Dipolar Christianity

9 01 2012

For those who weren’t paying attention, over the years the Christian faith has largely split into two camps, the highly charismatic, and the cessationists.  It used to be that we identified ourselves along the lines of protestant and Catholic, but in places where that battle has come to a truce, more or less, we’ve come to divide ourselves along the line distinguishing ourselves between those who expect God to work miracles every day and those who think that all miracles died with Jesus and failed to rise again.  Unbelievers like the first group, because they’re easy to mock, and they like the second group, because that form of Christianity is so dead that it poses no real threat to secular normalcy.

Before the old protestant-Catholic battle, there was the Catholic-orthodox conflagration.  Before that, it was the Christian versus the Jew.  With the earliest split, the Jews were the persecutors, and the conflict ended when a third party, Rome, trampled all over Judea and made the Jewish divine privilege look like a bankrupt gentleman’s club.  Then the Catholics split from the Eastern Orthodox, and the Catholics became the persecutors during the crusades.  Then the protestants split from the Catholics, and the Catholics were still the persecutors.  We can thank Napoleon for confining the Vatican to a tiny little plot of apolitical territory.  Since that emasculation, we’ve only found our nemesis in the Anglican Church (the other papacy), which persecuted people as power in England shifted back and forth between the Catholics and the Anglicans between the times of Henry the Eighth and Queen Elisabeth, and the Episcopalians (the other Anglican church), which brought us the glorious Salem witch trials.  Are we done yet?

One would think that we could be done with dividing ourselves into fundamental opposition.  Here, in the United States, the Catholic church has no power to persecute.  The Orthodox barely exist.  The Jews control the media (just kidding).  Actually, Jewishness has lost its cultural identity to such an extent these days, that they could hardly be considered a social force at all, anymore.  These should be the golden days of Christendom, but we apparently seem addicted to culling the herd and refining our social set to the true faith.

On the one hand, we have the Vineyard, the Assemblies of God, the Foursquare Church, etc., along with some really wild charismatic offshoots, doing their best to promote glossolalia, prophecy and miraculous healing.  On the other hand, we have all of the old-school mainstream churches such as the Methodists, Wesleyan and the Northern Baptists taking the tamest and safest route to faith, which is to say that God ignores you until you die (until he kills you), and then suddenly he becomes your benefactor and your very best friend, ushering you into Heaven.

If I had no clue which were true, I would have to say that I would rather be a Charismatic and be wrong than be a cessationist and be wrong.  I would rather live with the hope and faith that God still intervenes in our lives and performs encouraging miracles along the way, even if I’m wrong, than believe that Christ abandoned us when he ascended into Heaven, and be wrong.  At least, if I’m a charismatic, I have hope.  If I’m a cessationist, then I lean upon the arm of an apathetic God.  I would least want to be a cessationist and be right.

If nothing else, at least the charismatics have the guts to stick their necks out and make themselves an easy target.  The other extreme believes in little more for this life than does the unbeliever.  It’s easy to say that we can expect nothing miraculous until after the grave, because it can never be tested or verified.  This is really just a lame excuse for faith.  The faith of the believer approximates the faith of the unbeliever, and that’s nothing to live by.

On the other hand, because the charismatics do stick their necks out and stand for the miraculous, the result is that we’ve had a lot of rolling heads over the years.  We have the miraculous speaking of other languages (glossolalia), and those languages often don’t exist, and often, just based on what’s being articulated, the person could hardly be speaking more than repetitive gibberish, anyway.  We have notorious cases of miraculous “healing” that did little more than prevent the victim from seeking conventional medicine, even to the point of death.  We’ve had outrageous preachers who blaspheme, distort and self-aggrandize.  In short, charisma has come to be synonymous with sensationalism.

The truth of the matter is that in a side-by-side comparison, the charismatic movement will always provide plenty more fodder for debunking.  They get it wrong and they blunder several times a day, globally.  The cessationists never prove wrong, because they never stand for anything.  Claims can’t be false if they’re never made.  The positive assertion is always the riskiest assertion.  The skeptic’s position is the easy one, in all respects.  It’s always easier to sit back and poke holes in the opponent’s claims than to stand up and make a positive assertion about anything.  Ambitious people fail more often than the lazy, because they try more often.  Professional sportsmen fail more often than the armchair quarterback, because they play more often.  Hence, charismatics make fools of themselves, and the cessationists do not.

If we take the Bible at its word, then miracles do still happen.  It’s exactly as the charismatics say, but it is not necessarily as often, or under the same circumstances.  Of a thousand prophecies, one may actually be true.  Of a hundred-thousand speakings of an angelic language, maybe one is genuine and useful for teaching a person of the gospel.  All it takes is one example of a genuine miracle, and the cessationist is proven wrong.  He is not proven right every time the charismatic offering comes to naught.

Personally, I understand both sides, and I respect both to a great degree.  One is hopeful, and the other is rational.  One runs blindly, and the other convinces himself that he sees nothing.  I would love to see both sides in the same church, waiting patiently and expectantly for the move of the Holy Spirit, not daring to make it happen by their own will, and not daring to condemn it out of hand.

