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American Freedom Revolution

Apropos for July 4th weekend.

deorl

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”
-1st Amendment to the United States Constitution.

“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”
-Evelyn Beatrice Hall paraphrasing Voltaire

“Government should protect every man in thinking and speaking freely, and see that one does not abuse another. The liberty I contend for is more than toleration. The very idea of toleration is despicable; it supposes that some have a pre-eminence above the rest to grant indulgence, whereas all should be equally free, Jews, Turks, Pagans and Christians.”
-John Leland, “A Chronicle of His Time in Virginia,” The Writings of the Later Elder John Leland…

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Time, Eternity and Hell

Time permits change to occur.

“Time is a friend to no man.”

Ever feel like time is getting away from you, as if you haven’t accomplished what you thought you would by now?

“How did it get so late so soon?

It’s night before it’s afternoon.

December is here before it’s June.

My goodness how the time has flewn. (sic)

How did it get so late so soon?

Dr. Seuss

Martin Luther King Jr. wrote:

I am coming to feel that the people of ill will have used time much more effectively than the people of goodwill. We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the vitriolic words and actions of the bad people, but for the appalling silence of the good people. We must come to see that human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability. It comes through the tireless efforts and persistent work of men willing to be co-workers with God, and without this hard work time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation. We must use time creatively, and forever realize that the time is always ripe to do right.”

 (Letters from the Birmingham Jail)

How well do you use time? Are you trapped in the past? Are you waiting for the future? Do you make the most of the time you have today? The greatest thing you can do with the time you have is to change and become more like the person God created you to be. That means become like Christ.

As long as you have breath, you have time to change. It’s not too late. So, perhaps time is a friend to all who will take it seriously.

You and I fail. We make mistakes. We fall short of God’s glory and plan for our lives. However, we are creatures who live in time. In time everything changes constantly, which allows you and I to change too! Now, I don’t pretend to know what eternity will be like, whether there will be any perception of time at all is in question. However, it is difficult to consider how change could occur outside of time.

God is timeless, and God is unchanging. One of the primary attributes of the Self-Existent God is explained with the the Hebrew word aman, (the word Amen is related). It means true, reliable, permanent, and may also mean “believe” God is to be believed because he is trustworthy, faithful and true. 

Human beings are constantly changing because we are subject to time like everything in the created world. Heraclitus, a 5th Century BC Greek philosopher, famously said, “You cannot put your foot in the same river twice.” By this he meant that the current of the river is constantly moving, and everything is changing from moment to moment: water, mud, plants, fish. It is only by virtue of our capacity to perceive and think that we see things as stable. Again, Heraclitus stated that everything changes according to a process, plan or pattern, which he called “Logos”. 

Jesus is called the logos in John’s Gospel (see 1:1-5). Logos is the Greek term for “word”. The world moves according to God’s Word. There is an underlying plan, and Jesus Christ is the eternal embodiment of God’s thought and plan. You and I are changing, but we must choose to change according to the Lord’s plan.

If God had left Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden after they rebelled against him, the Lord would still have removed his presence, and the Garden would have become less and less a paradise, until it became as it has become, like the rest of earth. If Adam and Eve had been permitted to eat from the tree of Life after they had eaten from the forbidden tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. the result would have been that they, and we, would be petrified in a state of rebellion and separation from God forever.

Eternal Death

Imagine eternal existence apart from God, an unending experience of death. Some theologians hold that every human is in some way immortal and will live for eternity, either with God in heaven, or apart from God in hell. Each person will decide where the reside depending upon whether they choose to believe in and follow Christ, or reject him and follow their own self-will.

Only God Possesses Immortality

I am in agreement with other theologians and Bible interpreters who understand that human beings are inherently mortal. In fact, God alone possesses immortality as an intrinsic attribute of this being. 

“Now to the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.

he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see. To him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen.” (1 Timothy 1:17 & 6:16, ESV)

Death As Curse and Grace

By sending Adam and Eve out of Paradise and blocking the way to the Tree of Life with a flaming sword, the Lord provides us with a symbol of what fallen humanity lost, and an understanding that death is not merely another kind of life. Death is a curse, and it is a grace, an opportunity. If death is what we see, an end to this life, then there is also an end to sin, suffering and evil. Death is both a curse and a blessing because it means an end to the old fallen life, to corruption and sin and evil. To be sure, everyone will be judged for what they have and have not done in this life, and after a just penalty for sin is paid, an end to existence. 

Athanasius on Return to Non-existence 

“For the transgression of the commandment was making them turn back again according to their nature; and as they had at the beginning come into being out of non-existence, so were they now on the way to returning, through corruption, to non-existence again….  but it was equally monstrous that beings which once had shared the nature of the Word should perish and turn back again into non-existence through corruption.”

Destruction Means Annihilation

So, what about judgment and hell then? Are we making the case that non-believers merely die and that ends it? The Bible doesn’t support such an idea. Jesus taught that all of the dead will be raised: some to life, others to hell. 

Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.” (John 5:28–29, ESV)

Justice will be done. The unbelieving will pay the penalty for their own sin, but that is all. No eternal life in torment.

Eternal Life Is a Gift from God

God offers the gift of eternal life to everyone who will believe in Jesus Christ and receive it. “The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Jesus Christ, our Lord” (Romans 6:23). Death presents an opportunity because it ends the old, making way for the new. “If anyone is in Christ, they are a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, all things have become new” (2 Corinthians 5:17). Eternal life comes from God alone, through Christ. “This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.” (2 Timothy 1:9–10)

You and I are not naturally immortal. However, when we believe in Jesus and keep his word we will transition from this life to the next without perceiving the horror of death. “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever keeps my word will never see death” (Romans 8:51). We have no reason to fear because Jesus defeated the devil, who had the power of death. 

“Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil—and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.” (Hebrews 2:14–15, NIV)

John Stott on Hell

Why would God will to sustain the existence of those who reject him? Does this really bring him glory? I do not believe so. I fervently hope not. I am not alone. There is biblical evidence in support of the belief that the condemned will be ultimately destroyed, their existence blotted out forever. Revered theologian and Bible interpreter John RW Stott stated it this way.

“But will the final destiny of the impenitent be eternal conscious torment, ‘for ever and ever’, or will it be the total annihilation of their being?

… in order to answer this question, we need to survey the biblical material afresh and open our minds (not just our hearts) to the possibility that Scripture points in the direction of annihilation, and that ‘eternal conscious torment’ is a tradition which has to yield to the supreme authority of Scripture… If to kill is to deprive the body of life, hell would seem to be the deprivation of both physical and spiritual life, that is, an extinction of being… It cannot, I think, be replied that it is impossible to destroy human beings because they are immortal, for immortality—and therefore indestructibility—of the soul is a Greek not a biblical concept. According to Scripture only God possesses immortality himself (1 Tim. 1:17, 6:16); he reveals and gives it to us through the gospel (2 Tim. 1:10)…

I do not dogmatise about the position to which I have come. I hold it tentatively… the ultimate annihilation of the wicked should at least be accepted as a legitimate, biblically founded alternative to their eternal conscious torment.”

Justice Requires an End

It is because I believe that eternal life is a gift not a right or an inherent part of human nature that I agree with Stott and others, like Edward Fudge who has made the point in a more dogmatic fashion. God alone is immortal. God cast Adam and Eve from the Garden to prevent eternal existence apart from him. The curse of death is the end of the life of rebellion. God is just. He will judge and repay those who reject his offer of forgiveness in Christ, exactly as their sins deserve, not more. Stott says, “I question whether ‘eternal conscious torment’ is compatible with the biblical revelation of divine justice,” and I would agree. In fact, I would add that it is antithetical to the nature of God as love.

Haven’t you ever considered how unjust it is to burn someone forever and ever in an indestructible body who has simply lived the typical self-centered life full of petty lusts, lies, cursing and anger? Haven’t you ever questioned the preacher who loudly proclaimed that a little white lie is the same as murder to God? Ridiculous. Don’t get me wrong, even the most innocuous venal sins may be cause for someone to be separated from God, but that is because of the overriding sin of selfish pride that stands behind petty sins. Every sin is motivated by rebellion, unbelief, or  idolatry. The liar, and all the rest who proudly refuse to repent, will indeed be in hell. 

“But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death” (Revelation 20:8). 

God is just. He is the one who laid down that punishment should be “eye for eye and tooth for tooth,” which is actually a limitation to the punishment that may be imposed for a crime. 

There is a human tendency to “pay them back and then some.” We think, “I’ll teach him to mess with me!” The result is the kind of injustice and foolishness in our culture and our courts today. Someone who is caught with a pound of marijuana may be serving the same sentence as those who have committed rape, armed robbery or murder. Our culture is ruled by adolescent emotionalism. Offending someone often results in gross overreaction. Someone cuts another person off in traffic and a road rage incident results in severe injury or murder. A baseball player flips his bat in one game and is beaned by a pitcher in another game; the same player repays the injury by sliding into an unrelated player, who repays him with a punch in the jaw. 

<Isaiah’s prophecy to his people might well apply to us today.

Youths oppress my people, women rule over them. My people, your guides lead you astray; they turn you from the path.” (Isaiah 3:12, NIV)>

In Deuteronomy the Law prohibited degrading or shaming someone with excessive punishment. 

“then if the guilty man deserves to be beaten, the judge shall cause him to lie down and be beaten in his presence with a number of stripes in proportion to his offense. Forty stripes may be given him, but not more, lest, if one should go on to beat him with more stripes than these, your brother be degraded in your sight.” 

(Deuteronomy 25:2–3, ESV)

Jesus himself taught that in judgment people will be punished commensurate with their crimes. Additionally, the more truth a person knows, the more accountable they are to God.

The servant who knows the master’s will and does not get ready or does not do what the master wants will be beaten with many blows. But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows. From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked. (Luke 12:47–48, NIV)

James warned: “Let not many of you become teachers, for we shall incur a stricter judgment” (James 3:1).

God is not like human beings. 

“‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the Lord. ‘As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.’” (Isaiah 55:8-9, NIV)

God is just. God is love. Trust God to do what is right.

Yet the Lord longs to be gracious to you; therefore he will rise up to show you compassion. For the Lord is a God of justice. Blessed are all who wait for him!” (Isaiah 30:18, NIV)

This Is Our Time to Change

You do not get to go where you want or do whatever you want after death. You don’t get into heaven on your own terms. Those who go to hell aren’t going to a party with all of their drinking buddies.

We have this time on earth to decide to follow God or not. This is our time for change. Between now and the day of death, I have choices and changes to make. Time allows that to happen in a way eternity may not. The situation in which we find ourselves allows for mistakes to be made and grants us opportunity to recover from them. We may make a choice, then change our minds, which makes what the Bible calls repentance possible. Because of Christ we live in an economy of grace. God offers forgiveness for bad choices if we admit to being wrong. Thus, God allows us to repent of (turn away from) all our rebellion, and overcome all of our self-centeredness and unbelief before we face Him in judgment.

“He who conceals his sins will not prosper, but he who confesses and renounces them will find mercy” (Proverbs 28:19).

“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all righteousness” (1 John 1:9).

God Is Faithful and Just to Forgive

Please note, “God is faithful and just to forgive us”; that is not true because we deserve forgiveness, but because the Son of God received the just punishment our sins deserve when he suffered and died on the cross. God is faithful to his promise to save anyone who will call out to Jesus. “Whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10:13).  When I receive Christ, I receive his righteous life. God looks at me as though I had never sinned. 

“He who knew no sin became our sin that we might become the righteousness of God in him” (2 Corinthians 5:21). 

“For Christ died for sins, once for all, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us back to God, having been put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit” (1 Peter 3:18, NASB). 

