Category: Culture

Traditions, Tombs and Tomes

There’s a great ongoing debate on the value and propriety of preserving selective manmade reminders of our national heritage. In a diverse society such as our own, there are bound to be some major differences of opinion on this subject – so whose opinion should win out? Should the offended segment of our society always rule the day – in the name of assuring total peace and harmony within our ranks? I’m convinced that every statue, monument or symbol that instills pride in one segment of society is going to be hurtful and distasteful to another segment. Some argue that there is intrinsic value in the preservation of every tradition, tomb and tome – if for no other reason than to learn from mankind’s past – both the good and the evil.

This is not a new debate confined to American history. It’s one that’s been going on from time immemorial. But the practice of seeking out and preserving the relics of by-gone eras that provide us with snapshots of where we have come from as a species, is actually fairly new in earth-time. In fact, the father of archaeological excavation was William Cunnington (1754–1810). In ancient times it was common practice for a conquering people to destroy all religious and political symbols of the conquered – so as to demoralize and control them. Also, in past centuries, the primary concern was survival, not intellectual understanding or moral maturity – so historical markers were often destroyed – new civilizations were built on top of older decaying ones, re-using whatever retrieved materials could be salvaged for the new construction.

Even in modern times a former American President seemed to discount the importance of the symbols of our heritage. In the heat of his first campaign, he constantly criticized his opponent’s supporters as “bitter clingers.” He saw them as stubbornly clinging to their traditions, clinging to their patriotism, clinging to the symbols that adorn their public buildings, monuments and money, clinging to the Constitution and the rule of law, clinging to their Christian faith and its demands on their private and public lives, and clinging to the principle of American exceptionalism which justifies every person’s right to life, liberty and happiness.

While it may seem that this characteristic of “clinging” to our traditions and our past is more typical of modern social and religious conservatives, I believe that it’s innate to every culture to search out the relics, objects and symbols of by-gone eras that define humanity’s history. A desire to understand and retain a part of one’s past does not presume adherence to or agreement with the creed represented by the objects our predecessors created. That’s why even non-believing explorers enter remote and dangerous terrain, from ice-covered Mount Ararat to the arid deserts and militarized zones of the Middle East, Africa and Asia seeking the “lost” articles referenced in ancient “Sacred” documents. That’s why societies build churches, temples and shrines over the supposed sites of significance, like the grave of Christ, or where Jacob wrestled with the Angel of the Lord or where Mohammed received a message from his god. That’s why some encapsulate and venerate artifacts and relics of supposed holy men and women and why artists of every era and culture have sculptured marble statues of their “saints” and enshrined them within their local worship centers or captured their likenesses in paintings and in stained glass. And that’s why even those humans less “spiritual” over the ages have bonded with and sought to honor their nationalistic and ethnic heroes by erecting museums and statues and set aside monuments and battle sites for future generations to study and appreciate those who came before them and their values and belief systems.

But every age also has some misguided souls who, in the name of political or social or religious correctness attempt to erase from history the evidence of our past. Fortunately most of the world stands up and puts a damper on such destructive efforts when they occur. At the beginning of the new Millennium the world was outraged when the Taliban (Islamic fundamentalists) blew up two giant 1700 year-old statues of Buddha at the foot of the Hindu Kush mountains of central Afghanistan and destroyed all Buddha statues in the Kabul Museum. And fourteen years later there was similar outrage when the Islamic State began to destroy and steal much of the cultural heritage of Iraq, Syria, and Libya, including Christian, Hindu and other places of worship and historical artifacts. And when in “civilized” North America, a PC culture at the highest levels of government, educational institutions and the media sought to erase all memory of many of the early explorers of the New World, of others who tamed the West, and of course, the leaders of the former Confederacy, men and women on both sides of the political spectrum rose up to limit the damage that others sought to impose. Mankind as a species seems to understand that preservation of its history in no way constitutes universal agreement with our ancestors’ politics, mores or religions.

