Archives For July 2009

Last time I pointed out a couple of reasons why I believe that the phrase Taking America back for God to be erroneous statement. This time I will expand my thoughts on this topic and talk about allegiances.

Does God recognize governments and give some more blessings than others? — Except for Israel of course there is little evidence of that in Jesus’ words. And even for Israel, in my mind, refers to the people who have a relationship with God and not the political nation either then or now. God infinitely loves all his children no matter what their nationality or politics is. He loves that child who died of starvation within the last 30 seconds in an African country just as much as he loves you or your children. I don’t think Jesus is much on national identities. After all he even associated with Samaritans! That was a definite political no-no in his days.

 Christian Theocracies – We have had Christian Theocracies at various times in world history but we never see them end up acting Christ like. In fact they usually ended up looking pretty much like all the other pagan nations around them. We waste a lot of our energy as Christians today in the United States trying to establish a political kingdom that is Christ like. Jesus rejected that idea when he was walking this earth so I don’t think he would condone it now. Not even for the United States of America.

Where should our allegiances be?

  • Let us always remember that we are in this world but not of it. Our citizenship is in heaven so lets focus our attention there while trying to live our lives here and now as Jesus taught us to do. Our time on earth is a probationary period to see if we are sheep or goats.
  • Is it wrong to think that God had a hand in some of our successes such as our freedom of religion and our somewhat thriving democracy? Of course we should thank God for that help but we must also acknowledge our dark periods as well. These were times when we gave our nation over to Satan.
  • Is it wrong to ask that “God Bless America”? Of course not, but along with this prayer should be that God bless Iran, Afghanistan, Soviet Union……….
  • God bless all humanity, even our political enemies and help us to recognize that every human being on the earth are our potential brothers and sisters in the heavenly realm.  
     

Next time I will talk more about Jesus and politics and summarize this discussion. As usual I welcome any comments you wish to post as long as they remain civil.

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The title of this series of posts is a popular mantra for a fringe wing of one of our political parties in the United States but is it really true in reality?? I am going to break down my opinions of this topic in next three postings on this blog.

 Using the word “back” implies that the United States was once a country that followed kingdom of God principles. I am a life long avid reader of US history. I love my country and we have done some great things but I don’t recall a single period of time that the country was ever aligned to any degree with the kingdom of God. And it was definitely not established by people who called themselves Christians. There was only one of the ten most important founders of the US who even called himself a Christian. Many were deists; that is people who believed in some divine inspiration but not particularly Jesus.

I personally don’t see how any worldly government can be aligned with Jesus’ teachings. Yes, Jesus is the epitome of the Kingdom of God. Don’t let anyone tell you differently. If it is not aligned with the teachings and words of Jesus then it is NOT about the kingdom of God! Unfortunately, for every bright period in our history there are usually corresponding dark periods. We often speak out against some African nations for the genocide that they are presently doing but don’t recognize the genocide that we did against the Native Americans who were here thousands of years before we were. We passed Social Security in the 1930’s that put a much needed safety mat under our senior citizens but at the same time we were calling our African American citizens less than human and lynching many without any criminal reprisals. And then there was the Civil Rights movement; how many Christian churches were camped on the segregation side of that issue. I could go on and on but I am sure you see the point.

Now on to a secind point in this arena. Was Jesus political? That is was he concerned about the Romans not having public prayers or not allowing the ten commandments to be publically displayed. The Jewish nation, whom Jesus was a citizen, was fully expecting the Messiah to come and put in place a political solution for all their problems. They were convinced that the Messiah would defeat the Romans who were currently running rough shod over them. Clearly Jesus had something else in mind. He made it absolutely clear that he was not at all interested in a political solution. He did not come to establish a dominant government that would rule “over” all people. Instead he had in mind a kingdom that  would  serve everyone including Israel’s enemies. The Jews didn’t that all like then and I am afraid many Christians today don’t at all like that idea now. Jesus did not come to form a perfect political government and he certainly isn’t looking to us to make it so either.

On my next posting I will put out two additional points on this topic. In the mean time feel free to comment with your own list or rebuttal of mine. God bless us all; not just America

I am going to keep this post very short but I would like to hear anyone’s views on whether being a Christian and a social conservative are compatible. I am only talking about social conservatives not fiscal or conservatism in general. If Jesus were here today would He be labeled a social conservative? I personally can’t begin to imagine that but would like to hear from anyone who thinks it is a possibility.

