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.


God Calling… Charting Faith

Minard ChartI love good charts.

They can help us see perspectives otherwise not easily visible.  Perhaps the greatest one ever was constructed by Charles Joseph Minard, portraying the losses suffered by Napoleon’s army in the Russian campaign of 1812. Using a thick beige-to-black band, he shows the size of the army beginning at the Polish-Russian border and follows its reduction to Moscow and back in the bitterly cold winter.  The army size is tied to temperature and time scales.  It’s a masterpiece in graphic depiction.  It makes the following point very clear:  Napoleon’s army was defeated by poor decision making and winter weather, not another army.

Consider now another chart, not nearly as famous as Minard’s:  mine.

Faith Fight over TimeIt’s a crude attempt at charting faith – the thing that’s most required if you are going to answer God’s call.  It was absolutely essential for Gideon.  And it’s going to be essential for you.

This chart tracks three variables from Judges 6-7:

  • Green = The size of Gideon’s forces, starting from when he was called (that would be one) through to the greatest number (32,000 or so) and back down to 301.
  • Red = The size of the opposition’s forces, peaking at 135,000 and eventually shrinking to zero.  Where the number starts cannot be identified, but I’m guess somewhere around 25,000 to 35,000 (call it an occupation force).
  • Orange = Gideon’s physical/mental stress level.  It’s the variable hardest to pin down because the Bible gives us only clues without clear markers.  In other words…
    • what was his stress level working alone in the wine press prior to the call?
    • what was his stress level when an angel appeared and issued a call to leadership without any identified followers?
    • what was his stress level when the great battle began; 301 facing 135,000?
    • and what was his stress level when he was chasing an enemy on the run on foreign soil when his men were exhausted?

While the Bible doesn’t give us an actual number, we can anticipate movement up or down.

What do you notice as you consider the chart?

First, it becomes apparent the fight of faith has a general emotional/physical “footprint” that would keep anyone out of their comfort zone.  It’s not blissful.  It’s not a consistent spiritual “high”.  Instead, it’s a roller coaster of highs and lows.

What does that mean?  It means you cannot look at your “heart” or “feelings” to tell you whether to start, stop or finish.  It’s the call that matters.  If Gideon would have check his heart for directions, at several points through these chapters he might have bailed.  Any reasonable person would have.

Second, the physical resources at Gideon’s disposal never come close to matching up well with the forces of the eastern armies.  Gideon, at his best, had about 32,000 men.  The forces of the east had 135,000.  It was never even close.

What does that mean?  It means you cannot make your decision on whether to obey the call based upon visible resources.  At no point did Gideon ever have a number that would cause any military leader worth his “salt” to press the attack.  And when Gideon started to like his numbers, God stepped in and said “too big; too many – we have to thin these out lest the wrong person get credit!” Early on Gideon settled that the power in his punch was God and God alone.

Third, Gideon’s stress level was highest after the main battle was over.  When the red line is well past its peak and heading toward zero (certain demise of the eastern armies), the orange line is just getting started, like some runaway growth stock.  Gideon’s most trying time may have been after the crowd left the primary victory celebration, and he knew that his original force of 300 had to chase the rest of the enemy into foreign soil.  He received no help, no food and no sleep.  Exhaustion was his only companion as he pushed his men forward based on a call only his ears heard.

What does that mean?  It means finishing the call is sometimes harder than the main battle.  We celebrate and publish the book or create a seminar too early.   89% of the enemy was routed and leaving town.  But that number has nothing to do with his call.  Gideon was called to deliver God’s people, not simply reduce the enemy forces.  Enough is not enough until the call is completed – and that may be the hardest part.

Were you able to ask Gideon “was it worth it?“  What do you think his answer would be?

What might yours be if you answered God’s call today?


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.