Thursday, January 31, 2013

Render Unto Caesar

Paul spends a lot of time in Romans chapter 13 talking about our role and relationship to government authority and living together as a community.  I find it interesting that he subjected himself to the authority of Rome and was eventually executed by the Roman government essentially when he was innocent of any crime.  The Roman government was not a democracy or even a fully representative form of government where everyone had a vote like ours.  The emperor ruled.  Yes, there was a Senate that advised and voted, but make no mistake…the emperor ruled.  And when things got tough, politicians and those who were powerful were killed to move them out of the theatre of influence.

So is Paul saying we need to bow down to government’s every whim and law, when he says that those in authority are established by God?  That doesn’t seem logical in analyzing the text.  What seems more logical is that we are to play by the rules, because most of what he refers to in the following text in the way of rules is “good behavior” and the ten commandments…oh yeah, and paying your taxes..LOL !   (I get the taxes part, you can’t have a functioning government unless someone pays for it, and why not have those who are served by it do the paying.)   Those doing actual evil that he talks about are not in subjection to the government or God, and they are not following the guidance that Paul is offering.

Jesus, on the other hand, had a few things to say about government, too (Matthew 22 and Mark 12.)  He said we are to give government what belongs to government and give to God, what belongs to Him.  In other words, in the realm of faith and God instructed behavior, we follow God and not the government.  So if the government were to choose to allow or mandate behavior inconsistent with God’s instruction, we aren’t to follow that…and we have a duty in this country to vote our conscience and speak our minds about it.  They had that same duty in the Roman Empire (and might still be around today if they’d carried out that duty better.)

We are not to be sheep when it comes to the government.  Our forefathers understood that very well when they grappled with the constitution and put in the checks and balances to keep from having a tyrannical government emerge.  We now live in an age where many liberal thinkers in government and the courts are saying that we need to throw out the constitution so that those in power can be free to make the changes they want.  We even have those in government today who are not following the rules the constitution laid out, and are getting away with it. 

We need to use our vote…and use it intelligently.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Only In America?

Only in America can the director of the FBI be summoned before congress to testify and when asked whether a citizen can be assassinated in this country by order of the President without court process say "I am not sure, I'll have to check."

Only in America can Attorney General Eric Holder lecture that the President can order a "kill" on anyone he chooses within or outside the borders of the United States.

Only in America can you be fined $250,000 and put in jail for two years for destroying an eagle egg, but you can abort a child and the government pays for it...well, actually you and I pay for it whether we like it or not.

Only in America...wait a minute, this is the kind of stuff that happens in Iran, Libya and Hitler's Germany?  It's not only in America.  Mass slaughter, religious persecution, genocide are worldwide.

Human nature is what it is folks.  We are no different from any other people across the globe.  We must constantly be on guard against sin when it presents itself and stand up and be counted.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

We All Fall Short

Yesterday was a surprising day.  Actually, surprising doesn’t cover the half of it.  I read in the paper that the man that was the worship leader at our Saturday night church services was arrested for sex crimes against a child using text or internet picture swapping.  The newspapers will make a great deal out of this I am sure.  Perhaps this is because bad behavior by believers tends to shock and negate a Christian witness so effectively. 

I’ve been thinking all day how to approach this in writing, and I guess the first thing that needs to be said is that a rush to judgment is not in order here.  In this country we are innocent until proven guilty.  For all we know the girl could have made it all up…or he could be completely guilty.  Only time will tell as the process unfolds.  But I would like to talk about the larger issue of sex in our society.

A man was made to respond to the look of a naked woman.  We like it, and it is probably a good thing or civilization would have died out a long time ago.  Bridling that desire is often difficult in modern society, since we try to motivate the sale of almost everything from soup to automobiles with men and women pictured in advertisements emphasizing and even showing as much of their bodies as we can allow. To a similar extent we dress our women in the same manner in day-to-day life.  Then the ever prevalent internet and the media take it one step further and show even those things that aren’t allowed anywhere else.  We prime the pump so vigorously in our culture that I’m not surprised when someone steps over the line into a forbidden area.  What scares me even more is that as a society, I suspect we are moving toward the eventual acceptance of even those forbidden areas as we release our adherence to traditional morality.  We have told ourselves there is no consequence for these behaviors.  In the last 40 years we have certified that sex outside of or without marriage is perfectly acceptable, that abortion is good, that the gay lifestyle is good, even euthanasia is accepted in some states, so what is to stop the Man Boy Love Society from succeeding in its quest for legalization as well?  What is to stop any other changes or perversions being added to our list of socially OK’d behaviors?

