Citizens in Colonies of Heaven

This is a re-post of a previous article with minor edits. I actually still agree with most of what I wrote 4 years ago, which is weird.

“But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.” Philippians 3:20,21

This passage seems short and simple, but is pregnant with underlying meaning and first century cultural undertones. With our twenty-first century eyes, we typically read this as meaning that our true home is in heaven, and that we should always be longing to return to our true home. Christianity is simply the road-map to get us to the correct destination. All other guides lead to Hell.

But Paul was not a westerner living in the United States, nor were his readers. Nor did they live after the Enlightenment, which loves to force every concept into some sort of dualism. So what meaning could the word “citizenship” have in the time period?

What was the most popular and well-known form of citizenship during the first century, of which Paul himself had attained?

In the Gentile world to which Paul directed his preaching, the power of Rome overshadowed all walks of life, especially in Phillipi, so it is not unreasonable to think that the context here is Roman citizenship. Add the fact that Phillipi was a Roman colony founded by Augustus, planted permanently with Roman military veterans, and was referred to as a “miniature Rome,” and the case stacks up that Paul wrote to a Romanized city filled with Roman citizens.

So what did this citizenship mean? In the rich diversity of the Empire, with it’s sprawling colonies, certainly it did not mean that a Roman citizen longed to return once and for all to the mother city, Rome, and that the ultimate goal of their lives, was to reach that glorious place. A proposal like that sounds silly.

What it did mean, however, was that a citizen could call on the power of Caesar to intervene, as Paul did when he was on trial. It also meant that if there were ever any problems in a colony, or that Caesar’s authority was questioned, that he (or a representative) would come down from Rome (usually at the head of a legion or two) to reestablish Roman rule and authority. Likewise, Roman citizens were to exude Roman values, to essentially carry Rome wherever they went. Leaven for the land.

Here we have a more plausible meaning for the passage. Jesus, the true lord and king of the world, coming to complete the work the church has undertaken since his resurrection, and finally, once and for all, reestablishing the authority of the Father over all of creation. But in the process, the creation itself will be renewed into a “new heavens and new earth”, of which the Spirit was a down payment.

After all, simply “going to heaven when you die”, seeking to escape the good creation of the one true God, would really be no different than the Platonic view of the world, which most pagans held anyway. There’s nothing inherently controversial about that view. But the message that Jesus is Messiah, the lord of all the earth, and to him every knee should bow, including that of Caesar, would turn a few heads, I imagine.

So why do we want to escape an earth that Jesus has in subjection, and will renew (along with our bodies) when he comes again?

The early Christians were not persecuted because they wanted to escape their bodies and leave the world. Who cares if they did that? Good riddance, some would say. They were persecuted because they were odd, peculiar, and stood in direct defiance to Caesar’s authority, claiming another king.

In the same way, our loyalty should not be to any governments of man, nor their agendas of power and death. We tolerate them, and respect their God-given authority, but only as the parodies and shadows they are of the true King. They need to be reminded that they eventually have to report to upper management.

Begin telling people that your allegiance is to another King. That you have a citizenship that trumps your obligations as a citizen of any government on earth. That you reject their claim that there is no authority above them.

You are a citizen of heaven. Act like one.

Can You Trust Their GPA?

Higher education is the next bubble to pop, with rising costs and people with large debt and almost nothing to show for it. And then there is the additional question of the value of the actual education, whenever the football and basketball games are over. Taken even further, can you even trust the GPA they received?

This professor decides to stop pursuing cheating in his classes. Why? It’s not worth it. The incentives are twisted.

Not only I paid a significant financial penalty for “doing the right thing” (was I?) but I was also lectured by some senior professors that I “should change slightly my assignments from year to year”. (Thanks for the suggestion, buddy, this is exactly how I detected the cheaters.)

Suggestions to change completely the assignments from year to year are appealing on the first sight but they cause others types of problems: It is very difficult to know in advance if an assignment is going to be too easy, too hard, or too ambiguous. Even small-scale testing with TA’s and other faculty does not help. You need to “test” the new assignment by giving it to students. If it is a good one, you want to keep it. If it is a bad one, you just gave to the students a useless exercise.

I also did not like the overall teaching experience, and this was the most important thing for me. Teaching became annoying and tiring. There was a very different dynamic in class, which I did not particularly enjoy. It was a feeling of “me-against-them” as opposed to the much more pleasant “these things that we are learning are really cool!”

Will I pursue cheating cases in the future? Never, ever again!

He also spent 45 hours dealing with his cheating cases.  That is over 30% more time than he spent lecturing.

This professor is actually taking steps to be more creative in his assignments to make cheating impossible. But how many will take the effort to do this? And as he mentions, that is not possible with all types of assignments.  It’s hard to teach the writing of database queries without some standard exercises that are tried and true.