My brother, a charismatic preacher, once asked me if my church was the kind where the Holy Spirit moved, or whether it was one that didn’t believe in the work of God.  I said, “Neither one.”  Then he asked me if it was the kind that believed in the work of the Holy Spirit, but was essentially dead, waiting around for something that never happened.  He believed it to be the saddest kind of church.  Oh, but it was not that at all.  It was the most honest kind of church.  It was the kind that refused to prevent the work of the Spirit either by faking it or by dismissing it before it even happened.  It was a church that remained on the verge of something big.

What the church needs today is not a hyper-rational sect of witch-hunters tearing down the charismatic movement.  It would be better to die young than to discourage and dismay the body of Christ, first.  What the church needs is not a three-ring-circus miracle roadshow, condemning the cessationists for their lack of faith.  The only thing worse than a lack of miracles is disillusioning believers through exposed farce.  Personally, I would love to see more miracles in the church, today, but I want it to be real, and nothing less.

What we really don’t need is another religious split, but that’s what we might get if we don’t treat each other with gentleness and respect, not for having perfect theology, but for being a child of God.


13 03 2010

That night a rumor was born out of a back bedroom of my home in San Diego County, which traveled the full length of the Pacific coast of the continental United States, all the way to Washington, where it turned around and met me again halfway up California in a town called Sonora.  I was sitting in the fellowship hall of a local church, playing Mancala with a fellow student from Washington.  We had been canvassing the Sierra Nevadas for a field trip in search of flowers to classify.  I was just telling her of a certain troublesome individual who had caused our home much grief, when my classmate jumped up and announced excitedly that she had heard of this crazy woman.  We traced the rumor back to her home state, and, from there, back to San Diego.  Surprisingly, the story had not lost an ounce of truth in the telling.

 Lori is one of those people I can name by her first name, and if you know her, then you will likely know about exactly whom I’m talking.  She’s a former witch, who claims to have special knowledge of the spiritual world through her past dealings with the devil.  At the time that I knew her, she waved the banner of Christianity, and she proclaimed herself to be one of God’s own prophets.  She was a bane of families and churches.  Every thought she conceived, every dream, was a gift of the divine, straight to her.  She had plans for a mountain in southern California to become the hiding place for the elect in the final days.  Initially, that land was in drought, but she predicted rain.  She told that a dry lake would one day be filled, and she was right.  Later that year it did rain, the lake did fill, and the mountaintop turned from brown to a luxurious green.  She had actually predicted climate change, and the climate obeyed.

 The next summer, the lake dried, the grass turned brown, and everything returned to the way it had been at first.

 Lori was one of those people who are never wrong.  Anything she wanted, she got.  Many women strive for beauty and high esteem.  She strove for power over angels and men.  Every little thing she did, she praised.  Every decent thing that anyone else did, she disregarded.  If given the chance, she would have started her own little cult community.  I can only thank God that she did not muster that kind of influence.  In retrospect, I can see why she was involved in the female part of the Masons.  She craved the perceived power in that secret pagan ritualism.  Through her, I was able to glimpse some of the lesser rites.  Nothing Biblical comes out of that organization.  The Masons are a collection of would-be sorcerers in a quest for spiritual power, not a club of good fellows.

 As an adolescent, I was stuck in the unfortunate position of being old enough to realize that my parents were being taken for fools, yet I was too young to have any say in my own fate.  Lori convinced them to sell our home and buy a place out in the great tinderbox of rural San Diego County.  Together, her family and ours lived in the same home, mostly at my parents’ expense.  They had visions of a blossoming ministry, which, although it was not on the aforementioned mountain, was destined to move there one day.  That day never came.  I cannot say that no good came of that move.  In fact, my parents were able to make a positive impact on some less fortunate individuals.

 The really irksome problems began when a rumor started in the church.  People were beginning to tell my mother and Lori that they seemed to have an unnaturally close relationship.  The most brazen of them hinted at lesbianism.  Oh, yeah, that feels like a punch in the gut to have people call my mom a dyke.  Lori called it a nasty rumor, and she found someone to blame as the originator of that rumor.  Looking at the situation honestly, I realized that this was not a rumor at all.  People were merely making conclusions based on what they saw.  One person had the guts to say it like it was, but she was not the cause of my mother’s ill repute.  The fact was that Lori looked very much like a lesbian in pursuit of my mom.  So I had this woman getting a little too friendly with my mom, and our families moved in together.  The kids on both sides were starting to confer with each other and wonder what the heck was going on.

 I didn’t think I was affected too much by it, until one day at school while waiting in line for class.  A friend and I were having a little fun inventing funny insults.  Then he landed the line, “your mother is a lesbian.”  The next thing I knew, I turned around and he was rubbing his jaw, eyes wet, saying, “You hit me.  I can’t believe you just hit me!”  I couldn’t believe it, either.  I wasn’t even conscious of it.  I was amazed and horrified that I had just hit a friend.  I still don’t really remember doing it.  I must have turned around, slugged him, and then returned to standing in line as though nothing had happened.  What a way to lose a friend!

