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The Mark of the Beast?

By Timothy R Butler | Posted at 4:19 PM

The problem is that the Appeals Court has ruled that probable cause was not necessary to attach the device onto the murderer's car. That means, theoretically, that a law enforcement agency could stick a GPS unit on most people's car without any particular reason for doing so. Imagine the new found intelligence abilities the state would have — this combined with the USA PATRIOT Act and the up-and-coming Domestic Security Enhancement Act (DSEA) would allow for dramatically improved anti-terror and, more generally, anti-crime measures.

However, in doing so, they continue to soften a number of the rights in the constitution. This is all necessary for the next step, to which the article gives short consideration:
Following the Spokane court's reasoning, [Lisa Daugaard] said, “There is no constitutional barrier to the police secretly inserting a tracking device into a suspect's clothes or even his body, because for the most part, people move around from place to place in 'plain view.' “ (emphasis mine)
Does this ring of familiarity to anyone yet? I think it does. Before I go on however, consider another recent bit of technology that has been developing:
“Reuters is carrying this story about Applied Digital's VeriChip — a subcutaneous microchip (like the ones they use to tag pets, livestock and wildlife) used as ID for humans. […]They will be also used as tracking beacons and personal ID according to a company exec”

Now do you see where I am going? Yes, yes, the Mark of the Beast. Technologies like the above implant and the softening of laws that prevent things like GPS units being implanted (once the technology is small enough to do so), means that we are potentially seeing the technology coming together for a real, live New World Order to form within years not centuries. Maybe not, I realize people for millennia have tried to speculate how their time was the end time, but I still can't help but consider it.

He causes all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on their right hand or on their foreheads, {17} and that no one may buy or sell except one who has the mark or the name of the beast, or the number of his name. —Revelation 13:16-17

The Mark of Easter

By Timothy R Butler | Posted at 12:34 AM

Considering the details of the followers of Jesus' reaction throughout the Gospels shows something really interesting, I think. In Matthew, “the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples” (28:8 [NIV]). In Luke, “they [the women] remembered his words. When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others” (24:8-9 [NIV]). In John “Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her” (20:18 [NIV]).

All of these Gospels, in other words, emphasize when the women, and namely Mary Magdalene, realized what was going on and spread the word. They were excited and joyful. Not only that, but they met Jesus. That doesn't happen in Mark. Here is how Mark most likely ends, according to the most reliable manuscripts (Mark 16:1-8 [NIV]):

When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus' body. Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb and they asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?” But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed.
“Don't be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter, 'He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.' ”
Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.

They said nothing because they were afraid. Assumedly, the various endings that have been added to Mark over the years are correct (based on what we know from the other Gospels) and the women did break their silence fairly quickly, but Mark sees fit to end with them saying nothing. They were afraid. What is this? Isn't Easter suppose to be joyous?

Someone suggested something to me that was interesting. Mark, while we assume had no problem with the accounts of the resurrection, was emphasizing that the appearances of Jesus after his resurrection weren't the thing that was important. What was, and is, important is that He is coming again soon and that we will see Him. It won't just be a few select people thousands of years ago, we will see Jesus.

With that in mind, it seems to me, perhaps Mark has the most joyous account of all. Mark's account of the resurrection reminds us about the blessed hope we have in the future, the hope provided through Jesus' death and resurrection.

Happy Easter, everyone!

The Sabbath in Light of the New Covenant

By Timothy R Butler | Posted at 12:32 AM

Generally speaking, Christians try to follow the law, though not required, because we want to do God's will. That point is often used against the argument of sabbatarians, much like Paul's declaration not to judge any observance of Sabbaths, new moon festivals, etc. (Colossians 2:16). Still, assuming we want to do God's will (see argument 1), it would seem to me that we should set down our guard and consider the sabbatarian argument — not as a requirement or a judgment, but an earnest attempt to understand whether or not it has merit. Unless we have no interest in following God's laws willfully, then our freedom from the law is not an excuse to let this issue slide (I'm not saying one must get a particular conclusion, but that we should really consider this issue rather than just ignoring it like it so often is).

