The Late Great United States

“Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” –John Adams

In 1787, prior to the signing of the U.S. constitution, Ben Franklin had this speech read to the other delegates, being too weak with age to read it himself:

“In these sentiments, Sir, I agree to this Constitution with all its faults, if they are such; because I think a general Government necessary for us, and there is no form of Government but what may be a blessing to the people if well administered, and believe farther that this is likely to be well administered for a course of years, and can only end in Despotism, as other forms have done before it, when the people shall become so corrupted as to need despotic Government, being incapable of any other.”

Since 1979, I’ve been saying that we, as a nation, are headed for despotism. Really, I sensed it as early as 1973, but could not have articulated what I was sensing. I don’t see how any thinking, wide awake person can deny that this is now inevitable. I loved liberty. I refer to it in the past tense because I’m old enough to remember when we had it, or, at least, all such things being relative, far more of it than we have now. The reason for this can’t be stated any better than by John Adams and Ben Franklin in the above quotes. Man is corrupt; males, females, leftists, conservatives, gay, straight, all of us – our propensity is toward corruption, and our corruption comes from selfishness. Anyone who has ever raised a child, if they’re honest, knows that this tendency toward corruption is inherent – not learned. Indeed, resisting corruption is something that must be taught. No one needs to be taught to be bad.

Events of the last couple of days testify to our slide into despotism. Predictably,  a leftist I know  rejoiced that Rand Paul was attacked and had his ribs broken. A deranged man killed more than two dozen people in a church and in response people run to their soapboxes and express outrage at those with opposing soapboxes.

That second event, the church shooting, will serve to illustrate where I stand on the current state of affairs in this country. I love our Constitution, including the second amendment. I don’t personally own guns, but most of the people I know do. In the area I’ve lived in most of my life, there are, literally, many times more guns than people. None of the people I know have ever shot anyone. But this is irrelevant. Because despite the fact that many people, maybe even most people, choose to exercise good character (in spite of their propensity toward corruption), the nation, collectively, is rotten to the core. So while I do not advocate repealing the second amendment, or any other of our liberties, nothing can be done to escape the pit we are being pulled into. In practice, if not in theory, all of our liberties are being hacked away. They are becoming shells of their former selves.

I am using the second amendment only as a relevant example. My thoughts today, as a Jesus follower, are about how I must respond to the times I live in. What would Jesus do? He who laid down his life, not only for me personally, but for the whole world? Jesus didn’t come to create a Utopia on earth. He came to provide an example of how to respond to a broken world. He never commanded that we build a certain brand of society and then fight to preserve it at all costs. What if, to fulfill our calling, we need to lay aside our liberties? The thought horrifies me as much as it does you. Lord, help me. Help us.

The Simple Truth

IMG_2442I’d like to say something today about the nature of Truth. It’s been a source of frustration to me that truth is something that needs to be explained at all. It’s very simple, but it’s debated by great minds even going back to ancient times. Actually, that fact is one of the things that caused me to be disillusioned about philosophy, which, for a brief period in my young life, I really enjoyed. Why the strenuous debate?

Very simply, truth is what is. It is independent of what anyone thinks or believes. I can fully understand strenuous, ongoing debate over what is true, and over our ability and means for discovering truth. But as for the truth itself, nothing could be simpler. The well-worn parable about the blind men and the elephant says nothing about the nature of truth; it only describes the problem with perspective. Despite the various perspectives of the blind men who all encountered the elephant differently, the truth is, there is an elephant.

In order to learn what is true, I need to value the truth more than anything else – more than any preferred conclusions, for example. Today, we have done so much damage to the notion of truth, thanks in part to a corrupt academia that takes strange comfort in materialism and relativism, that very many people don’t know what it is, though they may talk about it all the time. Beliefs and opinions are formed according to the world we prefer rather than what is. This is tragic.

The search for truth often starts with a premise. If the premise is wrong, but I am objective, meaning, I have no agenda but to know “what is”, hopefully I can discover what’s wrong with the premise and change it. If I am committed to the premise, insisting on into matter what, I will no doubt find “facts” to substantiate it. As someone has said, you can proves anything with “facts”. Anything you like.

