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Millennial addiction II

In the first article by the same name, I elucidated some of the psychological factors contributing to millennial addiction.  My goal, then, for this article, is to show how Scripture can re-orient the addict.

As with all addictions, the addict needs to ‘bottom out’.  That is, the addict has to come to an end of themselves.  The mania and fervor that was fueled but anxious prophecies of a world coming to its end have to fizzle out in the mind of the ‘true believer’.  Until this happens, you cannot speak reasonably to such an addict.  In the martial art of Aikido, the defender continues the movement of the attacker while moving out of the way.  They lead the aggressor deeper into their aggression and the aggressor feels the consequences of that aggression.

If you follow and lead the addict deeper into their mania, you might be able to show them the depth of their irrationality.  I am not sure if this course of action will yield the ‘bottoming out’ that loved ones seek for the addict.

Truly, the addict needs an intervention.

That is just why Jesus came.

In every instance where Paul or any of the other apostles write about ‘the End’, it is to encourage congregations who were undergoing the most violent forms of persecution.  To talk about the end is really to talk about the beginning of a new and better life.  Even the terrifying images seen in the book of Revelation are not ‘ends’ in themselves, but they point to the vicious attacks by Satan and his minions which are overcome by Jesus Christ in His victory.

As my friend Rev. Garry Seefeldt once stated, “[in the end] Jesus wins!”  If there is any good news in the millennial madness message, it is that!

Additionally, like ancient Israel who was reminded of the great works of God on their behalf in the escape from Egypt (read the Psalms which refer to this), we are to be reminded not of the future, but of the past.  The past is ground zero for God’s intervention.

That intervention was the cross of Jesus Christ.  The Son of God will come to judge the living and the dead.  That is a sobering truth.  However, that same future judge was judged on the cross of crucifixion for all of your sin.  God the Father was pleased to crush Him.

The judgement you deserve has been given over to another before you were born.  Jesus Christ is your justification before God.

So, when someone attempts to make an emotional appeal calling for your repentance, you can simple point to the cross and say “Jesus is my repentance, He who knew no sin became sin on my behalf”.

Additionally, these emotional appeals are attempts to throw a person off balance.  The disturbed conscience will look to the same person for relief.  Unfortunately, this is rarely a true repentance.  True repentance is the fruit of one hearing God’s word, correctly divided by Law (God’s demands and expectations) and Gospel (God’s free forgiveness given through Jesus Christ), born out of faith.  Emotional appeals are simply efforts at emotional manipulation.  Only God’s Word, rightly proclaimed can set the prisoners free.

Matthew 24:36 states:

‘But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.’

And, Jesus tells us not to worry,

“Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” – Matt. 6:34

John writes,

28I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. 30I and the Father are one.” -John 10

Look backward my friends.  Don’t get caught up in the hysteria of the hysterical, the mania of maniacs or the fanaticism of fanatics.  They are ever looking forward to a day of destruction.  We can look back and say that day of destruction came at the cross where Christ DEFEATED sin, death and the devil.

Rest in the total, complete forgiveness given to you through Jesus’ death.  Rest in the true goodness earned for you as a robe which He placed on you in His resurrection.  Rest in these words spoken by Jesus at the cross, IT IS FINISHED!  No one can snatch you out of those nail-pierced hands.  Jesus says to you now, “I got you!”

Now, may the peace of God which transcends all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord,

Amen

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The millennial addiction

Have you been reading about this prediction that September 23rd will be the end?  So many people have jumped on board this bus that I saw a sign hanging over the freeway this afternoon telling me “Jesus is coming soon”.

Rather than analyze the veracity of the prophetic message, I have become curious about why people so easily fall for end-times date setting.

When I look at the people who fanatically hold to such views, I see the same kind of myopic obsession common to addicts.  The hidden message they received gives them a feeling similar to a ‘high’, since they are the ones who ‘get it’.  They feel that they are a member of a select group who has figured out what no one in human history has gotten right before.

And, they are out to ‘evangelize’ you.

Of course, this is nothing new to Americans.  Since our inception, we have been a nation of ‘outsiders’ who ‘got it’ when no one else did.  Zeal is the hallmark of the American spirit, even if it is without knowledge.

This is why Americans are so susceptible to Revivalism.  They get caught up in the emotional arguments and never think to evaluate them critically.  They behave like lemmings when it comes to apocalyptic prophecy.

The use of hyperbole in these adventures in apocalypse fuels the imagination and generates alarm in the hearers.  The resulting behavior is called ‘alarmism’; it can also be called hysteria.

And, hysteria causes certain processes to ignite in the brain.  The hormones get involved.  The heart starts racing in both panic and excitement.  The stimulative effect acts as a ‘high’ to the participant.