WE are.  We are all that is left to stop further erosion of our moral convictions.  If we don’t, I believe the other alternative is a historical one…the collapse of the society and the country.  These things are not a new phenomenon in world history.  The Greek and Roman empires are but two perfect examples, and for a really “hot one” let’s remember Sodom and Gomorrah.

Sex is a wonderful gift from God--one that is given to be enjoyed in the right manner.  It brings joy, release, and feeling of being valued and loved.  It helps create a connection more mysterious and deep than we can imagine, and it was designed to do all this as part of marriage.  When carried out in any other manner, it tends to be a cheap imitation at best…and seriously destructive at worst.

It’s not going to be easy to keep this from getting worse.  Even in our churches studies we show that many of our women and 65% or more of our men are struggling with pornography and other related sex issues.  Church divorce rates aren’t much different than society as a whole, and infidelity is about as common a cause within the church as outside it. I am convinced that this is something that only God can heal, and as we turn to God for healing and act as the hands and feet of God on this planet, we can change this trend of apathetic acceptance and moral decay.  I truly hope I am overstating my concerns, and that this trend won’t continue…but one just has to look at Denmark (or Las Vegas) to know that anything is possible.

I genuinely feel saddened when someone falls prey to committing child sex crimes.  I really do.  I pray that they can get the help that they need to turn from that.  Whether he is guilty or not, this man’s whole life is going to change as a result of this event, regardless of the outcome., as will the lives of the young women involved and their families. The Bible is clear that the wages of sin is death—this means actual death, certainly, but also metaphorical death in the sense that sin destroys lives.  Whether the sin in question is this man’s poor choice, or a young girl’s misrepresentation, or society’s rejection of Truth, the only hope is claiming God’s promise that all things (yes, even something as horrible as a sex crime) can work together for His good if those called to His purpose will only stand firm.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Frog And Morality

We live in an age of moral relativism, and while this in not a new historical phenomenon it is a much more widespread one over the planet.  We embrace the idea of “you do your thing and I’ll do mine” to the point that we often don’t see actual right from wrong.  Sadly, having the strength to stand up for our values has become the subject of ridicule and violent disagreement.

I remember a science experiment in college where a professor told us that if you try to cook a frog by putting it in boiling water, it will just jump out, but if you put it in water and slowly raise the temperature with the burner, you will cook the frog.  Our moral decline is much like that frog, and standing up for our values in the face of ridicule is something we need to do with confidence.  Morality is the heart of our problem in this country, whether it is how we view material wealth, family integrity, financial responsibility, sex, violence or whatever problem you wish to analyze.  Unfortunately, we are no longer interested, in society as a whole, in discussing morality.  We tend to try and solve our problems with a new law or funding some kind of program.  It’s a lot like trying to fix a worn out car engine by re-painting the car.

The core of our morality is our faith, and living that out in our daily lives for Jesus can do enormous good wherever we have been placed in this world to shine that light.  Remember my example of the candle in the dark mineshaft?  I still think of that tiny light and how in that complete darkness it seemed I was beholding a floodlight.  Don’t ever doubt the effectiveness of living your witness.  Gideon was one who doubted that God could use him (and was with him) in battling the decaying morality of his time.  God gives him a sign and tells him to stand up to the immoral prophets of Baal, and what does he do…he fearfully sneaks out at night to tear down their altar.  God tells him to do battle and deliver Israel, and what does Gideon do…he doubts and seeks more signs and proof with his little fleece weather station test (is it wet when it shouldn’t be, is it dry when it shouldn’t be?)  Gideon is afraid to stand up for God’s word.  I can imagine how Gideon felt when God told him to pare down his army to just 300 men to use to face thousands.  But yet Gideon’s few did stand up and were victorious.

When we stand, even alone, the world around us will take notice.  We may not have an audience of millions nor an army of thousands to back us up, but what we do have is truth, and our job is to use that truth to change the world.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Our Freedoms

It clearly appears that in the United States we are rapidly losing the religious freedoms we have held for over two hundred years.  The first amendment, which protects free speech and freedom of religion, clearly stated that “congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof” which is pretty plain and clear to me.  Now the government is insisting that religion not intrude into “daily life” in any way and must literally be confined to within the walls of a church.  This doesn’t just affect the work and beliefs of religious relief and assistance organizations and religious schools.

