“Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit”

November, 2011.  That’s the last time I posted to this “blog.”  Six months of quiet inactivity.  Six months of silence.  Six months of sitting on my spiritual gifts, and finding reasons to do just about anything else but be with God in His word.

Six months of letting the Enemy win.  Of getting beat up, and beating myself up, and just generally slipping further and further away from were I should be. 

It stops today.  Today, I take up my cross, anew.  I will stumble, I will succeed and I will fail. I will do it imperfectly.  But, by the grace of God, I WILL DO IT. 

Looking at the book of John, Chapter 15, we see a pretty clear and unequivocal declaration that it is not enough to just “get saved.”  Claiming to be a Christian is not enough. Professing the name of Christ is not enough.  Sitting in a church once a week is not enough.

It’s about your HEART.  It’s about following after God, hungering after His word, and wanting what HE wants more than what WE want.  About transforming what He wants INTO what we want.  It’s about fighting that fight every day.  Not waiting for tomorrow, or the next day, or the next week.

Or six months.

Jesus warns us that those “vines” which do not abide in Him, those which bear no fruit, will be cast away, destroyed in the fire, while those that DO bear fruit will be pruned and shaped to produce even more.  And this fruit, the fruit of the Spirit, is how we will be known as followers of Christ.

“My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples.”  John 15:8

And so, I find myself asking, how much fruit am I bearing? Am I a lush, growing tree, bearing fruit, bringing shade and comfort and sustenance, or am I a dry, withered scrub bush with brittle branches and thorny brambles?

Am I trying to do things in my own strength and failing, or, abiding in Him, seeking after His will, and then shaping my efforts accordingly?  Honestly? Lately, it’s been a lot more of the former, rather than the latter.  So today, that changes.

There’s an old, favorite Sunday School song, which declares, “This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine…”  Well, with God’s help, guidance, and equipping, I hope to let my light shine a whole lot brighter than it has been of late. 

Sometimes the hardest thing about doing God’s work is just showing up at the job site.

Well, I’m done taking sick days.

~ Steve

There Is No “Sorta” With Sin

During a recent perusal of various Christian blogs on my reading list, I stumbled across this article from Britain on how to deal with the rise of cohabitating couples, many of whom are in long-term partnerships which include shared assets and property, as well as children.

How should the church approach cohabiting couples? Two perspectives

It speaks of the struggles a partner may face, especially the female, if the cohabitees split up.

How should a Christian organisation, devoted to supporting marriage and family life, approach cohabitation? There is a juxtaposition between advocating strongly, and singularly for marriage, and supporting the millions of children in this country whose parents cohabit, and who could be left vulnerable to financial insecurity and homelessness should the relationship break down.

Though the articles purports to be from a Christian/Church perspective, there is no mention of the Biblical prohibition against adultery.  No mention of sin, or of the inevitable consequences of willful sin.  No, it’s all about how to best address the problems of this demographic by both providing for their needs, while gently suggesting that those in married relationships are more stable and secure.  About how we need a more “enlightened” policy with regards to our cohabitating brethren.

We often see questions like this: How should we approach this or that demographic within our church?  How do we “deal” with cohabiting couples, teen promiscuity or alternative lifestyles? More and more as homosexuality becomes mainstream, churches are faced with the same question of how to approach the issue of homosexuality? How do we treat or respond to homosexuals and homosexuality if we want to be seen as a more approachable, enlightened church?

Answer:  We treat them the same as everybody else.

There are no special categories of sinners.  With apologies to my Catholic brethren, there aren’t categories of sin. It’s not venial or mortal:  ALL sins are mortal.  It’s an all or nothing relationship. Sin is binary. 0 or 1. On or off. Yes or no. It is, or it isn’t. There is no “sorta” with sin.

So, when viewed in that context, homosexual sin is no different, no better, no worse, no more or less under condemnation than heterosexual sin.  Sin is sin.  We don’t get to ignore the ones that make us uncomfortable.

If I’m a man, chilling at the beach, ogling women in bikinis, I’m in exactly the same category as if I’m man, chilling at the beach, ogling guys in their speedos:  Sinner.

“But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman{or man} with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her{him} in his heart.” Matt 5:28

If a church is conflicted about how to address the problem of cohabiting couples, teen sex, or homosexuality, then it definitely has a problem; but perhaps a far bigger problem than how to tune their outreach ministries to appeal to these seeker-groups.

It’s actually pretty cut and dried.  Reeeeeal basic.  If you are going to preach the Word, then be true to the Word.   The Bible is full of examples, both metaphorical and actual, of people being forced to choose between what they want, and what the Word of God says is permissible; the two being almost universally at odds.

If you have couples living together, sleeping together, outside of marriage,  then they are in sexual sin.  Sounds archaic and overly simplistic in today’s more enlightened, liberated society, but that’s the simple truth.   If we are more worried about keeping people happy (as society defines it), than about teaching them to be obedient to the word of God, than we risk loving them to death.  We are, in the long run, not doing them any favors.  Too often today it comes down to being true to the word of God OR preaching a squishy gospel that soft coats the hard edges of truth in order to be more palatable, more “relevant,” more inclusive.

When faced with the problem of how to deal with sexual sin, whether homosexual or heterosexual, the conversation should go something like this:  If you people want to call yourselves Christians, then you need to live according to Christian principles.  What that means is that you move out, find your own places, and stop having pre-marital sex {{insert shocked gasps, I know}}.

If you are teens experimenting with sex: stop.  Plain and simple.  You don’t just cut back — you cut it out.  If you are cruising YouTube for the sexy videos or Webshots for the drunken Spring Break candids…STOP.  Alcoholics cannot afford to just cut back on their drinking, they need to stop, because there is no middle ground.  You are either drinking, or you’re not.  You are either sleeping with your girlfriend, or you’re not.  You are either engaging in homosexual acts…or you’re not.

Binary. Either/or.   Yes or no.  Do, or do not.  There is no try.

