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Thursday, April 28, 2016

The Miracle of Life?

According to Merriam-Webster's Online Dictionary, a miracle is 'an extraordinary event manifesting divine intervention in human affairs'. Supernaturally speaking, a miracle is usually something that does not normally occur. Jesus' Resurrection on the third day, way back in 33AD was a miracle, as was John's significant rising from the grave. That the Virgin Mary conceived without knowing a man was a miracle, as was the conception of John the Baptizer & those like him ( Elijah ). Miracles are supernatural occurrences, yes, but just because they occur every day & through natural means doesn't make them any less miraculous!

You may have heard certain people speak of 'the miracle of birth'; well, now apparently, certain others, for some reason, are denying the miraculous, maybe because it IS an everyday occurrence & occurs through natural means! To my Christian brethren, I would say; 'look to the Scriptures'. How many times do we read about a woman who's womb God had shut up? ( Okay, so it's not that many! ) But when the woman had prayed to God, her womb was opened & she was able to conceive. Sure, there's a natural explanation to many of the miracles we read of in Scripture, but even though the Science of Biology has taken amazing leaps since the Days of Scripture, we can still see, as I would say to any other doubters, that the Spark of Life HAS to originate from SOMEWHERE!

The Theory of Evolution, with its insistence that we all came from a single-celled organism, climbing out of the primeval ooze & eventually sprouting limbs & walking upright, first as monkeys, but after several different stages, the human beings we witness today, is easily debunked! You may believe, as I do, in a form of evolution, but it would be more of a natural progression, an adaptation, if you will. Now, did the Creator begin with a lump of clay, as John Milton postulated ( from Scripture ) & numerous songwriters have wondered, or a single-celled organism? It's possible, although the majority of Christians would probably insist that, as Scripture seems to say, the first human beings had no belly buttons, in other words, the Creator God said the Word & POOF, there they were in all their naked glory & with the appearance of age ( 30 years )!

The majority of Christians out there would, in order to stay true to Scripture, would vehemently insist that, as our first parents were formed from the dust of the earth & then given the Breath of Life, so Adam & Eve had no parents of their own! Does it really matter in the grand scheme of things whether or not they had belly-buttons, or if they did, they were created with them?! Were they actually not technically the first humans, just our first spiritual ( covenant ) parents? It DOES seem to make more sense, with what we now know through the advances of Science, to look at it that way! While it IS possible that the Creator God simply gathered up a handful of wet dirt & breathed Life into it, but I'm pretty sure even the most simple among us, if we're honest with ourselves, know that probably ain't the way it happened!

Birth, from conception till the new child exits the womb, IS a miracle! From what we know of the whole process, which includes thousands maybe millions of sperm rushing toward the ovaries, ready to fertilize the egg or eggs that are there, the fact that only one of these actually penetrates the egg, beginning the process of the formation of a brand new human being should give us a clue. Who decides which one of those little fellas lives & which ones die? Is it really that simple? Does a man just randomly spew millions of tiny sperm inside a woman, trusting to chance that one among that ridiculous number may just happen to penetrate the sac? No, he knows from our study of Science that, at a certain time of the month, it is way more probable than at others that one of these seeds will find its mark & produce the desired result!

While one may certainly presume to speak of stages of human development, as the child grows & adapts to his or her surroundings, we may easily see from the same study of Science that human beings, though we share an amazing bit of our structure with them, did not evolve from monkeys! The question might simply be asked, 'why are there old monkeys?' Like the question of which came first, the chicken or the egg, it gets pretty ridiculous rather fast! Were Adam & Eve simply made from a lump of clay as a child fashions an elephant or a giraffe from Play-dough? I'll let my readers play with that one! ( Pun intended! )

To say that the birth of a child is NOT a miracle is beyond ridiculous; if one knows ANYTHING about the intricacies of what needs to happen, down to the minutes detail & I'm talking atomic here, about conception all the way through till the birth, that one cannot honestly say that it's not a miracle! Humans, in their finite wisdom, have struggled & still struggle, for ages to find a natural explanation for everything. To a great degree, they have succeeded; there is a natural explanation for MOST everything that occurs! This is not to say, however, that just because something happens THROUGH natural means that it is not a miracle, nor is this to say that nothing supernatural ever happens anymore. I'll leave my readers to judge that for themselves, but as for me & my house, we believe in the miraculous!

Charles Haddon Shank

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

'My Mom Used To Be My Dad!'

Before we even begin here, I want to make crystal clear that although I AM judging, I am NOT condemning any of those who may feel the sting of this judgement! I believe that, though there ARE special cases, like hermaphroditism & such, for the most part, those affected by gender dysphoria are merely acting in rebellion, for whatever reason, against their Creator. Now, with that said, I am NOT claiming to be an authority on the subject; by no means could I be construed a biologist, but I DO know & trust that our Heavenly Father, the Creator God, designed human beings in such a way that, put simply, copulation is the normal & natural way for reproduction to occur!

Of late ( the past few decades ), phenomena that had barely made the news previously has become increasingly popular. As Paul McHugh, a contributor to The Witherspoon Institute's website wrote, 'The idea that one’s sex is a feeling, not a fact, has permeated our culture and is leaving casualties in its wake.' Foremost in our minds maybe & most famously is the case of the man formerly known as Bruce Jenner, the famous athlete from the mid-70s. Not knowing his situation at all, I do not condemn him for the choices he has made, but I will judge that he was created a man & for him to decide that he wants to identify as a woman is very simply rebellion against his Creator!