For the last few years, I've made an effort (that I have often failed) to make Sunday a day of rest. I have always followed the reasoning that Sunday is the new sabbath — the Lord's Day. However during this particular argument I started to wonder if all of this was really a fallicy. My Seventh-Day Adventist friend, who seems to enjoy a good debate as much as I do, made a really good point: there is nothing, that I know of, in the Bible that says the early Christians actually moved Sabbath observance to Sunday. They met on Sunday, yes, but there is no indication that they ended the observance of the Sabbath in doing so.

Another friend, who attends a non-sabbatarian church, solves the problem in a way that seems to closely mimic what we can infer from Acts. He observes the Sabbath, but worships on Sunday morning. The Sabbath is a day of rest, and it is the seventh day, but that isn't a prohibition on Sunday worship. The command we are considering isn't “Honor the Sabbath and worship only on this day.” In other words, this need not be an all or nothing position where if you accept the Sabbath, you must give up your existing Church and move to one that has Saturday services. All this question is, is a question concerning whether the day of rest must be on the seventh day.

One person chimed in suggesting that the ideal solution might be to observe both the Lord's Day and the Sabbath as days of rest. At first this sounded like a good idea, but wasn't this exactly what the Phari did? When unsure, they added more rules “just to be safe.” To me, this seems like a road destined for legalism, whether that is intended or not.

With that in mind, I am pondering the idea of switching to Sabbath observance. Not legalistic, mind you, but the same way I have treated Sunday for a while. I'm confused as to whether this is right or wrong, but it seems to me that only post-Biblical dogma provides rationale for having a “first day Sabbath.” If that's the case, and I want to take the fourth commandment as seriously as the rest, I guess I must confront this.

The status quo is unacceptable. It is comfortable, but if it isn't God's will, that is irrelevant. Now I must just pray that I can better understand this.

Of course, as always, I welcome the thoughts of my friends here in the blogosphere…

Sin and the Church

By Timothy R Butler | Posted at 12:59 AM

I think he is right that we shouldn't hate certain people or turn them away from the church. But I also think that does not mean that the church should simply accept people unrepentantly sinning. In that mind, I posted the following comment (read his post first so that it makes sense). You'll also find some closing thoughts after my comment.

I agree too, insofar as I would agree concerning any sin. I also agree with Steward and Le Renard. I think if someone is embezzling money, the church should confront him in the manor Jesus lays out (first by one person, then by the elders, then by the whole congregation [Matthew 18:15-17]). Would you agree? Likewise, I think a homosexual should be confronted.

It's not so much “homosexualness” that should be confronted, but whether they act on that desire. If they do, that's just as wrong as a hetrosexual acting on that desire out side of wedlock (and vise versa). For example, as a single person it would be just as wrong if I had a physical relationship with some girl as it is for a homosexual person to have such a relationship with their “partner.”

It isn't that they should be eternally condemned for their feelings — for better or worse, they have them, just like the hetrosexual does. BUT, they also need to try to control those feelings. It is easy to fall into lustful activities, but prayer and the Spirit help to avoid them. As Paul writes, we will not ever be tempted more than we can bear (1 Corinthians 10:13).

Certainly I sin. I sin lots. I sin everyday. But I also try to repent and realize these are things I don't want to do again. I don't say that to say I am good. Certainly, I'm terrible about this. I don't like stopping sinning and I'm bad about repentence too. But, I still think it is important even if I don't always want to.

The point is, as Paul says we should not sin so that “grace may increase” (Romans 6:1). Many of Paul's arguments were about people taking advantage of grace to sin.

Obviously, we are all in sin, but that doesn't mean that we should condone habitual sinning of a particular type. If someone is in a gay relationship and they are Christian, that means they are willingly admitting that they don't mind disobeying God's Holy Spirit by defiling the Temple of God (that is our body — 1 Corinthians 6:19).

