Monday, January 28, 2013

Sticking My Neck Out

I think you will enjoy reading this one, whether you agree or not.  It reiterates three principles for making decisions about our involvement in the issues of the day, then it  applies them to everything from the Muslim agenda to the degradation of the church and the economy. If you think I have missed something important, just plan to come back next week when I finish up my list.

Sticking my Neck Out

"Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.   And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.[1]"

In the next two chapters, I plan to be more specific about some of the things that worry us most, and in doing so to apply the principles we have discussed so far.  But first let me recap the principles:
1.      God loves us and wants us to be at peace.[2]
2.      Though he wants us to be busy in his kingdom,[3] he does not require that we "fix" the world.  That's his job.[4]
3.      God has not called us to use the country's police forces to require non-believers to live righteously. Instead, he has charged us with calling people to righteousness.
God wants us working toward righteousness, which includes justice for the poor and disadvantaged.[5]  But he doesn't want us so obsessed by our outcomes (or lack thereof) that it destroys our peace.  So what are we to do about the issues of the day?
What should our attitude be toward the following?

1.      Muslim people?
We are to love them; they are our neighbors.  They are represented in the scripture by the outsider, the Samaritan, who stopped to help when the religious leaders failed to do so.[6]  If Jesus went into Samaria and asked a woman for help[7], surely we can go into a Muslim neighborhood and offer to give some assistance.

2.  Terrorists?
We are not likely to meet any and to know who they are, but if Jesus could pray for his murderers ("Father forgive them...") we can pray for terrorists.  And I am not suggesting we pray for their destruction.  That is not what Jesus did. He prayed for their salvation.

3.  Social legislation and the government ?
What do we know about the Bible's writings on the role of Christians and government?  One thing we do know is that democracy or a republican form of government was unknown in that day, so what is written there is more likely relevant to a dictatorial system.  Jesus said we should pay our taxes, so, even though a couple of his followers were zealots who previously had sought to overthrow Rome, that was not his approach.   Paul reiterated Jesus' instruction and expanded on it,[8] saying that we should be subject to the government and that to resist it was the same as opposing God.  So joining illegal resistance movements, as exciting and adventurous as that sounds, is not an option for a Christian.  Speaking the truth though, even from billboards, TV ads, blogs, and Facebook pages, is a Christian option - one we should strongly consider as a viable part of our Christian witness to the world.

But what do we do in a democratic nation?  How do we exercise our democratic rights?  Can we run for office?  Should we push for "Christian" legislation?  Here are my answers; you should study it out for yourself:

4.  Public Office?
The Spirit prepares us all and calls us to many different roles in our society.  If you feel drawn to public service, even in an elected office, you should consider it.  Just be aware of the tools Satan will use against you, if you are elected.

a.  Power.
Lord  Acton is often quoted as saying, "Power corrupts."  Most Biblical references to power refer to the power of God.  Power is addictive and that explains why people continue to run for high office long after anyone thinks they have any chance of winning.  People who have power tend to think they should use it and they often do so to their own detriment and that of others. 

b.   Pride.
"Pride goes before destruction."[9]  Pride shows up in lots of ways.  It lowers resistance to sexual temptation and to temptation to appropriate what is not ours for our own purposes.  It takes an "I am worth it!" approach to life and promotes a sense of "I am smart enough to get away with this; besides, look at all I have given up for my constituents."  

c.  The Value of Christian Leaders.  In spite of the many possible pitfalls, a Christian leader who truly acts like one would be a welcome relief and a tremendous asset to the kingdom.  She or he would act and vote on principle regardless of which way the political winds are blowing and would daily risk not being reelected in favor of doing the right thing.

5.  "Righteous Legislation?"
This may be a little controversial, but I do not believe that, as Christians, we are called on to pass laws or to try to get others to pass laws legislating our morality onto the rest of society.  God wants us all to be free moral agents, to make our own decisions about whether or not to follow him.  Otherwise he could have put an electric fence around the tree in the middle of the garden, with razor wire on top, and placed some scary looking guards by it.