I have a theory! My theory is that 99% of those who 'identify' as the opposite sex or seek sexual intimacy with the same sex ( male or female ) are merely reacting to the treatment they have received at the hands of the opposite sex. Several of those I have discussed this proposition with are more or less in agreement with me, but others are still convinced by the 'science' that tells them that this is natural. I won't be so bold as to assert that there is NOT a natural explanation for such phenomena, but I would say that in these cases even, natural evolution has been affected by bad chemistry to the point that it is the main culprit!

By bad chemistry, I  mean anything from a generations-old history of bad diet to a like history of making other bad choices to the natural perversion ( rebellion ) of mankind ( humankind )! Certain choices that we make, whether diet or lifestyle, WILL have an effect on our body's natural chemistry. The Creator, according to Scripture & what little we know of the science of biology, made humankind male & female. Though I will be the first to admit that procreation is by no means the only reason the Creator designed us to work this way, clearly, the primary & natural means for this, among humankind anyway, is obvious!

The question might be asked at this point, 'why ARE we seeing such a surge of people with 'gender dysphoria'?' 50-100 years ago it was almost if not completely unheard of! Why are so many seeking to lose their natural identity & 'identify' as someone or something else? IS it simply because they're not satisfied with their life as the person that they were obviously created to be? In most cases probably, though I WILL freely admit there ARE those who were born & have persevered with both the X & Y chromosomes, for whatever reason. We can speculate till the cows come home as to the 'why', but, clearer to some than to others, the answer must be that the natural rebellion of the creature against the Creator ( 'Why have You made me this way?' ), of the child against the Father, is still at work in the sons & daughters of disobedience!

'Is it natural for a man to be born in the biological body of a woman?' Obviously not; for millenia, the history of humanity has proven that men & women, aside from obvious perversions, have been attracted to the opposite sex & for obvious reasons! Apparently sexual intercourse apart from this natural order can be somewhat enjoyable, but as any honest person will tell you, NOTHING takes the place of this natural order! Phenomena such as hermaphroditism are doubtless a special case & so must be treated so, but for the most part, it is evident that the male's genitalia was meant to fit snugly inside a woman's. Humans have devised many ways for people to bypass the natural order, but it has become more & more clear that it is best to follow the Created Order, that which our Heavenly Father established in the Beginning!

Judgment is a very necessary part of life; in order to continue in this existence, we must choose, or judge, whether this or that is a better choice for us, whether this will harm us & that will heal us or keep us well! People make judgements every day, from the clothing they wear to what they eat to the company they keep. The problem presents itself when we begin to condemn others for their judgements & vice-versa, when others condemn us for the choices we make. The whole 'trangender', 'transexual', even the 'LGBTQ' travesty may be just that, but everyone must judge for themselves: I have made my judgment, but we cannot condemn them for their choices; their choices condemn them & yes, THAT IS MY judgement!

Charles Haddon Shank

Monday, April 25, 2016

'Out of the Frying Pan, Into the Fire'

Why are there so many Syrian refugees? Whether it's because of the fighting going on over there & most just want to get out of harm's way or because they're fleeing religious persecution, many, in large part Muslim, are seeking asylum in this country, as well as others. One would doubtless read or hear many conflicting reports & opinions on why so many Syrians are seeking refuge outside their own nation & even whether or not we should offer them that succor. Aside from any danger or threat that such a proposition might present, are we not instructed to offer our strength to those who need it? Is it not our Christian duty to love our enemies & do good to those who hate us?

Islam is not so different in it's organization than Christianity! Now, before you take my head off, let me explain why I say that; although there are probably not nearly as many forms of Islam as there are denominations within American Christianity, many of these Syrian refugees ARE doubtless fleeing, not only the violence that has taken over much of their Land, but religious persecution as well & while American denominationalism hasn't ( officially ) come to bloodshed yet, those who see ISIS as persecuting Christians to a great extent should realize that they aren't the only ones to suffer from the fear & hatred that has persevered in that part of the world for well over a thousand years!

Here's where I might really be asking asking for trouble & calling down death from the sky! It's no big secret that the U.S. Government, if not directly funding terrorists in foreign countries, has at least contributed, for political reasons, to many a terrorist organization. One might even venture to claim that much if not all of our Government's activities overseas are at least based in a sort of terrorism. Don't get me wrong here, I'm not saying authoritatively here that ALL of the U.S. Government's overseas actions, police or otherwise, are acts of terrorism, but much of their recent 'warfare' ( drone strikes in particular ) is aimed to strike terror into the hearts of the opposition, which sometimes includes innocent men, women & children!

In so many ways, the iron fist that the U.S. Inc. wields, not only overseas, but in this country as well ( more alarmingly ) is not so different than the governments of those foreign nations with whom they deal! Many of those whom they name terrorists are simply seeking retribution for wrongs, real & perceived, that they or their loved ones have suffered at the hands of the Government of the good ole U.S. of A.. This is not to say, of course, that this is always the case, but the point is that when we, or our Federal ( Central ) Government, rather, act in like manner to those whom they perceive as wronging them, more often than not, they are perpetrating the same terrorism against which they so nobly fight!