Election/Predestination

July 26, 2009 — 1 Comment

We just finished an adult Bible study series at my church on election/predestination today. Boy, was that an interesting one! We certainly don’t shy away from the difficult topics. That is one of the things I like best about my pastor. It turns out that my pastor and I are pretty much aligned on this topic. I assure you that isn’t always the case. I will have to think and study this some more and then maybe do a series on predesitnation here some day. I just wanted to make a quick post here to maybe get you (and myself) thinking a little about it.
Much of the discussion today centered around free will. If God does indeed give us free will then how much of our actions are predestined by him? As you know if you follow this blog at all, I am one of those who believe strongly in the concept of free will ordained by God. Without free will there cannot be love and as we saw on the recent study on this blog Jesus was almost totally about love. Love very much depends on free will. If we program our computer to type (or say) “I love you” everyday then does the computer actually love you? Of course it doesn’t, it is just putting out what you programmed it to do. It doesn’t have any feelings; it is just a computer (robot). The same goes for us. If we are predestined (programmed) by God then we have no say in what our actions are! God did not make robots but instead gave us free will to make our own decisions. Sometimes, and maybe most times, we screw it up and make the wrong decisions but that is part of free will isn’t it? Our free will along with allowing us to make mistakes also allows us to truly love God and our fellow man.
Sometimes I think we think too much about this sort of thing. It is infinitely complicated for us but of course quite simple for our infinite God.

In Principle…..But

July 23, 2009 — 1 Comment

 I wanted to spend today’s post giving you some quotes from Greg Boyd. I use Dr. Boyd’s words quite often in this blog but will give some first timers a little info about him. He is a theologian and the founder and senior pastor of Woodland Hills Church in St. Paul MN. He is also the founder and president of Christus Victor Ministries and an author of 15 books on theology and what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ. He also has doctorates from both Princeton and Yale Divinity Schools.
 Here are his words (the bold letters are my emphasis, not his):

 Now through his death and resurrection, Jesus accomplished the task for which he came. He defeated the kingdom of darkness and set humanity free. In principle, therefore the world has already be reconciled to God (2 Cor. 5:14-21; Col 1:15-20). In principle, the wall of sin that separates humanity along ethnic, cultural, socioeconomic, and tribal lines has been destroyed. In principle, all have already died in Adam and been made alive in Christ (1 Cor 15:22; 2 Cor 5:14). In principle, we are already one new humanity in Christ (Eph 2:14-15). In principle. Yet Scripture as well as our own experience makes it painfully clear that what is true in principle has not yet been manifested as accomplished fact. The interval between what is true in principle and what is manifested as fact… The interval from our perspective has already lasted two thousand years and for all we know may go on for another ten thousand…. Now, we need to understand that this interval is not to be a time in which we passively wait for the end. Rather, it is a time in which the kingdom of God that was planted at Calvary is supposed to grow in us and through us to encompass the entire world.

These so eloquently put words are at the very soul of my beliefs of Jesus’ teachings. Let all us followers of the Way spend our time on this earth making what Jesus accomplished in principle actually occur in fact.
 Here is a list of books by Pastor Boyd that is well worth reading and may just shake you out of some of your commonly held myths of what being a Christian is all about:

Letters from a Skeptic

Myth of the Christian Nation

Seeing is Believing

Is God to Blame

Myth of a Christian Religion

I will be reviewing each of them in the coming weeks.

The Jesus Factor

July 20, 2009 — Leave a comment

On Sunday I listened to a sermon from my pastor that truly moved me. It is about a subject that is very near to my heart. For that reason I am posting a copy here without comments. Please take the time to read it. You will be enriched by its message. It is kind of long (most clergymen are long winded aren’t they?) but it is worth the read. 🙂  Thank you Pastor for allowing me to post it on this blog. Here it is:

 You can’t help but be awed at this gracious outpouring of compassion from the Lord. Conservatively, Jesus fed at least 10,000 men, women and children that day. The bread of life eternal supplied bread and fish for all; not just a tidbit for each, but he satiated the hunger pains and they were all filled. A vast crowd, yet not one is left unfed. What a symbol of the sufficiency of Divine provision for those in need. Superabundant provision, more than enough, twelve baskets left over. How royally and munificently the Lord of all provides for his dependant children!

Bbbring! The phone stirred me from a quiet meditation on God’s great mercy and goodness. After I said my hello the voice on the other end said “Uh, hi ,I’m calling all the churches. See, about seven weeks ago, I was injured on the job. I ruptured two discs in my back and am now unable to work. My five kids, wife and I are in dire straits. Our savings are gone, and for some reason, the company is refusing to pay disability. They won’t talk to me, so I have to hire a lawyer to get funds.”

“I called the local homeless shelter and they had seven, seven, individual diapers lying around, to give us. That will last about two hours with my little ones. Our cupboards are bare, and I mean bare, and we don’t know what to do. We’re good Christian people, and are just asking if you can help us at all.”

“Well,” I replied hesitantly, because I knew that he wasn’t going to like my response any more than I was, “we’re a small church and we don’t have any funds available to help, and I don’t know where else you can turn to for help,” I answered, almost apologetically.

“Do you have any members that you can call that they might be willing to give us something?” he asked. Ok, that raised my hackles a bit, that he would ask such a thing. “No, I don’t. I’m sorry. The best I can think of is to call the Crisis Pregnancy Center; they may be able to supply you some diapers.” I hung up and said a little prayer that the Lord would help them out.

Now, where was I? Oh yes. Back to contemplating the great goodness of the Lord. “How royally and munificently the Lord of all provides for his dependant children,” the commentary said about the feeding of the five thousand. Funny, somehow something’s changed, I realized. Before I was about to fall on my knees in humble adoration at the Lord’s bounty. After that phone call, though, I wanted to tear out the page and rip it up. Here was a family in need and where was the Lord’s abundant provision? In fact, every week, I hear such pleas for the Lord’s help. Where’s the Lord when loaves and fish need multiplying now?

And worse yet, I thought about my stuffed cupboards, my full pantry, my freezer stocked with meat. And felt guilty. Oh, is that the leftover baskets of food? Is that where that family’s needs are to be found?

And I also thought about the five dollars I had in my wallet, and the savings and checking account balances. I thought about how well I have it, never having to beg and wonder where the next meal is going to come from. I thought about the aisle after long aisle at the grocery stores in the area, all that food, and it was all out of reach.

Why me, and not them, Lord? Or better, why not me instead of them? I could have told that man, that man who had to swallow every ounce of pride left in him not only as a man and husband and loving father, but as a human being, I could have told him to come over and I’d give him what I had on hand. Wouldn’t have done much good, though.

And I also thought about the trash I had taken out last week. A trash bag that had leftover food in it, food from a plate full that I couldn’t eat all of, so I threw it away. Every time, literally, every time I turn on the faucet and wait for the water to turn hot, I think about people that are dying of thirst and watch all that water going down the drain. How they might salivate over such waste! How they would beg and plead and maybe even kiss my feet if I would let them have a drink of the water.

I know you’ve experienced similar. You walk out of the restaurant and there, on the corner, is a guy with a cardboard sign that says, “Need help. Anything will do. God bless.” Or you’re heading to the grocery store to add to the already overabundant stock pile of food you have and you see him standing there, torn clothes, scruffy beard, and a sign that says, “Vet in need of food.” And I know what you think, because it’s the same thoughts we all have. Am I supposed to help everyone? And how much are we to help? And if we don’t give to everyone, is that a sin? We quickly remember the parable of the sheep and goats and how Jesus says that whenever you feed or clothe or visit someone, you are doing it to Jesus and that just brings on tons more guilt.

There they are, all those people on that mountainside that day, more than live in the our two local adjoining towns combined. And there they are, the twelve, and there it is, the proverbial golden opportunity to help those in need, practically a set up if you ever saw one. Hmmm. Are those guys on the street corner and those phone calls the church receives the same kind of set-up? There seems to be some concern on the part of the disciples about the crowd’s well being, as they ask Jesus to send them away so they can eat. Just like us. You have to be a zombie not to feel some amount of compassion and concern. And as we pass them by, we whisper a prayer that the Lord will give send them away to find something to eat.

Jesus’ response must have floored them. They must have stood there with that dumbfounded, blank stare face. It’s the same thing we hear yelled at us from our guilty consciences when we see the homeless or destitute or hear about those who have lost jobs, homes, everything in recent times. The same words from the same Lord, “You give them something to eat.”

And how ironic that the disciples’ reply, which in some ways, sounded a lot like a snide remark, is so close to what we reply, may be not vocally, but we’re thinking it just the same when crowds of needy people invade our sight. “We can’t.” Why does Jesus expect them to feed the crowd? It makes no sense, because he has deliberately brought them to this place, to be by themselves and rest. Now, he expects them to do more?

But the question that really strikes at our sensibilities and bothers us to no end is: If God provides for all the needs of his children “royally and munificently,” then why are there so many in need? Is someone being selfish, hoarding more than they need? Or lots of someones? And the only conclusion we can come to when we see people in need is that we are the selfish. We feel extreme guilt because we have and they do not.

The disciples gave up what they had, the five loaves and two fish. And if we read from John’s Gospel, it wasn’t even theirs. A little boy had it. That meager supply may have been enough to feed the disciples for a meal, and to give that up was truly a sacrifice. Did they give it up grudgingly? Did Jesus have to practically yank it out of their hands, so tight was their grip of survival instinct?

Really, just what exactly is sacrificial giving? And so often, when we do give, the thought that crosses our minds is that it is not enough. Sure, I could have given that guy $20 for diapers, which would have lasted him a few days at most. But it would have done little to solve his long-term financial woes. Sadly, even if I could have given him more, he needed more than I could possibly give.

Sometimes, we don’t give because we don’t have anything to give, because we too are in need. Sometimes, we don’t give because we think it’s a scam. Is that guy on the street corner really out of a job or has he found a way to make a living feeding on others’ pity? At other times, we don’t give because we have been careless and wasted the blessings of God on foolish things and are in debt up to our eyeballs. Or we just use the same tired old excuses: I gave at the office. Or, here’s my church offering, that’s all I’ve got left. How much does God expect us to give anyway?

In order to find some satisfactory answers and fully understand this miraculous feeding, we need to look ahead a couple of chapters in Mark’s Gospel. Sometime after the second miraculous feeding Jesus does, for four thousand this time, the disciples are off in a boat and realize they don’t have much bread. You can just about imagine what they were thinking too. Maybe Jesus will make bread and fish appear for us again.

But Jesus uses the situation to warn them about the yeast of the Pharisees and of Herod. As if that was even on their mind. Typical of their response, they think he’s upset because they don’t have enough bread. Bad stewards. Careless decisions. Oh that’s us alright.

But then, after they have discussed his comments among themselves, and surmise that yes indeed, Jesus is hungry and we don’t have a thing to give him, Jesus asked them, “Do you still not see or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear?”

It’s not about bread, Jesus says. It’s not about feeding the hungry. It’s not about how much you give or don’t give. His final question, after reminding them of the finale of the miraculous feedings, the leftovers, was this: “Do you still not understand?” These two unique feedings are indicative of something far more serious, far more life-changing, of more eternal worth than just food.

Like a tired refrain, his unspoken answer is: It’s about Jesus. With the multiplication of bread and fish, everyone should have gotten the clear message Jesus was sending. He was in fact God in the flesh. For only God was able to give supernatural food and make a little go a long ways. Only Jesus is the true bread of life.

All we have is from the Lord’s generous hand. We know that. While we may want to claim some part in obtaining things we need, daily bread is not always a miracle, but always from God’s gracious economy. The ability to labor in the fields to gather the food is from the Lord. The seed is from God. The earth that receives the seed is from God’s creative hand. All that we are and all that we have is from the Lord. With thanksgiving and praise, we acknowledge with all humility that our whole lives depend on God’s goodness and mercy.

Your heavenly Father knows what you need even before you ask for it. But in the asking, we exercise faith that recognizes that our lives depend on God’s great goodness. Every gift calls us to look to the great Giver. With every gift, we acknowledge the creator of all good things, and for every gift we give our heartfelt thanks to God.

Will God refuse to give us who ask of him in faith? “He that did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all, will he not also freely give us all things?” That’s where Jesus was leading the crowd and his disciples. That’s where He is leading us today. And it’s all about more than just food.

The real miracle of supply is found in the suffering and death of Jesus. One man’s blood was shed for all of humanity’s sin. One man’s death is the complete payment for your sin, and for my sin. It’s math God’s way. With that one sacrifice, God gave his best and the whole world was fed and completely satisfied. Our hungry souls are satiated with his righteousness. Our thirsty lives are filled to overflowing with living waters. The bread of life, the fountain of forgiveness, is the one source of all that we truly need.

And there’s really something else here. It’s what we might call “The Jesus factor.” Because of Jesus’ love shown to us, because the Spirit lives in us, we desire to help those in need. Sure, we sometimes fight our selfish sinful nature that wants to hoard all that we have. But to God’s credit, we overcome that inclination and give to those who are hungry, thirsty, naked or in prison, and in need.

And here’s where the Jesus factor comes in. Maybe you can only give a dollar or two. Maybe you can’t give money at all, but your energies in volunteering. Maybe you are strapped for time and all you can do is pray. That may not seem like much. You may think that one measly dollar is not going to help anyone, let alone save a life. You may say to yourself that your one hour at the food bank will not do anything to really help those starving and homeless.

But when all those dollars are gathered together, God does something truly miraculous. He adds in Jesus. And your one dollar or your one hour or your one prayer is magnified. Your baby bottle of change, maybe only half full, given in prayer and with thanksgiving for what God has blessed you with, is multiplied. Your one dollar becomes $1500 that goes to a place where lives are saved every day. Sure, a life is worth far more than a dollar. Oh, but look what God can do with even a dollar, when he adds in the Jesus factor.

