Thursday, May 26, 2011

Jesus, Paul Simon, And Mr. Popular


Jesus told a parable about a father and his two sons. No. Not that one. I’ll preach about that family in Luke 15 in a few weeks. (I’ll try to get those on the sermon player at the bottom of this blog later.) I’m talking about the father who asked his two sons to go and work in his field. Listen to Jesus.

“But what do you think? A man had two sons, and he came to the first and said, ‘Son, go, work today in my vineyard.’ 29 He answered and said, ‘I will not,’ but afterward he regretted it and went. 30 Then he came to the second and said likewise. And he answered and said, ‘I go, sir,’ but he did not go. 31 Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said to Him, “The first.” 
Jesus said to them, “Assuredly, I say to you that tax collectors and harlots enter the kingdom of God before you. 32 For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him; but tax collectors and harlots believed him; and when you saw it, you did not afterward relent and believe him.

Jesus tells us a simple story about a man with two sons who asked them to work in his vineyard. The first told his father to go jump in the lake. He absolutely would not waste his time working in a vineyard. The second promised to hustle right over and find the foreman for his assignment. The first regretted his harsh words almost immediately. And he went to the field and found the foreman, punched his time card and put in a sweaty day tending grapes. The second, and presumably younger son, did not show up. We might say he laid-out and went and played TRON with his homeys down at the Video Shack.

Jesus asks his audience which son actually did the will of the father. The unanimous response was the older son, who actually went to work. Jesus then chided the religious elite in the crowd and told them in essence, it’s not how you start, but how you finish.

We don’t know what happened to the younger son. Maybe he got distracted. Maybe he lost his way. Maybe someone attacked him. Maybe someone shot at him. Maybe he got hurt.
I’ve been at this ministry thing for a long time and I’ve been shot at few times, sometimes the Devil is actually the one pulling the trigger! Sometimes we get hurt, lost, distracted. We start off strong. We say to the Father, “I will go.” And we never really fulfill the will of the Father, because things come along. I mean, a 1/3 of the angels started off good, but ended up bad. If the angels can mess up--so can we.
It happens to many believers. It happened to Paul’s apprentice Demas. We don’t know what happened to Demas. He is mentioned three times. Paul calls him Demas my faithful soldier in Philemon, then he reports that Demas is with him in Colossians, and lastly, to Timothy, he says that Demas has forsaken him. We don’t know what made Demas start off so strong and flitter out at the end. Maybe it had to do with the fact that his name means “popular” in the Greek. Who knows. I do know that Gal 5:7 is one of the saddest verses in the whole Bible. Paul writes, ” You were running well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth?”

I don’t want my last days to be more bleak than my beginning. And as a pastor, I don’t want any of my flock falling away or forsaking their strong start with years of complacency. I have seen it of course. And so I know the hurt that Paul had in his heart writing of Mr. Popular’s desertion.

If you are my age or older you might remember these words from Paul Simon.

You Just slip out the back, Jack
Make a new plan, Stan
You don't need to be coy, Roy
Just get yourself free
Hop on the bus, Gus
You don't need to discuss much
Just drop off the key, Lee
And get yourself free

Yes, I guess there are Fifty Ways To Leave Your Lover

Patty and I are working hard on 21 years. And I have no plans of leaving her or letting her go out the back.                            Jack.

But as a pastor, I have seen and experienced many hurtful things.
I was there when Jack, sliped out the back.
I have seen Stan make a new plan.
I’ve heard Roy be coy along with Gus, discussing much in the church parking lot.
I’ve had Lee, trying to break free, drop of his keys.

I’ve seen many start so strong, only to end up getting tripped up. See, there is more than one way to get tripped up, to stumble, and to get lost. Speaking of Luke 15, sheep wander--coins roll away--sons rebel. But do you know how to tell that a sheep is a sheep and not a goat? A goat is happy being lost, but a sheep is miserable.

