All posts by Joseph Coulter

Frameworks of Thought

My blog posts are normally focused on spreading the gospel, in particular to the general population of New Jersey. But today I’ve decided to weigh in on the raging pro-life versus pro-choice controversy to see if I can get a clearer picture of what is going on. I’m doing this primarily for my own benefit, to try and understand the intensity of emotions that are associated with this topic.

To bring clarity to the discussion it seemed necessary to determine the actual scope of the phenomenon of abortion in the world today. Is it merely a peripheral issue, as some people believe? Is it a matter of re-hashing old legal arguments that have already been settled once and for all? Is it a matter of ultra-conservatives struggling against left-wing radical extremists? Is it a rare and private departure from the norm of human behavior?

Searching the internet for information on this topic led me to the Guttmacher Institute’s website, where I learned a great deal about abortion in the world today. I immediately discovered, for instance, that over the entire earth, between the years 2015 and 2019, roughly 73 million unintended pregnancies ended in abortion, per year. Assuming that 2020 was no different, simple math reveals that 365 million abortions have been performed worldwide over the past 5 years to terminate unintended pregnancies. Whether these were medical emergencies where the mother’s life was at risk, or purely elective abortions, was not specified.

Prior to 1970, most countries (although not all) had laws outlawing abortion. Presumably, the number of abortions being performed at that time was much lower, and for the sake of this article I have assumed it was negligible, close to zero. (The number was certainly higher, but I couldn’t find any data to make an accurate estimate.) Therefore, to graph the number of abortions performed between 1970 and 2015, a triangle starting at zero in 1970 and rising to 73 million in 2015 would indicate that 1.642 billion abortions were performed during the 45 years prior to 2015. Adding that figure to the 365 million abortions performed since 2015 yields a total of roughly two billion abortions performed worldwide over the last 50 years, according to data supplied by the Guttmacher Institute.

Whether a person thinks abortion is a safe and necessary means of population control and a mercy to struggling women, or whether another person thinks this is the greatest case of mass genocide in the history of the world, still, in either case, two billion represents a number of individual souls greater than one quarter of the entire population of the world, currently estimated to be around 7.8 billion people. Two billion children is twice the total population of the entire Western Hemisphere (North, South, and Central America combined). This is a very large number of human beings by anyone’s count.

The Guttmacher Institute also keeps track of laws governing abortion across the globe.  According to their data, there are six nations on earth that still outlaw abortion completely, six nations out of a total of two hundred and twenty. Two hundred and fourteen nations, or 97% of the world’s governments, currently allow abortion in one form or another.

The United States was certainly not the first nation to legalize abortion. Russia, for instance, legalized abortion back in 1920, and many other nations followed suit. But the SCOTUS decision in 1973 was particularly instructive because of the train of thought that was employed in the decision making process. The website supreme.findlaw.com offers a really helpful summary of what we need to know about Roe v. Wade.  To summarize the summary, the court’s decision boiled down to two things: 1) It was impossible to determine when life begins in the womb, so the fetus could not be considered a person, that is, a person who was entitled to protection under the Constitution, and 2) The woman, and only the woman, had an absolute right to determine the fate of her unborn fetus. It was her own private decision to make.

Hillary Clinton, speaking about this during her 2015 bid for the presidency, said, “Under current law, as it now stands, an unborn fetus has no legal rights or protections under the U.S. Constitution. Furthermore, under current law it is a woman’s absolute legal right to choose an abortion.” She wasn’t being nasty or vindictive or cruel. She was simply stating true legal facts that needed to be recognized.

As a thinking person, of course, I find the SCOTUS arguments troubling.  What follows are my own private thoughts with regard to the data I have just cited, and I don’t mean to go off on a rant, but the current legal framework of thought is not the only framework of thought that exists. Biology has an equally valid framework of thought. Genealogy has a framework of thought. Cultural anthropology has a framework of thought.  Astrophysics has a framework of thought. People who rise to prominence in any of these disciplines are considered experts. They have competence to speak authoritatively in their field of knowledge. Their input should be weighed carefully and they should be given the deference they deserves. It would be highly irregular for a chemist, for instance, to make a pronouncement that contradicted a known fact of geology.

If an astrophysicist were to discover a tiny carbon chain in a space rock, he would immediately declare the existence of life in outer space. Similarly, a biologist has no trouble determining when human life begins. It begins when a male sperm unites with a female egg. The resulting child has a completely unique DNA, beginning immediately. That child has two parents who are absolutely responsible for the child’s conception. Likewise, that child has two sets of grandparents and four sets of great-grandparents. These facts are taught and understood in ninth grade biology.

Ancestry, or genealogy, follows the same logic, attaching actual names to the individuals involved. I have been able to trace my father’s ancestry back five generations to the mid 1700’s, and I was surprised to discover that in five generations, each person has 62 adults in his or her direct bloodline, not counting siblings or aunts and uncles. Everyone has parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, etc. Why does this matter?  It matters because each of those adults made a decision to do what was required for the transmission of human life.  They were glad to participate, they knew what they were doing, and they knew they were accountable for the outcome.

