How I Correctly Predicted the Election Outcome

It has been an interesting couple of days, hasn’t it! My youngest daughter Kaitlyn and I have exchanged more texts in these last two days than we have in the rest of our lives combined! Like me, she is a political junkie, except maybe more so. Both of us are also into data… and there has been a lot of data flying about the last three days.

I make my living as a data analyst. When I am tuned into a topic I can make some very good predictions. I had some pretty strong thoughts about where the American Election might be headed, so I thought it would be interesting to put my thoughts in public before the polls closed.

Here is the tool that I used for the technical part of my determinations. The author is Éric Grenier, and I have been a fan of his for many years.

The tool has a cool feature in that you can use a slider to see the effect of a deviation from the latest polling numbers. The data has been updated ever so slightly from when I used it but what you see now is pretty close to what I used.

Here was my thinking. Donald Trump exceeded his polling numbers by 2.2% in 2016. The reasons the pollsters gave was that it was because they didn’t properly apportion a poll share to white uneducated males. They told us they had it fixed for 2020. The reason I am hearing this time round is the “secret Trump supporter”.

I thought it was simpler than either of those excuses that had been given pre and post the election.

1. Conservative voters always exclude their poll numbers. This is largely because older voters, who tend more conservative, have a better turnout on election night than younger voters.

2. Like 2016, Democrats did not have a candidate that they were enthused about.

My thinking went: If Trump could beat his polling by 2.2% in 2016, then he could likely beat it by 2.0 this year, and I adjusted the slider accordingly.

The state that really stood out as the swing state was Pennsylvania. At a 2.5 percent change in the slider, Trump would pick up Nevada, but still lose the election. At 3.0% was were Pennsylvania flipped into the Trump camp.

In my mind then Pennsylvania was key to winning the election this year, and so I made my first prediction:

1. Whoever wins Pennsylvania will win the election.

Note: as I write this, Pennsylvania is still in the Trump camp, but is trending strongly towards Biden. By sometime this morning it will be in the Biden camp, and he will win in by about 120,000 votes.

I didn’t think Trump would beat his polls by 3% and so I made my second prediction.

2. Biden will win Pennsylvania

At the time of writing this post, Biden was behind by 18,000 votes with 275,000 to count. He was winning 80% of the mail in ballots.

Based on my above analysis, I thought the election would be close, a lot of states would be close, and there would be recounts and lawsuits flying! So I felt pretty safe in making my third prediction:

3. The ultimate winner will not be decided for over a week.

I also knew that the mail in ballots would be a huge factor in this election, especially in how they were being counted after the fact in several key states. This would have the effect of Trump initially leading, and then losing ground as the mail in ballots were counted. And so I made my fourth prediction:

4. Trump will be ahead as of 11:00 p.m. (E.S.T.)

In fact he was! At 11:00 p.m. he was elected or leading in 278 electoral college ballots. By the time I went to bed that night Trump was elected or leading in 296! I must say I was tempted to second guess myself.

But I still thought that my original analysis was correct. And that was that if Trump couldn’t take Pennsylvania, some other states might be a toss up, but he would be maxing out at about 259 electoral college votes. That is why I had made my original fifth prediction:

5. Trump maxes out at 259 (or less) out of 270 electoral college votes.

So that is how I made my predictions.

What kind of outcome were you expecting? Have you been on a roller coaster of emotions over the last three days?

As usual your thoughts and comments are welcome. My Facebook friends managed to keep things civil despite their varied backgrounds. I hope we can do the same.

Why People “Fly from Facts”

Why People “Fly from Facts”

Sorry for this late and incomplete posting, friends.  I just couldn’t find a science and faith article that sparked my interest, and I just couldn’t find the mental energy to dig in to something.  This article from Scientific American will have to do.  The authors examine why people seem to turn to other belief mechanisms especially when the facts don’t seem to be on their side.  The article says:

So after examining the power of untestable beliefs, what have we learned about dealing with human psychology? We have learned that bias is a disease and to fight it we need a healthy treatment of facts and education. We find that when facts are injected into the conversation, the symptoms of bias become less severe. But, unfortunately, we have also learned that facts can only do so much. To avoid coming to undesirable conclusions, people can fly from the facts and use other tools in their deep, belief-protecting toolbox.

