Saturday, September 17, 2016

God Gets My Attention

God's Teaching Tools?
The thing is, I used to have trouble not paying attention. I'd get busy with all the stuff you have to do to maintain a family, keep the lights on and food on the table and lose track of time so that God gets left out a lot. I still do that sometimes, I am ashamed to admit. The morning worship gets skipped a few days running. Life overwhelms us and I lose focus. Even now after 45 years as a Christian, it's still much too easy to drift.

In the event that I do, God who has a sense of humor as well as a powerful desire to make sure I do pay attention. He has a way of showing at those moments with some sort of attention-getting event. It always happens when I get too comfortable. My first experience with what I think of as "the hammer of God" happened back in the early 90s. It was a hot summer. I was working out of doors with kids doing sports-related things. I come from a long line of sweaty people. Allergens were everywhere. I was doing anti-histamines like a speed freak does meth and definitely not drinking nearly enough water to compensate for the concomitant dehydration.

The first hint that something was going very badly was a sharp stabbing pain to the gut. I went through the usual useless attempts to stop the pain. You guys know what those are, so I won't go through all that. Finally, in serious pain, I asked my wife to drive me to the hospital. As an indicator of pain, this was a biggie. My wife was suddenly very worried because I NEVER give up the driver's seat willingly and she doesn't like to drive. She hurriedly bundled me into the car and we were on the road. I don't know what happened to our kids that night. I never saw her call anyone to come stay with them. I never asked, which is also an indicator of my level of pain as we had two boys and a little girl who could hold her own with them back at home and there were things in our house that could be broken which are expensive to replace. I didn't care at that point. The house could have been reduced to a pile of rubble in my absence. I didn't care.

By the time we got to the Cleburne hospital someone had apparently inserted a knife into my lower abdomen and was twisting it slowly now and then , just to remind me that it was still there. We arrive at the chateau de' Cleburne ER. They had this comical sense of humor with regard to parking. Parking for drive-up patients was down hill in the lower parking lot. To get to the ER required you to scale a formidable set of stairs or hobble up an even more formidable circuitous ramp. This was before the Americans with Disabilities Act made them tear that ramp out and install and even longer one with flat places every so often where one might lie down to die without fear of rolling all the way back down to the bottom of the ramp.

Hobbling up that long ramp with a dagger in your lower intestines did not look like a whole lot of fun, let me tell you, so I opted for the stairs. Halfway up I decided the ramp might not be such a bad thing, but I was already committed. By now I was doing this Frankenstein-like shuffle step, periodically bending over, then taking a step accompanied by a deep groan, then a bend-over-stomach-clutch, then up again and moan. I looked like a scene from Zombie Attack III. I think I was wearing a ragged t-shirt I had been sleeping in. Moaning I staggered into the ER and stumbled up to the desk. The charge nurse didn't blink, apparently used to zombies walking into her ER.

If you have ever been to the emergency room, you know the drill. A grumpy nurse with a steely eye, an unsympathetic scowl, brandishing a pen asks you to sign in. She then hands you a clipboard and banishes you to the waiting room where you wait patiently with 20 or 30 other suffering humans for up to 8 hours or so. Then, when you reach the point where you don't think you can take it anymore, they send you to a little curtained off area and you wait another hour or two for the doctor to breeze through and pronounce judgment upon your condition. I was asked to rate my level of "discomfort", that was the term the charge nurse used, on a scale of one to ten. I gave it a 35. She was not amused.

Interesting Fact 1: When you do not amuse the charge nurse you move backward in the queue. By this point, I was in no condition to wait patiently for 4 hours for some doctor to come in, scratch his head and then go away to order some tests to be conducted by radiology in a couple of hours or so.

I'm a logical guy. I looked around and evaluated my fellow sufferers there in the waiting room and could see that no one else was suffering like me. A few were dripping blood or nursing an ice pack or throwing up into a little bag that Nurse Ratchet had provided, but I was pretty sure no one else had been stabbed with an invisible knife.

So, putting my great brain feverishly to work, I came up with a plan to get myself moved up in the queue. I had a little help as my invisible tormentor chose that moment to give the knife another sharp twist. I screamed. The reaction was all I could have hoped for. Nurse Ratchet raised her head from whatever romance novel she'd been reading and looked at me. Encouraged, I let loose with another scream; one I'm sure would have got me an "8", even from the Russian judges. 

Interesting Fact 2:  Screaming like a dying wildebeest on the Serengeti upsets the decorum of the ER waiting room. Squealing like a pig being slaughtered (what I call stage 2 screaming) moves you almost immediately to the top of the "next" list. The charge nurse punched a button somewhere and in moments I was loaded on a gurney and wheeled off to a barracks-like room where they put people who are going to die, but are not actually bleeding on the ER floor from a gunshot wound. 

By now I was screaming pretty much nonstop. I was doing a lot of praying of the "Please God make it stop variety." And here's where my religion got tested. Given the location of my pain and the intensity of it and also due to the fact that I was weeping, crying like a girl and remembering some words I used to use before I was a Christian, the nurse had already diagnosed my ailment - accurately as it turned out. She also chastised me for using uncouth words. I was alone on a gurney in an empty room full of gurneys mind you, but she felt a powerful need to correct my language for some reason.

