How Do I Read this Thing?

 

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So you think you know about the Bible? Feel like you don’t know enough?  Great!  A lot of folks fall into those places! I’m not a scholar by any means. Regardless, I love the Bible. I’m at home in its words. It guides my life and principles. It defines who I am.

 

Like I said in my previous post, there is a whole lot of information (good and bad) on the Bible. Do a Google search and you’ll find a plethora of information about how you should or shouldn’t read it. Some are helpful.  Some…not so much.  So let us skip this step and take a hands-on approach. Define your goal for coming to the Bible in the first place. Don’t focus on what other people are telling you and open up a Bible for yourself.

 

Before you start (or restart) reading the Bible there are three things to consider.

1.  How do you read it?

What I mean is this:  what’s your motive for reading it?  Gleaning information?  Religious reasons?  Historical information?  Literary critique?  Is it all the above?  You need to narrow it down to the reason, because that will shape what comes next.

2. What biases are you bringing to the Bible?

No one comes to Scripture in a vacuum.  

 

If you come looking for supposed contradictions, you won’t stay long.  If you come to investigate the history, you’ll be there a while.  If you come to disprove the Bible, you’ll find lots of things to look at.  If you come to examine it through the lens of literary genres, you’ll find a plethora of styles to choose from.  Your reason for approaching the Bible will determine what you find.

 

Another facet to consider? Life experiences. Your personal experiences determine what you might bring to the Bible. You remember something you heard in Sunday School years ago. You get your information from a History Channel documentary. You rely on your once-religious aunt who had a bad church experience. You rely on the arm-chair theologians of Reddit. You had a bad experience yourself and may read that into the text.

 

This matters. A lot. Your presuppositions will determine what you walk away with. Always.Every time.  Why?  Because you’ll only focus on the one point you are there for and you’ll miss the context of the Bible as a whole.

3. What’s your view of the Bible?

It’s an interesting piece of literature, nothing more.

 

You’ll likely be there to observe its literary structure. You’ll admire the Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek prose. It will reveal many literary genres. You’re going to love it!

 

Its got a lot of history, but that’s about it.

 

You’re approaching from the historical-critical route. That will take you down a fascinating path of world history. Transported to another time you’ll rocket into history’s greatest events. It’s a unique perspective. You’ll gain a greater understanding of civilization.

 

Not sure what I believe about it.

Approaching the Bible with an open, yet cautious mind can lead you on an amazing trip. You might learn more about the world and yourself along the way. There are commands and genealogies, directions and prohibitions. There will be a lot of questions that flood your brain. Write them down and talk them out with someone who is familiar with the Bible.

 

I believe it’s the Word of God

Seeing the Bible as God-breathed leads you in a different way. You’ll see it as not a rulebook, but as the Story of God. If you’re approaching from this angle, you’ll experience the Bible in a way many do not. What do I mean? You’ll see it as God speaking to you through the lives of others who sought to follow God. It will transform your entire being.

 

I think its irrelevant fairy tale and has no place in society.

If you fall into this category then you’ll come to a different conclusion than others. You’ll likely approach it to gather ammunition. I see you.

  • Tweeting about how hypocritical Christians are for eating shrimp yet supporting traditional marriage.
  • There is always a status update asking if God is so good…(fill in the blank). Asking if God could make a gas station burrito so hot that not even He Himself could eat it.
  • Picking out the crusades and slavery to pin the Christian into submission.
  • Saying the Bible is anti-women or a device of the patriarchy to hold you down. I hear you.

Let me suggest something. Making posts like that shows that you know a lot...but not about the Bible. I can’t even unpack the crazy that I read on Reddit or in Facebook groups. They’re from folks who claim to know so much about the Bible, but have no idea what it actually says. So, if that’s where your coming from, you’ll have a hard time with the Bible. Yet, I encourage you to read it. Pick at it. Scrutinize it.

 

Read the Bible.

 

At the end of the day, your goal matteres. Your approach matters. Your bias matters. What you believe the Bible is matters. It all affects what happens when you sit down and begin to read its words.

 

Before the next post sit down with a pen and paper. Answer the reasons for yourself that I’ve laid out. See where you’ll aproach it from. Then get ready for a crazy trip of awesome as we look at the Bible and how to make the most of it.

 

See you next time,

Scott

 

So You Think You Know About the Bible?

What’s in the Bible? Could you relate it with truth? Would you be sure you were being factual? Do you know where to look? How do you find out?
 
Here’s what most of us do:
 
We go to Google, Siri, and reddit to glean information. We click on crazy headlinesBible-Public seeking a quick bit of information to steel our convictions. We join Facebook groups about theists vs. atheists. We lurk in the sub-reddits about religion. We observe the rhetoric that is often argumentative and circular in reasoning. From both sides.
 
Most threads end unresolved as the next high-octane topic gets posted. “God is a Murderer” or “Jesus Never Existed,” or “Christians are bigots” or “the Bible isn’t real.” You get the idea.
 
I talk to people. A lot. All kinds of people from all kinds of backgrounds. Christians, atheists, Muslims, Buddhists, and everything between. When I’m talking with people, and they ask my thoughts on something, I’m never shy about my faith. What I do find is that a lot of times there is a complete misunderstanding of what the Bible is and what it says.
 
More often than not, our source material is our formerly religious brother-in-law. You know, the guy who can regurgitate whatever article he read and sound credible.
 
I want to help you, if you want to know about the Bible. I want you to see it in all its glory and elegance. It is a beautiful collection of literature that has stood the test of time. It is far more than a run-of-the-mill book. I want you to see the beauty of its prose; the sweeping narrative; the powerful words that will wake your soul as the voice of your Creator beckons.
 