Naturalism in science is an example of this. Naturalism is defined as “a philosophical viewpoint according to which everything arises from natural properties and causes, and supernatural or spiritual explanations are excluded or discounted.” Proponents of naturalism claim that allowing for supernatural causes allows for superstition to be used to account for certain phenomena. There may be some truth to this, though the history of science has demonstrated otherwise. But that’s beside the point. It has never been demonstrated that there are no supernatural causes. If there are such causes, then this is a flawed premise and can’t help but lead to incomplete or even wrong conclusions.

Statements like that always lead to an outcry from materialists and I’m not going to enter into a debate on that subject as I’ve done many times in the past. I offer it as an example. My real motivation for writing this article has to do with far more ridiculous examples from my own tribe. I am a Christian. False premises based on religious legalism and literalism have led to some very bizarre beliefs, held with militaristic fervor, that are actually destructive to the cause of Christ.

I recently had an argument on social media with several Christians who believe in geocentrism – that the sun orbits the earth – that the earth is flat, that the moon produces its own light and that the planets are wandering stars, and NASA is nothing but a huge conspiracy to fool us all (to what end, I don’t know). Presumably (we didn’t get into this, so I am assuming), the universe is a few thousand years old.

Why do they believe this? Because, in their minds, that’s what the Bible says, and to not believe everything it says 100% literally means you are without faith and are offending God. Actually, they are more than literal; they are extra-literal. You see, Pharisaism never went away. The Pharisees were so intent on keeping the Mosaic law that they invented their own laws which went beyond the Mosaic law. For instance, their law forbade cooking a young animal in its mother’s milk. In order to avoid breaking that law unintentionally, they would not allow dairy of any form to be placed in any utensil in which meat was used. One rationale for geocentrism that I was confronted with was the story in the Book of Joshua in which Joshua asked God to make the sun stand still, which God did. How could the sun be made to stand still unless the sun revolves around the earth?

Have you ever had someone completely misspeak something they were trying to say, but you didn’t correct them because you knew exactly what they were saying? Is there a single praying person in the world that hasn’t seen that God often does not answer our prayers exactly as we asked? These are not stupid people I’m talking about. What leads to such nonsense? It can be nothing but fanaticism, with maybe some elitism grown in the same culture.

I’ve spoken many times about the fact that, as an evangelist, one of my biggest obstacles is the bad behavior of other Christians. Non-Christians see that and say, “Nope, I don’t want any part of that god”. And I don’t either. I haven’t brought it up much, but stupid beliefs like these, and more, by people who are not stupid is another obstacle. As a Christian, it’s extremely embarrassing.

All You Need is Love

Today, a Facebook friend shared about a friend of hers who is involved in some questionable spiritual practices. My friend is rightfully concerned about this person and said that she was praying for her. Someone commented on my friend’s post, urging her to “delete” this person, adding that “the enemy comes thru her to you”.

I know this attitude is rampant in the Body of Christ. It drives me crazy. Can you see Jesus, or Paul, or Peter, running and hiding from someone practicing divination? In fact, Paul had to bring deliverance to a demon possessed girl who was doing psychic readings, and Peter was confronted with Simon the sorcerer, who he rebuked, not for his sorcery (Simon had become a disciple) but for trying to buy the power of God. Of course they weren’t afraid of them, or anybody! Where did this fear that is rampant in the Body come from? I have my theories…

As for my friend’s concern, my own perspective is slightly different. Salem MA has been a second home to me for 10 years and I lived there for almost two. I have friends who are witches. I go to New Age and other festivals where I encounter people involved in questionable spiritual practices all the time. I haven’t become jaundiced to it. Of course it’s dangerous. Life is dangerous. I can’t speak to my friend’s state of mind on this, but in the Body of Christ there is a strong and irrational tendency to expect non-Christians to behave like Christians, or at least how we are supposed to behave. This is counterproductive to trying to present the kingdom to the world around us. I am not a moral referee (I don’t think my friend sees herself that way either). My responsibility is to be Jesus to people, and as I search and search the gospels, I consistently see Jesus leaving people to their choices. He never pushes. He insists on nothing. He presents moral specifics when asked, or when the people sit at his feet in anticipation. I try to do the same.

