The Solitude of the Dusky Cave

When I first saw the title of the epic novel Cien Años de Soledad by Gabriel García Márquez, and got that it meant “one hundred years of solitude,” my heart leapt in anticipation. But 500 pages later, I finally grasped that the protagonists of the story didn’t get their promised seclusion; the title seems to have meant something else!

And let’s turn our thoughts to spiritual solitude.

For some believers, there exists a sweet solitude of the lone rider (“God and I”); but for others there is the hostile drawing into themselves (“I Alone, Without God”), an implosion.

We are all familiar with how Adam and Eve put on masks to hide themselves:

the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves. They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. (Gen 3:7-8 NRSV)

Now in fact, this was a symptom of an earlier refusal to live in God’s presence; they had turned a cold shoulder to God even before they covered up and ran away. The very act of eating the fruit was already a signal of their independence – not the emotional self-actualization of the adult, but the sulky leave-taking of the runaway child. (more…)

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John Wesley’s “Rules for Band-Societies”

Gary’s Introduction: this concept of Band-Societies was a small group dynamic, in which believers would volunteer to be accountable to one another. It has inspired similar meetings for almost three centuries. By the way, this was not simply a “lowest-common-denominator” group to share your feelings and that was that! These same men also gathered for two hours, four evenings a week, for rigorous study of the Greek New Testament and prayer.

Wesley’s Rules for Band-Societies, Drawn up December 25, 1738.

The design of our meeting is, to obey that command of God, “Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed.”

To this end, we intend.

  1. To meet once a week, at the least.
  2. To come punctually at the hour appointed, without some extraordinary reason.
  3. To begin (those of us who are present) exactly at the hour, with singing or prayer.
  4. To speak each of us in order, freely and plainly, the true state of our souls, with the faults we have committed in thought, word, or deed, and the temptations we have felt, since our last meeting.
  5. To end every meeting with prayer, suited to the state of each person present.
  6. To desire some person among us to speak his own state first, and then to ask the rest, in order, as many and as searching questions as may be, concerning their state, sins, and temptations.

Some of the questions proposed to every one before he is admitted among us may he to this effect.

  1. Have you the forgiveness of your sins.
  2. Have you peace with God, through our Lord Jesus Christ.
  3. Have you the witness of God’s Spirit with your spirit, that you are a child of God.
  4. Is the love of God shed abroad in your heart.
  5. Has no sin, inward or outward, dominion over you.
  6. Do you desire to be told of your faults.
  7. Do you desire to be told of all your faults, and that plain and home.
  8. Do you desire that every one of us should tell you, from time to time, whatsoever is in his heart concerning you.
  9. Consider! Do you desire we should tell you whatsoever we think, whatsoever we fear, whatsoever we hear, concerning you.
  10. Do you desire that, in doing this, we should come as close as possible, that we should cut to the quick, and search your heart to the bottom.
  11. Is it your desire and design to be on this, and all other occasions, entirely open, so as to speak everything that is in your heart without exception, without disguise, and without reserve.

Any of the preceding questions may be asked as often as occasion others; the four following at every meeting.

  1. What known sins have you committed since our last meeting.
  2. What temptations have you met with.
  3. How were you delivered.
  4. What have you thought, said, or done, of which you doubt whether it be sin or not.

‘John Wesley’s “Rules for Band-Societies,”‘ by Gary S. Shogren, Professor of New Testament, Seminario ESEPA, San José, Costa Rica

 

False Apostles are Smacked Down by Hurricane Irma!

Companion essay: “Why would a hurricane hit Texas and Florida and not, for example, Alabama?”

As Hurricane Irma approached Florida in September 2017, Latin America awoke to hear a number of its anointed prophets and apostles shouting, “You, Irma, go away!”

This is a manifestation of the doctrine known as the Prosperity Gospel, the Rhema Doctrine, the Word of Faith, and more recently, “Decreeing” = I decree such and such to be so, and it will come to pass.

Decreeing a thing and asking God to intervene in a thing sometimes sound alike, but they couldn’t be more opposite.

  • The prayer of faith is humbly asking God for help. Prayer is based on our trust in God’s power and grace.
  • The decree is telling nature (or money or property or health) that you yourself have the authority over them. Sure, the name of Christ is tossed in for good measure, likewise some prayers to God, but by definition it is not prayer. It is Prayer’s Evil Twin, Magic.

I have seen videos of a half dozen of these “apostles” commanding Irma to go away, but perhaps Miami pastor Guillermo Maldonado is the best example, and it’s in both Spanish and English. He ordered Irma not to cross the shores of Florida and told it: “as an apostle with authority over this territory…I command to the winds of the east, I command the hurricane Irma…I command you disintegrate, dissolve.”