There’s no easy answer for the “issue” of homosexuality.  So much of our culture these days is so affirming, and tolerant, and supportive, and all be-true-to-who-you-are.  “Baby, I was born this way!” sings Lady Gaga.

Except that, the practice of homosexuality is quite simply forbidden by the Bible.   So where does that leave you? The same place as everybody else:  with a decision to make.

Do you be true to yourself, or true to God?  If God doesn’t allow promiscuity or adultery between heterosexual couples, do you think that homosexuals get a “bye” because they’re special?  A highly vocal chunk of society would have you think that, but it’s simply not true.

The Body of Christ should respond in love to those struggling with sin of any kind, but a love based on the truth of the Scriptures.  Granted, we risk being branded “intolerant” or “haters” if we do, but the truth is that there is no one more intolerant of sin than God.  God HATES sin.  But he loves us enough that he sent Christ to die in our place, that we might have a way out of the sin and death towards which our earthly wants and desires will inevitably lead us.

~ Steve Berven

A Fierce and Dangerous Faith

Some think Faith foolish,
To boldly tread where there is no bridge or path.
They consider it the height of prudence,
To require each step laid out in advance.

Others find Faith too awful,
A fearful and trembling place of danger.
Without first knowing the script, the plot, the final scene,
They step not upon the stage.

Some find Faith as a soothing balm,
A warm cup of tea that comforts a dark night.
It abides in the quiet moments of trust,
Strength for the simple task of facing each day.

Then there is the Faith with wild, unkempt hair,
Locusts and honey, facing giants with a stone.
It calls us to step across a river, into a land unknown,
And instead of fear, we know only fierce anticipation!

This is the Faith which moves mountains,
Which calls to the fiery tempest in our souls,
It is the burning bush, the pillar of fire,
The restless call upon our hearts to follow God’s call.

Today I want to trade my timid Faith,
For one more unsettled and unbound,
I want to feel the rush of God’s wind through my hair,
Feel the heat of His furnace upon my face.

For in those wild, incautious moments,
When I abandon rational hope and empirical surety,
To step instead along the path God has set before me,
That is where Life truly begins!

Lord, today give me the strength,
To step out of the boat, and meet you amongst the waves.
Let the wild winds blow, and tempest waters broil,
And I will cry out, not in fear, but in exultation.

Lord, in Faith, take me to the unsafe places,
The rugged, ragged edges of life where others fear to tread.
Renew in me a heart eager for adventure,
With the dusty sandals and calloused hands that say…

TODAY, I SERVED THE LORD!

Why “Biblical Sense?”

When thinking about what domain name to get, what moniker I wanted to hang on this thing, I went through a lot of different choices. Some obscure, some humorous, some too plain, or too complicated, and of lot of them just plain already taken. So why “Biblical Sense?”

There’s so much in this world that doesn’t seem to make sense to me these days. So much of our once proud culture has been worn down, broken down, co-opted, wishy-washied, corrupted or re-branded. All in the name of “progress.” Change. Diversity. Tolerance. Whatever the catch phrase of the week happens to be.

And swirling through the big middle of it all is the steady decline of our collective moral fiber, a tarnishing of our souls seen nowhere more clearly than in the arena of our sexuality. Sex pervades the newstands, the book racks, the movie theaters, and our television shows. It’s everywhere, and it’s glamorized and glorified. Sex has become dating. It’s just assumed by so many of today’s young people that sex is an inevitable part of dating, and the sooner the better.

This isn’t the way God intended it.

I think one of the biggest reasons behind why this is happening is that the “post-modern” church, its body, its preachers/teachers/leaders, are all about trying to conform the Bible to the culture, instead of the other way around. The Bible becomes an after-thought, a selection of favored quotes, quips and anecdotes to fill in the gaps in their self-help sermons.

Biblical literacy is plummeting, and there are entire church denominations and “emergent” movements looking to re-interpret God’s Holy Word in light of this cultural cataclysm, trying too hard be “relevant” to a world gone crazy. Problem is, if you are following the crowd, you’re not leading it. If you are chasing after the culture, you have to go where IT leads YOU, and it should be the other way around. The Church should be a source of strength and solidity, a refuge in this storm of moral confusion. Should be, but too often isn’t.

As Believers, we are called to hold everything up to the lens of the Scriptures. The Bible is our rock, our unchanging references, immutable and eternal; the very words of God from the mouths of His servants. We need to know what it says. Why it says what it says. We need to know and understand and evaluate everything in a Biblical sense.

This term has, over time, taken on a sexual connotation.

“Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain” Gen 4:1 (ESV).

It’s now become almost a tongue-in-cheek expression, a careful euphemism for sex. “Oh man, I want to know her, in the biblical sense.”

What has gotten squeezed, filtered and scrubbed out of our concept of sexual relationships over time is the idea that to join together with a man or woman in the act of sexual union is absolutely the most intimate way to “know” another person. It should be a time of joining, of union, almost a sacrament between two people whom God has brought together in His name, an anointed and precious act meant to be shared with one person and one person only: the person you’ve sworn before God in the form of marriage vows to spend the rest of your life with.

These days it’s become just another way to pass the time. A toy we play with when we’re bored. Kids in school have oral sex in the classroom and send “sext” message to each other on their cell phones. Way too much, way too early.

We’ve got to try and make sense of all this. Biblical sense. We know all about sex, but almost nothing about intimacy. God’s Word calls us to be intimate with Him. That’s why I want to take back this term. People should know God, in a Biblical sense. Not in the watered-down, candy-coated, fly-by-night way so many are getting Him these days in seeker-friendly churches who want to love people to death. Too loving to preach the truth, too caring to force hard decisions, to inclusive to use terms like good and bad, sin and sanctification.

God cries out for us to know Him, to read, and to KNOW His Word. To evaluate everything in our lives through the lens of scripture. To turn away from the false intimacy of sexual sin and idolatry, and embrace Him, to know him more intimately than we know anything else or anyone else in our lives.

That why the name. It’s what I hope to do with my posts here: help people come to better know and understand God (and themselves), in a Biblical sense.