Islam, many Christians will tell you firmly, is not a religion of peace, but then, on the other hand, there are plenty of peaceful Muslims & others who would heartily beg to differ! As to the claim that Islam is not a religion of peace, I'm sure that any real student of the Quran could clear up that conception for them, but seriously, aren't there radical & fanatical Christians in our storied past who have shed as much blood on the authority of our English Bible? Much of what we call 'terrorism' is simply retribution; many of the recent 'terror attacks' that the world has witnessed recently have somehow ( coincidentally? ) been related to events that have happened in the past. Again, this is not to say that ALL acts of terrorism are justifiable, because there is doubtless evil out there, which we MUST overcome; we must however, take into account our own ( government's ) acts of terrorism, before we judge too harshly those of other nations & religions!

The main reason you will hear from most Americans, Christian or otherwise, for wanting to keep the Syrian refugees out of our country ( or state ) is that they might be harboring terrorists among them! This is definitely a very serious proposition & certainly must be carefully considered. We must also consider the fact that if we refuse them, not only might we be sending them to their death back in their own country, we might be simply creating more 'terrorists'. By coming here, we should realize, these refugees, peaceable as they may be right now, may suffer persecution just because they ARE Muslim & may then turn to their religion, as many do & seek to right those wrongs themselves!

I will not make a judgment here as to whether or not we should accept these foreigners as our neighbors; my readers must judge for themselves; I will however remind my readers of Jesus' instructions in Luke 6:31, 'just as you want men to do to you, you also do to them likewise'. If we wish for them to be at peace with us, we need to remain at peace with them. On the other hand, if we want them to turn terrorist and murder us in our beds, then by all means we should refuse our succor & turn a blind eye to their need. As American Christians, or rather Christians in America, we should consider well that we are, first & foremost, followers of Jesus the Christ & second only ( if that ) Americans!

What WOULD Jesus do?!

Charles Haddon Shank

Thursday, April 21, 2016

'Absent From the Body, Present With the Lord'

The apostle Paul wrote to the Church at Corinth that he longed 'to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord' ( II Corinthians 5:8 ). Previous to this though, he wrote 'while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord'. Contrasting 'absent from' with 'at home in', we should note that there might be more at stake here than mere physicality; for instance, while one may feel more or less comfortable in this biology, that one knows that this biology is, at best, temporary housing. Sooner or later, this physical body of ours, called a 'tent' ( II Corinthians 5:1 & 4 ) by the apostle, will perish & return to the dust from which it came: this is a biological fact!

'At home in', considering the context of Scripture, is quite an interesting phrase! Paul's letters, as indeed all of Scripture, were written to a People in Transition. These People were struggling with the Paradigm Shift of moving from the first, or Old Covenant to a New & Better Covenant. As they were to Jesus, Paul & the Apostles, the greatest Adversary of the People of God were the apostate Jews, those Judaizers who sought to cling to their Law & the requisite Temple & its trappings. To them, the Land & the Temple were 'home'!

Most Christians today look at these passages that are quoted & base their theology on a merely individualistic reading of them! Because Paul makes such a strong & plain statement, it is well accepted that, in order to 'be with the Lord' ( I Thessalonians 4:17 ), one must first pass from this life. But the apostle also says elsewhere that 'flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God'. From a very literalistic & individualistic reading of these words, it is abundantly clear that we cannot, after all, be present with the Lord unless we are absent from the body!

Let's pick at 'the body' for a bit; in that culture, like in this culture, the use of metaphor was common-place! When we speak of a person's 'body of work' we are metaphorically speaking of their portfolio, whether of art, music, or written work. We might also think of Paul's use of the word 'tent' to describe his own biology as rather peculiar. Although one's biology is rather temporal, like a tent, the heavy use of metaphorical language in Scripture should also put us in mind of the fact that the first 'temple', the tabernacle in the wilderness, was housed in a 'tent' ( Exodus 25 & 26 ). Was the apostle here making a reference to this tent that had once housed the Presence of God? Very likely!

The writers of what we know as the New Testament used several different Greek words which our English translators have rendered 'body' in our Bibles! Most of these are rather ambiguous when it comes to nailing them down as to whether the writers were using the term in a plain & literal way, or in a metaphorical way, in speaking of the ( corporate ) body of Israel, for instance. The 'body', therefore, that the apostle had in mind in these passages was not primarily his own or those of certain individuals, but of the 'body' which is in view throughout the Hebrew Scriptures, the ( corporate ) 'body' of Israel, that which had been corrupted & was about to perish!
 

In this day & age, we may well read passages such as those above & understand that Paul's usage of these terms indicate certain individualistic truths! While we may apply much of what he wrote in this manner, we must also understand that, as the Scriptures are a Covenant Book, so we must read them in the Light of that Covenant, or from a covenantal viewpoint. Thus, when he writes of the body, we should realize that while the apostle may use individualistic language, he used it metaphorically, to describe the body of Israel. Ezekiel 37 is probably the clearest passage in Scripture that speaks to the fact that this 'body' had died & was in need of resurrection. This passage describes the Resurrection of Israel in terminology not unlike that of the Genesis of Creation!

