Why Leadings?

Not to lead, but to be led            -- by the Holy Spirit.

See Leader, Servant, or Slave? in the section below, "Walking the Walk".

Jack in Denali National Park, 2012.

God's Wrath

Why was Sodom destroyed? Ezekiel tells us in chapter 16, verse 49: "This was the sin of your sister, Sodom: Pride, full-ness of bread, and abundance of idleness. Neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy."

That's also why Jerusalem was destroyed.

And now, with greed as our national virtue, what hope is there for the United States of America? We are afflicted by imperialistic pride, obesity, and entertainment addiction, and we are all called to do our part to "strengthen the hand of the poor and needy".

"Strengthen the hand" is the King James wording. Modern translations say "help the poor and needy." And there's a world of difference between the two. Helping the poor = as little as throwing some cash in the Salvation Army bucket at Christmas time. That's charity. It's doing for, not doing with.

My Grandmother was right about charity. On a below-zero day, she went out on the back porch with a skillet to throw hot grease on the back-yard snow. She shivered as she re-entered the kitchen and said, "Wooooh, colder than charity."

Strengthening the hand is much different. We get personally involved with another person who needs help, and we work with her or him to get the needed help. That's risky. You're vulnerable. It takes prayer, time and patience. You need knowledge and wisdom from the LORD. There are great rewards, however. You get a brother or sister.

Strengthening the hand is great work for our churches -- which we ignore far more often than we perform. Why? Because we're afflicted with the Ameri-can curse of individualism. Christians are to be a tribe -- a tribe that takes care of each other. In Galatians 6:16, Paul calls us "the Israel of God" -- the new 13th tribe.

Jesus said, "The poor you shall always have with you." He didn't mean that as a curse -- the notion that the poor are an inevi-table nuisance and expense, to be hidden in the slums. Rather, He was saying, "You shall always be among the poor."

When you strengthen hands, you fulfill Deuteronomy 15:4-5: "However, there need be no poor people among you, for in the land the LORD your God is giving you to possess as your inheritance, he will richly bless you, if only you fully obey the LORD your God . . ." It's a glorious responsibility and promise.

And how do prosperous Americans fulfill that promise? Generally, by making sure they have no contact with people who are poor -- and we have been that way from our beginnings in the 17th century. Early villages in Massachusetts solved the problem by out-lawing poor people. Today, we deal with the same problem by confining the poor in urban reservations, our slums.

As the Supreme Court Bailiff says at the beginning of each session, "God save the United States of America..." 

Sunday
Jun162013

LEARNING FROM THE LAST CHRISTIAN: PART I

For two and a half years, I’ve been writing articles for this blog site.  Not once have I written a book review – which is strange.  My life, my consciousness seem more a collection of books, plays and movies than a collection of experiences – which is why my son finds my conversation tiring.

In this article, however, I’m promoting a book, but it’s not a review.  Rather, it’s a collection of insights from a novel.  The book is The Last Christian, by David Gregory, WaterBrook Press, Colorado Springs, 2010.

In its first half – and in this article – The Last Christian gives us views of American Christianity, seen from 2088, 75 years hence.  In its second half – and next week’s article – the book gives us a deep understanding of the Gospel message that I’ve not heard before.

You have to know something about the book to appreciate my reactions.   The book is Christian science fiction and takes place in 2088.  The heroine, Abigail Caldwell – the Last Christian – is the thirty-five year-old daughter of American missionaries to the Inisi, a remote tribe in Papua, New Guinea. 

Abby’s parents had been effective missionaries who brought the reality of Jesus to the Inisi, while respecting Inisi culture.  As a result of knowing Jesus, the Inisi were able to abandon their animism, which had caused them to live in fear of malicious spirits.  Previously they had also lived for revenge through recurring raids on neighboring tribes.  Because of Jesus, the Inisi forgave their neighbors, as well as persuading them to abandon their feuds.

Abigail’s parents died in a plane crash when she was in her teens.  Thus, she came to adulthood as a member of the Inisi tribe and had adopted an Inisi daughter. 