Miserable as I was, and as out of my head with pain as I was, it worked. I grumbled a little at being admonished by this sanctimonious poor excuse for a Florence Nightingale. Here she is being all morally superior, I'd just like to see how she'd handle this much pain. Still, she did get my attention. I girded up my loins (all too literally) and I stopped cursing. I stopped in part because she made me feel guilty, me being an Adventist Christian and all, and in part because I was desperately hoping for some morphine for what my nurse guessed was a kidney stone. Shaking her head she muttered, "Men are such babies," on her way out the door.

Interesting Fact 3:  Even women, whom I believe routinely exaggerate the pain levels they experience in childbirth, say that passing a kidney stone is worse. This is obviously true. Women will willingly get pregnant again. Men will not willingly pass a kidney stone again. My urologist told me to drink lots of water to prevent the formation of stones. Since that day, I swill fluids like an Abrams Main Battle Tank swills diesel fuel. I now plan my travels through life so as to never be more than 3 minutes from a restroom. I WILL use the ladies room in a pinch. Waiting is not an option.

Interesting Fact 4:  Morphine does NOT kill the pain. The best it does is make it so you don't scream so loudly and you can resist the urge to use colorful sailor-words. Using colorful sailor-words is what got me my first dose of morphine. I did not intend for this to happen. The nurse, being a woman of delicate sensibilities and a powerful reluctance to issue narcotics to persons in pain, at first attempted to shame me into silence. It was, however, too late for that. I had just discovered that screaming like a girl made things happen.

I am not disparaging girls here. I describe my screaming that way because of the pitch of the scream, not anything gender-related or stereotypical weakness-wise. I can be as paternalistic as all git-out, but that is not it. What I found out by diligent experimentation that day was that a high-pitched shriek works better for getting attention than a deep-throated manly roar. Manly screaming apparently means to nurses that you are being tough and riding it out and therefore need no attention. When you no longer care about preserving the illusion of manliness and start shrieking like an over-heated teapot, some sort of internal switch gets tripped and someone trundles down the hall to wherever the doctor is taking a nap, wakes him up, and gets an authorization for some pain-killer. After another 30 minutes of this distinctly unmasculine behavior on my part and a call from admin three floors up, the doc gets up. Unable to sleep anyway, with all that unmanly noise emanating from corpse-storage where they'd left me, the doc, bleary eyed from being on the tail end of a 48 hour shift, comes wandering in, has a quick zombie-to-zombie consultation and sends me to radiology.

There they confirm that what I have is a kidney stone. They also apparently confirm the inadequacy of my company insurance and pump me full of morphine and wait for the stone to pass. Before it does, my insurance balks and they send me home with a plastic strainer and instructions to pee through that till the stone comes out.

Stone is something of a misnomer in my case. When it finally made a distinctly uncomfortable appearance in the strainer, even I, who had lived through the stone's passage through my more delicate tubules, blanched a little. The thing was the size of a goat-head. If you live in East Texas, you know what a goat-head is. It's an evil looking spiked seed from a pernicious weed that stabs you in the foot and cripples you for a couple of days at a time. This stone, like a goat-head, had horrible little barbs all over it. They analyzed it at the urologist's, told me to drink lots of water and sent me home.

The second one was bad and sent me to the ER, but I passed that one too. They gave me some potent pain killers which I used sparingly in case I needed them later. I later had a procedure where they tried to blow the stones up with sound waves. The first time they tried it I'd already passed it by the time they got around to doing the procedure and they let me go. The second time they tried it they had more success. For a while I was passing gravel. Then things got more interesting.

Since the first two kidney "boulders" and the lithotrypsy (the one with the sound waves), I've passed six more, including five kidney stones in one year - without another hospital visit. I passed the last five standing on my own two feet at home. I carefully nursed my supply of Hydrocodone and managed to make that one prescription last through the next year. I collected the pesky little rocks I passed that year in a little medicine bottle if you ever want to see them.  I take out the bottle once in a while, shake it so it rattles, and then drink a 20 ounce glass of water.

My attention was captured to say the least. God has a way of reminding you that you are still alive. My struggle with kidney stones, in an odd sort of way, reminded me that what we are doing with our lives is important. Going through that ordeal taught me how wonderful it is to feel good. Sore feet don't matter anymore. A tired back, aching muscles, the odd headache. Those are just reminders that we are still alive and we can still feel pain.

But it's not just physical pain I'm talking about. Life throws us a curve ever once in a while and beans us on the back of the head. We learn that we can survive whatever the devil throws at us (and believe me there is the stench of sulfur about a kidney stone, the death of a child, the loss of a home or job let me tell you). We may reach a point where we can pass a kidney stone or a life trial and remain standing up like a man and do it without screaming, wailing or gnashing of teeth. Sadly, it usually takes us a lot of repetition to reach that point, but reach it we do if we submit to God's training program.

God always finds a way to get our attention when we get sloppy and slack.
He toughens us through trial, makes us strong through adversity, makes us compassionate and willing to bear up under whatever falls upon us. Will God need to get my attention again? At 62, I feel like a tired old war horse sometimes and wonder whether God is done with me yet. I hope so, but probably not.

And it'll probably hurt. At this point I'm all out of pain pills, so I'll just have to stand through it till it's over. I've been through the training and God's a pretty good drill sergeant. I 'spect I can take it.

© by Tom King

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Up and Out: The Effect of Knowing God

To become one with our Father in Heaven is to be drawn beyond ourselves; beyond our little worlds into an unimaginable cosmic vastness that we cannot fully comprehend. We stand in the presence of God with our mouths hanging open and our eyes spinning in wonderment. If this isn't your reaction to fellowship with God, you might want to check again to see who it is you are actually worshiping.