Here are some of his suggestions to mitigate the damage, however:

  1. Public Projects, where risk of embarrassment is too high.
  2. Peer Reviewing, where the only grade they receive is given by the class.
  3. Competitions.

The secular bastions of the one key Enlightenment virtue, “education,” are crumbling. I’m reminded of this C.S. Lewis quote:

We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honor and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and then bid the geldings to be fruitful.”

Just a Series of Chemical Reactions

Two Oregon churches were vandalized, with “Praise the FSM” painted on their property. FSM stands for “flying spaghetti monster,” a popular internet meme for some atheists. The Friendly Atheist decided to raise some money for the clean-up to help out the churches.

The clip below is from Fox and Friends with both Pastor John Bluebaugh and Hemant Mehta of the Friendly Atheist discussing the situation and its aftermath.

The real motivation for this action is revealed as Hemant squeezes in the last word in the segment.

“You don’t need Jesus to be good.  It’s possible to be good without God and I think the people on my website chipping in show that.”

Yes, people can do good things without Jesus.  However, they need to steal ethics from some other realm in order to make that claim. It’s like a man with no taste buds trying to pass himself off as a food critic.  He can shovel down the food just like everyone else, but when asked if that bite of that steak tasted good, he has to lean over to his brother, who happens to have taste buds, to get the answer.

Or perhaps he takes a poll, determining what the majority of people think of steak. But then what if the people polled are mostly vegans? Or maybe his brother has a head cold that changes his opinion?

While helping others is always commendable, modern atheists are completely nonsensical when trying to articulate why it is so.  Why is a group of skin-bags full of blood and muscle giving money to another group of skin-bags full of blood and muscle good or bad? It was, after all, just a series of chemical reactions. Why should I care about it more than the chemical reactions that lead a hunk of meat to sit on a couch and watch lights come out of a television?

One more thought: we know the ends don’t always justify the means. But do the means ever justify the ends?

Joseph and the Egyptian Ponzi Scheme

For the last several years, I haven’t had the highest opinion of Joseph.  Most writing on the life of Joseph and Genesis drips with honey and can’t wait to sing the endless virtues of Egypt’s agricultural czar.

Sure, they always say he started off as a tattle-tail, quick to report his brothers to his father.  And maybe he wasn’t the wisest of youths, spouting off his dreams like they were about to catch his tongue on fire. But he was young.  Nothing a good dose of humility won’t fix.

The medicine of humility comes, and from then on Joseph is looked on as an angel. Usually. It was refreshing to read a book that brought up some doubts about this typical enthusiasm in Reno’s Genesis commentary, but these treatments are few and far between.

Joseph is obviously a type of Christ, but that doesn’t mean we should read about him with rose-tinted glasses. David is a type of Christ too, and I don’t see anyone trying to explain away his adultery with Bathsheba with clever excuses.  But Joseph’s issues are not the loud, brass band of obvious, in-your-face sin like that of fornication and murder.

His issues are subtle.  The problems of power and cultural chameleonism always are. And a failure to recognize the problems show just how enamored we have become with the trappings of power, and how easily we make an idol of the State.

A Great Story, but…

Granted, when you’re teaching a bunch of 5 year olds about Joseph, its easy to get caught up in the rags to riches part of the story. Its a great story that touches something deep within every human. And how do you even explain the nuances behind the temptations of political power to a child who hasn’t even read The Lord of the Rings?

Joseph’s faults shouldn’t surprise us.  Look at the stock he came from. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the three names God decides to attach to Himself for eternity, all have their serious problems. Joseph’s eventual words to his brothers seems to be the theme behind the second half of Genesis. “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good…” (Genesis 50:20)(ESV) And thank God for that, or else where would any of us be?

Joseph is still a man of obvious faith that we can learn from.  But keep in mind what the Hebrew writer calls attention to when he praises the faith of Joseph:

By faith Joseph, when he died, made mention of the departing of the children of Israel; and gave commandment concerning his bones.

Nothing about his perseverance in prison. Nothing about his steadfast hope while sold into slavery. And, notably, nothing about his role in feeding the entire world. Just a mention about his burial arrangements. This should give us a clue as to what was truly praiseworthy about Joseph, in God’s eyes.

So what are some of these issues, besides the obvious youthful pride?

Cultural Assimilation

As soon as Joseph is raised up, he is married to the daughter of a priest of On (Gen. 41:45), thereby gaining religious acceptance to a group that held enormous sway within Egypt, and later would gain even more power through Joseph’s own machinations. We know that during Israel’s time in Egypt, they served other gods (Josh. 24:14).

Perhaps this alliance was the beginning of this indiscretion? Regardless, we know that Abraham insisted on non-foreign wives for Isaac, and Rebekah did likewise for Jacob. After Sinai, such a marriage would be explicitly forbidden.