Robed In Righteousness 

Those who believe and receive this good news also receive the Holy Spirit. They are cleansed by Christ’s blood and robed in his righteousness. 

I delight greatly in the Lord; my soul rejoices in my God. For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of his righteousness, as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.” (Isaiah 61:10, NIV)

Restored to the Tree of Life

The result is, they are granted access once again to the Tree of Life. 

Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city.” (Revelation 22:14, NIV)

If we know Christ, death is a grace because it brings an end to this life of separation. If we do not, then it is the curse God promised it would be, permanently separating us from his presence and from eternal life.

Will You Change?

You live in the dimension of time, which permits you to change. Will you choose to do so? Change your thinking; change your ways. Put your faith completely in Jesus Christ and obey his teaching. Prepare now for eternal life with God in heaven. Do it while you still have time.

Trust no future, howe’er pleasant!

  Let the dead Past bury its dead!

Act, act in the living present!

  Heart within, and God o’erhead!

    Lives of great men all remind us

  We can make our lives sublime,

And departing, leave behind us

  Footprints on the sands of time.

-Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, (A Psalm of Life)

What Is Love?

Apropos.

deorl

What is love? Valentine’s Day makes this a pertinent question.  My favorite writer on the subject didn’t get married until he was 58, and even then it was for charitable, not romantic, reasons. 

C. S. Lewis married Joy Gresham in a government office to provide her with British citizenship.  A few months later Joy was diagnosed with cancer, and her condition deteriorated rapidly.  Jack, as Lewis was known by his friends, chose to love and care for Joy.  The feeling between them grew, and nearly a year after the marriage of convenience there was a hospital wedding presided over by a clergyman from the Church of England.  “Till death do we part” was a potent reality.  Joy left the hospital to convalesce.  It was not until this point that she moved in with Jack.  God worked and Joy’s cancer went into remission.  Jack and Joy lived happily for three more…

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Fitness or Fatness Accumulates

Over time anything will accumulate: lint, dust, garbage, fat, money, skill, fitness.

I hit my mid-life crisis at 50, not 40. At the time I was nearing the big 5-0 mark I was also working with a small group of young teenagers, who had more energy than sense. I wanted to keep up with them. Additionally, I was experiencing what many in our country suffer with: back pain. These forces combined to convince me that I needed to get into shape. I had accumulated an excess of fat and a decline in health.

I got back to the gym, and I started running. I hate running. I ran, quite slowly at first, and not very far, but I kept it up. Fitness improved, and the accumulated extra fat disappeared. By the time I hit my 50th birthday I was at 7.5 % body fat. Not bad for an old guy.

However, this was not easy to maintain. I had been working out twice a day toward the end of my fitness plan, and my diet was strict. It was a healthy and sustainable diet, but there was no room for doughnuts and pie; in fact, I didn’t eat bread either. Why was I doing this again? Oh, yeah, energy, health, and vanity.

Now, here’s something they don’t tell you in the gym. Not everybody is happy when you get this fit. In fact, I have to say that I encountered not a little jealousy and resentment. I think some folks prefer a fat preacher. That way they aren’t convicted about their own lack of fitness and self-discipline. Did I mention that I believe there was vanity involved here, a bit of narcissism on my part. When you get that into your own body, it’s unavoidable. Then I injured myself. First, my shoulders, then I broke my clavicle, which I never had fixed.

All of these forces led to a dramatic decrease in both the quantity and quality of workouts. I stopped running. I compromised on my strict diet, still healthy but a doughnut here and a muffin there. Over time my fitness level declined, and my fat percentage went up to 19.5%. My skinny jeans didn’t fit any more. I know, I know, you’re probably glad about that. Why is this old guy wearing skinny jeans, anyhow? Hey, my waist was at 29; I was out to prove something. I had gotten into the best condition of my entire life. Now, I’m back to being a lumpy old guy.

Everything accumulates over time, and fitness is no exception. Today, I started running again. I never quit going to the gym: I just haven’t been serious since my injury. Don’t know that I’ll be able to lift like I used to, not without surgery. What I know is this: I need to get back in condition. I need to lose some flab. It’s not necessary to get back to 7.5% bodyfat, but I need to drop about 10% of what I’ve accumulated in order to be healthy.  I am meeting myself where I am, and I’ll keep going. I’ve returned to my diet, mostly. It’s going to take time, but if I stick with it, and fitness will accumulate, body fat will decrease, and I’ll be healthy again.

Children of Illegal Immigrants 

Question: did you decide who your parents would be? Did you decide where you would be born? Did your parents care for you? Is there anything they would not have done to make certain that you could not only survive but succeed?

President Trump has cancelled DACA, a remedy for the children of illegal immigrants put in place by President Obama. This would be catastrophic, except it does not go into effect for six months, providing Congress with an opportunity to give children of illegal immigrants a chance to remain in the United States legally.

Our nation has the right and responsibility to control its borders. Those who come here illegally are in violation of the United States sovereignty and laws. However, the motives of those individuals may be good. Certainly, their children, who have been raised as Americans, and who are contributing citizens, should not be deported to a country that they do not know.

So what do we do? We must follow rule of law, and although my compassion would dictate that we retain the children of illegal immigrants, I believe we must obey the law. That said, Congress now has the opportunity to change or make laws which would permit the children of illegal immigrants who are contributing citizens of this country to remain here legally. It is right and good that our lawmakers should do just that.

Several organizations have concluded that removal of the children of illegal immigrants would open up thousands of jobs for those who are here illegally. That may or may not be true; however, I want you to put yourself in the position of one of these children. Do you remember what life was like when you were five or eight years old? How much control did you have over your life as a child? Did you have any say about what your parents did with you, where they took you,  or where they put you in school?

Thousands, even hundreds of thousands, of children were brought into this country illegally by well-meaning parents. They have been raised as Americans; they are contributing citizens; they pay taxes. Except for official documents they are, in fact, Americans. Now, some have the idea that because their parents brought them here illegally these innocents should be sent back to a country that they have little or no memory of.  This is simply wrong.