 Lori brought some interesting times to my life, most of which I could have done quite well without.  Fortunately, these things could not last.  Due to the “rumors,” the church stripped both of the ladies, my dad and Lori’s husband of their involvement in youth functions.  From there, they retreated to a poor little country church.  During this time, Lori found a new best friend, named Laura, which caused a great deal of chaos in our home, especially since Laura was living on the property by my parents’ benevolence. 

 Then events really got crazy.  My dad and Lori got into a fight, in which they both went for their guns.  He was tired of letting her push everyone around, and she was tired of having him stand in the way of her dreams.  I don’t know how we ever survived.  I cannot fathom how my parents’ marriage lasted. 

 Lori’s marriage did not last.  Her son became enamored with the preacher’s daughter, and Lori saw it as an opportunity to exact revenge not only on her estranged husband, but also strike a blow to the preacher.  The timing couldn’t have been worse.  The church was splitting, and the board was trying to oust the preacher.  His daughter was eighteen and entitled to make her own marital choices, which she did against her father’s will.  Lori’s son was just sixteen, which meant that she could emancipate him against his father’s will.  Add to that the fact that her friend, Laura, had received a mail-order minister’s license, and what we got was two kids getting married in a back bedroom against the will of three parents, thanks to one clever and especially vindictive mother.  My parents and I huddled in the common area of the house, grumbling helplessly against it.  It was entirely legal, and it was all incredibly stupid.

 News of the odd marriage traveled from there to Washington through an unlikely channel of people who did not know us.  From there, it found its way back to Sonora, to a surprised and energetic classmate.

 Lori, Laura and the newlyweds moved to Arizona shortly after that.  The kids had a couple of their own kids immediately, and then the preacher’s daughter took those kids and went to live with her parents again.

 At least that disaster was out of my life.  My parents’ stormy marriage healed to near perfection within a year.  I married my own bride in that very church, just after the pastor lost his own daughter to a back room wedding.  We’re still happily married after all of these years.  I put Lori out of my mind.  She continued to make her way east.  She left her friend, Laura, and, as far as I know, made her way to the other side of the continent.

 I don’t know why I was surprised, recently, when yet another Lori rumor found its way all the way from the other coast to here.  I was sitting outside of church, when my dad leaned over and said, “Lori got married…to another woman.  Don’t tell your mom.”

 Apparently the “gossips” at church had been right all those years ago.  They were following their God-given mandate to warn people of their sin.  Things may not have been what they appeared to be, but they were certainly close enough to merit mention.  While Lori was claiming divine revelation, her opponents were the ones getting the message from above.  She may go to Hell, but it won’t be for her ignorance.

A Tenacious Tragedy

1 03 2010

There is only one way.  There has always only been one way.  There was a people who testified to that way, until the day that they met it face to face.  Upon meeting that one, they rejected him.  They continue, even now, upon that global stage, testifying to a “one,” but their fortress has been built without a cornerstone.  The prophets said that they would return to their homeland when the Messiah called them into it, but in the absence of a suitable Messiah, they have fulfilled the prophecy on their own initiative.  Abraham has lain with Hagar, having aborted the son of Sarah, in this case.  The prophecies will be fulfilled, even if they are not.

One must admire the tenacity of the Jewish nation, having been exiled not once, but twice, returning each time to rebuild a dream.  They have responded to the call, and they have come to assert their identity, to show the world that they have not been defeated.  Evangelicals, especially in America, have cheered their achievement.  More than that, the Christian Zionists, as they are called, actually live vicariously through these people.  The war of Ezekiel 38 seems to be just around the corner.  The Antichrist is set to amass his armies against her, only to be destroyed from above.  But what is this?  Israel, herself, is anti-Christ!  Even now, among her numbers, the Jews discuss the problematic matter of this friendship with the idolatrous Evangelicals.

The problem with Israel, as it stands today, is that she is no different than the day that Vespasian rode his chariots out to knock down her walls.

Before the king of Babylon even considered the spoils of Judea, the future victim had her own prophets warning of her demise, not the least of which was Isaiah.  In this, there was a due cause.  God had his purpose.  The people had fallen into an ungodly state, as had the land to the north, known as Israel.  That nation of Israel was scattered, but they lost their religious identity in the process.  Nine of the original twelve tribes were completely lost.  The land of Judea contained the Judeans, the Levites and the Benjamites (what was left of them).  The prophets warned that Babylon was coming.  Indeed, Babylon came.  They removed the followers of the I Am to a foreign land.

But the faith was not lost.  Their captors were conquered by the Persians, who granted them the freedom to return and rebuild their temple.  This meant many battles with the natives, who by no means identified themselves with this neo-native religion.

The prophets had spoken.  Greece was to come and trample Persia.  The winner would fracture, and its parts would wage war against each other, with the land of Judea caught in the middle.  Out of this, a king would come from the north and desecrate the temple.  After this, the Messiah would come.  All of this happened.  Daniel counted the years until Messiah, and those years had come, and the Messiah did come.