To seek to comprehend God is to reach beyond your own experience. It is to step away from the very time in which you live and the culture in which you grew up. If you stick stubbornly to any Earthly thing, be it a school of philosophy, a political party, your upbringing, or even your Christian denomination without shining the light of God's presence upon it, you risk creating a false god for yourself.

My field in school was English and I looked at the various schools of literary thought, from classical to neo-classical, to modernist, to post-modernist, romantic to realist and soon discovered that each school wears blinders that shut out anything that does not support the particular canon of that particular literary school.  Tell a post-modernist that life has any meaning whatever and they will scoff at you, unable to entertain such a thought. To the post-modernist, stuff happens. That's it. I found the literary schools restrictive. I find the Christian school of thought liberating.

The atheist must believe that 80% of the world are deluded fools and totally wrong. As a Christian I can believe that everyone in the world owns a piece of the truth. I may believe that Christians have more of the truth, but I am not required to think everyone else is stupid, insane or willfully deluded in order to believe in Christ. It's a relief not to have to disprove everything that someone who disagrees with me says. It's nice not to have to circle the troops like Custer and defend my little hilltop. As a Christian, I occupy the entirety of time and space and thought. I don't have to build wall. Walls only get in the way and I don't believe God wants me to keep people out.

Even in our own church, we see time and again, little sub-sects of Adventism creating their own minor deities, as pernicious as statues of saints in cathedrals, standing between the worshipper and God, as though God might need such things in order to understand save his children. Those idols might be healthy things like veganism. I once knew an Adventist mom who, like the Pharisee praying on the street corner, once proclaimed that she was a "Vegetarian waiting for the coming of the Lord."

New SDA pseudo-prophets set themselves up as conduits between God and mere mortals. The David Koreshes, Benjamin Rodins, Robert Brimsmeads, et al will insist on carving out their own little temples in which they are right and everyone else is wrong. You can imagine them standing before the judgment seat insisting, "But God, I healed the sick, I preached to thousands, I built schools and churches and put my name on them on little gold plaques. I had the best doctrine of anybody!

The thing is, if you worship your own little ideals in your own little temples in your own little private circles, you cannot truly know the God who inhabits the cosmos, transcending anything you can imagine in your tiny little circumscribed reality.

The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is a God that you almost have to go outside to worship in order to get the full effect of the breath-taking reality of Him. His love draws you out and up, not down and in. You see two kinds of churches in the world. 
  1.  There are churches that build walls around themselves. The protect their sacred relics and their sacred doctrines and they worry about keeping members in and strangers out. They thrive on ritual and self-righteousness. Their churches are museums for well-polished saints.
  2. There are churches that don't build walls and don't just open their doors. They go out into their communities. They run schools, build hospitals, mission stations, new churches and minister to the poor, the sick, the hungry, the homeless and the disabled. They do as Christ did and go among the thieves, prostitutes, tax-collectors, crippled, blind and mentally ill and they help bring them healing. They bring them into their churches, their homes and their hearts.
I am proud to be a Seventh-day Adventist. First off, we are not, by nature, an insular people. My church runs the second largest parochial schools system in the world and our students score consistently high against students from the public school system, despite our funding being so much less. We run a huge hospital system doing pioneering work in many fields. SDA doctors are some of the leading physicians and surgeons in the world. Our mission work dwarfs that of almost every other denomination in size, scope and organization. Our medical missionaries bring healing and help to some of the most isolated places on Earth. We have dozens of media ministries bringing light and comfort to millions. We are in every sense of the world, a world church.

This happened, I believe, because in the beginning, our founders approached God with a teachable spirit, willing to let God draw us up and out and beyond ourselves and the cultural, political and social mores of the time. We could not remain closeted in our churches once we had looked up and found that God was so much more than we had at first thought. We had to share His love. We had no other choice if we were to remain within the light of His glory and grace.

In these last days, the devil, our adversary, will come among us like a wolf among sheep, seeking to scatter the flock, to isolate and destroy us piecemeal. So before we get our heads down on some point of doctrine or some personality issue, let us look up and see if God approves of what we are doing.If what we are doing involves breaking the church apart with "foolish genealogies and strivings about the law," perhaps we are busily setting up a false idol and not worshiping the God of Heaven at all. I can tell you this. If you are pushing people out of the church or walling off your own little segment of true believers, you are probably not working for who you think you are working for.

If you seek God by searching for Him with all your heart and soul and mind and body, you WILL be drawn up and out of yourself. You won't be able to help it. If you listen, if you behold God and embrace the infinite reality of him, you will be changed and you will need no walls to protect you from the world. You will embrace humanity just as Christ did and you will love them all, be sympathetic to them all and find joy in serving your fellow human beings. God will replace your stony heart with a heart of flesh and grant you a place in his eternal universe.

Just saying.

Tom King
© 2016 by Tom King

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Do Christians Use Magic Words?

When Simon Magus came offering to buy the secrets of the
Apostle Paul's "magic", Paul turned him away.

I've seen a troubling trend in Christendom which has sadly begun to drift over into Seventh-day Adventist circles. Someone posted one of those large sized memes on Facebook the other day that claimed that the letter J was only 600 years old, so Jesus couldn't actually be the "Name above all names."

I've seen this kind of thing before. These guys seize upon some obscure legal point and wrap themselves up in it like a cloak. I had a friend who once told me she was a "vegetarian waiting for the coming of the Lord," as if being a vegetarian was what qualified her for translation. We've seen all sorts of fanaticism rise up in and around the great Advent movement. We've seen false prophets like David Koresh (aka Vernon Howell III), prey upon weak and mentally ill members of our congregations and gather followers to themselves based on little more than some obscure twisted point of theology.