I think many churches take the wrong tact at dealing with this, but as I said, Jesus did note that we should address those in sin. He was often around the tax collectors and prostitutes. He loved them, but He didn't say “just keep up the status quo.” He told them to “go and sin no more.” I can't think of the verse at the moment, but Paul also addresses this. We are suppose to love our neighbors, you are right, but we are also suppose to encourage people to follow God's will. In that respect, we should help people escape their lifestyle, so to speak, not just look the other way. Love doesn't mean appeasement, it means considering what is best for the person. It would not be love to blindly act as if there is nothing wrong with unrepentant sinning any more than it would be love not to scold a child for playing on the edge of a cliff. Maybe they won't appreciate being told “no, don't do that,” but it would be much more loving than simply watching as they go over the edge.

Likewise, considering the comment about that pastor who was asked to leave because of his gay lifestyle, I would have to agree with the decision, although perhaps the method wasn't good. If a pastor is robbing banks, we would ask him to step down. If a pastor was known to make vicious lies to the congregation, we would ask him to step down. If the pastor padded his his pockets as he took the offering plates from the ushers, we would ask him to step down. If the pastor often had his girlfriends stay over night, wouldn't we ask him to step down? A pastor should help lead the congregation away from sin. That's not to say they aren't human, but certainly a pastor who is unrepentant about sin that he is called on should be questioned whether his heart is really seeking God.

Now, if the pastor says “I have this problem, will people help me stop”… that is a different story. IIRC, in one of your previous posts you noted how in such a case, the congregation reacted in a most unforgiving way. But if the pastor says “everyone sins, so do I and this is my sin, live with it…” that doesn't seem like a Christian attitude. Galations 5:16-25 seems key here.

Anyway, I could say lots more, but I think you get the point. The church should never seek to hurt or hate anyone. But I do think that “love the sinner, hate the sin” can be justified.

It is my opinion that this is an area critical to the church today. For the most part there are two visible groups. We either have those that wish to adopt a laissez faire attitude toward morality, perhaps even going further and encouraging rebellion against Biblical morality and we have people that consider them above sinners and thus wish to push themselves away from those “sinners.”

I think however, many (most?) Christians take a middle ground, rejecting the sin, but not staying away from bringing the love of Jesus to these people. Really, without the Holy Spirit, why should we even expect to behave in the way that the Bible says? I think these are also the people that will make an effort to help the person on a wayward course to change their heading once they have received the Spirit. It would be a disservice to them and God to bring them the Gospel and then leave them in their sin without any help. This is the tough part, but it is part of showing Christian love.

Anyway, enough with my soap box. Does anyone else have thoughts?

World Prayer Team Request

By Timothy R Butler | Posted at 4:04 PM

The World Prayer Center is calling all Christians worldwide to a Worldwide Day of Prayer on Monday, March 3, 2003.

Ted Haggard, President of The World Prayer Team, says his office has been flooded with messages from people all over the world saying that God is impressing upon them to prepare to pray on 03-03-03. “These believers do not know one another, nor are they connected to one another. They do not know that the others are saying the same thing. Clearly, the Holy Spirit is speaking to His church, and He is calling His people to pray,” says Haggard.

“As these reports began to come in, we sensed in our hearts that God wants us to promote a huge outpouring of prayer on this special date. Many believe there is significance to this date because of its numerical sequence (03-03-03) which reminds many Christians of the Trinity. Moreover, the Holy Spirit has highlighted Jeremiah 33:3 (again, three 3's) as our call to action, 'Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know,'” says Haggard.

The magnitude of this date is not lost on the non-Christian world as well. The Global Consciousness movement (New Age) has for years been planning a worldwide “Largest ever experiment into global consciousness” to take place on 03-03-03. Their effort is slated to begin at 3:33am (Fiji local time), on the 3rd day of the 3rd month of the 3rd millennium. It has gained widespread notoriety in New Age circles.

