Tag Archives: good vs evil

What Makes You Think You Have a Right to say that Something is Wrong?

When was the last time you heard anyone use the word chastened? This word is obviously related to chaste, which is a most unpopular word in today’s daily vocabulary. If you take the time to research all the related words, you will learn some interesting facts. The word chaste means “pure, virtuous,” and most particularly, “never taking part in immoral sexual intercourse.” Thus a young girl, a virgin, would be chaste if she had never engaged in sexual intercourse, while a married woman would be chaste if she only engaged in sexual intercourse with her husband. When that word was in common use, it had a meaning, and the meaning was based on teachings that some sexual behavior was good and some was not.

It is the factors of self-discipline and purity that lead to the related word chastened which opened this conversation. Someone needs to be chastened if that person is unable to discipline self and protect personal purity without assistance. To chasten a person is to apply the pressure, verbally or physically, that will restrain the individual from doing something wrong. When someone does something terribly wrong, or does a wrong thing over and over, it might be appropriate to castigate that person, which is severe scolding or harsh criticism. When someone is castigated his feelings might be hurt, but no physical pain is inflicted. However, if someone is chastised, there might well be a spanking, whipping, lashing or beating involved, and the process is likely repeated often. Verbal chastisement is a little less severe in the heat index for punishments than castigation, but the word chastise is not actually limited to verbal punishment. The use of these words, and their commonly understood meanings grew out of the existence of a cultural acceptance of some standards for behavior that is good and behavior that is evil. At the base, there was broad general agreement that sex outside marriage, lies, murder and theft were all morally wrong.

In every form of the word, there is an element that attempts to restrain bad behavior, and it is that element that shaped the word castrate, a procedure designed to restrain, or actually to prevent, a wayward male from fathering children. This extreme procedure was intended to protect women from behavior that the whole culture of the day believed to be morally unacceptable. Some deeds were good and some were evil.

All these words derive from a single root, castus, meaning “pure,” and some combine with the verb agere meaning “to do.” All these words are about a communal moral concept of purity and the disciplinary words and actions required to sustain the purity or punish the loss of it. Purity and discipline are not popular topics in cultural conversations. In fact, many voices in the culture reprimand parents and churches who express moral standards for children and teens. Those voices declare that it is unreasonable and unfair to expect children and teens to have moral standards, and it is unacceptable for children to be punished when they do wrong.

When biblical teaching is thrown into the mix, the frenzy heightens. The Bible is denigrated, along with everyone who believes it is truth. This is the secular answer to the problem of sin. Secular articles of faith deny that there is such a thing as sin, and because sin does not exist, then children and teens have no obligation to frowzy parents who still live in the Stone Age and chastise children who breach the moral standards of that bygone era. Secular thinkers are busily working toward an era in which the secular state will have ultimate authority over children. Parents will be held back, prevented from teaching and enforcing teachings from the “wrong side of history.”

What becomes of a culture that has no moral standards? When the Supreme Court issued the decision popularly known as Obergfell, the moral standards for sexual behavior were undercut so severely that no further decisions will be required in order to legitimize sodomy, incest, pedophilia or bestiality. In that mix, polygamy pales to insignificance by comparison. As long as the standard is that nobody should feel lonely or hurt, and that any sexual union which ameliorates the loneliness is and ought to be legally recognized as a marriage, what can possibly be considered to be immoral?. In fact, since Obergfell is based on no moral standard whatsoever, murder, theft, vandalism, embezzlement, and business fraud should all be legitimized as well. No standard can be shown to apply when the standard interferes with people and hurts their feelings.

When was the last time you felt chastened? When was the last time you chastened a child or a student. If you can remember that moment, hang on to it. There might never be another one.

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What is the Answer to Muslim Extremism?

Friday’s post looked at what happens in countries where Muslim extremists attain power. Muslim extremists must be distinguished from other Muslims who do not seek to dominate the world, but it should also be acknowledged that few Muslims speak out against Muslim extremism. There are several reasons for this fact, but it does not make every Muslim an extremist any more than silence made every Christian a member of the Ku Klux Klan. There are some simple explanations rooted in human nature.

This post will leap over all those issues and look at the biggest problem for any Christian: how to respond to Muslim extremism and how to live in a world where this ideology is active.

The short and simple answer is this: Christ.

Christians must live Christ-like lives and speak Christ-like words.

This solution sounds suspiciously like the one proposed for dealing with secular thinking. In fact, it is exactly the same solution. It is extremely difficult to put this solution first when people fear for their lives and their way of life. Nevertheless, if Christians fail to put Christ first, they will not be very successful in finding any peace amid the changes taking place every day in the USA. They will not feel at peace with life in a country where any gathering may at any time be the target of violence in the cause of Muslim extremism.