There has always been only one way.  That way came, and the people who followed the way came to a bend in the road and kept on going straight off into the pasture.  The promised Messiah brought redemption into the world, and the initial recipients, the wedding party, turned him away.  This is the crux of Christianity.  We do not differ with the Jews over one doctrinal issue.  We differ with them over the only doctrinal issue.  We follow the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  They follow the god of Judah.

Abraham was sitting at his tent, and the Lord appeared before him in the form of human royalty.  Immediately, he recognized the impostor for his blasphemy.  God never takes the form of a human.  Therefore Abraham went straight out with his servants and had the man hung from a tree.  Is this how it happened?  Abraham did not do this, but Judea did.  The Lord appeared at her doorway in the form of human royalty, and she nailed him to a tree.  This is not to be mourned, so much, for it was through this tragedy that redemption was brought to all humanity.  The ultimate martyr, the ultimate sacrifice had been paid.  Yet, the Messiah lives.

A little over seventy years beyond the appearance of her Lord, Judea found herself sitting idly in the desert, lost without a Messiah.  Then the armies of Rome came and carried her away.  The land of Judah was smashed.  Its inhabitants were scattered.  Christ and his prophets saw this in advance.

A couple thousand years after the appearance of the Messiah, she returned to her homeland to fulfill a promise made to the children of Yahweh.  But she is still without her Messiah.  She has not learned from her Roman captivity, and she still spits in the face of God.  What is this disaster, that the beloved of God, the inheritance of Abraham, has remained stolidly against her God?

Time and again, the armies of the enemies of the modern state of Israel have come against her, and each time they have been destroyed.  God has taken her side.  How long can this last?  Their situation now is no different than it was the day that the Romans came knocking on Jerusalem’s doors.  Now, the Beast from the East is building nukes.  Now, the Beast from the West is rebuilding a new Rome.

And Israel is stuck in the middle, still without her Messiah.  How long can this tenuous situation possibly last?

There is only one God.  There is only one way.  There is only one solution that can prevent Israel, the tenacious, Israel, the beautiful, from becoming the last great tragedy of the Jews.  God save the Jews.


22 12 2009

One of the most common ideas about the virgin birth, if not the most common idea, is that Christ was conceived of a human egg and a divine…sperm.  However, the earliest of Christians did not think this.

In the time of Christ, and in the time of the prophets who foretold of the virgin birth, it was solely believed that the man was the carrier of a fully fertile, “seed.”  The woman was thought to provide no genetic component, inasmuch as they knew of genetics.  She was the fertile ground within which the seed was planted.  In fact, the word, “semen,” literally means “seed.”  While we know that traditional reproduction involves the union of two lineages, they had thought that all life was patrilineal, descending strictly through the men.  What is the significance of this?  It means that, as far as all parties were concerned, Jesus was as unique a human as Adam was, being without any parents.  This is somewhat difficult, considering that the messiah was supposed to come from the line of David.  In a sense, he did come from that lineage, both through Mary and Joseph, but he was genetically not descended from either.  That was what people who believed in the virgin birth believed about Jesus’ bloodline.

Let’s look a little into this.  Here we have the problem of original sin, the belief that because we were descended from Adam we were born already condemned and full of evil.  The exact reason for this is not clear, but what was clear to the early church was that, if Jesus was not really descended from Adam, then he must not have had original sin.  He was the world’s third un-fallen person, ever, after Adam and Eve.  What they also believed was that because he was without Adam’s fallen nature, he was sinless, and therefore capable of atoning for our sin, like a bull without blemish.  To further add to this, he was the Son of God, which meant that he could atone for all sin for all time.  He was a new human, fresh out of the package with no spiritual inheritance, other than the one he received from his Father in Heaven.

Now, fast forward to the discovery of the human egg.  Upon the Christian world was thrust the burden of determining whether Christ was conceived without both sperm and egg, or just without sperm.  If he was of Mary’s egg, then he was absolutely born with all of the genetic flaws accumulated throughout history to that point.  If he was from her egg, then he was not the spotless lamb that people took him for.  People would say that sin and physical flaws have nothing to do with each other, but I would say that the two are intrinsically connected.  You cannot have one without the other.  Death is just a lethal accumulation of physical flaws.  Death is the wage that comes from sin.  Therefore physical flaws arise because of sin.  Had the original people remained sinless, then they would have remained perfect, free from injury, illness and death.

When the ancient Israelites were commanded to sacrifice a spotless healthy bull for the atonement of their sins, they were being commanded to select the beast based on physical traits to serve a spiritual purpose.  God did not command them to find a bull that was without sin.  He told them to find one that was healthy, and by inference far from death.  Sin is our divergence from the will of God.  Entropy, sickness, mutations and death are all physical divergence from the perfect state that Adam and Eve knew before the Fall.  Therefore, to be that perfect sacrificial bull, Christ had to be without sin and without physical defect.

The first thing to change this was the crucifixion and all of the torture that went with it.  As he accepted the sin of the world onto his shoulders, he also took the burden of death and destruction.  As he was physically ripped to shreds, he was spiritually ripped to shreds.  As he physically overcame death, he spiritually overcame sin.  The two go hand in hand and are inseparable.