These individuals always have some bit of religious practice or some greater "understanding" of scripture that places their followers above ordinary struggling Christians. They adopt such practices as writing G-d, when they mean to say God. I don't know about you, but seeing GD like that without the "O" always reminds me of a curse word that it took me two years to get out of my head after I worked on a Brown & Root construction crew. It's not helpful at all in making me feel holier to leave out letters in the names of the Almighty.

I think Jesus is smart enough to know who we are talking to when we call him Jesus. If you want to call him Yeshua or whatever obscure Hebrew-sounding name you think is the correct one, that's fine. But to make it a point of salvation is, I believe, to cast stumbling stones in the path of the saints. Besides, the sound of the letter J is NOT 600 years old. It may not have been written as a "J" like we recognize it, but in languages like Latin as in English, many letters can have more than one sound. In English a C can sound like and S or a K, for instance and the letter U was written as a V in Latin for a long time. The J sound is far, far older than that and without sound recordings from two or three millenia ago, you can't be sure anyway. The pronunciation of many ancient languages has been lost long ago. 

This quibbling about the name of Jesus and associated phrases is pretty much the sort of legalistic clap trap many fanatics soothe themselves with, believing they are somehow better than their fellow Christians because they use the right name for Yeshua. They treat the name of Christ as if it were some sort of magic word by which God is forced to do things for you. In other words, if I ask in the name of Yeshua, God has to do it, but if I ask in Jesus' name He doesn't? 

That's little more than a Christianized form of witchcraft. I once had a Church of Christ pastor tell me that my baptism was "no good" because I was baptized in the name of "The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit" instead of Pastor Thurber using the magical phrase "In Jesus name." I asked the gentleman if he really believed that God was too stupid to figure out who His Son was. We serve a loving merciful God, not some superior sort of sorcerer. Jesus accepted those who came to Him wherever they were and with whatever burdens they carried. He never asked a single sinner to say any special sequence of magic words before he healed them. Often Jesus healed people before he asked them to repent.

This is, of course, one man's opinion, but it is based on a lifetime of study and prayer and walking with Christ (which is Greek, not Hebrew I realize, but again, I think Jesus is quite intelligent enough to figure out that I am talking about Him). Jesus asked sinners to confess and let go of their sins and He put no other burden upon them, save to walk with Him and that's really not hard to do at all. All you have to do is spend time with Jesus instead of looking around for all sorts of obscure "rules for proper holiness" that you can come up with to make yourself feel more secure and to elevate your brand of religion above that of others.

This practice reminds me of those martial arts guys who constantly brag about how "My Karate is better than your Karate!" Jesus (or whatever makes you feel superior to call Him), wasn't a sensei. He was a savior. In the Old Testament, we are sternly warned against practicing witchcraft and magic. God gave us the gift of language that we might communicate with each other and understand what God is trying to teach us. Language is not a magic wand and should NEVER be used as one.

We had a bout of something a few years back called the ABC's of prayer which, while based on Scripture, was taken almost into the realm of magic by some practitioners.  While it is true that God always answers prayers, to demand that He answer them in precisely the way we want Him to, based on the strength of our "faith" and the quoting of the words of Biblical promises, strikes me as dangerously close to practicing a form of conjuring. A dear friend of mine was convinced that if he asked, believed and claimed healing from his bipolar disorder, that God would have to heal him. He stopped taking his meds and a few months later was unable to continue preaching and after several years of bizarre behavior, he put a shotgun in his mouth and pulled the trigger with his toe. So much for God having to do what you tell Him to.

While it might be exciting to think we could have that sort of power to heal and move mountains, that is a power that belongs to God alone and to attempt to bend the Almighty to our will is a dangerous business. The story of Hezekiah is instructive here. God told Hezekiah he was going to die and to prepare himself. Hezekiah prayed and prayed that God would give him a longer life. God chose to relent and gave Hezekiah 15 extra years, during which time he had a son, Mannaseh, the only king of Judah judged to be as bad as the Israelite King Ahab. Had Hezekiah submitted to God, how much better would it have been for Judah not to have had that terrible king?

Does God heal people?  Yes, unequivocally. Does He heal on demand?  Absolutely not. God is able to look down the corridors of time and see what the impact of every action will be. He knew Hezekiah would have a very bad son who would be king. He showed us the folly of demanding things go our way by granting Hezekiah's request. King David also prayed for the healing of his son, but when the son died, David got up and accepted God's will. David's willingness to accept God's reproval and his guidance was why he was called a "man after God's own heart".
Trying to force God to do what you think is best is always a bad idea. It is far, far better to pray and then wait for and accept God's answer.  In the same way, it's better to spend your time and energy trying to emulate Jesus than trying to find the right words to manipulate Him.  What was it Solomon said?

Vanity of vanity, all is vanity.
We are vain creatures who tend to believe that we know best about things. But, in the end, we are neither wise enough, nor prescient enough to demand things of God. We cannot, as God does, see what will come of doing what we desire. Christianity has no room for Christian sorcerers who by using the right combination of words can, like Harry Potter, make things happen the way they want them to. It just doesn't work that way.

