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Saturday, January 3, 2015

Some Theological Thoughts To Begin the Year

As I was writing in my personal journal last night, some things came to me that I wanted to expound upon and share.  It is kind of a new twist on a Scripture that many are familiar with, and today I want to talk about that a little, as some fresh insight hit me as I was doing my periodic journal entry.

Isaiah 5:20 is a prophetic and very stern warning from God himself through the voice of his prophet that says this:  "Woe to those who call evil good and good evil.  Who put light for darkness and darkness for light.  Who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!"  If we look over now in 2 Timothy 3, a couple of verses stand out here which could be a commentary by the Apostle St. Paul on Isaiah's dire warning.  Let's look at verse 5 first - "but having a form of godliness and denying the power thereof."   Secondly, let's drop down to verse 7 - "always learning but never able to come to the knowledge of the truth."  Finally, that second verse is complimentary to Romans 1:22 - "professing to be wise, they became fools."  The preceding verses give the foundation to the following commentary you are about to read, and I want to take things in a slightly different direction on this.

When  I was in high school, one of the major literary works I was required to read and memorize in part was a passage from William Shakespeare's classic play Julius Caesar.  It is found in Act 3, and is Anthony's speech after Caesar is assassinated by Brutus.  The famous quote is "the evil men do lives after them, but the good is oft interred with their bones."  I remember having to memorize that line from the play, and to this day I can still recite the whole first half of this speech.  However, there is an odd spiritual truth to be found in this quote that got my attention based on a few recent firestorms I faced during the month of December, and as I reflected upon those facts, something came together.  If we take Isaiah 5:20 as truth and a relevant warning for today (which I do personally) it means that oftentimes a good legacy may be given a tainted interpretation by a culture that is gazing through the lens of its own evil.  In other words, something that is in reality good is labeled evil by a culture which seems to think what is evil is good.  When 2 Timothy 3 opens, its very first verse warns that in the latter days perilous times will come.  First, we need to examine what the word perilous means, because it also pops up again later in Ephesians 6:13 in reference to the "evil day" in that verse.  The root of "perilous" is the word peril, which Webster's New World Dictionary notes comes from the root Latin word experiri, meaning "to try."  The definition of "peril" follows as being "a danger, exposure to harm or injury,   Looking back in my own published study of Ephesians as I discussed the "evil day," I noted also that a similar Greek word, parasku, meaning "a time of preparation or trial," is used, and I can see a connection.  So, based on that knowledge, I would posit that the "perilous times" noted in 3 Timothy 1 and the "evil day" of Ephesians 6 are one and the same in this case.  And, it is also where many theologians get the idea of the 7-year Tribulation (or a "trying time," if you will) at the end of days from.   So, in essence, if looked at in this context perilous times then denotes that Christians will be tested, and many will fail, hence "falling away," or apostasy.  In using Scripture to interpret Scripture, it is important to understand that one thing does build upon something already said, especially when it comes to multiple passages by the same writer (in this case, the Apostle Paul).  Earlier in the Apostle's epistles, Paul also notes an important need for discernment - Christians need to know what is what, especially when it comes to cultural trends and the truth behind much of what secular culture accepts in order to inform better so that the believer would not be deceived by things the culture says is OK.  One trait of the end-times generation, however, is going to be an increasing tendency to call virtue vice, and vice virtue - things that were traditionally considered good, in other words, would be called evil, and things traditionally understood as evil will all of a sudden be celebrated as good.  Let me ask you now this question - are we not seeing that today??  Take this whole "gay marriage" issue for instance - although homosexuality is nothing new as it has always plagued humanity, the difference is that it was rightly perceived as unnatural and even evil in the past.   Nowadays, it is celebrated as something good, and never in human history has a group practicing a sinful behavior been all of a sudden given the same status as an ethnic group!  