~Steve Berven

Just One Little Thing

Wow, March 9th, 2010 was the last time I posted anything here.  One might suspect I wasn’t taking this web ministry seriously.  And I haven’t been.  I’ve let far too many things get in the way.  There’s always something, one little this or that which gets in the way.   I’m always too busy doing other things, letting other things come between me and God.   Turns out, I’m not the first one to have this problem.I ‘m sure we’ve all heard and read the story:

As He was setting out on a journey, a man ran up to Him and knelt before Him, and asked Him, “Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”  And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone.  “You know the commandments, ‘DO NOT MURDER, DO NOT COMMIT ADULTERY, DO NOT STEAL, DO NOT BEAR FALSE WITNESS, Do not defraud, HONOR YOUR FATHER AND MOTHER.’

And he said to Him, “Teacher, I have kept all these things from my youth up.” Looking at him, Jesus felt a love for him and said to him, “One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” But at these words he was saddened, and he went away grieving, for he was one who owned much property.  And Jesus, looking around, said to His disciples, “How hard it will be for those who are wealthy to enter the kingdom of God!” (Mark 10:18)

This story is almost universally used as a warning and admonition against greed, excessive wealth, and coveting possessions rather than seeking after God.  And sure, there may be a piece of that here; but I think such a narrow interpretation actually misses the broader point Jesus was trying to make.  Jesus wasn’t so much warning against the dangers of money or wealth specifically, but rather, he had narrowed in on the one thing that was coming between this man and his relationship with God.  While in this case it happened to be money, it could be anything, really.  This rich, young man came to Jesus with what seemed to be a genuine desire to serve…but also a strongly-developed sense of his own piety. In his mind, in the finest Pharisaical tradition, he had faithfully kept all of the Commandments; and perhaps he had…all except for one:

“Thou shall have no other Gods before me.”

I think that Jesus saw both the man’s genuine faith (given the gentle way in which He spoke to him), as well as the man’s rather self-sufficient pride.   Jesus could tell that, despite his profession of conscientious obedience to the Law, this young man still wanted to be able to keep a hold of This One Thing…in this case, his money.   The Bible tells us that God is a jealous God who wants to be first in our life.  He wants it all, everything about us: our hopes, our dreams, our desires.  He wants to be first in all of this, and yet, so many of us try to work out a deal.  We bargain with God, trying to hold back just This One Thing that we don’t want to give up.   It might be our daily office gossip, or a root of bitterness at an ex, an addiction to alcohol, pornography, crude jokes or anything else outside the nature of God that we try to hold onto. We hold back on that one “little secret” that we figure maybe God will let us have.  After all, we’ve been so faithful in so many other areas, right?  We tithe, we go to church, we don’t cheat on our wives or steal or lie.  We “DO” all the right things, so we figure we can probably hold on to this one, little indulgence, and God won’t really mind.  Right?

Wrong.

The message in this passage is not just about money, but about WHATEVER it is we are letting come between us and true faithfulness to God’s calling in our life.   Hebrews 4:12 tells us:

For the word of God is living and active.  Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. (Heb 4:12)

Jesus looked into this man’s heart, his soul, and saw what his “One Thing” was: his wealth.   So Jesus zeroed in on that, and basically told him to put his money where his mouth is; be faithful not just with your words, but with your wealth.  Again, for some of us it might be the magazines we shouldn’t be reading, the TV shows we shouldn’t be watching, the websites we shouldn’t be visiting.  It doesn’t even have to be anything overtly “sinful,” but simply anything that we covet or obsess over, anything that takes the place of a fuller relationship with God in our heart. It could be the football games on Sunday that won’t “let” us go to Church.  The favorite TV drama that only comes on the same night as the small group Bible study we’ve been meaning to attend, but…

This passage emphasizes what we should already know:  that Jesus can see into the deepest, most hidden corners of our heart.  We aren’t hiding anything from Him; we aren’t fooling God. There’s no drawer, closet, cupboard or box we can hide our “This One Thing” in that God won’t find it.  Maybe you think you’re hiding it from everyone else…but HE KNOWS.  He’s always known.

Moreover, I think it’s important to note where Jesus says, “hard is it for them that trust in riches to enter into the kingdom of God.” Trust.  Trusting in something else besides God as the source for our strength, for our security, for our guidance and our hope can also be that “one thing.”  Do we listen to the words of Oprah or Dr. Phil more than those of Jesus?  Do we rely more on Stephen Covey or Rick Warren to find our purpose than we do on God? Do we want to do it our way, throwing in a prayer every now and then to keep God updated on how it’s going, maybe ask for a little help in what we’re doing, not even questioning if that’s what God really wants for our life, for fear that the answer might turn out to be “no?”

“For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul?” (Mark 8:36)

Even as I’m writing this, I’m thinking of all those “one little things” that might be coming between me and my Lord.  Considering that there shouldn’t be anything on that list at all, it’s rather disturbing.  And humbling.

I also find it interesting that upon hearing Jesus’ response, when the man turned and walked away in sadness, Jesus didn’t chase him down, back-pedal on his answer, or try to find a little more “seeker friendly” message.  Jesus simply preached the Truth.  What the man chose to do with that information was up to him.  The man chose to reject the message; and Jesus let him walk away.  Jesus didn’t water down his message, didn’t soft-coat it or dance around the hard facts.  Communicating the Truth was more important to Jesus than meeting this man’s “felt needs.”

In this interaction, Jesus acknowledged to his disciples that many will hear the Truth, will fully understand the implications of His message…and still choose to hold onto the world instead.  Choosing to rationalize and justify, to hem, and haw, choosing to hold onto what they want instead of reaching out for what God has in store for them.  Compare and contrast the response of the rich man here, with another famous rich man.   A certain Zaccheus who, upon hearing the word of the Lord, couldn’t wait to get right with both God AND those he had wronged, doing so with a joyous heart.