© 2016 by Tom King

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Where In Scripture Does It Say, "Thou Shalt Choose the Lesser of Two Evils"

Elijah hiding out, having said some things to the king he didn't like.
I'm in a lot of trouble with my Adventist readers. As a blogger, I regularly touch the third rail of Adventism - politics. I can't tell you how many times I've been counseled to keep quiet about politics and, if I'm talking to a certain group of Adventists, to both be quiet and vote Democrat!

As anyone who reads my stuff knows, I'm a died in the wool Christian conservative, a strict constitutionalist and firm believer in small decentralized government. I've been told we are not to have an opinion about those kinds of things, but given how close politics comes to being religion it's a difficult thing to do, especially when politics is so apt to use religion as a vote-getting tool.

Jesus very clearly said to, "Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's."  It should be noted that of the 12 men he told that to, one committed suicide, 10 were executed by governments and the only one to die a natural death was banished, given hard labor and boiled in oil first.  As Christians, we don't so much attack governments as they attack us. It's an old story.

Sometime add up how many prophets were killed by Israelite kings in the Old Testament. And despite this they kept on delivering messages to the kings that they didn't want to hear. The prophet Nathan was lucky that King David feared God because one of David's soldiers was ready to lop off his head when he delivered his message.

And remember what Samuel warned the Children of Israel about when they wanted a king like everyone else. People tell me we should just be quiet and God will put in the leader he wants. At this point I remind them that God gave Israel a king even though He didn't want them to have one. And the Israelite kings did every bad thing that Samuel said they would; everything God through his prophets said would happen did.  Yet, God gave them kings. GOD WAS TEACHING WHEN HE DID IT.

I find that, as a Christian, inaction is not appropriate, especially when I live in a nation that God specifically gave us as a refuge of religious freedom; a nation of the people, by the people and for the people. Since our government derives it's power, authority and very existence from the will of the people, then when we are counseled to "render unto Caesar", we are, in effect, being told in America to "render" unto ourselves for we are Caesar - the source of power. That said, the political choices we as Americans have are not either/or. Anyone who tells you different is selling something.

If we hand over the reins of power to government in some misguided attempt to gain safety, security or the chance to "win", then we are, I believe, doing something God would disapprove of.
I'm from Texas. I admit it, so I think of things in a Texan context. I also grew up in an Adventist ghetto where we rolled up the sidewalks on Friday evening. I have seen what can happen when people take a stand. The boys at the Alamo, as a Trump supporter reminded me, lost that fight. He suggested that losing was the worst thing. This guy could not have been from Texas. The stand at the Alamo bought time for the Texican Army to get itself together and get to San Jacinto where they handily whipped Santa Anna. So the Alamo fight, by pinning Santa Anna's army for 18 days, won the war even though they lost the battle.

When I lived in Keene, we were sent a mule-headed wild man of a pastor named Ron Halvorsen. In my home town the good old boy network had it's roots deep in everything that went on in the town and we were slowly dying. Our kids were leaving. Church was as dry as the Hills of Gilboa. Ron came to town and planted the flag of truth. They fought him tooth and nail, but prayer meeting exploded from 45 people in the Youth Chapel to 12 to 1500 in a jammed sanctuary with another 100 or so kids in their own Wednesday service in the family center. When Ron left the good old boys celebrated. But the damage had been done and they never managed to get back their power. Ron Halvorsen stood for the truth and won, whatever the leadership thought. A lot of us are still in the church because of people like Ron and other brave workers for the Lord. These brave men and women gave us choices we could, in good conscience make. Many of these choices were not comfortable or easy, but they were right and set up against the "go along to get along" path that others were offering, these choices were the only ones we could in good conscience make.

C.S. Lewis pointed out once that “He (the devil) always sends errors into the world in pairs--pairs of opposites... He relies on your extra dislike of one to draw you gradually into the opposite one. But do not let us be fooled. We have to keep our eyes on the goal and go straight through between both errors. We have no other concern than that with either of them.” Lewis foresaw the rise of political forces in the world which would attempt to manipulate people; to bend them to the will of their masters. He recognized who was behind such false choices and clearly warned us that such choices would be presented to us in order to maneuver us into a trap. He was right.

It appears that we really don't have a viable candidate running for president this fall. We are told that we must choose one or the other for fear the worst one will be, well, worse. I am a Christian and as an Adventist, the most stubborn sort of Christian, I do not accept the idea that I must choose between two evils. I can't find a passage in Scripture that ever recommends such a course. We Adventists have stood against the tide of Christendom throughout our more than a century and a half history. Many of our fellow Christians dismiss us a a dangerous cult because we won't back down and join the herd. We don't choose one evil or the other. We choose the truth, even though few religious leaders want that choice to even be on the table.

So I suppose being a Texan and a stubborn Adventist, it might be a little easier for me to just vote, "NO" in November.
I'm used to "losing". But, sometimes you do what is right because it is right and winning or losing doesn't come into the calculation. When it all comes down to it, Jesus is coming soon. He is the only one who's approval I wish to win. Heaven is the only reward I want. Eternal life is the only victory worth having. 

© 2016 by Tom King

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Seeing the End from Here

I grew up on End of Times prophecy seminars and evangelistic meetings. My home town of Keene, Texas is pretty much the capital of Adventism in Texas and the Southwestern Union, being the home of Southwestern Adventist University. My great great grandfather signed the charter for the Keene Church back in the late 1800s. I lived literally in a city on a hill - Keene is the highest spot in Johnson County. There used to be a train that ran through Keene back in the 20s. The train's conductor, a would-be humorist, used to announce Keene as "Next stop the Holy City."