And, it isn't just with homosexual activity either - other sins are equally touted by the entertainment industry - this Miley Cyrus character, with her filthy and shameless "twirking" on stage, was practically wooed and wowed by the press, while her practical twin, the no-talent twirp Justin Bieber, practically can do any stupid thing he wants and is still a pop icon (that situation prompted a very good joke from Michael Buble recently on his Christmas special, when he introduced himself as "the Canadian singer that didn't egg your house this year.").  Then, lets look at the Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman incident and the Ferguson riots of recent note.  Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown were nothing but street thugs engaged in drug use, criminal activity, and just degenerate behavior, yet they are touted as "heroes" and the responsible cop who was within his legal jurisdiction to defend himself (in the Ferguson case) is made to look like the bad guy.  The stupid thing about all that was that it was turned into a race issue because Trayvon and Michael Brown happen to be Black - God forbid we hold them accountable for committing violent crimes, because as Al Sharpton shrilly whines, that is "racist."   The thing is, however, a lot of Black crimes, many violent and some against other Blacks, get little attention because of that fear of being labelled a "racist."  As Colin Flaherty says in his excellent chronicle of this stuff entitled White Girl Bleed a Lot (Washington, DC: WND Books, 2013), many Blacks are engaging across the country in mob violence and are partaking of a dangerous sport called "the Knockout Game," and its object is to find a defenseless White, Asian, or Hispanic guy, punch him in the face as hard as you can, and then proceed to beat the living crap out of the poor guy until either your arms get tired or he is rendered unconscious (Flaherty, p. 13).  But, our culture will call the victim "evil" and the perpetrators "heroes" largely due to a mentality that Thomas Sowell notes in his book Black Rednecks and White Liberals (San Francisco:  Encounter Books, 2005) - Sowell (who himself is African-American) could have easily addressed Ferguson 9 years before it happened when he astutely observes on page 250 of his book that the failure of any particular people to achieve is often transformed verbally into a denial of "access" or "opportunity" to them by others (in this case, it is repeated ad nauseum by race-baiters like Sharpton, Jackson, and their unofficial mentor, Black Liberation theologian James Cone - Cone's racism ranks up there with Hitler and David Duke, but he is touted as a "theological master" even in some supposedly "Christian" colleges while real theologians such as Francis Schaeffer and Romano Guardini are ignored.).  What that means is a shirking of personal responsibility, and especially in this current day, it has no relevance, yet it is bought into by agitators and politicians.  So, in the name of "deprivation," depravity is just sort of glossed-over as a bi-product of a supposed disadvantaged existence.   At some point, I have another theory as to why many Blacks behave as they do and fail to raise their kids right, because I see a direct correlation between bad Black behavior and the abortion industry, but that is a discussion best suited for another article in the near future.  For now, the argument that deprivation causes depravity, and therefore ought to be just shrugged off even by the victims, is a case of calling evil "good."   And, the consequence is that those who stand up against it will be labelled "racist" and "evil" by the powers-that-be, and hence Shakespeare's words take a sinister new meaning - a legacy labelled evil lives well after the person accused of it (take Robert E. Lee as a perfect example!) but their good attributes are often taken to the grave with their corpse and forgotten about.   Trayvon Martin, for instance, is a "hero" and martyr for one reason and one reason only - the color of his skin.  Yet, there are real martyrs of terrorism - many who died in 9/11, for instance - whose legacies have been forgotten for exactly the same reason - many people who were killed in 9/11 at the World Trade Center were just normal, hard-working folks who loved their families and wanted to make a good life for them, but because they have White skin they are not worth anyone's consideration.  So, while Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin's names have gone household, how many 9/11 victims can you name?  Probably, like myself, you know none, and that is sad.  It is almost as if Shakespeare spoke prophetically, didn't he?

