Michael

Jun 192018
 

I know this is an issue that is near and dear to Michael’s heart and has brought him much consternation and despair over the years.  Let it be known that these are my own thoughts and words that I have written only at my own initiative, and any adverse thoughts or reaction should be directed at and placed upon me. 

 

 

There is so much information and misinformation out there right now that it is hard for the common person to get a full and accurate grasp and understanding of what all is currently going on and has happened in the past with the family separations at our southern border.  More so than anything else, some of those on the political left and in mainstream media seem overly desirous of pinning all blame on President Trump and his administration and to make him/them appear in the worst possible light, whether through real facts or fabrications or misrepresentations, while also harboring other political motives.  More so than anything else, some of those on the political right and in conservative media seem overly concerned with protecting President Trump and his administration and shielding him/them from any blame and also highly esteeming his/their actions, whether through real facts or fabrications or misrepresentations, while also harboring other political motives.

What is without question is that the practice of separating children from their parents on our southern border has risen sharply within the past couple months due to actions taken by this current administration.  And also what should be without question is that this practice and its rapid expansion are not good things.  For those who choose to delve into this issue, this is where I believe our major focus should be at this moment.  How do we put a stop to such an anguishing and traumatic practice while also maintaining some measure of law and order?  As with ostensibly many immigration issues, there are not simple and easy solutions.  However, we must find a way to do better.  Until very recently, our government found ways to employ the use of this practice to much lower levels and I would contend in no way was its lesser use resulting in a catastrophic effect upon our country, or anything close to it.  I am not versed nearly well enough on the subject to give expert opinion on the technicalities of how to do so, but at the very least, if we want to more strictly enforce our borders, let’s at least first find a way to do it more humanely.    

Yes, there are cases of people getting into our country that shouldn’t under any circumstance – drug traffickers, child sex traffickers, and other serious criminals.  Even with the sudden and drastic “zero tolerance” policy in effect, many of these types will still get through as they know the strategic avenues of how to do so.  Most of those being caught are the “commoner” families and individuals who don’t know the strategic ways to get in covertly, or who even in many cases, are purposely giving themselves up to authorities once they cross.  It takes much more than this “zero tolerance” policy to capture the majority of those who truly are coming to cause harm.  And when the dangerous criminals do get caught, they should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law, including having any children taken away from them.

Beyond that, there seemingly have been others who have been taking advantage of the situation by bringing children with them, sometimes children who are not even their own and/or for which they are not main guardians, to increase their chances of receiving favorable treatment.  Others have been claiming asylum when they may not have any real claim of fleeing terrible situations.  There are definitely cases that are fraudulent.  Our government uses their intelligence and capabilities to sort through and identify such cases, yet surely, there are some who end up getting through and receive better treatment than they should.      

Nonetheless, above all as a Christian, I must view this through a “God lens” first, and not a nationalistic or political one.  And I see much in Scripture exhorting us to be especially mindful and compassionate towards the poor and needy and sojourner and the “least of these”.  Many of these families that are being separated are not out to cause harm.  They are fleeing dire and calamitous circumstances for the protection and betterment of their loved ones.  In many cases, they are claiming asylum once they cross, which is an allowable and legal thing to do.  Often times they aren’t crossing at the approved ports of entry due to some combination of not knowing where they are supposed to cross, or being scared off by organized crime on the Mexican side of the border, or in many cases, being confusingly told at the approved ports of entry that they can’t come through.  If I chose to place my main view of focus to see and treat people in circumstances like these as “criminals”, then I believe I am miserably failing how God calls me to see and love people.  Even if it causes me to end up viewing some people better than what they “deserve”.

This has nothing to do with needing to find something to be “outraged” about or needing to be a “social justice warrior” or needing something new about which to be “anti-Trump.”  The hazarded pejoratives may come in attempt to diminish or belittle my stance or those of others with similar postures.  But they will not stick as this is about trying to see and have people treated as I believe God would have us to do so, and nothing else.  