Some of the things we’ll cover are:
  • Why are there two parts to the Bible?
  • Is the text of the Bible historically accurate?
  • What source materials do we have to prove the Bible’s consistency?
  • Was the text edited?
  • Was it thrown together by a bunch of guys in the third century?
  • Why are there some books that didn’t make the cut?
  • Who decides what goes into the Bible?
  • What does a thousands-year old book have to do with me?
  • God
  • sexuality
  • human life
  • reality
  • eternity
  • war
  • poverty
I want to invite you to walk this journey with me. I’m no scholar. I don’t even have a Master’s Degree. I’m a pastor who didn’t start out that way. I asked all these questions. I’m still asking some of them. Let’s walk this road together. Let’s open our minds and rid ourselves of what we know. Let’s come to the Bible and see if it is the Word of God…or if it’s some other book.
 
We’ll get started soon!
 
I love you! God loves you more,
 
Scott

Very Thin Lines

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“The question is really: Christianity or Germanism Americanism? And the sooner the conflict is revealed in the clear light of day the better.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Adapted

During the maddening 2016 election cycle, I felt a lot of pressure. It came from several religious and political sources. I was “encouraged” to guide the congregation into voting for “the right guy/gal.” I had a lot of unsolicited mail delivered to me asking to sign this petition or pass that one around the church. There were voting guide leaflets with the two candidates organized by the “big issues.” It called itself “bipartisan” but you only needed to read a couple of sentances to see the agenda. I didn’t pass out or sign anything, but some of the members did it for me.

 As the campaign rhetoric reached fever pitch an old struggle emerged. It was, as Simon and Garfunkel sang, “…the vision that was planted in my brain” that still remained. I couldn’t stomach any more “Make America Great Again” yard signs (most of which were UUUUGE). I couldn’t look at any more “Stronger Together” bumper stickers because “I’m Not With Her.” I couldn’t look at Facebook or Twitter without seeing people eviscerating one another. America, it seemed, was collapsing under her own patriotic rage.

 I, like most of you, grew up in the greatest country ever established. I grew up educated in American exceptionalism. I watched 9/11 live from Mrs. Fairchild’s English class. I joined the anger and hatred directed at outsiders and Muslims because I was afraid. I watched Operation Shock and Awe begin live on CNN in my shockandaweCommunity Service class. I watched the rockets red glare crush the city of Baghdad. I saw apartment towers collapse. I saw the fury of a nation scorned bringing retribution to the enemy. And I relished in it. I celebrated death. I welcomed destruction with open arms. I cheered for anger.

 Fast-forward.

 In 2004 I became a Christian. It was to be my first election. I was a registered democrat and then I went to Bible College. I’ll never forget the day I wore a John Kerry shirt to classes. I received stares, giggles, and a lot of pity for being so naive. The well-meaning brothers and sisters told me that true Christians had to vote for the other guy. So I did.

 I learned something that year. A lot of Jesus people see little difference  between how true Christianity and America differ. Since God is against abortion, you should vote for the anti-abortion nominee. Since God is against homosexuality, you should vote for the candidate who is too. I also learned a few election cycles later that folks expect a minister to tell everybody else that.

 It was 2012 that I began to grow suspect of my previous convictions. I knew something gnawing at my conscience was the Holy Spirit asking me to reconsider previous viewpoints.  Yet, I was apprehensive with the idea of saying anything to anyone. Ministers had lost congregations because of these kinds of ideas – at worst. At best I would be labeled unpatriotic, liberal, or someone who didn’t support our troops. Some would say I was afraid to take a stand, I had no conviction, or I was satanic. None of those things are true about me, by the way.

 There are those of you reading right now who might share those same convictions. If I’m honest, the idea that some of you might still be reading this makes me happy. Like many American churchgoers this might be hard for you. The idea that an American minister refuses to use the pulpit to sway political opinion is crazy. To think that my theological convictions prevent me from doing that seems unbelievable. I mean, aren’t we supposed to be “taking America back for God?” If you want to label me liberal, flip-floppy, unpatriotic, or even a Communist, I can’t stop you. Again I say that none of those things are true about me.

 You need to know that as I walk through this series of posts I do respect your convictions. I also want to challenge you to keep your mind open and to ponder the ideas I present. Nothing more engenders personal and spiritual growth more than considering another’s thoughts. Even those ideas that may be offensive and vexing. I understand that you might get offended. I expect some of you will get angry. I only ask that you give serious thought to what I write and wrestle with the thoughts I present.

 So what’s main idea that I’ll be working through? What’s my hypothesis? Here it is:

 A large sector of American Christians are guilty of political and nationalistic idolatry. To a horrific extent.

Many American Christians fuse the Kingdom of God with the kingdom of this world. It seems that we have draped Jesus in an American flag and put Him in the White House. Rather than fixating on our understanding of the Kingdom of God through the person of Jesus – who, as I recall, never let Himself get pulled in to political disputes in His day – many of us American Christians have allowed our understanding God’s Kingdom to get contaminated with political ideas, agendas, and issues.

 For many Christians, as Greg Boyd notes,

“The Kingdom of God is largely about, if not centered on, ‘taking America back for God,’ voting for the Christian candidate, outlawing abortion, outlawing gay marriage, winning the culture wars, defending political freedom at home and abroad, keeping the phrase ‘under God’ in the Pledge of Allegiance, fighting for prayer in schools and public events, fighting to display the Ten Commandments in government buildings. “

 I won’t argue that these issues are either wrong or right. I’m not saying that Christians should never be involved in politics.

 Why?

Because this issue is much more basic than who you should vote or take part in government.

I will argue that the above position is misguided. That trying to merge any other kingdom with the Kingdom of God is idolatrous. It is hampering the mission of the Church in America. It is hurting our witness for Christ.

Instead, I want to object to the idea that finding the right political path has anything to do with advancing the Kingdom of God. I hope that you will join me in this journey. I pray that you will test everything I say against the Scriptures for yourself. I pray that you will think about the next several posts.

We will do well to remember that there is a very fine line between patriotism and idolatry

something to think about,

Scott

Truth: The Laws of Thought and Noncontradiction

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The other day I started a new series here on Truth.  It’s a building-block style series where each post will assume you’ve read the previous.  If you haven’t done so, check out my first one, here.

