3.02.2016

Trump Card

“Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help,
And rely on horses,
Who trust in chariots because they are many,
And in horsemen because they are very strong,
But who do not look to the Holy One of Israel,
Nor seek the Lord!
Yet He also is wise and will bring disaster,
And will not call back His words,
But will arise against the house of evildoers,
And against the help of those who work iniquity.
Now the Egyptians are men, and not God;
And their horses are flesh, and not spirit
When the Lord stretches out His hand,
Both he who helps will fall,
And when he who is helped will fall down;
They all will perish together.” – Isaiah 31:1-3

Israel was in trouble. They’d already lost 10 tribes to the rampaging of the Assyrians, who inflicted unspeakable evil and suffering upon their victims. The southern 2 tribes that comprised the Kingdom of Judah were struggling to survive. Their previous rulers had weakened the country on every level, and morality was at an all-time low.

Enter Babylon – the kingdom that bucked the Assyrians and completely conquered the heartland of Mesopotamia. Everything had been subdued… save Judah. The small kingdom stood with, basically, no defense against the onslaught. Previous rulers had been bad, but the Babylonians would take oppression and destruction of morality to a whole new level.

Judah was afraid.

Just across the Sinai Peninsula from Judah stood another country – Egypt. This country had thrown off their previous Assyrian overlords, and was, on all accounts, a powerful ally. They retained their own culture and defied Babylonian military, preparing for the oncoming war.

It totally made sense for Judah and Egypt to unite. Therefore, in spite of Isaiah’s warning, they did. As it turns out, Necho II, the Pharaoh of Egypt, was allied with the remnant Assyrian empire. Traveling north to face the Babylonians alongside the Assyrians, the Egyptians were completely overrun by the Babylonian army. With nothing else in their way, the Babylonians marched to Jerusalem where, in 586 B.C., the Hebrew army was completely defeated, Jerusalem leveled, and the people carried away captive.

Now we look at this account and say, “Well, of course; God told them not to rely on Egypt because ultimately, as God knew, Egypt couldn’t stand against Babylon, and it meant that people were placing their trust in men, not God.” Now Egypt was no “nice” kingdom either. Egypt’s own pagan, polytheistic culture was just as morally depraved and oppressive as Babylon’s, the only difference between the two was that, at the moment, Egypt wasn’t trying to conquer Judah; Babylon was. Egypt was “the enemy of my enemy,” so Israel aligned itself with a kingdom that, while they had some similar surface goals, was just as dangerous as Babylon was.

May I be blunt – why would we trust in the Egypt that is Donald Trump because of our fear of the Babylon that is the Democratic Party? I have heard time and time again, “Anybody but the Democrats!” at trainings and caucuses leading up to the selection of the Republican nominee. People are always quoting statistics and chances as though humans were scientific entities that are always predictable. I’ve heard things like “A vote for Carson is a vote for Trump,” or “If Trump is nominated, a vote for a third-party candidate is a vote for Hillary.” Folks, if statistics were the only factor, then Israel did the right thing! It would have been “suicide” to try and stand against the Babylonian army alone.

You can almost hear the commanders of the Judean Army discussing the options.
“Egypt can provide the firepower that we need to defeat the Babylonians.”
“But… that would mean aligning ourselves with somebody just as bad as Babylon…”
“I don’t care; anybody but the Babylonians.”
“What if we only subscribed to Jehovah’s principles and only aligned with and supported people who do the same?”
“That’s suicide; get Egypt on the phone.”

Now, I’m not actually here to promote a particular candidate (though it may be obvious that there are some of whom I disapprove), but let me ask – why would a Christian, who is doing his or her best to reflect the character of Christ, support a man who owns and promotes immoral institutions such as strip clubs, verbally attacks people of whom he has a low opinion, and has no biblical rooting for his current belief system?

“Well, he’s better than Hillary.”

I’m sorry – say again? Just because a Democratic president might force more things upon Christians does not mean that the country’s leader is a better or worse person.

“Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness? And what accord has Christ with Belial? Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever? And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For you are the temple of the living God. As God has said:
‘I will dwell in them
And walk among them.
I will be their God,
And they shall be My people.’
 Therefore, ‘Come out from among them
And be separate, says the Lord.
Do not touch what is unclean,
And I will receive you.’
‘I will be a Father to you,
And you shall be My sons and daughters,'
Says the Lord Almighty." – II Corinthians 6:14-18

Folks, if it comes down to Trump vs. Democrats, why would we associate with the moral darkness that is Donald Trump? Because he’ll take less of our money – I would hope we have a better reason to associate with darkness than that; we are explicitly told to love God more than money (Matt. 6:24). Because he doesn’t support abortion – at the moment; he’s changed his stance multiple times, because he has no absolute foundation for his belief; a double-minded man is dangerous (James 1:8-9). Because he’ll strengthen our military – because that always stops terrorism; God doesn’t apply (Deut. 3:22). We are told to be separate from those in darkness, not to make an alliance when it’s pertinent or helpful.

I’ve also heard that we are the instruments that God uses to work, but we should never intentionally violate a Scriptural principle. To be honest, folks, God doesn’t need our help (case in point… He killed 185,000 invading Assyrians with an angel in one night… no humans necessary; II Kings 19:35). That’s not to say He can’t work through our mistakes (Gen. 50:20), but they are still that – mistakes, and it grieves Him when we make them.

Think about it when it comes to voting – are you aligning yourself with the lesser of two evils, or are you living your life and stamping Christ’s name (via your support) on somebody directly opposed to Him?

Odds don’t stand a chance against God. Egypt or Babylon don’t stand against God.

God’s our trump card.

12.03.2015

A Response to a Year of Shootings: The Madman Realized


Have you not heard of that madman who lit a lantern in the bright morning hours, ran to the market place, and cried incessantly: "I seek God! I seek God!"

Friedrich Nietzsche penned these words before the dawn of the 20th century. These are the words of a “Madman”, who ran about the streets screaming that God was dead, that mankind had killed Him. He was considered insane because he was stating something to be obviously true that was obviously un-apparent to his audience, Western Culture.

“Whither is God?" he [the Madman] cried; "I will tell you. We have killed him---you and I. All of us are his murderers.”

What was he saying? Was he equating us to the religious leaders of the 1st Century who delivered Christ to the cross? Or perhaps he was condemning us as the Roman Imperialists, who carried out the deed of killing the Son of God. Even perhaps more applicably, he may have been criticizing society for the blood of the martyrs. But no – this madman was telling of the death of God in Western thought.

“All of us are his murderers. But how did we do this?”

Western society has flirted with the idea of a God-homicide for a long time. Charles Darwin declared God unnecessary for the origin of life. Henry David Thoreau proposed that man was corrupted by society, not his inherent, God-hating depravity. Friedrich Nietzsche simply put two and two together – if we don’t need God to exist, and we don’t need him to define right and wrong, we must not need Him at all. But unlike most of society at the time, Nietzsche foresaw that Western Society could not continue on as it had – things would change.

"Whither are we moving? Away from all suns? Are we not plunging continually? Backward, sideward, forward, in all directions? Is there still any up or down? Are we not straying, as through an infinite nothing?"

Without God, mankind had no foundation for reality. Why is murder wrong? For centuries, the Western World believed life was valuable because humans were created imago dei, and therefore, life was valuable. Why ought we to consider one race to be just as valuable as another? Because we all descended from Adam, and therefore were all one race anyways – just with different external, trivial characteristics. Why did we respect and obey our governing authorities? Because we believed authorities originated from God, and we were to respect and obey them.

The madman saw that we now had no definition. What was up and down? What was right and wrong? Could right even exist? What was good? What was wrong? It was left up to personal or cultural interpretation.

When a man, for no apparent reason, walked into a university classroom and kills ten people, why is it wrong? This was simply survival of the fittest in action. The shooter was fit; the victims were not. Why fight natural law?

When a racist man walked into a church and murdered people of a “lesser race”, who was to say he was wrong? Given the achievements of the white society over black, why should he have valued them?

When radical Muslim terrorists coordinated an attack that killed over a hundred people in Paris, how did they know they could get away with it? They knew the politically correct West would “talk” and “negotiate” and not launch another full-out Crusade, because that was no longer acceptable in Western society.

Here the madman fell silent and looked again at his listeners; and they, too, were silent and stared at him in astonishment. At last he threw his lantern on the ground, and it broke into pieces and went out. "I have come too early," he said then; "my time is not yet.”