If you’re miserable today—as you read this, if the only joy in your life is a dish-washing detergent, maybe you’ve left your first lover. Revelation 3 says the church at Ephesus left its first love, it did not lose it. They LEFT their lover.

Yes, there is at least Fifty Ways To Leave Your Lover, probably more. But there is only one way to get back. The older son did the will of the Father. Won’t you ask Him to reveal His will to you today?

The Father stands on the front porch of heaven and cries out, “Come home, little one. And all will be well.”

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Invisible Rapture


Harold Camping didn't get it wrong. Don't believe it? Just ask him, he'll tell you. He now says that the end of the world will be October 21, 2011. He claims that the church was “invisibly raptured.” I guess that I must be invisibly writing this blog post. And many of you invisibly reading it.

It’s pretty cool actually. I have wanted to be invisible ever since I read H. G. Wells’ The Invisible Man when I was in fifth grade. Well, back THEN I thought it would be cool. You could go the store and not pay. No one would call you fat. You could go to which ever head wasn’t busy. (Yes. I called it a head when I was in fifth grade. Probably since I was five. Navy family, you know.)

Now that I think about it as an adult, though, maybe it’s not so cool. Should I preach Sunday morning? An invisible preacher-- preaching to an invisible crowd? Talk about apoplexy! How would I know how many people showed up? The first thing I do on Sunday morning is count. I do that even before I pray. All preachers count. Trust me. You can spot us at football games trying to count the number of people in the other set of stands. (Ministerially speaking, we were just shy of five hundred and two. We actual had two hundred and five, and that IS less than five hundred after all.) Now; however, thinking about going to the women’s head is just creepy and kind of disturbing.

So, I’ll be glad when Jesus comes back on October 21 and we can be seen again and…huh? What’s that? Oh!?       Jesus came back invisibly!       I see.

Hmph. So much for five hundred in church this Sunday.

Is Barack Obama The Anti-Christ? Mathematical Proof Says “Yes!”


Is Barack Obama The Anti-Christ? This week President Obama has called for Israel to recede to her pre-1967 borders, effectively giving the Palestinians (Spelled H.A.M.A.S. and I.R.A.N.) control over Jerusalem. Hmm. I have long postulated that the Beast of Revelation 13:1-8 would in some way bring a wary peace to the war torn region by allowing the Jews and Muslims to have both a Temple and the Mosque of Omar. In order to facilitate this, Israel would have to make large concessions, most notably in my eschatology, military control of Jerusalem. Notice that I did not say governmental control, just military. i.e Israel would maintain her sovereignty over Jerusalem, but the UN or some other equally “Neutral” group would police the city.

Now BHO is making the first overtures in that direction. There is no way, and I mean by that NO WAY, the nation of Israel will give up Jerusalem and the Golan Heights to her enemies. There is a strategic purpose as well as symbolic purpose to owning these two spoils of war. But, with worldwide pressure and a shrinking base of allies, she might give up control of policing the city. Everyone knows this, but just like selling a car, start off with asking for more than you want/know you can get, and “settle” on what you were really wanting all along. Hamas doesn't want control of Jerusalem as much as it wants Israel gone, but they'd settle for this in a New York minute.

But back to my question, “Is Barack Obama the Anti-Christ?” Well, the mathematical proof would suggest yes. Let me explain. In the ancient languages, each alphabet character as a corresponding number. In this, one could spell words with numbers, not just letters. This would be similar to texting, using the old telephone/letter equivalent.   i.e. 2 = a,b,c;    3= d,e,f;   etc.    Revelation 13:18 tells us that the Beast’s number is that of a man, and that this number is six-hundred and sixty six. (666)

So take our current president’s name. Barack. In the Greek language (The language that the Book of the Revelation was written) B=2; A=1; R=100;A=1;C=600; K=20. Add those together and it equals 724. But take away 3 because there is an unholy Trinity, multiply that 3 by 7 because that is the number of years in the Tribulation, subtract 3.5 for the first half of the Great Tribulation, then add back 70 for Daniel’s weeks of years, and divide by half (cause he’s half the man Jesus was) and subtract that all from the original 724. That gives you 650.25. Now take 3 for the Holy Trinity and multiply it times 5 for the number of books in the Pentateuch and a random variable integer of ¾ and you get….wait for it…666. Mathematical proof Ladies and Gentlemen. And Math don’t lie.
OK. So I made that up. But in light of Harold Camping’s new date of October 21, I couldn’t resist.