While it is very likely the apostle did long to be free of the physical constraints of his biology, we must understand that his primary concern was not selfish! Paul was in a lot of pain, both emotionally & physically; not only did his body bear the scars of numerous beatings, several of which well-nigh took his breath away, he also bore the scars of 'children' that were wayward ( Galatians 4:19, et al ). However, Paul's primary concern was for his 'brethren', the people of Israel. In fact, he wrote of them, 'I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my countrymen[a] according to the flesh' ( Romans 9:3 ) This is why he wrote later, to the Church at Philippi, 'I am hard-pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, [ which is ] far better. Nevertheless to remain in the flesh [ is ] more needful for you.'  ( Philippians 1:23 & 24 ) The thing to understand here is that Paul wrote these words during the transition period; technically, while the Temple still stood & the Law was religiously observed, they still labored under that first covenant, thoiugh the Blessings of the New were about to be fully & finally revealed!

Charles Haddon Shank

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Culture Shock?

A righteous [ man ] who falters before the wicked [ is like ] a murky spring and a polluted well.
Proverbs 25:26 

I doubt if there's anyone who could pinpoint exactly when & where it all began, but, as far as the good ole U.S. of A. goes, we might pin it on the birth of rock & roll in the 50s, with those crazy hip-gyrations & such, or the 'free-love' 60s, The British Invasion which came in the same era probably didn't help much either! Most Christians would happily attribute it to 'the Fall' & say glibly that the main reason our culture is in the shape it's in is because of our fallen nature. Whatever reason, true or false, that one blames the degradation of society on, one thing's for sure, with scourges like the infamous Roe V. Wade decision which opened the floodgates of legalized abortion ( child murder ), the burgeoning porn industry & endless war, along with plenty of innocent blood on our hands, it's abundantly clear that America, especially her 'Christian' majority, is under the judgment of Almighty God!

We've covered this ground before, but like Israel of old, the Church is tasked with leading the culture around Her into the blessings of the Kingdom! To some extent, through Divine Intervention, the nations were influenced in a positive way through Israel's ministry, though in the end, Israel herself suffered loss as a result of her own disobedience. Although we are not under law ( as were they ) but under Grace, Christians in America are tasked with the same ministry, that of leading the culture around them into the City of God. The Church has enjoyed & still enjoys some degree of success when it comes down to it, but in the past several decades, especially, Her failure to positively influence society is becoming more & more blatant!

Many Christian leaders, from everywhere on the spectrum ( of denominationalism ), are denouncing ( 'I'm outraged!' ) what is fast becoming the 'cultural norm'; homosexual marriage, easy divorce, the porn industry & legalized abortion. Part of the problem is that modern Christianity expects an ungodly civil government, through politics, to regulate what She herself has been called to moderate! This is not to say that the civil government should be under the control of any certain religious institution; history, with all the blood shed in the Crusades, the Inquisition, John Calvin's Geneva & such, shows us how well that works. No, it is the principles that Christ gave to His Church that should govern the Body of Christ & thus, the culture around Her!

Jesus told His disciples that, along with loving God, they were to love their neighbor as themselves & furthermore, that they should love their enemies & treat others as they themselves would like to be treated! Studies show that 'Christians' are right up there with the rest of the nation when it comes to devouring porn, murdering their children for their own selfish means & divorce among 'Christians' is almost as common-place as it is in non-Christian circles. ( To be fair, I must acknowledge that this does NOT apply to ALL Christians! ) When it comes to wars & rumors of wars; 'Christians' are pretty much on the front lines there as well, mostly because they have a false eschatology!

According to the majority of Christians, the world is going to hell in a handbasket! This mistaken view is doubtless much to blame for the institutional church's failure to bolster that positive influence which the culture around us had enjoyed up until 50 or so years ago. Because 'this world is not our home, we're just passing through', many Christians, both individually & corporately, have simply retreated into their respective bunkers. Thankfully & we must give the glory to the Creator of Heaven & Earth for this, there are those ( Christians ) who have not yielded to the demands of ungodlines & are doing their part to transform society rather than conforming to the culture around them & contributing to its degradation!

Christians, both individually & as the Body of Christ, are given the task of ruling with God! We are to lead, beginning with our families & radiating out from there, the culture into a Godly society. Rather than retreating from what most Christians view as a world that is perishing, we, as the Light of the World, are to transform that world by shining the Light of Christ into every dark corner, illuminating the evil that men do for what it is & showing them how to love!

We can continue to be outraged at the depths of degradation that the culture around us has fallen to, or we can Live in the Light & show the culture around us how to live in the blessedness of our Heavenly Father's Kingdom! As Christians, we can 'hunker in the bunker' & wait for some false messiah to rescue us, or we can buckle down & start showing the culture around us how to really party; not with drunken debauchery & sexual immorality, but with the Blessed Communion of the Saints in the Kingdom of God.

Which Christian will you be?

Charles Haddon Shank

Friday, April 15, 2016

Knock, Knock, Knockin' on Heaven's Door'?

Of late, it has really been hittin' me that 'heaven is in your heart'! No, seriously, this is not just another religious post ( ? ) about the fact that Jesus promised His followers that He & His Father ( the Holy Spirit ) would take up residence in their hearts. This is not just another feel-good post about how, if you FEEL like you're in 'Heaven', you'll BE in 'Heaven' ( relativity ). This post will explore all three options, how we ARE in 'Heaven' because we're in the Presence of our Creator, who is also our Father ( let THAT sink in ), that we're eternally blessed because of how we face life & how 'Heaven' is a state of mind ( quality versus quantity )!

