Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The Heart of the Matter

The following is the next to last chapter of my book entitled "Peace on Earth?" I hope that you have noticed the question mark at the end of the title. It is to raise the question, "Where is this peace the Bible promises?" The answer has already been given in earlier chapters: It is inside of you. It comes from your view of the world and your love for and trust in God.

This chapter spells out and suggests answers for some of the controversial issues of the day that seem to be stealing the peace of many Christian men and women. It has the potential to create some controversy, though that is not it's intent. It's intent is to suggest ways Christians can move toward being at peace about these and about all things. I hope you will read it in that light.
Closer to Home

God loves us and wants us to be at peace.
Though he wants us to be busy in his kingdom, he does not require that we "fix" the world.  That's his job.
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

This next set of issues may be closer to your heart than those in Chapter 8.  Perhaps you have had to deal with one or more of these first hand.  You may view my answers as just that  - my answers, but I believe they are based on the three principles listed above.  Some of the scriptural references for the principles are in the first part of Chapter 9.

1.  Abortion
When is a baby not a baby?  That is the question isn't it?  Almost everyone agrees that we shouldn't be killing babies, so the argument has turned into one about the "personhood" of the unborn.

But the argument is not real.   If a baby is a baby when it is born, why is it not a baby 7 minutes before it is born, or 7 hours, or 7 days, or 7 months?   At whatever stage of development, what is in a mother's womb is at some point in becoming a person.  Once you decide that you want to justify putting it to death you put yourself in the position of having to determine when is the baby really a baby and when is it not.  There is no scientific way to make that determination.  Whatever day you pick in the process of development, someone can legitimately ask, "Why not a day earlier - or later?"

Having said that, the  proper approach for a Christian, and therefore for the church, is to teach, not to legislate.  Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life has an excellent billboard campaign in this regard.[1]  They do not accuse people of murder, or in any other way put people down.   Instead, they hold up the importance of respecting life - even when it is still in the womb.

Our assigned role is to teach, not to legislate.

2.  Gay marriage
Who is and is not welcome in your church service?  A lot of us have signs and letterheads that proclaim, "Everyone Welcome." Does that include a gay couple?  If sinners are not welcome, would we turn away a lying politician or a cheating business person? 

How many gay or lesbian people do you know?  How many are you likely to meet in the circles you move in?  Is being in a gay relationship really worse than living with your girlfriend or boyfriend?  How would you go about sharing the gospel gently with someone who is in a gay relationship or who suspects he might be gay? 

These are complex questions.  Here are some of my thoughts.   We are all sinners.[2]  Some of us recognize that fact and some do not.  Some of us are belligerent about our sin.  We want to defend our right to stay in it.  We need to be taught, but are unwilling to listen.  That makes  it very difficult to reach some people, and as Jesus' "seed planters"[3] we often decide what kind of soil is in front of us and we decide not to plant any seed. 

We do not seem to be nearly as upset with people in our community who are living with a partner of the opposite sex as we are with those who are living with someone of the same sex.  If we are to be a church that is actively "seeking and saving the lost" we do need to be welcoming to sinners.  That is not an easy transition for many of us. 

What should be our stand on gay marriage legislation?  Again, it is not our assignment to legislate people into righteousness.  Marriage is a religious institution that has traditionally been reinforced by the state.  If every state and every nation endorses gay marriage it will not change God's mind about it.  Marriage in God's eyes is one man and one woman. We spread that idea by gentle teaching, not by passing laws. 

Our responsibility is to love people and to teach them gently.

1.      Immigration

God said:
a.      "You shall not oppress a stranger, since you yourselves know the feelings of a stranger, for you also were strangers in the land of Egypt;"[4] and

b.      "The LORD protects the strangers; He supports the fatherless and the widow;"[5] and

c.       "A widow is to be put on the list only if she is not less than sixty years old, having been the wife of one man, having a reputation for good works; and if she has brought up children, if she has shown hospitality to strangers, if she has washed the saints’ feet, if she has assisted those in distress, and if she has devoted herself to every good work;"[6] and

d.  "Now when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very corners of your field, nor shall you gather the gleanings of your harvest. 10 Nor shall you glean your vineyard, nor shall you gather the fallen fruit of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the needy and for the stranger. I am the Lord your God."[7]

So, how can we as His people join our voices with those who are saying, "Stay away."