Christians who think like Christ will do one more thing that is a powerful force in response to Muslim extremism: they will love Muslims. Some will confuse loving Muslims with accommodation for violence. Christ-like love does not accommodate evil. Jesus never told Christians to accommodate evil. Jesus said, “Love your enemy.” He did not say, “Let your enemy kill and maim innocent people.” Jesus said, “If anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also.” Jesus did not say, “Look the other way while evil runs rampant over a nation.” Jesus said that a Christian will love enemies, absorb punishment while continuing to love the enemies, and attack enemies with prayer-spears of loving intercession. These are the individual, personal responses Christians make to aggressive evil.

Government is the God-given power for group action against evil. Christians who are citizens of a republic like the USA have the privilege and obligation to participate in the decisions of their government to resist evil and aggression. Jesus’ admonition about what is Caesar’s points to a wise recognition of the role of government to take action against evil by means of police and military action. In this republic, the government’s actions are shaped in part by the voice of citizens engaged in public discussion of issues. Christians absolutely need to engage in the conversation and speak with simultaneous rejection of evil and Christ-like love for the evil-doer. God always wants his people to speak out and be the voice of God’s high standards. This is one more way an individual Christian can help to contain and diminish the impact of Muslim extremism. This is the place for Christ-like words that love the perpetrators of evil while refusing them the license to continue it. Every parent knows how this works.

Muslim extremism, however, is much more dangerous than childish temper tantrums. It is not something any nation can safely ignore. It is not something any Christian can safely ignore. Christians must speak truth and participate with integrity as citizens in shaping the government response to Muslim extremism. In order to do that, Christians must do first things first.

  • Put Christ first in all our thoughts.
  • Be disciplined in prayer and Bible study in order to achieve maturity in living and speaking a faithful testimony to Christ.
  • Accept the civic duty to participate in the government with voice and vote. Follow the guidance of the Holy Spirit in word and deed in the discussion of the problem of Muslim extremism.

Open Doors USA has some very good advice for building the right kind of relationship with Muslims. They recommend Christians use the word Islam as an acronym for

I

Sincerely

Love

All

Muslims

            The book of Revelation has some rich guidance on this subject as well. In this book, Christians will discover that worship is, as Dr. Rick Carlson says, “the great subversive act against evil.” In chapter 8 the prayers of the saints, rising up to God like incense, bring all the chaos in the universe to a complete halt. “There was silence in heaven for about half an hour.” Recognizing that this “event” took place in the realm of eternity, Christians can take comfort in the promise that their prayers have power without feeling the need to try to figure out exactly how long that pause lasted. When prayer and praise rise up to God’s throne, he pays attention. Faithful worship is a power in the battle against evil.

            If Christians love Muslims, they will wisely and rightly recognize the difference between Muslim extremists and Muslims who simply want to live in liberty and peace alongside all the other people of all the other religions that make up the population of the country. Christians who want to defeat and defuse Muslim extremism will love the perpetrators of violence and aggression, but they will participate in a strong, just response that ultimately ends the threat of violence against the innocent. If we want to defeat any form of evil, we must put Christ first in our lives. After that, we must follow the guidance of the Holy Spirit in word and deed. In our own strength and puny wisdom, we will never defeat evil of any sort. Christ is our victory over evil, whether in ourselves and in others.

Is Evil God’s Fault?

Every time there is a violent event like the bombing at the Boston Marathon, there are people who cry out, “How can you tell me that there is a God when things like this can happen?” Interestingly, when someone like the Shoe Bomber is prevented from destroying an airplane full of people over a densely populated area, you do not hear someone cry out, “How can you doubt that God exists when things like this can happen?” People do not jump to the conclusion that God has micro-managed the people involved when evil is prevented, but they quickly and vocally jump to the conclusion that God was either powerless to act when evil succeeds, or else he simply does not exist. Why?

Secularists reject the existence of both God and Satan, calling them ghost stories. Secularists also believe that humans are evolving into morally superior beings, despite evidence that evil is just as prevalent in human society today was it was at the dawn of time.  What’s more, secular thinkers believe that it is possible to write laws against murder that will ultimately prevent murder. They believe that society can design laws which constrain behavior so tightly that murder cannot happen. It is interesting to compare God’s law against murder – Do not murder! – with the bill that recently died in the Senate – a law that required three days to read at any normal speed, a law that constrained all people severely and deprived all people of rights not abused by most people in an attempt to prevent a few people from acquiring a weapon. Secular thinkers fear disorder so much that ending freedom is an acceptable price to suppress evil, yet secular thinkers cannot produce any evidence that any law has ever prevented any person from thinking he could outsmart the people who enforce the law.

