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.

-Anthony

Enduring Ethics – A Tale of Three Cities

Choice Street PreacherYou’ll not find them on any list of “The most desirable places to live”.  You’ve probably only even heard of one of them.  You’d likely be wrong in guessing why two of the three came to their obscure place in history.

Chorazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum.  Three cities.

Not exactly vacation hotspots.  But Jesus had harsh words for them.  These are the cities that He pronounced “Woes” upon.  These places heard a prognosis from the Son of God that would have frightened any real estate investor.

Tyre and Sidon, perennial bad boys of the “Old Testament Urban League” have greater reason for optimism on the coming day of Judgment than Chorazin and Bethsaida.  The former were the focus of numerous prophetic warnings because of the godlessness of their cultures.  But they are still around today.  People live there.  The latter?  Chorazin is a place of ruins and Bethsaida is not even on the map – can’t find it.

Sodom, the incumbent number one of the annual “Worst Places Ever” list, has greater reason for optimism on the coming day of Judgment than Capernaum.  The former was sister city to Gomorrah, home to the worst ethics violations in the early Old Testament.  Things were so bad that God himself visited to check out the reports.  It is no more.  God rained burning sulfur on the city and destroyed every living person save Lot and his daughters.  The latter is no more either- a place of ruins and irrelevance.  No fire and brimstone, but also no legacy.

What did they do?  What were these three cities guilty of that catapulted them to the poll position of bad news on Judgment Day?

Simply this:  they did not repent, despite the fact that most of Jesus miracles were performed there.

Did you catch that?  Do you understand what that means?  Let me break it down for you in case you didn’t.

First, most of Jesus miracles occurred in cities that we essentially have no record of in the New Testament.  That means that the miracles we do have record of represent the minority.  This aligns with John’s statement regarding “the many other things that Jesus did” which are not recorded in the Bible.

Second, this suggests that the New Testament is more of a record of man’s response to God’s activity than it is a simple record of God’s activity.  The Holy Spirit could have focused biblical writers on wonders and miracles that residents of these towns witnessed but did not respond to.  But that would have benefitted us nothing.  Instead, we are told of a lonely woman by a well, a blind man wanting to see, and rich man climbing into a tree – all people like us, trying to find our way, needing God to show up and help us a bit.

Third, a demonstration of God’s power doesn’t mean people will respond.  He did a lot in these three cities, but people were generally unimpressed – you know, “people to see, places to go, things to do…”  In the story of The Rich Man and Lazarus, the Rich Man, when he found himself in Hell, asked for someone to go back and tell his brothers about the reality of Hell, to warn them.  Abraham’s response?  “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.”

Translated – if you’re not listening you won’t hear; if you’re not looking you won’t see.  That’s what these three cities did.  They were shown wonders and didn’t see them.  They were told amazing truths and didn’t hear anything.

Hershel Hobbs wrote…

“…citizens of these cities who rejected Christ will receive a greater judgment than will the citizens of Old Testament cities who never knew Him.  Why will this be so?  Because they sinned against the greater privilege.  They were indifferent to their opportunity.  It is a great privilege to be confronted with Christ.  But it is also a great responsibility.”

So which is worse – committing a heinous sin or rejecting the great sacrifice of heaven for the heinous sin committed?

These three cities learned too late that it’s likely the latter.

Have you?  Are you seeing today?  Are you listening today?  Or are you just too busy to be bothered with privilege?

-Anthony

Enduring Ethics – Here Come the Judge

judge eastwoodHere come the judge!” is a popular phrase captured in our music and pop culture.  It can be good news if he’s coming to take down the bad guy.  But if, when he gets closer, he looks more problematic than the bad guy, some ancient words from God to Habakkuk become important.

Habakkuk’s struggle was… “do I tolerate the injustice and idolatry I see rampant in my own country or do I invite God’s judgment, which ultimately means an invading army more godless and wicked than the place I live in?

His dilemma could be ours.  Culture can need correction, but that often involves trauma.  Which do you prefer?  Cultural decay or corrective trauma?  The later often involves the strong man; the judge.  Politics and church revivals don’t always get it done.

So Habakkuk took his struggle to God.  And God responded in typical fashion:

  • God did not answer Habakkuk with an exhaustive ethical justification for what He was about to do
  • God did answer Habakkuk with a call to faith – to trust in His appropriate timing and judgment on those needing correction and those doing the correcting

Ultimately, behind the strong man or judge, is God.  And He had these things to say to Habakkuk (and to us) regarding His view of the strong man and what his end would be – every time.