I believe that we need to enforce our borders and control who enters this country. I believe that illegal immigration is wrong. I also believe that we need to have a clear path for those outside this country who long to come here to obtain citizenship. I believe that we need to provide opportunities for those who are willing to work in this country to work and pay taxes. We need to stop our present schizophrenic approach to immigration, wherein the US officially denies entry, but has various cities and counties that provide sanctuary for violators.

The answer to this mess is to fix our immigration laws. Give children of illegal immigrants the opportunity to remain here legally if they were brought here before they were capable of making any determination of their own, and if they are successfully pursuing an education, or are working a job and contributing to this country.

God is Sovereign, and Good

When tragedy strikes, such as Hurricane Harvey and the flooding in Houston, it may be cause for people to question God’s goodness, even his existence. Here are two good things that may come from such tragedy.

Tragedy teaches the world what is truly important.

Catastrophe is a powerful values clarification exercise.

I am too focused on mundane trivialities, convinced that my priorities are most important, consumed by consumerism, absorbed in my personal world and wearied by the exigencies of life. When tragedy strikes and I am forced to pay attention to more important matters. I empathize with the hurt and loss of others.

The Dallas Cowboys and the Houston Texans rightly cancelled their preseason game in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, so that Texans players could be with their families. JJ Watt has raised in excess of four million dollars for victims. Football and the rivalries we make so much of become meaningless in the face of disaster.

Tragedy makes us realize what is truly important: loving other people and caring for their needs along with–and even above–our own. When a disaster like Katrina or Harvey strikes, many of us realize that this life is not all there is, and we choose to live by faith in the God who promises eternal life. “…as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are temporary, but what is unseen is eternal… So we walk by faith and not by sight” (2 Corinthians 4:18 & 5:7).

When a mass shooting happens we realize that good and evil are not just a matter of what we do and don’t like. We realize that there is something dramatically wrong with the world. And we have the opportunity to cry out for help and wisdom to the almighty, good and loving God from whom the world has turned. Each of us may turn back to this God. A faith revival could begin. What is your response to tragedy? Do you despair? Do you turn away in apathy indifference in an effort to preserve your own emotions? Do you blame God, complain to God, or do you cry out in faith, and act out in love?

Both nations that sought to take over the world during WWII believed that they were racially superior. In the wake of WWII the American attitude toward race was ripe for change. Enter Martin Luther King Jr. and the willingness not only to speak out and push for immediate change, but to suffer to see it through. The horrendous way civil rights protesters were treated was a tragedy, and many people were moved by it. However, the root of racism—a belief in the superiority of one’s own ethnic group— was cut when Hitler was defeated, and severed entirely when the empire of the rising sun was stopped. Intransigent racism continues to exist even today, but it is difficult to maintain the superiority of one’s own group when you have the example of between 35 and 60 million people dead as the result of that belief, when you have 6 million Jews who were murdered because of that belief.

The reality of a universal good and evil is well accepted today, even among atheists. That may well be due to the intense examples of evil we have witnessed since 911. It is extremely difficult to maintain that good and evil are completely relative when faced with suicide bombers, mass shooters and the chronic daily examples of murder, rape and senseless violence.

Now, I am not trying to convince you that everyone learns the lessons that tragedy teaches, or that everybody comes to the same conclusion. 911 may have helped to forge a consensus regarding the objective and universal existence of good and evil. In fact, 911 and the subsequent horrors we’ve witnessed may have already brought about the demise of postmodern relativism. However, the same event motivated the rise of the so-called new atheists and their spate of books aimed at extinguishing faith in God, especially monotheistic faith as exemplified by Judaism, Christianity and Islam. So, not everyone arrives at the same conclusions when facing terrorism and tragedy. Some draw closer to God, some curse him, and some disbelieve in his existence. However, it is difficult remain truly agnostic in the wake of a Hurricane Harvey or Katrina or the 250,000 who died in the tsunami that struck Indonesia in 2004.

Some will question the goodness of God for bringing or permitting a disaster like Harvey. I saw a Tweet from one such skeptic who asked, “There are a lot of Christians in Texas, so any of you want to explain your god doing this? The Tweet is wrong on multiple levels:  is the guy blaming god, or seeking to disprove his existence, and why is he baiting Texas’ Christian population? Whatever his purpose, it is grossly insensitive to the suffering of many in South Texas. However, a reply from Trey Bedrick has a positive observation as a result of the compassionate responses of many people in our nation to this tragedy: “Yeah. I see my God bringing people together of every race to help one another in a time our country was on the verge of race wars.” How long this effect will last is unknown, but fighting over over hundred year old statues seems insignificant when people have lost everything.

Tragedy is an unavoidable values clarification exercise. I place this under the heading God Is Sovereign for good reason. God allows catastrophes to happen, or He may cause tragedy to discipline or punish. Unless you’re a genuine prophet, you cannot say why. You aren’t the judge. None of us—no human who has ever lived— would have the right to let evil take place just so people will realize what is important or affirm the reality of good and evil. God can. God has that right. Because he is God. I may question him, but it would be better to fear him, fall on my face before him and cry out for mercy, comfort and help in times of trouble.

Heroes are born from the womb of tragedy.

As we’ve seen, tragedy presents a test of what’s truly important,. Those who realize that what’s important is love, compassion, concern for other people, and who take the opportunity to do good and help those in an emergency, are heroes.

As I write this, heroes are everywhere in south Texas in the wake of Hurricane Harvey and the overwhelming deluge of rain that has flooded a large part of Houston. The so called Cajun Navy, a group of volunteers from Louisiana, brought their boats and have been rescuing people stranded by the flood. One man and his friends have focused on rescuing people’s pets. Pictures of heroes are posted on social media: a man, carrying children through waist deep water, another man carrying a woman and her baby, another with a rope and reaching out for others who are in danger of being swept along by flowing water. We have a friend, one of my former youth from FHBC days, named Charles Lauersdorf. He’s a marine who has been to Iraq five times. Charlie wanted to help, so he bought a boat and went down to Houston. One of his marine buddies volunteered to go and keep a watch for looters who were reported to be shooting at boats. These are two of many men went and are still down there.