When Nietzsche wrote this in the 1890’s, this statement was true, but friends, the madman’s time is now. The West is realizing what it means to have no God. It means there is nothing “wrong” with killing somebody in the womb or the room, because who’s to say what’s “wrong” anyways? Wars fought over race are perfectly acceptable, because we are one species fighting another, survival of the fittest in action, and nature is a force more powerful than any of us. Why not assume that a radical terrorist is basically “good” and negotiable, when we have no solid definition of “good” anyways? Chaos and pandemonium are all that can exist, because we have no infinite, greater-than-man reference point. How can anything be true?

“Are we not straying, as through an infinite nothing? Do we not feel the breath of empty space? Has it not become colder? Is not night continually closing in on us? Do we not need to light lanterns in the morning? Do we hear nothing as yet of the noise of the gravediggers who are burying God? Do we smell nothing as yet of the divine decomposition? Gods, too, decompose. God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him.”


How then, do we bring this God back to life? In the midst of this chaos and darkness we are seeing more and more often around us, how can we not only save ourselves, but those around us?

“You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matt. 5:14-16)


Stand strong. Living like a Christian is to be a light, but don’t put your light under a basket. Don’t let peer pressure, reputation, or “sanity” be an inhibitor to standing out. This is a bigger problem than apprehending criminals or controlling guns – this is a culture-wide problem. How do we answer the culture’s plight? Answer the tough questions unashamedly from Christ’s point of view, because we are quickly entering an era where people are searching for answers and foundations, for they have none. But Christ is our answer, our foundation, our direction. So while the madman frets about having no reference point, remember that we have one – Christ Jesus. His words, His life, and His truth stand the test of time; He is sanity in the Age of Madmen.

12.01.2015

Shanghai-ed Perspective



My trip here could be deemed by some as disastrous. Having a long, unexpted delay in an international airport where almost nobody speaks English does indeed sound like a nightmare, but I came away with a great lesson, as opposed to a purely frustrating memory.


This is the version of the story that I’m tempted to tell, that I think is the natural reaction to the circumstances:

1. We had a VERY long flight from Seattle to Shanghai.
2. Our flight from Shanghai to Chongqing was indefinitely delayed (scheduled to leave at 9 pm, didn’t leave until 1 am).
3. We had to stay in an extremely cheap hotel (think China version of Motel 6).


4. We couldn’t get the 9 a.m. flight out the next morning; we had to wait until 12:30.
5. We missed the first day of the build.

Now, in a me-focused world, this recounting makes total sense. All the ways I was inconvenienced. All the suffering I had to deal with. It’s all about me, myself, and I. Let’s try telling this story again, but with a different perspective (storyline points correspond)

1. This felt like one of the fastest flights I’ve ever been on; it went quickly and I was surprised we got there when we did.
2. We were stuck in an airport that just happened to have a hotel as part of its complex!
3. The hotel initially had no rooms, but after 10 minutes in the lobby with the four of us scanning the web and making calls for a different hotel, the concierge called me back to the desk and told me that some of their guests had just cancelled, and they had two two-bed rooms available.
4. It took us 2 hours to recover our bags from the previous airline for our final flight; something we hadn’t anticipated beforehand, which would have meant we would have missed a 9 a.m. flight. As it was, we got our bags, got to our gate, and had minimal waiting time before we took off. (And I wouldn’t have gotten to ride with this little guy… we became good friends via peekaboo…)


5. The first day was very uneventful, which meant we just had a whole extra day to adjust to the time zone with almost no negative impact to the team.

I was just reading this morning the comparison of a Worldview to glasses – how we view the things that happen around us. If Jesus really has changed my life (and my worldview), it ought to impact how I view things. I didn’t sugar-coat any of the items in the second recounting, I simply looked at things from a different perspective. I had a God up in heaven who had my best interest in mind. Even if I couldn’t understand at the time why we couldn’t get a 9 a.m. flight, God did know; before I got frustrated, I need to trust that God had a reason for this to occur.

So let's take that selfish, me-centric view and ship it off to Shanghai with no chance to return, because with every little inconvenience, discomfort, and frustration we come across, we can leave it up to Him – we never know what He has in store.