Since at least the 18th Century, some of the most influential people of their time have taken pride in and used their personal and governmental resources to preserve these memories for future generations. While it may be human nature to value and protect a civilization’s traditions, tombs and tomes – is it always appropriate? Traditions, symbols, places where historical events occurred, articles used in those events, and written discussions of the same, all take their value from the object of their focus

As a Christian, my first instinct is to search God’s written Word for guidance on this topic.  And I find that God’s people were encouraged, sometimes even directed to memorialize events that typified His divine intervention in their world. Moses and his sister memorialized in song God’s defense of the Israelites at the crossing of the Red Sea. Forty years later when their children crossed the Jordon on dry ground opposite Jericho, Joshua directed each of the leaders of the twelve tribes to carry a large stone from the middle of the Jordon, and to transport a corresponding 12 large stones from the Promised Land and pile them in the middle of the crossing point as a memorial to God’s power and faithfulness to His promises. Samuel, Jacob, and other men of God established pillars and anointed them as reminders of situations in which God intervened on behalf of His people. Furthermore, God sanctioned the celebration of festivals and various accompanying traditions as constant reminders of His work in His people’s lives. And of course the celebration of communion was established by the Son of God to be performed frequently by His people in remembrance of our Lord’s shed Body and Blood for their salvation.

I’m convinced though that some evidence of past Truth is lost or hidden forever – specifically to test mankind’s willingness to accept and believe in God’s love, grace and mercy toward His primary creation. I appreciate the efforts that so many archaeologists of every faith put into a constant search for such “lost” evidence of God’s intervention in men’s lives, or in trying to prove what may be unprovable. But I wonder if the discovery of Noah’s ark or other such sought after relics of history would actually advance Judeo-Christianity in the eyes of the world, or lead souls into the Kingdom of God. I think the Bible is clear that memorials sanctioned by The Almighty are intended to increase the faith of the People of God, not to draw unbelievers into the Kingdom.

In one of our Lord’s stories, Jesus told of an unrighteous rich man who found himself in an after-life of torment in Hades. Realizing he could no longer change his own plight, he sought to save his living brothers from a similar destiny. He begged Father Abraham to send Lazarus back from Paradise to warn his brothers. The Patriarch explained that the rich man’s living brothers had the writings of Moses and the Prophets; that if they didn’t pay attention to the sacred words, not even a person sent back from the dead would be sufficient to convince them to change their lifestyles. We see this principle demonstrated in the last hours of Jesus’ life, as the very people who had witnessed miracle after miracle performed by Jesus, still joined in the chant “crucify Him.” If a witnessed miracle does not change a hardened heart, neither will any statue or monument or church building or relic of a saint.

No! Traditions, Tombs and Tomes don’t “prove” anything to the man or woman who has no interest in pursuing and knowing Truth – whether that’s religious truth, social justice truth, or whatever. Still, all memorabilia have some value to both the adherent of the principles that it represents and to all who seek to understand his/her past. On the other hand spiritual memorabilia are specifically for the comfort of the believer and follower – to provide a firm foundation, to cement their confidence and to provide that assurance of the revelation they’ve already received and in the One they already Love and in Whom they already have expressed their faith.

Neither Conservatism nor Liberalism is a Virtue

 

How would you describe Western conservatism and liberalism to a visitor from another planet? Some would designate each a political mindset, others a social and/or fiscal construct, and still others a belief system guided by which personal decisions will or will not be tolerated by proponents of the brand. But it only takes a brief review of social and mainstream media to conclude that the core of each category’s adherents consider their particular brand a virtue, and subsequently designate their opposite as evil incarnate.

But a virtue is a condition of the heart that finds expression in behavior showing high moral standards: generosity, modesty, courage, humility, integrity, loyalty, and dignity to name a few. While some adherents of conservatism and liberalism may exhibit one or more of these traits, few if any can claim a lock on all. Still, we citizens of Western culture choose to assign ourselves to either the Conservative or the Liberal brand, then disparage the alternate brand. And those who opt for the brand of “Moderate,” both consider lacking in conviction.

