A Divine Mandate

I have a divine mandate, a calling from God. We all have one, so I’m not that special. However, my calling is pastoral in the sense of shepherding the people of God. Unlike most pastoral people, I don’t decide who shall be in my flock; it’s the flock that decides. In that sense, it is God who decides and leads people to give some regard to my pastoral leadership.

In this virtual setting, most of my leadership is exerted through persuasive writing. I’m trying to keep an eye on ways I can help God’s people get out of Satan’s domain. There is no image here of perfect escape, but of selective escape for certain issues that I have been granted to understand. On another level, it is a calling to understand something of the nature of Satan’s dominion so that people can discern for themselves how to look for ways to be free. Thus, I tend to offer my specific ideas as examples of how to approach the whole question.

One of those issues is the broad cultural trap in which we live. The best ally Satan has in keeping you under his thumb is the social mythology of our Western world.

We know that humans are inherently vulnerable to certain threats. That’s why there is such a thing as bulletproof vests, for example. They are expensive and their effectiveness is limited, while the act of wearing one is burdensome in itself. But if you spend very much time exposed to people inclined to fire bullets at you, it’s worth the expense and trouble.

We are also vulnerable in other ways. That includes a great deal of psychological vulnerability. The human mind remains open to some kinds of threat simply because that’s how we are wired. In order for us to live here in this environment, we have to take certain mental shortcuts. But those shortcuts can be exploited by other people to manipulate us into doing things we shouldn’t. Naturally you would expect the predators to lie and play down that weakness, saying it’s all a bunch of hoopla and scare-mongering. They have allies who dismiss the threats by saying you should simply ignore the manipulation, as if there is no cultural atmosphere that disarms us and makes it too painful to argue about it.

Precious few are born with the will and presence of mind to fight the system. And most of those are intentionally pressured and harassed until they stop exercising that will to resist. Our world makes it terribly expensive, even deadly, to take your own path. Distrust of the system will get you killed, or at least badly hurt. The system itself is predatory and demands that you keep yourself vulnerable.

I am my brother’s keeper; there are lots of sheep who aren’t wired to fight, so someone has to fight for them. I’m not a Darwinian about such things; I care. So it’s natural for some like me with a pastoral bent to make a lot of noise about things you need to consider changing. If I warn you about something the system seeks to do to us to deceive and manipulate, you can blow it off if you like; it’s really your choice. But if God starts knocking on the door of you conscience about this, then get with Him and work it out. If you start making noise about how people should naturally handle such things on their own, then you’ll be classed as an ally of Satan. Resistance has been beat out of them, so it’s my job work at healing the wounds and to provoke it back to life. Don’t be a calloused ass.

Advertising is inherently evil, folks. It’s one thing to let people know what you offer, but you’ll almost never see that in advertising; it’s so rare now you can’t call it “advertising.” Advertising is inherently manipulative, striving to prey on human weaknesses, both native and culturally derived vulnerabilities. By no means would I expect to change the system, particularly on the Internet. We are awash in advertising. What I am suggesting is that you as an individual consider the problem and decide whether God is calling you to act on this problem. I’ll offer ways to bulletproof your mind, both in restructuring the mind’s operations and in in blocking predatory input. There is no moral obligation to consume advertising, so fight it tooth and nail. That’s what Jesus did in resisting Satan in the Wilderness Temptations.

I’m not worried about some tiny slice of Internet users blocking advertising, as if this will bring the whole system down. The vast majority of folks won’t do anything about it. What I am worried about is the very real effort on the part of some to take that choice away from you. Those people are so evil they deserve vilification. These are people who want to hurt you. Given the right opportunity, I would consider taking more assertive action to stop them and removing the threat altogether. However, such opportunities are wholly unlikely, so I’ll stick with making noise about taking control of how you use the Internet. I’ll agitate for a few folks — that tiny slice of humanity who feel drawn to my message — to take more assertive action with how they use their computers.

That’s what God has called me to do.

Perception Reborn

What would we need to say about building a Christian culture?

First and foremost, our only reason for living on this earth is to bring glory to God, specifically to the name of Jesus Christ. To put a finer point on it, our purpose in living is to let His glory shine through us. He will glorify Himself one way or another, but we are invited to participate in the process.