I do know that immigration is scary.  We are afraid.   We are scared that uncontrolled immigration will adversely affect our standard of living.  "They" will come here and get the jobs we and our children wanted.  "They" will bring disease, crime, and immorality into "our" culture. 

The truth of it all is that God is bigger than all that.  We are to trust him and welcome the strangers.

Some will say that they oppose immigrants because they are coming here in opposition to our laws.  But we have passed laws  that have set up constraints on who can come and who must stay away.  And those constraints are along economic and racial lines.  That invokes for me all the scripture that says we are to become advocates for the poor, especially for those who are being taken advantage of by people in power.[8]

4.  War
Christians preach that when someone hits us, we should offer them the other cheek to hit that one as well.[9]  We teach forgiveness of our enemies.[10]  When they came to capture Jesus in the garden Jesus had Peter put away his sword.[11]

Yet from our correspondence, one would think that we are war mongers.  This is a difficult issue.  We do not want to be identified with those citizens who treated our returning Viet Nam Vets with disrespect and dishonor.

A few days ago I was in a grocery store wearing my USMC hat.  As frequently happens, a man stopped me to inquire about my service.  Whether it was for three years or for thirty, Marines always are inquisitive about another Marine's service.  Noticing my gray hair, he asked whether I had been in Viet Nam.  It turned out we had both served there and we went through the routine, when, where, and with what unit.  As we finished our brief conversation, without thinking about it, I said to him, "Welcome home."  Without hesitation he repeated the familiar greeting.  On the way out of the store Charlene identified what had happened.  "No one else would welcome you home, so you welcome each other."

We do want to respect our young people who go off to war to protect our freedoms, and Paul did say that government bears the sword legitimately.[12]  I do not have all the answers to this one.  But this I do know.  We are called on to be a peace loving people.  As Christians our first and perhaps our only weapon is the metaphorical sword of God: his word, the Bible. 

We should not be leading the charge to go off killing people in another part of the world.  We should instead be trying to teach the truth in "all the world."[13]

5.  The education of our children
One of our principle concerns today is whether our children are receiving a proper education.  Many are concerned that we are falling behind other nations, particularly in math and science.  But Christians' major complaint is the secularization of the schools - excluding any reference to God.

Here is the basic problem.  We turned schooling over to the government years ago, and in doing so we relinquished control over the education of our children.  The schools are no longer seen as extensions of the family to accomplish family goals.  They are now viewed as extensions of the government to accomplish national goals.  And as the society grew more secular, so did the national goals as played out through the school system.

Why are they not properly educating our children?  The question more properly should be, "Why aren't we educating our children?"  Yes, we live in a complex world and education is more involved than it was when language arts and a little basic math were all that was required, but we also have many more resources under our control than we did back then.

The early home schoolers have done a lot of the work gaining legitimacy for the approach in every state.  Many states now have approved a free or inexpensive on-line curriculum for homeschoolers.  Can't afford to give up an income to free up time to home school?  I would encourage you to assess whether it is a matter of "can't" or is it instead a situation where you are wanting to maintain a lifestyle you have established for yourself?

If you are a single parent working to put food on the table there are still options.  Churches, intead of railing against the government should be helping with this issue: creating affordable, perhaps even free resources for education.  Cooperative arrangements can go a long way in this regard.  Worried about the quality of the home school education?  Do some research.  Home schoolers are taking top honors in contests like spelling bees and are gaining admission to the top schools in the nation.

On the other hand, all of my kids and grandkids have been in the public school system.  If we choose that option we need to acknowledge that it was our own choice.  We need to adequately prepare our kids for what they will encounter there.  And we need to encourage efforts like those of high schoolers who meet at the flag pole for a brief prayer before the day starts.

Let's quit complaining and do something productive about the issue.

6.  Salvation
Oddly, Christians continue to express concern about whether they will go to heaven.  They have read the book.  Intellectually they know the answers.  Paul told the Ephesians that they cannot earn salvation; it is a gift.  Yet still Christians worry.  We worry about whether we are doing enough.  Even if we aren't concerned about missing heaven, we still are worried that we are not making a sufficient effort for the kingdom. 