First off, I realize that 'quality versus quantity' is a mathematical equation, so please don't even...................but seriously, as far as 'state of mind' goes; how often do we seem to hit a switch & the whole situation, our whole attitude, goes from 'I hate my life' to 'I fucking love my life' in less than 60 seconds? I'll admit, because this is often the way it happens with me, that our circumstances, whether it involves human beings or happenstance, usually determine our attitude towards life. Like it or not, agree or not, it most often happens this way, that our environment determines our attitude. Whether we like it or not, our God-given emotions, those bequeathed to us by our Creator, play a HUGE part in whether we FEEL like we're in 'Heaven' or 'Hell'!

Next on the chopping block; we cannot deny that when we face life with a certain attitude, the 'right' attitude, things just seem to be all 'roses', no matter what life seems to throw at us! Even if it seems that we have gotten the wrong end of the stick ( 'shaft' ), if we take it with a cheerful, care-free attitude, then 'it is what it is', right? 'Que sera, sera', what will be, will be! As much as we try to keep that attitude, SOMETHING's going to occur that will test our faith, to make us understand that it's not ALL within our own little power; we MUST understand that there IS a Power out there beyond us & thankfully, beyond our circumstances as well!

So, we're down to religion; 'why does it ALWAYS come down to RELIGION? Well, we've explored the fact that, when it comes down to it, one's religion is what that one believes! Some people's religion seems to be based on the consumption of alcohol ( 'I believe I'll have another beer' ); no, really, it's almost THAT simple: the trials of life, to some people, seem to be lessened ( or is that 'deadened' ) by the ( over ) consumption of alcohol, or other drugs ( anything can be used as a drug )! Don't get me wrong, I have nothing against the consumption of alcohol ( by no means, God forbid ), but alcohol will NEVER get you into 'Heaven'! Oh, it may seem for a short while you're in 'Heaven', but after a bit it will become obvious you're simply in one of the chambers of 'Hell'!

Is it really as simple as all THAT? Can a person really BE in 'Heaven' simply because they BELIEVE they're in 'Heaven'? Well, yes; Jesus said that when a person BELIEVES in Him & ( VERY important ) follows His Word, that the Father would love him & THEY would come to him & make THEIR Home with ( In ) him: is THAT not 'Heaven'? I dare say, 'YES'; even 'hell yes'!

Now, religion cuts both ways; if your religion tells you it's right to commit murder against those who don't believe like you do, then you're doing it wrong. When a person loves their neighbor as themselves & treats everyone the same way that they themselves want to be treated, then that person has learned how to live in 'heaven'. According to the orthodox way of belief, that person is not IN 'Heaven' unless he or she acknowledges & loves the Creator, but that might be another subject for another time.........................

'Attitude is everything'! It's a known fact that how we face our circumstances determines ( most often ) the kind of life we will lead! Many of us are given certain hurdles to overcome & depending on the attitude with which we confront those adversities, we may be seen to dwell in 'Heaven' or 'Hell'. Do we live in either place because of how we feel about it, because we believe one way or the other? IS 'Heaven' ( or 'Hell' ) JUST a state of mind? Can we be in 'Hell' one minute & the next, floating on 'Cloud Nine'? Well, sorta! If we're honest with ourselves, we ALL have those moments where nothing seem to go right, NOTHING seems to work in our favor! The next minute, though & it can work just like a faucet, our attitude will change & we realize that EVERYTHING, whether we like it or not, IS working in our favor; it IS all good!

Emotions, too, are a funny thing! How we feel about ANYTHING often changes by the minute, even by the second. We are taught not to trust our feelings & while that is sometimes not a bad idea, we ARE given those emotions for a good reason. The Creator has programmed us in such a way that our bodies know instinctively how to ( correctly ) react to certain stimuli. We are taught that is wrong, this is right & often what our feelings say are right are wrong, because of our fallen nature or whatever. However, while we SHOULD NOT ( necessarily ) trust our feelings ( 'follow your heart'? ) all the time, we SHOULD trust that those faculties that were bequeathed to us by the Creator were NOT given to us for no reason; they were given to us so that we could Experience Heaven!

Charles Haddon Shank

Monday, April 11, 2016

The Heavenly Vision; Reconciling the World

Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: 
we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God.
II Corinthians 5:20 

Before his letter to the Romans ( at least if bible chronology is correct ), the apostle Paul wrote this to the Church at Corinth, 'For if their being cast away [ is ] the reconciling of the world, what [ will ] their acceptance [ be ] but life from the dead?' ( Romans 11:15 ) The Jews of the first century A.D. were Paul's primary referent here, but many people, myself included, seem to think that we can rip this statement from its first century context & apply it to our world. Our English Bibles, in this case, use the transliterated Greek 'kosmos', which means simply 'orderly arrangement'. The question of whether or not this statement from Scripture can or even should be applied to the 'world' of the 21st century is not a simple one.

In the context of Paul's words, we can see that he is speaking of an entirely different world, the 'world' of the Jew & Gentile. Some would say that our 'world' is NOT so different, as we still have those who are 'perishing', in essence, we still have Pharisees, as well as those who are 'outside'! It IS rather hard to argue with this brand of logic, sometimes, because we DO have some ( Christians ) who would ( almost ) put the Pharisees to shame, there are those who have undoubtedly perished ( Hitler, Pol Pol, etc. ) & there are definitely those who, for all intents & purposes, remain firmly 'outside'. ( The question might well be asked though, 'outside' what?