So I heard a lot about prophecy as a kid. It was during the great schism of the 60s between hard-line, Sister White thumpin' legalism and the rise of the second great righteous by faith movement in the church. There was a lot going on. The one constant however were the stories about what would happen at the end of time.

It was scary stuff; the SDA preacher's version of hell fire and damnation preaching. Baptists scared people into the pews with tales of the horrors of an ever-burning hell. Adventist evangelists (some and by no means all) scared people into the pews with tales of being "unready" for the time of trouble. So I have this spidey sense about end of time signs.

The first thing man needed to bring the world to an end was a means to literally end the world. Well we already had that. I grew up with cartoon turtles teaching us to duck and cover in elementary school. We've lived with mutually assured destruction for a long time. We already have the means to turn the Earth into a dead and blackened husk fo a thousand years. So that's already done.

Some ten or fifteen years ago Pope John Paul II sent out an encyclical calling for Catholics to start lobbying for Sunday laws in their countries and declaring that Sunday was the symbol of the church's authority which all recognize. This was suggested as a means to improve the quality of family life. Nothing happened in the USA (apparently we think family life is okey dokey, so we didn't really worry about it too much, at least in North American Adventist circles. What I didn't know is that European countries like Germany did enact such laws. You can, for instance be arrested and fined in Stuttgart for mowing your lawn on Sunday. You can be visited by the police for washing your car on a warm Sunday afternoon in Munich. Quietly other strongly Catholic nations have followed suit. I don't know how many. I only recently became aware of the strong Sunday laws in Germany.

Then I stumbled on an encyclical by Pope Benedict calling for one world government with "teeth" to rein in countries like the United States. He suggested such a clearly socialist government be organized by industrial leaders, trade unions, international political parties (there's only one of those) and religious leaders. I stumbled hard over the bit about "trade unions" in particular and I heard "bundles to be burned" echo in my brain. The plan was proffered as a way to insure the relief of the world's poor - a massive redistribution of wealth from wealthy countries to poor ones. In his encyclical, Benedict stated "Obviously it (the global government) would have to have the authority to ensure compliance with its decisions from all parties, and also with the coordinated measures adopted in various international forums." Can you say, "Beast".

Then we got a Jesuit pope, Frances. Given the history of Jesuit twiddling with the Protestant interpretation of the identity of the anti-Christ through stealth campaigns in Protestant seminaries and its insertion of the Secret Rapture doctrine into the Protestant eschatology, I could hear the far off rumble of a coming storm. In short order, Frances is invited by an ex Israeli prime minister to head up something called "The United Religions", an organization designed to be a kind of spiritual United Nations. He has not said "No". Shortly after that, the pope sends a video invitation to American charismatics to give up "Martin Luther's protest" and rejoin the Catholic Church, claiming the problem has been solved with a little wording change in the church's doctrine related to salvation by faith in Christ alone. That sent a little chill up my spine. Then he visited the USA and spoke to Congress while the Speaker of the House stood trembling with tears in his eyes.

Now we see in the very nation that SDAs have long predicted would become the "Image to the Beast", a presidential election in which both candidates are outright criminals, demonstrated liars and con artists. One owns strip clubs and borrows slogans from Adolph Hitler. The other is suspected of treasonous behavior, collusion with our enemies and massively poor judgment during her term as Secretary of State. And one of our own Adventist "bright lights", who ought to know better, is asking us to choose the lesser of two evils. Can you say "...some of our brightest lights will go out?" Thought so.

In the news today I saw an article about a new technology that has the ability to scrape all your records online, social media and everything for data. It analyzes words and puts together a report about you - one that purports to tell whether you are trustworthy or not. Google has already done something similar. The CEO of Google, Eric Schmidt, said this when questioned about privacy concerns, "If you have something that you don't want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn't be doing it in the first place. The company, Score Assured, is offering its services to landlords, loan companies and employers as a way to vet those apply to them for housing, loans or employment.

"Whoa, "that no man might buy or sell" just flashed through my brain. The company's co-founder Steve Thornhill dismisses such worries saying, "If you're living a normal life, then, frankly, you have nothing to worry about." In the age of terrorism, can you imagine the US government not wanting to get its hands on a way to make sure people are living a "normal" life. All in the name of safety you understand.

So who decides what is a "normal" life. If you don't live a normal life what happens next. Can anyone else see a government market for this technology as a means to protect Homeland Security. The world has in its hands the means to insure your orthodoxy and we voluntarily have handed it to them. There's no hiding anymore other than literally going into the rocks and the mountains and hiding and with heat sensing scanners and satellites that can read a newspaper from outer space, there really is no hiding anymore.

The Great Controversy has always been about freedom vs control.  God wants us to be free and to live as we choose. Lucifer has always thought we needed a more firm hand. Look at all the most devilish governments that have ever existed and they all share one thing - a lust for power over the lives of all.  We old geezers read George Orwell's 1984 in school and for some years have managed to avoid it. An new generation is rising and Orwell and the Bible are off the reading lists for children now.

We live in a world clambering for safety, entertainment and comfort - sex, drugs and rock n' roll if you will. Greed and the lust for power has created a world so complex we can't understand it anymore. So we invent conspiracy theories to try and simplify things enough so we can understand them. We're being set up to believe that the only way to save ourselves from these conspiracies is to give ourselves a powerful leadership we can trust. Sadly, we're being set up. The only conspiracy out there is a loose sharing of mutual lust, greed and self-interest. The leader of this conspiracy is not who people think it is. We fight not against flesh and blood, but against "principalities and powers" and these have been pushing the world closer and closer to the brink of surrender and destruction using the same lies, the same inducements and the same techniques over and over. Socialism has gone down in disaster and death time after time after time and still we see men binding them selves in bundles like Mussolini's symbolic Fascio - bundles to be burned in the fires of the concentration camps, the gulags and the ghettos.