Last post, we established the societal views between absolute truth and subjective truth.  We looked at moral absolutism vs. moral relativism and saw that Absolute truth and moral absolutism actually win the day in logic and philosophy because truth is unchangeable, regardless of feelings or personal convictions.

In this post, I want to take that to the next step and look at what philosophy and logic calls the Law of Noncontradiction.

What is the Law of Noncontradiction?

It’s one of the Three Traditional Laws of Thought.

The laws of thought are fundamental axiomatic rules upon which rational discourse itself is often considered to be based. The formulation and clarification of such rules have a long tradition in the history of philosophy and logic. Generally they are taken as laws that guide and underlie everyone’s thinking, thoughts, expressions, discussions, etc.

The three Laws of to Thought are:

  • The law of identity: ‘Whatever is, is.’

    Regarding this law, Aristotle wrote:

    First then this at least is obviously true, that the word “be” or “not be” has a definite meaning, so that not everything will be “so and not so”. Again, if “man” has one meaning, let this be “two-footed animal”; by having one meaning I understand this:—if “man” means “X”, then if A is a man “X” will be what “being a man” means for him. (It makes no difference even if one were to say a word has several meanings, if only they are limited in number; for to each definition there might be assigned a different word. For instance, we might say that “man” has not one meaning but several, one of which would have one definition, viz. “two-footed animal”, while there might be also several other definitions if only they were limited in number; for a peculiar name might be assigned to each of the definitions. If, however, they were not limited but one were to say that the word has an infinite number of meanings, obviously reasoning would be impossible; for not to have one meaning is to have no meaning, and if words have no meaning our reasoning with one another, and indeed with ourselves, has been annihilated; for it is impossible to think of anything if we do not think of one thing; but if this is possible, one name might be assigned to this thing.) — Aristotle, Metaphysics, Book IV, Part 4 (translated by W.D. Ross)

  • The law of noncontradiction:  Nothing can both be and not be.

    In other words: “two or more contradictory statements cannot both be true in the same sense at the same time”. In the words of Aristotle, that “one cannot say of something that it is and that it is not in the same respect and at the same time”. Regarding this law, Aristotle writes:

    It is impossible, then, that “being a man” should mean precisely not being a man, if “man” not only signifies something about one subject but also has one significance … And it will not be possible to be and not to be the same thing, except in virtue of an ambiguity, just as if one whom we call “man”, and others were to call “not-man”; but the point in question is not this, whether the same thing can at the same time be and not be a man in name, but whether it can be in fact. — Aristotle, Metaphysics, Book IV, Part 4 (translated by W.D. Ross)

  • The law of the excluded middle: Everything must either be or not be.’But on the other hand there cannot be an intermediate between contradictories, but of one subject we must either affirm or deny any one predicate. This is clear, in the first place, if we define what the true and the false are. To say of what is that it is not, or of what is not that it is, is false, while to say of what is that it is, and of what is not that it is not, is true; so that he who says of anything that it is, or that it is not, will say either what is true or what is false            — Aristotle, Metaphysics, Book IV, Part 7 (translated by W.D. Ross)

According to the 1999 Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy, laws of thought are laws by which or in accordance with which valid thought proceeds, or that justify valid inference, or to which all valid deduction is reducible. Laws of thought are rules that apply without exception to any subject matter of thought, etc.

It should be noted that this was subscribed to and affirmed by Plato, Indian thinkers, Buddha, John Locke, and a myriad of others that are giants of philosophy.

So if we boil it all down, through ancient logic and confirmation by modern scholars, something cannot be and not be at the same time.  I cannot say that a red car is parked in front of my house and also say a red car is NOT parked in front of my house.

So let’s talk noncontradiction.

In order for something to be contradictory, it must violate the law of noncontradiction. This law states that A cannot be both A (what it is) and non-A (what it is not) at the same time and in the same relationship. In other words, you have contradicted yourself if you affirm and deny the same statement. For example, if I say that the moon is made entirely of cheese but then also say that the moon is not made entirely of cheese, I have contradicted myself.

In our world today,  the law of noncontradiction is often viewed as  Western construct. A lot of folks in our time believe that Western “Either-Or” logic is too arrogant, dogmatic, and exclusive…and so they opt for a dialectic system of logic, or a “both and” line of thought.

In the alternative facts culture and post-truth politics of 2017, these laws are important to remember.  When we subscribe to a “both/and” logic, what we are saying is “things can be whatever they will be, as long as they be to me.”  It’s often an emotional appeal devoid of, or at least severely pared down with any facts.  If we are to believe that, than absolute truth and moral absolutism are dead.

However, the law of noncontradiction, propped up with the other two Laws of Thought,  will always prevail.  Why? Because they are not rooted in emotional conjecture or subjective opinion.  They are grounded in reality – that is, in what actually is – held up by observable, provable, unchanging principles.

Why does this matter?  Well, because these logical laws rooted in reality prove that there is absolute truth and morality is not relative.  Therefore, when someone presents something to you, it is YOUR job to make sure that it is actually truth.  Do not be quick to replace truth with opinion, conjecture, or conviction.  

At the end of the day, truth will be proven true, regardless of efforts to spin, bend, eradicate, or change it.  As Jesus says:

But wisdom is proved right by her deeds. (Matthew 11:19b, NIV)

And also,

31 To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. 32 Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free. (John 8:31, NIV)

So then, we can conclude, there is absolute truth.  If Jesus makes these claims, we also see they are diametrically opposed to many other truth claims in our world.  Perhaps non so strong as the one made at the Last Supper:

“I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:6).

How does all this apply?  Why do I close with that statement?  Why all the philosophy?  We’ll get to that in the next post.

I love you.  God loves you more!

Scott

The Kingdom Vs. the Empire, Pt. 2

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If you didn’t get the first part, read it here.