For example, Hobby Lobby doesn’t want to provide health benefits that involve abortion as a result of the owner’s religious beliefs.  A judge doesn’t want to perform a gay marriage because of his beliefs.  A company doesn’t want to perform sex change operations, but is required to under the laws of the states of California and Oregon.  All of these fall within the “free exercise thereof” portion of the First Amendment.  Even the nonsense about putting up Christmas trees in front of your government offices or in a city park is covered by this phrase.  And yet our governments are persecuting these people for doing what the first amendment demands and guarantees they be allowed to do. 

I find it funny that we have a government that persecutes religions that believe in having multiple wives, but demands that we allow gay marriage.  I’m not advocating either, but both, no matter what you believe in your faith walk, are elements of the free exercise of religion.  If the government is going to intrude into the ways we express our faith, then WE need to repeal or modify the First Amendment to the constitution. 

Just as a point of information, the guarantee of “free speech” is contained in that same First Amendment.  If they can ignore the free exercise of religion, they can ignore free speech, too, someday.

Friday, January 18, 2013

The "Go To" God

We live in an age of immediate gratification.  Have a pain, take this pill!  Hungry, two minutes and your burger is in the bag!  Need to talk to your girlfriend, click the cell phone!

Our American expectations are high that whatever we want, we can have..NOW!  Look at what we tell our kids: “You can be anything you want to be!”  Doctor, lawyer, rock star…you name it and claim it.  Is it always true?  No, there are limitations, but we don’t focus on that.  So it is no wonder that we tend to overlay our concept of God with these expectations.  “I expect a God who does what I want for me when I want it.  If I am sad or lonely, I want it fixed.  If I am poor, I want to be rich.  If I want a certain girlfriend, I expect her to fall madly in love with me.

What good is He if he doesn’t do what I ask and fulfill all my requests and prayers?  I suspect this kind of misunderstanding is part of what is driving the decline in Christianity in America today.  To be honest, there are biblical instances of God promising to do things for his followers, and I would never discount His ability to do whatever he wants for us, but in the main what he consistently promises is to be “with us” and to “love us.”  I count that as sufficient reason to believe in the same way that I count it sufficient to have a wife.  Can you imagine a wife who promises to be with us and to love us and really will deliver on that forever!  Not as common as it should be in our world today.  To truly love means that you give of yourself in every way, what else could one ask for?

God has given his whole self to me to be part of forever.  Christ gave his whole physical self to suffer our life experience and die for our self-centeredness sins.  He is not the “Go To” wish fulfillment guy, the “fixer,” the giant “Santa of the Skies.”  He is the one who will be with you, and whose words teach you how to live a life that brings fulfillment and happiness.  He is the one who will bring you to him for eternity. 

Life gives you a chance to make a choice for God and eternity with him…or not.  It promises you nothing more. 

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Liar, Liar, Pants On Fire!

Studies on lying in America are interesting to read, and if you believe them to be accurate, they suggest that over 90% of Americans lie regularly and a good 20% can’t get through one day without lying.  I suspect that a few of those folks are referring to little white lies or flattery told to avoid hurting someone (does this dress make me look fat?) but most probably are substantive lies meant to seriously deceive.

I think gossip often falls into the same category as lies, since you actually are re-telling unsubstantiated information.  Even the internet becomes a problem in that regard, because there are few ways to fact check anything printed…and we have this mental assumption or defect ingrained in our psyche that says “if it’s in print it must be true.”  Newspapers count on you assuming they print the truth, and they are rife with examples of “shading” their coverage of facts in such a way as to draw an entirely untrue conclusion in order to make their case or even to outright deceive.

So what generates a lie?  I lied when I stole that cookie and didn't want to get spanked by my mom (no this was not recent!)  So I think self-preservation is one big source, greed and ambition are another, and jealousy probably rounds out the big three.  (Political success probably has all three ingredients in it -- don’t we often proclaim they all lie or mislead with regularity!)  The reasons for lying all are rooted in “self.”  If you are truly “other centric” your tendency to lie is probably greatly diminished.  Satan wishes us to be completely “self-centered” and is the father of all lies.  God hates lying and the Ten Commandments, Jesus’ teachings, proverbs, and psalms all reinforce this.  Jesus said “I am the way and the truth and the life,” and I think it was no accident that truth was inserted in that statement.  The antithesis of this was Pontius Pilate who asked Jesus “What is truth?”  In a world of relativism that says truth is “my truth” we succumb to the expedience of “easy outs.”  Pilate knew Jesus was not guilty of any crime, but his “truth” was political expedience to calm the masses, and so Jesus became the sacrifice…and as God had intended as it turns out in this case. 

