Thursday, June 23, 2011

1965, “The Impossible Dream”, Lyrics from “Man of La Mancha”: What Consider You?

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Written by Mitch Leigh (composition) and Joe Darion (lyrics) for the musical “Man of La Mancha”, the song itself was song by the character, Don Quixote, who is, in fact, the man or knight of La Mancha, in the play written by Miguel de Cervantes.

Quixote, by Cervantes’ admission, is not necessarily ideal but is symbolic of an order of an ideal which encompasses the real, noble, accidental, anecdotal and possibly absurd qualities of that class of man. He is by all expressions, a prototype.

Most poignant, however, for this blog entry are the lyrics of this fantastic song for your consideration. It was a #1 hit sung by Jack Jones in 1966 and of course re-ignited in the pop charts by Simon Gilbert who sang it for Peter O’Toole in the 1972 film adaptation of the play (Man of La Mancha) and recorded ad absurdum by pop artists in the decades that followed and still sung today in tribute to many notable people. However, in truth, its greatest attribution is without comparison and that is as a song about our Lord, the One Savior, God's Son, Jesus the Christ.

Feel free to listen here to Jack Johnson as he sings The Impossible Dream. Then, when you are finished, thank our God that His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, reached that Impossible Dream on our behalf.


To dream the impossible dream
To fight the unbeatable foe
To bear with unbearable sorrow
To run where the brave dare not go
To right the unrightable wrong
To love pure and chaste from afar
To try when your arms are too weary
To reach the unreachable star
This is my quest
To follow that star
No matter how hopeless
No matter how far
To fight for the right
Without question or pause
To be willing to march into Hell
For a heavenly cause
And I know if I'll only be true
To this glorious quest
That my heart will lie peaceful and calm
When I'm laid to my rest
And the world will be better for this
That one man, scorned and covered with scars
Still strove with his last ounce of courage
To reach the unreachable star

 
Thank you Holy Father, thank you. We are nothing and you are everything and you, only you, could do what is impossible. The Evil One lied, was tried and now protests and your rebuttal is immutable and impeccable. Thank you God of integrity.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Russell Moore, "Immigration and the Gospel": A Tale of Chagrining Theology



Russell Moore (bio here) recently published an article at his blog, "Moore to the Point" as well as publishing at the Christian Post entitled Immigration and the Gospel. Knowing Moore’s background and the influence of socially liberal trends in his circles, I was interested in what he would write on the subject. Moore, to his credit, is a thoughtful teacher so one simply cannot dismiss those with whom they may not share close theological proximity on all matters. He should be recognized and appreciated for the contributions he has and does make to the body at large. But in this case, he opted for self-distressing appeals which delivered a bag of illusions and fundamentally bad theology.

In his opening statement he draws the social and theological disposition of the average American Evangelical in a plea that oversimplifies and characterizes as buffoonish, their grasp and approach to the matter:
The Christian response to immigrant communities in the United States cannot be “You kids get off of my lawn” in Spanish. While evangelicals, like other Americans, might disagree on the political specifics of achieving a just and compassionate immigration policy, our rhetoric must be informed by more than politics, but instead by gospel and mission.
Well, I don’t believe most of those actively engaged in the process are so short-sighted. But for the moment let’s pretend Moore has a genuine fish on his hook. So he continues:
I’m amazed when I hear evangelical Christians speak of undocumented immigrants in this country with disdain as “those people” who are “draining our health care and welfare resources.” It’s horrifying to hear those identified with the gospel speak, whatever their position on the issues, with mean-spirited disdain for the immigrants themselves.
Why? If they are illegally here and are draining our resources what should citizens be doing? Celebrating? Disdain you say? Again, what should legals being doing, be happy that what they have earned and contributed to is being taken away by others who, by providence were born somewhere else and while they are permitted to immigrate here, have violated the law instead and want what they refuse to gain lawfully? But who is speaking of immigrants themselves, personally? They are speaking of them as illegal immigrants, not those who abide by the law. And if you notice in the quote, Moore foolishly switches from calling them what they are, illegal immigrants, to mere immigrants.