The Kingdom of God is so radically different from the earthly empires.  From the ways it advances, to the ways it protects and defends.  I will be the first to admit it is very hard to grow up in a nationalistic fervor of patriotism and history, and not get caught up in the empire.

So when did all of this “muddy-ness” that blurred the Kingdom and the Empire begin?  Well, we can track it back to one man: Constantine.

in 312 A.D., General Constantine came to power after winning a decisive battle at Milvian Bridge where he took the symbols of Christianity and, as Brian Zahnd says, “…placing them as talismans on weapons of war.” Since Constantine emerged the victor of the Roman Civil War, he ascended the throne of Emperor. Throughout the P.R. Campaign, he attributed his victory to the “Christian God.”  Very quickly Christianity became Christendom as it was inaugurated as the official state religion of the Roman Empire.  The Edict of Milan came in February of 313, and thus the Holy Roman Empire was born.

Almost instantly the church became the “state chaplain” to the Romans.  This new role, that was never intended by God, by the way, would set the church on a course that would pair it with national politics, and ultimately culminate in some of the darkest parts of church and world history:  The Crusades and the Middle Ages.

Both of these historical events and periods serve to show us how far Christianity came off the rails when it embraced servitude to the Empire over service to the Kingdom. Just like in my last post, this is precisely what happens when we separate Jesus from His ideas and superimpose Him onto ours.

Unfortunately, it is not a thing of the past.  We still do this today. for 1700 years Christianity has embraced Jesus as our personal Saviour, but completely dismiss His teachings on peace and non-violence.  Brian Zahnd describes our situation like this:

“We [Christians] have embraced a privitized, postmortem gospel that stresses Jesus dying for our sins but at the same time ignores His political ideas. This leaves us free to run the world in the way it has always been run:  by the power of the sword.  Under pressure from the ideology of the empire, concepts like ‘freedom’ and ‘truth’ gain radically different meaning than those intended by Christ. Freedom becomes a euphimism for ‘vanquishing’ (instead of loving) our enemies; ‘truth’ finds its ultimate form in the will to power (expressed in the willingness to kill).  This is a long way from the ideas of peace, love, and forgivness set forth by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount.” (Zahnd, Farewell to Mars)

We too quickly (and too often) forget that it was Jesus ideas that made Him a threat to the powers that be. But look at our ‘gospel’ today.  It’s been sterilized and domesticated, it’s been neutered of it’s incredible power to transform the hearts and mind of humanity.  If Jesus would’ve gone around preaching this postmortem, sanitized ‘gospel’ that we preach, Pilate would have shrugged his shoulders, released Jesus, and told him to stay home and stop being weird. But that’s not what happened, right?  Why?  Because Pontius Pilate and Caiaphas knew that Jesus was a threat – Jesus was teaching against the Empire (or as we label it today, a global superpower).

In making Jesus the state chaplain of Rome and Constantinian Christianity, what we’ve unknowingly done is to invent a Manichean (an adherent of the dualistic religious system of Manes, a combination of Gnostic Christianity, Buddhism, Zoroastrianism, and various other elements, with a basic doctrine of a conflict between light and dark, matter being regarded as dark and evil) Jesus who saves our souls but leaves us free to run things the way we see fit.  That’s precisely what we want, right?  Especially if that belief has us in a nation that sits atop of the superpower food chain.  Seventeen centuries of church history suggest that we embrace this all too readily and embrace Jesus as the Savoir of our personal (a.k.a. private, individual) soul, but largely unchanged by His ideas of Kingdom vs. Empire. Commenting on this Miroslav Volf says,

“Pilate deserves our sympathies, not because he was a good though tragically mistaken man because we are not much better.  We may believe in Jesus, but we do not believe in His ideas, at least not His ideas about violence, truth, and justice.” (Volf, Exclusion and Embrace)

This is where the train screamed off the tracks.  A ‘Christian’ Emperor wielding the ‘Christian’ sword of Imperial dominance became a logical way to run things, and the Kingdom of God was packed up and relocated to some distant, after-you-die, ethereal concept that became innocuous to say the least.  Jesus was demoted as Savoir of the world, to a personal Savoir who only cared about what you do privately. This is NOT to suggest that Jesus isn’t the Savoir of our souls – He is!  But it is to help us see that the mission of Christ extends way beyond a privatized, sterile, personal religion coupled with some good afterlife benefits.

Do not forget that Jesus actually intends to redeem and restore the world! To restore God’s SHALOM, the original perfection and holiness of the Creation, and that includes God’s ideas about love, justice, peace, non-violence, and forgiveness.

The brass tacks of it all boil down to this:  Far too many of us believe in the Risen Lord Jesus, but flat out reject His political ideals – the REVOLUTIONARY ones. We have kept Jesus in the “religion” box to keep Him from meddling in our politics, wars, and laws that we may, even inadvertently worship the Empire, the State as some sort of benevolent deity to fuel our nationalistic zealousness and imperial dominance.

Perhaps it would do us well to remember the Jesus of the Holy Gospel, the Savoir of all mankind and the Savoir of the world.  The redeemer of human politics, and the ultimate champion of justice and peace.

See you next time,

Scott

What If We’re Wrong?

I was thinking.  Bad idea.

Anywho, I was on the elliptical combo upstairs combo Iron Maiden at the Y this morning listening to some really loud tunes. Why put myself through that?  I us-flagdon’t want to be obese.  That’s not where I’m going though.  Like most fitness facilities there are TV’s all over the place.  There are six at my Y.  As I was watching, the story of the Jordanian pilot being burned alive was on every single screen.  As each screen flashed between the pundits, talking heads, and scenes of a man being burned alive…I was hit with a wave of absolute sorrow.

I mean, what kind of place are we in that we sit and are so used to watching death and violence that the TODAY show is nonchalantly watching someone’s son, father, or grand kid burned a live in a cage?  And then I looked around the gym to see who else would be outraged by this…surely someone else would be fuming and disgusted like me.