We are charged with bringing people to Jesus, not with forcing them through legislation and law enforcement to do God's will.  Didn't we learn that lesson after the prohibition of alcohol in the 1920's?  And the time known as the "dark ages" was a time when the church got control of the government and everyone was, at least in name, a Christian.  We do not want to go back to that time.  Every soul that is saved is one less person we have to worry about trying to force to follow God's will.  We make followers by preaching,[10] not by legislating!

6.  Degradation of the Church?
The church seems to be falling apart.  It is divided; it is off-focus; it has been captured by charlatans and is being misrepresented; it is rapidly falling away from the truths of the scripture.  What are we to do?  Do you hear echoes of Chicken Little?  "The sky is falling!  The sky is falling!" 

Yes the church has its issues, just as did most of the churches addressed by the letters of the New Testament and five of the seven churches addressed in the Revelation.  No we can't relax our efforts just because church problems have been around for over 2000 years.  But neither do we need to cry out in defeat.

We are called on to the stay the course.  "Preach the gospel,[11]"  Paul told Timothy.  "In season; out of season."  Keep preaching.  Don't give up.  I remember Kinwood Devore, the minister at the Metropolitan Church of Christ and the Executive Director of Metropolitan Fresh Start in San Francisco, teaching a group of urban ministry fanatics a song, and with it an idea.  The title was "Never give up!"  Brother Kinwood said his group started every gathering with that song.

We are not called to rail against sociological phenomena, we are called on to teach the truth.  And by teaching the truth, we will convert people to Jesus, even perhaps those who have worn his name in vain.  But failing that, we will hold up a standard that the world will relate to.  We will represent our savior in and to this world in which we live.  Drop the rant, pick up the Bible and let's preach - gently, calmly, with the confidence that comes with our salvation.
7.  The Economy?
We know better than this.  Right out of the gate, Jesus in the sermon on the mount told us that God takes care of the birds and flowers and he will take care of us.[12]  He told us he had never seen God's children begging bread.[13]

But we have become dependent on the U.S. economy.  We get angry when economic forces take our jobs overseas.  We rant when some rich people get richer by cheating less fortunate people - especially if it is us they are cheating.   We are afraid that immigrants will take jobs away from us, that the economy is going into the toilet and that all our "things" will follow it there. 

We just need to trust that God will keep his promise.   We should be living on what he puts in our hands, giving away as much as we can, working to support ourselves and our families, and telling people the good news.  Everything else is icing.  That includes Medicare and Social Security, a solvent government, our retirement savings and anything else we may be counting on.  Set it all aside and trust.

[1] Philippians 4:6-7
[2] John 14:27
[3] Ephesians 2:10
[4] 2 Peter 3:10-13: Revelation 21:1
[5] Isaiah 58:6-7
[6] Luke 10:30-37
[7] John 4:7
[8] Romans 13:1-7
[9] Proverbs 16:18-19
[10] 1 Corinthians 1:21
[11] 2 Timothy 4:1-2
[12] Matthew 6:26
[13] Psalm 37:25

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

A Warning About What's Coming Next

We have now lived in Haiti for a week - old timers.  We are studying Creole with Ricardo and Mary, while they improve their English in the process.  We have spent the week cleaning and sorting.  Charlene worked on some bookshelves piled high with everything from very old car repair books to life improvement, then moved on to the kitchen.  Nearly did herself in on that project.

Many teams have been through here since the last hosts left, and they have left lots of medical and VBS supplies scattered about.  I have been through them once and grouped them into categories, re-boxing as I went.  Susan McGee will be here week after next while Charlie and I go north, and she and Charlene will go through the VBS stuff and decide how best to put it to use.  So far we are having fun, while hoping all of our fun is not so intense.

We have now reached the part of my book, "Peace on Earth," where it could be controversial.  I wrote and published it with some trepidation.  This is where religion spills into politics.  This chapter is brief.  Give it a glance and see if you want to read on.