I had a friend tell me the other day that during his periods of addiction he would lie regularly in order to cover up what he was doing.  He said he lied so much he couldn’t keep straight who he had told what to!  He is happily in recovery now and says it is so much easier to be truthful, and a relief not to have to remember what lies you told to whom.

You see, as Jesus said, the truth really does set you free!

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Lillies Of The Field...

Consider the lilies of the field…

Jesus warned us against greed, materialism, and for that matter worry about how we would care for ourselves and survive from day to day.  I appreciate the general sentiment and agree with it, but as in much of what my Lord spoke, I believe it was hyperbole and somewhat symbolic.  I don’t think he meant for us to sit on our bottoms and wait for everything to be handed to us.  So we logically do spend time considering paying the bills, and doing things to make sure we can.  In the process, we often realize we don’t have what we need to make ends meet, even if we are frugal.  Like all good humans, we generally look around for someone else to blame.  Who do we look at?

Big business and corporations seem to get the bad rap and are labeled as greedy.  Big government rarely gets that label…yet who is more ethical.  Big business is greedy and wants to make money off you from what you buy.  Big government wants your money and is just as greedy (in most states you already pay upwards of 50% of your earnings to them in various taxes and fees each year.) 

Which is the real evil?  If big business wants your money and you don’t want to pay them, then you just don’t buy their product.  Big government on the other hand, puts you in jail if you don’t buy their “product.”  You think you have a say with your elected representatives, but that is sluggish and ineffective at best…and lately it just been plain pathetic.

Most of the time you have virtually no representation because the bulk of the rules and regulations and fees imposed are done by boards, commissions and executive branches of various government entities that are complete unknowns and virtual untouchables to the common man.  The number of new rules and regulations adopted each year is staggering, and even extend into every area of your life from regulating which foods you can now eat to keep from being fat to how long you can park at a broken parking meter.

So where is the real evil?  War, oppression, poverty, religious persecution, racism and culturalism…all these are government’s actions, not the actions of businesses and corporations.  Businesses want you to have lots of money to spend on their products.  Think about it…

The Bible encourages us to render to the government what it considers its due and to pray for our leaders.  I think that is good advice, and I’d put heavy emphasis on the praying for our leaders to have real wisdom and to put the welfare of the country ahead of their own welfare and their own agendas.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Constitutional Change

I find it interesting that liberal thinking folks pride themselves in being so open minded, and yet I find they are most often the least open minded people I know and the least interested in considering other opinions (or even other facts.)  If you try to bring a point of view or information to them that contradicts their world view, they at best marginalize you as a crackpot and more often get angry with you and demand that you don’t tell them your view on a subject.  Maybe I just have an unusually poor sample of acquaintances who exhibit these qualities.  I hope so.

I think we are seeing a lot of that in congress these days.  Oh I know conservatives can do the same thing, but it seems to me that liberals are the ones paying lip service to meaningful discussions and taking all viewpoints into consideration.  They are the party in power and feel they have a mandate to do whatever they want…in many cases regardless of what the polls of the American people say they want.  Right now they are looking seriously at second amendment changes on firearm ownership and more frightening still, first amendment restrictions, as well, in order to stop the movie and video game producers from creating violent productions that they feel are the cause of gun violence (which I suspect in certain individuals may be true...even news coverage of violent events may be causing this.)  We already have fourth amendment and fourteenth amendment changes as a result of the Patriot Act that abridge our constitutional rights.  To me the big question is are these all necessary, will they even be effective against perceived problems, and what long-term effect will they bring to our country and our personal lives?

If free speech can be limited, can freedom of religion then be controlled as well.  It doesn’t take much of a leap in this day and age to realize that politicians could decide that churches that hold against abortion or gays are bad and must be arrested for what they say.  We are on the brink of that right now with the demand that abortion be provided by organizations that hold against it under the Affordable Health Care Act.  The trouble with all this is that these abridgements are coming without the process of constitutional amendment by three-quarters of the states as was required by our founding fathers.  This country was formed on the basis of complete freedom of religion.  It appears that that may soon be a thing of the past, and very few really know or care.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

The Devil Made Me Do It!

If you are old enough, you probably remember the old Flip Wilson comedy routine?  He would end up his antics and monologue with “The Devil Made Me Do It!” and a sly grin.   We all laughed.  Why?  Because back in those days we still had a society that functioned on the principle of personal responsibility, and we knew it was a laughable excuse.  Today, we see a society that increasingly looks to someone else to blame for their actions and situation.