*looks around*

People laughing, people on Facebook, people talking about their kids, people not paying attention, people starting at the screens but with the “elevator not going to the top” look.

I wanted to scream!  I wanted to say, “CAN’T YOU PEOPLE SEE THAT SOMEONE JUST DIED ON LIVE TV? AREN’T YOU SHOCKED?  AREN’T YOU INDIGNANT?”  I didn’t do that, however, because I thought that if I did I’d get taken to the psych ward for an “eval.”  That’s when it hit me like a Mack truck: It’s not that people aren’t paying attention – it’s that we’re conditioned to this sort of thing – it’s on 24/7.  Killings, beheading videos, natural disasters, drone strikes, terror attacks, school shootings, race riots, hate crimes, murder, beatings, genocide…all broadcast around the globe in all of media’s various forms and platforms to be consumed constantly by a population who is so desensitized to violence and war that it has become a trivial afterthought.

See the problem?

I’m part of the generation that has grown up with televised war every day since 2001.  We’ve been told it’s for the “greater good” and that we have to kill the bad guys before they kill us.  We’ve grown up beings spoon fed the “Just War” theology, and we’ve seen the rise of something very sinister.  Deistic Nationalism.  That’s what I’ll call it anyways.  It’s the idea that God is draped in an *insert country here* flag.  I am an American so the American flag.  It’s the idea that God is on our side.  It’s the idea that God is the ultimate General commanding the battle from on high.  It’s the belief that we will succeed because God wants us to do this.

Can I…just…say something crazy (Using Anna from Frozen)?

What if that’s not true?  What if God isn’t supportive of that?  What if God isn’t on the side of violence and war?  What if God doesn’t sanction “Just War” but instead it grieves His heart that we still solve things by lobbing bombs at one another?  What if we’re wrong?

It bears asking, doesn’t it?  I mean, if we’re trying to follow Jesus’ life and example, if we hold His word in highest esteem, if we believe what we read, then we HAVE to ask those questions.  It’s unavoidable.  I’m not meaning to isolate or aggravate a part of my audience, but I wonder if, as the early Christians some times fell into (6 of the 7 churches in Revelations 2-3) Emperor Worship.  Another name for it is Nationalism.  

Let’s look at what Jesus says:

21 “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ 22 But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. (Matthew 5:1-22, ESV) 

Jesus ups the ante here, not by making an impossible commandment, but showing the root of it all – the Heart.  Murder starts in your heart.  Hate, envy, jealousy, greed, anger…all of these lead to murder.  Yes, it IS that big of a deal! Keep going:

38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ 39 But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. 40 And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. 41 If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. 42 Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you. (Matthew 5:38-42, ESV) 

Jesus is going back to the Law here (Exodus 21:24; Lev. 24:20; Deut. 19:21).  The prevailing teaching that was throughout the land was “Do unto others as they did to you or someone you care about.” That fit right into Israels hatred for the Roman Empire and the desire to slaughter them out of existence for being occupiers. However, Jesus says that was NEVER the intention of the Law, so let’s rectify this now – when violence and injustice are perpetrated against you or someone you love, you don’t have the authority to get even.  If you follow Jesus, revenge is never an option.  Vengeance belongs to God, not you.  It is not your duty, your right, or in your sphere of existence to dole out justice, because, frankly, you’d be horrible at it, right?  I’d be really bad.  We’d glass entire continents in anger some days if we’re honest, right.  This is hard stuff, but keep going:

4“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor[i] and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:43-47, ESV) 

Jesus takes it even further here.  Not only are you not to seek revenge and strike back, but He makes it extremely intimate – pray for the well-being of the person who hates you.  Did you catch that?  I mean, we have trouble praying when someone cuts us off in traffic…how can we pray for someone who does violence or injustice to someone we love?  Jesus begins to wrap it up by saying, “If you’re loving only people who are nice and love you back, is it really love or is it a partnership for what you can give and get from the other party?”

I’m no scholar, but that’s pretty clear.  Any brief survey of Church history will reveal that this is not only what the first Christians believed, but also what they died to show. That violence, war, and oppression were not means to bring peace, but rather only serve to keep the vicious cycle turning that was put in motion when Cain killed Abel.

When Jesus is confronted by Pontius Pilate He says something so profound that it will shake the very core of the world.  Pilate asks Jesus if He is a king…and here is Jesus reply:

33 Pilate then went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?” 34 “Is that your own idea,” Jesus asked, “or did others talk to you about me?” 35 “Am I a Jew?” Pilate replied. “Your own people and chief priests handed you over to me. What is it you have done?” 36 Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.” 37 “You are a king, then!” said Pilate.Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” (John 18:33-37, ESV) 

DON’T. MISS. THIS.  Jesus’ Kingdom isn’t one that flexes its trillion dollar military budget, or one that appeals to good citizenship and social responsibility.  No.  It’s not one that can be won through violence or conquest – Jesus says that right here…it can’t be bought with bullets, bombs, or research and development.  It can only be GIVEN by the Son of God and preserved entirely by Him who is so far above the affairs of governments, courts, and war.

I believe that God is not opposed to government or anything like that, but God is opposed to Empire.  He is opposed to vast military industrial complexes that deal death to detractors at a moments notice. He is opposed to a people who return evil for evil.  He is grieved when His children put more faith in the Empire than in Him.  I believe God weeps when in the name of “War on Terror” we level a village and kill innocent people just to get one person.  I believe that God is there holding those people, crying with the mothers and fathers holding a lifeless body.  I believe God holds those brave men and women who are killed by a roadside bomb as there life drains away. I also believe He holds those who were in combat close when they go through the incredible struggle of transitioning back into civilian life. I believe God hates violence and war.  I believe God, like us, longs for the day:

Many peoples will come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the temple of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths.” The law will go out from Zion, the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore. Come, descendants of Jacob, let us walk in the light of the Lord. (Isaiah 2:3-5, ESV)

I cry out for that too – I mean, after all, it is God’s desire, so shouldn’t it be ours?  Just thinking.