Just as I would with other issues, I implore my government to act more justly and righteously on this issue, most specifically in regards to the practice of separating parents and children who have crossed the border.  I would implore other Christians who choose to engage in this issue to do the same.  And may God have mercy on the poor souls who are seeking some kind of earthly relief from atrocious conditions for themselves and their families.

Jun 192018
 

600 Methodists file church complaint against Jeff Sessions…

SBC convention recap…

The other kind of grace…

Three things to remember if you’re struggling with a porn addiction…

The boat in the backyard…

Roger Olson asks if the evangelical church of his youth is gone…

Universalism and the devils redemption…

Canada forbids start of christian law school because of LGBTQ stance…

Christian persecuting Christian…

What women need most from brothers in Christ…

Let go of buildings or face church extinction…

Is your ministry headquarters trivial?

Some of J.D.Greer’s congregation didn’t know they were a Southern Baptist church…

Media ecology for the family…

Mothers have always crossed boundaries to save their kids…

“You can gauge the power of an institution by the number of people lined up to beg for mercy at its door. The longer the line, the more powerful the institution, the more powerful the institution, the more preoccupied it becomes with self-preservation. Laws, traditions, and litmus tests proliferate. These can shield from very real threats, but they are also used to insulate against change, the different, the low and deserving. The world’s great religions and countries have always guarded their thresholds against the people pressing into them seeking their portion of grace.”

What churches get wrong about sexual abuse…

Angry at the Gospel…

Community in the worn and used…

Latimer and Ridley are forgotten…

Love is unnatural…

A moment of honesty…

Lewis on the Christian life…

The world doesn’t need extraordinary fathers…

Why anxiety has so much power over us…

Big thanks to EricL for the link help…support him at top right…

 

 

Jun 182018
 

1. The use of terms like “leftist”, “law breakers”, “Trumpster”, etc, is not for identification purposes, but for dehumanization purposes. We’re quickly reaching the next stage of societal deterioration, which is no longer seeing the “other” as a human being, but an enemy to be defeated…or even destroyed. We are denying each other both personhood and the imago dei and history writes in bold and bloody script the results of such thinking…

2. Sometimes the will of the people is for Barabbas…

3. The latest intramural war among Christians over the ReVoice conference is being framed as political (as is everything else in life these days). In reality, the question is theological…to what degree does the Gospel transform people? Does the new birth change the whole nature of the person or simply change the spiritual standing in heaven? I’m not sure there’s a clear answer…

4. The idea that apologetics can “prove” the veracity of the faith is silly. Faith cannot be empirically proven…or even made reasonable. We believe a dead man got up and walked and because he did, we will too…good luck with “proving” that…it’s still true…

5. Just once…I wish Greg Laurie would promise the crusade goers suffering…because Jesus does…

6. We could start actually solving some problems if our preferred label for each other was “neighbor”…

7. Then children were brought to him that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples rebuked the people,but Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.”” (Matthew 19:13–14 ESV) Maybe…Jesus is trying to save us all those “mission trips” by bringing the children to us to bring them to Him…no, that can’t be…

8. Were the prophets of the Older Testament “social justice warriors”? Asking for a friend…

9. The Bible “clearly teaches” that life comes through death, “winning” through weakness…Paul boasted of his infirmities…we don’t…

10. If you think this list is a mess, you ought to see my mind…

 

Jun 162018
 

Almighty God, whose most dear Son went not up to joy but first he suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he was crucified: Mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of the cross, may find it none other than the way of life and peace; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord. Amen.

Jun 162018
 

Revelation 10:7-11

but that in the days of the trumpet call to be sounded by the seventh angel, the mystery of God would be fulfilled, just as he announced to his servants the prophets.