How does this help us today?

Justice, whether personal, civic or international is seldom a choice between Sunday School and Serial Murder.  There are shades and nuances, ebbs and flows.  So it’s comforting to know there is One who follows it all and will ultimately hold each instrument of judgment accountable.

It’s also important to realize that breaking news is often premature.  What’s news today is often not the full story.  There is a day coming when the full impact of all strong men will be revealed.  Their role in history will be fully understood.  But that day is not today.

We are given a survival tool; a kind of Swiss army knife by which to read international and economic news:  faith.  This multi-functional tool allows us to proceed in peace when all is crashing down around us.  It allows us to move with confidence when culture is rotten and the corrective action coming seems even more so.

The strong man God used to correct Habakkuk’s culture did indeed come – Babylonia.  But even in its strength, there were those living by faith who sent the strong man a message:  “I’m not gonna bow to you!”.  This is a message we sometimes need to send in our own day.  And the day did indeed arrive when the One True Judge came.  And the strong man fell in a single night.

Justice and justice.  Here comes the Judge – the Big One!  Live by it.

-Anthony

Enduring Ethics – Woe and Whoa!

woe 1Woe!  Is there any ethical wiggle room in that word?  Don’t think so.

I would say the word means “bad news” about 100% of the time.  Revisionists have their way with many genres of literature.  History, for example, can be rewritten based upon the perspectives of those pushing today’s academic pens.  And Biblical interpretation is certainly not exempt.  The church finds itself in the midst of ethical conversations that were unthinkable 50 years ago.

But here’s where I kind of like “woe” – it doesn’t allow for much of that.  Woe means woe – it means something’s wrong on a major scale in God’s view.  And odds are if it was wrong then, it’s likely wrong now.

The prophet Isaiah spoke of 6 major ethical misses that earned God’s “woe” (an “F” in heavenly ethics class).  These were the things that brought down a nation – not just any nation, but the one of God’s own making.  Now if these ethical evils brought down the nation God made, how disastrous might they be for our time, our nation, and our city?

Here’s the list, straight from Isaiah 5:8-30.  God says “Woe to you who are…

  • Property Grabbers (“Woe to you who add house to house…”) – those who enrich themselves by disregarding the sacred right of land inheritance (Lev. 25:14-17, Micah 2:1-2).  Because of them there is no room left for people of ordinary means to own a house and land.
  • Party Animals (“Woe to those who rise early for drinking…”) – those who have become alcoholics, shown by their need for “beer” early in the morning.  They party through the day and into the night until they’re totally hammered, showing no time for God’s deeds and no regard for his work.
  • Parading Shamelessly (“Woe to those who draw sin along with cords of deceit...”) – those who are openly proud and brazen over that which they should be ashamed of, openly defying the Lord with parade floats of sin so heavy that they have to use cart ropes to drag them along.
  • Repeal Morality (“Woe to those who call evil good and good evil…”) – those who reverse moral distinctions.  These are folks who have become so seared in their depravity that they consider sin to be perfectly normal and good to be the evil.  These are the sophists of any age, who have found a clever word game for proving black is white and white is black.
  • Pump Themselves Up (“Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes…”) – those who put their own ideas on a pedestal and now imagine they know more than past wisdom, being highly enlightened above God’s revelation, his prophet’s warnings and his promised judgment.
  • Prostitute Justice (“Woe to those who acquit the guilty…”) – those who have sold their responsibilities in social leadership to buy that which feeds their base habits.  This is the judge or policeman who has an addiction and takes a bribe to support it.  Justice goes hungry while social leaders feed their cravings.

Seen any of that stuff around today?

One writer described Israel in the 6th century BC as “a false, government-aided prosperity encouraging a corrupt luxury accompanied by oppression of the poor and a sensual, immoral, heathenish religion”  Now that does sound familiar.

When crime, sensuality, and greed are ascendant, it’s hard to imagine justice ever being done.

Imagine.

Justice did come to the nation that God told “woe” – big time.  Consider Amos 4:1-2 in light of the bas-relief from Nineveh showing the conquest of Lachish.  In it captive Jews are being led before King Sennacherib of Assyria by ropes attached to giant fish hooks put through their jaws.

Before God says “woe” on our time, we need to cry “whoa!” to any part we play in such.