Charlie posted the following on Fb while he was on his boat (Aug. 30, 2017):  “Having listened to thousands of calls for Rescue over the radio, I have YET to hear skin color used as a reference…. “Family of 4”, “two elderly people”, “3 women and 2 kids and 4 dogs and a bird”…but no skin color. Why not? Because it doesn’t effing matter! Rant over.”

One of Charlies marine buddies posted in response:  “Yeah, I liked it when we were all green.”

Tragedy reveals heroes, and heroes don’t rescue a skin color, they rescue a person (or in some cases an animal!). Can’t say the same for the race baiters and political opportunists who have shown their contempt for Texas in the wake of Harvey  Trump pledged a million dollars, other unlikely celebs like Miley Cyrus have stepped up to give huge sums. Don’t look to the media to determine who the heroes are. The real heroes sure aren’t marching in the streets, waving Nazi flags, and shouting about the supremacy of the white race,  nor are they wearing black, covering their faces like terrorists do, inciting and committing violence, rioting and chanting: “No Trump, no wall, no America at all!”

The Walking Dead

So, what’s the deal with Zombies? Why are so many people so entertained by programs like Walking Dead? The first Zombie movie with cultural influence came out in 1968, and was called “Night of the Living Dead.” Even though it was in black and white, it was too scary for me to watch as a kid. Next, there was “Dawn of the Dead,” which came out in 1978, then “Day of the Dead” in 1985, and the remake of Dawn of the Dead in 2003, and finally Land of the Dead hit theaters in 2005. Oh, and there was the 20004 British spoof called “Shaun of the Dead,” and in 2013 there was even a zombie romantic comedy (imagine that!) titled Warm Bodies. And last, but certainly not least, is the hit TV series Walking Dead. All of these movies, the TV show, and the video game “Resident Evil” either originated from, or were influenced by, the legendary George Romero, who passed away on July 16th of this year (2017). RIP

Zombies in Voodoo
But did you know, Zombies are an actual part of the belief system of voodoo, particularly as it is practiced in Haiti? Voodoo teaches that a dead person can be revived in a ritual performed by a priest or priestess (houngan or mambo). The walking dead then remains under the control of the one who revived it.

Zombies All Around Us
The truth is, there is no such thing as a real Zombie. Is there? Well, at least, the Zombies of voodoo, George Romero movies and the Walking Dead TV series don’t exist. But, is it possible that there’s another kind of Zombie… one that’s born infected with death and each year becomes more and more like a zombie? Maybe the walking dead are all around us and we sense it subconsciously. Is that the reason some of us are so entertained by the Walking Dead? Are there Zombies among us?

Question:
What would cause a pair of young men to hop on the DART train’s blue line with the express intent of “hittin’ a lick” in downtown Garland where, as they later stated, “all the rich people live.” What would cause these two cousins to search in vain for a “chopper” before boarding the train? For the uninitiated a “chopper” is an AK 47 assault rifle. What would cause these two to share a smoke and have a nice 30 minute conversation with Matt Butler and Steven Swann outside Butler’s Christian record studio in downtown Garland, with the intent of sizing Butler and Swann up. What would cause Demarius Cummings to turn to his cousin and affirm, “that’s our lick.” And what would cause James Broadnax to pull a revolver out of his wasteband, turn and fire, hitting both Bulter and Swann in the body. And what would cause Broadnax to walk up to each of his victims and “pop” them in the head? This incident took place in 2008 about two blocks from our church on the same night our the worship team practiced. What would cause Broadnax and Cummings to boast to their friends and relatives about the murders and the fact that they stole Steven Swann’s 17 year old car? What would cause James Broadnax to hurl a profanity laced insult at Butler and Swann’s parents in a jailhouse interview, after getting caught a few days later? And what would cause Cummings to scream, curse and fight four bailiff’s as he resisted returning to a courtroom to hear victim impact statements three years later?
James Broadnax and Demarius Cummings are the walking dead.

Question:
What would cause a woman to drink, do ecstasy and smoke weed, then drive? What would cause her to continue getting drunk and high as she cruised from club to club for most of the night? What would cause this woman to drive her car home and park it in the garage… with a man she hit impaled alive on the broken glass of her windshield? What would cause this woman to check on the man periodically, not to help him, but in the hope that he would soon die? What would cause this woman and her friends to finally remove the mans body from the windshield and hide it?

The woman was Chante Mallard, the man she hit and could have saved was Gregory Biggs. The incident took place in 2001 in Ft. Worth, Texas.
Chante Mallard is a monster, and neither you nor I could ever do such a thing, could we?
Chante Mallard is a zombie.

Question:
What would cause a celebrity who appears to have it all to build an amusement park on his sprawling estate, in order to lure children there? What would cause him to show them pornography, give them wine, and have them sleep with him with the express purpose of consuming their innocence.

What would cause a mother to use her children to make money by pimping them out to a sexual predator?

All of this reminds us of the story of Hansel and Gretel, whose mother suggested to their father that they be abandoned in the forest, because the parents could no longer afford to feed them. Deep in the forest a wicked old witch had built a house made of bread with a roof of cake and windows of clear sugar to lure children to her, so that she could eat them.

Question:
Why would a young man to have unprotected sex with his girlfriend?
Why would the girl to choose to abort their baby?
Why do 40 percent of HIV positive people hide this fact from their sexual partners?
Why would a couple who fell in love as teenagers and got married in their twenties to get divorced in their thirties?
Why would a man leave his wife and forsake his children?
Why would a father refuse to make child support payments?
They’re all zombies.