That participant is known as a fanatic.  This type of person will not listen to counter-arguments which may undermine their doctrine.  They are caught up in the fervor and try to catch up other people in the same fervor they are experiencing.

The reptilian brain has been awakened, and they don’t want it to go back to sleep.

So, it doesn’t matter if September 23rd is really ‘The End’.  These followers will simply glide over to the next date-setting event, citing the tragic news in the newspapers and fanatically proclaim that ‘something’ is going to happen.

To the participant, it is good news, no matter how irrational it appears to others.  The last thing they want is for you to burst their bubble.

What they really want is to continue as End-times addicts.  They need to score the next hit, so they can continue to experience the high of being an ‘insider’.

Lord, have mercy.

Taking back the reins

reins… fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.  – Hebrews 12:2 (NASB)

Jesus has many titles.  Among them are Savior, Son of God, Son of Man, and Redeemer.  Those titles which imply rescue are deeply valued by those who recognize their need.

Yet, Jesus is also called author and perfecter.  These titles link Jesus as the Son of God to His role as Creator.  What is interesting here is the titles are not in relation to physical creation, but the creation and perfection of faith.

The statement in Hebrews is profound.  It means that Jesus didn’t just save a person at some point in their past.  It means that the saving work was just the beginning point of the ongoing work of Jesus in the believer.

Almost every Christian theology I have studied falls apart in light of this.  Why?  Because these theologies maintain that Jesus has saved you, but now it’s your turn to work out this salvation.  Yes, you were saved by grace, but now you are sanctified by your own will and effort.

So, the individual is led to believe that they must ‘take the reins’ of living the Christian life in order to fulfill what God has called them to.  And God has called them to ‘moral living’.  It appears in different forms in different denominations, but the end result is the same; the yoke of law is placed squarely on the individual’s shoulders.

Does this sound familiar?

Gerhard Forde described this as the theology of the Old Adam.  You see, people want to take responsibility for some aspect of their spirituality growth.  They want to be in charge of something.  Passivity is bad, activity is good.  Yet, that’s not how you received Christ.  And Paul writes, ‘Just as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him’ (Colossians 2:6).

Instead, the Old Adam wants to take back the reins.  He wants to be in charge of his own sanctification.  He wants to defend that part of himself that can do something.

And, by the way, that theology is a great way to control people.  The more moral law you have, the more people act morally.  The key word is act.  So many believe they are ‘pulling it off’ when they have simply traded in their gross sins (drinking, smoking, and womanizing) for internal sins (self-righteousness based on their ‘good behavior’).

Martin Luther (not King Jr.) wrote that Christ had to die, not just for our sin, not just for our good works, but for our best works!  That, even our worship is touched with sin.  Where does that lead you?  Definitely not to the self.  He has removed that safe-haven.

Like Hebrews 12:2, all of this leads you to despair of the self in sanctifying effort.  Christ will receive the glory for both your salvation and the perfecting of your faith.

You are God’s problem.  Since He was able to rescue you from Sin and Death, then He is more than dependable when is comes to the perfection of your faith.  He is faithful to complete the work He has set out to do … in you.

For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus. – Philippians 1:6

Peace and mercy,

Pastor John

 

Under lock and key

padlock     Toward the end of his life, Martin Luther was asked by his friends what they should publish of his works.  He told them that they should throw all of it on the rubbish pile save for two; the Small Catechism and the Bondage of the Will.

     If Luther’s wishes had been followed, the world would have been robbed of the rich treasure that comprise Luther’s music, commentaries and defenses of the Evangelical faith.  Yet, one has to wonder about the two works Luther placed above all of those.

The Bondage of the Will was written as a response in open dialogue with one of the greatest humanist minds, Desiderius Erasmus.  Erasmus argued for the “divine spark” concept in regards to salvation.  Luther argued that man has no free will in regards to salvation and that man has ‘apparent free-will’ in regards to things ‘below him’  So, it is said that Luther’s book “out-Calvins Calvin”.  In other words, Luther’s argument strengthens the concept of Election and irresistible grace, two important components of Reformed Christianity.

The human will is in bondage to sin, and cannot free itself.  However, this bondage takes different forms.  It is not as if people who commit gross sins (immorality) are the only sinners.  Luther asserted that it was those who committed internal sins who were the greater sinners, noting the opposition of the religious elites toward Jesus (some of the Pharisees) as well as their treatment of poor sinners (those who were societal rejects).

