Enduring Ethics – Babylon Woe

babylon imageWho is this woman?  Riding on a seven headed beast covered with blasphemies, holding a golden cup full of adulteries, and drunk with the blood of the faithful.

Who is this woman?  Enticing the kings of the earth, making merchants rich, sharing her maddening wine that leads all those partaking into sharing her limitless unfaithfulness.

Who is this woman?  The Queen Mother… the ultimate harlot… the ageless “woe-man”… Babylon.

Hurtful cheating women have been the topic of pop music for decades, but none ever hurt like this one; none ever played the prostitute with as many for as long as this one.

She’s the un-church, the antithesis of the woman of faithfulness described in Revelation 12.  She’s the opposite of all that God has defined as faithful behavior for those who follow Him.  She’s the spirit and value system that can be had for a buck, is always willing to compromise, and remains unsatisfied until others have not only given in to her unfaithfulness and self-gratification, but spread her toxic virus to as many as they can.

She has lived in every age and in every country.  She’s not Rome, Babylon, London, Berlin, Beijing, or New York per se, though her influence has been felt in each of those.  She’s as much a part of every aspect of global culture as the church has been.

There’s always faithfulness and faithlessness.  On the later, this Babylon, the woes of Revelation are pronounced.  Here are her sins.  Over the ages she has…

  • made the nations drink the maddening wine of her adulteries
  • gave lodging to every evil spirit
  • infected the earth with adulterous virus
  • acquired excessive luxuries
  • boasted of immunity to judgment and suffering
  • used her magic spell to lead all nations astray
  • been responsible for the blood of prophets, saints and of all who have been killed on the earth

No judge from men can prosecute her.  No policeman can arrest her.  Her damage is felt from century to century.  But there will come a time when her sensual, destructive, bloodthirsty rampage through history will be stopped.  Cold.

At that time, in one day, in a single hour, this perennial prostitute will be brought to ruin, left naked, have her flesh eaten, burned with fire, made to drink a double portion of her own cup, overtaken with plagues, taken in death, mourning and famine, consumed by fire, thrown down by violence, and become a smoking monument to God’s judgment forever and ever

But that is not today.  Today, she carries on.  But not you.  You are to “Come out of her my people so that you will not share in her sins, so that you will not receive any of her plagues…” (18:14)  Meaning what?

Simply this.

While she breeds adultery in every corner of our culture, you stand for faithfulness in every relationship, promise, commitment and value.  While she promotes nameless spiritualism that reeks of the garlic of self gratification, you practice and promote the presence of the Holy Spirit Who has a name – the Spirit of Jesus Christ.  When she glories in her excessive luxuries at the expense of others and in the name of opportunity, you break her maddening spell with a stand for moderation, contentment and a demonstration of “enough”.  When she promotes arrogance and aggression disguised as “living life to the fullest”, you magnify the day in light of a vast universe and a great God who alone knows what the future holds, pointing out that choice itself is a privilege.  When she takes the life of a saint or fellow believer anywhere on the planet you stand and let your voice be heard – that was your family member.

You do that.  Don’t let the harlot seduce you.  Stand.  Speak. Believe.  Her day will come.


In Case of Fire… Part One

I’ve kind of always wanted to do that – you know, break the glass on a fire alarm.  You’ve seen the instructions haven’t you?  But there’s just never been a fire that would justify the breakage.  And I really don’t want a fire either.

Living in Arizona wild-fires are not uncommon.  And they are often huge.  The Rodeo-Chedeski fire, nicknamed “The Monster”, consumed 468,000 acres.  The Wallow fire was even bigger, consuming 538,000 acres.  Those catastrophic events call for massive mobilization of resources to contain the blaze.  Even then, divine help is required – favorable winds, rain, help from above.

While you may not be facing a physical blaze at the moment, dangerous sophistry within the fellowship of Christ flares up from time to time.  And we are called upon to do more than simply play with the remote while everything burns.   Jude calls the faithful to contend and push back on fuzzy sophistication that promotes division and ungodly behavior.  But when so much is up in flames, it can be tough to know what will put the fire out, or at least turn the heat down a little.

So we ask… how?  How do we push back on sophisticated immorality that trades grace for gross?

There are several practical actions we can take.  Though often overwhelmed by the enormity of the problem and the complexity of the thought behind it, Jude encourages you to step forward and intervene before more is burned.

Here’s the first action…

First, look to God.  By that I mean focus on God not on the problem or those causing the problem.  Of all that could be focused on, it is the ageless ability of God to judge with authority and precision that is meant to be front and center.  Three historical examples are there to remind us of the unchanging ability of God to judge – anyone, anywhere:

