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Why Political Speech Is Inappropriate from the Pulpit!

For years now, I have been criticizing the preaching of politics from the pulpit. Why? What's so wrong with talking about issues and can...

Monday, March 23, 2020

God, the Coronavirus, Faith and Courage

A friend sent me a post by David French entitled "Coronavirus, Courage and the Second Temptation of Christ" that hit the proverbial nail on the head regarding the attitude Christians should have with respect to the pandemic we now face. In light of the fact that many pastors have been reluctant or unwilling to temporarily cancel worship services, I thought it would be instructive to share some of the insights contained in French's post.

He opened his piece by quoting two scriptures from the Gospel of Matthew. The first concerned the second temptation of Christ by Satan: "Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, 'If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written, 'He will command his angels concerning you,’ and 'On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’ Jesus said to him, 'Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’” - Matthew 4:5-7 The second scripture involved some instructions that Jesus gave to his disciples later in his ministry. He told them, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it." - Matthew 16:24-26

French then goes on to recount the story of a fundraiser that was held earlier this month on behalf of a Christian school near his home. Unfortunately, one of the folks attending the fundraiser had the coronavirus and infected two dozen of the other folks in attendance. The point of the story: "The faith of these Christian believers was no shield against viral infection."

This is followed by a couple of examples of pastors who have openly defied the state's order against large assemblies. French continues: "Even within those churches that have chosen to comply with public health warnings and temporarily cancel services, there are rumblings of dissent and discontent. You see it all over social media. And whether sophisticated or simple, these impulses toward defiance are virtually all grounded in a similar question: Why should Christians surrender to fear? People of faith should reject the guidance of public officials. Our gatherings are different. After all, isn’t it true that 'God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control'?"

Would anyone have the audacity to say that Jesus Christ was fearful in the way that he handled Satan's second temptation? Should Christ have had the courage to jump?

French reminds us that "There exists within Christianity a temptation to performative acts that masquerade as fearlessness. In reality, this recklessness represents—as the early church father John Chrysostom called it—'display and vainglory.' Look how fearless we are, we declare, as we court risks that rational people should shun. In the context of a global pandemic followers of Christ can actually become a danger to their fellow citizens, rather than a source of help and hope."

French then proceeds to remind Christians what their true responsibility in this crisis looks like. He wrote: "But just as Christ rejected performative displays, he also rejected cowardice. He demands sacrifice even unto death. Yet taking up one’s cross in imitation of Christ means engaging in purposeful sacrifice. This is the risk of the doctor or the nurse who possesses the courage to continually expose himself or herself to deadly disease to care for the sick and dying. This is the risk of the faithful believer who sheds personal protection to care for the least of these so that they are not alone."

In other words, at some point in this crisis, you may be required to care for or comfort the sick and dying. You may have to check on or offer assistance to those who are isolated and vulnerable. BUT, in keeping with the example set by your Lord and Savior, God does not expect you to jump! In other words, recklessness has never equaled courage or faith.  

Saturday, March 21, 2020


In CGI’s latest Armor of God “Web Chat” (Signals & Signs of the Devil), Bill Watson and Mike James discuss the pervasive influence of Satan on American culture. According to them, “What is so insidious about this being, known as the devil and his kingdom of demons, are his methods—they are so subtle! His influences are so hard to identify when contending with laws and circumstances that now have normalized and legalized so much evil and, sadly, are currently so acceptable to the moral relativism and postmodern thinking we are presently experiencing. As a matter of fact, it’s hard to believe just how much of his operations and involvement are in our face! Frankly, unless you are ‘woken’ (aware and alerted) to his ‘signals and signs’ you will never recognize just how close and interactive you are to his participation in something that you may be involved with—but unaware of the influence his ways may be having on you, your children, or family and friends. It’s both astonishing and surreal, but disturbing at the same time.”