A primary means of making His glory visible is our laying claim to the divine heritage of shalom — to live a life that harvests His promised blessings. When we stand in the place where His mercy rains down on us, people are going to notice. They may not understand what they are seeing, but the Holy Spirit will draw their attention to our blessed lives.

Those blessings were promised as a condition for living according to revelation. That brings us to our second point: the otherworldly orientation. We know that revelation comes from Heaven into a fallen world. It’s not that Creation is fallen, but we are. We are born under a veil of moral darkness and cannot see reality, only what our fallen human capabilities tell us is real. Revelation teaches us not to trust what our human perceptions tell us, but to place our faith in what God says is real.

Through revelation we discover that Creation is alive, sentient and serving its designed purpose. We learn to displace our human perception with faith and commune with Creation directly because we commune directly with the Creator. He breathes His Holy Spirit into our dead spirits and we come to Life. We awaken to a far higher awareness that calls us to a Home we’ve never seen. We know we have a mission here to point the way out of the darkness, and when that mission is done, we go to be with Him directly. We find ourselves no longer a part of the shadowy existence into which people are born.

So the third point is that we are overwhelmed with gratitude. The overwhelming sense that we are unworthy, yet declared worthy on grounds we could never comprehend, leads us to humility. At the same time, we have the unshakable confidence of His divine favor. But instead of thinking so highly of our favorable position, we live with a deep sadness that so few in this world seek His favor. They know nothing of our joyful Life. It makes us sober about giddy the same time — sober about human frailty and blindness, but giddy about what we have found in Christ.

It would be easy to get lost in our paradoxes, but we have a vast heritage of what this paradoxical existence should look like in seeking His glory. We are told to examine the record of God’s testimony in Scripture and let His Spirit guide us in breathing life into that ancient record. Granted, it’s no small task to discard everything our world values in its arrogant rejection of God’s truth, but we have the assurance that such effort is rewarded.

I testify to you today that it can be done. We can examine the record of God’s people and see with spiritual eyes what it demands of us today.

We can build a Christian Culture.

Christian Culture

A covenant with God breeds a culture.

There’s nothing wrong with the idea of a Christian Culture, something that is uniquely representative of following Christ. Our problem here in America is that it’s more American than Christian.

The First Century churches did pursue a Christian Culture, a lifestyle based on the Covenant of Christ. Jesus warned that the existing Jewish culture of His day was wrong, having long departed from the Hebrew culture of ancient times. While His teaching didn’t exactly resurrect those ancient Hebrew ways, it did pull from them a significant cultural orientation, a way of looking at life which led to a unique expression of faith in His message and His redemption.

The apostolic leaders in Acts 15 made it plain that whatever this culture should be, it couldn’t be Talmudic-Jewish culture. It could be the more ancient Mosaic culture, but that was not appropriate for Gentiles. So they decided it could include a broader Noahic culture. There was no real conflict between Moses and Noah. These apostles essentially ordered the Jewish Christians to change the boundaries to include the rest of the world, pretty much on the same terms Israel would have included the Gentile nations as allies and fellow worshipers of Jehovah. By the same token, Gentile believers were required to make allowances for the stricter rules Jewish believers preferred.

Thus, the boundaries were made flexible, but they were still there. In the New Testament we see repeatedly a command to examine the written records of the two Law Covenants and understand how they can clarify what faith demands. Law demonstrates faith. Certainly not all the rituals of ancient times would fit into this new Christian culture. One major element was that Christ was the one and only sacrifice, so no more flames on the altar. Instead, the business of supporting the priestly ritual leadership and shared worship facilities, always a part of the Law in the past, became the focus of offerings. That’s because the fundamental issue of being God’s People, a living offering for His use, was still written into this lifestyle.

We know that it wasn’t long before the Judaizers corrupted the early churches, seducing Christians into making the same error as Israel — adopting legalism as the proper approach to religion. Thus, not long after the First Century closed, Christian religion began to lose the mystic fervor of faith and was reduced to empty formalism. By the 300s AD the churches were further seduced into surrendering to government control. And when the Germanic Tribes swept into Europe, the institutional church further compromised their doctrine to embrace the Germanic cultural viewpoint. Another few centuries and the formal church hierarchy was part of the government itself.