What, then, shall we say?  Was he already suffering the wages of sin and physical injury before the whip crossed his back?  This could hardly be true.  If it were, then we would have no hope.  We would still be as damned as the day Eve took that fruit.  If a perfect sperm fused with an imperfect egg, they would not form a perfect human, but an imperfect one.  The early church put the hope of their eternity into the very fact that Christ had no human ancestors, and Mary was only his surrogate, adoptive mother.  They saw him as an original human, without original sin, come to take away the sins of the world.  I can say this with absolute certainty.  Why should we change from this perspective?  They were not wrong.  God save us if they were.

There Comes a Beast

4 07 2009

The nation of ancient Judah was yet writhing with birthing pains, bringing forth the new body of Christ, but the seven-headed dragon, Satan, was already preparing to devour it (Revelation 12).  The city of the seven hills, the dragon,  was also known as Rome.  In fact, it still is.  In the early days of Christianity, it sought to destroy this fledgling faith.  The woman who gave birth to this new faith was Judah, with the sun and the moon and twelve stars, representing the tribes of Israel.  This was a flashback to Joseph’s dream, in Genesis 37:9.  Around 72 AD, this dragon sacked Jerusalem and laid it to waste, sending the residents fleeing into the desert.  Then it made war with her offspring, the believers in Jesus.

Then came the Beast from the sea.

The great empire of Rome came to be divided between the eastern, Byzantine, half, and the western half.  The western half fell to Germanic invaders, only to be revived again as the Holy Roman Empire, a nation which is said to have been neither holy, Roman, nor an empire.  Even this half was again divided into thirds, and one of these thirds was a European nation known as France.

France, whose monarchy descended from the beginnings of the new western Roman empire, was doomed.  The people revolted and overturned this regime, and out of the turmoil came the first horseman, otherwise known as Napoleon (Revelation 6:2), bent on conquest.  His France was like a lion with the wings of an eagle (Daniel 7:4).  The eagle was napoleon’s own symbol.  He was the wings.  However, those wings were torn off when Napoleon went into exile for the second time, where he eventually died.  The lion was raised up into a democracy, made to stand on its own two feet and given the heart of a man, which is the heart of a democracy.  For a time, he had conquered nearly all of Europe.  The irony of it all was that he rose to power on the back of a revolution to depose monarchy, only to declare himself a monarch.  This rider had been given a crown, just as the Apostle John had predicted.

Another of the divisions of the Holy Roman Empire was ruled by a monarchy that still named itself after Caesar, in the Roman tradition.  In their dialect, Caesar was spelled Kaiser.  This nation was Germany, and it sought to conquer the earlier monster of France.  After this World War, the people deposed the monarchy, and out of this upset came a new leader of the people, named Hitler.  He was the second rider, who took peace from the earth and made a legacy out of slaughtering countless masses of people for no strategic reason (Revelation 6:3).  He was also Daniel’s second beast, the bear who was told to get up and eat its fill of flesh, though it had already consumed Austria, Czechoslovakia and Poland, symbolized by the three ribs it had dangling from its jaws (Daniel 7:5).  In the end, this beast was raised up only on one side, as the previous beast had been raised up, which is to say that one side of it was made a democracy.  Germany had been divided.  Hitler had ridden in on the back of a popular revolution seeking democracy, as Napoleon had done.

The eastern half of the Old Roman Empire lasted longer than its western counterpart, but it was ultimately defeated for a time by the Turks.  As the western half was reborn with a new capitol and a new leader, so, too, was the eastern half, under czarist Russia.  It was hardly the same, but the rulers considered their nation to be a continuation of the Byzantine Empire, and so, in a sense, it was.  The czars ruled successfully, for a time, but their days were ended by the popular Bolshevik revolution.  Had the last vestiges of the Roman Empire finally come to an end?  On the wave of this attempt at a republic came yet another dictator, known as Joseph Stalin.  Out with one monarch; in with another.  So came the third horseman, who made his legacy from tampering with the economy (Revelation 6:5).  He was hardly in power before his disruption caused a collapse of the market and widespread shortage of bread.  Two commodities prospered under his communist regime, though, which were the alcoholic beverages and the crude oil.  And so we come to Daniel’s third beast (Daniel 7:6), the Soviet Union, symbolized by a leopard.  Initially, it was a union of four Soviet Socialist Republics, but it later grew into fifteen constituencies.  These four republics are represented by the four heads and four wings of the leopard.

All three of these monsters came to power in the vacuum left by the overthrow of some last vestige of a new Roman monarchy.  All three were foreign-born heads of state.  All three took control of the land of their birth, using the countries that they ruled.