No, I don’t think BHO is the Anti-Christ. There are too many reasons to mention here, but mainly it is because I do not think the Beast will be an American. Most likely, he will be Italian, although I wouldn’t argue with any European country as his homeland. (See Daniel 9:26)

Nevertheless, that does not negate the fact that our president is making a grave error in his Middle East policy. By siding with Hamas he has broken a cardinal rule of politics and diplomacy—never barter with a terrorist. Once again, the POTUS has shown the world that he is more akin to Jimmy Carter than Ronald Reagan. The only thing these people understand is a firm hand and an unshakable stance. That is why Israel has been so successful in defending her borders, against over whelming opposition. Mr. President, I implore you…do not move away from Israel. Do not kowtow to these terrorist thugs. If anything, give Israel your blessing to continue building settlements in the land that rightfully belongs to her. After all, if taking land by force, especially when you were not the instigator in the hostilities, is wrong, then shouldn’t we give California back to Mexico?

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

A Waffle House Theology


The year would have been 1988, and I was freshly transferred from the Naval Submarine School in Groton, Connecticut to Dam Neck Naval Base in Virginia Beach, Virginia. After completing boot camp in Illinois and then sub school ( which lasted over the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays,) I had been North of the Mason Dixon Line for just shy of nine months.

What this means is that I lasted nine months with NO sweet tea, NO warm weather, NO one saying y’all, and most of all, NO grits. North of the Mason Dixon they have a weak-kneed grits resemblance known as cream of wheat. echkk. I tried c.o.w. once. That stuff makes you speak all Hebrew and stuff. Like you have massive amounts of phlegm stuck in your throat. heeackkkkk.

So, it was on a bright, sunny, rather warm February day I got off the plane at Norfolk International Airport. Tagging along was my buddy, Chris Oldenburg, a native of Connecticut, classmate at BESS and soon to be roommate at Dam Neck for SWSA School. For three months Oldie had listened to me complain about negative digits weather, the horrors of Connecticut rudeness, the all around uncouthness of unsweetened ice tea, and the sheer indignity of NO grits. Needless to say people, my heart stopped after seeing a Waffle House sign just outside the gates of Dam Neck. “Stop!” I yelled to our cab driver. “Take us there! Take us there now.” It was two in the afternoon (umm. Fourteen-hundred) and we didn’t need to report for duty until 8 the next morning. “We’re eating some real food. Forget the mess,” I told Oldie. This is where it gets interesting.

I ordered heaven on a platter. Grilled chicken breast on a bun, with hash browns; scattered, covered and smothered; sweet tea, and—of course, a side of grits. Oldie studied the menu for a few minutes. I can still see the perplexed features of his face; brow wrinkled, slight frown, eyes squinting. I am quite sure his fingers were sticking to the syrupy menu as he kept eyeing the short order cook, slightly afraid of the recently released convict who was waiting to cook our food,  and the just-shy-of-a-set-of-dentures tattooed woman, waiting to take his order. Ahhh. The best Waffle Houses have convicts cooking the food. The quality of the food is inversely proportional to the amount of time his incarceration ended.  And if your waitress has a full set of teeth, be wary. Be very wary.

The classic line of all lines was not delivered by Oldie though. He simply asked her, with a straight face, to bring him a grit also. Her line is the one deserving Hall of Fame recognition. One that was probably much practiced by someone employed so close to a military establishment. With a hilly Virginia accent she drawled, “Sugah. They dun cum buuy theyself.”