And so we come to pastoral practice.  The landscape of American Christianity has an abundance of concerns that are distilled into the preaching on Sunday morning (or, evening or once-a-month).  It is there that you can most clearly understand the doctrine of a church.  It is there that you can hear the approach to theology as well as the application of that theology to the life of Christians.  It’s not just what is said, it is also how it is delivered.

What I find most concerning in American Christianity is the final portion of the sermon.  The pastor has just spent the majority of the sermon explaining a passage of scripture.  He/she has also tried to put it into words that the congregation can relate to.  But, in the end, there are those inevitable ‘applications’.  How are they to be worked out in our lives?

It is actually the moment our flesh looks forward to the most.  The thing we can do.  The thing we can aspire to.  The thing we can evaluate ourselves and others by.  It is where ‘the rubber meets the road’.

A great author of Christian books, R.C. Sproul wrote a book entitled Pleasing God.  Now here is where it gets personal (or ‘bloggy’ if you prefer).  I read this book as I was escaping the theology of Lordship salvation.  R.C. does such a wonderful job giving examples of people in each chapter, then following it up with scriptural points in Law and Gospel.  If he just let the Gospel be the last part of each chapter, the impact on the bound conscience would have been greater.

Unfortunately, he added a few lines at the end of each chapter that were part of the Reformed ‘guilt-grace-gratitude’ model.  In other words, he left you with a little law to follow.

Fortunately, for me, I merely ignored those last few sentences and basked in the light of the clear Gospel clearly proclaimed.  It set me on a new foundation and set me free in Christ.  I never looked back 21 years later.

The binding of Christian conscience is the most damaging aspect of American Christian preaching.  Despite having peerless doctrine, a preacher can undo all of the good work that Christ is working in the lives of His people when the sermon ends with law.

Don’t think that I am picking on R.C. only.  Much worse than that are those who confuse the Law (demands, commands and expectations of God) with Gospel (the purely free and radically alien gift of forgiveness and righteousness earned for you by Christ alone).  I would take a Sproul any day over a John MacArthur.

Binding Christian conscience does not produce righteousness.  It is simply the replacing of ‘impossible demands’ with ‘applicable’ moral and behavioral expectations.  To the troubled conscience this serves to place them under the yoke of slavery they just escaped when you gave them the good news.

It happens in every denomination, every Sunday, everywhere.  Millions of Christians who are not living in the radical freedom and blessing that Christ has won for them.  What  a tragedy!  “If the Son sets you free, you are free indeed!”  But the preaching leads one back to his/her own vomit.  It leads them back to their flesh to be ‘sanctified’.  The karmic cycle of spiritual death is perpetuated, and the Christian is left in burden, fear, anxiety and despair.  The assurance that Hebrews 11:1 is lost.

May God have mercy on us.  May He remind you that you are a new creation in Jesus Christ.  May you recall your baptism where your flesh was drowned and you were resurrected a new woman or a new man.  May God the Father keep you in the Gospel of His son who has already sanctified you.  Any remaining work is His to do.  Jesus Christ, after all, is the ‘author and perfector of [your] faith’.  He is your sanctification, justification, righteousness, living forgiveness and life.  He is the key to unlock your bound heart.

Christ have mercy.

Conflating the two kingdoms

There have been a couple of political “hot potatoes” that have been highlighted in recent weeks.  The first one is the immigration policy of the United States which includes building a border wall.  The second is the status of health care coverage for Americans.

In my home state of California, some have fused legal immigration with illegal immigration.  They have even started programs targeted to helping illegal immigrants.  When two different things are fused together like this, it is called conflation.

I support immigration to the United States, however, I don’t support illegal immigration.  There is a big difference.  My parents were immigrants, but they had to wait 3 1/2 years to get approved to come to the U.S.  My father even had to have a sponsor.  Both of my parents became citizens of this country in a legal manor.

To say that illegal immigrants are the same as illegal immigrants is conflation.  This undermines all of the efforts of those who have been waiting to enter the United States according to the law.

The other issue has become a bit of a firestorm lately, too.  There are numerous people who support universal healthcare (Obamacare).  There are numerous people who don’t support it and would rather it be repealed (especially of the penalties for non-compliance).  The latter group would call the penalties coercion.

Now, into the fray enter the Christians.  Some are for the gutting of Obamacare, including the funding of Planned Parenthood, which they believe has an immoral purpose in infanticide.  Others are convinced that it is scriptural to support one’s neighbors through providing them with health care coverage.  They are passionate about it, even quoting scripture.

Martin Luther, the 16th century German reformer made an important distinction which many have forgotten.  He described the two kingdoms of God.  There is a right-hand rule of God and a left hand rule.  The right hand rule is where Christ rules by Grace, mercy and forgiveness through His Church.  The left-hand rule is the power of earthly authority given to the government.