Through world-wide complications, the Inisi are wiped out, with Abigail as the only survivor.  She returns to the United States, with overwhelming culture shock.  Remember, this is 2088.  For example, everyone has chip implants that enable them mentally to access the world-wide grid.  Cars are self-piloting and are programmed to prevent crashes.

Also, electronic technology has advanced so far that doctors are doing brain replacement operations with silicone brains.  The silicone brains retain the memories and emotions of the physical brains, but cut off a person from any spiritual life.  The silicone brains are many times more powerful than our physical brains. For example, a person can read with comprehension the entire Old Testament in a morning and parse it as well.

In this world of 2088, Abigail is a bewildered, cultural-anthropological freak.  She is not only a stone-age women who knows Jesus and the Bible, she has also read many of the great books which her parents brought with them to New Guinea.  The Last Christian has lots of action, with thrilling mystery, murders, conspiracy, chases, evasions and surprises.

Along the way, however, the author, David Gregory, gives insights into American Christianity.  He includes a lecture on the decline and disappearance of Christianity in twenty-first century America.  Rather than quoting, I’ll summarize.  The fictional history professor – an unbeliever in post-Christian America -- lists five causes for the decline --

1.  Scientific progress in the last 200 years, starting with Charles Darwin and the battle between Genesis and evolution.  The Christian response was intelligent design, which never gained traction within the scientific community.  With peoples’ doubts about the accuracy of the Bible, the Christian belief system lost a primary pillar.  In contrast, the big bang theory was accepted by most Christians because it paralleled Genesis.

2,  The flame-out of the culture wars.  Beginning in the 1980’s, conservative religionists began forcing their moral agenda upon the rest of the country, with opposition to abortion, homosexuality, and pornography.  The movement’s zenith came at the beginning of the 21st century with the election of a conservative religionist to the presidency, George W. Bush.  As society grew more secular, the culture was affected in two ways.  a)  Religionists no longer had enough numbers to sway public policy.  b)  The more strident religionists became in controlling government, the less others were attracted to Christianity. Churches were seen more as a political movement than as a spiritual option.

3.  The backlash against religion in general due to Islamic fundamentalism.  All dogmatism came to be seen as dangerous to the healthy functioning of a multi-cultural society.  “Christian” became a byword for “dogmatic bigot”.  The Tolerance Act of 2036 reflected peoples’ increasing unease with all fundamentalist religion.  For example, the Act outlawed hate speech and made it a felony.  Hate speech included saying in public, “Jesus is the only way to the Father.  All other religions are in error.”

4.  How our understanding of truth and knowledge evolved.  Until the 14th century, Western culture had a Platonist view of truth, with knowledge coming through divine revelation and philosophy.  Truth can be deduced; it does not need to be investigated.  Thomas Aquinas reintroduced the Aristotelian view that knowledge comes through empirical observation of nature.  This birthed the scientific method, which was promoted by religionists like Isaac Newton, who believed in a rational Creator who designed a rational, understandable world.  Truth became a set of absolute realities to be uncovered by human investigation.

By the mid-twentieth century, this mindset began to crumble.  Philosophers rejected the notion of absolute truth.  Truths were seen as socially constructed power plays by those in authority.  By the beginning of the 21st century, the notion of absolute truth crumbled in the popular culture as well.  Polls show that most people no longer believed in absolute truth or absolute morality.

This philosophical earthquake was devastating to the Christian religion, and Christians’ claims to truth fell on deaf ears.  With no absolutes, all that mattered was personal experience.  The culture drifted to no religion at all.

5.  The lack of distinctiveness.  From its outset, the Christian religion claimed that the intervention of the deity in peoples’ lives would change them for the better.  They would have different characters and morals.  This alleged change in people was caused by the presence of Jesus and the Holy Spirit in their lives.  As a result, others would see them living like Jesus.