Question:
Why have mass shootings become so common? On April 20th, 1999 the nation was shocked when Dylan Klebold and Erik Harris walked into Columbine High School and fatally shot 13 of their classmates. On April 16, 2007 the nation was rocked when Seung Hui Cho shot and killed 27 fellow Virginia Tech students and 5 faculty members. In a rambling diatribe Cho expressed jealousy and contempt for “wealthy brats” at his school. We were horrified in December (14) 2012 when 20 year old Adam Lanza slipped into Sandy Hook Elementary school and murdered 20 little kids in cold blood.
The shock has worn off. Mass shootings are now a regular occurrence in the USA. The term “active shooter” has made its way into our vocabulary. What has caused this?

Question:
What would cause a group to march waving Confederate and Nazi flags to promote white supremacy? And what would cause a group of self-righteous social justice warriors calling themselves Antifa to counter-protest and incite violence? What caused 20 year old Hitler-loving James Alex Fields to drive his nearly new Dodge Challenger into those protestors, killing 32 year old Heather Heyer, and injuring 19 others? Was it terrorism, hatred, rage, fear, mental illness? Or are they all the walking dead?

What caused 22 year old Younes Abouyaaqoub to drive a van into a crowd the next day in Spain, killing 13 people? Why do terrorists blow themselves up? Is it really for God? Or is there a personal interest? Islamic extremists, for their part, teach that those who kill infidels will have a hero’s welcome in heaven, where they’ll live in a pleasure garden with 70 virgins.

Self-Centeredness

If you think there is no answer to these questions, you would be mistaken.
If you think the motives for the crimes I’ve described are varied, you would only be partially correct, because there is indeed one underlying cause.
If you think the answer to these questions is a bad environment, poor parenting, poverty, or a lack of education, you are mislead.
If you think people are born to do evil, you would only be partially correct.
“Man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upward.”
If you think the cause is Satan, you would only be partially right.
If you think the reason is evil, you would only be partially right.
If you think the answer to these questions is sin, you’re close.

The real answer, the underlying motive of all of the horrible things I’ve mentioned, and many more reported daily by the voyeuristic news media, probably seems quite harmless. In fact, the cause is common to all human beings. It could be called Original Sin. The basic motive for all evil action is self-centeredness.

Not everyone will agree with me on this. In fact, Philosophers like Ayn Rand have advocated for selfishness as a powerful, positive and proper motive for all human action. (Nico Machiavelli is another example.)

Even Christian psychologists and teachers have reinforced the natural human bent toward self-centeredness by twisting Jesus’ command to “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
If you’ve been in a typical Christian church or school for any period of time, you have likely heard this false teaching, which goes something like this:
Jesus said, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” So, it’s impossible to love your neighbor if you do not love yourself first.
“Love yourself first” is a gross misinterpretation of both Jesus and the OT text he quoted. It perverts the Lord’s command for me to love my neighbor by turning it into an affirmation of my natural bent to pursue my own self interest. This is a critical error that originates from humanist philosophy and has been long popularized through psychology. It is not at all what Jesus taught.

Thesis
Today I want to make the case that self centeredness is at the root of every form of human evil. For centuries philosophers and theologians have debated whether human beings are essentially good or evil. John Calvin taught humans are totally depraved. Thomas Hobbes observed that without the rule of law and the threat of punishment life would be “solitary, nasty, brutish and short.”
Jean Jaques Rousseau and Henry David Thoreau both supported the notion that people are basically good, believing that it is society which corrupts human nature. In truth, humans are capable of great good, and extreme evil. All humans are inherently selfish. Observe the patients in any mental institution and you will see that most, if not all, display an excess of self-absorption. Unchecked, selfishness will destroy every relationship you have. The consequence of teaching three generations of children to love themselves first is a crisis of narcissism, which is now destroying our nation.

Self-centeredness is the root of injustice.
It is the root of cruelty.
It is the root of murder.
It is the root of every form of stealing.
It is the primary reason for lying.
It is the root of every type of sexual perversion.
It is the root of jealousy and envy.
Selfishness is the basis for capitalism,
and the reason socialism and communism always fail.
Self-centeredness is at the root of humanism.
It is human nature apart from Christ.
It is Original Sin.
Self-centeredness is the opposite of love,
which is why loving yourself first is a contradiction.
Following self makes me God’s rival, and makes him my enemy.
It is self-centeredness that turns people into zombies.

Jesus’ Teaching
Jesus did not teach me to love myself first. He taught me to love the Lord my God with all of my heart and soul, mind and strength, and then to love my neighbor as I already (naturally) love myself (Mt. 22:37-40). The Lord’s purpose is to move me away from self-centeredness and toward compassion. Also, love here doesn’t refer to some kind of affection, a good feeling about God and myself. Rather, love is looking out for the best interest of the one l choose to care for. That, in fact is what I do for myself: I take care of my needs, seek to fulfill my desires, and pursue my passion. Jesus commanded me to care about those nearby the same way I do myself.

Now, it is true that some of us do a poor job of taking care of ourselves, others have self-destructive tendencies, even self-hatred. If you struggle with these issues, then “love your neighbor as yourself” is not the best analogy. Does that mean I’m wrong. That you do need to learn to love yourself first? No, in fact Jesus gave us a new commandment with a new analogy. “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another as I have loved you” (John 13:34-35). What you need first is to receive Jesus’ love. Then you will be able to love others the same way Jesus loves you. That is the answer.

Obeying Jesus’ command to love God and others will cause me to forget about myself. Love is inherently selfless. The more selfish I am, the less capable I am of love. Jesus commands every genuine Christian (disciple) to deny self, take up the cross and follow Him (Mk. 8:34-35). Jesus Christ warned that I cannot follow Him if I fail or refuse to deny myself. Indeed, I must not love myself first. I have to put self-interest, and even my concern for those closest to me, far beneath the surpassing love I have for Jesus Christ. (Lk. 14:26-27). The Apostle Paul teaches me to have the same mindset that Jesus Christ had: even though he existed in the form of God, he did not consider equality with God an thing to be grasped but emptied himself, taking on the form of a slave. The Son of God became a man and humbled himself to the point of death, even the awful death of crucifixion (Ph. 2:6-11).

