Archives For March 2009

God & Money

March 30, 2009 — 1 Comment

Matt 6:24

“No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.

Wow, it sounds like we have to choose between God and money! How can we do without money but then again how can we do without God! This seems like an impossible choice to make. The key word here is “serve”. When we serve God we are constantly seeking his will and living our lives as he taught us. If we serve money then we are constantly seeking ways to get more and spend more. There, that is the rub! When we have way too much stuff and way too little attention to God is where we get in trouble. One of the reasons for the current housing problems is that people are constantly looking for bigger and bigger houses. Why? Because they have filled up their current one until there is no longer any room for more “stuff”. Let’s have less stuff and more God! That is what the above verses are actually all about. If your stuff is overflowing your house the problem is not that you have too small a house. Its that you have too much stuff. When you leave the world all your stuff usually gets sold for pennies on the dollar. Your soul should be worth more than that.

Opening His ministry

March 27, 2009 — 1 Comment

Luke 4:16-21

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.

He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoner and recovery of sight for the blind,

to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

 These were some of the first proclamations that Jesus made when he started his three year ministry.
Isn’t it interesting that the first group he targets are the poor and those with disabilities. It is actions like these that make it hard for some of us to try and live our lives in a Christ like way. We, especially in the United States, have completely marginalized these two groups of people and here Jesus is telling us to put them “front and center”.

The words to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor have pretty much lost their meaning nowadays. But in Jesus’ day that meant Jubilee and that was a time for the rich to forgive the debts of the poor. Can we even imagine that happening in today’s world. Living as a disciple of Jesus Christ means more than just saying the words. We have to, as they say, “walk the walk”. If you are a complete novice at showing your compassion for the poor then seek out a local Christian homeless shelter or soup kitchen and do some volunteer work. It will change your life forever. And, given the circumstances today there are many opportunities about.


 
 

Today I am going to talk a little about a book entitled “If God is Love – Rediscovering Grace in an Ungracious World” by Phillip Gulley and James Mulholland. I must admit up front that I am somewhat fascinated by the Quaker religion of which both of the authors are ministers. Although one of them came through Baptist and Methodists to get there. I greatly respect the position the Quakers have taken on non-violence going all the way back to the Revolutionary war. This is a very readable book on a very important topic.

There has been an ongoing debate throughout Christianity’s history on the correct balance between the all powerful and sometime vengeful God and the God of agape Love. Just what the correct balance of this is somewhat attuned to the corresponding debate between law and gospel. Both are needed but how much of each is appropriate for a well rounded Christian? I must admit that this book is very full of God’s love and has little of God’s power in it. I must also admit that I lean in that direction also but not to the extent of the authors.

 The following is, in my opinion, one of the most striking quotes from the book:

The theology of love begins with the assumption that all people are God’s cherished children and deserving of love. “We love because he first loved us. Those who say ‘I love God,’ and hate their brothers and sisters, are liars, for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen” 1 John 4:19-20. Jesus demonstrated his love for the outcasts, those many considered unlovable. Regrettably, many Christians have been unwilling to adopt the ethic of Jesus — a theology of inclusion, acceptance, and love. We’ve been unwilling to love and accept our enemies. We haven’t even been excited about loving our neighbor.

 This quote I believe sums up the Quaker stand on non-violence. They have taken quite a bit of abuse during all our wars because of this stand.

 Another memorable quote is as below:

God has no grandchildren. My children cannot inherit my faith. I can’t save them. Each of us is on a journey. My role as a parent is not to convert my children, but to live a life consistent with my experience of God’s radical love and trust that such a life will attract them.

I don’t know that I have ever seen such a powerful pronouncement of Christian parenting before. The old saying that parents have been spouting for eons is “don’t do what I do, do what I say”. I know I got my dose of that as a child. It didn’t work on me and probably didn’t work for most of you. Our parents, like all Christians must show the love of the Lord in their actions as well as their words. One does not work without the other.

Finally the last quote I want to present is:

“Share everything with your brother. Do not say, ‘It is private property.'” This isn’t the rhetoric of the Communist Manifesto or the Mother Earth Catalog. This is a line from the Didache, an early Christian document used to prepare novices for baptism. The Didache was such a respected teaching that it was nearly included in the biblical canon. This line may have been its undoing. Religion has long resisted the command to be universally concerned, especially when this concern comes with a price tag.