But there comes a fourth monster (Daniel 7:7).  There comes a fourth rider (Revelation 6:7).  Its different from the other three in its methods, and far more destructive.  It starts out very little, but it grows quickly and uproots the previous three.  It’s name is death, and it kills with war, famine, plague and wild animals.  This monster is also the Beast from the Sea (Revelation 13), the successor to Rome.  His seven heads are the same seven hills of Rome, and his territory comes to include that of the first three, the lion, the leopard and the bear.  Could these three beasts be the ones that Daniel’s “little horn” defeats in chapter seven?  If this monster is to follow in the footsteps of its predecessors, then perhaps its ruler rises on the tail end of a popular revolt against some old, final vestige of the Roman Empire?  But, is there anything left of that empire?  There is only the Vatican, seated within Rome, itself.  This puny little city-state would have to grow very quickly and powerfully to consume all of Europe and Russia.  It seems impossible.  Nay, it seems ridiculous.  If it is, then the Pope will be killed, and the Catholic church will be destroyed, only to be replaced by the kingdom of the Antichrist.  One might think this notion to be an offense to the Catholic church, but one of their own has already prophesied it.  Saint Malachy, long ago, numbered the Popes, in a writing known as the Prophecy Of The Popes.  The current Pope, Pope Benedict XVI, is the last one before all Hell breaks loose and the church crumbles, according to their tradition.  Another is mentioned after him, named Peter of Rome, but this is believed to have been added by someone else at a later time.  It is strange, though, that the Apostle Peter would be expected to come again to lead the remains of the church that they believe he founded.  Is this a ruse to lead people astray?

The Catholic church may not be involved, and the Pope may not be killed, but one thing is certain, which is that the next horror to befall humanity in the tradition of Napoleon, Hitler and Stalin will be a Westerner.

But he will have a false prophet (Revelation 13:11).  Whereas the previous beast was from the sea, this one is from the earth.  It’s a reference to Daniel’s vision of the ram and the goat (Daniel 8).  Daniel’s prophecy predicted the Greek invasion of Persia.  This has already been fulfilled, but John’s prophecy has alluded to it for the sake of reference.  The reason Daniel’s beasts were a lion, bear and leopard was for the purpose of making a clear reference to John’s later prophecy, but here, John’s details serve to make reference back to Daniel’s prophecy.  The Greeks were represented by a goat that came from across the sea.  The Persians were represented by a ram that stood upon the earth.  “Across the sea” refers to Europe, being across the Mediterranean Sea.  The distinctive feature of the ram is its two asymmetrical horns, representing the hybrid nations of Media and Persia.  The Persia of ancient times is the Iran of today.  The false prophet of the antichrist is therefore Iranian, or Shiite, at the very least.  Not coincidentally, the Shiites of Iran have already built a special temple to their own messianic figure, who is expected to arrive shortly.  Theirs is the Twelfth Imam, and they even expect our very own Jesus Christ to return and lead us to faith in their Imam.  Will we see an imposter of Christ bow before the throne of a Muslim messiah?  Perhaps we will.  One might also note that this Beast from the Earth had the appearance of a man.  If the symbolism holds true from Daniel’s prophecy of the beasts, then this means that the nation of the false prophet has the appearance of a democracy.  This also implies that the nation’s democracy is not real.

But this reign of the Antichrist and his prophet will not be like the others of times past, for it will be maintained by the magic of Satan himself.  Otherwise, such a thing would have been impossible.

That’s my take.  I could be wrong.  We’ve certainly seen our share of hacks make fools of themselves over these enigmatic words.  More prophecy follows, but that is another discussion for another time…by someone else.  I’m done.  What’s important is not so much the details of the events as is whether or not we’re prepared for them.  The end comes for everyone, sooner, rather than later.  We all have our own personal end-times tragedy.  The end of human civilization is more dramatic and captures the imagination, rather than the end of one lone man, but to that one man, his end is the end of the universe.  If I am unprepared for my own demise, then I might as well be unprepared for the world’s demise.


Signs and Wonders to the Muslim Heart

1 07 2009

The way into the Muslim heart is through signs and wonders.

My brother, a chaplain in the United States Air Force recently returned from Iraq with some interesting news.  Firstly, I must say that military clergy are very much restricted in how they share the gospel, so much so that they hardly seem representative of a free country.  Great pains are taken in policy to assure that they do not force their religion on anyone, to the point that they cannot share their beliefs with the people of that nation unless specifically asked to do so.

An Iraqi man and his son came in to the military hospital with burn injuries.  Apparently, the Iraqi hospital was next to useless in terms of receiving real care.  The son was seriously burned over his body because he had fallen into the open cooking fire in their house.  The father had burned his own hands pulling his son out of the fire.  The father was worried that he would lose his job because he hadn’t been able to tell his workplace that he was in the hospital.  He was also worried that he wouldn’t be able to do his job anyway, because of the injuries to his hands.  My brother prayed for him and also had his workplace notified that the reason he wasn’t showing up to work was that he was in the hospital.  The father also asked him to pray for his son, who was in a different section of the hospital.  The son had blood poisoning  (septicemia), and was bloated, lying there hooked up to tubes.  My brother had seen a lot of people at the burn unit he had worked at for a while, and many died even though he prayed for them.  Since the father had asked him to pray for the boy, and there was no one around except a Catholic nurse, he anointed the boy with oil and prayed the Scriptures in Jesus’ name.  During or after the prayer, he felt the power of God surge through his body and out through his hand to the boy.  This told him that something significant was happening.  It was some time later that he encountered the two again.  They were really excited to see him.  The man’s hand was totally healed.  The boy was totally healthy and the only remnant of his injuries was the appearance of new skin.