Possibly the greatest mea culpa here by Moore is his claim about our Lord:
This is a gospel issue. First of all, our Lord Jesus himself was a so-called “illegal immigrant.” Fleeing, like many of those in our country right now, a brutal political situation, our Lord’s parents sojourned with him in Egypt (Matt. 2:113-23). Jesus, who lived out his life for us, spent his childhood years in a foreign land away from his relatives among people speaking a different language with strange customs.
 Is this really what Moore believes? That there is synonymity between the our Lord’s parents obeying the command of God to escape to Egypt where, for the record, they were not illegally present in that country and illegal immigration in America? Egypt and Israel at that time were part of the Roman Empire. There was nothing illegal about their traveling from one country to the other, they broke no empirical edicts or provincial regulations (this is not to say all human governmental laws are divinely sanctioned, some require believers to disobey God and at that point, if such laws conflict with the believer’s faith, the believer is bound to obey God  And more so their not obeying government does not construe they are to be seen or classified as “disobeying government” because government is not commissioned to exercise such authority, hence they have disobeyed no authority, but this is not the case here, rather a side note).

Secondly they had not immigrated to Egypt. They were sojourners (which Moore does also use to describe them but one is not both an immigrant and sojourner, he is conveniently mixing contexts) waiting to return home. They were temporary residents, again having entered quite legally. This oversight by Moore speaks to an eagerness to placate rather then research and is certainly disappointing.

Additionally Moore plays to the crowd by demonizing those who object to illegal immigrants by describing their contentions as “lashing out”. What a rather self-serving characterization that of course denounces with such labeling anyone voicing concerns. But even more stupefying his is rationalistic feat where he states:
But this issue is far more complicated than that. Yes, undocumented immigrants are violating the law, but, first of all, most of them are doing so in order to provide a future for their families in flight from awful situations back home. Many of them are children (as our Lord Jesus was at the time of his immigration).
But this is the sad state of affairs in Evangelicalism in many quarters. Some insist Moore is a conservative in his Evangelicalism, he may be but this kind of “the ends justify the means” thinking certainly does not display any such position. It is almost as if I am reading an article by former President Jimmy Carter and getting a moralizing lecture from someone who is adept as misusing the Bible to make his point and does so again, here. This is simply awful.

Finally, as if to place a rotten cherry infested with worms on the top of his cake of mud, Moore delivers a most bizarre conclusion:
There will be a day when the United States of America will no longer exist. And on that day, the sons and daughters of God will stand before the throne of a former undocumented immigrant. 
I simply am astonished. Moore runs in many circles and some of them are circles of men who claim to be conservative Evangelicals. I believe it will be discouraging to fail to find a vigorous response by at least a few of such men who claim the mantle of conservative Evangelicalism. Whatever convoluted hermeneutic Moore is using to concoct this elixir of poison the only label I can find to place on it is “Atrocious”.

I understand compassion for those fleeing difficulty in their country is necessary and we, as a country, must be active in prescriptively, wisely and practically addressing the concern. But conflating the issue by referring to our Lord and his family as illegal immigrants or magically removing the word “illegal” to those who are here “illegally” isn’t the answer and Moore simply contributes “more” to the problem rather than using honest language while allegedly pursuing answers.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

The Story Thief: We All Know At Least One



Everyone has somebody in their lives; even a hermit has his other personalities or possibly even a volleyball named Wilson. And often, among our cadre of friends and associates, we have a story thief. That’s right, a story thief.

They are the kind of workmate, friend or family member that is a social parasite. They are unoriginal, a follower, inappropriately needy and narcissistic (though simply because they are these things does not mean they will be a default story thief, such inadequacies might manifest themselves in other ways and not in story stealing however, it is highly common to find such traits and practices in the same person). But what does this have to do with story stealing and story thieves and what exactly is a story thief anyway?

Well, glad you asked. Have you ever been in a small group and giving an account of an event that you found significant? Suppose, for example, you decided to tell about going to the emergency room and the long wait you had or an unpleasant or ironic interaction with your in-laws. And somewhere along the line either as you begin the account or into the middle of it after at least presenting the principles of the narrative the story thief strikes and takes your event and turns it into his or hers! It goes somewhat like this:
You: “The other day we went to the emergency room and you would not believe what happened.”