God Bless,

Scott

Demonology: Organization and Basic Activities of Demons

In my last post I touched on the origins and traits of the demonic.

Now, we’re going to look at how they are structured.  Remember, Satan is nothing more than a lying imitator, and as such he has organized his “kingdom” in such a way as to mock God.  Ephesians 6:12 gives us the organization or the demonic:Invisible_war

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.  – Ephesians 6:12, NIV

Let’s break this down.

Principalities (Authorities):  A principality is the territory or jurisdiction of a prince.  Satan has placed a ‘prince’ over each principality.  The prince of the Persian kingdom is brought up in Daniel 10:13.  Ever wanted to know if/how Satan functions on a national level?  Here it is – a principality.  He uses it to direct the affairs of a nation through a territory organized and terrorized by his minions.

Powers and rulers of this dark world:  These two groupings of demons work in the social, political, and cultural systems of the world.

Spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms:    These demons are often organized in groups that vary in size.  For example, Mary Magdalene had seven demons in her before meeting Jesus.  Luke 8:30 mentions a “legion” of demons.  In the Roman Army, a Legion referred to 6,100 soldiers and 726 Cavalrymen!  In the case of the demon possessed guy in Luke 8:30 the demons were united in their purpose, which in this example was a total possession of the man.  The same is true in Matthew 12:45 and in the case of Mary Magdalene who had seven demons (Luke 16:9).

The Bible teaches that man has a body, soul, and spirit.  There are three major kinds of demons that attack the body and spirit of people. In Militantis, Fr. Jack Ashcraft breaks it down like this:

  1. Evil or unclean spirits: They are responsible for immoral acts, unclean thoughts, oppression, possession, depression, and other tools of Satan which we’ll study later.  They afflict the mind and actions (Matt. 10:1; 12:43; Mark 1:23-26)
  2. Spirits of Infirmity: These spirits afflict the physical body (Luke 13:11)
  3. Seducing Spirits: These demons afflict the mind and spirit of man, influencing him to believe lies, false doctrines, etc.  These demons seduce people to believe a lie and be damned to Hell.  They are demons behind cults, false teaching, false Christs, and the occult.

Demons follow orders given by their ‘king’ Satan.  We can sum up the activities of demons by understanding first and foremost that they are always directed against God.

They are against God’s plan of redemption, against Jesus, against His Church, and against believers.  Satan uses his demons to accomplish this strategy throughout the world.  Demons extend Satan’s power by promoting lies and evil.  They affect individuals, governments, nations, and the world system en masse.  They spread insurrection and lie about God and humanity.  They bolster idolatry, false religions, bad teaching, and can blind people to the truth of the Gospel (John 12:40; 2 Cor. 4:4).

These demons can sometimes attack unbelievers and can drive them to commit the most unspeakable actions like murder, incest, violence, suicide, etc.  They can affect the mind with emotional and psychological problems and the body with physical illnesses and pain.

Demons attack Christians by what is called  “diabolic temptation, obsession, deception, depression, and oppression.” They will try to keep a person locked up to sinful habits and fears/anxiety.  They accuse and slander you as well as excel in creating division in the Church.  They hone in on your spiritual walk with Christ and fight against the Church.  They also can attack your physical body.

Unbelievers are defenseless against the attacks of demonic entities, but Christians have the Holy Spirit and powerful spiritual weapons at our disposal: Prayer, communion, worship, the Scriptures, and the redemption provided through Jesus Christ!

We’ll tackle all of this in-depth as we continue our study!

Post comments if you have any questions!

Demonology: Origins and Traits of the Demonic

jesus_demons-croppedFrom my first post in this series we looked at a very brief introduction to the subject of demonology.  In this post we’ll take a pretty broad overview of demons: their origins and traits.

I should also note that we will only be looking at the topic of demonology through the lens of Christianity.

For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him.                           – Colossians 1:16

Remember that God has created everything.  That includes the angels.  They were created, at least from what I can gather, right before Creation – think of it as Genesis 1:0, if you’re feeling spry.  Angels are, in their most simple, biblical definition, “ministering spirits” (Heb. 1:14).  The word, “angelos” in Greek simply means “messenger.”

They were created to serve God and bring about His purpose.  They are organized in a pyramid if you will, and fall into a few categories.

Messengers, which is perhaps the largest group, who do God’s will both in Heaven and on the Earth.

Cherubim, which come on the scene in Genesis 3:24, and are also mentioned as a “part” of the Ark of the Covenant (Ex. 25:18-22).  These are the guys Ezekiel is talking about – you know, the angels having the four faces (Ezk. 1:3-28; 10:22).  This is most likely the group that is also synonymous with Archangels.   Some scholars even speculate that these are the “four creatures around the throne” in Revelation 4:6, but I’m not sure there’s enough evidence to make a definitive statement on that one.

Then there are the Seraphim.  This group is mentioned most notably in Isaiah 6.  When we find these guys in Scripture, they’re usually the heavenly worship leaders or heralds of God’s goodness.

That’s the three definitive groupings that I find in Scripture, but there are also angels mentioned specifically by name.  Michael, Gabriel, and Lucifer.

Historical note:  In patristic church histories and theologies as soon as one generation after the death of the Twelve, most early church fathers, like Clement of Alexandria (direct disciple of Jesus by Paul) tell us the angels are arranged in “nine choirs.”

So why did I spend that much time on angels?  Well, because that’s where demons originate. One giant characteristic of angels that is often overlooked is that they also, like people, have free will, thus they were angels who chose to follow Lucifer (now called Satan) in rebellion against God.  They had the same characteristics of angels, but when they were cast out of Heaven with Satan they were no longer good.  From there on out they became “evil spiritual entities” that Scripture refers to as ‘demons.” Check out Revelation 12:7-9 for that.