Let’s look at some examples:
I don’t have a job…it is the fault of the government and greedy businesses automating or sending jobs overseas.  Hmmm…companies need to remain competitive in order to survive so maybe you need to take a job you don’t like, re-train or move to an area where there are jobs you are qualified for?

I’m dying of lung cancer…it is the fault of the cigarette companies for making me smoke even though I knew it was bad for me.  Hmmm…maybe you should have tried or stuck with Nicorette or Chantix longer?  Or maybe just listened to your mother!  Oh wait a minute, she smoked and was your role model...maybe we should blame her?

Here is the latest one I heard today!  I love this lawsuit…I’m in prison for murder because you didn’t tell me alcohol was addictive and would make me do things I shouldn’t do.  Hmmm…Come on?  Really? 

I fully expect the next lawsuit to come soon:  I am fat and have heart disease and diabetes…it is the fault of the food companies because they make me eat too much with their good tasting foods.  They didn’t warn me enough and they have a duty to stop me!
I don’t think anyone really believes that these outcomes were unavoidable or unknown, so why should we think we can blame others for what we are responsible for?  Generally, I think it is driven by greed, and other times by a need to avoid guilt feelings or to punish someone else for our failures…or to just get a “Get Out of Jail Free Card.”

Sadly, we live in an increasingly liberal society that is willing to accept this nonsense that things are someone else’s fault and responsibility.  12 Step program folks will tell you the key to recovery is accepting responsibility!  It is one of the most important elements of the program.  I can just imagine me standing before God and saying “The Devil made me do it.”  How’s that going to fly do you think?  Taking responsibility for our behavior and our faith decisions is probably the single most important thing we can do in life.  Feeling our responsibility is the root of all action!  Jesus’ warning in the book of Matthew 25:37 is plain:  “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink?”  We can’t shirk our responsibility in things.  Judgment and consequence will always follow.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Smiling Jesus On A Parade Float?

OK, I’ve got to think about this one for a bit, so forgive the rambling. 

My first take when I saw Jesus standing on this year’s Rose Parade float and waving to the crowds with a big smile on his face was “oh no, this as just too tacky and commercial.”  I suppose that was a bit like what pastors and members thought so many years ago when kids wanted to play folk and rock music with religious themes in church on Sunday.  Has it been beneficial to the growth of our congregations today?  Perhaps it has, though I think the jury is still out on that one.   Do they come to church to hear a rock concert or to worship and learn the word of God?  Or, is it like offering free donuts if you come in the door…just a come on to get you there?  I bet Muslims would never allow a depiction of Mohammed waving from a float in the Rose Parade.  Their order and type of service is not allowed to EVER change.  They seem to be doing quite well in the numbers category judging by the size of their congregations.  Still, is that kind of rigid approach right either?

So, back to the float:  Did a depiction of Jesus help or hurt the cause of Christianity?  In one way I think any presentation of Christ raises the consciousness and curiosity of the viewer, but is this one effective?  For that matter, is a cross on a hill or the manger scene in front of the church on Christmas even effective?  I don’t know, but I keep coming back to the key element that I do know that works and that is reaching out personally to those who don’t know Jesus.  Relationship is the only truly effective means of communicating our faith in the world today.  People judge its relevance by how they see us live our lives and whether we care about them.  If we are insulated in Church on Sunday, we can’t be the Christians we are supposed to be.  Jesus said “GO…” he didn’t say, sit and think or build me a monument.  Go means go.  Wherever you are.  That might be to the desk next to you at work, or it might mean a soggy jungle in deepest Africa.  Do we show that our beliefs make us any different from the rest of society in a way that is to be admired and valued, and do we do any good for the rest of the world around us? 

I remember the words of a noted atheist writer John Steinrucken who said: “Although I am a secularist (atheist, if you will), I accept that the great majority of people would be morally and spiritually lost without religion. Can anyone seriously argue that crime and debauchery are not held in check by religion? Is it not comforting to live in a community where the rule of law and fairness are respected? Would such be likely if Christianity were not there to provide a moral compass to the great majority? Do we secularists not benefit out of all proportion from a morally responsible society? An orderly society is dependent on a generally accepted morality. There can be no such morality without religion. Has there ever been a more perfect and concise moral code than the one Moses brought down from the mountain?”

We need to take that code and the rest of our words from the Bible and turn them into actions with the people we encounter.  We need to GO!  Maybe that is what the guy who stood on the float was doing in his own way this New Years morning. 

Show the love of Christ. Go!