And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.”  (Luke 19:8 ESV)

In response, Jesus says, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham.” (Luke 19:9 NASB) I think this shows that it’s not the condition of your wallet or your bank account, but the condition of your heart that matters.

“…for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matt 6:21)

So when we think we are being righteous, and faithful, all the while stubbornly holding on to just This One Thing,  we need to remember:

It only takes one.

Your papers…er…RFID, please.

_36506876_chip150

RFID - Wave of the Future?

I predicted this a while ago.  Wish I could find the link.  First it would be for pets, and then for prisoners and Alzheimer’s patients, then the military and high-risk Executives and VIPs.  And all too soon, it would be Joe Average, all under the umbrella of safety, or security, or efficiency, or convenience.  And here it all is.

You can discount the Christian end-times prophecies as a bunch of mystic hooey and conspiracy theories, but they very clearly foretell a day when no one will be able to buy or sell without a unique (digital?) identifier.

It’s called boiling the frog slowly.  Incremental implementation until their use is so ubiquitous, so commonplace, that to try and oppose or resist makes you a fringe crackpot.  Perhaps even a subversive or an “extremist.”  An anti-government kook.  Terms already being used to try and disparage and delegitimize groups like the Tea Party activists.

It’s all very convenient. What amazing, space-age technology!  Your car will only unlock or start if it “senses” your unique digital signature.  Your ATM will only dispense money to your unique digital signal.  Your office can sense your arrival, and use preset light and heat settings based on your pre-programmed preferences.  Who wouldn’t want that?!

RFID_hand_2

Just Prior to Implant

Until one day, it’s decided that biometric passports aren’t enough.  That perhaps the threat of domestic terrorism is so great that we “need” to be able to track citizens in real time.  Britain is already awash in CCTV monitors, and is leading the way in chipping everything from pets to garbage cans to people.  With an RFID implant they can track where you got on the train, when, and with who.  What you bought at the store, how much gas you used last week, and where you stop for coffee on the way to work.

RFID Injector

RFID Injector - by ID-OLOGY

These chips might be able to make us more secure, more safe, more efficient.  However, that security will come with a heavy price in lost personal freedoms.  And if, one day, it comes about that not getting chipped gets you fined or arrested?  If you can’t buy food or gas without one?  Somehow, “I told you so” just won’t seem like enough.

You scoff.  “Wingnut,” you snort.

How about:  A National Health Care database. VeriChip implants which tie your unique biological “signature” into that database. You are required by law to have insurance.  Fined if you don’t.  Imprisoned if you don’t pay your fines.  All of this is on the table TODAY in the some form in the Health Care bills being debated in Congress. All for our own good, don’t you know?

“and he provides that no one will be able to buy or to sell, except the one who has the mark, either the name of the beast or the number of his name.”  (Rev 13:17, NASB)

What does it mean by the “number” of his name? See bolded items below. Eerily similar language to something written nearly 2,000 years ago.  Is it really such a stretch?

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US family gets health implants

US doctors have implanted chips into the arms of a Florida family containing their medical histories in a controversial new programme that doctors hope may one day become standard practice.

Chips to fight kidnapping

An US company is considering producing electronic implants that could be used to keep tabs on kidnap victims via satellite. riginally Applied Digital Solutions had intended to market its VeriChip to patients who wanted to keep their medical records under their skin.  But recently the firm has caved in to pressure to include tracking devices.

But some may see tracker chips as a positive development. After 11 September, many western governments have become paranoid about security and want to keep a closer eye on citizens with schemes such as national ID cards.  “You can’t get a better ID card than one you can put under your skin,” points out Mr Pearson. The technology necessary to locate a person geographically is not particularly sophisticated. It has been around for years in the chips that are implanted beneath the skin of pets.

Crackdown on dangerous dogs to make microchips compulsory for all

“Under the scheme a microchip the size of a grain of rice is injected under the skin of the dog between its shoulder blades. The chip contains a unique code number, the dog’s name, age, breed and health as well as the owner’s name, address and phone number. When the chip is “read” by a handheld scanner the code number is revealed and the details can be checked on a national database.

ID Card for Workers at Center of Immigration Plan

“Under the potentially controversial plan still taking shape in the Senate, all legal U.S. workers, including citizens and immigrants, would be issued an ID card with embedded information, such as fingerprints, to tie the card to the worker.”

N. H. Reps Approve ‘Tracking Device’ Bill

“The bill in question is an amendment to the state’s Consumer Protection Act (RSA 358-A). If passed, it would require that all consumer goods or identification documents (such as driver’s licenses, credit cards or library cards) with an embedded “tracking device” to be labeled with a “universally accepted symbol” to denote the inclusion of the device.”

Tracking Prisoners in Jail With Biometrics: An Experiment in a Navy Brig

“Biometrics has been used previously to track the movement of staff, visitors, and prisoners in and out of correctional facilities. It has also been used to account for staff members in the event of a riot or other prison disturbance. This project represents the first use of biometrics to track prisoner movements within a prison or jail. It was designed to employ computer-based methods of tracking inmates to improve the efficiency of corrections specialists[1] and brig officials and to demonstrate how advanced technology can make corrections facilities safer.”

VeriChip Sells First Baby Protection System, in Talks with Military

“The company announced Aug. 24 that it has made the first sale of its infant protection, wander prevention and staff duress system to the Brampton Civic Hospital in Brampton, Ontario. Separately, the company confirmed a day earlier that it is in talks with the military to test its implantable chips in two branches of the military.

But VeriChip also has a separate patient identification system, VeriMed, which is used beneath the skin. Once the chip is implanted in the fatty part of a persons arm (or in the hand(!!!), as chip volunteers have done), it displays a 16-digit identifier when tapped by an RFID reader. The number accesses health information in a database that requires a username and password for admittance.”

RFID Chip Implants Planned for Alzheimer’s Patients

“Alzheimer’s Community Care Facility, in West Palm Beach Florida, intends to begin implanting radio frequency identification chips, RFID, in Alzheimer patients, despite the outcry of violation of privacy.

