idle word, how do some think there will be no accounting for every evil deed? There will be a reckoning with God God. He will "measure" one's life exhaustively, accurately and personally. Belshazzar's day of reckoning before the Most High God had come and the thought of it frightened Belshazzar.

(2). The Shadow on the Wall
There was other light in King Belshazzar's Palace that night. That light cast a shadow from the candlestick onto the wall where the words "Mene, Mene, Tekel, Upharsin" were written. The shadow of the Temple candlestick (Menorah)  would look like an old fashioned scale (i.e. "the scale of justice"). It was quickly apparent to Belshazzar that the Divine Spirit was carefully measuring out the words and actions of his life and was weighing them on the scale of Divine justice. That's why Belshazzar soiled his britches. His life had been poorly lived, and the God who created him was now holding him accountable. We live among a vast population of people who give little thought to answering to the Most High God for every single evil action committed in this life, much less every idle word. Belshazzar was confronted with the fact that God was now measuring, weighing and drawing a judgment about the way he had lived. Belshazzar had been cruel instead of compassionate, hateful instead of loving, selfish instead of generous and he had lied, murdered, and stolen to get ahead. Now, the God of all goodness who had created Belshazzar to reflect His image was measuring, weighing, and dispensing proper justice. Belshazzar was terrified.

(3). The Condemnation of the Sinner
The Queen tried to reassure King Belshazzar that everything would be okay (she'd make a great modern day evangelist). However, after calling for Daniel to give a clear interpretation of the writing, the seriousness of Belshazzar's situation only intensified. Daniel told King Belshazzar:
"You have not humbled yourself before God... Instead, you have set yourself up against the Lord of heaven. You praised the gods of silver and gold, of bronze, iron, wood and stone ... but you did not honor the God who holds your life in His hand. Therefore he sent the hand that wrote the inscription. Mene, Mene, Tekel, Upharsin means: 
'God has numbered the days of your reign and brought it to an end. You have been weighed on the scales and found wanting. Your kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians.'"
Sure enough, that very night Cyrus the Great and his Medo-Persian army entered under the Great Walls of Babylon by diverting the Euphrates River into a marshland, and the Babylonian Empire came to an end after seventy years of world domination (609 BC to 539 BC). King Belshazzar's life was taken that October night in 539 BC and he entered into his eternal judgment because of his rebellion against the Most High. This story of Belshazzar's judgment by God is both gripping and true.

What was missing in the gospel presentation at the Chris Tomlin and Louis Giglio Burning Lights Tour was the solemn seriousness that comes from understanding the predicament human beings find themselves in. Until every rebel against God sees that he or she is in the same boat as Belshazzar, sinners will never look for or appreciate the deliverance that comes from God's lavish, prodigious grace in Jesus Christ.

The Adulterous Woman of John 8

There are only three times in Scripture where we are told God writes with His own hand.  On Mt. Sinai He wrote with His finger the Law on tablets of stone (see Exodus 34:1). In Daniel 5, God wrote with His own hand "Mene, Mene, Tekel, Upharsin." The third time the finger of God writes with His hand is when Jesus kneels and writes of the dirt floor of the Temple in Jerusalem (John 8).  The first time God writes He gives us His demands (Law). The second time God writes He sends His judgment for rebellion against Him (death), and on the third occasion God writes (John 8) He graciously brings deliverance to the adulterous woman from both sin and death. You know the story. A woman "caught in adultery" is brought before Jesus at the Temple. The Pharisees know that the Law says that an adulterous woman is to be stoned (by the way, they are correct), so they test Jesus and ask Him what they should do with the woman. Jesus remains silent, but bends down and writes in the dirt. One by one, the Pharisees leave and Jesus is alone with the sinful woman.
Then Jesus, straightened up and asked her, 'Woman where are they? Has no one condemned you?" “No one, sir,” she said. “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”
If nothing else, this text should teach us that the Lawgiver alone is able to forgive Lawbreakers. The entire theme of Scripture is God's grace in the Anointed One, redeeming, regenerating, and restoring sinners. Grace doesn't just atone for sins; grace radically transforms sinners. The evidence of God's grace in one's life is the desire to go and "sin no more."

It is astonishing to see the parallels between Daniel 5 and John 8. Both chapters have the hand of God writing something. Both chapters have two sinners in the presence of God. Both chapters mention the candlestick of the Temple and the light that it casts. Yet in Daniel 5 Belshazzar is condemned and in John 8 the adulterous woman is redeemed. What is the difference? It seems the adulterous woman was humbled by the mighty hand of God as she submitted her life to Christ, leaving her sin and rebellion behind and finding her life transformed by His grace. All of her sins were to be borne by Christ at the cross of Calvary and the evidence of His forgiveness was her humbly coming to Christ as the Lord of her life. The character of her God began to become the character of her life - goodness, kindness, love, generosity -- i.e. the fruits of the Spirit.

Belshazzar, however, died in his sins. He died never humbling himself before God and He died never having atonement for his sins. Belshazzar met the justice of God. The adulterous woman met the grace of God. Both sides to God's character are true. He is a God of lavish grace, but He is also the Most High God of prodigious and righteous justice. The evidence of His grace in your life is the stamp of His character on your life. Belshazzar died unrepentant, unregenerated, unredeemed. The adulterous woman died repentant, regenerated and redeemed. The gospel is never really good news until the love of God is balanced with the justice of God. Where mercy and justice meet in Jesus Christ, the good news becomes really good news.

By the way, we are not told what it was Christ wrote in the dirt at the Temple in John 8. Everyone has their opinion, but I think the clue is found in the fact that "one by one" the Pharisees left. I believe Jesus, the Sovereign Creator of the universe who is able to expose the secrets of men because He is the Light of the world, wrote down the dark, secret sins of each Pharisee. One by one, they gathered to see what He was writing, and when they saw their individual sins exposed and enumerated (having been written by the Finger of God in the dirt), they left.

But where did they go? I believe they left for the toilet. Belshazzar reminds us that the handwriting of God has that effect on the sphincter muscle. Sinners exposed by God, truly exposed by Him, either run in fear or respond in brokenness. It is my opinion that what is missing in most evangelical presentations of the good news in our modern day is the seriousness of the sinner standing before a Sovereign God to give an accounting of his life. Again, only when we understand our predicament in being exposed as unrighteous before God during such an awful meeting will the Person of Jesus Christ and the lavish grace of God in Christ begin to transform our lives as we receive the Righteous One as our very life.