It may be that we just don't trust God's promises, but I will suggest that the primary reason for all this concern is that we really are living our lives with one foot in the kingdom of God and the other foot in Satan's world.  We have not dedicated our lives to Jesus.  We are spending most of our time here earning a living, increasing our standard of living and trying to keep up with the debt we have created.  Then we worry that we are not doing enough to further the kingdom of God.  Brothers and Sisters, if this is the case, it is time we got serious about being God's army on this earth.  He said we should deny ourselves and daily take up our figurative cross.   It is no wonder we feel guilty if we have not made an effort to live up to his standards.

7.  The Salvation of our Families and Others We Care About.
And we are worried about the salvation of our families.  People we care deeply about do not share our love for God or for his principles.  They may be loving, giving people but they do not give God the credit, nor do they depend on him for their sense of well being.  Maybe we made some mistakes when they were younger or when we first met them. Or perhaps we are uncertain how much to say to them now.  Is there more we could be doing? 

God does require something of us in our relations with other people.  He wants us to love them and to teach them.  He wants us to tell them the good news.  But there our responsibility stops.  God has not asked us to make people obey him or to browbeat them into subission.  Even if we could do so (and likely we cannot), it would not be real.  It would not be in keeping with God's requirement for people to come to him and to follow him of their own free will. 

We are free to grieve over those who have chosen not to follow Jesus.  Jesus wept over the City of Jerusalem.  But, if we are gently teaching and are setting a good example, if we have made the truth clear, we are not to be worried that there is something else we shoud be doing.  The Holy Spirit of God has been charged with leading people to him[14] and we are not to take over his job.

We hear often that the church is losing its kids.  That seems to be true, but I would point out another way to look at it.  The church that is losing its kids is the institutional church - the one you can see, the one that is measured by attendance.  I would question whether Jesus is losing so many of his followers.  I would guess that he never had them in the first place.  Yes they may have been faithful attenders, but I doubt that many of them ever truly gave their lives to Jesus.  My observation is that those young people who have been called by their local church to go outside the church building, to get into the streets, either here or in foreign countries, to tell good news and to help people who need help, keep doing that in the name of the Lord after they grow up.

[2] Romans 3:23
[3] Mark 4:13-14
[4] Exodus 23:9
[5] Psalm 146:9
[6] 1 Timothy 5:9-10
[7] Leviticus 19:9
[8] e.g,: Psalm 82:2-4;, Proverbs 31:8-9; Isaiah 1:17; Isaiah 25:3-5; Isaiah 58:5-7
[9] Matthew 5:39
[10] Matthew 5:44
[11] John 18;10-11
[12] Romans 13:1-7
[13] Mark 16:15-16
[14] Titus 3:5

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Hot showers, angels, and stacks of paper

Thank you Lord for our hot shower.  And thanks to whoever decided it was a good idea to put one in, and to whoever paid for it, and to whoever installed it in this so dusty place.  Some days the shower is the highlight of the day.  As you walk away from washing your hands, they get dusty again.  The kitchen counter that was just wiped down will be dusty again well before the next meal.  I suppose it will be different as the year goes on and we move into the rainy season.  Who knows what that will hold.

If that sounds like a complaint, it is not intended that way. We are having a good time most days.  Charlene has volunteered to teach Roberta's kindergarten class for a few days, and this morning I got the part of the angel in the Balaam story.  Don't laugh, it's better than the donkey part.  I got to wave my "fiery" sword around and look awfully threatening.  Not many lines and I only messed up one of them.  It was more fun than playing the Earl of Kent in King Lear all those years ago at Harding University.

Came home after and did the big "paper sort."  You see we pile up all kinds of papers, including those to be filed and those we need to do something with (like pay a bill).  Then every once in a while, when there is nothing else pressing, I will go through it all, sort it out, and put the various stacks in different places,  On a good day I will finish off the ones we need to do something about.  Today was one of those days, but it still one of my least favourite jobs.  And tomorrow is the day (one day a week) that we get mail and it starts all over again.

Sounds like I am complaining again, but I'm really not.  How was your day?