Why do we put ourselves and others into these convenient boxes based on our biased observations and judgments of the other’s behavior, their spoken words and their perceived attitudes? People and their choices are not that simple and the cultural and/or political brand they identify with, (whether conservative, liberal, or even moderate) unlike every virtue which is well characterized and exemplified in Holy Scripture, varies in the mind of the definer.

Open Letter to Pastors Everywhere

Dear Pastor:

It’s wonderful that many of our local churches are so youth and child focused – for indeed the future is our younger generations. But when a creative director’s histrionics are traded for spiritual substance, when technological gimmickry become the primary means to generate (or fabricate) that “feeling” of the Holy Spirit’s presence, and when panel discussions replace well-researched and anointed messages from the Pastor, you have reason to question whether something has gone seriously awry. One has to wonder if leadership is aware or even cares that wedges are being driven between Gen-Z’s and their elders who gave/give so much to lay the foundation that others seem intent on fracturing. If it’s the latter, only one thing remains to be answered: will they continue to drive out the seasoned citizen or simply wait to bury us as, one-by-one, we succumb to the adverse effects of theatrical fog and mist? Does leadership even give a wit about our health and welfare, much less our concerns about the spiritual state of the Body?

A 21st Century Tower of Babel

The city of Strasbourg (France) is the official seat of the European Parliament. Ever since its completion in December 1999, the main tower structure, called the “Louise Weiss” building has raised eyebrows and questions. Its promoters describe its peculiar appearance as reflective of the “unfinished nature of Europe.” It was intentionally designed to look like the Pieter Brueghel 1563 painting entitled “The Tower of Babel.” The ancient tower which theologians recognize as the unfinished work of Nimrod, who was building a tower to defy God, is an interesting source of inspiration for a modern democratic institution. 

The professed intention of Strasbourg building’s lead designer was that the EU Parliament would complete the original goals of these ancient peoples. I challenge those history buffs among you to research the proposed official poster promoting the Parliament Building. The poster was eventually banned due to protests by numerous groups, but it clearly reveals the mindset of the builders. The poster showed the people of Europe rebuilding a replica of the tower in Pieter Brueghel’s painting. At the very top of the poster were reversed pentagrams (upside down stars.) And the poster’s slogan was: “Europe: Many Tongues One Voice,” inferring that the activity of Parliament would reverse God’s punishment for the idolatry and arrogance of the people of the world. 

Even those of you who see this as a silly religious conspiracy theory must admit that the inspiration behind the Louise Weiss building oddly seems to align with the esoteric beliefs of the world elite and their fractured understanding of ancient scriptures. Just one more thing to think about in the light of recent world events.

The Focus of all human existence is Jesus Christ

Within mere moments of mankind’s fall from grace and our exile from the Garden, we received the promise of redemption and restoration. The third chapter of the Book of Beginnings guarantees that the heel of Adam’s seed would indeed crush the head of the serpent that led them astray.

And for the next four millennia, godly judges, patriarchs, prophets and kings were sent to direct the focus of every seeker of truth to the coming Messiah. Yet not every man and woman on earth elected to seek to understand and establish a relationship with their Creator. Many preferred the camp of the deceiver, and his promise to fulfill every lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes and the pride of life.

Even when Jesus Christ appeared at the apex of human history, putting a face on our God, many, influenced by the theologians of the time, closed their eyes and ears to His acts, words and works that proved Him to be the expected Savior. Now as time winds down, the deniars and the rejecters vastly out-number those who align themselves with the triune God of the Bible.

All this demonstrates is that for all of history, the focus of human existence has been Jesus Christ. No other Name has drawn and continues to draw such pervasive love and such vicious hate from every corner of the earth. Those who deny His and His Father’s authority, teachings, doctrine and existence go to extremes to try to destroy and denigrate those who honor and serve Him. Yet one day ALL will bend their knees to that Name which is above every name, and all on earth, under the earth and in the heavens will proclaim Jesus is Lord.