  • He is able to judge among the community of faith – those who claim to follow God.  You would think that as an emerging nation rises under the active hand of God’s intervention, supporting visible miracles such as the parting of a sea, a moving pillar of fire, and feeding and watering multitudes without food or water, they would all have faith.  But such is not true.  With a pedigree of divine deliverance in their freshly written Exodus history, 83.3% of leadership stumbled.  Only two out of twelve believed God was able to continue His mighty work of nation building as the children of Israel stood on the threshold of a promised land.  So God judged – He allowed democracy to win.  And he allowed the winning to enjoy the fruit of their decision making; which was the opposite of what they had refused to believe.  So they got desert instead of deliverance;  painful plodding instead of promise.  A generation wandered in circles until they died.  And the time finally came when the 16.7% were vindicated and validated for their confidence in God.  This is judgment among God’s own.
  • He is able to judge among the heavenly/cosmic elite – those in the very presence of God.  Though the details are murky, the reference is to heavenly beings overstepping their boundaries in disobedience to God.  Again, you’d think this couldn’t happen.  Wouldn’t those who see God, who live in his visible presence, believe Him and obey Him?  Apparently not always.  At one time God’s messengers seem to have had an ungracious message to send – one of rebellion.  We are told of the power that one angel can wield – it makes a nuclear bomb seem tame.  So an open rebellion in heaven is serious.  But God is not threatened by even celestial beings.  So He acted; restrained and retained those rebellious beings in chains awaiting eternal judgment.  Some coups work – this one didn’t.
  • He is able to judge among the utterly rebellious – those who have no interest in obeying God.  Those in Sodom and Gomorrah’s day might have been the first to flaunt belligerent license plates taunting righteousness.  They knew there was a choice to be made and they simply gave themselves up to sexual immorality.  The low point of that choice occurred when angels visited that town and were greeted by unrestrained, unnatural lust – men wanting to rape other men, refusing even the offer of virgin young ladies.  And when presented with the notion of impending judgment, the one righteous man’s future son-in-laws laughed.  They thought it was a joke.  But God doesn’t joke about these things.  He waits, sometimes much longer than we would, but it’s to offer opportunity not humor.   So the moment came when the fire fell and consumed a region.  No more funny license plates.  No more flaunting what is right.

And remember, God doesn’t consult polls or play the numbers.  In the exodus, the minority of spies believed; the majority were judged.  And in Sodom and Gomorrah, all but a handful were condemned.  Only a few escaped despite God’s longsuffering and patience.

But He will not wait forever.  Count on it.  He will not be mocked.  There is absolutely no doubt in the outcome of good over evil, trust over rebellion.

When the heat’s on, look up.  Have no doubt about the ultimate outcome.


Theoden’s Lament

You’ll remember him standing there with sobered and staggered countenance; almost resigned as his armor bearer straps on his only defenses for the coming battle with an impossible number of orcs.  Theoden’s words were simple and reflective… “how did it come to this?

How did what come to this?

For those engaged in the fictional battle for middle earth, the answer to “what” was this: the rise of a dark Lord, the assembly of an evil army, the turning of wizardry to evil, the brazen display of cruel hostility, and the fragmented tatters of good gathering to fight much too late in the day.

If you think that happens only in fantasy, consider what Jude had to say in the late first century:  Rise!  Contend for the faith because evil men have secretly slipped in among you who…

  • change the grace of God into a license for immorality
  • deny Jesus Christ our only sovereign Lord
  • pollute their own bodies
  • reject authority
  • slander heavenly beings
  • speak abusively against whatever they do not understand
  • understand and embrace only their instincts – the things that will ultimately destroy them
  • follow Cain, Balaam, and Korah (not exactly good role models)
  • feed only themselves
  • are clouds without rain, autumn trees without fruit, wild waves of the sea foaming up their shame, wandering stars
  • are grumblers and fault finders
  • follow their own desires and boast about themselves
  • flatter others for their own advantage

And these folk were in the church.  They weren’t part of the Associated Godless Evil Doers of America (AGEDA).

If Theoden was part of that church, he’d ask the same question… “how did it come to this?“  How indeed?  Well, Jude says they secretly slipped in among you.  What?  How does something that blatantly  bad secretly slip in among those called by the name of Christ?  How could you not notice it, not opposed it, not rise up in righteous anger against it?

Before offering some ideas, we should identify a baseline relative to this position of infiltration by evil:  it’s somewhat normative.  There’s no perfect church, no unblemished organization, and always spurious motives in the minds of some.  Jesus said the Kingdom of God is like a man who sowed wheat.  Later, while he was sleeping, his enemy secretly came and sowed weeds.  So both grow together.  Then and now.  Always (Matthew 13:24-30).

Jesus doesn’t identify the technology used by the evil one, or the time of night he came.  Rather, just the facts.  As Joe Friday might say “Sir… he came by night and sowed.  That’s all we know!

Still, whether it’s the enemy in Matthew 13 or the evil in Jude, “secretly slipping in” suggests a few things…

  • It happens when you’re not looking – as in “secretly slipped in among you“.  Sometimes we’re just not paying attention.  Maybe it’s because we’re sleeping or focused on something else.  Security in our world is big business: whether its protecting a building or guarding a personal computer.  We pay for someone to be on guard 24/7.  The church is greatly  mistaken if they think evil comes to slip in only on Sundays.  And so are you.  What’s your security suite?  What filters have you installed?  Have you installed them privately and corporately?
  • It happens when you’re not looking closely – as in “secretly slipped in among you“.  The Greek work sophos means skilled or wise.  You’d think therefore that sophistry would mean the use of wisdom.  But only in the sense of manipulating the building blocks of logic to produce false wisdom.  In the ancient world, the Sophists were those who prided themselves on proving black was actually white and vice versa as money required.  Any well established truth could be logically inverted for a price.  Sophistry was apparently at work in Jude’s time – a kind of elegant evil rooted in Gnosticism, whereby the simple truth of Christ’s grace was “enhanced” with secret knowledge available only to a few.

Secret slippery is still happening. Good looking falsehood has been lubed up and slid into surprising places.  Maybe even next to you.

Beware of the secret slippery…  It’ll always be part of the reason we are called to fight for the faith.  But catching it earlier makes the fight easier.

Contend now or lament later – your choice.