  • Here we see the fulfillment of Ezekiel 3. The 7th trumpet is God’s fulfillment. This verse shows that the sounding of the 7th trumpet is the last day as promised … just a the 7th seal also was the culmination of all things … and as the 7th bowl will be.
  • As the angel is prepared to blow that 7th trumpet, we see that we are living in those last days just as John’s hearers were living in these same last days, as all people since the days of Jesus have been living in the last days.
  • Remember, the last days began when? No, not 1948 – they began with the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus and will continue until he returns in glory.
  • What of this mystery of God? Well first let us say that it too is being fulfilled in these last days.
  • Eph 3 Paul says “This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.”
  • Col 1 says “the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints.”
  • So when the 7th trumpet sounds, the mystery of God will be accomplished – Jesus wins and delivers salvation not only for Jews but for Gentiles.
  • Has this mystery been revealed / fulfilled? If so are we not at the blowing of the 7th trumpet?
  • So let’s restate the mystery – the gospel is Jesus died for you, Jesus rose for you, your sins are forgiven, and you are saved in Christ Jesus.
  • This is the mystery – this is great news for a people who live in the midst of a world that appears to be going to hell in a hand basket. A people whose whole life is out of control, in a world that is out of control – and yet the mystery;
  • God has it all safe and secure in Jesus. He has reconciled all things to himself in Jesus. This is the purpose for this interlude right here in the middle of Revelation.
  • We will see in chapter 11 the church – the new Israel, made of Jews and Gentiles – being described as hunted down and killed as the world celebrates.

Then the voice that I had heard from heaven spoke to me again, saying, “Go, take the scroll that is open in the hand of the angel who is standing on the sea and on the land.”

  • The scroll = the word of God. This is a pivotal point to understanding any part of biblical scriptures – these words did not originate from John (or any of the authors) – they come from the outside.

So I went to the angel and told him to give me the little scroll. And he said to me, “Take and eat it; it will make your stomach bitter, but in your mouth it will be sweet as honey.”

  • An eating of God’s word? One of our collect prayers for the word is that we might ‘inwardly digest the word of God for the sake of then proclaiming it.”
  • Bitter and sweet = law and gospel. When you go to church each week, God, through your pastor and the liturgy is there killing the sinner and resurrecting the new man – again, a part of the mystery.
  • This goes on among us today. This is how Paul can say for some who hear God’s word it is the aroma of death – they won’t repent, they won’t believe. To others it is the sweet smell of life, resurrection and great joy. 2 Cor 2:14-17

10 And I took the little scroll from the hand of the angel and ate it. It was sweet as honey in my mouth, but when I had eaten it my stomach was made bitter.

  • This bitter / sweet experience in Revelation is an expansion of what happened to the prophet Ezekiel when he was called to preach. He ate the scroll which was as sweet as honey in his mouth – Ezekiel 2 & 3.
  • He then hints that being the spokesperson for God is a bittersweet experience as the scroll included lamentations, mourning and woe.

11 And I was told, “You must again prophesy about many peoples and nations and languages and kings.”

  • This is what you receive when you go to the Divine Worship Service;
    • A reading from the OT = hearing from the Prophets.
    • A reading from the NT Epistles = hearing from the Apostles.
    • A reading from the Gospels = hearing from God himself through the evangelists.
  • Then the pastor comes up and will preach from one or all three of the texts – so even then what you hear will be the word of God.
  • This is why the pastor will begin his sermon with “Grace, peace and mercy to you from God our Father and from our Savior Jesus Christ.” What should follow is a sermon that is to be faithful to the text you just heard.
  • God at that point is actually delivering to all – Jew and Gentile alike, his grace, peace and mercy – the mystery we are all living in.
  • So what happens with this preaching? To many, the message agitates them – you can see it in their eyes, their body language and hear it in their voice inflections as they tell you “get out of here and don’t come back.”
  • This really is the story of the rich young man. “what can I do?” he asked. Jesus tells him ‘trust me and I will do it all’ – and this torments the man and he goes away bitter.
  • But those who repent, the Bible tells us that the angels rejoice – Sweet!
  • We will see this as we move on to chapter 11 and visit the church working in the world and the reception – or non reception – of God’s presence.
  • Rev 11:10 “and those who dwell on the earth will rejoice over them and make merry and exchange presents, because these two prophets had been a torment to those who dwell on the earth.”