 I understand this tendency. Whenever someone asks me to respond to a need, I have to overcome a long litany of mental excuses. I don’t know enough about the persons’ situation to give wisely. He or she might not use the money appropriately. I’m already giving to other causes. These may all be legitimate considerations, but I sense my deeper motivation — I want a rationale for keeping my money. I don’t’ like Jesus’ command to “Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you (Matthew 5:42)

 I was struck by so many of these types of dialogs in the book. They definitely made me think about how I am living out my life. One of the general tenets of the book I don’t really agree with but that does not negate the insightful dialog in other parts. I highly recommend this book to any who are willing to struggle with these types of issues. No one ever said (or should have said) living your life by the words of Jesus Christ is easy! Indeed, it should be and is quite difficult.

As you can see from the last few posts I have been somewhat down the last few weeks.

I have always found that reading Beatitudes is able to pull me up when I am down. I prefer Luke’s version to that Matthew’s. So, here goes:

Luke 6:20-22

Looking at his disciples, he said:

“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.
 Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied.
 Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.
Blessed are you when men hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man.
   Always praise the Lord and seek His will in your lives. In both good times and especially in troubling times. Is it always easy to see when things that happen is God’s will or just stuff happening? Sometimes not, but who said being a practitioner of the Way would be easy.

I am making a rare Saturday post to give attention to Trevin Wax’s blog posting for today. Go to http://trevinwax.com/2009/03/21/how-scholarship-shields-us-from-the-bible/ .  It gives credence to my belief that today’s Christians are generally not doing a very good job of understanding what Jesus says in the Gospels. It looks like this was also not uncommon a hundred years ago. Will we ever learn that Jesus really does expect us to actually do what he says. Thanks Trevin.  I will be picking up a book or two by Soren Kierkegaard.

Here is another impromptu post related to a discussion I recently had with another Christian. First of all I am a regular supporter, both with my time and money, of a local Christian shelter and soup kitchen. During my discussions with my Christian friend I mentioned that the support of our church to this mission has almost dried up in the recent months. I have tried numerous way to spur support but to no avail. My friend made the statement that maybe we should not ask people to support things like this during these tough times. My friend said many families are struggling with bills and our congregation needs more money to pay higher utility bills and other unexpected expenses.

This got me to thinking, does Jesus give us a pass for being our brother’s keeper when we hit a rough patch in the road? The more I think about this the more upset I seem to get. In my mind it is exactly in these type of times when our brothers need us the most. I don’t know anyone in my church who is homeless or in deep financial distress. Yes, many probably have cut back on some unnecessary items but is that enough of a reason to step back from giving to the least of these?

Is it ok to be a fair weather Christian? Did Jesus draw a line in the sand as to when personal needs outweigh Christian giving? As usual I am full of questions about what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ.

Do we reap what we sow??

March 18, 2009 — 1 Comment

I imagine everyone has heard the term “you reap what you sow”. There is a lot of reaping and sowing going on in the Bible but I have not been able to find this reference in any of them. Are some of the bad things that happen in our lives a result of our unchristian behavior? Some of the red letters around this theme are:

 John 9:2-5

His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.

Jesus clearly says that at least this person’s misfortunes are not a result of sin. He seems to be saying that God made this person blind so that what he does in the name of God will be displayed in his life for others to notice. So, does God make people blind, deaf, paraplegics, or other seemingly random disabilities in order for them to show God’s love or does he sometimes do it to punish people, or is it just that “stuff” (I would use another “s” word here in private company) happens? I don’t know? Another example would be that some people die quickly and go to meet their maker and some linger for years and years in nursing homes or with Alzheimer’s before they reach their next chapter. What is the story behind that? For personal reasons I have been thinking about this lately.

 I don’t know how many of you have read President Obama’s talk at the National Prayer Breakfast a few weeks ago. In that talk he told us how he came to faith in spite of not being raised in the active Christian household. And , no he was never a Muslim. Yes, his estranged father was at one time a Muslim before he became an atheist. Here is his account of why he came to accept Jesus as his Lord and Savior.