With the disease of bias, then, societal immunity is better achieved when people are encouraged to accept ambiguity, engage in critical thinking and reject strict ideology. This society is something the Common Core State Standards for education and at times The Daily Show are at least in theory helping to create. We will never eradicate bias—not from others, not from ourselves, not from society. But we can become more free of ideology and less free of facts.

Read the article and let’s discuss.  The authors adopt a positive viewpoint in conclusion, but, given the events of this year so far, can we really “become more free of ideology and less free of facts”?  For the sake of my grandchildren and great-grandchildren, I fervently hope so.

Is Democracy Backsliding?

Today, of course, marks the terminus of voting for the U.S. 2020 electoral season. By this evening, some 140-150 million Americans will have voted; about 60 percent of eligible voters. Experts predict it will be a record.

That sounds like a win for democracy. And certainly it is better than when large groups of the population were prohibited or greatly discouraged from voting. In the United States today, any citizen over 18 who is not a felon can, with few exceptions, choose whom they want to represent them: from the local school board to the President of the world’s most powerful country.

And yet all is not well. And I am not primarily talking about the Electoral College, though that makes my vote for President considerable less weighty than if I lived in Pennsylvania or Florida. I’m thinking of other things.

Freedom House, the Washington-based bipartisan think tank, has, since 1973, it has published “Freedom in the World,” an annual country-by-country report that has been called the “Michelin Guide to democracy’s development.”

The latest edition recorded the fourteenth straight year of deteriorating freedom around the world; sixty-four countries have lost liberties in the past year, while only thirty-seven registered improvements.  Its assessment of the United States is also disturbing. In 2009, the U.S. had a score of ninety-four, out of a hundred, which ranked it near the top, just behind Germany, Switzerland, and Estonia. In the decade since, it has slipped eight points; it now ranks behind Greece, Slovakia, and Mauritius.

Looking at the United States, Freedom House analysts note the types of trends that they more customarily assign to fragile corners of the globe: “pressure on electoral integrity, judicial independence, and safeguards against corruption. Fierce rhetorical attacks on the press, the rule of law, and other pillars of democracy coming from American leaders, including the president himself.”

It is, of course, tempting to lay all this at the feet of Trump. But this trend is worldwide. And, interestingly, some scholars and advocates tend to identify a point of origin well before the election of 2016. According to Protect Democracy, a legal-watchdog group dedicated to combatting the rise of authoritarianism in America, “the growth and spread of democracies that defined the 20th Century peaked in the early days of the 21st; since 2005, the state of democracies around the world has receded.”

A picture is worth a thousand words:

Sander Klous on Twitter: "Interesting? Worrying? Dictatorship versus democracy. (De)centralization of #Trust in a #SmartSociety @nartwielaard… "What’s going on? Well, for the U.S. at least the reality is that the votes of the average citizen do not shape actual public policy, as we can see from this analysis, from The Atlantic:

Across a range of issues, public policy does not reflect the preferences of the majority of Americans. If it did, the country would look radically different: Marijuana would be legal and campaign contributions more tightly regulated; paid parental leave would be the law of the land and public colleges free; the minimum wage would be higher and gun control much stricter; abortions would be more accessible in the early stages of pregnancy and illegal in the third trimester.

The subversion of the people’s preferences in our supposedly democratic system was explored in a 2014 study by the political scientists Martin Gilens of Princeton and Benjamin I. Page of Northwestern. Four broad theories have long sought to answer a fundamental question about our government: Who rules? One theory, the one we teach our children in civics classes, holds that the views of average people are decisive. Another theory suggests that mass-based interest groups such as the AARP have the power. A third theory predicts that business groups such as the Independent Insurance Agents and Brokers of America and the National Beer Wholesalers Association carry the day. A fourth theory holds that policy reflects the views of the economic elite.

Gilens and Page tested those theories by tracking how well the preferences of various groups predicted the way that Congress and the executive branch would act on 1,779 policy issues over a span of two decades. The results were shocking. Economic elites and narrow interest groups were very influential: They succeeded in getting their favored policies adopted about half of the time, and in stopping legislation to which they were opposed nearly all of the time. Mass-based interest groups, meanwhile, had little effect on public policy. As for the views of ordinary citizens, they had virtually no independent effect at all. “When the preferences of economic elites and the stands of organized interest groups are controlled for, the preferences of the average American appear to have only a minuscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy,” Gilens and Page wrote.