But this fear believers have! This fear that darkness will overwhelm their light! It’s not how it works. We have only one enemy and that enemy has been defeated. We are sent to serve, embrace, and love people. Well, except for witches and satanists and psychics. Um, no, them too.

Trump: God’s Choice?

131292193_11nMy fiancee called me at six 0’clock this morning to ask me if I had heard that Donald Trump had been elected president.

Yolanda, I have come to learn, is quite prophetic. She often sees into situations with prophetic clarity and often knows things that are going to happen. She’s aware of this ability but she’s (thankfully) completely lacking in any of the silly “christianese” assumptions about it. She’s generally quiet and introspective about what she knows ahead of time.

She’s known Trump would be the next president. But unlike so many Christian prophets who think they know how this works, but, in my opinion, don’t, she hasn’t been declaring Trump to be God’s man to save America. Yeah, she’s a keeper.

Is it really God who sets up the world’s kings and leaders? Yep. It sure is. Does that mean it’s His will? Nope. It’s our will, collectively speaking, not necessarily His.

Though Yolanda knew who the next president would be (I myself was sure he would lose), she is not happy about it, and neither am I. She would not be happier if Clinton had won, and neither would I. How in the world did we end with up with two such reprehensible choices? I think it’s the wrath of God.

The wrath of God is defined and described in Romans 1, particularly in verse 28: “…even as they refused to have God in their knowledge, God gave them up to a reprobate mind…”. Ezekiel 22:31 says, “…their own way have I bought upon their heads…”. In other words. God gives to the rebellious and disobedient exactly what they want. So as far as what comes from God’s hand, this wrath is gentle, though we humans may do very ugly things with it. It also doesn’t really violate our will. I’ve noticed that God rarely does that.

Now, I’m not saying that this wrath is directed at people who don’t know God, and I’m not saying it isn’t. My focus is on those claiming to be following God. I think it’s a grievous error to claim to know God, but not know His mind, and when that happens, it is the prophetic voices who must bear the most responsibility.

I can’t be completely sure I know what God is thinking, but I know what I’m thinking. I know I’m a prophet, but I also know I’m sometimes wrong. I am angry at those supposed prophetic voices, and those who point to them, who were declaring that God had raised up Donald Trump to “make America great again” and are now celebrating his victory. You think God set him up to be president? Yes, I believe He did. So you think it necessarily follows that he is God’s choice? No, you’re wrong. he is YOUR choice. YOU bear the responsibility for what is to follow. I don’t know what that will look like, and I am not, personally, afraid. But I heard loud and clear what Yolanda said to me this morning:

“Something bad is about to happen”.

Shame, shame

131292193_11nMan, this election! Like a lot of people, I’ve gotten into some intense conversations and Facebook threads about it. My comments have mostly been toward Trump, but not because I think he’s worse than Clinton. These candidates are each SO bad that talking about one being worse than the other seems ridiculous. They’re bad! REALLY bad! On any reasonable scale for rating candidates’ qualification, both of these would be WAY into negative numbers.

Actually, my focus on Trump doesn’t have much to do with concern about who our next president is going to be. Both candidates are prone to be despots, and I don’t have a preference as to what KIND of despot I come under. I despise any kind. Our wonderful experiment in self-governance has wrecked on the rocks while we were busy not paying attention. Sad as that is, it has not been where my hope lies since becoming a Christian. My focus on Trump comes from my deep concern for the Church, primarily Evangelical Christianity, because that is my tribe.

I’ve been hearing “prophecies” declaring Trump to be God’s choice to save the nation. I’ve heard the bizarre justification for supporting this clown (Hmm. I wonder if the current clown sightings is prophetic?) that God can use Pharaoh or Cyrus, or a donkey (let’s not confuse a donkey with an ass).