Story Thief: (Calmly but surreptitiously listens)

Others: “Yeah, go on.”
You: “Well, there was absolutely no one in the ER and no attendants to receive people.  Jim could have had a heart attack and died for all anyone cared.” (You now pause for acknowledgment and sympathetic response in order to conclude or finish your story or for any questions about your experience up to that point)

Story Thief: (Instead of understanding that it is his or her queue to respond to your story with questions or some form of interest, the story thief sees this as an opportunity to crudely segue into talking about themselves [narcissism rises]). “You know last year my mom and I went to the ER while on vacation in Maine and blah…blah…blah…”

Sometimes it might even be in a more rapid mode such as:

You: “I saw a great movie this weekend.”

Story Thief: “Really? My wife and I did to. It was the one about the blah…blah…blah…and then after the movie we went to dinner at blah…blah…blah…so next weekend we are thinking about blah…blah…blah…what do you think, would you guys like to go to?”

You have been cut out, snuffed out, eliminated and left behind. And that is what a story thief does, they steal social scenes of which they are not the star and turn them into their own productions. Why? They do so because they are immature, selfish, and thoughtless and whatever other synonym you may attach. Is it deliberate? Well, it certainly isn’t an accident.

It is true they often are not conscious of what they are doing but narcissistic perpetrators rarely are self-conscious, hence they would be surprised if not shocked to have the curtains pulled back and attention called to what just happened. In other words if you said to that person, “Hey, do you realize I am in the middle of telling a story and you simply stole from me my audience and the context without any respect to what I was saying?”, they would be slightly embarrassed since most likely such self-centered personalities tend to surround themselves with weak beings who will not confront them and they are not used to this. But even with this needful humiliation they would excuse it as an accident. But it is no accident.

Such behavior is the direct result of puerility, unabridged impulsiveness, and insensitivity. And why are some adults this way? They are this way because they choose to be this way. Therefore, the consequences of either shallowness or depth (positive consequences) are still deliberate ends whether one is conscious of them or not.

It is accurate to say, though, that sometimes when relating to those who are recalling events we rightfully do so with an anecdote of our own. But such a method should be just that, anecdotal and immediately seek to move back to the story and the interests of the narrator.

Back to the story thief. You and I have all encountered them. Maybe you were once one of them or this very moment you are having an epiphany concerning yourself; good, you aren’t alone. That is what is called maturing, growing up or taking responsibility for yourself and your function within this world as a contributor and an asset. Maybe you are  thinking of someone you know just like that and have never known just what it is they are doing but you now not only know what it is but you also have a name for it, story thief. Well do the world some good, call attention to it. Let them know what they are doing and explain with precision so that the next time and the next time and the time after that in which you have to tell them (don’t think one round of exposure will do with these types) they will be aware and with less excuse. It might actually force them to mature and best of all, you are enforcing boundaries with which they obviously have trouble respecting.

Yeah, story thieves!

Friday, June 17, 2011

Part 2 – The Parable of the Sower, End Game: Spiritual Miracle Grow ® or Not? It's Your Choice, So Says Our Lord


The Apostle Peter makes a declarative, in fact an absolute, statement about what God has given us so that we may grow and prosper as believers in this life.  He states in 2 Peter 1:3-4 (ESV):

3  His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence,

4  by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.

Peter reveals to us that when we were saved we were given everything or “all things” we would need in order to live a godly life. In this teaching we find the preeminence of the Word of God where the Apostle focuses in on the means by which we may partake in the divine nature, namely “his precious and very great promises”. Did you get that? It is not a mystical experience, a retreat to a nice resort in the wilderness, a pat on the back by the Pastor, hustling for Jesus or anything else that is emphasized here. Instead it is the Word of God as center stage for your matriculation into the divine nature (while that is not the sum total of what we have been given such as the resurrection of our spiritual person and so on, it is underscored here because of its seminal role in the process of our taking part in the divine nature and growing therein).