That is sobering. And the authors did get a lot of pushback on this study. But their point, that the vote of the average American has a minuscule effect on public policy, needs to be added to other factors that affect the way democracy works in western countries.:

  • Globalization, automation and immigration have created serious economic disruptions for large swaths of society.
  • This economic disruption has not affected the various classes within society equally. The wealthy, educated and connected grow more wealthy and powerful, while blue collar families grow less so.
  • The long era during which average Americans grew more wealthy has come to a sputtering stop. At the age of 30, more than nine in 10 Americans born in 1940 were earning more than their parents had at the same stage of their lives. But according to eye-popping research led by the economist Raj Chetty,  among those Americans born in the early 1980s, only half earn more than their parents did at a similar age.
  • Lobbying has fundamentally warped how public policy is formed, and it does so in favor of large corporations. For every dollar spent on lobbying by labor unions and public-interest groups, large corporations and their associations now spend $34. Of the 100 organizations that spend the most on lobbying, 95 consistently represent business.
  • The insane amount of money needed for modern campaigns forces candidates and elected officials to spend time with and seek funds from the elites and special interests. A model schedule for freshman members of Congress prepared a few years ago by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee instructs them to spend about four hours every day cold-calling donors for cash.
  • Gerrymandering has combined with increasing geographic self-sorting to create many congressmen who simply have no motivation to cooperate in a decent and democratic way with the opposite party. This is mirrored in the electorate, who increasingly consume news only from media companies that align with their viewpoints.

We are tempted to look at Donald Trump as a unique threat to democracy in the United States. Of course, many of the things he says and does (like refusing to agree before the election to a peaceful transition of power) do threaten democracy.

But Trump is more the result than the cause of Democracy’s backsliding. 

And unless we get that, we are just setting ourselves up for another so-called strong man, who might actually be effectual and strategic.

Donald Trump won the presidency for many reasons, not just one.  But a deep feeling of powerlessness and voicelessness among voters was especially important.  Those who voted for Trump in the Republican primaries, more than those who supported his competition, said that they “don’t have any say about what the government does,” that “public officials don’t care much what people like me think,” and that “most politicians care only about the interests of the rich and powerful.”

In other words, the emotion Trump tapped into was resentment. Resentment against the elites, the wealthy and well-connected, against the powerful. And this emotion has not disappeared.

Of course, Trump had no intention of giving power back to the people. He filled his cabinet with the elites and gave tax breaks to the wealthy. At the halfway mark of President Donald Trump’s first term, his administration had hired a lobbyist for every 14 political appointments made, welcoming a total of 281 lobbyists on board. The number of lobbyists who have served in government jobs is four times more than the Obama administration had six years into office.

No, the swamp did not get drained. But the fact that so many voters fervently hoped it would will not be lost on future candidates.

It will not be lost on the next strongman, who combines populist rhetoric with a cunning  and persuasion and discipline that Trump could never match. This is the great danger of a backslidden democracy.

To January 1st… and beyond!

If you have been following along with Internet Monk recently, you will know that the blog will be coming to an end on January 1st, and subsequently only available as a historical archive.

That leaves with approximately sixteen posts after this one.

Lets first talk about what I would like to cover over these sixteen posts:

1. Internet Monk guest writer Scott Lencke has just released a new book that looks very interesting. It is entitled Reflections of Immanuel, and I will be doing a full review.

2. I have had the privilege of listening to some rough tracks from an upcoming album of frequent commentor ChrisS. I would love to give it a full review before we are done here.

3. I will be continuing on with the Reconsider Jesus devotional commentary series by Michael Spencer.

4. I am still very interested in Covid-19 – I would very much like to do a post or posts from a data analytical perspective on common myths about the virus. (Is there any particular data that you would like me to address?)

5. I have also been thinking a lot recently about what characteristics define an Evangelical. How am I, and am I not, an Evangelical? (Feel free to comment on this now – it might give me some ideas on my posts.)

6. I would like to devote a post or two as a retrospection of my time at Internet Monk. Are there any posts that I have written that have been especially meaningful to you?