It turns out that much of the ensuing conversation is centered around an article (The Occult and Satanism in America) that appeared on the website of The American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property (a self-described “organization of lay Catholic Americans concerned about the moral crisis shaking the remnants of Christian civilization”). In the preface to the article, we are informed that: “This article-report is based on studies by the author as well as an interview with ex-Satanist Zachary King. It is meant to raise awareness regarding the growing popularity of the occult and Satanism in America, its threat to our children and how society is being transformed to be more accepting of the devil.” The author of the article then goes on to assert that witchcraft is the fourth largest religion in the United Sates – WHAT? Then, after explaining how Satanists desecrate Catholic rituals, the author asserts without offering ANY proof that “satanic high priests today will assist in an abortion and offer the killing of the baby to the devil. Lawyers are consulted to make sure everything is done according to the law. In addition, many high priests dedicate all the abortions in the world to the devil every night during the witching hour.” (For the record, I am personally opposed to abortion, BUT REALLY?) see https://www.tfp.org/the-occult-and-satanism-in-america/

Although Mr. Watson seeks to assure his audience that he isn’t promoting crazy conspiracy theories based on dubious sources, he then proceeds to show the audience an FBI document showing symbols used by pedophiles and the organizations which they have founded to promote their perversity. “What does this have to do with the subject at hand?” you may ask. Pastor Watson next produces an image of Disney’s Moana and would have us believe that the symbol which represents the heart of Te Fiti in the movie is actually one of the symbols pictured on the FBI’s pedophilia page! Next, Mr. Watson treats his audience to a panoply of images of celebrities giving what he interprets as a Satanic sign with their fingers. At first glance, such an assertion may seem ridiculous and pointless. Nevertheless, if we think about what might underpin Pastor Watson’s speculation, it does fit the religious right’s narrative about Hollywood’s alliance with the evil “liberal/progressive” agenda.

Of course, an Armstrong Church of God program on this subject wouldn’t be complete without at least one reference to Revelation 12:9! Surprisingly, it didn’t escape Mr. James’ attention that the referenced scripture also applied to Mr. Watson and himself. Indeed, it is an integral part of Armstrong theology that Satan has deceived the whole world and is ultimately responsible for all human sin. It is, however, rare for an Armstrongite to acknowledge that that deception might also apply to him/her!

From my perspective, Herbert Armstrong and his followers have attributed way too much power and authority to Satan. They love to quote the fourteenth chapter of Isaiah, but they arbitrarily cut off their citation before the prophet completes his thought. We read there: “How you are fallen from heaven, O shining star, son of the morning! You have been thrown down to the earth, you who destroyed the nations of the world. For you said to yourself, ‘I will ascend to heaven and set my throne above God’s stars. I will preside on the mountain of the gods far away in the north. I will climb to the highest heavens and be like the Most High.’ Instead, you will be brought down to the place of the dead, down to its lowest depths.” See Isaiah 14:12-15

The same could be said of that other favorite of Armstrongites when they talk about Satan - found in the twenty-eighth chapter of Ezekiel. We read there: “You were the model of perfection, full of wisdom and exquisite in beauty. You were in Eden, the garden of God. Your clothing was adorned with every precious stone— red carnelian, pale-green peridot, white moonstone, blue-green beryl, onyx, green jasper, blue lapis lazuli, turquoise, and emerald—all beautifully crafted for you and set in the finest gold. They were given to you on the day you were created. I ordained and anointed you as the mighty angelic guardian. You had access to the holy mountain of God and walked among the stones of fire. ‘You were blameless in all you did from the day you were created until the day evil was found in you. Your rich commerce led you to violence, and you sinned. So I banished you in disgrace from the mountain of God. I expelled you, O mighty guardian, from your place among the stones of fire. Your heart was filled with pride because of all your beauty. Your wisdom was corrupted by your love of splendor. So I threw you to the ground and exposed you to the curious gaze of kings. You defiled your sanctuaries with your many sins and your dishonest trade. So I brought fire out from within you, and it consumed you. I reduced you to ashes on the ground in the sight of all who were watching. All who knew you are appalled at your fate. You have come to a terrible end, and you will exist no more.” See Ezekiel 28:12-19