6.20.2015

Hope for the Middle Kingdom




China could very easily be called a land of suffering. Dating back to the ancient and medieval era, multiple kingdoms and warlords waged war across the country, sometimes millions of combatants and hundreds of thousands of casualties in one battle. Then, at the end of the Renaissance, suddenly thrust upon them are foreign powers from across the sea that far out-gun them, and China suddenly recognizes that perhaps, they are not the all-powerful middle kingdom. Then came war with Japan – a devastating ordeal where they were driven back to far central China, after millions of casualties; torn apart by civil war, there was little they could do to resist. Following that, a mis-guided ruler killed millions of his own people in a “Cultural Revolution”. Today, the country has more stability than ever before in its thousands of years of history, but the people are shaped by this past of war, suffering, and death. To cope, they cling to their worldviews.

As I sit here looking at the skyline of Chongqing, I’m struck by its different attributes. Some of the buildings are very tall and outstanding, while others are only a few stories tall. Some buildings are brand new, or even under construction, while some look as though they pre-date the Great War. Some are very clearly seen from where I sit, while others are barely visible through the fog.
From what I know, this view is very similar to the religious landscape of China. Some worldviews are new, strong and vibrant, while others are more subtle, but nonetheless contributing to the inhabitants’ overall view of reality. Some are propped up by the government, some are torn down, and some are let be. I will open this piece by saying that I am in no way an expert on the subject, but I’ve been exposed in the last few days to some aspects that I have found interesting. Historical overview will, I think, provide a good foundation for what we see in modern China today.

Let us begin with Siddhārtha Gautama, or the Buddha (Enlightened One) ~500 B.C. He attempted to alleviate the suffering in the world by the elimination of ignorance, resulting in Enlightenment. Ultimately, good deeds, karma, and faithfulness would result in reincarnations, ultimately leading the immortal soul to Nirvana, or one-ness with the pantheos of the world.

Sometime near or after Buddhism’s birth, Taoism, or “the way”, which fit right into the beliefs already existing in China, came on the scene. The idea that all of reality is a struggle, a balance, between the good and the bad, while not exactly the same as Buddhism, was consistent with many of its beliefs. Morality, and your resulting reincarnation into natural or god-like state, is set by the king of the underworld. At the end of their lives, people are put on trial, and the result determines their reincarnated state.

Nearly concurrently, Confucius, perhaps the most famous Eastern philosopher, founded the worldview named for him that sought to unite oneself with heaven, or Tian. Again, as with Buddhism, this was accomplished by piety, morality, and focus.

I am only scratching the surface of these ancient religions; entire libraries have been written on these subjects, and there are so many unique strains that emphasize different aspects of the belief. I am doing a high-level analysis in an attempt to paint a general picture.

Finally, enter the Marxist worldview, one that describes reality as a constant struggle between ideas and more progressive ideals (dialectical materialism, for those of you who like big words). Over time, these struggles will result in the perfect society, or utopia, that lacks bad will, evil, or oppression. Similar to the previous beliefs in that it is also monistic (no difference between physical and supernatural), it is different in that Marxism believes a solid naturalism – only the physical, concrete world exists.

This is China – a culture that has evolved over time, bombarded with different ideas that have been assimilated into the peoples’ beliefs. So where does that leave us? I was asked an interesting question via Facebook that was very thought-provoking:

Ben, how do these experiences influence your prayers for the people of China? What has God been revealing to you about Himself as you learn more about Chinese culture and religion?... Are there any parts of Chinese culture in which you particularly see a reflection of the image of God?

I think that that the aggregate belief have a few consistencies with the truth. To begin with, they accurately recognize the struggle that humanity is entangled with. There is evil and suffering in the world, and humanity’s depravity is at the center of it. There is hope for a perfect place whereby evil and suffering are removed, and people can live in peace and harmony. The striving to do good in a world surrounded by evil is central to many of these beliefs.

The answer though, is not in our own goodness, or even potential for goodness. The Apostle Paul accurately states in Romans 3:

“…There is none righteous, no, not one; there is none who understands; there is none who seeks after God. They have all turned aside; they have together become unprofitable; there is none who does good.
No.
Not one.”

Isaiah drives the point home in chapter 64:

“…we are all like an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags; we all fade as a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away.”

A somewhat depressing thought, particularly for those who spend their entire lives trying to do good things. Mankind is, on his own, doomed to struggle, fail, and suffer through life. China has searched desperately for an answer to these realities and done its best to provide a solution. Promises of immortality, utopia, or unification with God Himself drive them to live out their faith with a devotion that puts many Christians to shame.