7. I will spend a post talking about future plans for the Reconsider Jesus book.

8. Finally, I will spend a post talking about my own future plans for writing, which are in fact completely up in the air at this moment. Have you got any words of wisdom for me in this matter? Is there anything else you would really want me to address in the next few weeks or in future writing?

As usual, your thoughts and comments are welcome.

The IM Saturday Monks Brunch: October 31, 2020

The IM Saturday Monks Brunch: October 31, 2020

The Three Skulls, Cezanne

It’s Halloween 2020! Over the years, Internet Monk has been known to post articles about this celebration in response to various examples of hysteria and circus-like behavior on the part of some Christians. Here’s a list of those posts:

Skull, Van Gogh

“So I propose a toast: to every little boy who goes to sleep dreaming of Hogwarts. To every mother who reads Narnia to her children. To every teenager devouring The Lord of the Rings. To every grandmother who reads her granddaughter a ghost story. To every parent who shares their favorite scary movie with their child. To every young writer who writes the stories in which we live. To those who know to life, to jump and to delight at Sleepy Hollow. To all who give us this one night of frightful fun and remain little boys and girls, A TOAST!!” (Michael Spencer)

Lon Chaney walks with the Queen to this Halloween tune…

The Backstory of Jack O’Lantern

Irish “Ghost Turnip” – early example of using root vegetables as lanterns on Halloween

Read this fascinating post at National Geographic detailing various threads of the history of using pumpkins as the pervasive symbol of Halloween. Here’s one of the threads:

“Stingy Jack”

Then there’s the 18th-century Irish folktale of Stingy Jack, an unsavory fellow often said to be a blacksmith who had a fondness for mischief and booze. Dozens of versions abound, but one recurring storyline is that Stingy Jack tricked the devil twice. When Jack died, he found himself barred from heaven—and from hell. But the devil took some pity on Jack, giving him an ember of coal to light his turnip lantern as he wandered between both places for eternity—again inspiring the nickname Jack-of-the-Lantern, or jack-o’-lantern.

The Art of the Scream

From The New York Times:

What’s more fundamental to scary movies than the bone-chilling shriek? But delivering a terrifying wail isn’t easy. It’s an entire art with a history and a world of its own.

…The image of vocal terror is among our most universal and elemental, from Edvard Munch to Janet Leigh. But translating that into sound on film involves more than a microphone on set. Bloodcurdling from an A-lister is uncommon: Often, the screams we hear in movies and TV are created by doubles and voice actors, in Burbank studios, with specialists standing by to ghoul them up. It’s physically taxing and emotionally draining. And bizarro as a job.

The first iconic movie scream: “Scream Queen” Fay Wray in King Kong

…How do you know when a scream is right? Sound professionals don’t just depend on goose bumps — though they still get them, even as they dispassionately discuss murder methods.

…Sound designers like Gates have a stable of vocal performers to “loop” audio, the term for taping sounds or lines, and even creating background dialogue. That din of a restaurant when havoc strikes? Loopers.

They’re guided by a “loop group” leader, like a casting director for macabre whispers and guttural squeals. Audition tapes pour in; it’s not unusual for a loop group leader like Susan Boyajian to listen to 15 screams a day, she said. “There’s gradual screams, a buildup scream, kind of hyperventilating — say someone’s chasing you with a knife, and then you go into a scream,” she said brightly. “Is someone choking, the blood going into your throat?”

She chooses a handful for the sound crew and director to sift through, and then recording sessions begin, syncing to the performer onscreen. “You’re watching their mouth, you have to physically be that person and then give me what she or he is doing,” said Boyajian, a vocal teacher and actor.

It’s a Halloween Full Moon

From Live Science:

Moonrise on Halloween night will be just a little more spooktacular than usual this year. The sky will be illuminated by a full moon —  a rare Hallows’ Eve treat that happens only about once every 19 years.

Something else makes this full moon, known as a “Hunter’s Moon,” even more special: It’s the second one to occur in October. That means it’s a “Blue Moon,” and the only double-full-moon event in 2020, according to NASA.

However, as the full moon comes at a time when the moon is at its farthest from Earth, it will also be a “Micro Moon,” the opposite of a “Super Moon,” meaning it looks a little smaller than the usual full moon. And if that still isn’t enough names for you, its status as the second full moon of autumn makes it a “Beaver Moon,” according to NASA.