Millennials and the Church

We’ve come a long way since President John Fitzgerald Kennedy’s 1961 Inaugural Address, and its most-oft-quoted phrase, “Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.” This was not merely a clever quip for the day – it reflected the mindset of most Americans of that era, and remains so for most of us over age 65. Unfortunately that’s no longer the case for many of our post-baby-boomer generation citizens, whose attitudes tend toward the center of self. So we find even a majority of so-called Christians negotiating with pastors and priests, “If you want me to become or remain a part of your congregation, show me what’s in it for me?” And the response is more often than not a scrambling around of elder boards to present the most feel-good messages and feel-good programs presented in feel-good ways so as to fill the pews and coffers.

A literary preoccupation with each of the younger generations’ supposed unique needs, desires and expectations is just a symptom of the bigger problem – which extends well beyond any specific generation. Still, each of these blogs, magazine and newspaper articles analyzing millennials, iGens, Gen Z’s and Centennials help to focus the real issue. While many of these authors have an excellent insight into the mindset of each of these young people groups; their understanding of “the Church” is grossly lacking.

Most of these well-meaning writers see “the Church” as nothing more than a social, charitable or service organization created to meet individual and societal needs (be they spiritual or otherwise), much like the Fraternal Order of Elks, the Knights of Columbus, or the Red Cross. They miss the point entirely that “the Church” is a living organism with divinely appointed missions. Its founder (and present Head), Jesus described her as “the Body of Christ.” The Head and the Body are intended to have a love relationship akin to that between a husband (Christ) and a wife (the Church). And “the Church” is delegated to perform all the same things and more that Jesus performed when He walked the earth. Every member of the Body, be they leaders, millennials, or members of any other generation has a significant part in this – with no one of more or less value.

Since Christ’s love and faithfulness to the Church (and each of its individual body parts) will never end, there is no excuse for members of the Body to abandon “the Church.” Now if we’re talking about a member of the Body relocating to a more appropriate “local church family” – well, that’s a different story. For every church family has a unique personality and mission and the Holy Spirit will guide a listening and responsive individual (and his or her family) to the one that will best prepare them to serve and that will make the best use of their gifts. But any abandonment of the Body of Christ by a member, or even a relocation to another local church that is not God-directed is likely made out of an attitude of self-centeredness and rebellion.

Although it’s valuable for local churches and church denominations to periodically evaluate if they are meeting the needs of those in the communities in which they reside, and that they are using the talents of all the members of their congregations as God intended; I think it’s just as important for persons of every generation to perform some personal introspection to make sure they are putting Christ and His Body above their own selfish desires. Politicians and social engineers have a bad habit of trying to segregate people into groups, be they racially, ethnically, financially or generationally oriented – and pitting one group’s needs and interests against another; but “the Church” should do everything it can to avoid being drawn into such conflicts. We are called to be united in our service to God and to each other and in our spiritual destiny.

It’s time that members of every generation begin to recognize that they are “the Church,” the Body of Christ and stop undervaluing themselves, their destiny and their purpose to serve God and His people. Even those individuals and people groups (defined by race, generation, social status or education level) who may sometimes feel marginalized and not served by the ecclesia, need to “gut it out” if necessary – because the mission of reaching an unsaved and broken world is too important, and the time is too short.

Understanding an unbeliever’s unbelief

Most true followers of Christ are so confident and self-assured in their faith and trust in the message of the Gospel, that they have a difficult time understanding how another person could reject that message.

The believer looks at the complexity and beauty and majesty of the world about us and we declare the obvious, that it’s the creation of God. Then the Bible again and again affirms that conclusion, stating unambiguously that “men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness,” are clearly “without excuse;” because “what may be known of God is manifest in them; for God has shown it to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead.”

We shake our heads and throw our hands up in frustration as six billion residents of this earth somehow fail to see things as clearly as we do. And we wonder why. But last week, in the midst of a sermon on the Magi’s following of the Christmas star, my Pastor stated a principle of truth, which in its simplicity, provides an explanation for every unbelievers’ unbelief. “If you don’t know what you’re looking for, you won’t know what you’re looking at.”