 I was not raised in a particularly religious household. I had a father who was born a Muslim but became an atheist, grandparents who were non-practicing Methodists and Baptists, and a mother who was skeptical of organized religion, even as she was the kindest, most spiritual person I’ve ever known. She was the one who taught me as a child to love, and to understand, and to do unto others as I would want done.

 I didn’t become a Christian until many years later, when I moved to the South Side of Chicago after college. It happened not because of indoctrination or a sudden revelation, but because I spent month after month working with church folks who simply wanted to help neighbors who were down on their luck – no matter what they looked like, or where they came from, or who they prayed to. It was on those streets, in those neighborhoods, that I first heard God’s spirit beckon me. It was there that I felt called to a higher purpose – His purpose.

 I don’t believe that his conversion was anything out of the ordinary for many of his generation. They grew up with people who they perceived as trying to shove Jesus down their throats. So many of them had become numb to the old style of outreach by these shallow encounters. It was only by Christians acts of kindness over an extended period of time that made them understand the true love or our Lord. I don’t have any statistics but I believe that is probably how most conversions happen today. In other words they are most affected by Christians who show the Lord’s love in their lives in very practical ways and do so on a day-by-day basis. Christianity is not a spectator religion but is instead an action filled call to follow the paths of Jesus Christ. So, lets all get off the couch and start living our faith.

Since I have been doing book reviews for a while I wanted to break it up with something I have been pondering lately. Is there such a thing as a “couch potato Christians”? Of course there are, so maybe I should say “should there be such a thing? A verse from Ephesians is used frequently by many denominations to show us our salvation is a total gift and has nothing to do with what we do.

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God not by works, so that no one can boast. Eph 2:8-9

While I 100% agree with Paul’s statement I take exception to those who think that therefore we have nothing to do but wait to die and then proceed to heaven. As I have said before I think Christianity is a call to action, not a sit back and wait religion. As the Lord said when you come to faith you throw off your old life to take on a completely new and radically different one. That is hard to do when your butt is glued to a sofa!

I think the “do nothing” attitude is one of the stumbling blocks to many who seek God. They see some Christians saying “all you have to do is accept Jesus as your savior and nothing else matters”. Of course we have all grown up with the sayings “you get what you pay for” and “nothing is free”. So they carry that thought to those Christians words. Then they look as Judaism and Islam with all their rules and daily requirements and think which one is real. The something for nothing religion or the work your butt off religion? If only we Christians could make it clear that becoming a true believer in Jesus Christ CHANGES EVERYTHING!! Jesus tells us to completely, and he means completely, throw off our old life of selfishness and greed and take on a new one of humility and servitude. If we could only get this point across we would do better at making disciples for Christ. It is hard to explain that no we don’t earn our salvation through these actions but they are just a much a part of our conversion as eating and breathing. We need to figure out how to do a better job of that. Our friends, neighbors, and even some family members eternity depends on it! But then we have to face the controversy over “works” which so many evangelicals stumble on.

Basic Human Needs

March 11, 2009 — Leave a comment

 

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This is a follow up of a recent post about eliminating hunger in the world. I’m sure there are some, and probably many, Christian organizations who say “No, no, we must spend our money preaching the Word and not ministering to physical needs. After all our spiritual life is for eternity and hunger is only of this earth”. While I don’t totally disagree with the intent of this, I believe it is very wrong headed and off the mark. There are well known basic human needs that must be met before higher level needs can occur. For instance, if a person is spending 15 hours a day trying to scavenge enough food for his family to exist he will not spend much time thinking about spiritual matters. We must feed the body before we can nourish the soul. Most Christian organizations are attuned to this since they have “feed the poor” missions throughout the world. Although funding for these organization is a challenge within the individual congregations who many times are fixated on their own needs (a bigger church, paving the parking lot, giving the staff a raise). Even Jesus made sure that people had enough to eat when they came in mass to him. Unfortunately we cannot feed thousands with a few fish and a couple loaves of bread so we need to work much harder at it. The very sad thing about the starvation in the world today is that it is totally preventable. We have the resources to eliminate it. It is just selfishness and politics that get in the way!