What then, is the answer? Isaiah supplies not just a band-aid, but a cure to our problems in chapter 53:

“Surely He [Jesus Christ] has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows.”

And Peter goes a step further in his first epistle, chapter 2:

“[Christ]…who Himself bore our sins in His own body, on the tree, that we, having died to sin, might live for righteousness – by whose stripes you were healed. For you were like sheep going astray, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.”

Live. Healed. Returned to the Shepherd. Are these not the things that the whole world needs? Is this not the peace that we all, including the Chinese people, are seeking? Not by our own miserable attempts at righteousness, but by the free gift that He supplies. He paid the penalty, accepted all the “bad karma” that our actions deserved, to the point of death itself.

He provided an end to suffering, both for now and eternity. He gave us a hope in the midst of loss. He gave us life instead of death. When I say He gave these things to “us”, I do not for a second believe that He did that solely for the Western church.

He died for the crippled Chinese beggar on the side of the road. He made available the gift of eternal life to the “middle-class” engineer at a factory. He loves, literally to death, the Premier of China himself. China is precious to Him, every single one of its inhabitants. He knows them each by name; they are each individually His masterpieces, created in His image. He is their Shepherd, and is out looking to bring them to His fold. He longs to be reunited with them, as do they, though they do not know Him. Pray that the Chinese people would find the end of their longing for peace in Him.



5.28.2015

Christian Music Conundrum - an Introduction


 
Music is central to much of American culture, and it is no different amongst Christians. We use music to for entertainment, socializing, and worship. It is so engrained in our lives that we seldom stop to consider anything about it. Sure, there are some old-school people that think that some music is “bad”, even so much as demonic, but this discussion often appears to be a fringe argument of the young against the old; boring dead Puritan ideals against a “living fire”; legalistic against “livin’ for Jesus”.

Many of us were raised in a home where, in music, a beat was bad. Mom and dad muted the musical interludes during movies, we weren’t “allowed” certain CDs in our house, and we all stood somewhat awkwardly during worship services when we visited friends’ more modern churches. We understood that some people just had it wrong, and we would obstinately push through life without electric guitars or drum sets.

Then… things would start to happen. A good, trusted, Christian-ly solid, friend would begin to listen to, horror of horrors, Casting Crowns. Or perhaps you began to listen more closely to some music that your family listens to and recognize, “Wait a second… this is actually just as rocky as some artists out there… even more than the Gettys!” Or maybe you finally heard a pop Christian song you could understand the words to, and thought “Wow; that’s a very poignantly stated Biblical truth. You could preach a sermon from that!” We started to ask “What’s wrong with it?”

Then we started seeing inconsistencies – the music was bad in some cases, but other songs that sounded the same to us were ok to our spiritual authorities. We would be told “We don’t listen to that artist because they’re immoral.”, yet Mozart was prominently played and even performed by members of our household. A few oldies songs with absolutely no spiritual value might be played by our parents, but our Christian songs that were just as musically subdued would be “off limits”. We started to ask “Why can’t I listen to it?”

Then… more things would start to happen. Some of our friends that had blazed this trail of listening to “modern music” would start making blatantly un-biblical decisions. You would look up one day and in shock say “What AM I listening to?” We would start looking more into the lives of these “amazing Christian artists” and questioning their real motives…

It is in this state that I begin to ask these questions:

·         What music can Christians listen to?

·         What music should Christians listen to?

·         What do I do about the people who condemn my choices?”

I will ask these questions with the following pre-suppositions; if you do not agree with these, please do not continue to follow these posts:

·         There are authorities in my life I must respect; even if they’re wrong, as long as they aren’t telling me to disobey God, I ought to honor them (Exodus 20:12, 1 Timothy 5:17)

·         God has an opinion about music – He is the author of it, and His principles that guide everything about life (including music) are in His Word (2 Timothy 3:16-17)

·         Satan can twist anything and even deceive believers who have not imposed God’s truth on the situation (2 Corinthians 11:3-4, 13-14)

·         I COULD BE WRONG! I am going into this study with a certain view, but I am willing to be proven wrong; my own understanding could be incomplete. (Proverbs 3:5-7)