Radical Inversion
I cannot serve myself and love myself and put myself first. In fact, I must be last in order to become first (Lk. 13:30). I must humble myself before the mighty hand of God and let Him raise me up at the proper time (1 Pt. 5:6). “For no one on earth can exalt a man, whether in the east or west or from the wilderness. God exalts one and puts another down” (Ps. 75:7). Only those God raises up will stay up. Those who attain success, fame, fortune and power from any source other than God may rise only to fall. Like the fable of Icarus, when these high flyers get too close to the sun, their manufactured wings of wax and feathers melt, and they come crashing to to the ground. Self-centered celebrities, star athletes, politicians and preachers: all fall down. The higher they rise, the further they have to fall.

Even those whom God raises up must remain vigilant in their humility before the Lord, rejecting self-centeredness and the temptation to believe they’ve earned success. Rick Warren lists a lack of humility among leaders, including and especially pastors, as a global giant that must be felled. Almost invariably those who achieve great power, wealth or celebrity are (or become) intolerably arrogant. Selfish ambition has been their lifelong pursuit. In promoting their brand, they’ve actually created an idolatrous self image. A Christian may covet a platform to proclaim the Gospel, then end up enjoying the adoration of their fans. Soon enough God will send in an iconoclast to break down this self-made idol.

Often it is their own perverse lusts, abuse of power, corruption, or addiction that shames them or brings them down. Micheal Jackson, Bill Cosby, Bill Clinton, Anthony Weiner. Or they struggle with hidden demons that drive them to suicide. Robin Williams, Chris Cornell, Chester Bennington. Celebrity drug overdoses and suicides are so common, you’d think we’d learn that being an idol is destructive to the soul. “Pride goes before destruction and a haughty spirit before the fall” (Pr. 16:18). If I become my own man, light my own torch, an do it my way, I’ll lie down in torment (Is. 50:11). The rich and famous are not the happiest people, the successful are not the most fulfilled. You and I are not made to be served, but like Jesus we are to serve and to give up our lives. We must humble ourselves, change and become like little children, or we’ll never enter heaven. Those who are humble like little children will be greatest in the God’s kingdom (Mt. 18:3-4).

“The love of Christ compels us” (2 Cr. 5:14a).
I must stop being moved by selfish ambition and self-centered concern. My self love must be replaced by something higher…Self absorption must be replaced by Christ obsession! The love of Christ compels those who believe in him. We love others the way Christ loves us. “For God so loved the world that he gave…” Christ is the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. Those of you whom the Father chose, he chose to become like Christ. God is love. If we know God, we will be lovers too. I cannot live a life of love and live for myself. I do not live for “me” any longer, and every time I default back to that original sin, I become sick, sad and loveless like the world I am here to help save. I’ve become a zombie!

Paul spoke prophetically to Timothy about this (2 Tm. 3:1-5):
“But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God—having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with them.”
The first statement reveals the root problem: “People will be lovers of themselves.” Lifewell, we must be people on mission to save men and women from themselves, and from the world and the devil who would convince them that they should live and believe in themselves. The way it is done is to point all men and women to Jesus Christ. If I am going to live a life of love, I must live a Christ-focused life.

But how do I do that? How can I escape myself? Who will worry about me, understand me take and take care of my needs? I have no choice. I have to look out for myself first…

Zombies in the room!
Wait a minute. What is that smell?! Do my ears deceive me, or can I hear a low moan? Is it a hallucination, or do my eyes see…Zombies! Yes, they’re here. Look around you. Look at yourself! Could you be a Zombie, one of the living dead? Are you selfish? Are you living a meaningless, purposeless existence, trudging mindlessly through each day, seeking someone or something to make you feel alive?

To survive you may be feeding off of those whom you believe to be more alive than you. That’s why you covet and envy the beautiful people, celebrities, athletes, film stars, rock stars, comedians. That’s why some of you cling so desperately to your significant other. That’s why our dying world is so obsessed with sex! Sure sex is pleasurable, but sex is also consumption. It allows you to merge your dying flesh with someone who makes you feel alive. If you’re not doing this with another person, your probably doing it in your fantasy world with images you have burned into your mind from some scene or screen. If you’re too timid to consume another, you might be consuming yourself narcissistically. Do you stare at yourself in the mirror? How many selfies do you take? This consumption of flesh to stay alive is the root behind homosexuality. It is why our nation is fixated on youth. There are those who feed on the young, which is the reason there are increasing numbers of pedophiles. They’re all Zombies! We’re living among the walking dead.

“Christ died for all, therefore all died” (2 Cr. 5:14b).
You are either one of the living dead, or the once dead who live. Either way, we are all dead. What are you dead to: this world, or Christ?
When Christ died on the cross, he eliminated for all time the possibility of hope on earth apart from himself.
We must stop seeking happiness and fulfillment in anything apart from Jesus. When I come to Jesus I become dead to everything outside Him. Paul said, “…in the cross of Christ… the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Gl. 6:14). The cross is a cutting line. The cross divided history. The cross is unavoidable. You have the blood of an innocent man all over you. Either your sin makes you guilty of Christ’s blood to your condemnation, or your faith in his blood justifies you from every sin and the result is eternal glorification. You are dead to God or dead to the world: it all depends on where you put your faith. If you trust the God who sent his Son to die for you, then you’ll live with him forever. But first you must die.