But before furthering our analysis, as a side note, we must observe that where Peter says “he has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness”, the verb tense for “has granted” is of weighty consequence. Most often with verbs we encounter a past, present or future tense. But here Peter uses none of the three; rather he uses what is called the perfect tense. This tense in the Koine Greek refers to an action in the past that is not intended to be repeated in the future because that past action carries with it permanent conditions which continue on into the present and future. In other words all that needed to be done was done and now we are to simply benefit from its permanent properties. Hence, we are without excuse as to having enough of God’s Word, enough of God’s Spirit, enough of God’s design for the dissemination and instruction of his Word and so on. We cannot plead that our reason for failing to mature has to do with waiting on God to deliver more, he has delivered what he will deliver and we are now to receive it.

The Four Hearts and Their Consequences

As we learned in Part 1 concerning The Parable of the Sower, (Luke 8:4-15), the soil represents the hearts of four different people.  The first person’s heart was so hard that it could not even receive the good news of Jesus Christ and as a result the devil removed it from him (and this Evil One does so by whatever means he is permitted with each person) and he did not believe and was not saved.  However, the remaining three did believe and were saved and all of them, as the parable teaches, “came to life”.

What distinguishes between the three that did spring to life (again analogous per our Lord for believing the gospel thereby coming to life, i.e. regeneration) is not whether they were saved but to what degree they matured or grew. And what we discovered in the parable is that it is not the deficiency of God or his lack of willingness to nourish and enlighten the believer which causes his spiritual poverty but the condition of his heart.

The Cases of Developmental Failure

Our Lord made it clear that the second and third persons failed to mature because something was amiss with the condition of the soil which is analogous to their heart. One had a heart which was softened enough for the reception of the gospel and limited growth but not too far underneath was hard so as to forbid strong rooting.  The other accommodated the presence of weeds and permitted, within the soil (his heart), the growth of other things which eventually served to choke the plant from its full growth. It did bear immature fruit but that is not the divine objective for the believer.

Why did these two fail to develop? Because they chose to allow either the soil itself to remain unattended, hence keeping it hard right below the surface and preventing vigorous rooting or they permitted the presence of other things which crowded and choked their growth. Obviously I am not presenting anything that is difficult to determine but it serves a very crucial point as it relates to the rest of Scripture and particularly Peter’s contention.

Our Hearts

If what Peter has proclaimed is true, that we have been given all things (and it is), then we have nothing left to do but benefit from all which God has given. Remember Israel? They had not been given all things; they were constantly waiting for God to advance them and the kingdom. Of course we now know that while God was pouring out and seeking to advance them, they sought to go backwards and failed to yield even to what had been given up to that point. But for us, we need not wait for more. The kingdom has been advanced, the objective conquered, the gifts given, the blessings poured and all we need given has been given! And particularly as it relates to our nourishment, God’s Word stands as not only a daily vitamin but a super-charged super-protein mix for our growth that needs no more additives. I’d call it Miracle Grow ® but I believe that name is already a registered trademark.
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However, if our hearts are like the above, no matter how many times a day, now matter how many ways a day, we subject ourselves to the Word of God the best it will render with a heart that is either shallow or dually possessed by wrong things, will merely be intellectually stimulating chatter for our own self-aggrandizing repetition or a nuisance to those other plants which represent opposing values to God’s intents but never will it be what it was meant to be, a nourishing and transforming agent for our lives. And this is what it should be.

This is the emphasis of our Lord Jesus in the parable. As he concludes the parable he makes his point by stating that one does not light up a lamp and then hide its light. In other words Jesus is saying “I did not save you to wither or bear bitter immature fruit” which is akin to hiding the lamp.

Back to Peter

Again, if Peter is true (and he is) then we have only ourselves to blame when we fail to mature. And when we think of all God has given us we must think about ourselves being that plant. Imagine for a moment you are that plant. As a plant what has God given you? For one he has given you his Holy Spirit which abides in you always. As well he has given you his Word and spiritually gifted men to instruct you in it. In other words, believer, God has given you permanent sunshine, rain, clouds and so on; all you need to flourish! And I have listed but a couple of the many things a believer is given the moment of salvation (not to mention justification, positional sanctification, eternal life…).