2000 years ago every Jewish man and woman living in the “Promised Land”, whether religious leader, political bigwig, simple carpenter, farmer, fisherman, tax collector or housewife, each Sabbath attended synagogue and should have had a good familiarity with the Scriptures that they heard recited and discussed. They all should have been looking for the foretold signals of their Messiah’s Coming. But even the “Chosen People” let their family lives, their daily needs and worries, their know-it-all attitudes of religious superiority, their desires for power, wealth, comfort or prestige distract them.

In contrast, a few men from a distant land with a yen to understand the universe about them, were drawn to investigate this new star that suddenly appeared in the heavens. I imagine when they first noticed the unusual star, it was their curiosity and thirst for knowledge that drove them to research its source and meaning and purpose. And at some point they concluded it was a sign from God that they had to pursue.

As 2016 draws to an end, signs of God’s glory are all around us; as are the coming to pass of events long ago prophesied, and the unveiling of each person’s purpose on this earth. Those who know what they are looking for, recognize what they are looking at. Whereas those who choose to turn a blind eye to the truth set before them, will never recognize the significance of what they’re looking at.

The unbeliever is in a real pickle, as he’s imprisoned within walls of unbelief that he personally constructed. The only thing that will break down those prison walls is that first humble step of acknowledgement that “I don’t know everything; I want to know the truth; show me.” And only the unbeliever can, of his own free will, take that step. Scriptures say: “Seek and you will find;” but most out of pride will neither read the Book which contains that promise nor acknowledge its Author.

Complaining about a depraved culture solves nothing

People use social media for a variety of purposes, from sharing family adventures, to selling products and ideas, to venting about politics and social issues. While each person has the freedom to do whatever they like with their personal FaceBook page, sometimes we need to be reminded that there’s a better way. One of the foolish things I see much too often are posts complaining about liberal bias in the media, our leftish education system, the depravity of society, you name it. Crying about unfairness or bad behavior solves nothing. I know, because I’ve been just as guilty in this regard as the next person.

I think the majority feels frustrated with the moral decline we witness every day, and our apparent ineffectiveness to slow it down, much less turn it around. Most of us have children and grandchildren and we have nightmares of them wending their way through the garbage pit that our post-modern culture is spewing out – so we cry foul – perhaps hoping some warrior will step forward to their and our rescue. But it ain’t gonna happen that way folks!

Each one of us has a part to play in the rescue of our culture and our kin. In spite of scriptural warnings that the world would “wax worse and worse,” my generation never anticipated how morally corrupt our society would become, and so soon – so we didn’t adequately prepare our offspring. Now we’re in catch-up mode. Fortunately, at the same time as we face a daily attack on our traditions and morals, God has raised up a number of wise men and women to help us. So we have at our technological fingertips a number of tools to combat those attacks and to prepare our young folks for the challenges they’re going to face as they proceed through each phase of their growth and education, into adulthood.

As a starter, let me recommend an article by Stand to Reason’s student impact director, Brett Kunkle entitled A Practical Plan to Equip the Next Generation. It’s at: http://www.str.org/publications/a-practical-plan-to-equip-the-next-generation-solid-ground-may-2016#.VzSrNfkrL7A

 As Kunkle explains in his intro, growing up in a Christian home, a family committed to the local church, coming to Christ at five and baptized at six, the model teenage youth group kid, a student leader and a ministry intern, even committing his life to full-time vocational ministry before graduating – none of this prepared him for the serious intellectual challenges awaiting him or the barrage of moral challenges from an increasingly secular culture. His freshman college Philosophy 101 instructor systematically dismantled the Christianity he grew up with, in class and in front of everyone. And sadly that’s the story for the majority of our Christian kids and explains why the Church continues to hemorrhage its youth out the doors once they experience the outside world.

