American Politics and the Christian

D. Kevin Brown has an interesting essay written as he watched the most recent Republican debate. I think a key sentence is this:

The only way to change a person is on the inside.

Read Kevin’s post and comment.

Mohammad El-Tebow

I read an interesting editorial this morning at Fox News: What If Tim Tebow Were A Muslim? The author suggests that the frequent mockery he receives would be largely absent if he were a devout Muslim instead of a devout Christian:

Imagine for a second, the Denver Broncos quarterback is a devout follower of Islam, sincere and principled in his beliefs and thus bowed toward Mecca to celebrate touchdowns. Now imagine if Detroit Lions player Stephen Tulluch and Tony Scheffler mockingly bowed toward Mecca, too, after tackling him for a loss or scoring a touchdown, just like what happened in October.

I know what would happen. All hell would break loose.

Stinging indictments issued by sports columnists. At least a few outraged religious leaders chiming in on his behalf. Depending on what else had happened that day, they might have a chance at becoming Keith Olbermann’s Worst Person In The World.

And there would be apologies. Oh, Lord, would there be apologies — by players, by coaches, possibly by ownership with a tiny chance of a statement by NFL commish Roger Goodell.

You cannot mock Muslim faith, not in this country, not anywhere really.

I think that is a good question but maybe not for the same reasons.

I certainly do think that Muslims get treated differently than Christians, in part because the pseudo-Christianity that marks our cultural religion is the majority report in our society and Muslims of all stripes get lumped in with the 9/11 hijackers. Mocking Christianity is a popular sport for academics, media types and others. What I wonder is why Christianity is not more reviled by a culture that is antithetical to everything the Gospel stands for.

When I think about this, I also wonder: What if Tim Tebow were Muslim? Would Christians embrace his faith and devotion and defend him from critics?

I doubt it. Nor should we.

So why should we expect the unbelieving world to applaud someone open and devout about a faith that that same world hates? How many times does the Bible assure us that in this life we will have trouble, that we will be blessed when persecuted and reviled, that the world will and should hate us because it hates Him? There are two kingdoms and every human is a subject of one or the other, the kingdom of this world and its infernal ruler or the Kingdom of Christ where He and He alone is King. As subjects and ambassadors of Christ the King, we should expect nothing less than hostility from the world. So let’s stop wringing our hands about the vitriol directed at a famous athlete, an athlete who shows more Christ0like character in responding to those attacks that those who purport to defend him. The same people mocking Tebow are the people we are called to love and take the Gospel to.

Christ’s Sovereignty and the Church

Earlier this morning, I published a “guest post” on my blog that I thought would be interesting to the people involved in this site. The post was written by Mark from “Sheepfold Ministries” and is called “The Sovereignty of God Over Us and His Church.”

Here’s a snippet from the post:

Christ demonstrates both His Sovereignty over the Church, and His love to the Church in the seven messages He dictates to the Apostle John in Revelation chapters 2 and 3. I shall let you read these in your own copy of the Bible, but we can see in these prophetic letters that Christ does have the power to expel individual members and even whole congregations from the Universal Church. No, I do not believe that if one is truly a saint, chosen by God, that salvation can be lost. At times, however, excommunication can occur (such as when Paul advised the church in Corinth to excommunicate the member engaged in sexual immorality), yet we can see Christ’s love for His people and His Church in that He gives the chastised believers and churches the required response to the chastisement, and ends each letter with the comforting and exhorting promise that “whoever overcomes will be rewarded”.

Jesus warned the Jewish leaders of his day that “the kingdom would be taken away from you,” and in Revelation, he warned several churches that their lampstand (church, from a previous explanation) could be removed.

Is this possible for churches today?

Where should Christians stand?

In our increasingly politically and culturally polarized nation we are seeing battle-lines being drawn by two groups, groups that stand outside of the traditional political process and that are shaking the political landscape. These two groups, the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street, have very different goals even if some of their rhetoric sounds superficially similar. You can be sure that politicians on both sides of the aisle are running scared because these groups tend to eschew the normal niceties and rules of politics as usual. They are vocal, energized and inflexible and don’t seem interested in the ways things are done in Washington. They are also a serious threat to the church.

Many evangelical Christians identify with the Tea Party because of its emphasis on individual liberty and conservative economic policies. The message of the Tea Party fits well with the narrative of conservative evangelical American Christianity. I would be willing to say that many Tea Party supporters are church-going evangelicals and likewise many church-going evangelicals are in sympathy with the positions of the Tea Party. That is troubling to me. Not because the policies are wrong, quite the contrary by and large I agree with them and vote accordingly. Rather it is troubling because the line between a political/economic issue and the Gospel has become blurry. Low taxes are not a Kingdom issue. Opposition to socialized medicine is not a Gospel issue. An overemphasis on the relationship with an earthly political agenda, no matter how correct that agenda might be, can cause a stumbling block to unbelievers and brothers alike and we need to avoid that wherever possible to ensure that there is no doubt that the Gospel is not a right wing political issue.