So if a plant has permanent nourishment and its caretaker lives not outside of the plant but actually inside the plant to insure the plant can receive the food it needs and the plant as been deemed irrevocably the recipient of all good things, what is left to cause the plant to withered or be choked? The only thing left his heart, his volition.

God always gives you opportunity. He does all the work and you do all the receiving but the one thing he does not do is make your choices for you. God does not make the choice for you to mature and then zap you with divine magic to make you do so. He has chosen for you to mature but he will not make the choice for you to produce within your heart the conditions needed to receive and benefit from the nourishment needed to mature. And so, with regard to your heart you have a choice, not just to be saved but to mature. But just like believing to be saved one must put aside personal ascendancy which means deeply tilling our hearts so that it may be uniformly soft and removing those things to which we give life and thereby act to deter our spiritual progress.  We must,  day in a day out with virgin soil, receive the life-giving, life-sustaining and life-enriching Word so that we may indeed bear mature fruit. The choice is yours to prepare your heart for full maturity or some form of falling short.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Part 1 - The Parable of the Sower : Three Hearts Believed Though All Did Not Reach Maturity, So Says our Lord

At dispute here is the Calvinist doctrine of “Perseverance”. Calvinism teaches that perseverance is the necessity that if one is saved they will persist in fruit bearing during their life as a believer. In other words, they reject the view that one can be saved and either not bear fruit or bear fruit in some fashion that is too limited for evidence of their salvation.

So this brings us to the parable in Luke 8:4-15:

While a large crowd was gathering and people were coming to Jesus from town after town, he told this parable: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path; it was trampled on, and the birds ate it up. Some fell on rocky ground, and when it came up, the plants withered because they had no moisture. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up with it and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up and yielded a crop, a hundred times more than was sown.”
When he said this, he called out, “Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.”
His disciples asked him what this parable meant. 10 He said, “The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of God has been given to you, but to others I speak in parables, so that,
“‘though seeing, they may not see;
    though hearing, they may not understand.’[a]
11 “This is the meaning of the parable: The seed is the word of God. 12 Those along the path are the ones who hear, and then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. 13 Those on the rocky ground are the ones who receive the word with joy when they hear it, but they have no root. They believe for a while, but in the time of testing they fall away. 14 The seed that fell among thorns stands for those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by life’s worries, riches and pleasures, and they do not mature. 15 But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop.

The most critical observation is understanding that two categories of response to the gospel are presented in the parable. Verse 5 has one category where the seed did not spring up and verses 6-8 have another category in the parable of three that did spring up. All three in the second category are treated as coming to life through springing up (which is exactly what springing up is, coming to life). Their processes of growth after they have come to life is what distinguishes between the three as opposed to distinguishing the three that came to life from the one that never came to life but was devoured.

Let's take a careful look at the passage to see what I am talking about:

1. Did not come to life.
5 A sower went out to sow his seed: and as he sowed, some fell by the way side; and it was trodden down, and the fowls of the air devoured it.
11 Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God.
12 Those by the way side are they that hear; then cometh the devil, and taketh away the word out of their hearts, lest they should believe (pisteuo) and be saved.

2. Came to life, "SPRUNG UP" but did not progress beyond infancy.
6 And some fell upon a rock; and as soon as it was sprung up (phuo), it withered away, because it lacked moisture.
13 They on the rock are they, which, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no root, which for a while believe (pisteuo), and in time of temptation fall away.

3. Came to life, "SPRANG UP" came to life but did not grow beyond adolescence and bore no mature fruit (fruit to perfection).
7 And some fell among thorns; and the thorns sprang up (sumphuo) up with it, and choked it.
14 And that which fell among thorns are they, which, when they have heard, go forth, and are choked with cares and riches and pleasures of this life, and bring no fruit to perfection.