In an effort to absolve Joseph of this misstep, many rabbinical writings scramble to craft interpretations that border on fantasy. One even claims that Asenath was really Joseph’s kin, the daughter of Shechem and Dinah (Gen. 34) who eventually ended up being raised by Potiphera in Egypt. The sentiment may also have led to the writing of the apocryphal Joseph and Aseneth that depicts the conversion of Aseneth to the worship of YHWH before Joseph agrees to marry her.

The assimilation continues.  In Genesis 42:23, we see that Joseph needs an interpreter to understand the language of his fathers.  He has forgotten it. The curse of Babel rears its head, signifying that Joseph is currently separate from the  family of promise. Not good.

Unlike Christ, who was faithful to both his divinity and humanity, Joseph cannot be a son of both Jacob and Egypt.  One side inevitably gives way to the other, and it looks like the Egyptian side comes to reign.

Total Fraud and Enslavement

The world is fed on the labor of the Egyptian populace. They give up a fifth of everything they produce during the 7 years of plenty to prepare for the 7 years of famine.  Its a temporary tax.  Or so it was probably sold to the Egyptians.

When the famine hits, Joseph sells grain to anyone who needs it. This makes sense for foreigners who come from other lands.  But what about the Egyptians who filled up the storehouses?  Its their grain after all.  Certainly they are due at least what they put in. But no. Joseph charges them money for their own grain.

Soon the Egyptians run out of money, and begin begging Joseph for food. (Gen. 47:15). Joseph, not without mercy, agrees to give them food for the small price of all of their livestock. But hey, at least they have enough food to live…for a year.

The Egyptians come begging again.  They have no money.  They have no livestock to give in trade.  Desperate, they offer their bodies and their land and Joseph accepts their generous offer. (Gen. 47:18-22).

Except the lands of the priests.  So the only people in Egypt that owned land after this were Pharaoh and the pagan priests.  What a drastic shift in power.

Once again showing mercy (and probably realizing a 100% enslaved population isn’t really that productive), Joseph tells the people to keep tilling the land, do all of the work.  And all they have to do is give back one fifth of their production to Pharaoh. During a debilitating famine.  And beyond.

So much for a “temporary” tax to cover the tough times. Like a good politician, he didn’t let a good disaster go to waste.

Maybe we should rename the Ponzi scheme after Joseph instead?

But thanks be to God, for he works good out of evil. Even our own evil. It was true with the other sons of Jacob.  It was true with Joseph himself.  And it is true with those of us who are in Christ.

Four Groups Who Laughed at the Rapture

I’m not writing to scoff at Harold Camping’s Rapture date that has come and gone like the stink of a passing garbage truck.  There are plenty of other people poking fun, and doing it better than I could. Everything that could be said has been said, twisted every way to expose every angle and to squeeze out another laugh. I admit I’ve laughed and I’ve chuckled. There might have been a guffaw or two.

Some have begun to offer the pastoral approach to help teach those who were misguided and other words of wisdom to aid in the cleanup. These words are needed.

But now that everyone has caught their collective breath, its time for some additional reflection. And to remind the laughers and the pointers, in the tradition of banal, elementary school proverbs, that when you point at someone, you have three fingers pointing right back at you.

There are four broad categories of scoffers and pointers that I noticed. What follows is what I imagine those three fingers are implying as they point in accusation at their respective owners.

1. The Establishment Media

While not direct scoffers per se, they made the whole feast possible by spending so much time telling us about it.  With a wink and a smirk lurking behind the thin veil of their “neutrality” faces, they handed out invitations to the freak show and shouted out the meeting times from the rooftops. They never laughed in public, but you could tell they really wanted to.

You can’t blame them.  It was newsworthy, and its their job. But a locomotive doesn’t need someone to get out and push once it gains some speed and momentum. Anyone who thinks a little bit of pushing can help, if only they are the ones who are doing the pushing, can rightly be labeled as someone who has an inflated sense of their own importance.  Which, come to think of it, describes the establishment media pretty well.

2. The Atheist Blogosphere

Yes, there is a sphere o’ blogs whose name is based on something that they all don’t believe in. So even though they gladly curse His name and deny His existence, all of their thoughts and ramblings orbit the Truth, in some form or another. The poor things just can’t escape the inevitable. It’s like the moons of Jupiter formed a club whose core, foundational principle was denying the existence of planets.

And oh how they cackled in glee.  Another chance to point and laugh at Christians and their silly doomsday scenarios.

Two things.

One, most of these atheists are leftist progressives, and therefore hold to their own doomsday apocalypses and eschatons, which are also based on spurious and questionable mathematics.  Just ask them about global warming or climate change, and they will get dead serious.  Not serious enough to stop themselves from breathing and releasing more of the obviously deadly pollutant known as CO2 into the atmosphere, but hey, there are fair-weather Christians too. Not everyone has the same level of faith.