Warning about Part 2

"They took his advice; and after calling the apostles in, they flogged them and ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and then released them.  So they went on their way from the presence of the Council, rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name.  And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they kept right on teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ."[1]

I need to clarify what comes next lest someone think I am wimping out on speaking the truth to those who need to hear it.  We are called on to be bold proclaimers of the truth.    When Jesus' body left the earth, He put his followers in charge of spreading the good news.[2]  A short time later they were hauled in before the religious leaders of the day, were beaten and then commanded not to speak in his name.  They immediately went back to the most public place in the city and resumed preaching and teaching.

Jesus wants us to be bold speakers too.  He wants us confidently telling the truth about who he is and what God requires of us.  But he wants us to be peaceable and gentle about it.  And nowhere has he charged us with forcing people into submission to his will. 

In the next two chapters I write about fourteen specific issues of the day.  For each of them I apply the principle that God wants us leading people to repentance rather than forcing them into submission through legislation.  You may agree or disagree, but please do not conclude that I lack courage.  Consider instead what God said about it:
"For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.  For it is written, ' I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, And the cleverness of the clever I will set aside.'"
"Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?  For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe.  For indeed Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness,  but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.  Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men".[3]

Whole books, longer than this one could be written about each of the following topics.  This list is intended as thought provokers or discussion starters and as an illustration of the principle that God has called us to change the world through preaching and teaching, not through legislating.

One more thing before we dive in.  In the next few pages I speak of being friendly to all people who may want to worship with us.  There I am saying that we should invite all comers into our worship services, but not to stay the same.  Rather to grow with us in righteousness and in their love for God and mankind.

[1] Acts 5:40-42
[2] Acts 1:6-8
[3] 1 Corinthians 1:18-25

You can buy a copy of the book now at

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

What are Christians Really Concerned About

We arrived in Haiti last night, January 15, 2013, to begin  our three year stay here.  More about that later, but now, Chapter 8 of "Peace on Earth."  If you have not been following along, Chapters 1-7 appear as earlier posts on this site.  Eventually, hopefully, the whole book will be here, saving you the $8 to buy a copy or the $5 to download an electronic copy from Kindle.  Click here to buy a copy:  

What are Christians Really Concerned About?

“Come to me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”[1] 

Awhile back I asked a group of Christian friends what they are worried about.  One of them (a researcher, perhaps) was worried that my sample was small and was not random.  But it is what it is and I would like to mention some of the responses here.

Are we busy enough?
A major group of responses was about whether we are doing enough.  And that is a hard one for me as well.   Even if we can quote the scriptures about it, like Ephesians 2:8-10, we still have a hard time putting them into action.  Paul told the Ephesians in four different ways in verse 8 that we are not responsible for our salvation.  1) It is a gift; 2) it is not something we do ourselves; 3) it is not the result of anything we do; 4) we have no room to boast about it.   But then he said we were created for good works.  So he took the burden off with one hand and put it back on with the other.  What are we supposed to do with that?

Here’s what I’ve figured out about it.  God wants us to fully understand that there is nothing we can do to earn our salvation.  No matter how good we are, we are never good enough.  Therefore there is no room for pride, and when we present the good news of salvation to those around us, we are telling them of a gift we have received, not of something we have accomplished. 

 Jesus wants all of us.  He wants our heart, soul, mind, and strength.[2]  Can we ever give Him enough? No.  Does it make sense that we are concerned about not giving him enough?  Yes.  Can we take an afternoon off to play golf, go fishing, or read a book without feeling guilty for not knocking on doors, preaching on the street corner, or helping at the food pantry?   I'm going to say a qualified, "Yes, we can take some time to ourselves."  Let’s look at the life of our example and teacher.