Should this not be enough to cause Christians to pray, the significance of 03-03-03 becomes even more pressing as America could launch a war with Iraq at about that very hour, against a leader, Saddam Hussein, who has only recently embraced Islam as a way of gaining support from the Islamic world. Such was not the case with the first Gulf War. According to the Islamic calendar, March 3, 2003 is the eve of the Islamic New Year (Islamic year 1424 begins March 4, 2003). It is also the last day of the Hajj, the annual pilgrimage to Mecca, when pilgrims are encouraged to make a sacrifice (The Festival of Sacrifice or Eid al-Adha). The key verse in the Qu' Ran about this festival to take place this year on March 3, 2003 is, “Truly, my prayer and my service of sacrifice, my life or my death, are all of Allah?” This date therefore holds great significance to the Islamic world.

While all of this is beneath the radars of the secular news media, it is clear to many Christian leaders that the world is on the brink of a spiritual battle of monumental proportions. The epicenter of this struggle is the Middle East-a battle is going on for Jerusalem and Babylon (Iraq), biblical centers of spiritual light and darkness.

The World Prayer Team therefore calls on all Christian churches and individuals to set aside at least 3 minutes to pray at 3:33 PM in their time zone on 03/03/03.

PRAYER FOCUS: Pray that the armies of heaven will push back the powers of darkness in the Middle East. Pray that Saddam Hussein will leave the country before war is required to remove him from power. Pray that a spiritual shield will contain hostilities within the Iraqi borders (if war cannot be avoided), such that it doesn't spill over to the entire Islamic world. Pray that weapons of mass destruction, if they are deployed on any side of the battle, will be powerless. Pray that this date, rather than being a focal point of darkness, will be overwhelmed by the Light of God through the worldwide prayers of His people.


Churchianity: The Problems Within

By Timothy R Butler | Posted at 9:41 PM

As a reasonably active member in my own church, I have encountered hypocrisy, those who condemn unfairly, legalism, and all the rest. Then again, for what it is worth, I see all of that stuff in secular environments too. Sadly, it seems the place that should be a safe haven dedicated to worshipping God has instead often times become a battleground.

At least in my experience, the church generally has many of the same problems as the rest of the world, because, as Paul notes, we are not perfect yet. The church is full of sinners, as those without sin do not need the church (of course, “there is none righteous, no, not one” (Romans 3:10, KJV)). I believe C.S. Lewis talked about this in Mere Christianity, although I'm not positive that is what I'm thinking about right now.

I think the thing that makes it hurt so much when things go wrong in the church is that these are suppose to be our brothers and sisters, not just the crabby bank teller or the nasty neighbor that always uses his leaf blower to put his leaves in our yard. Shouldn't those in the church be better behaved than those outside of it?

Yeah, they should. Unfortunately, it just isn't so. I've been on both ends of the problem. At times (okay, many times), my pride has caused me to push my agenda inside the church almost like a politician would in congress. It's silly — I shouldn't take so much ownership in something like that, I should simply aim to spread the Gospel. But I don't far to often, no matter how much I want to.

Likewise, I've been on the other side. Not all that long ago, a prominent person in my church (I won't name who, for the obvious reasons) attempted to use his power to push me off the committee I'm on, for one reason or another. While I didn't realize it until afterwards, it seems various small clashes had turned a friend of mine into someone with a goal to get me. As the saying goes, it isn't being paranoid if they really are out to get you.

Relatively speaking, my recently clash is barely anything compared to what many face inside the church. Still, it hurt. It hurt that I almost lost the ability to do what I feel God has lead me to do in the church. It hurt that a friend of mine, whom I had actually helped to get acquainted to the said committee when he joined, now was going after me. It hurt when a few close friends in the church didn't believe me when I asked for advice as to what to do.

But, it worked out. It doesn't always, obviously, but in my case it did. I am now working even more closely with the said person, and we've learned to get along again. To the extent that it is possible in the flesh, we have forgiven each other.

Then there is the legalism. Not only “Biblical” legalism (on stuff like taking a day of rest, tithing, etc.), but also legalism on all kinds of other things. People get mad that the carpet, which has been red since they were yay-tall, might be switched to green carpet. Oh, how terrible. Surely there is a law against changing carpet colors! Dogma forms easily. And there is the gossip. One day a family friend in the church talked to me for thirty minutes about all the terrible stuff the pastors were supposedly doing. Even if it was true, that only shows the pastors are human — certainly I've done many things I'm not particularly proud of.