Now, we need to do a little Myth busting here.  A lot of people purport that demons ARE NOT fallen angels, but we see that there can be no other biblical example or explanation given as to why they exist.  As Fr. Jack Ashcraft writes, “Satan cannot create anything, so how could he create an army of ‘demons?'” Remember, ALL things were created by God and it was all originally good! (Gen. 1-2;John 1:3, Col. 1:16)

So what are the characteristics and traits of demons that we can glean from Scripture? Fr. Jack Ashcraft, in his book Ecclesiae Militantis sums it up nicely:

  • Are spirits (Matt 8:16; Luke 10:17, 20)
  • Can manifest visibly (Gen. 3:1; Zech. 3:1; Matt. 4:9-10)
  • Can speak audibly (Mark 5:9, 12; Luke 8:28; Matt. 8:31)
  • Believe in God (James 2:19)
  • Exercise their will (Luke 11:24; 8:32)
  • Exercise intelligence (Mark 1:24)
  • Have emotions (Luke 8:28; James 2:19)
  • Have recognition of people or events (Acts 19:15)
  • Have supernatural strength (Acts 19:16; Mark 5:3)
  • Have supernatural presence (Dan. 9:21-23)
  • Are eternal beings (Matt. 25:41
  • Have their own doctrines and teachings (1 Tim. 4:1-3)
  • Are pure evil (Matt. 10:1; Mark 1:27; 3:11)

Just like their good angel counterparts, demons also have different names in general and actual names in specific.  They are called evil spirits six times and unclean unclean spirits 23 times in the New Testament.  They are also called devils (Mark 1:32) and “the devil’s angels” (Matt. 25:41).

Historical Note:  Chapters 7 & 8 of The Book of Enoch which is cited by Jude and alluded to by Paul gives the names of other angels who fell separately in a ‘second casting out’ for a rebellion in which they lusted after women (alluded to in Genesis 6:1-3, 1 Cor. 11:10; Jude 1:14-15).  Did this actually happen as a second fall?  I don’t know, but it is something you need to be aware of as a theory.

In the Book of Enoch there are actually specific names and the activities that each demon taught, and again, Fr. Jack Ashcraft sums it up nicely:

  1. Shemyaza – Taught the occult science of root cutting and enchantment
  2. Azaziel – Taught the making of weapons, use of makeups, dyes, precious metals and stones
  3. Amazarak – Taught sorcery
  4. Armaros – Taught the occult removal of curses and hexes
  5. Baraqel – Taught Astrology
  6. Kokabel – Taught astronomical calculations for occult purposes
  7. Ezeqeel – Taught Hydromancy
  8. Arakiel – Taught Geomancy
  9. Shansiel – Taught Solar worship
  10. Sariel – Taught Moon Magick
  11. Akibeel – Taught Occult Symbolism
  12. Tamiel – Taught Astronomy
  13. Penemue – Taught the use of parchments and inks
  14. Kasdeja – Taught abortion
  15. Gadreel – Taught combat arts

Others mentioned are Ramuel, Danel, Azkeel, Saraknyal, Asael, Batraal, Anane, Zavebe, Samsaveel, Ertael, Turel, Yomvael, and Urakabarameel.

You’ll learn this later, but every demon has a name, and knowing that name enables you to deal with it more adequately, but only through the power and authority of Christ.

So we see that as with everything, it was created by God for good, but when Satan fell and took the others with him, they were perverted and went from good to evil.

These are the origins of the demonic.

In the next post we’ll look at how demons are organized and grouped biblically.

An Exceedingly Brief Intro to Demonology

Facing-the-Reality-about-Spiritual-Warfare

I read this a long while again my daily devotional time and it really stuck out to me:

12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms (Eph. 6:12, NIV)

So I asked myself, “What are these rulers?  Who are these authorities?  What powers of this dark world?  What are spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms?  So I simply asked God what this meant.  I wasn’t even in the remotest sense ready for the ride God was going to take me on.

I’ve always been a believer that God and Satan are at war.  I mean Scripture points that out all over the place (Gen. 3; Rev. 12, etc.). However, I was also all too leery of charismatic deliverance ministries that would “exorcise” people from a “spirit of plantar warts,” or a “spirit of rheumatoid arthritis.” I had also seen movies like The ConjuringConstantine, and Paranormal Activity.  You also need to understand that I am part of a tribe in Christianity that has historically been almost like the Sadducees of the New Testament, discounting spiritual things, de-mythologizing Scripture, and saying, “That doesn’t happen anymore.” Those were mental illnesses that we didn’t understand yet.  I agree that there is some truth to that, but to dismiss it entirely is a grave mistake.

When I approached the subject of the demonic and diabolic influence, I was taught very early that demons don’t bother people anymore since Jesus died on the cross and rose again.  Often the lesson I heard or would even teach is that all that “supernatural” stuff went away when the last Apostle, John, died in the 90’s of the 1st Century.  It was all meant as a teaching tool to show us the Gospel’s victory. While I do believe in the supremacy of Christ and His Gospel, I think it’s very dangerous to try to de-mythologize the New Testament.

Maybe, just maybe, we’ve gotten too big for our theological britches.

Through prayer, and intense study of God’s word, God led me to a fellow who I now call a friend who has several decades of study and experience with spiritual warfare.  I am sitting at his feet, learning, absorbing, listening…praying.

So am I going to tell you a bunch of ghost stories? Absolutely not!  Why?  Because ghosts aren’t real.  They never were.  There are no disembodied spirits, there are not “wandering souls” and there are no humans trapped in limbo waiting for the afterlife.  It’s all been a big scheme.  Instead, what one might call ghosts, I assert, as do the Holy Scriptures, are instead demons.

Demons are very real.  And just like their ‘leader’ Satan, they are still very active. They have one goal – to tear down anything God has established and they are very cunning.  They have been at this for eons.  So where did they come from?