We don’t know much about the first 30 years of Jesus’ life.  We do know that after the brief view we are given of the 12 year old boy Jesus, he grew in favor with men.[3]  That indicates at least that he was not a boring preacher who was always serious about everything.
During the first miracle that John recorded, Jesus was at a wedding feast[4] and he attended several other feasts.[5]  He invited himself to Zacchaeus’ house for dinner,[6]  he was chastised for eating and drinking with sinners,[7] and he often used feasts in his illustrations.[8]   But at the parties that found their way into the record, he did something significant with regard to his ministry.  For example we would assume that he went to Zacchaeus' house to continue the discussion about the Spirit and baptism. 

If we truly adopt Bill Hybels' "Just Walk Across the Room" strategy[9], we can go anywhere there are other people and assume that the Spirit will use us to help him move someone a little closer to the Lord that day.

So what about sitting under a tree or on a beach just thinking, or even choosing not to think?  Or reading a novel?   I really want to justify this one, because I love to be alone some of the time.  I guess I'm technically an introvert because I get my energy more from being alone than from being with others.  But as I searched the scripture I did not have to go far to discover this passage: “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.”[10]  And this one: "Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone?"[11]

Most Bible references to people being alone are of negative situations and being alone is a part of the negative situation.  Jesus was alone a lot, but he was usually praying.  And he said: “A time is coming and in fact has come when you will be scattered, each to your own home. You will leave me all alone. [A negative connotation to being alone.]  Yet I am not alone, for my Father is with me."

The Bible seems to say that we should not strive to be alone.  At least not for the long term or consistently.  God intends for us, with the help of the Spirit, to be a support and a help for others. 

On the other hand, if we are alone, God wants us to know that we are not alone.  God is with us: "For none of us lives for ourselves alone, and none of us dies for ourselves alone.  If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord."

It is okay to "recharge" from time to time by being alone, but to seek to be alone through most of our lives is a waste of what God has given us.  He intends for us to share with others.

What about Facebook and Twitter and other such means of interacting with people?  If you are truly being interactive and not just spouting out your own thoughts, I would guess that God is okay with that, as long as it is in the context of a holy life.

Similar Worries
Reproduced here are other responses from Christians about what bothers them.  Many of them are serious concerns related to how we represent the church and God to the world around us.  My answer to most of them is "God bless you for thinking about these things, and may his Spirit guide you as you work to improve in the areas you have identified.  Please pray that I may be as serious as you have been in thinking about these things."

My message to you about these concerns is a hope that they will trigger in you a similar look inside your soul, an examination of your motivations, and a resolve to become more like Jesus day by day.[12]

1.  “I worry most often that I am not representing Christ as a positive ambassador that will draw people to him. I am disturbed by my tendency toward legalism instead of love."

2.  “All the things the Lord tells us not to worry about.  Mostly mammon.  The economy, the environment, our health and health care, inflation and interest rates.  For boomers - retirement; mostly stuff related to our own interests and wants.   I would include the decline of morals and religious sentiment. Stagnation in our churches.   Politics and the future of our nation.”

3.  “I have been thinking about your question. I assume (perhaps wrongly) you want the questions we are asking about our lives. In which case mine would be, ”Am I where I am supposed to be or should I have already moved on? Should I be taking more initiative in determining what comes next in my life?  Or should I sit back expecting that God will do with me what he wills?”

4.  "Church-wise there is something that disturbs me much. While your question is a good one, I read in several of our magazines the question and answer sections and note that the questions we seem consumed with and I am concerned that they reveal a non-flattering perception of the Lord. I remember the question, Should a teenager with purple hair be allowed to wait on the Lord's Table? The questions that are put forward assume a God that is legalistic, expecting us to jump through a plethora of hoops to receive his blessings, rather than the God described in the Bible who is love and desires that all men be saved.”

5.  "Do I take myself too seriously?  It seems that the more serious we take our selves the less we can understand grace and the absurdity of the world."

6.  "In our materialistic, self-centered society do I look any different?  Am I just "playing" safe church without ever getting drastically, radically, passionately serious about saving souls and doing the hard stuff to make that happen.
What disturbs me is trying to fit God into my world instead of me fitting into His."