Thus, from the perspective of these two prophets (Isaiah and Ezekiel), Satan will one day face extermination! In the words of Ezekiel, he “will exist no more.” This is also consistent with Satan and his minions being thrown into the Lake of Fire (which is the second or ultimate death). See Revelation 20 This is also consistent with there not being ANY anguish or pain that will be part of the new world which John informs us that God intends to create at the conclusion of all things. See Revelation 21

Unfortunately, Herbert Armstrong’s interpretation of the symbolism surrounding the Israelites’ Day of Atonement observances was in large part responsible for his followers’ skewed perspective on Satan and his powers. By equating the Azazel with Satan, he made Satan responsible for all of their sins (and, by extension, ours). This line of REASONING reminds me of the comedian Flip Wilson’s famous line that “the devil made me do it!” The Biblical principle, however, is clearly that each and every one of us is responsible for our own sins! See Ezekiel 18, especially verse 20 In keeping with this exalted view of Satan and his abilities, I’ve notice that Armstrongites often seem to overlook James’ admonition to “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” See James 4:7

Of course, the notion that Satan might have a deleterious impact on the human psyche is not peculiar to Armstrongism. In Valdesolo’s “The Psychological Power of Satan” see https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/psychological-power-satan/, we read that our beliefs about Satan can be indicative of our thinking about a whole host of issues. Valdesolo reports that “BPE <Belief in Pure Evil) predicts such effects as: harsher punishments for crimes (e.g. murder, assault, theft), stronger reported support for the death penalty, and decreased support for criminal rehabilitation. Follow-up studies corroborate these findings, showing that BPE also predicts the degree to which participants perceive the world to be dangerous and vile, the perceived need for preemptive military aggression to solve conflicts, and reported support for torture.”

 Valdesolo goes on to assert that “if we accept the message from decades of social psychological research, that at least some instances of violence and malice are not the result of ‘pure evil’ — that otherwise decent individuals can, under certain circumstances, be compelled to commit horrible acts, even atrocities — then the results of these studies serve as an important cautionary tale. The longer we cling to strong beliefs about the existence of pure evil, the more aggressive and antisocial we become.  And we may be aggressing towards individuals who are, in fact, ‘redeemable.’  Individuals who are not intrinsically and immutably motivated by the desire to intentionally cause harm to others. That may be the greatest trick the devil has ever pulled.”

The notion that Satan continues to have a profound impact on our society and culture is also not confined to Armstrong and his followers. Scientific studies have been performed that demonstrate that a large percentage of Americans still attribute negative events to Satan. See https://www.researchgate.net/publication/270881426_Attributions_to_God_and_Satan_About_Life-Altering_Events Likewise, those who have studied the impact of Milton’s Paradise Lost on our notions about Satan are quick to point out parallels to some of our most cherished American notions about ourselves.

In an article (What’s So ‘American’ About John Milton’s Lucifer?) from a 2017 edition of The Atlantic, we read that “Milton’s Lucifer can be read as a kind of modern, American antihero, invented before such a concept really existed. Many of the values the archangel advocates in Paradise Lost—the self-reliance, the rugged individualism, and even manifest destiny—are regarded as quintessentially American in the cultural imagination.”

The author goes on to say that “Milton’s Lucifer is neither bestial, a reptilian Other, nor the goofy incompetent of a medieval morality play; rather, he’s a conflicted, brooding, alienated, narcissistic self-mythologizer. In other words, he’s a thoroughly modern man, and in a country as preoccupied with modernity as the United States is, he’s arguably an honorary ‘American’ as a result. Milton’s fellow countryman, the novelist D.H. Lawrence, remarked in his under-read 1923 Studies in Classic American Literature that, ‘The essential American soul is hard, isolate, stoic, and a killer. It has never yet melted.’ The novelist had in mind not just the pioneer clearing lands that do not belong to him, but also the honey-worded con man who can justify his crimes in the sweetest language.”