Christ’s Kingdom is not of this world. He reigns in the hearts of people who do not cling to this world. The institutional church in the West was wholly a creature of the world around them.

From that time forward, organized Christian religion in the West has always been some reflection of the ambient political and cultural orientation. Today we have no valid Christian Culture, though that term is used for something that is just another flavor of the culture outside the church. There are no uniquely Christian values at work any more, just legalistic misrepresentations of New Testament teaching. American Christian culture is just a New Testament Talmud.

We have a unique opportunity here. America as it once was is dead; even now the whole thing is passing away. Granted, most people aren’t going to notice, but it’s not hard to see. Something else is rising to take its place. While it’s impossible that we should somehow hijack this thing, we can certainly take advantage of the turmoil to pull back and start fresh. No, we cannot recreate everything we know about those First Century churches, but we can learn from how they abstracted the model of culture from the Law Covenants, and carry out that mission again.

Let’s allow this fake American Christian Culture to die, and leave it in the ashes of history where it belongs.

What the Hell?

Some of you get it, but it seems there is enough confusion that I need to restate things for clarity.

I use the English word “Hell.” If you have been paying attention, you’ll notice I use it in the vernacular sense, having a very flexible meaning, and have never bothered with defining it as a religious term.

The image of serving as slaves of Satan applies to this life. It’s the biblical image of ANE feudalism, God’s dominion over Creation. A part of what we need to know about Satan and his activities is derived from this parabolic image of Satan as God’s personal Potiphar, if you will. This has nothing to do with Western Medieval images of torment and Hell; that should have been obvious by my steady denunciation of Western Christianity. People who do not walk by a heart of commitment to God’s revelation are, to varying degrees, slaves of Satan here and now. Their share of the blessings God intended to grant them under covenant are consumed by Satan, and Satan gets none of his own.

But in this image, I include multiple references that Satan is somehow confined to this world, along with all his demons. There is a sense in which that image of slavery is “Hell,” but I don’t recall thinking or writing that Satan was also in charge of Hell as a place beyond death. “It is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment” (Hebrews 9:27). Whatever that verse means about “judgment” is the more precise meaning of “Hell.” I have never pretended to offer any firm knowledge of Hell because the Bible avoids a literal description. It’s always been lyrical references to torment of some kind, but that could just as easily mean standing in the Presence of God with full awareness on that higher level that you are not in His favor. That can’t be comfortable, but you can’t possibly presume to describe it in literal terms.

And on top of all that, I believe Hell is not eternal; neither is whatever is signified by the word “Heaven.” Note that Jesus on the Cross referred to it by the Persian word for Paradise (Luke 23:43). Indeed, our current “place of the dead” for everyone, in God’s favor or not, is a temporary state. It’s all prior to the final Resurrection of the Dead, prior to the Final Judgment. I tend to believe that “new Heaven and new Earth” is somewhat literal. Some parts of Revelation 21 do have literal connotations, but how literal can you be about something the intellect cannot grasp?

So while American vernacular English does permit a flexible use of the words “Heaven” and “Hell” — to include symbolism and parable — if you want to shift to a more precise discussion of matters of faith and Scripture, both are apparently outside of this realm of existence, but attached to it in some way that indicates they will be replaced along with the rest of Creation at some point out there in our world’s future.

Do we really need a comprehensive word study of Sheol, Hades, Gehenna, etc.? I’ve already covered the Old Testament teaching on afterlife to show that Jesus wasn’t so much adding new revelation about the afterlife as He was speaking to an audience that had drifted far from their ancient Hebrew roots. You need a heart-led discernment to recognize that some of it was just using the common rabbinical manner of speaking (because folks were familiar with it) even as He corrected false impressions about things. Often He was pushing them back away from Hellenism toward the ancient Hebrew way of thinking. Hebrew language uses words as signposts, not as containers of truth. The whole point was to persuade you to seek God’s truth from God Himself, with the underlying assumption you must have an active heart-mind in order to hear from God in the first place.