So stop the complaining and start doing whatever is necessary to prepare your kids and grandkids and other people’s kids to defeat the enemy’s advances on their minds and spirits. Stop sulking about your own mistakes and failures – learn from those mistakes and share them honestly with the ones you most love. If you of the older generation blew it with your own kids, turn them over to God; then start anew with your grandkids – study and share what you learn. It’s never too late to turn things around.

How Credible is the Prophetic Today?

Tattered US Flag   How do you feel about the operation of the prophetic in the Church today? As a Biblical ministry I accept it; but I tend to be a bit more skeptical when I hear someone claim they’ve received a divine word foretelling a specific future event. Such was my attitude when a former co-worker friend emailed me an audio interview by a Christian website of a previously unknown “prophet” concerning a purported five-year-old revelation about the 2016 Election. While I felt I owed it to my friend to at least listen to the premise of the prophesy, I expected to reject it well before its conclusion. Instead, at about the fifteen minute mark of the interview, I was reminded of a “vision” that a church friend of mine claimed he received while attending a 1997 Promise Keepers conference on the National Mall in Washington D.C.

I heard my church friend describe his ’97 experience first in 2008 and a few times thereafter. In this “vision” (a term I use loosely) he described being transported into the spirit realm where the hubbub of the thousands of men around him was briefly blocked out so he could clearly hear the audible voice of God. And that voice said, in essence: “I have not forgotten the United States, neither its missionary works nor its global generosity. For this reason America’s best days are yet ahead.” As America’s economy, morality and global influence have steadily declined over the past decade, my propensity to accept such an incredible word as divine revelation has followed a similar path. Many times I’ve asked myself, “How could America’s best days ever be ahead? If anything, the signs seem to indicate that judgment of our nation is at hand.”

 Yet, as I listened to this ten-year-medically-homebound and previously unknown retired firefighter named Mark Taylor discuss with TRU News founder Rick Wiles the 2011 “revelation,” I sensed that God was connecting the dots between the various messages He’s been revealing to His people across this great nation – to give us hope in very trying times.  I encourage you to make the effort to listen with an open mind to at least the first half of this hour-long interview. https://youtu.be/tqwFWD_Htfo

As I reminded some FaceBook friends a couple days ago, I’m sure that the people of Israel were similarly skeptical when advised that the most likely candidates to be used by God for their nation’s restoration at their respective times in history were the worldly King Cyrus or the loud and boisterous King Nebuchadnezzar. And yet!!!

Let NO Offense determine YOUR Attitude

   One who is offended by another’s assessment of their life choices indicates a degree of insecurity in those choices. In contrast, anyone who is truly confident in their choices and beliefs, their conscience will insulate from even the harshest of words. A snapshot of my life reveals a series of career and life choices that many in modern culture, the media and even my old circle of friends today publicly revile: lawyer, government employee, executive in the military-industrial complex, political and social conservative and Christian. I’ve been unfriended occasionally on social media, but have never unfriended anyone. I feel that every individual deserves respect and a fair hearing on their beliefs, if they choose to share them.

But we live in a society that’s much different than the one I knew as a child and young man. My home was a safe place – but the outside world (my neighborhood, my school, my places of employment) all were jungles that I had to learn to deal with or be labeled a mama’s boy. Today society tries to over-protect young people (with the odd exception of the most innocent of all, the unborn child), and demands the creation of “safe zones,” castigating anyone who violates those zones. The result: a society of new entrants into the adult population easily offended and unable to deal with even the most basic of challenges that life will inevitably throw their way.

This is evidenced every day across social media. The adult world is not as nurturing as the one that protected these young people in the classroom, so when they freely express their views about life in the public domain, expecting others will agree with them, they get a rude awakening. Few know how to respectfully respond to those who hold contrary opinions nor how to deal with even the most modest critiques of their own life choices and beliefs.

Whatever a person’s beliefs and choices, if sincerely held, there’s no reason to be offended by another who professes a contrary opinion, and there’s no need to justify yours to them – though plenty of valid reasons to explain them.