Since they tend be pretty gullible, there are many more examples that I don’t have time to expound upon. Chesterton said through his character Father Brown

“It’s the first effect of not believing in God that you lose your common sense, and can’t see things as they are.”

But their gullibility helps lead into…

Two, most are also amateur evolutionary biologists.  That means they go around quoting Richard Dawkins at each other. Evolution in itself is pretty funny, but then you get people extracting self-righteous morality from it, as many are in the habit of doing, and it becomes downright hilarious.

In a world where actions, including laughter and why we laugh, are reduced to simple chemical reactions in the brain, it really doesn’t matter what someone else’s chemical reactions are causing them to believe and do.  Shake up a can of soda and open it, and you have a chemical reaction that is just as important as anything that happens in the brain. Well, maybe not.  At least the can of soda has an ultimate  purpose for it’s existence…

So they can claim that it gives them pleasure to mock and ridicule.  I don’t doubt they know how to set off the right chemical reactions in their brains to tickle their funny bone.  Any animal can do that.  But based on their world-view, they cannot claim any sort of intellectual superiority over those they are mocking.  They would just be comparing one meaningless set of chemical reactions to another.  Different, yes.  One set better than the other?  Who cares?

3. Other Christians Who Believe in the Rapture

While they found it easy to scoff at the prophecy of Camping, they didn’t realize that the idea of the Rapture is pretty goofy in itself. You don’t have to put an arbitrary date on something to make it ahistorical and unbiblical. This is where a large swath of American Evangelicalism falls. It is characterized by extreme pessimism, an idolatrous gaze cast toward the physical nation of Israel, and a continuous lookout for signs in current events like a witch looking at the entrails of a slaughtered calf.

4. Other Christians Who Don’t Believe in the Rapture, but Still Maintain a Good Dose of Worldly Pessimism

A large minority of Christians take the pilgrim and citizen language of the New Testament, unknowingly filter it through Greek and gnostic philosophy, and then combine it with a dash of Enlightenment thinking.  It treats the world as God’s Vietnam, getting worse and worse, descending further and further into darkness.  His ultimate plan is to rescue the troops, whoever he can get out in time, and then napalm the whole place.  The troops he was able to fit on the rescue craft will then live in disembodied bliss in s0me heavenly realm. The Bible says that Christ came to save the world and fulfill the promises of Abraham…except not really. He certainly gave it his best shot, though. Bless His heart.

This type of thinking is just as ahistorical and unbiblical as the Rapture and the bad theology that surrounds it. And the pessimism it encourages is just as corrosive.  Why have kids?  Why work?  Why pay your credit card bills? Why do anything?  The world is going to hell, despite God’s efforts, and regardless of anything I could possibly do.  Its all going to burn anyway.  With this conceptual scheme, the sooner you die after your baptism, the better.

Some ancient Stoics had similar ideas.  To remain logically consistent in their framework, they committed suicide. Better to die sooner rather than later. Especially if things get unbearable, as they did for Cato when Julius Caesar’s victory was assured. I was reminded of the Stoic’s choice while reading the following snippet from an article in the LA Times, about people who quit their jobs or did other foolish things because they believed this false prophet:

Keith Bauer, a 38-year-old tractor-trailer driver from Westminster, Md., took last week off from work, packed his wife, young son and a relative in their SUV and crossed the country.

If it was his last week on Earth, he wanted to see parts of it he’d always heard about but missed, such as the Grand Canyon. With maxed-out credit cards and a growing mountain of bills, he said, the rapture would have been a relief.

If he is so eager to leave this world, the Stoic’s answer of suicide would seem to solve the same problems. What a relief! That may sound harsh,  but it’s where this theological framework logically leads.

Instead of the battalions of God conquering the world (but not with the weapons of the world), we become content to hold down the fort while everything collapses around us, waiting for God to come to the rescue, even though he has already equipped us for every good work. Occasionally, we muster up the courage to open the gates and attempt to break the siege, but we always go back behind the walls to our spiritual ghettos.

This is where I used to fall.  I laughed at the idea of the Rapture, even though my eschatology caused me to have the same outlook and attitude as many of those who hold to the Rapture.  But at least I didn’t believe in the Rapture! I bore the same sour fruit, yet assumed I was a different tree.  Now that’s true silliness.

Eschatology matters.  We dismiss it sometimes, thinking, for some baffling reason, that the destination has no bearing on the journey.  But it influences the path taken.  It influences the mode of travel chosen. It influences the mindset of the travelers. In other words, it colors everything about the journey. This is one lesson we can’t afford to miss, and one this Rapture nonsense should drill into our heads.

Did you see other categories of mockers during this latest Rapture scare?  Did anything cause you to step back and look at your own beliefs?