This will be the first time since 1944 that a Halloween full moon will be visible at night (weather permitting) in all time zones in the United States, according to the Farmer’s Almanac.

Serious Active Covid Cases around the World as of Oct. 29…

Other VERY Scary Things…

This ridiculous analysis of the “expertise bubble”

“Patriot” churches

The litigious Jerry Falwell, Jr.

Bible The

Take your pick: (1) John Piper’s overblown (as usual) theologizing about the election, or (2) some of the ridiculous, mind-boggling criticism he received from conservative Christians.

Photo of the Week…

People look at the art installation “IN AMERICA How Could This Happen…” by artist Suzanne Brennan Firstenberg, on the DC Armory Parade Ground, in Washington D.C., as the spread of COVID-19 continues. (REUTERS/Hannah McKay)

Classic Toys Are Making a Comeback in these Pandemic Days

Photographer David Chickering

From The Washington Post:

Whether it’s a yearning for nostalgia or simply a desire for kids to put down their tablets and smartphones, consumers are reaching for old-school favorites, positioning the toy industry for its best holiday season in years.

The pandemic has ushered a fundamental shift in toy-buying habits; instead of perusing the toy aisle or trading notes during playdates, parents are drawing on their own childhoods for inspiration. Classic toys also have strong appeal for adults who want their children engaged in open-ended play for long periods of time.

…Among the season’s most popular toys, according to NPD: Little Tikes, Barbies and Hot Wheels. Lego, the world’s largest and most profitable toymaker, also has carved out a niche in the coveted adult market.

…“It is all about classic play this year,” [Chris Byrne, a toy industry consultant] said. “People are anxiety-ridden, and those nurturing games we remember from our childhoods are like comfort food.”

Questions for Election Week…

What is motivating voters to vote this year?

“As a journalist, I wanted to explore what motivates voters to go to the polls – issue by issue, person by person. Media often treats large national issues like the people who vote on them — all believe the same things, but the truth is that most of us are not just bricks in a wall. We vote based on what affects us and our families.”

As president, how would Joe Biden fight the pandemic?

Biden’s campaign has a seven-point plan to beat COVID-19 and other proposals for health care and economic recovery that support that vision. NPR asked his advisers for details on his approach, which includes some familiar elements, as well as some less-expected ones.

Is the “Shy Trump Voter” Going Undetected?

This year, [Arie Kapteyn and Robert Cahaly] believe that polls could again be undercounting Trump’s support. The reason is “shy” Trump voters—people reluctant to share their opinions for fear of being judged. Though the “shy voter” idea is thrown around a lot by both Trump supporters and Democratic skeptics, Kapteyn and Cahaly have specific insights into why, and how, Trump support might be going undetected.

Will the States Be Ready for Mail Vote Challenges?

Election law is decided by state legislatures and varies from state to state, which means that the dominant political parties in each state and local politics often determine election laws. On the positive side, state-based election laws keep the voting process diffused among the states and largely out of the hands of Washington. This diffusion of power is a feature of our country’s federalism, in which the nation’s founders believed so strongly. It is up to a state’s secretary of state to ensure, to the best of his or her ability, that the voting process is fair and open, often in spite of the politics of the state legislature and dominant political party.

How Will Recent Supreme Court Rulings Affect Key Battleground States?

Here’s how the recent Supreme Court rulings could affect voting in the closely contested battleground states of Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Wisconsin.

What is the perspective and approach of evangelical NON-voters?

While some religious traditions abstain from voting because they do not take part in politics at all (think Jehovah’s Witnesses) or because they separate themselves from broader society (the Amish), evangelical nonvoters say they can be politically engaged beyond the ballot box.

Finally, a Jesus-shaped Reminder…

Reconsider Jesus – Calling the Tax Collector (Mark 2:13-17)


Reconsider Jesus – A fresh look at Jesus from the Gospel of Mark
A devotional commentary by Michael Spencer
Compiled and Edited by: Michael Bell
Table of Contents

(Note: Ninety-eight expressions of interest in the book so far! Thank you, thank you! )

Calling the Tax Collector

13 Once again Jesus went out beside the lake. A large crowd came to him, and he began to teach them. 14 As he walked along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” Jesus told him, and Levi got up and followed him.

15 While Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were eating with him and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. 16 When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?”