I don’t think chasing down precise word meanings in Greek and Hebrew will help you very much because that was never the point. A proper heart-mind operation means that words are indicative, not descriptive. If you could read Greek, you’d know that Paul’s Hebrew mind constantly searched for ways to express those thoughts in Greek so that he was always coining his own Greek words. If you were born speaking Greek in that time, you would tend to resist that Hebraic thought pattern. You would read things back into his writing and struggle to keep up with Paul’s teaching. This is why the Apostles spent so very much time with each of their church plants, because it was downright tough to make a Greek mind shift over to Hebrew patterns of thought.

And now we have English with a whole batch of fresh barriers keeping us from Hebrew thought. A part of me wonders if I’ll ever get that across to enough people before I die. The language you speak is the language you think, and the language can seriously hold you back from thinking the way God designed us to think. All I can do is ask that you learn a cynical suspicion of the person in the mirror, because I’ve had to cultivate that, too. It doesn’t require paranoia, because God is surely at work in you, helping you to move steadily closer to Him. Always be willing to question whether you have actually caught on, and turn inside to your heart and connect with the Holy Spirit for patience and guidance. You don’t have to accept my answers, but maybe you can learn something useful toward your own answers by noticing how I get mine.

A Bit of Cultural Mythology

Brother Ed is a dirt-grubbing peasant.

That’s my social background. Not blue-collar, but brown-collar, at best. Yes, I managed to get a really great education, because I went to college back in the days when state and federal government was passing out big grants. All you had to do was make the grade, and I didn’t suffer from any goofball sense of entitlement.

America doesn’t have a genuine upper class. We have some insufferably snotty rich folks with massive educations, but they remain some version of cultural bourgeois. We do have a strong element of DIY cowboy ethic in there, but most of the wealthy and powerful remain elitist petty snobs. They like to imagine themselves as upper class. And maybe the European upper class is no cultural marvel today, but it takes a special blindness to ignore the difference between upper class culture and that of the merely wealthy.

The current massive SJW whining about micro-aggression is hardly mainstream. However, it is also little more than a caricature of how most “respectable Americans” tend to think. In other words, the whining is over-the-top, but essentially the same culture. Americans have a very poor tolerance for sarcasm directed at them personally. If you can find acceptance into some in-group, you’ll get away with it more, but whining about offense is simply the essence of what we are.

And it’s just crazy how easy it is to get over that. Most people who become aware of the virtues of social resilience — not taking yourself too seriously — have little trouble moving down that path. It’s too obvious. But it seems increasingly rare that you’ll find someone with the good sense to simply laugh when another party says something preposterous about him.

Sometimes you just wanna growl at someone: “Grow a pair!”

Ritual Abuse

When you claim it’s your religion to increase human suffering, it’s a demonic cult.

I’m not going to engage here in a long-winded analysis of the whole thing, but it was a fresh wound on my soul and I must cry out. The other day I ran into someone I’ve known for some years. He really needed a touch of mercy and I gave what I could. In this case, it was a moment to listen and commiserate over his sad tale. His family has pretty much cast him aside and there aren’t many people who seem to care about him. He’s near my age and has been through some fairly serious medical troubles, but he’s been a substance abuser, too. All of us have our own idolatries, so it’s just a moral question of what mercy we have to offer, not the relative evil we might assign to one idolatry over another.

The final grudging “help” his family offered was sending him to one of those “Christian” youth-oriented rehab programs. I’ve yet to see one that isn’t one of two things: (1) secularized goofball liberalism or (2) based on abusive prison psychology. This particular program was the latter, and it did him not an ounce of good.

You might be aware of how such a program is the ultimate example of dehumanizing and degrading in an effort to change bad habits. The program assumes the worst and there is virtually no real effort to reach out to wandering souls, only lock them down and push them through some curriculum that represents the worst of grouchy Anglo-Saxon iron discipline. On another level, they charge unconscionable fees and invest almost nothing back into the clients. It’s quite profitable, because you can find dozens in almost any city of any size, and quite a few out in the boonies where it’s even more isolating. It encourages moral degenerates who enjoy abusing people to claim they are doing God’s work.

That his family felt this was in his best interest serves to indicate the awful dysfunction they share. Don’t tell me our social culture isn’t rotten to the core. God help us.

Easter versus Resurrection Sunday

This is a rant.