Little “i am” must Die
To truly live I must die to Zombie me. To preserve my life, I must lose it. Unless the seed falls to the ground and dies it abides alone and remains unchanged, but if it dies it produces a harvest of fruit (Jn. 12:24). There can be no compromise or coexistence between Christ and the old egotistical, egocentric, ambitious little god “i”. Self is an idol who shall be given no quarter and shown no mercy. Little “i am” must die. This happens when I give up, give in and repent of my plans, dreams, and self-esteem, and when I identify Christ’s cross as my own. Remember, Simon of Cyrene carried the cross for Christ, and that symbol of a man carrying the cross is a picture of me (and you). Jesus stated clearly that in order to follow him I must deny myself and take up my cross. You see, it wasn’t Jesus’ cross that Simon carried, but his own, and yours, and mine. Yet Jesus died in our place on that cross. More than that, Jesus represented you and me on that cross. He died AS ME. He became my sin! Now, I must count my old self as crucified, dead and buried!

“For I have been crucified with Christ and no longer do I live but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gl. 2:20). “Knowing this, that the old self was crucified with Christ that the body of sin might be done away with, so that we might no longer be slaves to sin” (Rm. 6:6). “For you died and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, you too will appear with him in glory” (Cl. 3:3-4).
Hallelujah!

Feed on Christ
To go on living a zombie must feed, and so must you and I. Yet God is the only one who can give life. He is the only one who possesses immortality. Feeding on pretty flesh is death to the soul, eternal death. No, we must feed on Christ’s flesh and blood to really live, and live forever.
“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink” (Jn. 6:53-55).
Now, do you understand why we eat the Lord’s Supper? It is a symbol of what Jesus was talking about here. We must consume Christ to live. We must be absorbed and obsessed with Jesus alone. To have this kind of passion for anyone or anything else is sick. It is like eating rotten meat. It leads to eternal death and hell. It is idolatry. Jesus said:
“Do you take offense at this? It is the Spirit who gives life. The flesh profits nothing. The words that I spoke to you are spirit and life.”
(Jn. 6:61b & 63).

Passion
There’s a lot of talk about passion in our time. What is your passion? Is it money? Sex? Food? Boxing or UFC? Is it politics or social justice? Painting, music, movies, sports, food, wine, craft beer, video games, technology or cars? Is you passion your husband or wife, your family or home? Your passion may be worthy or it may be worthless. However, only Christ is worthy of your undivided, undiluted, absolutely committed passionate love. If you’re among the chosen, if you’ve chosen to follow Jesus Christ, then you’re a part of the church. The church is the bride of Christ. We’ve been selected by the groom to make love to him for all eternity. There will be no marriage or sex in heaven. Your marriage covenant is dissolved by death. If you belong to Jesus, you’ll be married to Him and be intimate with him for all eternity. This is spiritual, it is a mystery, but it is we’re talking about God who is love.

“I have counted everything garbage that I may gain Christ,” said the Apostle (Ph. 3:8). Why? Because Jesus is worthy! Because of his surpassing greatness and glory. Because Jesus Christ is what human beings are supposed to be: lovers and servants of the Most High God. Christ Jesus has the glory, and the honor and the power forever. Amen! I’d rather be a floor polisher in the temple of YHWH than to dwell in a palace here on earth. I don’t know what God is going to do with me for the little time I have left on earth. I don’t know if I’ll have much of a reward in the kingdom. I do know it ain’t about me, or you, or Lifewell, or America, or Democrats or Republicans, or climate change, or social justice. No, it’s all about Christ Jesus. I’m submitted to him. He can do whatever he wants with me. Christo-centricity is my electricity. Christ is life, the rest is… well, worthless compared to Christ. “Whom have I in heaven but you, and earth has nothing I desire besides you” (Ps. 73:25)

What are you all about right now? Are you egocentric or Christo-centric? Who do you live for? What do you feed on? Are you one of the living dead, or one of the dead who lives forever? Come to Jesus and die to yourself. “Whoever loves his life, loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life” (Jn. 12:25)

Under Someone’s Power
According to voodoo doctrine, a Zombie is under the power of the person who performed the ritual to revive it from death. Let’s use that as an analogy: without Christ Jesus, you’re under the power of whatever you turn to for life. This could be something bad, like drugs, alcohol, porn, or immoral sex. “Truly, truly the one who sins is a slave to sin” (Jn. 8:32). Or you could be under the power of someone good, like a close friend, a spouse, or your kids. Even the best relationship is bound to go bad when you’re dependent on that person for life and happiness.

The real master over you is the one who deceived you into believing that you could obtain life and happiness from any source other than the one true and living God. The master I speak of is the the evil god of this world, the Prince of the Power of the Air, the Father of Lies who uses deception and delusion to keep the world under his dark spell. However, when you hear the truth of the Gospel of Christ, the spell is broken long enough for you to make a choice. “Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of Christ (Rm. 10:17).

This reminds me of the story of Prince Rilian in C. S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia. The prince is imprisoned underground by the evil queen of the underworld. The greatest evil, however, is that most of the time the prince does not even know who he is. The witch queen has put him under a spell, which has erased his memory and identity. However, for one hour each night he comes to his senses. During this time the Queen puts him in a room alone and has him tied to a silver chair. In the book of the same name, Prince Rilian is freed from the silver chair, and his enchantment, when he calls on the name of Aslan in front of Eustace, Jill and Puddleglum, the heroes whom Aslan the Lion has sent to release him. In Narnia, Aslan is the type of Christ, who is the Lion of the Tribe of Judah in the Bible.

If you’re self-centered and follow your own desires and inclinations, then you are really under the evil spell of the Father of Lies. But right now you’re hearing the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which can and will set you free, if only you believe and obey (Jn. 8:31-32). “The one whom the Son sets free is free indeed!” (Jn. 8:35) I implore you to come out from the seduction of this evil master. Recognize the lie of living for yourself and loving yourself first. You’ve been created to live for the glory of the Great King of Kings, Jesus Christ. Call on the name of Jesus to save you (Rm. 10:9-10, 13). Have you come to your senses? There you sit in your own silver chair. In the name of the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, I say to you: Arise! Your bonds are cut. Stand and confess Christ before the heroes of Lifewell, whom God has put in your life to help release you from your Zombie-like existence (Mt. 10:32-33).