The whole purpose of the appearance of the Mighty Angel and His scroll rings out loud and clear: John (and all pastors) must proclaim the message of God among all peoples on earth. That is the mission of the Church throughout the NT era.

The Church’s mission is to “make disciples of all nations by baptizing them and teaching them all that Christ commands” Matt 28:19-20. For this reason, it is vital that the Church truly understand her mission – that she be committed to “making disciples,” not filling the pews. The church must be committed not only to bringing people into the Church, but to seeing to it that those people are properly catechized into the faith. The church must realize that watering down the doctrine and practice will only result in “watered-down,” nominal Christians. The church must remain firm and steadfast in the Word it has been given to proclaim to the world. Then, and only then, is the church about the Lord’s business, fulfilling the mission He has given it to fulfill.

 

Jun 132018
 

I’ll keep saying this until people listen…while I vigorously applaud groups doing events such as “For A Time Such As This”, until the issue of financial liability for the denomination (or non denominational denomination) is addressed there will be no teeth in any “resolutions” passed.

Some courts have already held state conventions in the SBC liable for the actions of member churches even with the loose affiliations of that group. The fact that no one has yet addressed the liability/accountability issue tells me that the reformers don’t understand the issue…trust me, the leadership does.

 

The newly elected SBC president is already apologizing for  Vice President Pence’s appearance at the conference…“I know that sent a terribly mixed signal. We are grateful for civic leaders who want to speak to our Convention—but make no mistake about it, our identity is in the gospel and our unity is in the Great Commission. Commissioned missionaries, not political platforms, are what we do.” Partisan politics and the gay rights agenda are crippling the church…kudos to the SBC for ignoring the latter…

I wonder if Pence is going to affirm the excellent resolution on immigration that the SBC passed? Thank you, SBC…

The United States Catholic bishops are also convening this week…and they made a strong statement regarding immigration reform also…thank you to them as well.

For some of us this is as much of a moral issue as abortion…and thus should be addressed with the same vigor.

I’ve been meaning to get to this for a while now…what would you have said to this little boy?

Jun 122018
 

Richie Furay back on the road…

Gender roles are not essentials…

The restless, raging, fury they call the love of God…

Did God the Father turn His face away from Jesus?

Federal judge sanctions GFA…

Five things egalitarians believe…

Measuring our greatest achievements…

The Trinity, the image of God, and how women have been left out of the picture…

Twitter CEO chewed out for eating at Chick-Fil-A

What do black evangelicals think of the Masterpiece Bakery case?

Charisma rag mag divided on Duplantis jet… nay, yea

Christ centered theology of trauma…

Five reasons we sing in Christian worship…

Will covetous believers go to heaven?

Is it time to bury the term “evangelical?”

Georgia church expelled from the SBC over racism…

The seven deadly sins of insecure people…

Solzhenitsyn’s prophecy…

Mending mens ministry…

Sexual struggles and the Great Commission…

A better kind of love…

A rhetoric of love…

Our God: the God of failures…

Prayers and protests: The SBC in a #metoo world…

Fauxnerability in the church…

The ecclesiology of wells…

Love hurts…

Huge thanks to EricL for the link help…support him at top right…

Jun 112018
 

1. The Dallas Star Telegram is reporting an estimated attendance of 35,000 for yesterdays Greg Laurie crusade, down from the almost 100,000 it pulled two years ago. I’m not sure what this means, if anything, but I suspect the days of this kind of event are passing away…

 

2. I didn’t watch the crusade,but did note that it was preceded that morning by a visit by Laurie to an SBC church and some reporters positioned it as preceding the SBC conference. It looks like Calvary Chapel is in Laurie’s rear view mirror…