She believes the RFID chip, manufactured by VeriChip Corp, provides a valuable service that allows medical facilities to quickly and easily access medical information the patient often is not able to provide on their own.”

RFID Chip in Humans

“Every RFID tag is given an unique number, similar to an user identification number.”

Chip implant gets cash under your skin

Applied Digital Solutions of Palm Beach, Fla., is hoping that Americans can be persuaded to implant RFID chips under their skin to identify themselves when going to a cash machine or in place of using a credit card.

RFID tags are miniscule microchips, which some manufacturers have managed to shrink to half the size of a grain of sand. They listen for a radio query and respond by transmitting a unique ID code, typically a 64-bit identifier yielding about 18 thousand trillion possible values.

Barcelona clubbers get chipped

BBC Science producer Simon Morton goes clubbing in Barcelona with a microchip implanted in his arm to pay for drinks.

Implanting microchips that emit a Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) into animals has been common practice in many countries around the world, with some looking to make it a legal requirement for domestic pet owners.

China First With Citizen RFID Implants

A press release issued by the Chinese government today announced the countrywide implementation of a new high-tech tracking initiative designed to “increase security and prosperity for all citizens of the People’s Republic of China.”

———————————————-

There seems to be a definite trend towards giving every person a unique, digital identifier.  Now, what happens if you have to have a certain, SPECIFIC identifier to use ANY services or facilities?  What if you have to agree to have an RFID with someone elses ID, say perhaps, one that associates you with a certain charismatic leader?  Not so easy to discount now, is it?

Should Christians Celebrate Christmas?

It’s that time of the year again. Peace on earth, goodwill towards men. Two-for-one, and an extra 15% off if you buy before Saturday. The more you buy, the more you save.

I honestly wonder why we haven’t yet seen an advertisement for a Christmas sale with swarthy-looking bearded gentlemen, a big smile on his face, holding up his arms as if he was on a cross, but in each hand he has shopping bags with a store’s name on them, with the caption underneath, “When Jesus shops here, JESUS SAVES!!

Come on. You gotta admit, it’d be catchy!

I propose that perhaps one of the reasons that Christmas has become so completely secularized with the all Santa Clauses and reindeer and trees and gluttonous commercialism we see today, is that it was never really a Christian holiday to begin with. It is not a day of the Lord; at least, not OUR Lord.

The use of the evergreen tree as a central element likely harkens back to the pagan celebrations of the Winter Solstice. The “Christmas” tree became a part of the modern observance after the Catholic church designated December 25th as the date of Christ’s birth in order to better co-opt the pagan converts into their new religion.

The presence of mistletoe, stockings by the chimney, and the tradition of Santa Claus or “St. Nicholas” are also elements co-opted from early pagan, druid or secular/cultural traditions having absolutely nothing to do with the birth of Christ. The laurel wreath we hang, the ornaments and candles on the tree are likely a holdover from the Roman celebration of the feast of Saturnalia, part of the worship of their Sun god.

Even the act of placing our gifts beneath the tree, while the manager scene sits of to the side, is a strange custom if you think about it. Whereas the Magi of the Biblical account came an placed their gifts at the feet of Christ, we place out gifts at the feet of a…tree. Again, mirroring the pagan act of worshipping the creation, rather than the creator.

If you actually look to the Biblical timeline, the birth of Christ is much more likely to have occurred somewhere in the September/October timeframe. Not December.  So, there’s very little reason or historic justification for holding “Christ’s Mass” on December 25th.

So, SHOULD Christians celebrate Christmas?

Sure!  Yeah! Go for it!  I have a lot of warm and fond memories of Christmas growing up, and plan to build more of the same in years to come.  Christmas is a great time in so many ways, and I plan to make it a part of my December, as always.  However.

I propose that Christians celebrating modern Christmas is much like Christian parents taking their kids trick-or-treating on Halloween. If you can successfully turn a blind eye to what is really at the roots of All Hallows Eve, and just treat it as a fun, cultural event with no religious or “spiritual” meaning, then that’s your decision. We took our kids out this year, not because we were trying to appease the lost and angry spirits, but because it’s just a fun time for them and for us.

But they didn’t dress up as demons, devils, ghosts or vampires, either.

I, for one, have decided that I am not going to get the least bit bent out of shape if some cashier or bagger wishes me a “Happy Holiday,” because that’s all it really is any more. A holiday. An excuse for a party. It’s two extra days off of work if I’m lucky, and overtime pay if I’m not. It’s a chance to give and get some nifty presents, and have another big feast just as I’ve shaken off the last vestiges of the food hangover from Thanksgiving.  To make nice with family and friends I haven’t seen, and for a couple of days at least, pretend that there’s still hope for this crazy, mixed up world.

I’m also going to consider our religious forefathers’ attempts to overlay a thin veneer of Christianity onto what was clearly a pagan ritual a complete failure, and move on.

So yes, I’d say, go ahead and have a Merry Christmas; I certainly plan to!  Just as long as you realize that it’s really become more of a cultural event than anything of Christian significance. 

And don’t go getting in someone’s face because they wish you a “Happy Holiday,” or threaten to boycott a store because they won’t print “Merry Christmas” on their flyers and banners promising you 25% off all the STUFF you are going to go BUY BUY BUY, mostly out of obligation, to fulfill all the expectations our culture has placed on you. 

Should we really be all that upset that Christ’s name ISN’T being put on that stuff?

We should be picketing outside demanding that it’s NOT, not demanding that it IS. I don’t want these stores cheapening the name of my Savior in the interests of making a quick buck!! Talk about WWJD!?! Christians should have a major problem with having the words “Christ” and “One Day Sale” in the same sentence — not getting their feathers all in a fluff because the Lord’s name ISN’T being taken in vain as a marketing ploy.

I would love to see more Christians do the homework to get into and really understand the Messianic roots of so many of the Jewish feasts and festivals, to find a time and way to celebrate the true birth of Christ in a way which honors God, and denies the “form of this world.” So much of what “Christmas” has become cannot be pleasing to God, even when we toss in a manger scene and a few religious Christmas carols.

We need to return to our Biblical foundations, and honor the birth of our Savior in a way that is honoring to HIM, not profitable for Wal-Mart and Pottery Barn.

Jesus was born in the most humble of circumstances, given gifts by people he had no way of knowing, gifts the significance of which he (at the time) couldn’t have known. These gifts were given because they had a prophetic significance, given to honor him, to proclaim him as the Messiah, and ultimately foretelling his death…not because he was the only left on the Magis’ shopping list. “Frankincense? Myrrh? AND they’re on sale? Woot! Shopping DONE!”

I think we should do everything we can to GET the name of Christ out of modern Christmas, and maybe claim another day as our own. Get it on the calendar as “Birth Of Christ (Observed).” Let them have their X-Mas. Let’s write it off as a lost cause, and get back to worshipping God, not mammon.

UPDATE:

Here’s a very detailed article going into the various dates and histories behind the birth and death of Christ.  Good reading!

How December 25 Became Christmas

Nobody is getting hurt…again.

You are alone again.  You like it that way.  Less muss, less fuss.  Fewer distractions, less demands on your time.  You value your free time, time to do the things YOU want to do, right?  Problem is, you want to surf the Internet for pornography.  It started simple enough.  Just swimsuits, alluring models in skimpy clothes.  No biggy.  Then it was those celebrity “fan sites” with half-dressed celebs being drunk and provocative.  Man, ain’t those paparazzi the greatest!  Then you moved on to lingerie. Maybe a Victoria’s Secret catalog that came in the mail by accident.  No harm there, just a little skin, right?  Pretty soon, though, things go from bad to worse.  At first it was just “art appreciation.”  Fine photography revealing the human form.  No harm in that, right?  Besides, if those girls didn’t want to be looked at, they wouldn’t have posed for the pictures, right?

Then, just like with alcohol and drugs, you start needing harder stuff to get a buzz.  It’s a daisy-chain of addiction, one site leading to another to another, each link taking you deeper and deeper into darkness.  Over time you find yourself going places no man should ever go, looking at things no man should ever see.

You have it all worked out in your head, have all your excuses and justifications lined up like bullets in an ammunition clip, ready to be fired off on full auto if your conscience ever tries to rise up and suggest that your lifestyle might not be the healthiest, your moral choices not the most sound.  I mean, after all, they’re just pictures, right? What’s the big deal? Nobody is getting hurt, right?

How many of us out there have used these excuses ourselves at some point?  Whether it’s our online poker habit, the slots at the Indian Reservation, our drinking, shoplifting, or pornography, the excuses all end up sounding pretty much the same.  It’s just a few beers, right?  It’s not like I’m drinking the hard stuff.

I’m not spending THAT much at the mall every week, right?  And besides, it was on SALE!

No, really. This will be the LAST time I hit the Blackjack tables, just until I can earn back the money I lost last week…

No matter how wrapped up in it we get, no matter how many chains we bind ourselves with, no matter how many other areas of our life we sacrifice to our addictions, we always somehow manage to clear the air by insisting that, hey, what’s the big deal? Nobody is getting hurt.

But it’s both a truth, AND a lie.

Because, you see, someone IS getting hurt. YOU.  YOU are getting hurt.  You are harming yourself physically, emotionally, and spiritually.  You’re relationships are suffering, what few you might actually have left.  You’ve withdrawn from the world, slowly cutting off family, shutting out friends.  When you let yourself become a slave to these compulsions, these addictions, you are bringing the promise of ruin and pain into your life.

So when you say that “nobody” is getting hurt, what you’re really doing is calling yourself a nobody.  You are saying that you don’t matter, that it’s okay for you to get hurt.  Oh sure, you’d never intentionally hurt anyone else.  THEM you care about.  You?  Eh, it’s okay if YOU get hurt.  No big deal.  You’re just a nobody.  Nobody cares about me, really, so why should I care about myself?

And the really tragic thing?  Somewhere, somewhere deep down inside, you might actually believe it, too. 

Because, truth is? You don’t really believe all those excuses you’re so good at making.  You don’t really think it’s no big deal.  You know it’s wrong, but because you’re an addict, you won’t…or can’t….stop.  The guilt is tearing you apart inside, but instead of dealing with the guilt, you medicate the pain.  With your addiction.  You “use” to feel good, even for a little bit, to escape the pain you feel.  But you still know, somewhere down inside, that it’s wrong.  And so you feel guilty, ashamed.  Swear you’ll quit.  But you can’t.  So you drink to escape the guilt that’s driving you to drink.  It’s a vicious cycle that is tearing you apart and robbing you of health, life, and love.

So, let’s be honest here.  Someone IS getting hurt. You.  But it’s not “only” you, either.  Maybe you’ve never punched anyone, never screamed or yelled, never “abused” or hurt someone.  Maybe you’ve never hit anyone with your car while driving drunk, or never forced a young runaway girl to pose nude for a website to pay for the drugs you got her hooked on; but not all hurts leave scars you can see.  You’re hurting your wife, your girlfriend, your parents, your kids.  Your co-workers, your friends.  People who want to know you, who want you to chose THEM over the porn, or the poker, or the alcohol.  They are hurting, feeling the pain of rejection, of abandonment, of self-doubt.  Even if you never lift a finger farther than it takes to click a mouse button, you are still hurting people.  You are passing on a legacy of hurts that they will carry with them throughout the rest of their life. 

So don’t believe the lies.  Stop telling yourself that nobody is getting hurt.  You’re not a nobody.  You are somebody, somebody who God wants to know Him, to find in HIM the healing, the love, the acceptance that maybe you don’t think you deserve, or will ever find.  God wants to give you His love, whether you deserve it or not.  As a matter of fact, the less you “deserve” it, the MORE He wants to give it to you!

Jesus *said to them, “{It is} not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick; I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Matt 2:17 NASB)

And understand that you can’t fight this alone. Trust in God, and He will bring people into your life that can help you find healing, help bring restoration and connection and wholeness where you’ve allowed your addiction to cause brokenness, destruction and pain.

