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His Master's Voice
Copyright © 2011 - All rights retained by author
Written by: C. W. Booth

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Congratulations to the Embryonic Country of Southern Sudan

In January of 2011 the government of war-torn Sudan accepted the plebiscite of the people dividing the country into two nations, north and south. It will become two semi-dependent self-governing countries in July of 2011. There is nothing simple about the history of that land, its politics, or its religious heritage. More noted for its internal dispute with its own western Darfur region, the Sudan government has actually had a much longer dispute between its north and south.

Earlier in the 20th Century the British had imposed a division in the country, a travel restriction, intended in part to protect the minority Christian population in the south from persecution and ethnic cleansing by the Islamic majority in the north. Various treaties and peace pacts had kept the south as a somewhat self-governed region within greater Sudan for many years after the British withdrew. Military dictators over the years eroded the treaties and pacts between north and south until 1996 when Sudan became a single party totalitarian state governed by Islamic law, which was imposed across the entire nation. This led to armed conflict between the ruling Islamic north and the self-governed south. International negotiations led to the implementation of the January referendum and the coming creation of two countries from one.

It remains to be seen if the new nation in the south can stand on its own or keep its democratic ideals in tact. Moreover, how it will deal with having a pluralistic population comprised of Christians, Muslims, and animists will define its national character for decades to come. We do wish for them the best: a peaceful future in which all persons can live and thrive in freedom. Happy Birthday Southern Sudan.






Thursday, February 10, 2011

Revenge and Punishment: A Parent’s Dilemma

A teen being punished for being both disobedient and obscenely disrespectful to his parents turned up the volume of his electric guitar to an eardrum bursting level in his bedroom. The house rocked and vibrated for an hour. He rationalized his act by stating, “If they can punish me for my having done things they do not like, then I can punish them back with my music--that‘s only fair.”

That incident made me realize that we often do not grasp the difference between punishment and revenge. Punishment is a means used by a legitimate authority to cause a subordinate to realize he has willfully violated the rules or expectations of his authorities. Sometimes this is called discipline because the goal of the authority should be to train the subordinate, ideally to guide the subordinate into becoming more God-honoring in his behavior. Parents may punish their own children, governments may punish criminals, and God may punish all His disobedient creations.

By contrast, revenge is a punishment inflicted by one who has no authority to be dispensing punishments. In our initial story, the child does not have legitimate authority to establish the rules for the home, and so it is improper for him to punish his parents. He may make appeals to them, perhaps even lodge a respectful protest, but never to punish. Punishment meted out by a subordinate against his authority is merely revenge. It is not meant to be training in godliness, only to selfishly inflict pain and fear by someone who is not a valid authority.

If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, "VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY," says the Lord. (Rom 12:18-19)

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This essay was originally posted as a blog and was subject to comments from the reading public. One such comment is found below.

Comment from the Public

Good description/contrast. I can't help but wonder why the parents put up with it for an hour. Would stopping it have been revenge? or discipline? I think discipline.

Booth’s Response to commenter

The parents felt it was more merciful to tolerate the child to act out in a somewhat controlled and constructive manner rather than directly take on and incite yet another unconrolled fit of rage from the youth. Following the jam session the parents removed the amplifier from the child's room with a promise to return it when the child is willing to agree on negotiating a maximum volume that will please all in house when there are others at home. To date, some two or three weeks later, the child has not been willing to negotiate a maximum acceptable volume by which to be voluntarily constrained. The parents say he has been heard sadly plucking the strings of the unenergized guitar behind his closed door. Stubbornness.

Update to the guitar story.

Soon after the above incidents the parents removed the door from the teen's room in response to ever more disrespectful behavior (the internet had already been disconnected when it was observed that it was being abused). This eventually led to dialogue, a negotiation on things like guitar volumes, and the restoration of both the amplifier and the door. The internet was never reconnected in the teen's room.






Sunday, February 20, 2011

That Word Is Not From the Lord

What follows is a very personal story from my own past. The account was a portion of a letter I sent to a friend as we conducted a conversation about whether all and any Christians receive verbal directions from God on a daily basis. Or put another way, is every thought that comes to mind during prayer a word from the Lord?

You see, I have always believed that the Holy Spirit moves men's (and women's hearts); in fact, the guilt we feel that calls us to repentance is the work of the Holy Spirit working invisibly, unfelt, and undetected in us. That is why the guilt feels like it comes out of nowhere. I simply do not believe He gives us mundane daily guidance via sensed feelings and fleeting impressions of thoughts after having already revealed through His Word, the Bible, a massive body of guidance and direction about the human activity of decision making.

When I was a bit younger, I had a specific sin problem (it is irrelevant what it was). While praying over that problem one night a crystal clear thought leapt to the forefront of my thoughts. The thought said, "If you do this sin one more time you will most certainly lose the Holy Spirit and be subject to Hell when you die. So commit to a vow now that you will never do this sin again."

I was shocked! Was that the Holy Spirit? Of course, I instantly remembered an abundance of Scripture which reminded me that my salvation was not dependent on what I do or which vows I make, but salvation is granted on the basis of my faith in what He already did. Moreover, I remembered that James and Jesus both commanded me never to make vows. It was then I realized that the thoughts were a counterfeit of God‘s Word...they either originated from my own dark imagination and fears or from the prince of the power of the air. In either case, the "command" did not match the written Word of God and I dismissed it.

