Surviving Progress

I recently watched a documentary on Netflix called Surviving Progress. It gives an interesting perspective to what we have been promised to be a better, brighter, more advanced future. Medical breakthroughs allow people to live longer, healthier lives. Technological advancements allow for instant communication and speedy travel between nations. More cars, more computers, more televisions, more – more – more. Bigger! Faster! Better!

This is “progress.”

But what are we to do with it?

An interesting observation from an evolutionary psychologist is that the human brain hasn’t changed much at all over the last fifty thousand years. I’m not going to get into the evolutionary debate at this point, but I think the point is very valid. The parts of our brains that still tend to dominate are the more rudimentary regions. The deepest parts of the brain, also considered the oldest, are those that control the “fight or flight” survival system, the sex and pleasure system. The concern of these regions is the immediate and the tangible. They are always concerned with what is happening right this moment all around us.

Very helpful if one is living in a world overrun with wild beasts and tribal warfare. Not so helpful when standing in the checkout line at Walmart.

These regions are incapable of considering the long term impact of immediate decisions. Do I eat the cupcake in front of me or do I wait and receive an additional cupcake in an hour? You get the point.

We humans would like to think that we are more sophisticated than our nomadic ancestors of millennia past. But we aren’t.

We Christians would like to think that we are better prepared to handle Satan’s temptations today than were, say, Adam and Eve. But we aren’t.

We would like to think that Satan is always scheming, always going back to the drawing board, always drawing up more intricate traps and snares in order to catch us. But he doesn’t.

Satan has one playbook. It hasn’t changed since the time of Eden because there is no need for change. The road runner kept out thinking and outsmarting the coyote, so the coyote had to keep trying new and increasingly dangerous stunts to catch the darn bird. Not so with Satan. Humanity falls for the same traps so consistently that there is no need for him to update his game plan.

The real kicker is…we KNOW the playbook! We know every single go-to that Satan has. Just read Genesis 3:1-7; Matthew 4:1-11; and James 1:13-15. We know how he works, we know what play he’s going to run, and we’ve had thousands of years to study and develop a defense.

When it comes to progress – be it technological, medical, social, or economical – the single greatest hindrance of progress is…humans. As long as Satan is able to trap humanity with his schemes, nothing will really change. That’s why the writer of Ecclesiastes could say, “There is nothing new under the sun.”

What we really need is not new “stuff;” we need a new system. If there is nothing new under the sun, we need a different sun – a new world, restored to God’s original intent. We need a world redeemed and set free from sin, where Satan has no dominion, where our own fallen humanity won’t get in the way of true progress.

If we’re going to “survive progress,” then we need a little bit of heaven.

Hips Don’t Lie: The Heart of Worship

I love music.

I come from a very musical family full of people who have been in band and/or choir. My family likes to sing – all of us. When we get together it’s like a live-action musical.

Seriously. A few years ago we were all together at my sister’s house for Christmas. Her in-laws were also there for a while. One night we were gathered around the table playing a game. At one point in the game, after something funny had happened, my sister’s mother-in-law asked, “Oh no, are they going to sing again?”

I love to sing. Dancing, on the other hand…let’s just say we weren’t blessed with that gene. I played trumpet in high school, and it’s no exaggeration to say that the only rhythm in my entire body lies in the index, middle, and ring fingers on my right hand. It’s straight up embarrassing when I attempt to move my body to the music.

I’m talking Elaine from “Seinfeld” kind of awful.

That’s probably why I love the story in 2 Samuel 6. It’s one of the most amazing worship services in the Bible.

When David became king of Israel, he moved the capital city to Jerusalem. The Tabernacle and the Ark of the Covenant had, up to this point, been in Shiloh and a couple other places. But now David wanted to give the Ark a permanent dwelling place. Although the Lord prevented David from building the Temple, all the prep work was made. The Temple, the Ark, and subsequently God’s presence, would reside on the prime piece of real estate in the new capital.

David and his men began transporting the Ark to it’s new home, but they hit an initial snag. The Ark was set on a cart – not carried with poles by the priests. The oxen stumbled (I think Israel learned it’s road paving techniques from Illinois…), the Ark rocked, Uzzah tried to stabilize it but was struck dead. They’re not off to a very good start. So David unloads the Ark at someone else’s house for three months – back to the drawing boards.

Three months later David tries again. This time, taking every precaution. He has the Ark carried like it was supposed to be. Along the way, David – not a priest – sacrificed a bull and a calf every six steps. Six steps! Every 20 feet leading into Jerusalem there was the carcass of a dead animal. Imagine the barbecue they had later…

So not only is he sacrificing the whole way, but as they enter Jerusalem the crowds are shouting, the trumpets are playing, and David is dancing with all his might. David would have been kicked out of most of our churches.

When the Ark was brought to the Tabernacle, David blessed all the people. But not only that, he gave everyone there a gift of bread and pastries.

This was a parade, a festival, a celebration – this was worship. Singing, dancing, cheering, excitement, blessings, fellowship, and food.

But there will always be someone upset at the freedom of others when it comes to worship. Michal, David’s wife, was downright embarrassed by his display. She scolds him for making himself look so foolish in front of other people.

I love David’s reply: “It was before the Lord, who chose me rather than your father or anyone from his house when He appointed me ruler over the Lord’s people Israel – I will celebrate before the Lord. I will become even more undignified than this, and I will be humiliated in my own eyes. But by these slave girls you spoke of, I will be held in honor.”

At the heart of worship was the relationship between David and God. It didn’t matter what anybody else said or thought about him. David determined that he will celebrate with all his might.