3. Robert De Niro dropped an F bomb on Trump at an awards ceremony last night. While I appreciate the sentiment, such is utterly counter productive and simply reinforces hate on both sides…

4. If the only way to read the Bible was with a “literal” hermeneutic, I’d be an agnostic…

5. Being the cheery sort of fellow that I am, I’m listening to a (very) lengthy audiobook biography of Adolf Hitler. The author notes more than once that it seems uncanny how many times Hitler escaped death before he rose to prominence…almost supernatural. I have no idea what the hell to do with that…

6. Lebron James coming out wearing a cast after the sweep was a really bad optic. That’s a sentence that wouldn’t have passed an editors eraser ten years ago…

7. How do you decide what is “normative” in Scripture? …

8. Sunshine is the best anti-depressant…

9. I’ll keep saying this, (not to be a wet blanket but to ground people in reality)…when the Paige Patterson furor dies down and this convention is over, the SBC will be fundamentally unchanged. Nothing changes in an institution until you change the structure itself…

10. “Yes, immigration is a tricky issue…but using the separation of families as a threat and a tool is not. We can (and must) do better” Ed Stetzer…and me…

Jun 112018
 

Bad Days and Heresy

One of the best existential, proto-theological books to come out of the 1970s was written specifically for… seven year olds.  It was entitled, Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.  You see, Alexander is a young man for whom, on a particular day, everything goes wrong.

 

 

“I went to sleep with gum in my mouth and now there’s gum in my hair and when I got out of bed this morning I tripped on the skateboard and by mistake I dropped my sweater in the sink while the water was running and I could tell it was going to be a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.”

After a terrible day at school, a horrible visit with the dentist, ands a no good stop at the shoe store, Alexander slumps in his chair at the supper table.  His troubles continue.

“There were lima beans for dinner and I hate lima beans.  There was kissing on TV and I hate kissing. My bath was too hot, I got soap in my eyes, my marble went down the drain, and I had to wear my railroad-train pajamas.  I hate my railroad-train pajamas. When I went to bed my brother Nick took back the pillow he said I could keep and the Mickey Mouse night light burned out and I bit my tongue. And the cat wants to sleep with my stupid brother Anthony, not with me.

It has been a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.”

Now, I suspect that we have all had days like that.  Maybe not quite so terrible, horrible, no good and very bad as Alexander’s, but we know what he is talking about.

My particular problem is that, as a theologian, bad days of that sort tend to turn me towards heresy.  You see, I become convinced in the midst of such a bad day of the reality of evil.  I go one step further, however, and I convince myself that there is some sort of conspiracy of evil directed against me, personified by the Devil and represented in the materialism, selfishness, corruption and self-destructiveness of everyday life.  Like a cloistered medieval monk, unconvinced of the goodness of God, I envision a pessimistic, dualist construct of the world as the scene of an eternal struggle between good and evil.

Now, it may seem to you that this is not an altogether unrealistic representation of the way things are, especially as we consider both Church and State in 2018.  Pushed too far, however, such a theology can result in a heretical Manichean doctrine of the existence of two gods – a god of light and a god of darkness.  Suddenly the Devil is not a fallen angel, he is an anti-God, slugging it out perpetually with Christ, the good god.  Suddenly, evil is not a perversion of God’s good creation or a falling away from His original intent or an act of outright rebellion against God but, rather, it is “anti-matter”, a stain of darkness that covers the world and blocks out the sun.  Now, before we make light of the attraction of such a vision, perhaps it would be well for us to remember that a number of Church Fathers, including Augustine of Hippo, were attracted by such an idea for at least some part of their careers.

When I become submerged in such a heretical vision I begin to believe that the only escape is by finding delight in the small flowers that I find growing in the undergrowth of the darkness of a frightening forest.  These are the small things that make me “feel good” – my favorite music, a walk in the country, the power of a painting, the escape of a well written book. Being thus encouraged, I once again go out to do battle and slay the dragons that I know lie in wait.  Yet, might I suggest that all of this misses the point of what we as Christian should believe concerning the goodness of God and the Incarnation of Christ.