7.  "I guess I worry about developing poor health--I think none of us want to be a burden to others [this is probably an age thing].  I think, mainly, I worry about not recognizing opportunities to be of service to others or share with them about our God."

8.  “You asked, 'What are Christians uptight about? What worries us?  Disturbs us?'  There are so many places to start, but I will start with this: Most Christians are uptight with the way the world system has taken over the control of the
universe.  But this does not have to be, because God promised if we would humble ourselves, turn from our sinful ways, He will hear from heaven and will heal our land.  Most Christians do not want to take the time to build a relationship with God to the point that no matter what is going on in his or her life, they know that they are not alone and help is only a prayer a way.  Christians are worried about the economic situation and what will happen to their future.  Again, God promised that he would take care of his children no matter what is going on around us.  Most Christians try to deal with God on a human level and forget that God is spirit and you must worship him in spirit and truth.  As Christians, we are disturbed because we don't get answers to our problems and circumstances right away, so we begin to doubt God and his word.  No matter what happens now or in the future, we must stay true to God and our position as a Christian, we are God's examples to who he really is.  If we fold and give up, some people in the world will never get to know who God is.  Hope I did not go too far off the track of what you were asking for.  :-)"  [Not at all - DMM]

9.  "The worries that we communicate to the world at large are about abortion, gay marriage, evolution, and negative influences on young people (sex, drugs, etc.).  In settings where Christians are sharing their behind-the-scenes worries with each other, I also hear about church growth and - occasionally - Muslims taking over the world.  I'm hoping though that Christians who worry are also concerned about more personal things like sin in their own lives and whether their friends and family are walking with God, but unfortunately, those aren't the ones that are usually expressed."

10.  "I was thinking about this as I fell asleep last night.  I’m not sure if you are doing this by age group, but I would think that matters.  So for the record, I will be 53 in a few weeks.  Here are a few big things that try to bog me down on a daily basis:
a.  We worry about health issues both for ourselves and parents.  Healthcare for aging and dying parents are huge issues for me and my peers.   
b.  Grief and loss.  Doing it and doing it well. 
c.  As Christians, we are confronted with ugly battles.  I think particularly for those of us in any kind of ministry, Satan is working overtime to discourage, threaten, and defeat us. 
d.  I also believe that Satan works overtime on trying to isolate us….he will do anything to destroy relationships especially in the church. 
e.  If you are a member of the church of Christ, then you are constantly aware of the differing opinions about worship.  This wears me out. "

11.  "That the world will end soon and we need to have the sense of urgency to share and live the Gospel message. Another, that Seeking and saving the lost must be the work of the church; its primary work, as it was for Jesus. Another, to restore the New Testament church."

12.  "I've tried very hard to give up worrying.  It's a waste of time and usually the things people worry about don't happen ... something else happens that they didn't even think to worry about.  I don't know that worry is the right word for me.  It's more of a "concern" that I do my best to turn over to God since I have no control of the matter ... but it would be the faithfulness of my children and grandchildren that will ultimately lead them to salvation and keep them in a saved state.  I preface the next statement with the understanding that God is in control and whatever happens in our country, God will ultimately cause good to result.  But the state of our country and the world is worrisome.  If I catch myself worrying (or being concerned) about something, I'll let you know."

13.  "After reading the list….now I am really worried.  I should have mentioned that I worry that I won’t have the energy that I want and need on mission trips!!!"

14  "Some of my concerns are: "Am I doing enough?"; "Will my children be faithful?"; "Am I planting enough 'seeds' that will germinate & grow?".  It is truly difficult to "be anxious for nothing".

[1] Matthew 11:28-30
[2] Luke 10:27
[3] Luke 2:52
[4] John 2:1-11
[5] e.g. Luke 14:1
[6] Luke 19:1-5
[7] Luke 5:30
[8] e.g. Luke 14:7-21
[9] Bill Hybels: "Just Walk Across the Room, Zondervan, 2006
[10] Genesis 2:18
[11] Ecclesiastes 4:11
[12] 2 Corinthians 4:16: