Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

Political Solutions

The Lord foils the plans of the nations; he thwarts the purposes of the peoples. But the plans of the Lord stand firm forever, the purposes of his heart through all generations. Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord, the people he chose for his inheritance.  –Psalm 33:10-12*

The November midterm elections will soon be here and the political theater being played out in the media is growing more intense by the day. We live in an age of great political division. Many national leaders and prominent politicians think that they have all the answers, but they’re wrong. As the above passage from Psalm 33 notes, “The Lord foils the plans of the nations.” God remains in charge. There are no political solutions to America’s woes.  What we need is more Jesus!

Here in America, those on the political right condemn the activities of the political left. Those on the left condemn the right.  We hear and see it every day.  “Our way is best for the American people.” “They’re weak on defense.” “They trample on the Constitution.” “They only know how to tax and spend.”  “Their policies are destroying the environment.” “Their policies are destroying the economy.”  Politics pits friend against friend, men against women, husbands against wives, parents against children, nation against nation, religion against religion, and Christian against Christian.  The latter saddens me deeply—it just shouldn’t be. Christians should be kind to everyone, especially fellow believers. The Apostle Paul tells us:

“There is neither Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female, (insert Republican or Democrat), but we are one in Christ Jesus.”  Galatians 3:28

Jesus told Pontius Pilate in John 18:36, “My kingdom is not of this world.” This wisdom reminds all Christians that we, including politicians, answer to a higher authority than the government or political leaders.  In 1 Kings 22, the story is told of the time the King of Israel had to decide whether or not to go to war against Syria. Jehoshaphat, the King of Judah, advised his fellow ruler, “First seek the counsel of the Lord” before making a decision,” (verse 5). This is sound advice that Christians, and especially Christian politicians, would do well to take to heart. Seek God’s guidance before seeking the guidance of man.  We should also note Matthew 5:16, “…let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” Christians should be the living face and hands of Christ to the world.

God “makes nations great, and He destroys them; He enlarges nations, and leads them away,” (Job 12:23). Political leaders rule because God allows them to, “for there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God,” (Romans 13:1b). God can upset human plans, but no one can thwart His plans or purpose. God loves the world and sent His only begotten Son to suffer and die to atone for the sins of every person of every political ilk.

Pastor Eugene Cho is CEO of Bread for the World, a non-partisan, Christian advocacy organization based in the USA. I highly recommend an article he penned a decade ago titled, “The 10 Commandments of Engaging Politics.” It contains a wealth of sound advice for Christians today as we approach the November elections. His article is available at this safe link:

Give praise to the Lord, proclaim his name; make known among the nations what he has done. Sing to him, sing praise to him; tell of all his wonderful acts. Glory in his holy name; let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice. Look to the Lord and his strength; seek his face always.  –Psalm 105:1-4

*All Bible quotes are NIV.

Prayer: the Greater Work

Prayer

Prayer does not equip us for greater works— prayer is the greater work. Yet we think of prayer as some commonsense exercise of our higher powers that simply prepares us for God’s work. In the teachings of Jesus Christ, prayer is the working of the miracle of redemption in me, which produces the miracle of redemption in others, through the power of God. The way fruit remains firm is through prayer, but remember that it is prayer based on the agony of Christ in redemption, not on my own agony. We must go to God as His child, because only a child gets his prayers answered; a “wise” man does not.  –Oswald Chambers

As if this time of pandemic isn’t bad enough, one can hardly look at the news without seeing a “peaceful” protest turned violent in another one of our cities. The Rev. Canon Phil Ashley of the American Anglican Council has explained the situation like this. We face a culture that is “…increasingly shaped by the forces of aggressive secularism, moral relativism, religious pluralism, individual autonomy and a Utopian hope in secular authority.” As more and more Americans push God out of their lives, social, cultural and spiritual chaos is filling the vacuum. When a country or society pushes God out, it opens the door for the enemy to come in.

It’s easy to despair in situations such as this, but hopelessness is not a state of mind Christians should possess.  The same Jesus who calmed the storm by saying “Peace, be still” on the Sea of Galilee is in control of our lives today. Hebrews 12:28-29 says we live in an unshakable kingdom: “Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.” 

Christians have nothing to fear in the midst of today’s chaos.  Our kingdom is unshakable. As the late Rev. Dr. Billy Graham said, “I’ve read the last page of the Bible. It’s all going to turn out all right.” It doesn’t matter whether you believe “Black Lives Matter,” or “Blue Lives Matter,” or “All Lives Matter.” These are all summed up in two words, “Jesus Matters.” Politicians will tell you that we need this or that, but all we need is Jesus. Now is the time for Christians to focus on the greater work and pray to almighty God for the revival of our nation, while we share our faith with those we encounter who have lost all hope.  

A Prayer for the Nation

Lord God, we have not been faithful people in these recent times. As a result, our peaceful and quiet nation has turned into a chaotic one. So many bad things are happening all around because we have given the enemy a footing over our lives and nation. O heavenly Father, turn our hearts towards you. Help us to live peaceful and quiet lives. Let our leaders advocate for peace and love instead of chaos. May the words that come from their mouths be words that edify the nation. May we find peace within our borders. In Jesus’ name, I believe and pray, Amen.

A Heart of Stone

Heart of Stone

Political discourse in America today has become vitriolic — constant lying, name-calling, bickering, accusations and spewing pent up anger. Indeed it has gotten so bad that even the president has joined the fray.  Social media outlets like Twitter, Instagram and Facebook only serve to exacerbate the situation, as they have become bully pulpits for angry politicians and journalists.  It’s gotten to the point where I dread looking at social media or reading/listening to the news, as there is a paucity of objective discussion and reporting everywhere. Personal civility and decorum in America is rapidly declining, particularly in the political realm.  

           Gracious words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.                                           –Proverbs 16:24*

 Words are like bullets—once they’re let fly there’s no taking them back. The Epistle of James calls the tongue “a restless evil, full of deadly poison” (James 3:8).  By using this  strong comparison, James emphasizes that Christians must be mindful of the colossal power of what proceeds from their mouths.  The epistle goes on to note the inconsistency of praising God with one breath and cursing people made in God’s image with the next (vv. 9–10). Words can demean and destroy.

When you have learned to walk in the light of the Lord, bitterness and contention are impossible.”  —Oswald Chambers

This leads me to ask the question, “How radically would America change if suddenly all the politicians who profess to be Christians started behaving like Christ followers, becoming beacons of light in the dark political landscape?”

In January 2017, the New York Times reported that 91 percent of the new Congress identified as Christian.1 The Times went on to say that this figure was only slightly less than the 95 percent reported in 1961. Allmost all US presidents, including President Trump, have been Christians according to Pew Research.2

Christianity isn’t a label or tag; it’s a life, guided by the Holy Spirit, where an individual endeavors to be Christ-like in thoughts, words and deeds.  Inevitably, all Christians transgress and fall short of the glory of God along the way, but striving towards the ultimate goal of Christ-likeness remains a constant.

Restoration and transformation are two recurring themes in the Book of Ezekiel. Restoration is displayed in God saving the people of Israel from bad shepherds, giving them societal safety, reuniting tribes, and God’s children being restored to a right relationship with Him.  God’s ultimate restoration of his people is exemplified by Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. 

On the other hand, Ezekiel describes transformation as a personal, spiritual experience. To the ancient Hebrews, the heart was the locus of a person’s being, their mental processes, emotions and personal will. The Miriam Webster Dictionary defines hard-hearted as, “having or showing no kindness or sympathy for other people.”  In the passage from Ezekiel 36 below, evidence of spiritual transformation in God’s children is the softening of their hearts. 

I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.  —Ezekiel 36:26-27

One of those laws referred to in the Ezekiel passage is, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. (Deuteronomy 6:5). Jesus quotes this verse in Mark 30:5, after being asked, “What is the greatest commandment?” In the next verse, Mark 30:6, Jesus adds to this, “Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these.”   

This brings me back to politics.  Christians who also happen to be politicians don’t get a free pass when it comes to loving their neighbors.  Christian politicians contributing to the Capitol Hill vitriol need to take a long look in the mirror and ask themselves whether their actions glorify God. Are they being patient, humble, pure and obedient to God?

In Colossians 3:8, Paul tells us to put away anger, wrath, and malice; instead, he says in verse 12, we must, “…put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering.”  This is the model Christ gave his followers through many examples in his own life; it’s the model all Christians should strive to adhere to in their actions towards believers and nonbelievers alike.

Christian politicians should display a Christ-like heart—Ezekiel’s “heart of flesh.”  Christians behaving like Christ can bring real healing transformation. Around 312 A.D, during the reign of Emperor Constantine, Rome recognized Christianity as a legal religion.   This remarkable feat, going from persecuted underground church to a legal religion, recognized by the Empire, was accomplished not by violent revolution, but through years of adhering to the tenets of the faith while suffering terrible persecution.

It was not political or military power that ultimately convinced Rome to accept Christianity, but the perseverance and faithfulness to Christ’s teachings by the early Christians. The tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, and longsuffering displayed by Christians prevailed over Roman cruelty and oppression. American politicians could achieve a lot by following their example.

 Most merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone. We have not loved you with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We are truly sorry and we humbly repent. For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ, have mercy on us and forgive us; that we may delight in your will, and walk in your ways, to the glory of your Name. Amen.  —from an Anglican Prayer of Confession

 1 https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/03/us/politics/congress-religion-christians.html

2 https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/01/20/almost-all-presidents-have-been-christians/

* All Bible quotes are taken from the NIV Bible.

 

Taming the Tongue

Politician yelling cartoon

Note:  all Bible quotes are taken from the NIV.

The single most important rule for Christians who are public figures is “behave like Christians.” This is especially true for elected officials, of whom former slave and abolitionist Frederick Douglass once said, “Between the Christianity of this land and the Christianity of Christ, I recognize the widest possible difference.” Douglass was talking about the institution of slavery in America, but his words still ring true when it comes to American politics today.

Christianity is damaged when politicians claiming to be Christians don’t act like it. Probably the worst examples are ad hominem attacks on political opponents.  Christian politicians would do well to stick to criticizing their opponents’ policies and dispense with character assassination.

Christian politicians needn’t look far for advice; they can simply open their Bibles. Jesus told Pontius Pilate in John 18:36, “My kingdom is not of this world.” This is great wisdom reminding all Christians that we (including politicians) answer to a higher authority.  In 1 Kings 22, the story is told of the time the king of Israel had to decide whether or not to go to war against Syria. Jehoshaphat, the king of Judah, advised his fellow ruler, “First seek the counsel of the Lord” before making a decision (verse 5). This is sound advice that Christian politicians would do well to take to heart. Seek God’s guidance before seeking the guidance of man.  They should also note Matthew 5:16, “…let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”

Many politicians seem to blurt out whatever comes to mind at the moment, without thinking things through. Then they often have to “walk back” their comments, leaving themselves open to criticism of being flip-floppers, liars racists and worse.  One of my former U.S. Army battalion commanders liked to remind his officers, “Engage your brain before operating your mouth.”

Ecclesiastes 5:2-3 says it even better: “Do not be quick with your mouth, do not be hasty in your heart to utter anything before God.  God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few. A dream comes when there are many cares, and many words mark the speech of a fool.”

Many politicians are too quick to become angry at comments from their opponents.  Proverbs 12:16 says, “Fools show their annoyance at once, but the prudent overlook an insult.”  Don’t be thin skinned!  Proverbs 17:27 says, “The one who has knowledge uses words with restraint, and whoever has understanding is even-tempered.”

I offer all politicians a final word of advice from Ecclesiastes 12:13-14 “Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil.” Politicians may do as they please for now, but there will ultimately be a day of reckoning.

 

 

Transformed not Conformed

Parthenon

The Parthenon (Temple of Athena) Athens, Greece

The lines between right and wrong are growing increasingly blurry in American society today.  Modern culture encourages us to be more accepting and inclusive. Our elected officials have passed many laws at the national, state and local levels that conflict with a Christian world view. Americans are bombarded with modern culture images, messages and social mores in the broadcast, cable, print and web news sites, as well as on the ever-increasing social media and other Internet websites.   

Despite the rapid social changes and pressures to conform, for matters of Christian faith and living the deciding question remains “what does the Bible say?”  When the Apostle Paul and Silas visited the city of Berea on a missionary journey, Paul preached the Gospel in the local synagogue, where it was received with great enthusiasm. Acts 17: 11 (NIV) says that the Berean Jews “…received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.” The Bereans recognized the authority of the Scriptures. Acts 17 goes on to tell us that as a result of Paul’s preaching there, many Berean Jews believed, as well as many prominent Greek women and men.

My wife and I are currently participating in a small group study examining the collision of Christian, Jewish, Roman and Hellenistic cultures during the ministry of the Apostle Paul.  Hellenistic culture was the pervasive Greek culture that influenced the entire Mediterranean region during Paul’s time.

Paul’s journeys led him to Corinth, a flourishing, modern Roman colony that Julius Caesar had intentionally populated with second rate Roman citizens, most of whom had failed in life while living in Rome. In Paul’s day, the city was wicked and corrupt, filled with prostitutes, crooks, swindlers and lowlifes. Corinth had a Jewish synagogue and Paul was eager to share the Gospel there.

Paul arrived in Corinth with only the possessions he was carrying.  Shortly after arriving, he met a Jewish, Christian married couple named Priscilla and Aquila. Like Paul, they were tentmakers by trade and they owned a business in Corinth.  They took Paul into their business and invited him to live in their home, where Corinth’s first house church was established. 