You see, it is to those of us who have been driven to the edge of a heretical vision of life and the cosmos, that Christ comes, changing our vision of all that He encompasses in his Incarnation.

Behold my servant… I have put my Spirit upon Him… He will not cry or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street; a bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench… He will not fail or be discouraged… I am the Lord… I have taken you by the hand and kept you… New things I now declare.

Looking forward in time the prophet tells us that God will do something remarkable, that He himself will appear among us and that because of this all life – yours, mine, the life of the whole world – will be changed. It is, in fact, the coming of Christ among us that the prophet foretells.

We catch glimpses of this changed world in the birth in Bethlehem.  We catch glimpses on the banks of the Jordan River, where the promise of the coming of this servant is made real – “This is my beloved Son”.  Because of the Incarnation, because he sees God with us, sharing our humanity in the person of Jesus, the Messiah, the

Christ, John the Baptist knows that a new day has dawned, a new age has begun. The voice from heaven tells him, and all of us, that whatever may happen in the future, it has all changed, for God is among us.

The battle between light and darkness no longer rages outside our doorstep. The battle is already won – not by the might of spiritual armies or secular politics, but by the great and awesome mystery that God has dwelt among us, that our lives are caught up in His life.

We find ourselves now to be sculptors like Michelangelo, not seeking to create a statue of our own devising but, rather, extracting from the stone the finished sculpture that already lies hidden within.  We are like Mozart, not laboriously putting pen to paper as Salieri, constantly revising notes and orchestrations to our liking, but, rather, we hear the music that surrounds us and we quickly set it down that others may know the joy of it.  We are in Narnia, the mythical land of C.S. Lewis, but it is not the Narnia of the white witch where it is always winter and Christmas never comes – no, Aslan, the son of the Emperor From Beyond the Sea, has come among us and the signs of Spring are everywhere and the more that we notice them the more that they appear around us.  By Christ coming among us our warfare is ended.  Evil is conquered.  Joy is come to us despite the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad days which we all know.

Yet, for many of us, this vision, this truth, remains hidden away in a small corner of our lives, simply waiting to be found.  Often, however, we find this hidden theological treasure in circumstances which are unexpected.  

It happened to me.  

Over twenty years ago this summer, I sat alone during the night by the bedside of my father in the intensive care unit of a mid-western hospital.  A progressive cancer which had sapped his strength and will for over a year was now it its final stages.  My father was dying and had now, mercifully, lapsed into unconsciousness.  The low rhythm of the machine sustaining his breathing masked the other sounds of the night.  The dim green glow of his monitor provided the only illumination.  I sat, helpless, with his hand in mine, hoping for some response, or a miracle, or, perhaps, just the opportunity to tell him what I had so often not said… that I loved him.  The frustration, the sense of wasted years, the pain of a fallen world began to overwhelm me in the silence and darkness of that place. Then it happened. As I felt his hand in mine, the reality that God had come among us transfixed me.  I can’t explain it, others have experienced it, but the curtain of darkness slipped away and I was “surprised by joy”. Suddenly, it was all so clear.  Because Christ took upon Himself true humanity, our lives, and yes, our deaths, were not locked in the fatal embrace of some unending conflict.  The hand that I held in mine, the flesh that pressed against my flesh, had been transformed by the Incarnation and made one with Christ because it shared in His Life, His Death and His Resurrection.

My father died the next day, but in the midst of the sorrow and the grief, I felt my life transformed by a moment of theological revelation.  I discovered that in our distress and in our joy, in our bad days and in our times of delight, because Christ has come among us, all has been transformed and the words of the prophet are not merely poetry, but truth… “I am the Lord, I have called you… I have taken you by the hand and kept you.”  

Duane W.H. Arnold, PhD

The Project