This stuff isn't new either. If we consider the apostle Paul, most of his letters were written, at least in part, to put out major conflicts in the church. Even prior to that, Jesus Himself provided a plan to resolve conflict and sin in the church. Matthew 18:15-17 (NIV) says:
“If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. {16} But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that 'every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.' {17} If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.”

So what do we make of all of this? I think, as I said in the beginning of this piece, that it is simply the effect of taking lots of sinners, that is humans, and making them try to work and interact perfectly. It works for a while, and then the other shoe drops. We only fool ourselves to think the church is, or can be, a perfect place. Considering the importance people place on serving God, and the close proximity at which we work with each other in the Church, it is no wonder tempers often flare. We want what's best for spreading the Gospel (most of the time), and as such, if we think our way is right, we get upset when the other person won't follow along.

Still, it is my opinion that the church, the local church, is critically important, at least for me. All of its failings considered, I still feel strengthened in faith by frequent meetings with brothers and sisters in Christ. It's like a support group — it may be the “almost blind” leading the “almost blind” (to take liberties with Matthew 15:14), but hopefully through our foibles we can keep each other constantly trying to work out our salvation (Philippians 2:12) towards the time when we will no longer be sinful. I may disagree with them, and we may even backstab each other occasionally, but that's just part of the condition known as “being human.” I can only imagine how much worse off I would be without them.

Really, isn't this just like a family? How many families argue, disagree, split, and so forth, often over relatively unimportant things? Every single one I can think of. I'm not saying that's ideal; it's not ideal so long as we burn people out of the Church, or worse, Christianity as a whole. It's not ideal so long as the divide between Christianity and dogma is often so wide that the term “Churchianity” has any relevance. But, the church does at least give us a glimpse at the future hope, the “blessed hope,” of Jesus' second advent.

The Church is imperfect, sinful, and way too human. But, if we admit that, it makes reaching the world much easier. It should, hopefully, make us more humble as we step off our righteous pedestal and become the light in the world and not try to be the light above it. We're not perfect, we just are made so in the eyes of God by the blood of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Knowing You

By Timothy R Butler | Posted at 9:41 PM

Now my heart's desire is to know You more,
To be found in You and know as Yours,
To possess by faith what I could not earn
All surpassing gift of righteousness

Knowing You, Jesus, knowing You
There is no greater thing.
You're my all, You're the best,
You're my joy, my righteousness,
And I love You Lord.

Oh to know the power of Your risen life,
And to know You in Your sufferings;
To become like You in Your death, my Lord,
So with You to live and never die

Knowing You, Jesus, knowing You
There is no greater thing.
You're my all, You're the best,
You're my joy, my righteousness,
And I love You Lord.

—Graham Kendrick, Knowing You

Events at St. Paul's!

By Timothy R Butler | Posted at 12:40 AM
  • Christmas Eve Cantata: Our Choir and Orchestra will be pulling out all of the stops, and we will have a candle light time too. Communion will be served and guests will get a neat Max Lucado book as a gift. Take a look at the link for more information.
  • Steve Saint at St. Pauls: Steve Saint, son of martyred missionary Nate Saint, will be at St. Paul's during our normal worship services and Bible Fellowship times. I saw Mr. Saint when he spoke at the Steven Curtis Chapman concert here back in September, and I am really really excited to get to hear him again. If you can make it - please do, it is well worth it. Click here to read my rough summary of what he talked about at SCC's concert.

    His father's story is known best to folks through the book Through the Gates of Splendor. A new docu-movie called Beyond the Gates of Splendor is also coming out, and they have some nice stuff on their site as well (including a very nice long introduction “trailer” and Steven Curtis Chapman's God is God music video). Both of those video items are under the “Video Trailer” option on the site's main menu. God is God is a really powerful music video that correlates with Mr. Saint and Beyond the Gates of Splendor… take a moment to watch it.

    Anyway, for more details on the Steve Saint event click the title for this event - that should take you to a page with the press release about the event and a link to a flyer in PDF format. I hope anyone reading this can make it!