What made the counterfeit thought so enticing was that it was camouflaged and draped in pious-sounding tidbits of truth. It seemed like the thought wanted me to pursue God and His righteousness, after all it was "calling" me to give up a sin. But in truth it was "calling" me to take on additional sin (vow making) and "calling me" to replace God's Word (permanence of salvation) with a false doctrine (the loss of my salvation), a doctrine of demons.

Had I given in to that counterfeit thought it is likely my faith would have been shipwrecked--for sin is not conquered via rash vow making but via the Word of God, prayer, and hard work. Had I accepted the counterfeit then the next time I sinned I would have assumed I had lost my salvation, which would have led to extreme discouragement. In fact, even though I knew the thought was a counterfeit, I wrestled with the notion that I had been rejected by God for having committed the sin one more time and remained unforgiven, and the emotional impact was extraordinarily discouraging and depressing.

Very many are the additional examples I can cite from myself and other Christians where a lucid thought could be assumed to be a word from God until it is examined more closely. Any thought that contradicts the parables of Jesus, His explicit teachings, the apostles’ writings, or other Scripture is not a word from God no matter how compelling or tangible it “feels.” God simply will not “direct” you to do, act, or function in opposition to what He has directed in the written Word.

In the past I have written more extensively on the subject of whether all Christians can and do hear “a word from the Lord” and whether we receive “personal daily instructions.” That multipart series can be found here: Knowing God's Will in Advance

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The above essay was originally posted as a blog, and as such it was subject to comments from the public. Below are some of those comments contributed by the public and some of Booth's responses.

A Comment from the Public

I understand your persistence or insistence that God's revealed word in the Scriptures is the final authority and your warnings against "listening" to any other voice. Based on your "very personal" account of your youth, it is easy to see why such things would scare you. At that age it would be easy to be shaken in your faith. Faith does become more entrenched over time and with maturity. This is one reason, I think, that God causes us to exercise our faith and gives us the testing and trials that foster stronger faith. Faith comes by hearing His word, but it is verified by having occasion to call upon it and proving God's promises to be true.

The idea of being able to lose one's salvation is taught in a great many churches, Sunday schools, and seminaries, so the enemy is using even institutions which have the basic mission of teaching God's word to propagate false doctrine. The same goes for any sort of works to bolster or ensure our relationship with God. They are the opposite of faith and useless as a means of gaining favor with God such as your example of taking a vow.

Still, any good thought or example we find in nature or other everyday phenomena which serve to illustrate a spiritual truth already known to us through the Word is not necessarily evil...or not wrong to entertain the lesson it reveals. Of course any of those similarities break down at some point and cannot teach scriptural principles in full.

Booth's Reply to the Above Comment

As you state, I think every good thought we might have and every object lesson we encounter in nature is attributal to God's design. I do NOT believe that every good thought and every object lesson in nature is an infallible command for us to follow in our daily living.

Every good thought must be tested against God's explicit written commands and principles, against the good desires of our hearts, against good planning principles, against the principles of selfless love, and against the needs of others. If a good thought (or an object lesson) passes those tests, it may be implementable, though not as a "command from God" or as "a prophetic word from the Lord" but as a good idea which God has permitted you to have.

Good ideas sometimes generate good outcomes, sometimes they do not. The roughly 50% of full time missionaries who resign during their first assignment would all have previously said they were called to the field by a "word from the Lord," yet, the truth is they simply had a good idea which they acted upon. The same is true for the 45% of the pastors who resign during their first 4 years of ordained service. Good ideas are not prophetic words. God gives us, or allows us to have, a steady stream of good ideas so that we may function and operate in this corporeal existence, but good ideas are simply not commandments to be obeyed.






Monday, February 28, 2011

Jesus Versus Mithra: Who Copied Who?

There is no other atheist that I love more dearly than the one who said to me, “Jesus is just a myth that got its ideas from the Mithra myth.” Ordinarily I would have simply chuckled at the naivety of such a comment and moved on. However, my affection for this family member is such that I simply had to examine this barrier to his ability to believe in Jesus.

So I plunged into the comparisons between the Mithra myth and the historically documented Christian faith. Mithra was a Persian sun god from a long obsolete pagan religion, and I did not genuinely expect to find anything that was relevant to contemporary Christianity.

That is why I was startled to find that in the past few years atheistic “scholars” have saturated the internet with theories alleging to demonstrate that virtually every element of Christianity was derived from Mithraism. Much of it sounded rational and logical, if not compelling. I could easily grasp why young seekers and fledgling atheists would be swayed by what was written on the net.

Among the most surprising of my finds was that the early church fathers had some significant things to say about the Roman version of this Persian religion. I am embarrassed to acknowledge that I had been totally unaware of this clash of cultures in the 2nd and 3rd centuries A.D.

Consequently I have posted my findings that compare Mithraism with both Judaism and Christianity: http://thefaithfulword.org/mithra.html

Please feel welcome to post your thoughts, opinions, personal stories of encounters with this new trend, and your insights into this new attack on Christianity.


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