This belief worked as long as the vast majority were professing Christians, because there was no one to compare Christians to.  So, the foundation cracked when people began abandoning Christianity.  When a majority became non-religious, an amazing thing happened – people discovered that religionists and non-religionists behaved similarly – sexual behavior, divorce rates, levels of honesty – none of these varied significantly between religionists and non-religionists.

Thus, people saw that the supposed power of the deity to change people wasn’t real – it was a psychological game.  This produced a cascade effect.  After 1980, each generation looked at the older generation and didn’t see a difference in their lives.  As a result, they didn’t follow their parents’ religion. Early in the 21st century, only a third of those growing up in Christian homes retained their faith on reaching adulthood. And conversions to the faith declined as well.

However, Christianity seemed to thrive at the beginning of the 21st century.  Megachurches, which seated tens of thousands of people, were actually the last gasp of the Christian religion.  Megachurches were a new marketing strategy which appealed to outsiders with popular entertainment and practical life helps. But that didn’t produce lifestyle changes.  People saw through them and decided that for entertainment, they’d stay home and watch TV.

By 2030, only half of Americans were self-professed Christians.  By 2050, less than a quarter, and by 2070, fewer than 10 percent.  And by 2088, the Christian religion was extinct.  All churches had closed, except in a few rural villages.

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That lecture, supposedly delivered in 2088, is both a satire and a prediction – based on current realities. Unless we Christians indeed learn how to be directed by the Holy Spirit – and learn to live with loving tolerance for neighbors who differ from us – and lead lives committed to Jesus -- the lecturer’s doomsday scenario is likely to occur.

From the lecture summary, above, you could conclude that The Last Christian is anti-Christian. Not so. It is vigorously pro-Christian.

As an example, I’ll share some exchanges between Abby and class members from around the world who met after the lecture.  They met electronically in virtual reality.

“How can you still believe in Christianity when it’s been proven false?”

“Why do you think it’s been proven false?” Abby asked.

“Everything from science over the last couple of centuries. Evolution. The big bang. The discovery of microbes on Mars.  Are you aware of these things?”

“Well, yes I am. I can only say that I’ve never heard of any scientific discoveries that would threaten my faith.  As for creation, my faith doesn’t rest on how long God took to make everything or how exactly he did it.  I believe what God says in Genesis, but I don’t believe the first part of Genesis was written to be a scientific account.  It was written to a prescientific culture.  I do know about prescientific culture.”

Abigail continued, “From my understanding, the big bang corresponds fine with the Genesis creation account. The Genesis account makes sense to my tribe, the Inisi, in a way the big bang wouldn’t.  If you gave them an explanation of the big bang, it would make no sense.  They have no way to relate to it.”

“Do you really believe that, if God existed, there would be only one way to him or her?”

“Yes.  Jesus said he was that way.”

“But isn’t that incredibly exclusivist?  How can there be only one way to God?  What about all the other ways to God that sincere people have pursued over the centuries?”

“It seems to me that the real question is, how could there be more than one way to God?  If God actually came to earth in the person of Jesus Christ, then God already planned how he would reconnect with humanity.  If that is the way he chose, why would we think that some way we developed would work?  That would put us in the place of God.”

“Don’t you think of religion as a crutch?  Christianity is the religion of the uneducated. Intelligent society has moved beyond that now.”

“It depends on how you define ‘crutch’, I suppose.  If we were created to have a relationship with God, I wouldn’t call that a crutch.  I’d call it realizing our place in the universe.”

“How do you think you have experienced the reality of God?”

“In my heart, all my life.”

“But isn’t that completely subjective?  I could just as easily say I’ve experienced a frog in my heart.  Who could dispute me?”

Abby paused, “Yes, that’s true.  But a frog can’t triumph over evil spirits.  Jesus can.”

The students reacted with deafening laughter.  The Inisi knew – like most people in isolated or developing nations – that there is a spiritual world and a physical world.  The civilized students of 2088 were ignorant of the spiritual world, so they found Abby’s comment ridiculous.

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Purpose of this blog is to compile books for my grandchildren to read in 25 years.

Copyright © 2013 by Jack Towe

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