Law does not prevent crime.

If law prevented crime, the murder rate in the USA would be zero. There is no place in the world, for that matter, where murder is not a crime. Neither better laws nor better police nor better jails will ever prevent crime. Secular thinkers claim to operate on the basis of reason and the revelations of science. If that is so, why would they believe that the human race is evolving into morally superior beings? If that is so, why is there still murder and mayhem like the bombing at the Boston Marathon?

We humans do need law, and enforcement, and punishment. Laws actually stop some people from doing bad things, because some people fear they will be caught. However, plenty of people believe they are smart enough to elude capture, and those people commit evil deeds with complete confidence that nobody will be able to do anything about it. The same human ego that leads secularists to believe that a better law will stop crime also leads people to believe they are more clever than the enforcers.

Christians do not reject the need for law and enforcement and punishment. Christians do not believe that fear of punishment makes people better moral beings. Christians do believe that there is a force that makes people better moral beings. That force has demonstrably changed the lives of many people. Society is not that force. Law is not that force. Punishment is not that force. The one force that fundamentally transforms human beings is the Holy Spirit. People who receive Christ receive the Holy Spirit, and that power changes them forever.

We all know very well, however, that Christians are both sinful saints and saintly sinners. The story in Acts that describes how two new Christians conspired to pretend to make a sacrificial gift to the church provides evidence that Christians are not perfect. A society made up entirely of Christians still needs a mechanism for administering justice when Satan’s temptations triumph in a Christian’s life.

Christians agree with secular thinkers that human society needs law in order to have any justice or peace in the community. They disagree with secular thinkers that the suppression of God-given human rights is the necessary price for the prevention or cure of evil. Christians look at God’s law in simple words, plain language, and respect for human liberty as a model for human law. Christians advocate for good laws, but object to oppressive laws that pretend to be able to shape society in a way that prevents evil. Society cannot take on a role even God does not assume by trying to create such oppressive societal barriers that evil would be impossible. Everybody, Christian and secularist alike, grieves at something like the Sandy Hook shooting or the bombing at the Boston Marathon, but Christians do not believe that human beings oppressed by more restrictive laws and regulations are any less likely to perpetrate evil than people governed by laws written in plain language that shows respect for the responsible way most people manage freedom.  

Murder is illegal, no matter what weapon is used. When someone commits murder, he should be punished, no matter what weapon is used. Jesus set an even higher standard. He said we should all love our neighbors and love our enemies. That covers pretty much everybody. Jesus’ law is all-inclusive, but it oppresses nobody. We can all be thankful that we have good laws and good law enforcement and even-handed justice. We can also be thankful that our US Constitution prevents the government from following secular thinking to its logical conclusion – a police state where evil is theoretically impossible.

Liberty? or freedom from all evil? Which do you choose?

 

All or Nothing

Sunday Readings:  Genesis 3:8-15     Psalm 130     2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1     Mark 3:20-33

 

When we first read about Jesus in the book of Mark, it says that Jesus came into Galilee after the arrest of John the Baptist and his message was: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” John the Baptist had preached repentance, but he was not able to give people the good news that Jesus brought. It was good news to suffering people, but it was not good news to Satan. Jesus’ words announced that the war between good and evil, a clash between kingdoms battling for universal triumph, was on.

The kingdoms first clashed in the Garden of Eden. In that battle, Satan appeared to win. He deceived Eve. She lured Adam to join her. God’s supreme creation chose to reject his wisdom and do what felt good to them. It looked good, because Satan made it look good. Even as God pronounced judgment on his rebellious children, however, he served notice on Satan. In today’s Old Testament reading God says, “I will put enmity … between your offspring and hers; he will strike your head.” Those few little words were God’s promise of hope for humankind.

When Jesus showed up with his message that “the kingdom of God has come near,” Satan knew that his days were numbered. In fact, the image of Satan hearing Christ speak for the first time, recalls to us the image in the book of Revelation where the great dragon lashes out with his tail and stars fall.

In the Revelation story, the terrible dragon stood waiting for a son to be born, and as he waited, he twitched his tail, seemingly destroying stars as he did so. To be able to drag stars out of the sky made him appear powerful, but his seeming power was short-lived. The child escaped. Instead of devouring the child, the dragon was confronted with an army of angels, and soon he was utterly defeated. In the Revelation story, the dragon was thrown down to the earth. Ultimately the story says that he “went off to make war on … those who keep the commandments of God.” Using the imagery from that dragon story, it is easy to imagine that great dragon raging and lashing out with his tale when he hears Jesus speaking to people saying, “The kingdom of God has come near.” The clash of kingdoms had begun.