Perhaps Mr. Watson and Mr. James are more correct about Satan’s influence on America than they would care to imagine! It is also possible that they have not thought through all of the logical implications of what they are saying about this powerful cherub! Moreover, in light of the sources which they chose to use and cite in their chat, they may want to consider using more reputable sources in the future. After all, as they themselves have pointed out, Satan is quite capable of deceiving/misleading everyone (including them)!
--Miller Jones

Is This Christian?

A few days ago, Gary posted an article by me about CGI’s obsession with the subject of homosexuality (as evidenced by three articles dealing with the subject in their sixteen-page church magazine). One of the responses to that piece caught my attention:
Anonymous said...
well Lonnie, we have a saying down here...."hurt dog hollers"

guess you got stung.

and no, we in The Church are not afraid of homosexuals, we fear for them.

God does not accept that behavior, and no amount of whining will change that.

repentance is an option, though.
March 17, 2020 at 7:43 AM

I suppose the initial sentence was meant to refer to my final separation from the Church of God International. For those who may be unfamiliar with the circumstances surrounding that event, I would like to elaborate on exactly what happened.

After attending worship services with Seventh Day Baptists and an unaffiliated Church of God Seventh Day for many years, Darlene and I began attending services at the Fayetteville CGI shortly after we moved to Arkansas from Alabama. The pastor of that congregation was aware that I had regularly spoken to both groups and asked me to begin speaking to his congregations (he was also the pastor of note for Fort Smith). I reluctantly agreed to do so to help him to better shoulder his responsibilities, but I also made it plain to him that I had no burning desire or need to speak before anyone. During this same period, I also wrote several articles for The International News on a variety of topics. In both circumstances, I NEVER contradicted CGI’s statement of beliefs – NOT ONCE! Moreover, I NEVER received ANY compensation for ANY of the things which I contributed to that church (I even refused the small stipend for writing articles which was customary at the time).

Even so, after a few years of doing this, an opportunity opened to me to publish an article for Dixon Cartwright’s The Journal, which would explore my views on human sexuality. That article, along with a subsequent article, were independent projects of my own and were NEVER submitted to ANYONE at CGI for their perusal, opinion or commentary. Nevertheless, I knew that my comments in that publication would not go unnoticed (or be well-received) by the folks at CGI. If anyone ever needed proof that what is published by the ACOG dissidents is closely monitored by those organizations, here is a case in point!

Although I hadn’t been able to speak for many months (due to a thyroid condition), it was made clear to me that my speaking and writing abilities would not be needed anymore after the articles were published. I guess that’s what the commentator which I quoted above is referring to when he/she suggests that I got “stung.”

However, as I hadn’t sought the limelight or responsibilities which had been given to me, I never felt any sting when they were withdrawn. I did feel hurt by the social distancing that we were subjected to thereafter by folks whom we had regarded as friends for many years. I will let all of you decide whether or not it’s appropriate for a Christian to be rejoicing over some hurt which they have inflicted on one of their brothers/sisters.

As for whether the Church of God International is afraid of homosexuals, I would suggest that their subsequent writings and statements on the subject indicate that they are afraid of being seen as supportive of homosexuality. Those same writings and statements seem to indicate that they’re afraid of the impact that homosexuality (and gay marriage) is having on American society. In fact, those statements seem to imply a fear that homosexuals have infected the ranks of Christianity itself, and that they must consequently defend “traditional values” against the sinister encroachments of the gay agenda (whatever they think that is). Their statements also seem to suggest that they are fearful regarding the potential consequences for the Israelites (America and Britain, according to them) who condone such behavior. At any rate, by almost any objective standard, that sounds like FEAR to me!