No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.  (1 Cr 10:13 NASB)

Stop hurting yourself.  Stop hurting those around you.  Stop telling the lies that no one…not even you…believe anymore.  It won’t be easy; but with the help of God, it doesn’t have to be impossible either. 

 

Here’s are some recommended resources for those struggling with addiction, especially sexually-based addictions:

http://www.13waystoruinyourlife.com/

http://www.pornaddicthubby.com/

Trapped in Temptation
http://www.cbn.com/spirituallife/CBNTeachingSheets/Pornography.aspx

And He Will Heal Their Land. Maybe.

I’m sure we’ve all heard this one.  The time-worn favorite of the armchair evangelical who exhorts us to pray for our nation in that email you are supposed to forward to 25 friends.

2 Chron. 7:14 – “If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land. “

We see this verse again and again when it’s time for the National Day of Prayer, “See You At The Pole,” or a variety of other times and events when people need to feel like they are DOING something.

However, like so many other things in modern day eschatology, I think we tend to skip over a lot in this verse and focus on the “easy” stuff.

Keep in mind that praying is only ONE of the things that the verse exhorts us to do.

Another is to humble ourselves, a third is to turn from our wicked ways.  Understanding that “wicked” simply means “un-Godly.”  We tend to think of wickedness as those “evil” things like adultery and murder and stealing.  But in God’s eyes, “wickedness” is anything we do outside of His will.  Anger, strife, jealousy…delusions of self-sufficiency.  Even “good” things done with the best of intentions, if they are done based on our human (and thus flawed) intentions might ultimately be considered “wickedness.”

Isaiah 46:6 – “For all of us have become like one who is unclean, And all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment; And all of us wither like a leaf, And our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.”

It is hard to truly understand “humbling” ourselves when we’ve never really lived under a King.  We’ve never had to physically kneel before a throne, before a man who has the power of life and death in his hands, and whose very words become law the moment they are spoken.  Humbling ourselves means giving up everything that isn’t of God; giving up the demands that we get to live life like WE think it should be lived.  It means giving up being mad at God when I don’t get my way or don’t understand my circumstance, and committing myself absolutely to accepting His sovereign authority over my life. “Seeking His face” involves a lot more than invoking his name like a spell from Harry Potter that will magically fix things.  It means daily, moment by moment, wanting to know more about WHO God is and what than means to my life.

It’s easy to say we will pray every day.  It’s easy to say that if the rest of the country would just straighten out and clean up their act…

However, is it as easy to say that we will pray…AND seek His face AND humble ourselves AND turn from our wicked ways? It’s about more than praying for our leaders, it’s about changing the way we live our lives in a very real and personal way.  ONLY THEN does this scripture promise that God will heal our land.  Prayer is certainly a great place to start, but I think it’s a lot taller of an order and a lot more work than most people want to think.  Myself included!!

I think it’s important to remember that the context of this verse is God speaking to Solomon just after the completion of the Temple.  God is actually speaking in the past-tense here.  Because the people, after they had already endured droughts, plagues and disease, humbled themselves, turned from their wicked ways and turned their face towards God, He heard their cry and restored them as a nation, complete with a fantastic new temple.

However.  Comma.

God IMMEDIATELY goes on to warn Solomon that (based on Israel’s history I’m sure) their new-found providence is still very conditional (I paraphrase slightly here):

IF, and I repeat IF you walk before Me as your father David walked, even to do according to all that I have commanded you, and will keep My statutes and My ordinances,  then AND ONLY THEN I will establish your royal throne as I covenanted with your father David, saying, ‘You shall not lack a man {to be} ruler in Israel.’ (vs 17-18)

And then he drops the other shoe….

“BUT!  If you turn away and forsake My statutes and My commandments which I have set before you, and go and serve other gods and worship them,  then I will uproot you from My land which I have given you, and this house which I have consecrated for My name I will cast out of My sight and I will make it a proverb and a byword among all peoples.

“As for this house, which was exalted, everyone who passes by it will be astonished and say, ‘Why has the LORD done thus to this land and to this house?’

“And they will say, ‘Because they forsook the LORD, the God of their fathers who brought them from the land of Egypt, and they adopted other gods and worshiped them and served them; therefore He has brought all this adversity on them.’ (vs. 19-22)

And you know what’s sad?  We see in Isaiah 64:10-11  that that’s exactly what happened:

Your holy cities have become a wilderness, Zion has become a wilderness, Jerusalem a desolation.  Our holy and beautiful house, Where our fathers praised You, Has been burned {by} fire; And all our precious things have become a ruin.

So what we have is a pretty clear “Either/Or” proposition. God says that either you humble yourself, acknowledge HIM and ONLY HIM as your God, or your land will be made desolate and your people scattered.

No middle ground.  Not a lot of ecumenicalism or mutli-culturalism there.  Doesn’t seem to support the whole, “we all worship the same god, just with different names” thing.  Kind of “intolerant” and “divisive” isn’t it?

For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.  (Heb 4:12 NASB)

It’s almost like God KNOWS the wickedness of our heart, the darkness of human nature, and our nearly inevitable tendency to follow our own hearts rather than His will.  Almost like a theme, running throughout the Scriptures, as if some things never change.

Something to think about.  And tell 25 of your friends.

A Mildewy God?

I am a bit disturbed by what I see as a growing trend.  Time and again in the news I am seeing stories of people flocking to catch a glimpse of the Virgin Mary in a water stain under an overpass, or the face of Mother Theresa in a cinammon roll, the face of Jesus in a piece of toast or a grilled cheese sandwich, or some other saintly figure in a mud puddle or a paint spill or a rust stain on the back of ’78 Impala.

You know what that is, right?  Idolatry.  Plain and simple.  Flocking to an image of a water stain on a concrete wall, stacking candles, incense and flowers all around, and then PRAYING TO THE IMAGE is idolatry.  I happen to think that praying to anyone but God is idolatry.  Praying to the Virgin Mary, praying to "the saints", praying to your dear departed Uncle Chuck, all of these are putting someONE or someTHING before God.