-Anthony

In Case of Fire… Part Two

We’ve been talking about fires of the worst sort – the kind that burn up lives and destroy souls.  They’re the ones that a simple call to 911 won’t help.  And it’s the location that surprises us most – inside the church.  They happen in the community of faith when sophistry enters and exchanges the grace of Christ for a license to destroy.  Doctrine is diluted, behavior is altered, and character catches fire.

And we are called upon to do more than simply play with the remote while things of eternal worth burn.

Jude calls the faithful to contend and push back on fuzzy sophistication that promotes division and ungodly behavior.  Though often overwhelmed by the enormity of the problem and the complexity of the thought behind it, Jude calls you to step forward and intervene before more is burned.

We talked about the first action in part one: look to God!

Now let’s look at the second effort:  look to yourself.

God has a part to play, but so do you.  Surprisingly, little of this relates to political organization and media blitzes.  It’s personal; and in that simplicity it’s also very powerful.  This action permeates all of culture… just like salt on food and leaven in bread.  You, being an influence of one, can make a big difference.  There are six personal, powerful responses to the sophistry of the day that infiltrates the body of Christ to divide and weaken.

First, you can build yourself up in your most holy faith.  Soul building has a lot in common with body building:  you are what you eat; no pain no gain.  The disciplines of the faith are essential in facing fallen-ness in our time and in our backyard:  Bible study, fasting, self-denial, involvement in a community of faith, giving, and prayer.  They are never fancy.  They never go out of style.  There are no short-cuts.  And speaking of prayer…

You should prayin the Holy Spirit.  This isn’t delivering God your daily wish list or complaining about why being part of the global 1% isn’t good enough.  No, this is rolling up your sleeves and getting to work in the Spirit’s power to intercede for others and bring down spiritual high places.  This is closet warfare, on your knees, in the trenches.  And what happens in secret shows results in public.

Third, keep yourselves in God’s love.  When dealing with rebellious souls, keeping yourself centered in God’s love is critical.  Your job is to reflect Christ’s love rather than assume God’s role as judge.  Remembering your example is critical to maintaining the right stance in the middle of pain.  Jesus could have called a legion of angels – but He didn’t.  Can you follow that example?

Then, wait… and this is perhaps the hardest part.  Just ask the two who were ready to trust God in the Exodus event when their ten comrades only saw obstacles.  The two had to walk with the untrusting for 40 years.  But make no mistake, whether its 40 minutes, 40 years, or 4 centuries, the Lord will bring you to eternal life.  It’s not about you and its now about now.  Jude’s emphasis here is on waiting for judgment, eternity, heaven and hell.  Without this focus in our faith we are just an “adjunct social service”.

Fifth, deal with people strategically.  You cannot treat everyone the same.

  • There are those who are just starting to doubt; beginning to be influenced by the fuzziness of sophistry.   Jude says “Be merciful to those who doubt...”  This is the Starbucks approach.  Have coffee with them.  Sit down, take time and reason with them.
  • There are those well on their way – out the door of faith and up-shifting down the highway of apostasy.  For these, Jude suggests an intervention – snatching them from the fire in order to save them.  Envision a group, a community of faith that comes alongside a soul in motion away from the grace of Christ, intervening.  This is something the church is not particularly good at.
  • There are those who’ve gone over the edge.  In these later days of 2012, there’s a lot of talk about the Fiscal Cliff.  But there is a Faith Cliff that does even more damage – and many are those who go over.  They don’t want to reason any longer, they’ve dropped out of the community of faith.  They are beyond an intervention.  They’ve given themselves up to the currents of the day.  Your response?  Show them mercy, but be careful about even touching their clothing.  They are highly “contagious”.  This goes back to your earlier task of waiting.  As you wait, be kind, be merciful (you are not the judge), but be careful.  A rebellious sophistry surrendered to is a powerful thing.  Jude’s words?  “Show mercy mixed with fear – hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh.” 

And finally, worship the One Who is able.  Worship is something that falls on hard times when sophistry is on the rise.  It seems unnecessary.  It interferes with golf, sailing, work, and you name it.  But worship has an amazing effect on clarifying the vision of a Christ follower.  Just ask Isaiah.  It wasn’t until he came into the temple (which means he left the roar of culture) that he saw what really was – the brevity of life and the eternal nature of God.  Jude models worship when he ascribes to God our Savior “glory, majesty, power and authority through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore.”  Often, all that is necessary to course-correct is time away from media spent in full focus on the One Who is able.  Just ask the Psalmist.

So, in case of fire, fight it.  Make it personal.

-Anthony

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.

-Anthony