CLICK HERE TO VIEW. He gets to the meat of it around 2:00

Now, what happens if Irma turns away from making landfall?

  • If God answered your prayers? Thank him, show him gratitude!
  • But if Maldonado made the hurricane go away? Thank him, by whipping out your credit card.

Let’s add one thing: people have posted these videos, after Irma hit, in the forlorn hope that at long last God’s people will see through this charade and stop giving these fakes the attention they crave. Or maybe these leaders will repent, go on TV, admit to being stymied, and give back your money.

I think I know human nature enough to guess that that will not happen.

What will the false prophets claim now? Some version of, “I, your anointed prophet, was right all along! So don’t blame me!” Perhaps one of the following:

  1. “Hurricane Irma would have been a lot worse, but my decree seriously weakened it.”
  2. “Hurricane Irma was in fact stopped, but, you know, on the spiritual plane, not on the meteorological one.”
  3. “I think the Christian attitude would be to help the victims, not assign blame to a godly leader. So, if you question why Hurricane Irma hit despite my decree, you are a bad, bad person.”
  4. “God told me afterward that Hurricane Irma was punishment on us for some thing or another, and so it couldn’t be stopped.” (Probably the sin will be a lack of faith. Which you can now rectify by whipping out your credit card, and operators are standing by to receive your donation.)

Of course, some people will combine many or all of the above. Ruddy Gracia hit 3, maybe 4 of them, now that I look at his post-Irma post, as does Ana Mendez. And people who point out the failure of their prophecies are hypocrites, liars, apostates. As in my prediction #3, above.

When a hurricane hits, it does a lot of erosion. But what storm, even a Category 5, can erode the arrogance of the human heart?

“False Apostles are Smacked Down by Hurricane Irma!” by Gary S. Shogren, Professor of New Testament, Seminario ESEPA, San José, Costa Rica

False teachers: a bad road to a bad end

Few individuals set out to be heretics.

But there are those individuals who believe the devil when he says they will get money, power, cars, houses, sex, bestsellers, huge crowds, lasting fame.

“Just give your doctrine a bit of a twist,” he whispers, “and in exchange for a few tiny drops of falsehood you’ll get a whole lot of goodies!”

Thus the father of lies dupes people in two ways: by fabricating corrosive false teaching; by roping in the gullible to hawk it.

He’s a con artist on both counts, and finds it jolly to eventually let “his preachers” hang on their own rope, choking on disgrace, recrimination, back-peddling, exposure, lawsuits, divorce, accusations, addiction, disease. And then the hard stuff: divine judgment. And the Evil One chuckles.

Says John Chrysostom, on Philippians 1: “Nothing is more villainous than the Devil. This is how he everywhere pulls people in to work on his worthless jobs, and then tears them apart. So not only does he deny them a reward, he goes so far as to set them up for punishment!”

Don't be a victim!

Don’t be a victim!

“False teachers: a bad road to a bad end,” by Gary S. Shogren, Professor of New Testament, Seminario ESEPA, San José, Costa Rica

Christians and “Coincidences” or Is There a Hex in the Patternicity?

This article has many images and footnotes; I encourage the reader to download it as a pdf here: Shogren_Christians and Coincidences

It happened just the other day: I had been thinking about James Bond, and later when I pulled out a form of identification for the bank teller, I noticed that my ID number began with 007! Was I a secret agent? Perhaps one suffering from amnesia?

Or, let’s say a man “has a system” for beating the Vegas roulette table. He has noticed that black has come up eight times in a row. So he bets everything on black, because “there’s clearly a pattern to the wheel tonight.” Meanwhile, a man across from him is thinking to himself, “I’d better put everything on red, since it looks like it’s due to come up.”

A child and her companion lie on their backs, looking up at the clouds. “That one looks like a giraffe!” she says. “And that one a camel!” “No, not a camel, look at it upside-down, it looks just like an octopus.” One child says, “An angel!”; another says, “Actually, it looks quite like Charles Darwin!”

We have all played this game without realizing that we were doing pattern recognition. As Paul Simon wrote many years back, in the song “Patterns”:

The night sets softly
With the hush of falling leaves,
Casting shivering shadows
On the houses through the trees,
And the light from a street lamp
Paints a pattern on my wall,
Like the pieces of a puzzle
Or a child’s uneven scrawl.

Leaves, shadows, trees, indecipherable scrawling – these can all seem like messages because of our human tendency for patternicity. So can tortillas and numbers and corporate logos, as we shall see.