If my readers are at all familiar with the 'city' language used by Jesus in the Gospels & perpetuated by John in the Revelation, then it should be abundantly clear that we, the People of God are the Referent here! Jesus referred to us, His disciples as 'a city that is set on a hill' ( Matthew 5:14 ) & John the Revelator saw the 'heavenly Jerusalem' or 'holy city', when She descended from 'Heaven' as the Bride of Christ. Zion was used, most famously in the Psalms to refer to the dwelling of God on Earth, or what we might know as His Temple. The City of David, or Jerusalem itself, was also refereed to as Zion.

As we get into the Greek Scriptures, or what is called the New Testament & the teachings of Jesus, we understand that the monuments we read of in the Hebrew Scriptures simply served to point to Something Greater! That Something Greater was, of course, the Very One who gave them this Good News. As the Body of Christ, we too are Members of that Something Greater. We are Citizens of that City which came down from 'Heaven' & in fact, are that City, as He ( God ) has established His praise in us ( Psalm 48:1 ). In this sense, then, there are still those 'outside'; if we, the Church, the Body & Bride of Christ, are truly the City of God, then there are those who remain outside the gates, so to speak!

The 'world' that the apostle lived in & wrote of doesn't seem, sometimes, to have been all that different from ours, but it was! Paul wrote during a time of transition, the period following the death & Resurrection of Israel's Messiah & the Destruction of Jerusalem & the Temple in AD70. This period could also be viewed as a time of cleansing wherein the mere symbols were being discarded so that the Greater Reality could shine the brighter. The 'world' that we have inherited sometimes seems dark & dingy, but the Light that we carry has shone in the darkness. Jesus said that WE are 'the light of the world' ( Matthew 5:14 ); we are here to shine forth that Light & dispel the darkness!

Jesus reconciled that 'world', the 'world' of the Greeks & Jews! Speaking of the Gentiles ( or Greeks, as some translations put it ), Paul wrote to the Church at Corinth, giving them hope that though Israel was being cast away ( for the moment ), their rejection would not be total, but was in fact itself a shining symbol pointing to the Life of the Messiah. The Reconciliation accomplished by the Christ was the Redemption of the 'world' of Jew & Gentile; our mission is the redemption of this 'world', one in which we must learn to reconcile with those for whom the Christ died!

Charles Haddon Shank

 

Thursday, April 07, 2016

The Vicious Circle of Cause & Effect

Jesus once said, 'Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you' ( Matthew 7:1 & 2 ); though this is one of the most popularly ( by Christian & non-Christian alike ) abused passages of Scripture! Most, if not all are quick to quote the first statement, but not so much the last. We hear ( from 'them' ), 'Jesus said not to judge', or, as we have noted recently, many like to say 'only God can judge me'!

We have noted previously, as well, that judgment doesn't necessarily have a bad, or adverse connotation; there is such a thing as a good judgment & though it will usually turn out to be adverse for one who is doing wrong, it  has the opposite effect on the one doing right! Take the Story of Job & his friends; though he sure was visited with what seemed to be some pretty adverse judgments, when the Lord finally revealed Himself to Job, it was Job's friends who were about to receive the adverse judgement, whereas Job himself was judged ( to be ) righteous & received the greater inheritance!

'What goes around, comes around', right? 'You reap what you sow' is probably one of the most famous & well-used statements based on Scripture! What a person does with their life is going to eventually come back around, either to bless them or to bit them in the ass. Doing right by everyone is not a guarantee that everyone will treat you in the same manner. On the other hand, being an asshole, treating everybody like crap is not a guarantee that you will receive the same treatment from them, but it is definitely a more sure way to get your ass kicked!

Most parents are more than familiar with this scenario; 'well, Billy did this to me, so I did that to him', or 'because she did this, I did that' ( sounds strangely familiar, right? ( Genesis 3:8-19 ). This is called 'Cause & Effect'; another well-worn ( though not as widely used anymore ) Scriptural injunction is, 'be sure your sin will find you out': the other side of this coin though, is that blessings will also find you if you pursue the way of righteousness. In neither of these scenarios is there a guarantee that either blessing or cursing will be the immediate reward, though that sometimes happens, but you can be sure that when you do wrong on a continual basis, it will eventually come back to bite you in the ass ( heck, even doing wrong ONCE can come back to bite you in the ass! ), but if you do right, be assured that this also, eventually, will return in kind ( sometimes sooner rather than later )!

For the most part, depending on the quality of the individuals involved, the law of cause & effect produces a vicious circle! One person ( the cause ) does something to another ( the effect ); in turn, the one who was affected often becomes the cause of another effect, which may be related to an earlier scenario. Billy hit Johnny, so Johnny hit Billy, causing Billy to hit Johnny again & on & on; the effect, both Billy & Johnny have bloody noses now! If Dad or Mom is there to stop Johnny from hitting Billy back, or even to prevent Billy from hitting Johnny in the first place, then the circle ( cycle? ) is broken, but as most parents know, this is not usually the way it works; most often, Dad & Mom find out that Johnny hit Billy back AFTER the blood is running freely!