Although some of those adults may not have taken their responsibilities seriously, a cultural anthropologist would understand that there has always been an expectation that the immediate blood relatives need to protect and nurture new members of their own family.  While most of the bloodline would be long dead at the time of a child’s conception, there are, almost always, six adult direct blood relatives alive at that time: a father, a mother, and two sets of grandparents. This is considered to be the child’s support team. Six adults. To an anthropologist, the idea that giving life is somehow solely the choice and decision of the mother would be a completely strange and novel concept.

So, despite the contradictory and irregular pronouncements of certain SCOTUS judges speaking outside of their field of competence, I think we should defer to the biologist to determine when human life begins, and to the anthropologist to determine who is responsible for the fate of the child.

With regard to the propagation of the human race, in a perfect world, in all cultures across the earth, all six adults, the parents and grandparents, would hover around a developing child from the moment of its conception, providing support, protection, education and love throughout the child’s lifetime.

In an imperfect world, for many reasons, some of those adults might be missing, and the responsibility for the child’s care would be assumed by others.

In a dystopian world, all six adults would turn their backs on the child and refuse to take any responsibility whatsoever, thus rendering a unanimous decision for abortion.

It is hard to believe, but two billion abortions must require the permission, or at least the tacit agreement, of twelve billion living adult blood relatives, a six-to-one ratio.

Yes, this seems like a ridiculously huge number. The point I’m trying to make is that abortion in the world today is not being driven by some left wing radical fringe, nor is it peripheral to the many important cares and concerns of the human race.  The complete freedom to choose abortion without fear of reprisal or punishment is mainstream thinking for almost the entire human race with very little exception or opposition, and has been for the past 50 years. Those who oppose it are in fact on the fringe. That would help to explain why seven (of the nine) Supreme Court justices, highly intelligent men who knew the facts of life, searched so frantically through the Constitution back in 1973 to provide a path for abortion, on the flimsiest of legal precedent. The decision, I believe, had already been made for them, and has now been ratified by twelve billion adults and 97% of the world’s governments. That’s basically the entire population of the earth, those who have lived over the past 50 years, and those who are alive now.

We, the human race, have collectively chosen to eliminate a significant portion of our population through the process of abortion. This is a fact. We wanted abortion, we have given ourselves permission for abortion, and we will continue to press for unrestricted abortion. Some politicians actually make that a central part of their platform. We have evidently created such a toxic world that killing our own children seems to be the best solution to our problems.  And somehow we have managed to put the full responsibility for this decision completely onto our young pregnant daughters while the rest of us go off scot-free.

People like myself, the ones who are slowly waking up to these realities, clearly need to take some action, and join with the ones who have been fighting this battle for decades. We should join the resistance, and fight for a reversal of unjust laws, and continue to march on Washington each year, and pray for an end to abortion.

But in addition, I believe we should double down on our efforts to spread the gospel. I’m completely serious when I say:

“Print up seven billion copies of the gospel of Jesus Christ,

 and pass them out everywhere.”

Jesus, the master of the universe, certainly tried to talk some sense into the leaders of his day. He argued with them and reasoned with them and pointed out the inconsistencies in their thinking.

But he spent most of his time setting up a new society, which he called “The Kingdom of God”.  The Kingdom of God is society with a leader who knows what He is doing, and a framework of thought all it’s own, stretching back to the dawn of history, and looking far into the future and beyond. Whereas this framework of thought sometimes nudges science, and occasionally challenges customs and norms, it has frequently and dramatically come into direct conflict with human law. The Kingdom of God seems to have singled out the “legal framework of thought” for particular scrutiny and harsh judgment. I’m not speaking about the work of an individual lawyer or judge or legislator. I’m talking about an important branch of human thought that has been captured and twisted by the human race to justify a whole range of irresponsible and destructive behaviors that often unfortunately end in abortion.

God’s kingdom on earth is precisely what the human race needs at this darkest hour. If I’m not mistaken, those tiny little sixty-page books, The Gospels, are the official invitations to join the Kingdom of God. They also serve as the front door through which a curious and frightened individual can enter and find a brand new beginning.

I’m stuck on this idea:

“Print up seven billion copies of the gospel of Jesus Christ,

 and pass them out everywhere.”

My Trip To Planet F

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I recently had the opportunity to visit        Planet F.

For those of you who have never been there, Planet F is not in our solar system. It is not even in our galaxy. It is quite a hike to get there. The planet has a formal name, but everyone just calls it Planet F, because unlike most planets, Planet F is completely flat. It is shaped like a flying pancake. I am completely serious. Depending on your approach from outer space you might see a perfect circle, a wide ellipse, a narrow ellipse, or a straight line.

Planet F is much like our own planet in many respects. It has almost the same inhabitable surface area, and its population is 8 billion people, or at least it was at the time of my landing, according to the captain of my ship. (As opposed to our earth’s population of about 7 billion.)