This racial unrest has also created persecution against Jews, veterans, and other groups, and that leads me to another part of this discussion.  When I was a kid, I remember reading excerpts of a book by an Argentinian journalist of Jewish heritage by the name of Jacobo Timerman entitled Prisoner Without a Name, Cell Without a Number.  The book, written in 1981, chronicles Timerman's incarceration in an Argentine prison during the time of the proto-fascist regime of Juan Peron there, and he was imprisoned because he spoke out against things he felt were unjust.  In the prison, it was quickly discovered that Timerman was also Jewish by heritage, which led to a lot of persecution for that.  Again, over 30 years prior to Ferguson, Timerman almost prophetically details what has happened, and the potential danger it poses, as he writes the following:

If we cared to formulate a historical equation, we could say that the conditions do exist:  a profound political crisis, an economic crisis with an annual 170% rate of inflation that has lasted several years, impotence on the part of political parties to come up with a minimally coherent response, the incapacity of the Jewish community to face straightforwardly its own reality, a totalitarian mentality among the majority sectors of the population, with a serious tendency toward messianic beliefs.  If the outbreak of anti-Semitism has not until now assumed greater and more pronounced characteristics, this is because the balance of power within the armed forces has been under permanent debate in recent years, with the moderates weighing the potential international repercussions and concliding that these would be hard to withstand.  (Jacobo Timerman, Prisoner Without a Name, Cell Without a Number {New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1981} p. 70)

Much of what Timerman describes applies to the volatile Argentinian political situation of the mid-1970's, but there are some things we need to think about today.  First, a profound political crisis - America, in 2015, is more divided than it has ever been, and people are discontented.  Second, impotence on the part of political parties - for the most part, in 21st-century America, Republicans and Democrats look the same, and say almost anything to get into office but then do little once they get there.  And anti-Semitism - there has been a rise in that recently on many college campuses, and also there is a general bias against conservative Christians, military veterans, and others which seems to owe a lot of its impetus to the current President, Barack Hussein Obama.  And, racial tensions - not since the 1960's in the US has racial tension been so high, but now it is the reverse - Blacks discriminating against others.  And, then the toltalitarian mentality among majority sectors of the population - call that "political correctness" these days, and the fact that anyone who has an opposing viewpoint from the majority is often subjected to character assassination and even outright threats.  Again, the distinction between evil and good has become blurred, and what is called "evil" by the majority driven by the totalitarian madness of political-correctness is often not evil at all, but it paints a bad stigma - the "evil" men do live after them, and the good is oft interred with their bones; good things are downplayed, recast as evil, and forgotten about, in other words (calling evil good and good evil).  I too have been a victim of this myself, ironically from those calling themselves "Christian."  If you make a stand for the Holy Scriptures or the historic teachings of the Church, I have learned that you need to be prepared to be labeled as a "Greek fossil," a "worshipper of dead white males," or accused of being "antiquated" and "lacking in critical thinking skills" because you make a stand for truth.  That is almost to be expected of the secular world, but of churches too???  However again, Scripture speaks about this when it tells us that many will fall away from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits and doctrines of demons, and indeed that has happened.  A lot of it, ironically, is not coming from the average layman either, but rather from academic elites - we turn again to 2 Timothy 3:7, which as you recall says this - "Always learning but never coming to a knowledge of the truth."  For many academic elites - even those who are professed Christians - this has become all too true:  many of them, in the name of "well-roundedness" (a term they don't fully comprehend, by the way) have become blind to the plain facts that are right before their eyes, or as Romans 1:22 says, they profess wisdom but are in reality fools.  Many of these academics are more enamoured of the letters predicating their names (such as Ph.D., etc) and are academic fundamentalists when it comes to the proper documentation of a Tourabian note in a dissertation, but they have no issues taking great liberties at practicing historical and doctrinal revisionism.  Many colleges that were once solidly Evangelical, as a matter of fact, now embrace Religion faculty that are openly Marxist (or at least Marxist-sympathizing) and anti-Semitic (many self-professed Bible scholars would not shed a tear if Hitler were resurrected and started murdering Jews again, and would probably give him a blessing doing it - they do so today with Islamic terrorists), as well as also promoting heresies like Universalism and proto-Nestorian doctrine that diminishes Jesus's divinity.  But, when you call them on these things that are clearly wrong, they make you look like the bad guy and you are slandered and maligned because you stand for truth.  I have come to a conclusion or two about that, and want to discuss that now.