First of all, if and when God uses a seriously flawed man or woman to rule over a people, that is not a good thing. It means something evil needs to be exposed, and not in the ruler but in the people who are ruled. It should be a time of mourning, not rejoicing, unless you’re rejoicing over your own exposure and consequent acknowledgment of sin and repentance.

Second, as a prophet myself – a reluctant one, I’d like to add – I don’t have much respect for what passes as prophecy in this country. To reframe an old joke, if you were to lay all our so-called prophets end to end, they would still all point in different directio. Heck, I not even very sure of my own prophetic inclinations. But I’m really sure about something I’ve known since my conversion in 1979; tyranny is coming to this nation. I don’t know that this is the time that this will happen, but it kind of looks inevitable (to those Christians praying for God’s mercy on the United States, pray neither of these turkeys becomes president).

I am also pretty sure about this: If there is a purpose in this infuriating insistence Evangelicals have to support Donald Trump, it’s to expose something very ugly and unChristlike in that camp. I have written a little about this before, as have lots of other folks. Maybe I’ll write more. I don’r know. But frankly, a lot of you folks are a big embarrassment.

Where’s the Sacrifice?

There is a trend among American Christians that has been troubling me for some time. I was once caught up in the same trend, so if anyone feels I am pointing fingers, I have first pointed it at myself.

The trend I am seeing is that of being willing to modify, or ignore completely, Christ’s command to love our neighbors in the interest of preserving the standard of freedom of religion, lack of necessary sacrifice, and prosperity that we have enjoyed in this country in the 226 years since the constitution was ratified. It’s been sweet, and rare in the history of Christianity. But is it our duty to preserve this cushy situation to the degree that we turn our backs on those in need?

I’m talking, of course, about the Syrian refugee crisis.

I sympathize with those who say this is a very dangerous people group and that it is extremely dangerous to take them in. And for the non-Christian, I have nothing to say if that is your mindset, for it is a rational, common sense one. My point is directed at the Christian – the church, actually. And for those, too, I totally understand your concern and your determination to keep your families safe. But I can’t help but notice that a lot of the resistance, not only toward this issue, but others over the years, is not always about safety, but about preserving a comfortable standard of living.

And that is a shameful posture for a disciple of Jesus to take. In fact, if that is your posture, then you may be a believer, but in my opinion, you are not a disciple.

But a resistance based on fear is a different story. As I said, I sympathize with it. But is that really the proper response for a disciple of Jesus?

We have in our history outstanding stories of sacrifices made for the Gospel. These heroic stories continue to the present day. People who left all comforts, and even families, behind, who moved into leper colonies, knowing they would likely contract the disease themselves, Moravians who sold themselves into slavery so they could minister to slaves. People who faced death daily but did not turned back. I am a missionary, but I have a relatively cushy mission field. This past weekend, I did an outreach that is held in a hotel. I had my own room, with all the hot water I cared to luxuriate in. I had wine in the evening with friends. I went about in my socks. I often wonder, where is my sacrifice? I certainly feel like a lightweight compared to some of the missionaries I know and have read about.

Will taking in Syrian refugees be dangerous? Yeah, it’s dangerous. Suppose God visited you and asked you to face this danger and minister to these “neighbors”. What would your answer be? Since those people are asking for refuge, it seems He IS asking.

Yes, I know we can’t afford it. I know it may drag us all into a third world living standard. I know many of us could lose our lives. I know the USA could be tossed into the dustbin of history. Will we really not lay all that at the Lord’s feet, and say, “Yes, Lord. Do with me and mine as You will”?

Will we?

The Invasion of the “Dones”

IMG_1332Have you heard of the “Dones”? They are those who are “done” with church. They still love Jesus, but find church to be frustrating, or disappointing, or heartbreaking, or simply a waste of time. Some of the articles I’ve seen written about the “Dones” state that the “Dones” have left and will not be coming back.