I found God during the early days of the righteousness by faith movement in the late 60s. I began a personal walk with Christ at that time, but I was impertinent enough to ask God to prove He was really who He said He was. And somewhat to my surprise, He did. Repeatedly. Undeniably. Nowadays I have a different reaction to those scary prophecies and their ongoing fulfillment in the nightly news stories.

Now, when I see the signs as Jesus said we would, my heart is lifted for I know that the time is near. It is the Autumn of our world and the winter is bearing down on us. But we are His and we need not fear. I tell people all the time that I believe that Jesus is loading up the bus to come and get us. Everybody pretty much agrees, though all of us are not completely comfortable in that knowledge. But I do not fear the time of trouble, for He is with me always. I know this, for every time an angel appears to a man, the first message he delivers is always the same.  "Fear not!" So I don't. The world IS coming to its end. Like the changing of the leaves in Autumn foretell the coming of winter, the signs of the end are all around us.

Even so, come Lord Jesus, for I am not afraid.

© 2016 by Tom King

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Grief: It's Who You Know

With Christ you do not walk alone whatever trials may come.

Up front, let me tell you I am no stranger to grief. At the age of four, my cousin who my Mom babysat regularly died suddenly of SIDS. It was my first encounter with death and the sadness that accompanies it. When I was a little older, my baby brother died due to a heart defect that he was born with. We kids brought German measles home and gave it to my Mom which caused Craig to be born with it. My 16 year old brother Donnie was shot through the chest with a 12 gauge shotgun at close range by a friend when I was 18. Fifteen years later, my stepmother shot my father through the chest with a 12 gauge shotgun and then waited to call 911 till she was sure he'd stopped breathing. I lost a business and home we had invested countless hours and dollars in. I had several jobs fold up under me. My family asked me not to visit my beloved grandmother anymore because it upset her, even though my grandmother had told us on our last visit with her that she'd never felt closer to God than she had while my wife had been staying with her. Her apparent stroke and mental confusion caused my aunt's ban on our visiting her. This effectively cut me off from my extended family on my Dad's side for years.

In struggling to do God's will with our lives we've run up against roadblocks and what I can only describe as attacks by Satan. We endured poverty and deprivation, our son developed a seizure disorder. Another son developed bipolar disorder. Our middle son died in his sleep in his senior year of college. I did CPR for 30 minutes before the ambulance arrrived. My wife developed bipolar and suffered a massive breakdown. My son's bipolar and the poor choices he made while not on his meds landed him in jail for we know not how long. We have passed through displacement, hunger and homelessness. We've witnessed God's deliverance and intervention many times when we thought we could not go on.

And then last month, the little dog that God had given us and who had brought us untold comfort and joy through the difficulties of the past 7 years died in my arms. It felt like losing a child. Then, my wife went back home to Louisiana for six weeks to help a cousin who's husband is suffering liver failure due to exposure to Agent Orange during his time in Vietnam. 
I found myself alone without even my doggy companion to keep me company.

It sounds like a tale of unrelenting woe when you put it like that. My life, however, is not a tale of woe. Viewed from the perspective of one who endeavors to serve God as best that he can, my life has been chiefly one of peace, joy, love and happiness, albeit interspersed with grief and trouble. I have done things that I thought God wanted doing and am pleased that many of them resulted in good things happening. I have friends who love us, children I am proud of and the hope of heaven. I am content. 

Grief can make you a kinder, more sympathetic person or it can turn you into a self-absorbed angry monster. It is living daily with Jesus that makes the difference. It is He who heals a broken heart and keeps it from hardening and turning in on itself. It is Christ who helps the broken-hearted to heal by opening those same hearts to even more opportunities to share his love with a world suffering at the hands of the Prince of Darkness.

Men grieve differently than women. Though we don't show it or talk about it as much, we still experience it. In many ways male grief is a more difficult process. Women talk about their grief and express their emotions openly with other women and with their supportive menfolk - fathers, brothers or spouses mostly. Men seldom show emotion with other men and often actively hide it in front of their womenfolk. Because we stuff our grief, we probably aren't terribly good at listening when our wives are grieving over the same thing we are. To listen and empathize would mean exposing ourselves to the danger of opening up our own emotional pain and that is something men don't like to do. 

Most of the time, if men shed tears over our grief, it is when we are alone, driving in our cars, sitting in a fishing boat or walking alone in the woods. In every case in my own life where I lost someone important to me, my tears have flowed mostly where no one but God could see them. I had to actively go to God about my grief, because, for some reason, the human mind processes grief in close proximity to where it generates anger. I've had to pray a lot during periods of grief in order to keep from being surly or short with my loved ones. Solitary prayer alone with God can help. Walking and weeping while praying seems to valve off some of that emotional pressure caused by the internal struggle we men have in trying to bury our sadness and sense of terrible loss.