Recently, I had a very heated discussion with a former classmate of mine at my old university I transferred out of due to the many issues I have discussed.  Although seemingly a nice and personable guy, this particular student showed who he really was when I confronted him about his personal relationship with Christ.  Curious enough, I hear a lot of theological and academic jargon (again, ad nauseum) out of this person, but he's never really said why he is a Christian.  He is also one of these people who actually entertains ideas in class that Jesus is still somehow imperfect (to me, even suggesting this is a risk of falling into heresy, and it also puts one's salvation on the line), which honestly raised suspicions about his own relationship to Christ when I heard him do that openly in class.  For confronting this guy about his Christian testimony, I was called "idiotic," "evil," (hmmm...I ask about your relationship with Christ, and that is evil??  Sounds like Isaiah's prophecy to me!) and essentially he told me he didn't want anything to do with me - that is a fine Christian attitude from a guy claiming to be studying God's word, isn't it?   Well, I gave him his wish - I promptly "de-friended" him on social media (which was the forum of this discussion) and the Holy Spirit reminded me of the verse about casting pearls before swine - if your own witness is just going to be tread underfoot and called "evil," then you move on and let God do the conviction, as it is not your job.  I sowed the seed, and it is now up to him to respond.  Despite a lot of academic accolades and his supposed "Christian" service, this young man doesn't have a true relationship with Christ, and it is my prayer that the Holy Spirit works in him. Sometimes too, it is good to just take a step back, smile sweetly at such people, and say, "wait and see."   This is one of several examples over the years of many I have encountered who have the form of godliness down pat, but lack the substance of relationship to make it come to life for them.  Many Christian college campuses, I have come to conclude, are nowadays potential mission fields, and in many cases the Religion students (and faculty!) are in need of the Cross - they have intellectualized so much that they confuse their "critical thinking" and "interpretive grids" with their Christian experience, and they are not the same.  In a lot of ways, they are in more serious trouble than the outright secularist Millenial who frequents Starbucks, listens to Justin Bieber, and wears skinny jeans (or ball-crunchers, as I prefer to call them).  And, it is this religious crisis I believe marks the "perilous times" of a great "falling away," where the distinctions between what is good and what is evil are so blurred that much evil is justified even in Christian circles today.  Which is why those of us who do have the relationship with Christ need to undergird ourselves and make sure we have fortified armor against these influences, lest we too be taken down by them. 

I have said enough for today, but what was said is a needed message for the times we live in.  Many reading this may labor under the same delusions that my former classmate professed, and if so, let me ask you - what is your testimony of Christ in your life??  Do you have a relationship with Christ, or are you just interested in using religion as a justification for some of your own presuppositions about certain issues?  Jesus is about transformation, and His message is radically countercultural - the "political-correctness" and postmodernism of today stands in stark opposition to the crystal-clear teachings of Christ and His Church, and no matter how some slick Biblical "scholar" in his fancy bow-tie, skinny jeans, and with a wagon-train of letters predicating his surname tries to reconcile and revise it to conform to culture, it will be an exercise in futility despite how correctly said "scholar" cites a Tourabian note reference or uses academic jargon to make himself sound more important than he is to intimidate the layperson in the pew of the church he identifies with.  No, academic jargon and predicating letters and degrees don't build the Church, nor do they have the authority to re-write Christian doctrine and Biblical principle the Church has accepted and authenticated as truth for over 2000 years.  I have quoted my own saying many times, which is an elaboration of a famous quote of the great theologian Tertullian, that the blood of martyrs and the sweat and tears of prayer warriors are what built the Church, yet theologians worshipping a train of letters predicating their surnames attempt to destroy it.   I have nothing personal against theologians, as I myself claim to be one, but a pitfall many theologians have is trying to box in and contextualize plain truths revealed to great martyrs and saints of the Church over centuries to "make relevant" their own perceptions of those writings to a culture they are too eager to conform to.  My own desire is to never forget where I come from, despite what my own academic accomplishments are, because I have a duty to uphold Church teaching at all costs, and it is not my place to re-interpret it to fit into the current agendas of this society. God bless you all, and may 2015 be a productive and blessed year for you.