Denominational Query

By Timothy R Butler | Posted at 11:55 PM

#1: Methodist/Weslyian Church

This is surprising. As a moderate Calvinist, I expected to be closest to the PCA (since my own denomination, the Evangelical Free Church, isn't included in most lists). I guess my moderation - that is, I'm not strongly predestinationist - outweighs my staunch support for the preservation of the saints. Generally, I strongly agree with Calvin, but I waiver on suggesting God has picked who will be condemned. I do believe in irresistible grace though, so I'm kind of inbetween. I guess I feel that there is some free will in our choice concerning receiving Jesus, but God already knows who wouldn't be able to resist His grace versus those who are too closed to receive it. Moreover, I believe that God could use irrestible grace to make anyone believe in Him (afterall in Him, all things are possible), but that He desires us to come to faith in Him, rather than forcing us to.

That said, I should again emphasize that I DO believe God knows everything that will happen (and everything in every other context as well), and that He does predestin “big picture stuff.” In essence, then, I am a predestinationist, because to influence the big picture stuff, you must influence the smaller stuff too.

#2: Presbyterian Church in America/Orthodox Presbyterian Church

In real life, I'd be a Presbyterian if I wasn't congregational on church government… I would have thought this would have been my #1.

#3: Reformed Churches

Not surprising. My church was in the UCC, which has its heritage in the Evangelical and Reformed Church… and then when my church ended its ties with the UCC (for the obvious reasons), it joined the EFCA, which also has Reformed ties. It also makes sense in that I'm a Calvinist and have the PCA in #2. :-)

#4: Southern Baptist

Yeah, this makes sense too. Part of my family is baptist (Am. Bap. though), the EFCA has many similarities to the SBC, and they are one of the few large denominations willing to stand against the plague of liberalism that all the other mainlines are suffering from.

#5: Assemblies of God

Okay, I admit it, I have charismatic leanings (although I find it ironic that that this is right below SBC). I am completely against the idea that you must exhibit a special effects gift to be “saved,” and I also think that most “gifts” that occur during church (tongues, holy laughter, etc.) are really counterfeits that people do under pressure to be “holy.” All that said, I do think that the Holy Spirit may still choose to do miraculous things in the present age.

Anyway, back to the A of G, I suspect that the fact that its HQ is only 200 or so miles from here might mean its influence is stronger than it would be otherwise on me.

#6: Presbyterian Church USA

Again not suprising…

#7: Free Will Baptist
#8: Mennonite Brethren
#9: Reformed Baptist
#10: Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod
#11: Orthodox Quakerism
#12: Church of Christ
#13: Evangelical Lutheran Church
#14: Episcopal/Anglican Church
#15: Seventh-Day Adventist
#16: International Church of Christ
#17: United Pentecostal Church
#18: Eastern Orthodox Church
#19: Roman Catholic Church

Somehow I would have thought that I had more in common with the RCC than with the International Church of Christ neo-cult. Huh.

#20: Jehovah's Witness
#21: Mormonism
#22: Liberal Quakerism
#23: Unity Church
#24: Unitarian Universalism

None of these are surprising, though I feel that I can grasp most Mormon doctrines better than Watchtower ones. I guess my stance against Polytheism kills that one though…

World English Bible

By Timothy R Butler | Posted at 11:40 PM

I've known about it for awhile, but it deserves mention anyway. The World English Bible (WEB) is a Free, public domain version of the Bible based on the American Standard Version of 1907. Unlike the ASV and the KJV that proceeded it, the WEB Bible attempts to use modern English, and astonishingly, many of the books of the Old Testament and all of the New Testament are already converted to modern language.

If you are like me and are tired of supporting the liberal interests of the International Bible Society and Zondervan or if you just want a Bible translation you can freely distribute to whomever needs a copy, try this one on for size. The SWORD Project has WEB Bible support so Windows, Mac, Linux, Zaurus, and WinCE users can enjoy this Bible (as can anyone with web access via the online version of the Bible).

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