17 On hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Mark 2:13-17 – NIV

How did Jesus treat people? If Christianity is correct in its confession that Jesus is the incarnation of the eternal, Creator God, then Jesus’ treatment of individuals is perhaps the most important part of the gospel message. Why? Because this indicates how God feels about me! It is the most personal aspect of what the Gospels have to say to any of us. The scholarly pursuit of the Gospels as literature, within a religious movement, is important. But even the most objective and skeptical scholar must be impressed with what we see in Jesus’ treatment of individuals. Only the most crude person could say there is nothing here that is worth imitating.

This passage contains two stories that have been grouped together by Mark because of their similar theme. The first is a brief recollection about the calling of Levi (also known as Matthew) as a disciple.11 The second is a story preserving a memorable saying. But more basic to the text is the clear teaching that Jesus’ treatment of people broke the religious rules of the time in a way that spoke deeply about the Kingdom of God and the purpose of Jesus. Here we find the heart of Jesus as he related to people and the essence of why the “good news” of Jesus differed from the message of status-quo religion.

Mark has informed us that Jesus assertively called disciples, as opposed to most of the religious leaders of his culture who allowed potential disciples to approach them and apply for acceptance as a student. Jesus had sought out disciples amongst the fisherman in Galilee12 and we can safely assume this was his practice, though he certainly may have also accepted the “applicant.” It is interesting that, when the Gospels record someone approaching Jesus to ask to become a follower, he is somewhat discouraging at times.13

Later, Mark will tell us that Jesus was being followed by large crowds and eventually selected the twelve from a larger group.14 Luke records that Jesus sent out 72 disciples on a “2 x 2″ mission.15 So, apparently Jesus had a large group of disciples that either were invited to follow him or simply chose to do so on their own. And it is equally clear that Jesus’ disciples were not from the religiously educated or usual pious groups, but from ordinary – even undesirable – backgrounds.

Tax collectors are not popular in any culture. But in first century Palestine, tax collectors were especially despised. This was due to a number of reasons: The Romans sold tax collecting franchises to the highest bidder. Once the collector paid his quota to the Romans, he could keep everything else. For this reason, tax collectors were notoriously dishonest and sometimes collected double (or more) of what was owed. Also, tax collectors were seen as being in collaboration with the occupying force. The ordinary Jew may not have been a zealot, but he was certainly patriotic and found it easy to hate someone who turned their back on his own people, all to work for the Romans. Being in contact with the Romans also meant that the tax collector was ritually unclean, being numbered with the “non-religious” outcasts of society. So, it is no surprise this particular group was associated with prostitutes and “sinners.” Their social circle was limited to other religious and social outcasts.

The text offers us no clue as to why Jesus calls Levi. In the story of Zacchaeus,16 we find what seems to be a repentant man for his dishonesty, earnestly desiring forgiveness and restoration. But we have no such information about Levi. We simply know that Jesus called him on the spot and we later read of them eating at the home of Levi. It isn’t wildly speculative to conclude, however, that such characters were both spiritually and morally hungry. They heard something in the message of Jesus that was attractive. What was it? It was the good news that God did not despise sinners but loved them and invited them into table fellowship with him. This is an amazing offer!

It is difficult in our culture to understand the significance of fellowship around a table. Sharing a meal was the deepest sign of hospitality and acceptance. It was an invitation into friendship and fellowship, going far beyond simply sharing food. Many of the current scholars reinterpreting Jesus believe that this action, on the part of Jesus, was more than just something observed about him; they believe it was an intentional action, done in a public way, to proclaim a radically different message about the Kingdom of God and the God of the Kingdom. While I don’t believe Jesus was staging events, I do believe the calling of Matthew and the subsequent eating with “sinners” was quite intentional and repeated for the purpose of including sinners and annoying the religious status quo.

The image of the fellowship meal, occurring frequently throughout the Bible and certainly picked up in the rest of the New Testament, also touches on the theme of the great banquet at the end of time. Such is a powerful image of the Kingdom. Jesus referred to it often, even in his parables.17 You see, the Pharisees and religious people of Jesus’ time believed that the unrighteous would be excluded from this banquet.18 But Jesus made it a point to say there would be a great surprise when God invited and included the outcasts and sinners, also to the exclusion of the usual guests. Such an upside-down turn of this banquet image was part of what Jesus taught in his total picture of the Kingdom of God. This is greatly underappreciated by many modern Christians, as is evidenced by our treatment of those Jesus would surely include.