4. Came to life, "SPRANG UP". Mature believer.
8 And other fell on good ground, and sprang up (phuo), and bare fruit an hundredfold. And when he had said these things, he cried, He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.
15 But that on the good ground are they, which in an honest and good heart, having heard the word, keep it, and bring forth fruit with patience.
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The word believe used in case #1 is pisteuo and is clearly talking about faith in the gospel which results in salvation. But that never happens in case #1. We know this because in vs 12 our Lord says that the devil took the word from their heart lest they believe and be saved.

But as we look further at the parable we then see (#2) the one that withered, (#3) the one that was choked, (#4) and the one that bore fruit are treated as springing up (that is coming to life). Case #1, the one that had the seed removed, is the only one that is treated as having never come to life (lest they believe and be saved).

So if the 2nd one "SPRUNG UP" and the 3rd and 4th ones "SPRANG UP", you have a problem claiming any one of these did not come to life (which is of course only possible by means of believing the gospel or receiving the seed as the analogy presents which is what brings life) when they are all three treated identically regarding their coming to life and only the 1st is treated otherwise.

Summation:
1. Never came to life-Did not believe and be saved.
2. SPRUNG UP (phuo)-Came to life but did not progress beyond spiritual infancy.
3. SPRANG UP (sumphuo)-Compound word means the same as the root word phuo but to come up together with something else (as the text noted it came up with the thorns). Came to life but did not progress beyond spiritual adolescence (immature fruit).
4. SPRANG UP (phuo)-Came to life and bore mature fruit. 

Let's Consider

Now, let me ask those of you who might be squirming in your seats because you have been taught otherwise and are convinced that it is impossible for the 2nd and 3rd persons in our Lord's parable to have been saved. Do you really believe that our Lord would go to the lengths he did to specifically point out that the 1st person did not believe and therefore was not saved and yet neglect to inform you of the true spiritual condition of the next two? Is this what you really believe?

Because this is what is implied with the assertion that the 2nd and 3rd persons were not really saved. Our Lord made it clear to us that the first person was not saved because he did not receive the seed (that is believe and as a result be saved) but somehow neglected to tell us that the other two were not saved (though just like the last they received the seed and came to life, that is believed and were saved) after being quite specific with the first? Really?

As well, one must believe that as Christ treats persons 2-4 identically as receiving the word (the seed) and coming to life (being born again/regenerated) we are now to find encoded in this language an antithetical intent by our Lord that the 2nd and 3rd persons were not really saved after all. Is this genuinely the position you want to find yourself in as you attempt to explain this passage as only the last person being saved?

What About "Believe for a while but in time of temptation fall away"?

While for some this phrase in the English conjures up appeals to perseverance what we must ask is not to what thought or doctrine in some system can we connect it and thereby interpret it via eisegesis (reading a meaning into a text) but what it really means in context. So let's look.

The word for believe is a present tense verb which means to keep on believing. It represents the continued exercise of one's faith not simply towards the gospel but toward all of God's Word.  In other words it refers to the post-salvational way of life for the Christian which is to continue past their reception of the gospel and move toward learning and applying sound doctrine. 

This person is said to, in fact, do this. So for a while (albeit not a very long while) they continue in their walk of faith. But at some point the pressure of the world, in their mind, becomes too much and in this season of pressure they wither, draw back or fall away. The unnecessary confusion comes mostly with this expression, fall away. Many import the idea that this must refer to falling away from their salvation or potential salvation. No! This simply refers to their falling away from continued growth or continued reception of sound doctrine which is the context of the statement. One cannot grow spiritually in any capacity if they are not alive spiritually and to claim that this person both came to life and grew even a little bit it but was not really alive at all is simply an outrageous claim against the context.

*Now the condition of the hearts of all four of these people in the parable is very relevant and must also be addressed.  This particular issue, which is possibly most significant once one gets passed the erring interpretations and understands the context, will be covered in Part 2.

Conclusion

It is clear that some believers do not grow beyond spiritual infancy or adolescence. One cannot spring up and be characterized as coming to life and then somehow not have really come to life. These contradictions aren’t only unreasonable but defy truthfulness.