In another case, a young Muslim man had serious wounds and was continually in a lot of pain.  He asked my brother to pray for him, and he did.  The next day was his day off (he got one day off per week).  When he returned the second day after the prayer, he found that the Muslims had been excitedly asking where he was all during his day off.  He found the man that he had prayed for, who had been in continual pain, and the pain had completely cleared after the prayer and stayed away permanently.   One Muslim man made the sign of the cross after my brother spoke and prayed with him, and the interpreter was flabbergasted and told him later that it was basically a statement of conversion.  By the time his tour was up and he had to return home, the Iraqis were bringing their friends to come and see this “Christian imam,” to whose prayers God listened.

The way into the heart of the Muslim is through signs and wonders.  Consequently, any effective witness in their world must be full of the Spirit and ready to pray for miracles.  The result of their faith, the sort of faith that germinates from a seed to a fully grown mustard plant with the water of the Holy Spirit, is that more miracles are likely to take place among them in testimony of Christ than would otherwise be seen in the western world.  Americans have been infected with a bad case of Hollywood.  Miracles are for entertainment purposes, not for conviction, in the eye of the American unbeliever.  Consequently, miracles are less likely to happen on this continent in the testimony of our Lord.

When Napoleon invaded Egypt, I’ve heard it said that his opponents roused the native population against him using magic tricks of the illusionist sort.  His response was to send in his own magicians to counter the spiritualist claims of his enemies.  This brings us to the dark flip side of the coin.  The way into the Muslim heart, even for Satan, is through signs and wonders.  In the last days, the Antichrist will use sorcery to bring the Muslims into his kingdom.  I feel entirely convinced that, while he himself will be a westerner, he will be proclaimed the Twelfth Imam, returned, by the Shiite clergy of Iran.  I’ve been saying this since before Iran began asserting itself  to become the blemish that it is today.  The false prophet of the Antichrist will be an Iranian leader, for certain.  In those days, it will be much like the battles between Moses and the Pharaoh’s magicians, for God will send two witnesses to wage war against the Antichrist through miracles of the Heavenly kind.  After all, the way into the Muslim, Arabic, and Persian heart is through signs and wonders.

We have before us both a great opportunity and a tremendous nightmare.  Either we will face this challenge with missionaries with the courage to pray for the impossible, or we will bypass this battleground and cede it directly to the enemy.  We could have the advantage of arriving first, before the enemy comes, but this moment will fade.  I’ve tried to avoid getting into End Times prophecy, because I’ve literally been writing about it since I was four years old, and I’m rather burned-out with the whole thing, but I felt this much needed to be said.  Tomorrow’s Napoleon, tomorrow’s Hitler and tomorrow’s Stalin will wage a war of sorcery, unlike anything the world has yet seen.  Will Christians rise to the battle, armed with faith and power?

Or will they watch television all night?

I know it’s frustrating, because it’s something that goes beyond us.  All we can do is pray, and there’s no guarantee that anything will come of it.  Even so, I tend to think that it must be worth the effort.


Symbolism and Idolatry

13 06 2009

The doors parted, and in walked this shaky-legged man, gripping his staff for support.  Everything in him wanted to turn and run.  By all rights, he should have, except that to flee the wrath of this king would land him at the whipping post of another, far greater,  king.  This staff that he was leaning on was more than just a stick.  It was a symbol of power, given to him by the king whom he came to represent.  Physically, he knew that it was just a stick, but it was an ever present reminder of the moment when his shepherd’s crook had been turned into a snake and then back again.  Whenever he doubted himself, all he had to do was look at this staff, shaped like a rather long serpent, to remember that he was not just acting upon a foolish fancy.  He was, in fact, fulfilling the command of I Am.  The staff had become a symbol of God and his power.  It was the central object in each of his miracles, a way of identifying those miracles with the same God that had altered the shape of this stick.  If the stick parted the water, then God parted the water.  If the stick made water come from a rock, then God made water come from a rock.  God performed the miracle, and the stick’s involvement was the symbol that identified that miracle as having come from God.  Ultimately, though, it was still just a stick.  That would eventually change.

 The great Pharaoh looked up and saw the prophet of God standing before him.  This man had become a symbol of God, himself.  If this mortal turned water into blood, then it was an act of God.  If this man made fire rain from Heaven, then it was God that made fire rain from Heaven.  Had it been a miracle by any other hand, it would have been a miracle by some other god.  Ultimately, though, this was just a man.  Men could be stopped.  Defeat the symbol, and you defeat its reference, right?  No, but Pharaoh could not defeat either one, anyway.

 After succeeding in taking his captive people out of Egypt, the miracles of I Am continued through Moses, or, as Moses would see it, the miracles continued through the staff.  A change was taking place in the mind of the prophet, though.  As time progressed, the stick was less and less a reminder of Yahweh and the burning bush and more a reminder of all of the miracles that it had been party to.  Moses’ own history with that piece of wood had grown to eclipse its symbolic reference, God himself.  His trust in the stick was no longer symbolic of his trust in God.  He actually had come to trust the thing independently of God.  However, God does not empower idols.  The stick had to go.  One day, God told him to speak to the rock to make it bring forth water.  Moses then struggled between his faith in God versus his faith in a piece of wood.  Formerly, there could have been no such dilemma, because his faith in the stick was synonymous with his faith in God.  Unfortunately, the stick won the battle of the wills.