Well, I am a “Done”, have been since 2004, and no, I won’t be going back to what I left. My perspective about the church and what troubles me about it are similar, but also different from nearly all the comments made by other “Dones” who responded to some of those articles, as well as those made by others who I have talked to personally. I find the problems of the church to be deeper and more fundamental than most of them. But I digress.

I had gone back to a church maybe a year ago. It is a good one. But I went back with few expectations; one, actually. I just wanted to be in community with other believers. That’s all. And even at that, my expectations were low, because I know what institutional church does to people (I have since moved out of state to be part of a community that actually works very well).

I have a problem with the “Dones”, even though I sympathize with them. I’ve spoken and written a lot about the shortcomings of the institutional church (though not on this blog so much). I believe the condition of the I.C. (institutional church) to be dismal, contrary to scripture, contrary to the model the apostles provided, a waste of time at best, producing stunted infants at worst. Harsh criticisms, I know, and it brings me no pleasure to say it; quite the opposite.

Some of the complaints of the “Dones” have to do with never being provided an opportunity to do the Kingdom stuff. Ministry, in other words. That is the stunting effect I mentioned; that the I.C. has succeeded in convincing its members that they can do nothing without its leaders – professional leaders, I might add.

Isn’t there a scripture that says something like, “I can do all things…” Yes, I know, context, but still…

The “Dones” have to take their own responsibility for this. Aren’t we each responsible to examine what we’re taught for ourselves? Here’s an example: One of the primary teachings that keeps us in our pews facing forward quietly is the one about “covering”. No matter what one might endeavor to do, someone will ask, “Who’s your covering?” You can’t go to Bible college without “covering”. You can’t go out in the street and do much of anything if you haven’t been released by the man who is your covering.

My question is, where is that in the bible?

Here are some scriptures that ARE in the bible: “Ye know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. Not so shall it be among you.” (Mt 20:25) “Man, who made me a judge or divider over you?” (Lk 12:14). “Not that we have lordship over your faith” (2 Cor. 1:24). “Then comes the end when he shall deliver up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when he shall have abolished all rule, and all authority and power, for he must reign till he hath put all his enemies under his feet” (1 Cor 15:24-25). Note that rule, authority and power are among his enemies. Also see Matt 28:18.

Now someone will undoubtedly take me to Hebrews 13:17 (someone always does), which says, “Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit to them”. Trouble is, the words translated “obey” and “rule” in my bible don’t carry the sense of the original. I believe it was Frank Viola who suggested that a better translation might be “Allow yourselves to be persuaded by your leaders”. In other words, whether you choose to be persuaded by your leaders is between you and God, and none of the leader’s business. You are also responsible for what you submit to. The leader is just a man. Or a woman. They are not God.

A church I know of found itself without a place to meet. It split into several groups, but that process of forming the groups took awhile. During that process, I heard one person complain that they never got to fellowship with their church family anymore. My response was, “What is stopping you from spending time with your church family?” Yes, it’s harder when all these things aren’t done for you by someone else. But this is exactly the attitude that makes and keeps us weak and stunted.

Here’s my advice for the “Dones”: go back*. For the community. If you see something vital to healthy Body life that needs doing, then do it. Is someone hurting? Take him or her out for coffee, and listen to them, THEN pray for them. Do you want to minister on the street? Do it. Do you want to pray for the sick? Go to Wal-mart, find a sick person and pray. BE who you are. And don’t wait for anyone to tell you you’re ready. Go make mistakes and learn, and be humble and loving about it. If everyone did this – wisely, humbly and lovingly – we’d have revival.

So go make your own miniature revival.

*My exhortation to “go back” is rhetorical. The point I want to make is consistent with Paul’s admonition to learn to be content in whatever state we find ourselves. But we do have liberty. It is not necessary to leave; only to adjust our expectations. Likewise, it is not necessary to stay. What is necessary is community, and that possibly can take a variety of forms. I stress this as someone who is very much a loner for whom the idea of a hermitage is very appealing.