Did God ever prescribe dancing and trumpets and free bread as acceptable worship? No. But was He pleased with David and Israel on that day? Did He delight in seeing His children celebrate with all their might? Absolutely.

Don’t worry, I’m not going to get up on stage next Sunday go all Gangam Style. But why should anybody stop me from worshiping with all my might? Who’s to say that you can’t pour your heart out in celebration of God’s presence?

Celebration is at the heart of worship.

Ghost Stories…from the Bible!

A long time ago in a far away land there was a king. He ruled absolutely. His word trumped that of God Himself. He was tall, strong, and charismatic. But as his life neared it’s end, he began to go through a very dark time. His spirits fell. Suspicion and fear compelled him to act irrationally and recklessly.

Some even say he had an evil spirit possess his soul.

Then one day all his enemies gathered their forces, determined to exact vengeance on this king for all the pain and suffering he had caused them. It was an army bent on destruction with one objective – kill this king.

On the eve of battle, the king and his entourage saw the enemy hordes marching to war. In former years this king would have been confident. He would have craved the opportunity to drive his opponents back once and for all. But these were darker times. His own soul had turned against him and against his God. His most trusted adviser, a wise old prophet, had recently died. The king had no one else he trusted enough to consult in this matter. His own madness would be the demise of his entire kingdom.

But then the evil spirit inside of him planted an idea in his mind. The prophet may be dead in body but not in spirit. There was a witch, a medium, a sorceress – call her what you will. She had the power to communicate with the dead.

The king and his men hurried to the old witch’s house. Smoke billowed from the chimney. The stink of death and putrescence filled the air.

To conceal his identity, the king had put on a disguise. Looking like just an ordinary commoner, the king stepped up to the eerie abode. Knock Knock Knock

The door creaked open just slightly. “Who’s there? What do you want?” inquired a raspy, aged voice from just inside the door.

“I wish to summon the spirit of a departed loved one, if you please,” replied the king, in a deeper, unfamiliar voice.

“Ha! Don’t you know the king himself banned me and all my sisters from the kingdom?! Why should I help you?” the witch responded suspiciously. “You’re probably just trying to trap me so you can through me in the king’s dungeon.”

“You will face no such punishment. I swear to God Almighty,” ensured the king.

The door slammed shut. The king was taken aback, but he could hear the sounds of chains and latches being unfastened. Again, the door opened inward against the complaint of tired hinges. Stooping down, the king entered after the witch. The one room house was small and untidy to the eye of a guest. Jars and containers strewn about on the shelves, cobwebs building in the corners, scrolls stuffed onto their racks, and a thin layer of dust lying throughout like fresh laid snow.

The witch sat down at the head of the large table in the center of the room – the largest piece of furniture in the place. She pulled the fine cloth away from a large, rounded glass object. The door shut behind the king and his men without the help of human or crosswind. The king pulled out a chair and sat down to the left of the witch. The other men remained standing.

“Whom shall I summon for you?” asked the witch when all was ready.

Hesitating, the king answered, “Samuel, the prophet.”

The witch began her incantation and her hand motions, when suddenly the whole house shook. The witch screamed the cry of death and shot backwards from her chair. She had seen the ghost of Samuel coming to her from the great beyond. Out of the darkness he came with the fury of God in his eyes. It was then the witch knew who really joined her at the table.

“Why have you deceived me?” she cried. “I know who you are! You’re the King.”

“Do not fear,” said the king in his stern, commanding voice. “Tell me what you see.”

The woman, trembling, slowly regained her place at the table. Looking again, she answered, “I see a ghostly figure coming up out of the earth.”

“What does he look like?” questioned the king.

“He’s an old man,” said the witch, looking ever more deeply. “And he’s wearing a robe.”

Fear, excitement, and shame collided within the king. He fell to the ground, shoving his chair against the wall with a bang. Shaking violently, the king dropped his head all the way to the dusty floor.

Just then the voice of the prophet began to speak in his ghostly, otherworldly voice. “Why have you disturbed me by bringing me up?” demanded the ghost with a violent anger in his words.

Weak and frightened, the king replied, “I’m greatly distressed. These are dark times. My enemies have marched their armies against me for war, and God has abandoned me. He no longer answers me, either by prophets or dreams. So I summoned you to tell me what to do.”

The ghostly voice boomed in reply, “Why do you consult me now that the Lord has left you and turned against you? The Lord has done just as he foretold through me while I was with you! He has torn the kingdom from your grip and had given it to your neighbors – to the shepherd boy. The Lord has done this because you refused to obey him, and you failed to carry out his wrath on your enemies. You are weak. You are frail. You are no KING!

“The armies of your enemies will be victorious. Your armies will fail. Your men will turn and flee. Your cities will be captured. And hear me – tomorrow, you and your sons will die.”

At this the king lost all control. Fear gripped him.

The witch rushed over to him, bringing him some concoction she had been boiling. “Your majesty, I’ve only done what you asked. I put my life in your hands. Now please, take this and regain your strength.”

But the king refused to eat or drink anything at first. Finally able to stand, the king rose and reclined on the couch. After some urging from the witch and his own men, the king agreed to dine before departing.

The witch at once went out and butchered a calf. Coming back in with blood stained robes, she baked some bread. That night the king and his men dined with the witch – the last meal the king would ever enjoy.

The next day, in the throes of battle, all happened as the ghost had foretold. The enemy hordes broke the king’s lines. The battle broke into chaos. In the heat of it all, the king looked down in time to see his son slain by the arrows of the enemy archers. Gripped with fear and uncontrollable anxiety, the king turned his own sword around and fell onto the blade.

Witchcraft, ghosts, death, and suicide. This is what became of the first king of Israel.