******sigh******* Waffle House Theology. Grits do not come by themselves. They come as a group. As a collective. What made me reminisce about this story was thinking about the church. This past week, preaching from Luke 15, I chided the church (us and the church at large) for caring more about the 99 that the 1. Spending more money on the 99. More effort, more energy, more resources. Caring more for the 99 at home than the 1 outside and lost. The church is a collective also. A fellowship of Believers. There is no such thing as a singular grit. There is no such thing as a singular Christian. The word is plural, and the Waffle House Theology is that we need to spend more time remembering that, more time caring about in-reach and out-reach as we do about insuring the comfort of those that never wander. Remembering that grits don't come buuy theyself, and neither do Christians.

Friday, May 20, 2011

WKRP In Cincinnati And The End Of The World


With Harold Camping's End Of The World happening Saturday, I thought I'd share some other End Of The World predictions, six of the biggest actually, that failed to come true.

1. October 22, 1844
Who: Samuel S. Snow, a preacher in the Millerite movement, led by the Baptist preacher William Miller

How he came by this date: A prophesy in the Book of Daniel states "Unto two thousand and three hundred days; then shall the sanctuary be cleansed" (Dan. 8:14). If you convert the days into years, and if you start in the year 457 BC – the year that Artaxerxes I of Persia decreed that that the city government of Jerusalem shall be re-established – then this takes you to 1844. Using the Karaite Jewish calendar, Snow pinned the date down to October 22.

What actually happened: Thousands of people gave away all their possessions, only to be surprised when the world did not come to end, and the day came to be known as "The Great Disappointment." The Millerites splintered into several religious groups, the largest and most mainstream being the Seventh Day Adventists, and the smallest and most unconventional probably being the Branch Davidians. Millerism has also influenced the Bahá'í Faith.

2. December 21, 1954
Who: Dorothy Martin, a Chicago housewife and student of Dianetics, a set of practices developed by science fiction author L. Ron Hubbard.

How she came by this date: Through automatic writing, Martin came in contact with beings from the planet Clarion, who told her that the world would be destroyed by flood and that the faithful would be rescued at midnight by flying saucers (or so she said).

What actually happened: Martin's followers, many of whom quit their jobs and gave away their possessions, gathered in her home to await the aliens. (Martin's husband, a nonbeliever, slept upstairs through the whole thing.) To avoid being burned by the flying saucer, her followers removed all metal from their persons, including zippers and bra straps. Midnight came and went and the group became increasingly agitated. Finally, at 4:45am, Martin said that she received another message from Clarions informing her that God was so impressed by her groups actions that He changed His mind and decided to spare the earth.

The group was infiltrated by a psychologist named Leon Festinger, who used his observations to develop the theory of cognitive dissonance.

3. October or November 1982
Who: Pat Robertson, who in a 1980 broadcast of "The 700 Club" said "I guarantee you by the end of 1982 there is going to be a judgment on the world."

How he came by that date: Robertson has said that God told him about pending disasters on numerous occasions (including a West Coast tsunami in 2006, and a terrorist attack in 2007 – neither occurred). "I have a relatively good track record,” he has said. “Sometimes I miss.”

What actually happened: The world didn't end in 1982, but "WKRP in Cincinnati," did.

4. September 5 - September 27, 1994
Who: Harold Camping (hmmm. Why is that name familiar? Thinking. Thinking.)

How he came by those dates: He interpreted a reference in John 21:1-14 to the disciples being 200 cubits from the shore in the Sea of Galilee as meaning that there would be 2,000 years between the birth and the second coming of Jesus. He estimates that Jesus was born on October 4, 7 BC. He said (then) that he actually could not tell the exact date because of Matthew 24:36.

What actually happened: Nothing. To his followers he explained that what he actually meant to say was that the church age would end in 1994, a truth claim they still believe. Basically, that means that you cannot be saved unless you're a part of Camping's church.

5. 1806
Who: The Prophet Hen of Leeds, a domesticated fowl in Leeds, England, who in 1806 began laying eggs that bore the message "Christ is coming."