God’s word clearly states: 

Exodus 20:3-4, "You shall have no other gods before Me.  You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. "

Judges 10:13,  Yet you have forsaken Me and served other gods; therefore I will no longer deliver you.

2 Kings 17:12, "They served idols, concerning which the LORD had said to them, "You shall not do this thing."

our-lady-of-grace1Praying to the Mother of Jesus and asking for her help or intercession is making her as God ("Mediatrix").  Praying to Saint Peter or Saint Theresa or Saint Bob is putting a PERSON in the place where JESUS belongs.  And it is therefore idolatry.

And the question I have is….why?  Why pray to anyone but God?  The way has been opened for you, "the veil of the Tabernacle was torn in two" so that ALL might approach the throne of God! 

For Christ did not enter a holy place made with hands, a {mere} copy of the true one, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us; …Now where there is forgiveness of these things, there is no longer {any} offering for sin.  Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh,  (Heb 9-10)

Jesus tells us quite clearly in John 14:6, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me. "  Not through Mary.  Not through Peter.  Only through CHRIST.

The again in John 14:13-14, Jesus tells us, ""Whatever you ask in My name, that will I do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.  If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do {it.}  "

Jesus quite clearly not only gives us permission to go directly to Him, but requires us to go to Him and ONLY Him.  If you are praying to anyone, or anything else, you are praying to a false god.  An idol.  A substitution of the real thing.

Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession.  For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as {we are, yet} without sin. Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.  (Hbr 4:13-16 NASB)

And here’s there other thing.  Our God is an AWESOME God.  Our God is the one who spun together the entire universe.  Psalm 104 talks about his kind of God: 

"Covering Yourself with light as with a cloak, Stretching out heaven like a {tent} curtain.  He lays the beams of His upper chambers in the waters; He makes the clouds His chariot; He walks upon the wings of the wind;  He makes the winds His messengers, Flaming fire His ministers. "

Does this sound like the kind of God who would be content to manifest himself as a mildew stain an a basement wall, some calcification under a runoff spout, or an odd shape of woodgrain on a toilet door?!  Come ON. Seriously.  I think it’s safe to say that an image seen in some dusty, shadowy dampness in a culvert is NOT OF GOD.  Which really leaves only two other options, doesn’t it?  Either you are trying waaaay too hard to see something that’s not there, or, the image comes from somewhere else.  Somewhere, or someone.  Someone who would love nothing better than for you to be distracted, entranced, and preoccupied with all manner of flashy, showy spiritualistic other things than focusing exclusively on the one, true God.

I remember hearing a story once of some missionaries in, I believe it was Ethiopia, who were shown what was believed to be one of the original stones used in the ephod of Aaron as commanded by God, described in Exodus Chapt. 28:

And the stones shall be with the names of the children of Israel, twelve, according to their names, [like] the engravings of a signet; every one with his name shall they be according to the twelve tribes.

 I had always pictured some kind of art class project with a name etched into the top like a pet rock or a paperweight.  However, the stone the pastor described was transparent, a deep blue color, and the stone had an image of a lion, for the tribe of Judah.  They were able to x-ray the stone, and came to discover that the image of the lion itself had a three-dimensional quality and was actually made up of Hebrew words, almost like a hologram!  This seems to jibe with the description given in Exodus.  The stones were made by "Aholiab, son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan, an engraver, and a cunning workman."  Cunning indeed!

Now, I admit I heard the story second or third hand, and I can’t find anything on the ol’ Internets to back it up, but that story has always really resonated with me.  If this is the kind of amazing detail that God’s people put into carving individual stones,  I can only imagine what God did when he "carved" out the 10 Commandments: 

But if the ministration of death, written [and] engraven in stones, was glorious, so that the children of Israel could not stedfastly behold the face of Moses for the glory of his countenance; which [glory] was to be done away:  (2 Cor. 3:7)

I can’t imagine they were really just a couple of rough-hewn stone slabs with chisel marks.   They were so magnificent that they imbued power to the very countenance of Moses!  I suspect that these may very well have been what gave the ark of the Covenant its power once they were placed inside.  What I wouldn’t give to see those tablets, maybe get them in front of an MRI or mass-spectomoter!  When I look at Revelation 2:17 in light of the above story, it takes on a much greater level of significance:

and I will give him a white stone, and a new name written on the stone which no one knows but he who receives it.’

Imagine God creating a stone which only you can read.  Each stone unique, different, magnificent, and waaaaay high-tech.

So with all that in mind, how is it that so many people allow themselves to be mystified by a patch of frost, a discoloration of some concrete, or a scuff mark on a linoleum floor?  Folks, when God wants you to know that He’s there, trust me, you’ll know.  There’ll be no squinting, and turning your head this way and that, and if you shine the light just so, it sort of maybe kinda might look like Jesus when he’s asleep underwater…

"Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And He will send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.  (Matt. 24:30-31)

Doesn’t say anything about toast or mildew.  God does not do things halfway.  He is not a tame lion.   He’s got a flair for the dramatic.   He’s a God of burning pillars and parted seas, not potato chips and grilled cheese.

More even that the aspects of idolatry, and of diminishing the majesty of God, chasing after images and totems can lead you down a dangerous path, one which is based on deception.  If you are so quick to find solace in every "religious" icon you stumble across, if you are so ready and willing to believe that spirits are speaking to you through these manifestations, you set yourself up to be easily deceived by those claiming to speak for God, or AS God, but who are really agents of deception and betrayal.

"For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will mislead many…Many false prophets will arise and will mislead many." (Matt. 24)

Putting your faith in anyone, or anything except the Lord Jesus Christ denies the sovereignty of God and results in you serving and worshipping a creation, not the Creator.  Do not be misled!  Trust that God wants you to talk to HIM, revere and worship HIM, not a grease spot or a paint smear.