Some Lutherans hold the conviction that the Health Care Mandate is our responsibility as Christians to uphold.  Any opposition to this point of view is seen as heresy.  Unfortunately, these Lutherans are guilty of the most basic error; the conflation of the two kingdoms.

The church is to care for the poor, the aged and infirmed.  The government is to protect the populace and support a beneficial atmosphere in which people can earn a living.  The government is not the church.  And, this is where the conflation enters into the picture.

If our neighbor is unable to afford healthcare, then it is up to us (if we have such a conviction) to help them out.  But to coerce millions of people to bear the brunt of health care costs for millions of others is nothing less than using the left-hand kingdom for right hand kingdom purposes.

Each person has his or her own conscience.  In this we have freedom.  Binding other people’s political convictions and condemning their position (or them) are a gross violation of the Two-Kingdom doctrine.

Preservatives: the first ingredient

ingredient-label-1

[I don’t always have enough time to write and edit.  The thoughts expressed here are best seen as thought-works in progress.  If you have a thought to add, please make it constructive and to be understood in the light of the development of thought rather than a refined final product.  Grace!]

It seems that everyone nowadays is concerned with what is in the food they eat.  The words ‘all-natural’ and ‘organic’ function as green lights for those who are watching what they put into their body.  ‘Artificial preservatives’, though, serve as a red light and are to be avoided.

That makes a lot of sense.  After all, artificial preservatives don’t necessarily preserve your body.

Jacob was also interested in preserving his body (and his family).  The account is found in Genesis 32:

6The messengers returned to Jacob, saying, “We came to your brother Esau, and furthermore he is coming to meet you, and four hundred men are with him.” 7Then Jacob was greatly afraid and distressed; and he divided the people who were with him, and the flocks and the herds and the camels, into two companies; 8for he said, “If Esau comes to the one company and attacks it, then the company which is left will escape.” (NASB)

Jacob had stolen his brother’s birthright by deception.  His brother Esau, 20 years prior, wanted to murder Jacob:

41So Esau bore a grudge against Jacob because of the blessing with which his father had blessed him; and Esau said to himself, “The days of mourning for my father are near; then I will kill my brother Jacob.” (Genesis 27, NASB)

Usually, when a person is angry enough to want to murder someone, they grow in their need for revenge.  Jacob knows this, so when he encounters Esau after 20 years of working for Laban, he is ‘greatly afraid and distressed’.

Jacob then acts to preserve himself (his heritage) by dividing his family.

Jacob proves himself to be like Adam in the garden after he ate the forbidden fruit.  Adam, in an act of self-preservation hides from God:

8They heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden. 9Then the LORD God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?” 10He said, “I heard the sound of You in the garden, and I was afraid [emphasis mine] because I was naked; so I hid myself.” (Genesis 3, NASB)

We can look back through the complete records of these events and say to ourselves, “that was silly”, because we weren’t there at the time.  It’s easy to say to Jacob from the sideline, “You should have had more faith!”, or to Adam, “You should have come clean before God”.  Instead, they act to self-preserve.

Most of us are unaware of our own efforts to self-preserve.  It takes an outside and honest evaluator to reveal the edifices which a person builds to hide behind.

In current American Christian culture, I have seen the rise of writers and pundits who are Christians, but have decided to release themselves from the mooring of the church.  They see doctrine as confining and limiting.  They are elevated as authorities although they are under no authority themselves.  In fact, they have made great effort to release themselves and their audiences from the perceived millstone that is the church.  Their gospel is freedom from the church with all of its faults and dogmatism.

I can understand that.  Many churches go beyond the proclamation of the gospel and attempt to bind honest Christians with Law.  Grace is choked out by commands, demands and expectations of right behavior.  ‘Churchy people’ want more ‘Churchy people’ in church.  And, as a pastor, I am well-aware of the masks that people put on instead of being genuine.  Truth be told, I am not immune to wearing masks myself.  Yet, that is exactly why I go to church.

Before I expand on that notion, there is one question that needs to be answered; What are we acting to preserve ourselves from?  Better yet, what are we hiding from?

The simple answer is the cross.  We are afraid of the death of self it will bring.  We are afraid of giving up our opinions, positions and convictions.  In short, we want a Christianity of our own, without the Church’s authority.  We want Jesus without the church.

That sounds pretty good.  I can be set free to live as I want to without judgment or guilt.  Who doesn’t want that!

And, if I can justify the words of God in Scripture and say, “He never meant to say that”, then I can live as I please without ever coming to terms with my own sin.

But, sin is so insidious that it quietly replaces the Word with pseudo-common sense.  It replaces church with loose connections to thought leaders.  It replaces the cross with justifying God.

For all of its faults, for all of its sins (and there are many!), the church is not merely a ‘man-made institution’.  Instead, it is the God-man made institution.  Christ is not the cornerstone of alternative thought.  Christ is the cornerstone of the church.

Again, I grant that churches all over have done some very regrettable things.  Some have over-emphasized the law to the drowning out of the good news (Christ crucified for you).  That is unfortunate (it should be the opposite!).  Others are unwilling to receive people for external or internal differences.

To repeat myself, that is exactly why I go to church.  I find that in the hearing of God’s word (four readings from both Old an New Testaments), the hearing of the proclamation of Law and Gospel,  the hearing of God justifying me on the cross, and receiving Jesus’ body and blood at the altar, my own efforts of self-preservation are crucified, and I am renewed as a new creation.  It is there that I hear more than information about Christ.  It is there that I am buried with Christ as sinner and raised by His justifying work alone.  The church is God’s chosen place to continue the work of saving people.  It is where He placed His Rock, Jesus, who is the cornerstone.

I hope that as you read this blog, you will receive it as the pastoral care it was meant to bring.  The thought-leaders won’t save you from God.  Only Christ can do that.  And Jesus does that work through His church, which is the true life-preserver on this earth.

Soli Deo Gloria

 

Shoot!

There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit. And the Spirit of the Lord Shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord

Isaiah 11:1-2

It is hard to imagine what life was like in the time of Isaiah the prophet. The ten northern tribes of Israel had been taken to Assyria, never to return. Babylon was about to take Judah into captivity because King Hezekiah had foolishly shown Babylon Judah’s riches.

In other words, things were about to go downhill very quickly. Yet Isaiah was given some words to comfort those who would be taken away from their homeland. In the above passage, he tells them that ‘a shoot’ would ‘come forth’.

First, Jesse will become a ‘stump’. This means that Israel would be decimated. A once great tree is reduced to nothing. A great family tree, coming from Abraham is completely cut down. God exacted judgment on His own people for not following His Word. In our own time, this level of severity seems cruel and undeserved.

And, it was severe. Many were taken to Babylon where they lived for the next 70 years. Their circumstance caused them to redouble their efforts to be more religious. In fact, the Babylonian Talmud (a book which included an additional 600+ laws to the Laws included in the New Testament) was written at this time. This is a natural reaction to an unnatural situation.

Had they forgotten Isaiah’s prophecies? All of the promises of a Messiah written to them? Here, Isaiah had given the promise of a shoot coming from the stump of Jesse. If you needed something to hold on to, why wouldn’t you look to the promises of God’s word instead of trying to ‘get more religion’?

Yet, they went their own way, following the impulse to ‘do something’.

It is a little like this for the North American church, too. The numbers are dwindling. Attendance is spotty. Volunteers are few and far between. The situation looks dire for the next few decades. The vital tree which was modern American Christianity is shriveling.

Some have made dramatic efforts to attract people into their churches. They have giveaways, parent’s night out, free lunches and other offers to re-build their local body.

But, what if all of these efforts are merely an attempt to ‘get religious’? What if God is in the midst of the falling tides?

The most important thing to remember about the Babyonian captivity is that God never abandoned His people. That is, they were taken away from the Promised Land, but God never cut them off from Him. They still had the Torah and the Prophets. His promises were contained in the pages. They could read from them and receive encouragement. They could recall how He was with them during their first captivity in Egypt, and how He multiplied their numbers. They could look back at Genesis 3:15 and remember that a Savior was coming.

Isaiah was carrying on that tradition of a promise to come. He proclaimed the good news of a shoot. That shoot wouldn’t simply rescue them from Babylon, that shoot would rescue all people from sin, death and the devil. That shoot is Jesus.

Isaiah pointed toward the future to the first Advent for the people of Judah. We can look back at Isaiah’s prophecies and see that they have been fulfilled in Jesus Christ. That gives us confidence to look forward to the second Advent, when Jesus will come again to redeem us and bring us to the promised land of His love and life.

God’s word promises the second coming of our savior throughout the New Testament. As we enter into this Advent season, remember that God promised a first Advent, and He fulfilled that promise to the letter. His promise of salvation can be found in His word. Look into that word to find the promise of life given to you through water and the Spirit. Look into that word to find your savior. Look into that word to find the family tree you have been grafted into through the shoot; Jesus.

In uncertain times, He is the rock of salvation and the cornerstone of the church. The gates of Hell shall not overcome it. That is God’s promise … in His Word.

To God be the Glory,

Pastor John

 

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