The people living there look just like humans. They are cordial, hospitable, and fun loving, and I found myself feeling right at home as soon as I arrived. My host family, and everyone I met, went out of their way to welcome me. They were very interested in hearing about earth’s food, and music, and art. Not so interested in our politics or religion. I must say, in this regard their conversation was rather flat. Any talk of politics left them staring blankly, and the idea of a higher power or deity was a complete revelation to them. On Planet F things are handled differently. For instance, there was some discussion about overcrowding on their planet. It seems that recently some people had ventured too close to the edge of the planet and had fallen off! Something needed to be done, for sure.

On Planet F, every person is equal, and every person who has reached the age of reason has a part in the decision making process. The age of reason is considered to be around 7 years old. Their sense of equality is truly remarkable. There is no governmental structure, no hierarchy, no cast system or class distinction, certainly no royalty or anything resembling authority.

What they do have is a highly developed interpersonal consciousness similar to what we might call “group think “. Decisions are made by unspoken general consensus, and are implemented immediately.

I forgot to mention one striking feature of the landscape that is impossible to miss when one is approaching the planet from the air: an enormous plaza in the center of the planet’s residential district. I am talking about a flat plaza roughly the size of our state of Texas! This plaza sits on what I assume to be the axis of the planet itself.

It was here that we all gathered on the third day of my visit. The topic was overcrowding, and every citizen on the planet gathered here to address the issue.

I must admit, the process, and its implementation, were quite disturbing to me, but I realize that I am not qualified to judge or comment upon the anthropology of another culture, much less another planet. So I will simply report what I observed, without comment.

On entering the plaza, every person, all 8 billion individuals, was given a small cup of sweet liquid. The drink was positively intoxicating. It delivered an intensely pleasurable rush and a feeling of absolute wellbeing.

From out of this huge gathering, young women began to emerge and take their place in the center of the square. They were accompanied by their infant children, all those youngsters between the ages of newborn and 6 years old. Approximately one billion children, or 12.5% of the entire population, were present with their mothers in that inner circle, if you can imagine! Also accompanying each mother was a Medical Practitioner (MP) in a white coat.

Almost before I could blink my eyes, The MPs took hold of the children, and with enormous strength and skill, broke their necks in one swift movement. Then, using their small medical kit, they proceeded to dismember the body completely, laying the torso on the ground, crisscrossing the dismembered arms and legs on top, and capping off the little pile with the head. Removing their white coats and laying them next to the pile, the MPs moved away and joined the surrounding crowd, disappearing into it’s midst. This was all done, as I mentioned, in full view of, and with the full consent of, the entire population of Planet F. The process took less than 10 minutes.

The young women, the mothers, with expressionless faces, now abandoned their dead children and also stepped away into the waiting crowd, to the sound of muted applause. I will refrain from making any comments here.

Although the next step in the process seemed macabre and totally unnecessary, I will once again hold my tongue. Counters, or certifiers, now came forth to count the individual body parts, making sure that each pile contained a torso, two arms, two legs, and a head. The rational for this step was to make sure that no mother secretly carried away a tiny arm, or leg, for sentimental reasons. This would have been considered a huge medical risk, and if any harm were to come to one of those mothers there would have been some explaining to do.

Once a pile was certified, the soiled white lab coat was draped over the tiny mound as a sign of respect and honor. An announcement was made over the loudspeaker acknowledging the children who had given so much for the common good, and the young mothers who had made such a valiant sacrifice in order to ensure the future happiness, and indeed the future existence, of all the planet’s grateful inhabitants.

I stuck around to watch the cleanup. Front-end loaders were brought in to scoop up the remains and load them into dump trucks. The cargo was then driven to the very rim of the planet and dumped over the edge. Once the plaza was hosed down and swept clean, everyone went home to dinner.

The effects of the liquid drink lingered for several days, days filled with fun activities like rock concerts and festivals and trips to exciting theme parks. Before I knew it, it was time to say goodbye to my new friends and head home.

Planet F is really a great place to visit. I’m thinking I may return. For all you older folks, the planet has much to recommend it as a retirement community. Property is reasonably priced, there is a flat tax rate, and they offer an endless array of amusements for seniors. And the cost of your “final arrangements” is practically nil.

Reference: https://www.lifesitenews.com/news/new-report-suggests-over-1-billion-abortions-committed-pro-life-activists

 

Farming The Land

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“Go out to all the world and tell the good news.”

What if Christian evangelism is ultimately an agricultural enterprise?

Suppose this one facet of Christianity is intended and conceived as a farming project?

I try to imagine that the gospel is the single seed being sown by Jesus, the owner of a very large farm.  How would this farming project logically begin, and how would it increase?

Initially, I think it would be necessary for the owner of the farm to equip his laborers with the seed, (the gospel) and send them out to nearby fields to begin sowing. After a certain period of time the harvest would come, and hopefully the owner would show a small profit.

Next year, using his profit, the owner would likely send out additional laborers to plant new fields, with the same result, thereby expanding year by year.

Fast forward, 2000 years. This farm has been a colossal success and now covers 30% of the earth’s surface. It is organized and robust, and it supports a massive and thriving farming community. Obviously, the owner is quite pleased with his progress.

Seeing his success, and being forward thinking, the owner is understandably eager to plant and develop the remaining 70% of his land. But due to the economies of scale he sees that it is no longer feasible to send out individual laborers, with small packages of seed, to increasingly far-flung lands. That model will have to give way to new mechanized farming techniques. He knows the same exact seed needs to be planted, but what new tools does he have at his disposal?

In our day and age, for the first time in human history, individual gospels can be mass-produced by a process known as print-on-demand. Quality copies of individual gospels (each approximately 60 pages long) can be mass-produced for mere pennies.

And, for the first time in human history, these gospels can by distributed rapidly and intelligently by another new process known as direct mail. Direct mail is often used by advertisers to put a physical copy of their brochure into the hands of prospective customers. It is inexpensive, and studies have shown it to be almost 10 times as effective as digital marketing.

These new processes are increasingly available within vast areas of currently un-planted territory across the globe.

Just for example, here is an article distributed by the India Department of Posts several years ago:

Tuesday, July 19th, 2005

 

With competition catching up fast, India Post is changing with the times! Coming on top of several new initiatives to provide value additions to its customers, the Department of Posts on Monday launched “Direct Post”. The “Direct Post” service enables a customer to distribute publicity material for marketing a product to a large number of households in a particular area through the post office “For its sheer size and reach, this is a better way to market a product with six lakh workforce spread over 155,000 post offices. Besides, subscribers may not read publicity material distributed along with newspapers. But when it is delivered by a postman, chances are that people will pay a lot more attention,” says the official.

The India Post belongs to an organization called the Asian Pacific Postal Union, comprised of 32 member countries throughout the continents of Asia and Australia. Furthermore, the Asian Pacific Postal Union is a sister organization, and is closely related to, the Pan African Postal Union, which is made up of 44 member countries in Africa. Together, these two postal unions are focused entirely on quality of service, and they consider the post to be a positive catalyst for socio-economic development. The Post Office Departments of their member nations are all, more or less, patterned on the same model.

The countries that they serve and represent are the very countries we are trying to reach with the gospel, those very people who have never been approached, ever, with the message of Jesus. Statistically, the average age of these people is 26 years old.

I live in the United States. The U.S. Postal Service has a direct mail program known as EDDM, or Every Door Direct Mail. I have been experimenting with EDDM for the past several years as an efficient and economical way to spread the gospel to a widely diverse population within the state of New Jersey. I have no way to measure the effectiveness of this process, but I am hopeful that many recipients will be curious enough to pick up the gospel and give it a read.

Returning to our farm metaphor, the owner’s new laborers can begin sowing seeds immediately without the customary long years of training required in the past. No training in ministry, no theology, no psychology, no ordination, no investiture of any kind. The new laborers are dependable and hard-working postal workers.

Postal workers, by the very nature of their job, are responsible, accountable, judicious, and trustworthy. They have been trained to deliver the mail without judging its content or interfering with its purpose. They are amply paid and they depend on their jobs for their livelihood. They are the perfect people to carry out Christ’s wishes: “Go out to all the world and tell the good news.”

Don’t worry. Those highly trained men and women currently on staff within the vast farming community will have their hands full when the next harvest comes in. The seed is just as potent as ever, and promises an abundant harvest, as always.

All that remains is a little cooperation among willing individuals and a positive outlook for the future of the world.

 

 

My next post, Mixing Metaphors , develops the farming metaphor a little more.

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A Cosmic Courtship

 

“Lord, every nation on earth will adore you.”

Right now, in the cosmos, a courtship is underway between two very unlikely lovers. One is the king of all there is. He is literally the King of the Cosmos. The other is a foolish and stubborn individual who is largely unaware of her lover’s interest, or even his existence. She is wandering around trying to make the best of her life in a confusing and dangerous world.

The king who seeks her love has provided a path, a gate, a portal, leading directly to his side. He is ardently hoping that she will pass through that portal and step inside, so that he can woo her and win her love and take her to himself.

He is Jesus, the Son of God.

She is the human race. She is us.

The portal is the Christian gospel.

Opening the gospel, opening the portal, is our prerogative. This cosmic courtship, like any other courtship, must begin with an initial introduction between the parties involved. Otherwise it remains merely a fantasy in the mind of one or the other, and never comes to anything. Once inside, however, the love affair begins in earnest.

The Christian gospel has enormous depth, and levels that humanity will never completely penetrate. But essentially it is a fascinating, emotional, passionate, and still developing love story between Jesus, the undisputed master of the universe, and us, the human race. Jesus is fervently (and almost obsessively) in love with us and has been pursuing us relentlessly for over two thousand years, even to the present day. In the gospel, the unfolding story of his courtship and love is revealed to us.

As a baby, Jesus astonished us. And as an adolescent, we thought him bright and clever. (See the second chapter of Luke’s gospel.) But when he came of age, around 30 years old, we somehow managed to catch his eye and win his heart. Filled with the spirit of love, he began showering us with marvelous and extraordinary gifts in the way of a suitor, and he began talking to us about his family and his father’s kingdom, of which he was heir. We listened, of course, with interest. As time went on he even began to speak of himself as “the bridegroom,” and us as his “pearl.” “A merchant,” he was overheard saying, “went out seeking beautiful pearls. When he found one pearl of great price, he sold all that he had and bought it!” He called us his “vineyard.” He called us his “little flock.” He called us his “treasure.”

Now all this sweet talk eventually found it’s way to the very top echelons of that cosmic realm, where Jesus’ father reigns as king and powerful beings rule in the heavens. The glorious and seraphic members of his father’s court were justifiably taken aback and puzzled at the news of this new love interest. They were quite familiar with Jesus, so there was understandably some shock and wonder and even dismay at this new turn of events. It might be helpful to picture the son of a great king traveling to a poor and remote settlement, and unexpectedly falling in love with an uneducated and very common peasant girl during the course of his visit. Naturally there were other contenders in this love game back home, brilliant, intelligent, well-groomed, and highly qualified, hoping to take their place at Jesus’ side when he became king.

Some of these splendid individuals were genuinely happy for him and wished him nothing but joy and happiness. Others, especially those with exaggerated self-importance, were disturbed and clearly envious, to the point of rage and hostility. One of them, known as Lucifer, decided to intervene directly and see what could be done. (A detailed account of this exchange can be found in the fourth chapter of Matthew’s gospel.) Finding Jesus alone, this gorgeous heavenly luminary showed up and made his pitch, “I can offer you food at the snap of your finger, risk, thrills, and excitement, and unbelievable popularity with the crowds! All you have to do is love me, and me alone!”

This was a tempting offer, to be sure, a wild fling with a dazzling escort. But Jesus thought way too much of his father and his family to run off with that floozy. Besides, he had already fallen in love with us, his treasure, his pearl! Though we were no great prize, we were his choice. He sent that arrogant highborn prince off empty handed with a curt dismissal, and that was that.

It wasn’t too long after this that our relationship with Jesus began to sour. For some unfathomable reason we began to grow alarmed and put up our defenses, questioning his every word and analyzing his motives. Our resistance only seemed to spur him on and strengthen his resolve to win our love. The second chapter of Mark’s gospel records the beginning stages of this angst, which only seemed to gain momentum as time went on.

Then one day Jesus met privately with his father’s legal team. Recorded in the ninth chapter of Mark and known as the “Transfiguration”, it was here that the facts were evidently all laid out on the table: We, the human race, as desirable as we might be, were in fact a convicted race of criminals and outlaws with a rap sheet that included thousands of years of treachery, deceit, murder, rape, war, pillage, carnage, and wholesale wickedness of every imaginable sort. The question begging to be answered was: How was Jesus going to reign over his father’s kingdom of justice, with us at his side as his future bride? Something drastic needed to be done to rectify our legal status, and it was going to be expensive and painful.

Immediately after this meeting we saw Jesus resolutely marching off to Jerusalem, the local seat of government, and declaring his intention of paying off our debt. We learn the rest of the story from the fourteenth and fifteenth chapters of Mark. Jesus was brutally crucified and put to death. But the gospel writers were careful to point out that he did it “for our sake.”

And now that the debt was paid and we were cleared of all charges at the price of his blood, Jesus was free to take his beloved bride to himself and carry her home, no?

The tragedy of the story, the cruel twist, is that the bride-to-be, on the eve of her wedding, declined his offer. Remember that poor peasant girl, the one that he fell in love with? That was us. That continues to be us. What were we thinking? We positively rejected him! If the truth were known, we flew in his face in a rage. We told him all the terrible things we imagined he had done. We vowed we wouldn’t marry him if he were the last person on earth.

At this, Jesus went away stung to the heart. And we, the human race, the intended bride-to-be, have spent the last two thousand years trying to justify our behavior. We go over and over the facts as we see them. We argue that he is distant and aloof. Our friends all agree that he is only out to enslave simple-minded people. He has endless rules that he expects us to follow, we contend, and for him enough is never enough. We presume that if we take one step out of line we are cast off forever. He says he loves us, we declare, but we are left to suffer and die…and on and on we go as the years go by.

Then one day quite unexpectedly we find ourselves in his house, perhaps at a wedding, or a funeral. In his house we discover that he is deeply loved and honored by the people who know him and work with him and follow him. They can’t stop talking about him and praising him. As we marvel at this, suddenly someone throws open the gospel door and begins to read, and we are confronted with him face-to-face! There he is, holding out his hand and beckoning us once more to join him!

Deeply embarrassed and covered with confusion at this sudden encounter, we find we have nothing to say. We take flight. We run for the nearest door, jump in our car, and drive far, far away as quickly as possible.

But reflecting on this chance meeting leads us to a more realistic and healthy appraisal of the situation:

  • After all this time he does still appear to have feelings for us.
  • He is, in fact, very rich, which is a consideration.
  • We are older now, we have been pushed around a bit, and we have to admit that we have no other offers on the table, no other prospects for a happy future.
  • The fact is, if truth be told, we are running out of resources, and may be on the verge of some serious hard times.
  • His offer, when seen in this light, does seem quite generous, after all.
  • And he did, a long time ago, pay the price for our freedom.
  • He seems like the kind of person we could learn to love.
  • Perhaps we were too hasty in turning him down?

These new thoughts begin to move about in our brain, and we begin to feel something tender stir in our heart.

And then comes another chance encounter like the one before. Or perhaps we intentionally open that gospel door for another look. Once more, Jesus immediately appears and invites us in. We are still flustered from our earlier meeting, but we are somewhat more prepared, and we feel as though a simple acknowledgement, a thank-you, might be a good way to break the ice. We start to speak, but then it all spills out, “I am so sorry for the way I treated you, for the terrible things I said, for being so thoughtless and cruel. I can scarcely think of my behavior without pain and embarrassment. Is there any way that you could possibly forgive me, give me another chance?…”

Says he, without a moment’s hesitation “I will never reject anyone who comes to me!“ (John 6:37)

Now that’s direct talk! There’s no mistaking his intentions now! Most of us feel a wave of emotional ecstasy when we realize the implications of what we are being given. A fabulous future at the side of this joyous and generous king, with no legal fine print to dash our hopes!

It may be peculiar to imagine, but all of the ecstasy and disappointment and bliss and sorrow and joy that describe human love and marriage in our world is merely a faint reflection of this central and supreme cosmic drama between us, the human race, and Jesus, the king. Saint Paul, in his letter to the Ephesians, describes human marriage as “A great mystery. I mean it refers to Christ and the church.” (Ephesians 5:32) We are the single object of this divine invitation, and if we have a beating human heart we can respond enthusiastically in the affirmative.

There will come a time when Jesus will have to move ahead with this marriage. He will be forced to dismiss those who have persistently refused his offer. That event, found in Matthew’s gospel chapter 25, will be known as the “Final Judgment” and it will be a very sad time indeed. It is true that many people will turn at the last minute and come back, especially those who have been kind and generous and humanitarian during their lifetime. “Come’” he will say. “Come and receive the inheritance that has been prepared for you, since the foundation of the world!”

Those others, however, who never thought of anyone but themselves, will have to go. With enormous sadness and a breaking heart, Jesus will watch as a sizeable portion of humanity walks away in one final act of senseless defiance. Where will they go? What will they do? Who will take care of them?

It is far from certain that Jesus will ever get over this bitter and tragic disappointment. Nor is it certain that we will soon forget that awful day. The only thing we do know for certain is that the choice is entirely up to us. Happiness and joy (and a complete make-over!) as the bride-to-be, or loneliness and desolation in a dark and terrifying void.

The gospel comes to a close at this point, and we can imagine Jesus saying, “Please end my heart’s torment and say yes to my love.“

The Christian scripture concludes with a book known as “Revelation”, and that book describes the day of our future happiness, our wedding day. It’s not possible to even imagine what that day will be like, except that we will somehow be prepared and adorned, as a bride is adorned for her husband. (Rev. 19)

A 1970s love song from the Carpenters might describe our wedding day:

“We’ve only just begun, to live, white lace and promises. A kiss for luck and we’re on our way, we’ve only begun!”

Christianity is not a philosophy. It is certainly not a set of rules and regulations. Nor is it irrelevant or outdated or stale or boring. Those things describe what will be left if we pass up this incredible opportunity.

What inexpressible joy awaits us if we simply step through the gospel door and say yes!

My next post, My Trip To Planet F, describes what will be left if we pass up this incredible opportunity.

 

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Mixing Metaphors

Jean-François_Millet_-_The Sower“The seed that falls on good ground will yield a fruitful harvest.”

I am intrigued by Jesus’ many remarks, found in the gospels, concerning the topic of agriculture.

I am equally taken with the concept of treating Christian evangelism as if it was a political campaign, featuring Jesus as the dominant and exalted candidate for the highest office in the land, and his gospel as the perfect campaign brochure. These two ideas seem linked.

There are many parallels between Jesus’ treatment of farming, and our understanding of political campaigning.  Most Christians would agree that when Jesus spoke of seedtime and harvest, sowing and reaping, weeding, watering, and pruning, he was referring to what he saw as an organic process by which his kingdom would grow and spread to all the nations of the world.

Jesus, the master gardener, said, “Once there was a man who went out to sow seed…”(Luke 8:5). When his friends questioned him about this story, his comment was, “The seed is the word of God.” (Luke 8:11)

I take that to mean the actual words that he himself spoke, as well as the record of his actions while he lived in Palestine, i.e. the Gospel. In other words, the Gospel itself is the seed he was talking about.

Seeds are plain and ordinary, right? You pick them up at the garden center in the spring and plant them in your garden. Or you re-seed the bare patches in your lawn. No big deal.

But some seeds are more valuable, and they come with a history. They are called heirloom or heritage seeds, and they have been developed over hundreds of years, perhaps by a single family who has guarded and propagated this particular variety because of its inherent value.

So for the purposes of this article, I want to compare the Christian Bible to a seed catalog:

  • The Old Testament as a record of the history and development of one particular seed.
  • The New Testament (Acts of the Apostles and Letters) as a “how-to” manual for planting and caring for this seed.
  • The Book of Revelation as an analogy to the full-grown plant.
  • The Four Gospels as the actual seeds that need to be planted.

One hundred percent of Christian literature, without exception, is about the seed, but it is not the seed. Apologetics, Christian history, Holy Encyclicals, the lives of the saints, instruction in ministry, books on how-to-live-the-Christian-life, conversion stories, exciting fiction, the coming apocalypse; these are all great and inspiring books, and thank God for them, but they are not the seed. (And nobody said they were.) This noble body of literature is entirely directed towards people who are intent on nourishing the seed that has already been planted in their lives.

Consider the factory worker in Flint, Michigan, who is trying hard to be a good Muslim. Or think about the computer programmer in Seattle who was told by her parents to avoid western philosophies like the plague. How about the successful businessman from South Philadelphia, who meets his family and friends regularly in the Hindu Temple? Christian literature finds no home within them. What bears repeating is that there are over 5 billion of these good people in the world, and they constitute seventy percent of the earth’s population. For them, Christianity is a non-subject. Their cultures preclude any real possibility of ever coming into contact with the gospel, either spoken or printed. There is an impenetrable spiritual barrier in place that not many humans can cross.

Not many can cross this divide, that is, with the notable exception of the humble postal worker, who can easily step over the barrier and plant a gospel seed as easily as dropping an envelope through the mail slot in the front door or into the mailbox at the curb.

The four gospels are the very seeds that Jesus came to deliver, and they were intended for planting. Sending any other Christian literature to our secular world is like sending pictures of corn to a farmer. He doesn’t need pictures. He needs corn seed.

I am of the belief that mailing out single, intact, copies of the gospel is a crucial step in the education and transformation of the world, one that could have a lasting impact on our civilization. I have created a small personal program to do just that. And I would argue that large-scale gospel mailing programs could be successfully carried out in almost every nation on earth where postal services are available. (See my post Farming The Land). In my opinion nothing else will do. Gospel tracts won’t do. Great Christian literature won’t do. How-to books won’t do. Internet podcasts won’t do. I would like to be a sower of real seed, seed that will take root and grow.

There is a question looming in my mind: Is sending out copies of the gospel a waste of my time? I don’t really know the answer to that question, but I’ve decided to go ahead with my program despite my own doubts, based solely on some old scripture passages that I have admittedly interpreted to suit my own purposes:

  • “So shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” (Isaiah 55:11)

This passage is most reassuring and would seem to indicate that my program cannot fail. Lord, help my unbelief!

  • The Parable of the Sower (Mark 4:3-9)

The Parable of the Sower is so important in the gospels that it is repeated six times (twice in Matthew, twice in Mark, and twice in Luke). In the story, Jesus throws his seed out indiscriminately and stands back to see what might happen. Some of the seed takes hold and produces prodigiously, while some of the seed does not fare so well. Interestingly, Jesus seems to expect 100% germination, while allowing that only about 25% of the seed will mature.

And paraphrasing some other encouraging words of Jesus:

  • “Don’t bother to weed.” (Matt. 13:24-30)
  • “Don’t fret over your crop. Just leave it alone.” (Mark 4:26-29)
  • “That tiny little seed you are planting will be the biggest crop in your field.” (Mark 4:30-32)

Finally, Jesus’ concept of farming includes the possibility for exponential growth. Jesus predicted that some of those seeds could produce as much as 30, or 60, or 100 fold return. Best to wait and see before getting carried away! But I am eager to observe the outcome of my small gospel-planting project. My hope is that at least some of those who read the actual gospel will modify their way of thinking about Jesus, and believe in the possibility of a world completely immersed in his divine and passionate love.

To mix my metaphors once again, I would like to see many people cast their vote in favor of Jesus, and cultivate his love in their hearts.

My next post, Political Baby Steps, describes some of my thoughts on Jesus’ political campaign.

 

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Political Baby Steps

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“Proclaim God’s marvelous deeds to all the nations.”

 

I am a complete novice when it comes to politics and the process of running a political campaign. I have never been involved in politics at any level, with the exception of helping my friend become president of our senior class at college. Our main strategy at that time was to plaster campaign fliers on every tree and lamppost across campus. It actually worked surprisingly well.

Thinking I would test the concept of running a political campaign for Jesus, I printed up some business cards with His picture on the front, and my website on the back, and got myself into Times Square, New York City. My plan was to distribute the cards to random pedestrians, and assess their reactions. I discovered three things:

Not a single person would take a card from me, or even make eye contact.

When I placed the cards on public benches and tables, they were immediately removed and discarded by custodians working in the area.

If I placed a card on a table that was occupied, the reaction was often ridicule or outright hostility.

I somehow managed to place about 250 cards on public seating locations in Times Square before I lost my nerve and hurried home.

Over the next couple of months I got “hits” on my website from the following countries: United States, Brazil, Canada, India, Italy, Argentina, Portugal, Australia, Philippines, United Kingdom, Chile, Mexico, Albania, and Sri Lanka.

I won’t even try to correlate the hits on my website with the distribution of business cards, but I must say I was encouraged by the apparent interest in Jesus shown by people across the globe.

When I was 30 years old, I left rural Connecticut and went to live in a Catholic church in the heart of Newark, New Jersey. Joining a number of other zealous young men and women in a program of Christian renewal, we often fanned out across the inner city neighborhoods inviting people to our church. Although some of my new friends may have been effective evangelizers, in my case I believe the local residents of Newark tended to look on me with downright pity. The Lord, in his great wisdom and mercy, arranged for me to meet a lovely young woman and get married, before I could do any real damage in the missionary fields!

Subsequently, my wife and I served on several parish missions as part of a team that would travel up and down the east coast seeking to renew parish life. We would give our witness, lead the music, pray over people for healing, and try to answer people’s questions as best as we could. Cynics might say we were “preaching to the choir”. Evangelicals call it “refreshing the saints”. Pope John Paul II called it “providing ongoing catechesis for those who are ‘fervent in their faith'”.

But I never encountered a single person who was being exposed to Christianity for the first time.

Even now, many years later, I am still not convinced that I have ever been involved in actually spreading the gospel, in the sense of a farmer sowing seed.

In my mind, sowing seed must somehow involve breaking new ground. We can’t survive for long on last year’s crop. We need a new crop each year to feed our families.

In the same sense, every political campaign needs new voters to successfully win an election. I ask myself how modern political campaigns get their message out to the masses? One technique that is familiar to many of us is the use of mailing campaigns. Postcards and flyers arrive in the mail describing a candidate’s qualifications, (and the opponent’s shortcomings), in the hopes of educating the electorate. Sometimes these campaigns target specific people at specific addresses, but at other times they are simply addressed to “Local Postal Customer.”

Every Door Direct Mail, or EDDM, is a service of the U.S. Postal Service developed to make mass mailing both easy and inexpensive. No postage permit is required, and no mailing lists are needed. Using their mapping tool, I can hover over an area that I am interested in, select an entire postal route, (typically around 300 households) and arrange for my campaign literature to be delivered to the “local postal customer “at the low cost of $0.18 per mail piece.

Let me repeat that: I can deliver my campaign literature (in this case the Gospel of Mark) to an entire postal route of 300 households, for about $50.00 postage (plus the cost of the printed material). Since each household typically consists of at least 4 people, I will be effectively reaching 1200 people with my candidate’s message every time I conduct an EDDM mailing to an individual postal route.

Unless I’m mistaken, delivering an up-beat message through the mail to prospective voters is probably the most efficient and successful tactic that a politician can employ to win votes during an election. Likewise, a short and pithy biography of the candidate may be just the ticket to a successful campaign. I’m certainly hoping that is the case in this most crucial of all elections.

My next post The Power To Govern explains why our campaign is so crucial.

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The Power To Govern

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“The Lord is King, the Most High over all the earth”

Our country has just been through a bruising presidential election(in 2016), and for better or for worse, the winner clearly walked away with the power to govern. The loser was given no such power, and really had no recourse but to return to the private sector. You all know what I am talking about.

So winning an election isn’t incidental. When it comes to governing, at least in a democracy, winning an election is everything.

In the history of the world, absolutely nothing ever got done in the absence of a clearly defined leader or head of state. Sometimes a leader would come into power by conquering and subduing a people, and sometimes a long established monarchy was able to hold on to power. But the best kind of rulers, in many cases, were the ones who had been intentionally chosen by the very people seeking to be governed. King David was a perfect example of this. (Read 2 Samuel 5: 1-5).

As Christians we know that Jesus Christ is High King of Heaven. He is King of Kings and Lord of Lords. He is the Beginning and the End, the Alpha and the Omega.

But on earth, sad to say, he only has 30% of the vote. And that is just not enough to rule on earth. We Christians want him to govern, and he wants to govern, but until he wins some sort of election, some sort of universal popular acclaim, he has to work behind the scenes in the private sector. (Of course, he could easily conquer and subdue the earth, but he doesn’t seem inclined that way.)

I believe that Jesus is fully aware of this reality. When he set up his special little kingdom among his tiny group of original followers, he basically told them to do two things:

  1. Live your lives as if I was your king.
  2. Spread my gospel (which includes my governing principals) over the entire earth.

To me, that sounds a lot like a political party campaigning for it’s favorite candidate. I don’t mean to be crass, but why should we continue to lose ground when we could be gaining ground just as easily?

I don’t know too much about running a political campaign, but I know that one of the first things, and probably the most important thing, is to get the word out. Print up the campaign literature and pass it out everywhere, particularly where the candidate is not well known. Take his case directly to the people. Let them decide by a simple vote whether or not they want him as their leader.

This question constitutes the main theme of this blog. How is Jesus going to get seven billion people to come to him and ask him to be their ruler?

It is my small uninformed humble opinion that the world’s Christians should begin focusing more energy into printing and shipping individual copies of single gospels (possibly through the mail) to virtually every country on earth, especially to those countries where Christianity has no vital presence. I am not talking about gospel tracts, or how-to books. I am talking about printing the entire gospel of Mark, for instance. Or Luke or John or Matthew, printed in the language of the country of destination. These small booklets are no more than 50 or 60 pages in length and are easily read and understood by normal intelligent people.

I know this is not a new idea, and it is certainly being carried out by lots of individuals and groups all over the place. I’ve made up my mind to join in the effort in my own small way.

My next post A Cosmic Courtship explains the gospel in terms of a classic love story.

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