Jesus’ pointer to who needs the gospel is very basic: sinners need God. God is actively seeking them out and inviting them into his family. Those who consider themselves good are in danger of missing the Kingdom altogether. If we see our total need for grace and help, God is for us. If we believe we have arrived at a level where we are not a “real” sinner, we have missed God’s Kingdom. I once played for my students Steve Taylor’s song, “Jesus is for Losers.” One very religious young man was offended at the song title. I gently reminded him that if we could not see ourselves as losers before God, we would never believe a message that says Jesus lost everything for us.

The best example of this overall message is Jesus’ parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector found in Luke 18.19 Jesus ends that parable with the question, “Who went home justified,” or in other words, “Who went home right-with-God?” Was it the man who thanked God that he was not in need of mercy or was it the man who believed he didn’t deserve it, yet still begged for it?

The implications of all of this are truly stunning. Christianity is not a religion that allows us to make ourselves acceptable to God. If we believe we have become acceptable to him, we have missed him. Instead, Christianity is a relationship with a God whose heart is drawn towards the sinful, the broken, the outcast and the excluded. God sides with sinners and eats with them, warning those of us who are religious that, by declaring ourselves well, we stand in danger of not hearing the voice of our Creator calling us to himself. Such a perspective does not dissolve the need of Christianity to articulate God’s holiness and judgement on sin, this also being basic to the Bible. But if we say that we see God as he has revealed himself in Jesus, then we are claiming that we see a God whose mercy seeks out the very sinners who have offended his holiness, while he also bore the price of their rescue. This is what the cross is all about, and this is why Paul says that the cross is foolishness to the world but powerful to those who are being saved.20

On a practical level, Christians should be unafraid to look at the tough implications of this gospel passage for their own churches and ministries. I have worked at a Christian school that accepts mostly “lost” students, many with legal problems and previous school expulsions. Every year a certain number of the Christian faculty leave the ministry because they do not view what we do as “Christian” enough! This is typical for how many of us are taught to think. We act as if Jesus would be more likely found in the church than at a bar; that his friends would be preachers not prostitutes; that he sends us to help people find a church rather than sending us to find people who need love – and love them. Our reworking of Jesus into one who would have never called Matthew, nor eaten with sinners, is sad. Jackson Browne recorded a song on a Chieftains Christmas album and called the song, “The Rebel Jesus.” The song, written from the perspective of a non-Christian, says that the rebel, Jesus, of the New Testament, is far more attractive than the tamed Jesus of church-ianity.

We especially need to treasure this message because, at some point, every one of us will be the excluded sinner. We may be the adulterer, the AIDS patient, the prison inmate, the drug addict or the runaway teenager. At that point, when life has fallen apart, when churches do not welcome us, when people talk about us in the past tense, when there are no easy answers – where is God, then? How do we tell a father who has abused his family or a young girl who has aborted her child or a convicted criminal that Jesus Christ offers hope. How do we tell them this if we have forgotten that, from the very beginning, Jesus has been the savior of the sick, not of the healthy who are in no need of help? As individual followers of Jesus, we need to faithfully, and stubbornly, hold to the Christ who preached and practiced this “upside down Kingdom.”

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Footnotes:

[11] Levi is also called Matthew. See Matthew 9:9-13 for comparison.

[12] Mark 1:16-20.

[13] Matthew 8:18-22.

[14] Mark 3:13-19.

[15] Luke 10:1ff.

[16] Luke 19:1-9.

[17] See Matthew 22:2ff.

[18] The Pharisees were a Jewish sect who were particularly known for having both a very strict observance and interpretation of Jewish, laws, rites, and ceremonies.

[19] Luke 18:9-14

[20] See 1 Corinthians 1:18-31.

 

Notes from Mike Bell:

1. What questions or thoughts come from your mind from what you have just read? What stood out to you?

2. Would you be interested in a paper or Kindle version of the book when it is available? Please email us at michaelspencersnewbook@gmail.com so that we can let you know when it is ready. This is an email to indicate interest only, I am not selling anything at this point, but I sure do appreciate the encouragement!

As usual, your thoughts and comments are welcome.