Cause & Effect is not only a consideration for the way you treat others; it also has to do with how we treat animals or even inanimate objects! Anybody that owns an automobile, for instance, knows that if you regularly abuse it, you will likely have never-ending problems with it. However, if you change the fluids on a regular basis & follow the owners manual ( drive responsibly ), you will most likely have a fairly long & lasting relationship with your vehicle. Flora will react in much the same way, for example, if you water & care for a plant like you should, the effect will be that you will enjoy its vibrant beauty for as long as everything else works together for its health. Animals, dogs for example, are no different. For instance, the stigma that pitbulls enjoy can be true of any dog when their owner keeps them caged or on a chain all the time. It all depends on how the dog is treated as to whether it will be 'a mean dog' or a nice, good dog!

The circle CAN be broken! Whether you're dealing with human beings, animals, or inanimate things like trees & plants, if YOU are the one to stop the cycle by not responding in kind, then no matter how much anyone tries to keep it rolling, it will eventually fall flat, because the effect will not satisfy the one who wishes to cause the problem. If YOU are the cause, it's even easier to put the brakes on, causing the problem to come to a shuddering halt; by not, as they say, making an issue of it, the problem can be nipped in the bud. Hence, we come to the conclusion of the matter!

Like judgment, Cause & Effect is not necessarily a bad thing; it can, in fact, be a very blessed one! An example might be, 'well, she smiled at me from across the room, so I married her', or even, on a slightly darker note, 'He/she showed me much-needed kindness, so I decided that life WAS worth living'. The choices WE make in how any given cause affects us determines, not only if the circle will keep rolling, but if the circle will be vicious or not!

It's up to YOU; will you keep the vicious circle going, or will you bring it to a grinding halt? More importantly, will you stand on the side of good judgment & determine that the circle will be blessed & that it will remain unbroken? Choose wisely!

Charles Haddon Shank

Monday, April 04, 2016

Heaven in Your Eyes; the Human Touch

They say that the eyes are the windows to the soul: they're right! The eyes will tell you a lot about a person. You've probably heard your mother tell you to look her in the eyes before you tell your story, because it's difficult for one to look another in the eyes & lie to them; it's not impossible by any means, but it does take practice! Much can be ascertained about a person by looking in their eyes. To be perfectly, the eyes DO not lie; if one takes the time & has the ability to hear them, they WILL not be able to hide the truth!

This biology is transient; we will not inhabit it forever, that much is clear! Though we are Spirits, we HAVE been given these human forms in order that we might accomplish our Heavenly Father's will. As such, we are endowed with this sensibility, wherein we bombarded on a daily basis with certain feelings & thus filling us with the urge, or basic need to satisfy those feelings. Many people, to one extent or another, with varying degrees of success, have learned how to stifle those feelings, for various reasons. Their reasoning may be that these feelings are there because of the 'Fall', hence, our fallen nature, or, as Lois Lowry brought out in her novel, 'The Giver', they just hurt too much, causing nothing but pain & suffering!

We have explored, previously, why we have been given these physical bodies; we have been blessed with this humanity in order that we might use it to glorify our Creator! Our hands & feet enable us to do great things, from lifting them in praise & honor to using our feet to help the elderly across the street. We DO have the choice of whether to use them for good or evil, but it is this human touch which, in a manner of speaking, helps the world go 'round.

'The eyes have it!' It is with the eyes ( once they are opened ) that we are able to see the need for that sweet release that comes with the free expression of our feelings, or emotions. Empathy is the feeling that we ourselves receive when we see the pain & suffering of others; it enables us to feel their pain right along with them & usually drives us to do what we can to alleviate their pain & suffering. With just one touch, we can ease one's suffering, or we can make it worse!

Many studies have shown that both hugging & kissing not only release certain necessary chemicals in our own body. they help to engender that same healing effect in others as well! 'A hug a day keeps the doctor away'! Well, maybe not quite, but one could only imagine how much better life would be if everyone in the world received at least one hug a day. I'm not just talking about one of those cursory 'glad-to-see-you' hugs that lasts somewhere between a half-second & two ( measly ) seconds, either; I'm talking about those full body hugs that last at least 20 seconds ( pretty sure a shoulder hug won't release all those good endorphins ), one of those hugs that almost makes you feel like you're melding with the other person. In this sense, it almost becomes a spiritual experience, helping in the healing of body & soul, or spirit!

The best & most we can do in this biology is to lend the human touch, whether it's a simple hug or helping a little old lady ( or gentleman ) across the street! When we open ourselves to our feelings, yes, we invite a whole new world of pain & suffering into our lives,, because it goes without saying that not everyone is going to feel inclined to return the emotion, but it also starts the healing process. We are engineered in such a way that our bodies have natural receptors for these healing emotions & when we stifle them, we not only slow down our emotional healing, we also hamper physical healing, both in ourselves & others!

Sight is by no means the only way that we can sense distress in another; sometimes the Spirit Within will alert us to the fact this person or that is enduring some discomfort & sometimes it it is a simple touch, whether a handshake or a shoulder hug, that tells us of their suffering! No matter how we deduce their pain & no matter the cause, there is always a choice before us, as to how we treat their symptoms. Sometimes those in pain will deal with their own pain by causing others pain; we must decide how to react to that, but better yet is to decide beforehand to love that person in spite of their actions, even if they cause you great pain!