How she came by that date: As you will see in the next paragraph, the answer is "the hard way."

What actually happened: Charles Mackay's 1841 book, "Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds," describes it thus:
"Great numbers visited the spot, and examined these wondrous eggs, convinced that the day of judgment was near at hand. Like sailors in a storm, expecting every instant to go to the bottom, the believers suddenly became religious, prayed violently, and flattered themselves that they repented them of their evil courses. But a plain tale soon put them down, and quenched their religion entirely. Some gentlemen, hearing of the matter, went one fine morning, and caught the poor hen in the act of laying one of her miraculous eggs. They soon ascertained beyond doubt that the egg had been inscribed with some corrosive ink, and cruelly forced up again into the bird’s body. At this explanation, those who had prayed, now laughed, and the world wagged as merrily as of yore."

6. September 11, 1988
Who: Edgar C. Whisenant, author of 88 Reasons The World Will End In 1988

How he came by that date: The 88 "proofs" of this were based on a collection of dates and calculations from Biblical and historical factors. When nothing happened by the end of September 13, Whisenant revised his prediction, suggesting the rapture would come at 10:55 AM on September 15. The date was big news, and even TBN got on board, airing taped broadcasts all day of "What to do if you miss the Rapture." (Possibly where The Left Behind series got the idea,) When that failed, he revised it to October 3. Even when that date passed, Whisenant remained undaunted: "The evidence is all over the place that it is going to be in a few weeks anyway," he told Christianity Today.
After his "few weeks" had transpired, Whisenant finally saw his error. He claimed that he had made a slight miscalculation of one year because of a fluke in the Gregorian calendar. Jesus was actually going to return on September 11, 1989!

What actually happened: Turns out he was wrong. ....................................88 times!!!!
Ironically, Whisenant died in May of 2001, just short of a resurgence in interest for his date. Just think, he could have rewritten his book, 2001 Reasons.

Citation: Some of the above information is from The Christian Science Monitor

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Gone Camping; Why The World Will Not End This Saturday


If you’re not privy to the “Good News” of Harold Camping, let me let you in on this little secret.
****The Rapture is this Saturday**** shhhhh. The Millerites are sleeping. Don’t wake them up.

It really isn’t that funny. I’m sure tens of people truly believe in Camping and his end of the world promise. Anyway, He claims with mathematical certainty that the world will end on Saturday, May 21, 2011 at 6:00 pm. I’m not sure about his math, but I am sure that it won’t be Saturday. Anytime someone sets a date, you can be sure that Jesus won’t come back that day. Matthew 24:36 plainly says that, ““But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only.” So, while I am a literalist, (i.e. NO ONE knows the date) I also like to think that the Father has a calendar open with all these dates circled in red, going, "Won't be then."

Unfortunately, this thing has picked up steam. It has become a world wide affair. Unlike Camping’s last prediction, a 1994 prophecy that the world would end, this one has made it beyond the circes of the loons. A prediction, by the way, his faithful following says was meant to be the “end of the church age,” not the end of the world. This was to be a period when no one can be saved. (Oh, except for new members of Camping’s church, of course. One mustn’t let the coffers dry up!)

But this is the age of social media. And while there are many “end of the world” parties planned, (175,000 people are “attending” one scheduled on facebook) millions of people are intently listening to and reading his ideas, and the word is spreading. An ingenious entrepreneur, who happens to be an atheist, has started Eternal Earth-bound Pets. A service that promises to take care of your pets after you have been raptured. Don’t laugh. He has over 250 customers at $119.99 each. Well, he has gone up to $135 since Camping’s billboards have gone up.

On a more serious note, the Vietnamese government dispersed a crowd of nearly 5,000 Hmong people near the border of Laos, taking some 1,000 into custody as “extremist.” They were waiting for Camping’s Day of the Lord.