 Our lives are filled with symbols.  Some of them are traces of ink on a paper.  Some of them are actions.  Some are objects.  The cross is a symbol of Christ.  A statue of Mary is a symbol of Mary, who is, herself, a symbol and testament to Christ.  However, when we bow to statues or pray to people, we cross that fine line between symbolism and idolatry.  A prophet is a symbol of God.  Every magical thing he does and every edict that he pronounces is attributed to the God he serves.  Sever that psychological connection, and the prophet becomes a god.  It’s like the people of Lystra, bowing before Paul and Barnabas, calling them Zeus and Hermes.  The identity of the prophets was temporarily shattered, making them objects of idolatry.  Instead of representing God, they were competing with him.  God empowers no idol.  If they had not rectified the situation, they surely would never produce another miracle, at best.  It’s the Devil’s first rule on how to destroy a prophet.

 This is an interesting matter, because it means that an important part of what determines who will be the prophet is based on someone other than the prophet.  A good man does not make an acceptable prophet.  A charismatic man cannot be a good prophet.  Any man of any character shape or style cannot be a prophet.  The choosing of a prophet is determined by what that person represents in the eyes of those who see him perform miracles.  They are the listening ears that hear the prophet and know that they are hearing the words of God.  The difference between a good Christian and a good Christian prophet is how other people relate to him.  Granted, any two people could be exactly alike, and one would become a prophet while the other does not, because God does not automatically choose any specific course of action just because certain factors happen to be true.  He is not just an impersonal force, like gravity, which always behaves a certain way under certain conditions.  However, while we can not say exactly what he will do, there are certain things that we can know with certainty that he will not do.  He will not promote idolatry.  He will not mislead.  He does not instigate sin.  God does not make supermen.  He makes servants.  The prophet is to the world what the staff was to Moses, initially.  The prophet is God’s way of letting people know who really did it and who really said it.

 Moses put a brass serpent on a pole, so that people bitten by a viper could look at it and yet live.  The brass serpent was a symbol of God’s mercy and a symbol of the Christ who would one day hang on a cross.  As such a symbol, it served God’s purpose.  Eventually, though, it came to be seen as an entity in and of itself.  It became an idol and had to be destroyed.  The fine line between symbolism and idolatry was crossed.

 Symbols change their meanings with time, often.  Words, which are written symbols, have their own unique drift.  The word “gay” used to mean “happy.”  In those days I would have been content to call myself gay.  When that meaning changed, not in my own ears but in the ears of my audience, I could no longer comfortably use that term to describe myself.

 The pastor of a church can be a symbol of God.  He can also be a usurper.  The difference is subtle, and the line of distinction is often crossed.  If he is not seen as just a person, and if his authority seems innate, then he creeps ever so imperceptibly toward idolatry.  However, if he is not seen as a representative of God and his authority, then he cannot be a pastor at all.  On the one hand, he stands as an authority and a representative of God, but on the other hand, he is just a man, like any other.  When I say he is just like any other, I mean exactly that.  Moses could have been carrying any stick the day that he met the burning bush.  The power of that stick had nothing to do with the qualities of the stick, but it had everything to do with God.  Moses was just a dirty aimless shepherd, carrying an ordinary shepherd’s crook.  Without God, he and his stick would have continued to be exactly as they were.  God could have used any man and any stick.

 Jesus was crucified on a cross, and so the cross has come to symbolize Christ.  But the cross is not a talisman.  It has no power of its own.  A cross is only meaningful in so much as it represents Christ.  You can spell out the word, “Jesus,” or you can carve a cross, but both the word and the sculpture are effectively the same thing, a symbol meaning “Jesus.”

 Christians, these days, are becoming increasingly fearful of symbols.  Non-phonetic symbols hold a certain intrigue to people not thoroughly familiar with them.  However, a phonetic symbol can also become an idol.  Even the name of God can become a dissociated symbol, treated like a talisman, worshipped as an independent thing.  If you say “Jesus,” and you’re thinking of the name, itself, rather than the person it refers to, then you’ve made the name an idol.  It’s no wonder God chose to call himself, “I Am.”  It’s akin to not giving himself a name.

 The prophet is a symbol of God.  The Bible is a symbol of God.  The word, “God,” is a symbol of God.  A painting of God is a symbol of God.  A cross is a symbol of God.  Even a thought about God is a symbol of him.  Remove the symbols from society, and you remove God from society.  On the other hand, if the meaning of those symbols changes, if they stand independent from God, if we worship them, then they become idols.  It’s like looking at your reflection and forgetting that it’s just a reflection.  If you start talking to that thing, then you’re nuts.  The reflection is just another way of looking at yourself, in the same way that a symbol is just another way of looking at God.