We learn through grief that loving others, that offering ourselves to act as the instruments of our loving God is the only way through our pain. There is a bright and hopeful eternity beyond this sad little world, but we cannot go around life's dark valleys. We must, like David said in Psalm 23, "... walk through the valley of the shadow of death." David, in typical male fashion, however, follows up that statement with a ringing declaration. "I WILL FEAR NO EVIL!" One evening during a particularly difficult personal trial, I had just received another phone call with more bad news. I went out on the front porch and stood there looking out upon a darkening wood. I suddenly remembered David's declaration. Almost instinctively, I squared my shoulders, raised an arm and shook my fist at the darkness. Out loud I shouted, "Come on you old deceiver. Is that the best you've got?" Some people chide me for doing that, saying you should never tempt Satan that way. To me it felt like a battle cry in the midst of some war that was going on in my life. It gave me courage in a strange way and even though the devil didn't let up on us for a while, we did manage to overcome him anyway and came out with our faith stronger for it.

My neighbors probably wondered what the crazy man next door was yelling about, but it did give me a great sense of relief. The Apostle Paul said, "
For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms." In any conflict, it is important to understand who your enemies are. It helps you to bear the losses that you inevitably have during any war and helps you stay out of the trap of blaming yourself or, worse, of blaming God.

A life which bears much grief can be viewed as either a tragedy or a triumph. Loss doesn't have to be defeat. Remember the Alamo. Remember the cross. Whether your life ends in defeat or victory, it's resolution does not depend on your won/loss record nor even on how well you fought. Whether you win or lose depends instead on who you know.

Me? I choose to know Jesus.

©  2016 by Tom King

Friday, May 27, 2016

Follow Your Leader? Sorry, I Already Have One.

And I'm not sorry at all....

Politics and religion often overlap because it is hard to believe something as fervently as Christians do and to avoid getting crosswise of your country's political leadership. It has always been so. After all, most of them believe they should be worshipped and find those who love and serve Christ to be troublesome at best and a downright threat to their power at worst.

The is nothing worse to a human leader than followers who won't follow and subjects who won't bow down. A few wise leaders do understand the power of a free citizenry, but not terribly many. God blessed our nation with a surprisingly large group of leaders who did, though most saw the folly of entrusting your liberties to princes, kings, emperors and potentates in the light cast upon the subject by England's insane King George III. In America, it was churches where the Revolution began and was fomented. Followers of Christ didn't think they needed any other King. After all most of the colonials had come to America to escape persecution by kings and nobles they disagreed with.

America has had a good run as protector of its citizens' rights and liberties. Two hundred forty years is not bad for a country. It took Rome a lot less than that before it gave up its Republican system of government in exchange for the empty promises of a smooth-talking "leader".

It's always amazing in history when perfectly sensible people like the Israelites, who had witnessed time and again God's deliverance under the government that God Himself had set up over His people, choose to put tyrants over themselves. They, like almost every group of humans who drift toward trusting in themselves, demanded a stronger king.  Samuel warned them (I Samuel 8:10-22)

  • 10 So Samuel told all the words of the Lord to the people who were asking for a king from him. 11 He said, “These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen and to run before his chariots. 12 And he will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and some to plow his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots. 13 He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. 14 He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his servants. 15 He will take the tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and to his servants. 16 He will take your male servants and female servants and the best of your young men[a] and your donkeys, and put them to his work. 17 He will take the tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves. 18 And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves, but the Lord will not answer you in that day.”
When our current presidential election cycle began I had some hope. There were many candidates I could vote for, even including a Seventh Day Adventist who actually seemed to have a shot at winning the thing. I was thinking, maybe God was going to give us a brief respite to finish the work before Babylon rises up, wrecks the world and then falls. Instead, we wound up with two candidates so desperately slimy and evil that most Christians are revolted and the prospect of voting for either one. My favorite candidate even went over to the dark side and endorsed the strip club owner in the race, claiming he was at least  better than the socialist that was running.

The lesser of two evils, my friend, is still evil and electing someone evil to the most power office in the world is never, ever a good idea.  In discussing the situation with other Christians at the weekly food bank, my cab driver and a couple of folks I struck a conversation with at Walmart this afternoon, we have pretty much decided that the people of America have chosen the path to destruction and that Jesus must be loading up the bus to come and get us.

Jesus said in Mark 13: 28-30

I don't know about you, but I'm seeing stuff happening that the evangelists who evangelistic meetings at my church and at camp meeting told us would happen at the end of time. In less than twenty years, we've seen the last three Popes call for (in order), Sunday laws (John Paul), a world government with teeth (Benedict) and an end to "Luther's protest" and reunification of the Protestant churches and Roman Catholicism into a universal church (Frances). We've witnessed a former Israeli prime minister inviting the Pope to head an organization called "United Religions", a quasi-governmental parallel to the United Nations for the world's churches. We've witnessed the Pope speaking before Congress and president after president making the pilgrimage to the Vatican to kiss the Pope's ring.

Kids, it's a comin' just like the preachers have been trying to tell us it was. So this election cycle, I'm voting none of the above. I may write someone in, but I won't be voting for either of the two corrupt servants with whom Satan has presented us.  If you'll notice that the countries that commit the most evil in this world like to have meaningless elections where there is no real choice at all, only illusory ones.

It's time to dust off your study Bibles and prepare to stand in the breach with your swords. It will take courage. Some of the brightest lights of the church will go out. We know this. It's heart-breaking when it happens, but there's a reason we Christians don't have to worry about leaders.

We don't need anyone's "great" human leader to fight our battles for us or to tell us what to do - we already have one and He has already one our battle for us. There's nothing they can do to us for Christ sends us angels to stand beside us and every time one does, the first thing he says to us is, "Fear Not!"

So I am not afraid. And that's a message we should be preaching to anyone who will listen.

© by Tom King