In Galilee, people who suffered mental illness, incurable diseases, social ostracism, fear, hunger, and hopelessness heard those words, and they came running to Jesus. Families and friends brought people who could not bring themselves. The excitement mounted. The crowds surged around Jesus, crowds of people who wanted to be healed, crowds of people who wanted to observe the healings, and crowds of people who wanted to figure out how this charlatan was pulling off such a masterful show. In the last category were quasi-religious leaders who could read and write for hire, who accused Jesus of complete fakery, of trying to lure people away from God to himself by working in cooperation with Satan.

When Jesus heard the accusation, he famously replied, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” Yet this dramatic moment is sandwiched between the hints of some family conflict that raises a confusing image. The crowds drawn by the spectacle of healings and exorcisms were so huge Jesus could hardly get a moment to eat. His family made early attempts to rescue him, because people were starting to talk as if Jesus were the madman, not those he had healed. And the religious leadership joined in the fray. The family understandably wanted him to be safe and to take time for a little R&R. It is hard to know if they stood outside because they could not push through the crowd, or if they stood outside, because they were actually afraid to get too close to such a controversial figure, but whatever the reason, they remained at a distance. They sent a message to Jesus asking him to come to them, but Jesus responded by dismissing them. His earthly family was, therefore, immediately divided.

As if the obvious division were not enough, Jesus went one step further. He looked around at the people crowded close, watching his every move, listening intently to his every word. He looked at the people who needed healing, and he looked at the people who had brought patients for him to help. Mark doesn’t try to read his mind, but when I read his words, I conclude that his mind was thinking, “The kingdom of God has come near. I can’t take it away from those who need it.” Aloud Jesus said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother,” These are shocking words. His family only wanted what was best for him – some rest, some food, some quiet, maybe even some sleep. How harsh those words must have sounded.

Yet this is not the only time Jesus said such things. When Jesus was calling people to serve him, some made excuses. They had work to finish. They had parents to take care of. They wanted to get their rest and their sleep and just a little bite to eat before they headed out to follow Jesus. Jesus told them, “Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” In another place, Jesus said, “one’s foes will be members of one’s own household.” In today’s story, and in all these other instances, Jesus was talking about priorities. Nothing, absolutely nothing, is more important than doing the work God gives us to do. Jesus said, “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me.” We must put Christ above everything. He summed up this teaching one day when someone asked him what the most important commandment was. Jesus answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” The Christ who tenderly looked down from the cross and made sure his mother would be cared for after his death, looked up from the center of a needy crowd and dismissed that same mother. Priorities.

So when Jesus’ mother and siblings showed up in the middle of his work, he wasn’t being petulant and egotistical. He was showing us where our priorities must lie. He was not rescinding the commandment to love and honor our parents. He had not lost his mind. He was busy fighting the battle with the kingdom of evil on behalf of people who needed to know that God’s kingdom was more important than anything else. It really was the pearl of great price. It really was worth more than life itself.

Because a kingdom divided against itself cannot stand.

That is the real message. When we work for the kingdom of God, everything else is secondary, maybe even less than that. We must do the work God gives us and fill our place in the kingdom. We can’t be partly committed to the kingdom and partly devoted to our own comfort or to pleasing our parents or our children. The battle between good and evil demands full commitment. Jesus said it very simply, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”

The kingdom of God has come near. God will not permit his kingdom to be weakened by half-hearted promises. If you want to be part of it, you must commit yourself to God alone.

Choose Life

Hagia Sophia ; Empress Zoë mosaic : Christ Pan...
Hagia Sophia ; Empress Zoë mosaic : Christ Pantocrator; Istanbul, Turkey (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Sunday’s readings:

Jeremiah 31:31-34     Psalm 551:1-12     Hebrews 5:5-10     John 12:20-33

In this story, Greeks visiting Jerusalem seek out Jesus. They go to Philip first, and he goes to Andrew. Andrew was one of the first to get to know Jesus, and as soon as he realized who Jesus was, Andrew ran to get Peter. Maybe the other disciples thought of him as the one to go to with new people. Anyway, Peter and Philip then went to Jesus. John doesn’t say this, but I think they took the Greeks with them.  Andrew took Peter, and I think he said, “Let’s take these people to Jesus.” I think Andrew knew that Jesus would make himself available to speak with these inquirers.