This is a personal reaction that need not apply to you. The mainstream Western Christian celebration of Resurrection Sunday has worn thin on me, and even the corrective blog posts and articles have gotten trite. Over the years it has gotten so annoying that I took a New Testament option of not celebrating the holiday at all, but celebrating His Resurrection every day (Romans 14:5). But I wanted to wait until it was all past to write about it.

When I was a kid, I knew it was Easter because it was after Christmas and we would all go and buy new dress clothes. Mom and my aunts would buy extra eggs and talk about dying them. Parents would sneak around getting cheap baskets, fake grass and chocolate bunnies.

Do me a favor, would you? If you want to celebrate Easter (the holy day of Oester), go ahead. But don’t squish into it some passing ritual mention of Christ’s Resurrection, okay? Don’t do Easter stuff at church unless you plan to hold a separate ritual event for the Resurrection. That’s pretty much the minimum if you want me involved.

Sometimes Scripture discusses things directly, usually in its own historical context. Sometimes we have to search for clues with fear and trembling that we don’t blaspheme in the process. The Apostles saw nothing wrong with scholarship and expertise in pagan mythology. The knowledge was not a threat; it was a necessity for dealing with the pagans. Not all pagan religion is a threat to faith. Sometimes there are parallels and insights that actually accord with the Bible. A solid majority of the Covenant of Moses reflects common custom and belief among pagans in that part of the world. God chose to use such things where they were consistent with His revelation. If you don’t know that, then be very careful what you advocate as a believer, because you’ll likely come up wrong on a lot of things.

On the other hand, the Apostles flatly warn us against idolatry. They didn’t word it with quite the severity of Moses because Moses is more about symbolism and national identity, while the New Testament presumes no national identity on the same level. It’s more cosmopolitan about things because our identity is rooted consciously above this realm of existence. We understand the symbolism but we strive to see through it to something difficult to put into words. So Paul lays out a basic guideline that you avoid celebrating a pagan deity. Don’t let your pagan friends think you are worshiping their deities. Find some place in your behavior where you draw a line that they will see and recognize. Don’t be a grouch, but don’t be herded into a festival that is blatantly idolatrous. The whole point is distinguish Christ from the rest.

Obviously I reject the legalism you can find on any number of websites about how “evil” it is to celebrate common cultural holidays in any way. Culture is culture and a lot of our pagan Anglo-Saxon legacy is buried under secularism. You can decide for yourself where to draw the line, but in the back of my mind I never forget that decorating Christmas trees is a pagan religious ritual, as is dying eggs and making chocolate hearts. We aren’t the First Century church, but we do well to realize they celebrated Christ’s Resurrection as a fulfillment of Old Testament celebrations, Passover in particular. That Old Testament stuff is not our heritage of culture, but it is our heritage of faith and revelation. It would be far better to create entirely new rituals for our own context.

Take a moment to consider what an awful thing it was that Constantine managed to seduce the Christian leaders of his day. He offered protection from persecution and favorable imperial policy, and even money, to capture them in his very intelligent scheme of making Christianity more like his favored religion of sun worship. He was a Solarian and he paganized the church to some degree. A great deal of Roman Catholic ritual descends from his influence. We struggle today to unravel the garbage he inserted into the Christian religion of his day, and there is room for debate on a lot of specifics.

On the one hand, I am very conscious of the rhythm of life on this planet. We are obliged as humans to recognize the hand of God in that continuing cycle and celebrate the rich provision for life. On the other hand, I tend to flatline the highs and lows of sentiment that other people seem to want for themselves. In my soul, that roller-coaster stuff is a serious problem, so I try to avoid it. That means I am pretty giddy and nutty every day, but I downplay the holiday celebrations. I might use any contextual factor as leverage to prod people into a stronger awareness of God, but I don’t care for Christmas trees, colored eggs and chocolate hearts. Meanwhile, I love coniferous trees in nature, I eat eggs every day, and I love dark chocolate. I am deeply cynical about flag-waving and other kinds of herding activities, but I am a disabled veteran. I am fiercely nonconformist under whatever you see on my exterior. I won’t piss on your parade without very good reason, but if you begin to sound idolatrous, that might provoke me — especially if you try to rope me into your celebration as if it were a moral obligation.

This is why I didn’t post anything specific about Resurrection Sunday.