All of this, naturally, will culminate in thousands of deceived individuals turning their back on Christianity (no matter how real their true faith was) and millions, maybe even billions of unbelievers saying, “Ha! I knew that Christian faith was bogus.”

Just like William Miller in 1833, Harold Camping will become a scourge to true faith in Jesus Christ, when
this event does not happen. Let us just pray that no new Seventh Day's will pop up as a result.

No He Can’t


So I just read No He Can’t: How Barak Obama Is Dismantling Hope And Change. It should come as no surprise to those who read my blog, even sparingly, let alone regularly, that I am no fan of the current administration. Unfortunately for Mr. McCullough, I received his book not long after the killing of UBL. The POTUS is running high right now, even in my book.

Nevertheless, that doesn’t make him infallible, either. Mr. Obama is running on a narrow path, dangling in no-man’s-land, upsetting his base on the far left by not moving fast enough to close Gitmo, end the very unpopular war in Iraq, and move much harder on social imperatives from his campaign promises. Meanwhile, he is also losing the so-called moderate vote by pushing too hard on left leaning policies, such as high taxation to fund social programs, “Obamacare” and the like. And while he has his moment of basking in Conservative glory over the Osama killing, he is fumbling the football faster and more often than a freshman QB in a rainstorm.

This is the Obama of No He Can’t, a slick talker with a penchant for over promising and under delivering. While McCullough points to the absolute pragmatism of Obama’s philosophy, he does hit a home run in speaking about the erosion of all other absolutes in Obama’s worldview, absolute rights, absolute values, and above all, absolute truth.

One thing is for sure; the book is absolutely partisan. If you are a fan of the president or simply wanting an unbiased view, skip this book. If you are a died-in-the-wool Tea-Partier, (what am I saying? Then you’ve most likely already read it!) So, if you are a Conservative looking for some red meat, highly recommended.

Over all, the book was just OK.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

The Goodness of God

When I agreed to review the book, The Goodness of God by Randy Alcorn I found that it was not at all what I expected. Not knowing much about Alcorn other than he writes fiction, I expected a feel good book based on antidotal stories of Christians who had seen angels and been given winning lotto numbers or some such thing. Boy was I surprised.

Instead what I found was a book that explains what theologians call "The Problem With Evil." Basically, the problem of evil is defines in this manner: "If God is all knowing and all powerful, AND He is a God of love, then there would be no evil in the world. So either God is not all powerful or He is not loving. You can't have it both ways." This is a major topic in apologetics, and let's face it, a major issue with both Believers and non-Believers today.

I was in seminary in 2001 and let me tell you, many people were asking those type of questions on 9/12 of that year. As they still do today. Tornadoes rip through town and the towns are just gone. The Mississippi River floods it bank for three miles, and towns are just gone. Swept away. And people ask, "Why God? Why would you let this happen?"

In this book Alcorn gives some very straight and easy to digest answers. While he does not sugar coat it, he gives answers that are simple enough for most people to grasp. I started to write that I wish I had this book back when I took Apologetics in seminary. But really I am glad that I didn't. Because then I wouldn't be able to realize just how complex and issue Alcorn has tackled, and just how down to earth he has made it sound.

A great book for those with Why questions for God. You can find it here.

Friday, May 6, 2011

War Dogs Take A Bite Out Of Bin Laden

I love this picture. It’s a file photo, but it is real. The SEAL’s and other special ops command units are using canines to help with raids. They jump out of the helios and planes with the paratroopers and play certain roles during the mission—sniffing for explosives, combat tracking, and taking out bad guys.

So, they jump while wearing  doggles (see pic below) special breathing apparatus, flak jackets, and parachutes when jumping from planes. Most are German Shepherds, but the military has a few Labs and Belgian Malinois as well. Pretty darn cool.

Apparently, rumors say such a hero was with SEAL Team 6 when they got Bin Laden. The Pentagon is being tight lipped about mission details, and rightly so. No need to give the terrorists any idea of how our boys went in and got out. But I do like the idea that Fido here helped bring down Public Enemy #1.