This is why astronomers speak of the Horsehead Nebula, which was not modeled after a terrestrial animal, but just sort of looks like a horse!

From ages past, people have imagined patterns in the stars and constructed “constellations” of animals, gods, heroes. And we can get a cross-check on patternicity by seeing how different cultures “read” the same stars –  it’s Orion in European legend, but the same stars are a hunter and his dogs chasing a deer in India. Mr. Rorschach invented his famous ink blots on the basis of human pattern recognition (“Ummm…is it, maybe, two ducks kissing?” “Okay, Mr. Anderson, we’d better make it three sessions per week!”)

We are wired to quickly detect patterns in the data we see and hear. This is a huge help to get us through the day: when our alarm clock goes off, we don’t have to puzzle over, “Now, what could that buzzer possibly mean?”

But for some people, that recognition faculty goes beyond what is useful (more…)

It’s easy to preach against sins your people don’t commit

One of those, “Wish I had said this, in this way, but there’s no way I could have improved on this statement by Russell Moore

I think sometimes pastors and leaders simply take whatever they find objectionable in the culture and rail against it. They sometimes use the language of decline, where we’re in the worst situation we’ve ever been in before, and these very dire terms—which is not true. If you look at every generation of the Church you see older people complaining that the next generation is just going to pieces. That’s always been the case in every history of the Church. It’s fear-mongering. It’s easy to stand up and rail against other people’s sins in a way that can cause your congregation, or your Bible study group, or whatever it is that you have responsibility over, to think “Man he is really hard against sin,” when in reality, we’re just hard against other people’s sins, and we don’t have the courage to address the sins that are going on right in front of us. (emphasis added)

Gary again: preaching about THEIR sins is always going to be easier and less likely to get you fired than preaching about OUR sins. This may be why I have heard:

  • plenty of warnings against gay marriage, but little about the abuse that happens in Christian marriages;
  • a lot of denunciations of hateful Islamists, but little condemnation of Christians who hate the haters;
  • a lot about those lazy people on welfare, but little about Christians who spend every spare minute and dollar on their own recreation.

The Bible is a sharp sword, and meant to slice into Our consciences as well as Theirs.

Full article “Engaging the Culture in the New Year,” HERE. Russell Moore was for a while in the news, because he spoke harshly against Christian supporters of Donald Trump, but he is consistently one of the best evangelical spokespersons out there on public ethics.

Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission

Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission

 

Busyness is no excuse for being an uncommitted Christian

With all due respect to the original, this is my thorough paraphrase, condensation, and updating of George Whitfield’s, “Worldly Business No Plea for the Neglect of Religion,” Sermon 20 of his Collected Sermons

Matthew 8:22 – “Let the dead bury their dead.”

When Paul preached at Athens, he observed that they were “very religious.” But if he came and visited us today, he wouldn’t be able to make the same claim. Rather he would say you are very “fixed on this world” or “pursuing your careers,” so much so that you neglect or even ignore completely the one thing that a Christian needs to do. That’s why I will point out to such believers that they are too busy grabbing material things and instead must be fixed on their future.

It is so easy to be fixed on this world. We claim to be doing God’s will by working hard at our job, but we allow this to make us spiritually dopey.

“Let the dead bury their dead” shows how we should be focused on the life to come.

Jesus Christ himself said these words after he had called on a man to be his disciple, but the man replied “Let me go home first and bury my father,” which probably means, “Let me go and bring my business dealings up to date, first.” Jesus replied, “Let the dead bury their dead.” This means, leave the business of this world to people of the world, let your secular matters become unraveled, if that is what is keeping you from following me.

Image processed by CodeCarvings Piczard ### FREE Community Edition ### on 2016-02-09 18:12:50Z | http://piczard.com | http://codecarvings.com

We don’t know how this man responded in the end. But we do know that Christ is whispering the very same thing to people here, people who get up early and knock off late, and their income comes through stressful work. He says, “Stop fixing your heart on the things of this life (more…)

Love, sure, but during an election year?

A fresh preface to my essay, “The Forgotten Sign of the End Times: icy relations among God’s people.” I include here not only things I observe in others, but principally the things I’d like to root out of my own heart.

The Lord’s return may – or may not – be near, but no-one who reads church history would conclude that we clearly live in the last days. There are relatively no more wars today than throughout history (probably fewer), no more frequent earthquakes, no worse famines. And we have 2000 years of unloving actions on the part of the church to make our current lack of love seem mild by comparison.