Equally troubling are those who wish to anoint the Occupy Wall Street protestors with the mantle of Christianity based on some fuzzy notions of “justice” and because they carry signs poorly written in crayon decrying “greed”. Predictably there are some in the church on the activist political Left who are trying to claim that the Occupy Wall Street crowd somehow embodies Kingdom values and is worthy of support by virtue of its alleged concern for the poor. Of course there are lots of groups and organizations that are concerned for the poor that are either ambivalent or antithetical to the Kingdom of God, from secular groups like the United Way to heretical organizations like the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints which has a large mercy “ministry”. So neither mere lip service in favor of disastrous economic policies like what we are getting from the Occupy Wall Street movement nor actual care for the poor is inherently Kingdom work if it does not have its foundation in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. For example, none other than Jim Wallis made this declaration a few weeks ago regarding the Occupy Wall Street crowd….

 
When they stand with the poor, they stand with Jesus.

When they stand with the hungry, they stand with Jesus.

When they stand for those without a job or a home, they stand with Jesus.

When they are peaceful, nonviolent, and love their neighbors (even the ones they don’t agree with and who don’t agree with them), they are walking as Jesus walked.

When they talk about holding banks and corporations accountable, they sound like Jesus and the biblical prophets before him who all spoke about holding the wealthy and powerful accountable.

That is an incredibly sweeping statement and one that is likewise incredibly dangerous. Is an ardent atheist who is protesting in New York City in favor of income redistribution which will allegedly help the poor “standing with Jesus”? Is a Muslim or a mormon or a Buddhist who denies Christ but is handing out food “standing with Jesus”? The order here is backward. We who are in Christ are likewise called to aid the poor and the hungry but just because someone is helping the poor and downtrodden does not put them in right standing or even emulation of Christ. Merely mimicking Christ’s earthly ministry while denying His divinity does not make one “standing with Jesus”. Jim needs to be far more discerning and probably should quit entirely when it comes to declaring who “stands with Jesus” based on a liberal political stance.

We need to walk a fine line here. On the one side, we have done a miserable job by and large as the church in caring of the poor, the downtrodden, the widow and the orphan. On the other side our failure is just that, our failure, and the solution is not to abandon the basin and towel mandate in favor of a flawed and self-defeating system of income redistribution by government confiscation. Rather we must continue to call on the church to repent and change and to demonstrate by our actions the lives of a Christ follower we see modeled in the Bible by His followers and Christ Himself. There is no worldly substitute that will do.

Where should we stand? With the Tea Party? With Occupy Wall Street? I say neither because neither movement is rooted and grounded in a risen Savior who is Lord of all.

As witnesses of Christ and ambassadors of the King we should neither identify with the Tea Party nor with Occupy Wall Street. We should identify with Christ and be awfully concerned with any overreliance or over-identification with any secular political movement. I believe that the policies we generally refer to as “conservative” or “libertarian” have the potential to create the greatest economic opportunity for the greatest number of people. I also believe that there is absolutely no correlation between economic security or economic opportunity and the Gospel proclamation. Quite the opposite. In places where people have the most opportunity (America) or the greatest, up until recently, economic security (Europe) we also see the Gospel witness stagnant and stale. Religion and ritual rule the day. Where the Gospel is exploding are in places like Africa, Asia and South America where life is much harder by almost any measure. Our focus must not be on winning political battles or utopian visions of free markets or social safety nets. Our focus must instead be first and always on proclaiming Christ and Him crucified as the only solution to the only problem that matters. In the end wealth or security will matter nothing to the soul lost outside of Christ.

True Homeland Security – David Alan Black

Hello! I’m Henry Neufeld, administrator of this site. You won’t hear from me often, but today I extracted some material written by one of the authors of the books you see in the sidebar. He’s David Alan Black, author of the book Christian Archy. I thought there were some very important points he made. Since one can’t directly link to an entry on his blog, I have extracted this material to The Jesus Paradigm. The title True Homeland Security is one I chose, but I think you’ll understand why I did so once you read it.

Feel free to discuss this here.

Forgive Us….

“Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

 

This line of the Lord’s Prayer contains so many emotions: hope, love, peace, anger, frustration, and many others depending on where you are in the process of forgiving others, yourselfand even God.  It has been my experience that this is an often misunderstood process and unrealistic expectations due to this misunderstanding often help folks become more bitter and angry and hurt than they may otherwise be.  Let’s just talk turkey and get honest here.  We are not good at forgiveness because we do not understand it.  The Church Universal says we must do it.  Often there is no discussion on explanation as to how.  We are told that if we do not than we are not forgiven ourselves.  We are told to just pray about it.  Often that is it.  There is so much more. 

First, we can forgive without the presence of God in our lives…….it is harder, doesn’t last as long, is exhausting, and isn’t as sincere but it can be done.  Second, God does not withhold forgiveness from us.  That is a myth that is not consistent with the overall theme of unconditional grace that is provided in the Bible.  We base that on a couple of verses one of which is John 20:23, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld from you.”  Another is Matthew 6:14-15, “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you;but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”  Interpretation of these verses depends on how literally you take the Bible.  Over the years I have come to believe that we have confused human forgiveness and Godly forgiveness to the point that we truly expect ourselves to be God-like in our ability to forgive. 

We base so much of what we do on how we feel.  We feel forgiven or we don’t.  We think we have not forgiven someone if one day we remember something and we are hurt or angry all over again.  Let’s get one thing clear: forgiveness is not pardoning, it is not forgetting, and it is not reconciliation.  Forgiveness is letting go of our own emotions so that the event or theperson no longer has control over us.  If we continue to be hurt, angry, bitter, etc. the even or the person controls us.  Forgiveness is taking control of yourself and your emotions back.  It is perhaps the most selfish thing you can possibly do because you stop wasting time and energy on things that are past, people and events you cannot control, and embittering behavior that will eventaully consume you. 

I do not believe that God withholds forgiveness.  It is inconsistent with God providing salvation, working to be in relationship with us, and guiding us to become better individuals.  If God is the example we follow in our behavior, why would God tell us we forgive and then withhold forgiveness from us (especially after all the work that God has put into reaching us and forgiving us)?  It simply does not make sense.  I will have to state that the Bible is clear about there being one sin that is unforgivable.  What most of us need to realize is that to get to that point, we have truly become evil and will continually reject God to the point of our own destruction.  That is not God withholding forgiveness, that is a human choice to permanently reject the forgiveness that God offers.  I have come to believe that God understands that we do not feel forgiven and then are so hurt and angry that we are incapable of forgiving someone else.  We need God to truly forgive and heal.  I am not convinced that humanity can do it alone.  Sometimes, it takes a long time to do it even when we are diligent and do the work of forgiveness. 

The work of forgiveness isn’t often dicussed.  We really think that if we pray about it a few times that we have forgiven someone and it’s all good.  It can happen that way (never underestimate God!).  Most often, we have to choose over and over again to forgive someone.  Most often, we have to work at it and decide to let the pain, hurt, and anger go over and over and over and over again. I firmly believe that what God is after with the above mentioned verses is for us to realize that we have to be active participants in forgiveness.  We must do the work of forgiveness.  We must decided each moment, each time, each event, each hurtful remark, etc. to let it go.  Then we must realize that when it comes back to haunt us, it’s not that we failed to forgive; it is that we failed to forget!  We are not capable of that – that action belongs to God.  So each time, we forgive.  Each time, we put it away again until one day it is truly gone.  This is a process that results in growth, compassion, emotional and spiritual maturity and deepens our relationship with God and with others.  We can come to realize the wonder of God in that God can forget and holds our trespasses over us no more. 

The harm done to us and to others by withholding forgiveness is unbelievable.  This is one of the most destructive acts that humanity can partake in.  It destroys us spiritually, emotionally, mentally, and physically.  We have lost control of ourselves and the situation the minute we decide to withhold forgiveness.  We have decided that someone is completely beyond redemption and is no longer worthy of our time and love.  It is a dangerous game to play.  The person the most destroyed is us.  We have relinquished control of ourselves to someone else and we let them play us even if they have walked away and are no longer actively participating in our lives and emotions.  Today, do the work.  Be diligent and consistent and do the work.  Pray about it so that your heart is changed and you are able to let hurt and anger go.  Be with God so that you can be transformed and come to understand that forgiveness releases you not the other person.  There are still consequences.  There are still things that must be done and words that must be said.  Today, choose freedom.

 

 

The latest book from Energion

You can check out my review of the latest book from Energion’s Areopagus Series, Except for Fornication: The Teaching of the Lord Jesus on Divorce and Remarriage here: Book Review: Except for Fornication

Does church authority (leaders) nullify Christ’s authority?

No one among the church outright desires to usurp Christ’s authority. Everyone – if asked – would profess that they desire to live under the rule of Jesus Christ as Master and Lord of their life.

However, that does not mean that we always succeed in living “under Christ’s archy.” (Where have I heard that phrase before?)

Recently, I published a series of posts on my blog examining how authority among the church (that is, authority exercised by church leaders) may actually be undermining and usurping the authority of Christ inadvertently.

Here are the posts:

  1. Authority among the church? Starting a new series.
  2. What did Jesus say about positions of authority under his own authority?
  3. In the church, how does someone lead without exercising authority?
  4. Does the existence and recognition of elders indicate that they have positional authority?
  5. Does shepherding and overseeing suggest exercising authority?

I also added this addendum, which I also think is an extremely important foundation to my argument above:

I would love to get your thoughts on these posts, and perhaps discuss how mature believers can “lead” others (which we see in Scripture) without exercising authority over them (which we do not see in Scripture).

Give us this day

The  line, “Give us this day our daily bread,” is so appropriate in todays’ world.  With the economy flucuating, cost of living rising, folks living without insurance and insurance companies being incredibly greedy it seems as though simple living has gotten lost.  We could change our lives drastically if we lived each day on what we needed for that day.  It would save some for tomorrow and would prevent us from accumulating incredible debt on items that are wants and not needs. 

Even our spiritual lives would improve if we only took what was needed for today.  If we didn’t worry about tomorrow (wow, that’s a scriptural concept!) and we didn’t spend our time bemoaning the past (or glorifying it), we would be able to be more grateful for today. 

I love to watch people.  People fascinate me.  I have seen a young woman spend too much on something that she just had to have and then be terrified the next day when she cannot pay a bill.  There is a young man who is so goal oriented and consumed with succeeding at everything that he struggles to be grateful for what he accomplished today.  These are merely two examples that I see repeatedly in the lives of people.  No one is targeted here!

Challenge yourself on all fronts to only take for today what you need for today.  Use this way of life emotionally, physically, spiritually, and mentally.  This does not mean that you do not plan for tomorrow or prepare for the future.  It does not mean that you can be lazy, oblivious, and complacent.  It does mean that you will determine to live life more simply and take only today what is needed for today.  Don’t waste energy, time, and thought on what is not needed now.  We do not need to hate someone.  There are many times we do not need to be angry – we are either afraid of losing something or someone failed to meet our expectations.  We do not need to be consumed by work or career or the past.  We do not need to lose today because we are so intent upon tomorrow. Receive only what you need for today.

Thy Will be Done……Sigh…..

On occassion I watch the Red Green Show.  I really get a kick out of the montone prayer that they pray. One part is sonething along the lines of, “I’m a man and I can change if I have to.”  When it comes to God’s will beiong done humanity often seems to have that monotone sighing attitude.  At other times we do our best to interpret God’s will and we even put words in God’s mouth to justify our behavior.  At other times we just need someone to blame and at other times we have no logical reason for what has happened so it just becomes God’s will.  I notice this the most at funerals or natural disaster events.  Folks will say, “Well, it was God’s will.” Sometimes they say, “It was just their time, God needed them in heaven.”  The list goes on.  Whenever I hear that I always think of a friend of mine who will challenge that notion and ask the hard questions.  Why is it God’s will when someone dies?  What does it mean when we say something happened because it was God’s will?  Is it always God’s will?  Does God allow humanity to exercise free will? 

I learned to think about God’s will differently in karate class.  Sounds weird, I know but hang in there…..

In karate we have a human whom we address as Master.  This is the blackbelt who teaches us.  We are taught to obey them without question and we automatically obey at the sound of their voice.  After I became a blackbelt and was teaching students of my own, I began to see the concepts of master, obedience, and will differently.  A master in the martial arts is directly responsible for their lives and safey of their students.  Everything we teach, we teach in the hopes that it will save their lives or someone else’s life.  We teach them to automatically obey us so that the routine of the motions become familiar and they will hear us when they are fighting in the ring.  The instructions we give could help them win.  We are also responsible for their attitudes and behaviors.  When my students misbehave and mess up the Grandmaster comes to talk to me about it and I am held responsible.  Jesus willingly took on the responsiblity for the behavior of humanity.  Doing the will of God is not being enslaved to a harsh master.  It is choosing of our own free will to obey the Master who will save our life and our soul.  God does not demand of us anything that we cannot do or would harm us.  Sometimes it is difficult and sometimes we think we cannot accomplish it but God has asked us to do it for a reason.  God loves us and sees for not only for who we are but for who we can become.  Just as my human master saw within me the potential to do more and be more so does God.  Just as I was trained and pushed to accomplish more in the martial arts, God trains and pushes me to become more and be better in life. 

So often God gets the blame for something that humanity has chosen to do.  Could God stop it? Sure but why on earth would God want a bunch of enslaved mindless nitwits?  God has never imposed uniformity on humanity.  God offers grace and the ability to reach the potential that God has given each of us.