For in him [Christ] all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. – Colossians 1:16, NIV

There are those powers and authorities again.  It says God created them, right?  So does that mean God intentionally created demons?  Nope.  Sorry for all you theological misfits who assume God has messed up somewhere.  Instead, we learn in the context of the whole story of God, the Bible, that God (who exists eternally and has no beginning or end) at some point before creating the universe and humanity, created angels as servants.  These are mighty beings who possess great power and carry out the will of God.

We learn that one in particular, perhaps the most incredible of all the angels, Lucifer (literally, “Light Bearer”) decided he could do a better job than God (You can read snippets about this in Isaiah 14:12-17 and Ezekiel 28:12-19) and tried to overthrow Him…and he led a bunch of other angels in a rebellion against the Sovereign God of the Universe…but he lost.

Then war broke out in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back. But he was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven. The great dragon was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him. – Revelation 12:7-9, NIV

So he was thrown down. Hard.  Jesus said:  I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven (Luke 10:18).  That’s how hard and fast God threw him down.  Then the account of the war in Heaven ends, but the battle for the souls of mankind is just beginning: 

Then the dragon was enraged at the woman and went off to wage war against the rest of her offspring—those who keep God’s commands and hold fast their testimony about Jesus. (Rev. 12:17, NIV)

So if you’re a human being, you are made in the image of God and that means that Satan is at war for your soul.  Even more so Satan is at war with those who follow Jesus.  Why?  Because he hates Him.  He despises Jesus’ victory on the Cross, and so until the end of time, Satan will “Steal and kill and destroy” (John 10:10) until Jesus returns and Satan and his demons will be cast into Hell forever.

The war rages today.  The war is against God, His Church, and His children – all who call on the name of God and serve Him.  Two kingdoms are fighting – the Kingdom of God and the kingdom of Satan, and Satan will not go down very easily.  He employs an untold number of demons who are actively trying to thwart our progress toward God and take advantage of souls who don’t know God.

So Who are those rulers, authorities, powers of darkness and forces of evil in the heavenly realms that Paul was talking about?  Satan and his demons.  That’s where the fight is.  It isn’t against each other – it’s against the darkness. The powers of hell.  But they will fail. However, we cannot sit idly by, hoping that if we ignore or rationalize these biblical facts they will somehow ignore us.  Too much is at stake for you and me to sit the bench any more.  We must rise to battle.  So I hope you’ll join me in learning and fighting in the Kingdom.  Evil is real, demons are real, Satan is real, and people are being “devoured” all the time through the deceptive philosophies of this world.  It’s time to go to war.

I Am the Walking Dead

Walking-Dead-35-Zombie-01As I’m prepping well in advance for the Walking Dead series in October at Crosspointe, I’ve been thinking, praying, researching.  And a particular section of Scripture came to mind.

50 And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit.51 At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split 52 and the tombs broke open. The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. 53 They came out of the tombs after Jesus’ resurrection and went into the holy city and appeared to many people. (Matt. 27:50-53, NIV) 

Here’s the setting:  the Son of God dies.  He cries out and gives up His life…and instantly the earth shakes, rocks split, tombs broke open, the dead came back to life  and walked into downtown Jerusalem, and the curtain of the Temple was torn in half.

I’ve never preached a sermon on this…but that’ll change soon enough.

Here’s the rub:  when Jesus dies, it alters the landscape to say the least.  Now, here’s where it get’s intense.

In the Temple was a Curtain.  Now, when I think of a curtain, I’m thinking a 4 foot tall piece of fabric I by at Big Lots, or wherever, right?  This curtain was different.  It was sixty feet tall, made of very sturdy stuff.  Actually, the Hebrew calls it a “veil” and it was more of a screen than a curtain.  It was also said to be as “thick as a man’s hand.” The significance can’t be undermined here.  This curtain shielded the Holy of Holies (the place where the Presence of God dwelt throughout Israel’s history) from man…it was actually an active-barrier between God and man.  Only once a year would the High Priest go in there and offer incense and prayers to God…and even then a rope was tied around his waist in case he was “unclean” and didn’t know it, thus rendering him…well…dead.  The rope was used to pull his corpse out of the Temple. This was more of a “structure” rather than a curtain…

…so at the moment Jesus died, that veil split from top to bottom. You’re probably thinking, “So what?”  Well, this act of God dramatically symbolized the end of humanity’s exile from God’s presence.   Now, after so many centuries people were welcomed again to enter into the Most Holy Place.

If that wasn’t enough, something else happened:  people who had been dead…probably for awhile…they were resurrected and came out of their graves and they walked right into downtown Jerusalem! This is the stuff George Romero and Max Brooks can only wish they’d have thought up! So basically, you have this “horde” of walking dead coming into the city after the death of Jesus.

Holy Zombies?  Well, it fits the definition.  A Human being who was dead, but is now alive again.  That’s Max Brook’s definition of “zombie” by the way. So dead people come back to life.  Why?  It was another indication that the curse of death that had fallen on Adam’s race was now broken.  Death, the very thing that holds us all in fear, the one thing we all will encounter…it has no control over me anymore.

What does that mean?

Death has died and Love has won!

The Apostle Paul really shows us that we who are in Christ have died…and we have been raised again to new life…brought back from death.  Check Ephesians 2:

As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 2 in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. 3 All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. 4 But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy,5 made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.  But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ…14 For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 15 by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, 16 and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility.  (Eph 2:1-5;14-15 NIV)

So this is good news.  Very Good news.  It means that I have joined the ranks of the holy zombies, the tribe of Christ, and that death, sin, and hate have been extinguished once and for all by Jesus Christ’s death, but more importantly, His resurrection.

I am the Walking Dead; actually I’m the walking Alive who was Dead.  I was dead but now I’m alive.  I was cut off, now I’m seated at His table. I was rotting away in sin and Adam’s curse…but I am now the walking dead. My grave has been opened, my shackles broken, the chains of death snapped…and He is my peace…