The Decline of the Eden State

What is the “Eden State”? It is a nation that believes the self-evident rights of its citizens are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. These rights — privileges — were precisely the ones bestowed on the first humans. And we all know how that turned out. Perhaps we are on the precipice of a similar catastrophe.

The trajectory of American culture should come as no surprise. Futurists like Francis Schaeffer predicted with uncanny accuracy where we were going in the West 50 years ago. Wherever the values of a nation rest on personal fulfillment, affluence and security, decline is inevitable. That’s what Schaeffer said.

Since then, many others have joined the warning chorus. Mark Sayers, who may be called a futurist, has written two insightful books on the subject, titled The Disappearing Church and, The Reappearing Church. I’ll be drawing more from them later.

Welcome to the Bleeding Edge

In the mean time, it appears we have arrived at Schaeffer’s predicted future. As the nation trembles in the wind of pandemic and civil unrest, established institutions are showing signs of weakening. We may be at the edge of decline.

A few years ago, I submitted a post I called, “The Culture at Midnight.” It was the first time I used the phrase that was to become a category all its own in my writing. In that post I decried the release, screening, and newspaper review of a movie that dealt, somewhat sympathetically, with the subject of bestiality. Frankly, I was uncomfortable even writing about it, so astonished was I that such a film had been made, much less screened and reviewed. Nevertheless, I mentioned it as evidence that, in the words of an unintentionally prophetic popular song of the mid-twentieth century, “it’s later than you think.”

Thankfully, the film was on the fringe of cinema. It came and went without much further notice, but considering how inexorably, if slowly, the fringe becomes part of the warp and woof of American society I feel compelled recall it. Now, we live in a world where sex and sexuality is newsworthy by definition. What would have been scandalous to discuss in public a decade or so ago, is now considered the next frontier of liberty. What lies ahead, we can only imagine.

Building an Ark

I may be grieved by all this, but I am not surprised. The decline of the Eden state seems inevitable. What is left to me as a follower of Yeshua’s way is to remain humble, devoted to my Master and compassionate toward a world that may, in not too long, become intolerable for many.

In the early days of our people, one of the symbols that was meaningful to them was the ark. It communicated that in the midst of the turmoil of the world there was a place of safety called the “ecclesia,” the church. I expect as the storm of decline in our society becomes intense, there will be many seeking a place of safety. I want to be ready invite refugees from this dying world into the ark.

I can’t do that alone, of course. This wasn’t to be an assignment for only a few. It was intended to be the mission of a new community of followers. Want to join me?

Gluten Free Movements

Rethinking Black Live Matter

Read the Label

The definition of an allergen is a substance to which the body reacts, triggering an immune response. More than ever, consumers are paying attention to what is in the food they eat because they may be allergic or have a sensitivity. Look for the “gluten free” label or endure digestive distress. Lactose can result in unpleasant consequences. Peanut derivatives can cause anaphylaxis that may even result in death. To add to the challenges, some people may not be allergic to foods that might be deadly to others. It is vital we know what is in our food.

Similarly, in the halls of congress, certain bills can contain more than first appears. The strategy of hiding line-items in the text that are only loosely related to the main substance of a bill is called “pork barrel politics.” It is a way of directing money toward pet local projects of legislators by a sort of legislative sleight-of-hand.

More than Meets the Eye

I had a “things aren’t all they appear” experience several years ago when I made the acquaintance of a fellow that held the same opinion as I regarding the deployment of the National Guard to overseas duty. We both agreed that was a bad thing so I thought I had found a partner in the cause. But as time went on, I discovered that my “partner” had even more issues on his agenda, one of which was an antagonistic view of local law enforcement.

My son-in-law is a cop. We’re proud of it. The police we know are hard-working, honorable men and women. There was no way I was going to allow myself to get lumped into an anti-cop agenda while working on the National Guard issue. I parted company with my activist friend, leaving him to follow the dictates of his conscience.

I believe the ecclesia must do the same with Black Lives Matter because the movement is not “gluten free.” Why would I say that? Based on the singular meaning of the name, there can be no dispute. Black lives DO matter. The injustice and systemic racism that has been part of the black experience is unconscionable and plainly evil. The simple message of the name Black Lives Matter calls for national repentance and I agree with that unreservedly. Nevertheless, I would prefer to use a different rallying cry. Honor and Respect Black Lives, perhaps.

Moreover, BLM is disconnected from the roots of the civil rights movement. Dr. King’s activism was grounded in his faith. His call for equality was born of his understanding of the love of God and the redemptive, unifying work of the cross of Jesus. His strategy was non-violent. Black Lives Matter is linked only by the simple meaning of the words. It’s core values are purely secular.

The problem with BLM is that the agenda of the organization goes beyond the plain meaning of the name. Black Lives Matter comes “bundled” with secularism and the affirmation of a certain sexual ethic which stands in opposition to the values of the new community, namely the LGBTQ agenda.

Challenge Hatred

Now, let me clarify something. We in no way approve demeaning or threatening behavior toward LGBTQ persons. All people are created in the image of God and members of that community are no exception. We will not tolerate hateful treatment toward members of the LGBTQ community any more than members of the black or Hispanic communities. Hatred is a cancer on the human soul that must be identified and opposed wherever it is found.

Furthermore, we decline to lobby for or against legislation relative to the free exercise of the LGBTQ lifestyle. We believe that choice is a God-given privilege and if the Creator himself declines to interfere with a person’s choices, we must follow that example. Though we may not agree with the choices people make, it is not up to us to prohibit them, nor to insist that others live like we do. Moreover, we believe that worldly governments and their affairs are separate from the Kingdom, so we stay clear of political involvement. As Frank Viola has said, it is not our job to make this world a better place, but for us to be a better place in this world according to the values of the Kingdom of God.

That said, within our community, we are unapologetically binary, cisgender and monogamous by conviction. Our reasons for that might be a topic for another day, but for now, let us simply say that is the sexual ethic that we affirm. It is assumed that anyone who would want to share our journey would choose to honor those convictions with us. As for those outside of our community, we ask that they practice charity toward us as we do toward them.

Honor and Respect

I hope they will, but I won’t count on it. Why? Because it seems the LGBTQ agenda allows for nothing less than full acceptance. When it comes to our beliefs within our community, “don’t ask, don’t tell” may not do. I get the feeling that we must acquiesce or be branded as hateful bigots. Hopefully, I am wrong about that. It would be nice if we can be left alone to believe what we must, but whether we will be remains to be seen.

In the meantime, our devotion to Christ invites us to love others whether we agree with them. It is our privilege to extend grace, compassion, and acts of kindness to all people. It is our responsibility to defend and protect from hatred and malice. Disagreement with others does not preclude acts of love toward them. We will join the national repentance that calls us to Honor and Respect Black Lives even as we extend charity to the LGBTQ community.

Smoke, Fire, Church

What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over
Like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?

~Harlem: A Dream Deferred by Langston Hughes

What happens to a dream deferred? The inhumanity in Minneapolis may have answered the question. The time for change has come. When those who have privilege fail to recognize a moral responsibility toward those who have not, social conflict escalates. Historically, disempowered classes have shifted the balance of power, overthrown governments, and formed nations. Those with the least to lose and the most to gain have been the spark that has ignited many a revolution.

The Smoke

When a heat source is persistent and intense, combustion becomes likely. In the US, indifference and unchecked privilege is a tinderbox.

But first comes smoke:

Continue reading “Smoke, Fire, Church”

Microcosms of Malice

This post originally appeared in another of my blogs on November 8, 2017

And so it happens again, this time in a church. People are gathered to worship. Children playing with friends. Adults enjoying conversation. There is music and prayer. A community has come together in the name of the Lord, Jesus.

A man, boiling with hatred enters the sanctuary and begins firing a weapon which has as its sole purpose the taking of human life. It performs flawlessly. Twenty-six brothers and sisters of the Kingdom are dead with another twenty injured. The illusion of safety in this world, if such an illusion persisted, is shattered in a tiny town in Texas.

Another mass shooting. Days before, a worshiper of a demon god (certainly no righteous deity could have inspired such an act) murders eight innocents with a rented truck in New York. Before that, 58 killed in Las Vegas. Elsewhere in the world, acts of cowardly inhumanity are standard fare. Hatred has gone viral.

The Clock Ticks Toward Midnight

There is a hurricane of malice battering our coast-lands. Spiritual climate change, it seems, as God removes restraint—all right, then, have it your way.

We Kingdom dwellers need to carefully guard our response. It is all too easy to be caught up in debates about gun control, the roots of terrorism or domestic violence. I learned recently that such debates easily ignite small conflagrations that burn with acrimony. I had carelessly posted a remark about demon gods being the inciting spiritual influence behind the situation in New York. I did so without elaboration or explanation. It was cathartic. I had spoken my mind. Howled my indignation. Surely, I was justified and it felt good. Soon I became aware I had inadvertently kindled among my friends one of those heated discussions. Moreover, I realized that what had emerged from my carelessness was a tiny microcosm of the very event I had decried in my original post. Violence and hatred can scar city streets or wound human hearts. No matter which, it is the same virus, only a question of degrees.

I deleted the post. Would that malevolence were so easily erased from the world.

Sadly, it is not. But we who live here between the worlds can use the events that happen around us to incite us to peace, and invite us to mercy. Debates and discussions will not serve in a world approaching midnight. We need to let hatred and offense remind us to love one another and to extend that love to those outside wherever we can. The weapons of our warfare are not assault rifles or crippling arguments, they are acts of love and hearts turned toward the coming of the Kingdom.

Let’s Build a Rat Park

As the culture clock ticks toward midnight, we read the following headline: Deaths from booze, drugs, suicide could spike 60 percent to 1.6 million over next decade. Tragically, that dire warning didn’t surprise me. I bet you could say the same.

We’ve watched the downward skid for quite awhile. Watched. Fretted. Made peace with impotence.

As this blog series has suggested, there’s not much we can do outside the community of Jesus. People gonna do what people gonna do.

The Lessons of Addiction

What we can do, though, is build a rat park. I could argue that Jesus has commanded us to build a rat park (John 13:34-35).

In the late 70s, researcher Bruce K. Alexander of Simon Fraser University, used rats to study addiction. [Rather than describe it , let me encourage you to read the details here.] Briefly, he found evidence that addiction (and possibly other social ills?) were strongly related to social connections–community. When the rats in the study lived in a healthy and vibrant community they were less inclined toward addictive behaviors.

What of your community? Does your community of Jesus freaks live together with grace and encouragement? Is is alive with hope? In this world does it reek of life and rumble with anticipation of God’s Kingdom coming? Is it light and love? Moreover, are you and your marvelous comrades visible more than once a week (and then behind closed doors) loving and celebrating the Jesus life?

Seems to me, we don’t need a war on drugs. We need a rat park of Jesus freaks. One with a sign that reads, “Enter and begin the journey to a costly, vibrant kind of life.”

Life in a Culture of Death

How Will We Choose?

Choose for yourselves whom you will serve…As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord. Joshua 24:15.

Joshua laid it out plainly. You have to make a choice. Serve the gods of the land, or reject those gods and serve the God of Israel. Choose in or choose out. If you choose in, you’re rejecting the ways of the nations and embracing the unique character of the people of YAHWEH.

A few months ago, the abortion issue found its way back into the news. Alabama and Missouri were leading the charge back to the Supreme Court. The target? Roe v. Wade. Turn the ship around. Reverse the course set in 1973 when the slaughter of millions of us began. Whole generations exterminated at the stroke of a pen.

The pro-life movement intends to stop it.

That is the world’s answer: change the law. That was the answer in ’73 when the champions of abortion rights planted the flag on SCOTUS’ front lawn. It would appear that is still the answer as the pro-life forces sound the warison in Alabama, Missouri, and elsewhere. These are the first battles in a much longer war to change the law.

The question is, in 45 years since Roe v. Wade, what is the condition of the heart of this nation? Has Western culture grown more inclined to value life? The answer seems obvious. Given the choice between rights and restraint, individual rights are the clear winner. How troubling that this culture regards the freedom to end life as a cherished right while regarding the creation of life as, at best, a happy result of a loving union, but not infrequently, a regrettable hazard of sex.

Celebrate Life

As for we and our house…we shall reverence, honor and celebrate life.

We followers of Jesus, cultural outsiders, must devote ourselves to living consistently with the faith of our earliest fathers who selflessly cared for discarded children.

An early observation of the community of the Christ followers reads:

…there is something extraordinary about their lives. They live in their own countries as though they were only passing through . . . Like others, they marry and have children, but they do not [abandon them to die].

~ Excerpt from the 2nd century Letter to Diognetus 

Let’s begin here:

  • Life is holy.
  • Life is a gift from God.
  • The creation of life is a responsibility and an honor to be entered into in the context of a covenant.
  • The termination of life is a fearful responsibility that belongs to God alone.
  • We must respect the freedom God has given all men and women to choose, even if we are confident those choices are wrong in the eyes of God.

This means that the new community ought to be a refuge for the helpless. We should be committed to protect children and provide shelter for those who need it. We should be ready to provide assistance to men and women who are unprepared to nurture the life that has been entrusted by circumstance to their care. Among us, we should be determined that the creation of life belongs in the context of an abiding union that reflects the relationship between God and His creation.

The priorities of the church should include adoption, prenatal care, childcare, training for parents, foster care, family counseling — in short, anything that nourishes and celebrates life. Imagine a community in which the announcement of a pregnancy is a call for celebration; the anticipation of birth a joyous season, and the bringing forth of new life a call to community. Not just an announcement in the bulletin, but an intentional party.

As the world looks on, may the community of the saints reflect the joy and holiness of life. In contrast to a culture that values as a right the destruction of life, may we honor, protect and celebrate it.

The New Community

A Category Explained

In my blog I have included a category called “Culture at Midnight.” The title identifies what I believe to be the sober reality of our times. The culture of the west, America in particular, is in transition. This category will grapple with the question of how to navigate the force-fields of that transition. Are we followers of Jesus prepared to live apart from the surrounding culture? Are we willing to reject cues from media, politics or any other cultural bellwether; to act by the Spirit and from the example of our predecessors in the faith?

Calculated Indifference

Yesterday, I had a discussion with a young friend who was curious about my political opinions. I told him I had very few. That was being honest. I have little confidence in political motivations and the ability of government to bring about a just and peaceful world. Moreover, I doubt that we are getting real transparency through the media and from persons in places of power who have good reason to tell the viewing public what the focus groups say we want to hear. I moderated my indifference by telling him that I felt it was counterproductive, even improper, for me to throw my negativity into the roiling cauldron of discontent that passes for discourse these days. Instead, I told him that I was committed to pray for the leadership in our country and beyond. I even went so far as to say I was a monarchist and that my King was not of this world. I had a twinkle in my eye when I said it, but the statement is probably truer than I gave him reason to believe.

Continue reading “The New Community”

A New Community

100 days and counting…

That is how long we have been, more or less, locked down. I never expected it. Yet, here we are, over three months into what appears to be a new normal. And in the background, thrumming away like evil crickets, are the pandemic, rioting, anger, judgment, and political rage.

I wish it would stop.

But it shows no sign of stopping. Every time I venture out, I see people walking around with masks on to protect themselves from the toxic environment. Look at it from the other direction and we are protecting others from ourselves and our pathologies. The world has gone septic and there does not seem to be a remedy. 

I will say this about quarantine, it gives one time to think. In the process, I have come to wonder if I have anything to offer in a social climate that reflects nothing like the gospel of peace. My wondering has led me to a conclusion: As followers of Jesus we are now being called to a separate peace and a new community. No more business as usual.

To write those words causes a reaction in me. They feel like exaggeration. Hyperbole. Things will calm down. No need to imagine a future much different than we have known. But I am not so sure. Societies experience corrosive seasons that fundamentally change them. At present, symbols of national heritage are being indiscriminately torn down and there is no guarantee that they will be replaced with anything. Chop away at the roots of a tree and the tree dies, topples over. If the church is too dependent on the tree, she may topple with it. 

Peter the apostle, wondered in his second letter to the church,

“Since all these things are to [be destroyed] in this manner, what sort of people must we be, conducting our lives in holiness and godliness, while waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God?”

As reactionary as it may sound, I believe we have come to the time of ecclesia, that is the calling out of an assembly. The old American church has been too dependent on the culture in which it was formed. That culture, in ways both subtle and obvious, is turning against it. A friend shared this quote in his Facebook feed:

Some people aren’t loyal to you … they are loyal to their need of you … Once their needs change, so does their loyalty.

I think this is true of societies; of twenty-first century America. The church is not needed unless it is willing to reflect the changing values of the culture—not even wanted. Whatever loyalty the society once showed the church is dissolving. Moreover, the ecclesia must not show loyalty to any cause but the cause of Christ. That is why it is very unlikely that the new community, the ecclesia, will be tolerated. In this season, to be focused on Christ alone will be seen as disloyal.

The church is nearing rocky shoals. If she doesn’t come round she will be driven aground. So, come round she must. The church must set a course for open water where she is not in danger of shipwreck on these shores. It must be her own course and not some other creed or cause. She must plot a course for the Kingdom.

Between the Worlds

RELEVANT (rel’uh-vant) Bearing upon or connected with the matter in hand; to the purpose; pertinent…

What is really relevant to me and the matter at hand? I’ve watched more TV lately than I care to admit and have discovered that much of what I see doesn’t pass the relevance test. I don’t take any of the toxic medicines they advertise, I’m not in the market for a new car—we’d buy a good used one anyway. Don’t need a new mattress, and don’t care what the rich and famous are doing.

I’m non-partisan. Neither major party reflects my point of view. Republicans eat at the trough of the free market, believing that kindness and generosity are bred into the corporate soul. Democrats worship at the altar of civil government, thinking that public service and pure motives are corollaries. Then, there are special interest parties who see the world through green glasses or through the lens of theocracy.

Nope. I’m opting out. Non-partisan. During presidential election years I’ll endorse Abraham Lincoln. Yes, I know he’s dead, but he’s reliable. Anyway, my support of ‘Honest Abe’ is my way of saying, “not my circus, not my monkeys.”

I just want to be a follower of Jesus of Nazareth. I don’t want Jesus as a mistress—to tryst with him at church, but go home to what what I’m married to. I don’t want the new millennium Christ that is a mere shadow of who Jesus is as the son of God; I want the first century Jesus who is the cornerstone of real faith, not just the inspiration for pretenders to it. Here is the challenge: discover what is relevant to a mere sojourner here. Jesus sketched the challenge in the terms of being “in the world” while not being “of the world.”

Who am I? Better put, where am I? I am between two worlds: in one, but not of it; bound for another, but for the time being, bound TO the one I’m in. If that is true; if I and others on the “Jesus Way” are “between two worlds,” then the question of relevance is vital. What really matters? Where do we fit in this world—or do we fit at all?

I read a book The Reformers and Their Stepchildren. by Leonard Verduin. I highlighted this paragraph:

It is implied in the New Testament vision that Christianity is not a culture-creating thing but rather a culture-influencing one. Wherever the Gospel is preached human society becomes composite; hence, since the culture is the name given to the total spiritual heritage of an entire people, there can never be such a thing as a Christian culture; there can only be cultures in which the influence of Christianity is more or less apparent.

The challenge is to pick through the purple pills and new cars; the fast food and loose facts, and lay hold of the things that are important to an eternal God and valuable to an eternal people. I’m not here to throw stones, build walls, or tear down the establishment. I’m here to live like a sojourner and love like a follower of Jesus. I want to find others who want to do the same, and create a community of restless Christians who yearn for adventure.