The eyes, however, are probably the clearest way that most of us have for seeing the pain & suffering of those around us! Through the correct use of our eyes, our naturally empathetic nature kicks in & thus the rest of our senses ( members ) follow, doing what we can to alleviate the pain. No one, if they're honest with themselves, likes to see the suffering of another; some will just turn the other way so they can't see it & there are those who have actually lost their senses due to lack of use, misuse or abuse, but most are still alert to the feelings of others.

Charles Haddon Shank



Friday, April 01, 2016

Temple-Building Versus Empire-Building; the Worship of Creation

All things bright and beautiful,
All creatures great and small,
All things wise and wonderful,
The Lord God made them all.
Cecil Francis Alexander


But Christ came [ as ] High Priest of the good things to come,[a] with the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands, that is, not of this creation.
Hebrews 9:11 

 Why are we here?

Many have asked that question over the millenia, in one form or another & many still ask it! For what purpose are we born into this earthly realm? Are we here simply to do our best until the day we die? This again engenders another iteration of the first question; 'our best WHAT?' If we are here simply to 'hold the fort' till we die, or Jesus comes back, whichever comes first, then what is the use of our being place on planet earth in the first place? Like one of the prophets said, 'Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die' ( Isaiah 22:13 ): the wisest man on earth once said, 'a man has nothing better under the sun than to eat, drink, and be merry' ( Ecclesiastes 8:15 ), but in the context of these words, he was describing life under that first covenant, not Life in the New Covenant!

First & foremost, of course, we are placed on this earth to render due praise to the Creator! The Creation, human animal & natural ( rocks, trees & hills ( mountains ) all praise their Creator, both by their natural beauty, intricacy & voice ( if they have one ). Over the years ( millenia ), but especially in the last couple of hundred years, the sentiment has surfaced that says that all that we see is random, that the so-called higher life-forms evolved from the so-called lower life-forms. These even say that the iniverse itself came to be by mere chance, that one little bit of matter ( hmmmm, 'where'd THAT come from? ) just exploded one day, setting of a randoms series of events & now we have our present solar system on the edge of countless galaxy & millions of miles of 'empty space'. Both these are so ridiculous & easily refutable it's hardly worth the time!

Empires come & empires go, at least as far as mere earthly ones! What we now know as the American Empire, greater really than all those that came before it, is simply the next iteration & in fact, one could easily prove, simply an extension of the British Empire. All the empires we read about in the Hebrew & Greek testaments were examples of earthly empires which contested with the heavenly for the dominion. Adam & Eve were commanded to have dominion ( Genesis 1:28 ), but pretty much since the dawn of time, human being have striven to TAKE dominion ( by force, if necessary ) of their fellow human beings, even the natural creation ( this is called 'raping the land' )!

The Covenant Creation model ( some see the Truth of it, some don't ) opens up a whole new can of worms when it comes to the formation of empires; if Adam & Eve were simply our first ( covenant ) parents, the first Adam, as the apostle Paul calls him, being our first Federal Head ( Christ, the Last Adam being our NEW Federal Head ) then what should that tell us about mankind's History of Violence ( empire-building )? If the first covenantal beings were to have dominion over those human beings ( represented by animals throughout the Hebrew Scriptures ) that were not yet aware of the Creator & His Blessed Presence, then what should our response be to those, especially Christians who support the building of empires other than the ONE established by our Heavenly Father in the first century ( Daniel 4-Matthew 24 )? Should we STILL be seeking dominion over that which is clearly under the dominion of our Heavenly Father? We ARE, I believe, still to exercised the dominion over what our King has placed in our care, but it is not by force of arms that we do this, but by loving our neighbor as ourselves & doing unto others as we would have them do unto us!

Worship is our Heavenly Father's due; as the Creator of all; He deserves the worship of all! Sadly, the Creator of Heaven & Earth does not receive the worship of all, at least not on the level He should ( much of what He does receive is more along the lines of the idolatry of Israel of old, where He was worshiped along with false gods ). Rather than worshiping the Creator through the loving reception of His most bountiful gifts, mankind has taken these gifts by force & used them to the point of abuse & beyond! The Creation itself, as the apostle Paul alludes to wistfully in his letter to the Church at Rome ( Romans 8:21 ) was liberated from the bondage of corruption, in the first century. This liberty was given to us, not to use or abuse to our own advantage & for the kingdom, or empire of man ( kind ), but in order that we might share it with our 'world', for the expansion of the Kingdom of Heaven!

In this biology, there truly IS, in a sense nothing better for a person to do than 'to eat, drink, and be merry', but even more important than one's own personal enjoyment, though often one of the biggest factors, is to share that merriment with others! This would include, not only our earthly fruit that we've earned, but most importantly, that spiritual fruit that we have been given, that which we did not earn. In this life, it seem that too many people, including some Christians, are so focused on their earthly fruits that they've all but forgotten that we are here to share our spiritual gifts as well. On the other hand, though, there are those so focused on leaving this earth when they die, that's all they seem to think about & work toward; snatching brands from the fire so they can go to 'Heaven' when they die!

We are here then, to ascribe worth to our Creator! the Creation itself worships the Creator; it cannot help but worship Him! By our very being, the worship of the Creator is established; one cannot help, with all honesty, but look at the Creation & wander at its Creator!  

We are here; let us worship the Creator by honoring Him in all we do & say, by having the dominion over that which He has given us, not by forcibly taking what we want!

'Seek first the Kingdom of Heaven and let the empire ( s ) go to hell!' 

Charles Haddon Shank