Though five loaves and two fish would barely be sufficient to feed thirteen hungry men, Jesus still says, “Bring it to me.” At once it is given up, even though it appeared to be ridiculously insufficient to meet the great need of the crowd. Yet even that small gift, those puny loaves and few fish, a great sacrifice from others, was with the Lord’s blessing, made enough for all. More than enough. With leftovers.

While we might suppose that our one little gift, which may indeed be our sacrificial giving, is barely enough to make a dent, God can blast a huge hole. We might even be afraid that God might scoff at our small offering, as He knows what we really have. But God mocks no gift given in love and faith, no matter how small, how inconsequential.

Whether we give of our time, talents or treasures, whatever meager gift we bring, though it be inadequate for the world’s necessities and for those who cry out to us for help, Christ still invites us to “Bring it to him.” For God always uses what we give to him in praise and thanksgiving for the greatest good. And all because the Father adds in the Jesus factor.

You know it’s worked in your life. Every one of us as God’s dear children can attest to miraculous events in our own lives. Remember the gentle way the Father has led you through wildernesses of suffering, pain and setback. Remember the gracious revelations that God has given you through His Word that have increased your faith. Remember all the sins that our Father in heaven has forgiven you for Christ’s sake. Look and see how the Jesus factor has made an impact in your life.

The next time you give, remember the Jesus factor. Whatever we offer, let us it offer in faith and trust that God will use it and make it beneficial to as many as possible. Do not think that your offering is unimportant or not of use to the Lord. Do not think that God cannot use whatever you give for his glory and to help those in need. Always expect to behold how God can make one small gift turn into a great and glorious gift.

And above all else, consider each day how much the Lord has given to you. Consider what manner the Love the Father has lavished upon you. He has called you by his grace, he has bestowed upon you the inheritance of heaven, and he has brought you into his glorious light. And maybe that was all because of someone’s quarter dropped in the offering plate. What marvelous things God can do with such inconsequential offerings! Amen.

Jesus and Love….

July 17, 2009 — Leave a comment

Ok, let’s go over some of the other places where Jesus mentions love. Most of them are, like much else in the Bible, shows us how to live in this world and get ready for the next.

Matt 19:18-19

“‘Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honor your father and mother,’ and ‘love your neighbor as yourself.

Luke 6:27-28

But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.

Mark 12:30-31

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

John 15:12-14

My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. 

There are other places where Jesus mentions the word love but the ones we have covered pretty much show where he is coming from. If only each of us would try just a little harder to do what Jesus says just imagine how much better our lives, and those of others, would be!

If you love me you will obey what I command.
John 14:15-16
 

This is one of the hard sayings of Jesus that is difficult to ignore. It couldn’t be more blunt. Even looking at the surrounding context you can’t mask this message. If you love me… The following verses adds that if you do this then I will give you the Holy Spirit to be with you forever. Is that to imply that if you don’t show your love for Jesus by obeying Him, or at least really trying to, that He will not give you the Holy Spirit? I don’t know! I, for one, am not about to take that chance even if I wanted to! 

 In some future posting I will be studying the places where Jesus used the word “command” but I don’t believe there is some hidden meaning to the word that will somehow ameliorate its meaning. Actions speak louder than words especially for those who call themselves Christians.

A time to remember…

July 11, 2009 — 1 Comment

I know this is about as far away from our Thanksgiving holiday as you can get but I think it is an appropriate time to again pray the Thanksgiving Prayer by Samuel Pugh. After the prayer we will listen to some of the words of the prophet Micah.

 Oh God, when I have food, help me to remember the hungry;

When I have work, help me to remember the jobless;

When I have a home, help me to remember those who have not home at all;

When I am without pain, help me to remember those who suffer,

And remembering them, help me to destroy my complacency,

Bestir my compassion, and be concerned enough to help by word and deed, those who cry out for what we take for granted. 

Amen 

When the prophet Micah was asked what the Lord requires of us, he gave us six beautiful words to live by in verse 6:8

Act justly

Love mercy

Walk humbly

May we always remember those words in our daily lives and the message contained in Pastor Pugh’s Thanksgiving prayer.

Loving God…

July 10, 2009 — Leave a comment

Matt 22:37-40 ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Of course, the above words are at the foundation of what it means to be a Christian. As He mentioned all of the law is based on these two commandments.  When he mentions the phrophets I guess he is referring to the messages that they brought to the people.  It is important that we Christians think about these verses every day and do our best to obey them.   What a wonderful place the world would be if somehow we all took them to heart.