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