John also doesn’t really say that Jesus talked with the Greeks. However, after Philip and Andrew approach, John says, “Jesus answered them.” I think the rest of the narrative to the end of today’s reading is the conversation Jesus had with the Greeks. Other people appear to have been present as well, but it just doesn’t make sense that John would mention the Greeks and then simply drop them.

In his conversation with the Greeks, Jesus talks about life, and then death. He says, “Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” (John 12:25) It is important to note that the Greek words behind the English words are not the same in all three instances. The first two occurrences in Greek are ‘psyche’ which is organic or biological life. The final occurrence is ‘zoe’ which is a more spiritual reference. Biological life is not eternal. Jesus, therefore, is talking about the difference between the life in our universe bounded by time and space and life in an eternal and infinite universe.

Jesus also predicts that “the ruler of this world will be driven out.” (John 12:31) People who observe that bad things still happen, that bad things happen to good people, and that the world is not always a pretty place doubt that the evil ruler is gone. They would like to dispute this statement.

I don’t think Jesus meant that the evil one would leave the earth. After all, in the parable of the wheat and the tares, he made it very clear that evil will persist on the earth until the end of time. I think he meant that those who choose the life Jesus gives will live in submission to Christ, not to the evil one. The evil one will be driven out of those who are indwelt by the Holy Spirit. The evil one will be forced out when people choose to enthrone Christ in their hearts.

Anyone who is honest knows that we human beings cannot and do not dethrone self and enthrone Christ in perpetuity. That battle goes on daily, even hourly. It is the reason we continue to need to ask for forgiveness and to give forgiveness to others. What Jesus says in this brief conversation gives us hope, however.

We have all met people who seem to be able to enthrone Christ with great consistency. Mother Teresa is an example. We look at her life, and most of us would say that the evil ruler was certainly driven out of her heart. Yet those who have read her diaries know the truth. Mother Teresa was a flawed human being with great commitment to do God’s work. She did it well and faithfully, but she was not perfect. She did not have perfect faith. She was a human being who struggled with her faith and her calling just as I do.

Jesus gave the key to that kind of success when he said, “Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” Faith shapes a choice, and the choice is all about life. If the evil one is driven out, and if Christ is on the throne of the heart, then it is possible to choose real life. The idea of hating the life in this world sounds repugnant, but life in this world means a constant battle. Unless the ruler of this world is driven out by Christ, then a person’s life is ruled by evil.

Whether someone chooses to serve evil or simply chooses not to serve Christ, the result is the same. As Jesus said in one of the parables, it isn’t enough to cast demons out. Somebody must come in and fill that dwelling. When someone chooses to serve Christ, there is no place for the evil ruler of this world to live.

In the letter to the Galatians, Paul wrote about the kind of life people experience when Christ is not enthroned in their hearts. He said that these people would live with “fornication, impurity, licentiousness,idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these.” (Galatians 5:19-21) You might readily observe that you know people who don’t love Christ who don’t seem like bad people. They are kind to children and pay their bills. They work hard and give money to the poor. The point of Paul’s comment is not to give an exhaustive list of the bad things people might do if they do not love Christ. He even says “and things like these.” Lying and theft and adultery, major items in the Ten Commandments, are not specifically listed. And many of the things listed are behaviors we tend to excuse, such as anger, quarrels and factions. Those who value the things that are important in this world, the world of time and space, get caught up in the kinds of things Paul lists, because they do not have the guidance of the Holy Spirit. We get caught up in those things, too, when we dethrone Christ and say, “I deserve …” and go what we think is our own way. Our own way always winds up being through the wide gate and down the broad highway Jesus said would lead to our own destruction.

When we recognize the life of this world for what it really is, we learn to ignore the things that the ruler of this world makes so appealing. Money, fame, importance, power, attention. We find that those things lose their appeal precisely because they are constrained by time and space. As a famous rock singer said, you never see a U-Haul behind a hearse. When we put Christ on the throne of our hearts, he drives out the evil ruler of this world and we get a real life. We start enjoying the qualities of that real life right here and now: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness,gentleness, and self-control.” (Galatians 5:22-23) These qualities and these blessings will persist into eternity. When we enthrone Christ in our hearts, we show that we don’t want the temporary excitement of the things that last only in time and space. We show that we have relinquished those earthly values. We choose to live by eternal values, and we demonstrate that our eternal, timeless life has already begun.

When the Greeks came to talk with Jesus, therefore, he set before them the same choice Moses set before the Israelites when he was about to die.

“I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; for that means life to you.” (Deuteronomy 30:19-20)

Jesus set this choice before the Greeks and he sets this choice before each of us. Let us choose life.