Still, Jesus warned us in Matthew 24 that part of the future apostasy will be that “the love of most [believers] will grow cold.” And while 2016 isn’t necessarily the end of history, the fact that it is a political season gives us pause to gauge our level of charitableness.

The Evil One wants to freeze your helping hand

The Evil One wants to freeze your helping hand

The Enemy is pleased to put our love on ice, and he uses arguments both old and new to entice us to join in with him.

A few of his LIES:

“If you really have the truth, then you have the right to be reckless in how you present it.”

“If you feel charitable toward the needy, that is just as good as actually doing something to alleviate their needs. E. g., if you ‘share’ a post about starving children, that’s as filling as a sandwich.”

“Violence is tolerable, so long as it is doled out against the Other, not Us. Because They probably deserve it.”

“Using bad words, even from the pulpit, is okay, since if we love people, we need to get their attention, and fast.  If not curse words, then at least use sheeple, wingnut, moron, etc. Oh, and again, this is cool so long as it’s against the Other, not Us.”

“If you want to help a woman with an unwanted pregnancy, don’t worry about saving the child she is bearing.”

And conversely, “Keeping her from ending a pregnancy is the sole expression of love we need to show toward her.”

Take up your cross and follow Christ refers to abstract, spiritual things, not our daily behavior toward other human beings, and certainly not to our behavior on social media.”

“Hasty and off-the-cuff responses are sweeter to the tongue than slow-brewed wisdom.”

“It’s okay to hate the haters.”

“Well, they started it!”

“Those victims probably deserved it and shouldn’t complain, Our victims are faultless.”

“When people encourage us to act with respect to others, that’s just a ploy of the Politically Correct to shut us down.”

“We should love ‘our own’ first (family, neighborhood, race, religion, tribe) and others less.” [Note: Charity begins at home, while a Christian truth, is perverted when in Satan’s hand.]

Cynicism is a favorite of Hell, to despise the sinner, to make the Other the focus of evil in the world and the butt of “Well, what do you expect of Them?” The fruit of cynicism is sarcasm, sneering, suspicion, contempt, and given time, hatred. Love teaches us remain vulnerable, and endure and even embrace the pain that results from being witnesses to wickedness.

Christ was the one who was “oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth” (Isa 53:7), and he invited us to take up our cross and follow him, even during presidential elections, and he gives us the mighty Holy Spirit to rewrite the code of our mind to enable us to do it. This is what separates Christian charity from mere pleasantness or good manners.

But from all indications, Christian love apparently is meant to follow some weird liturgical calendar, by which the church allows us to lay it aside in 2008, 2012, 2016, 2020, etc., you do the math. That’s why Francis’s prayer of self-dedication, “grant that I may not so much seek to be understood as to understand” (see more below), strikes us nice and Christ-like, but only applicable outside of election seasons. Don’t eat meat on Fridays is sooo medieval; Don’t be charitable every four years is the new fashion!

I urge myself, and invite you, to take Francis at his word, in the run-up to the November election and in any season:

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.

CLICK to go to The Forgotten Sign of the End Times: icy relations among God’s people.”

“Should we be loving during election years?” by Gary S. Shogren, Professor of New Testament, San José, Costa Rica

The Pharisee and the Tax Collector, Part Two [Humor]

Capture

Are you kidding me??

My name is Gary, and I am a recovering compulsive kidder. Yes, it’s true. No fooling, I mean it.

Probably my ultimate attempt at “pranking” took place at the university. See, what happened is, I managed to get my hands on some official college stationary. I didn’t boost it, by the way! It seems to me that we found it in the trash. Anyway, I used it to write a fake letter to a student who had previously pranked me; in the letter, the department told him he might be getting suspended for being so immature.

Just kidding!

Just kidding meme

Another incident: years back I plotted out what would have been my definitive prank. A nearby Christian ministry was thinking of buying a piece of land, and it got me thinking: I started designing a mock-up for an “old newspaper article”, which was to recount how the property was the site of an old Indian burial ground and that, well, there was a long history of spectral appearances. I was going to stain it with some tea to age it, and then “discover” and share it with the purchasers at some point during the negotiations. And shortly afterward, of course, reveal it as a gag. But, I decided to wave it off. The Indian Burial Ground Prank was, I realized, beyond the pale even for me – I had finally found my limit. Or perhaps hit bottom. There are other anecdotes, but I think I’ll just hold off on telling them.

But those were years ago. Really, I don’t do that stuff anymore. Still, long after I stopped launching these weapons-grade pranks, I was still known as a “kidder”, and this is the gist of my confession here. (more…)