Paul frequented the synagogue in Corinth, but met with much resistance from the Jewish leaders.  Growing weary of Paul’s message, these leaders eventually drug him before the local Roman proconsul Gallio in AD 51 and brought a series of charges against him. When Gallio learned that the dispute was about Jewish law and that Paul had not violated any Roman laws, he refused to judge the case and told the Jewish leaders to settle the matter themselves. Paul’s attempt to convert the Corinthian Jews failed.

After this, Paul turned away from the Jews in Corinth and took his message to the local gentiles.  Subsequently, many converted to the faith.  These converts included a high-level Corinthian leader named Erastus. The NIV translation of Paul’s epistle to the Romans refers to him as the “Director of Public Work” in Corinth. After Paul’s eventual departure from Corinth, he wrote to the Corinthian church, telling them that their bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6:19). What a concept for people surrounded by pagan shrines and magnificent Greek and Roman temples!

Paul also journeyed to Athens hoping to spread the Gospel.  Athens was the center of Hellenistic culture, a city full of temples and idols.  There Paul had the opportunity to preach to the Areopagite Council (or Areopagus), a powerful, court-like body made up of Athenian aristocrats.  Despite Paul’s immense knowledge of the Scriptures and his skills in persuasive speaking, he failed to persuade the Areopagus. Paul failed to establish a church in Athens and departed the city in disappointment. 

Like Paul, Christians today will not always succeed against the tide of negative cultural change and influences, but they can remain steadfast in their beliefs without succumbing to cultural pressures. Paul succeeded in forming churches in some places and failed in others, but his approach was always based upon the same foundation—a deep knowledge of the scriptures; reliance upon the guidance of the Holy Spirit; and living in a manner that glorified Christ.

As Christians living in modern American society, we can learn a lot from Paul. We live in a culture filled with idols—people or objects we value more than God.  We may not literally bow down to these idols, but we worship them all the same.  Rather than existing as statues and shrines, today’s idols are more likely to adorn the covers of gossip and fashion magazines, make movies, play professional sports, or work in politics, i.e. modern cults of personality.  Some people idolize inanimate objects like money, expensive cars, exquisite homes, extravagant vacations, or their jobs. Others make idols of wealth, drugs, alcohol, cell phones, social media or Internet porn. I shudder to think what negative effects the advent of the sex robots will have on our culture. 

Today, in a world that’s filled with idols, Paul’s warning to the church in Rome is more relevant than ever:

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.  Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good,  pleasing and perfect will.  Romans 12:2 (NIV)

J.B. Phillips’s, author of the bestselling book Your God is Too Small, paraphrases Romans 12:2 like this: “Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mould, but let God re-mould your minds from within, so that you may prove in practice that the plan of God for you is good, meets all his demands and moves towards the goal of true maturity”

Christians must let God’s spirit shape their lives, not the influences of modern culture. Let Colossians 3:12 (NIV) be your guide:

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved,  clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.

Christians in the early Church influenced the culture around them because they loved one another and cared for the sick, the homeless, orphans, widows, lepers and other disenfranchised members of society.  The conversion of Rome to Christianity didn’t occur through power and intimidation, but through weakness and self-sacrifice. Think about these words from Paul:

That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults,in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties.  For when I am weak, then I am strong. 2 Corinthians 12:10 (NIV)

Christians in America cannot stem the tide of the negative cultural influences that constantly collide with our lives and Christian world view, but we can focus on the presence of God’s Holy Spirit to shape our hearts and minds. In this politically charged era, we still have certain obligations to our laws and government that we must adhere to as the price for living in this great nation; but as  Jesus said, we must “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, and render unto God what is God’s.”  We must obey the laws of the land and work to change those laws when necessary, but we must not allow our Christian beliefs to be conformed to modern culture. In every situation, remember to ask, “What does the Bible say?”

 

 

Presidential Candidates Must Seek Wisdom

Trump - Clinton  credit NY Post

Donald Trump (L) and Hillary Clinton (R)

(Photo credit:  The New York Post)

The Democrats and Republicans have chosen their presidential candidates and, no surprise, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump both profess they are Christians.

Clinton attended a town hall meeting in Knoxville, Tn. on January 25, 2016.  The New York Times quoted her saying, “I am a person of faith. I am a Christian. I am a Methodist. I have been raised Methodist.” 

The Religion News Service (RNS) quoted Donald Trump on June 25, 2016 saying he is a “Presbyterian and Protestant,” and a “Sunday church person.”  During an interview in June, Focus on the Family founder James Dobson, who knows Trump, called him a “born again Christian.” 

This is an open letter to both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.  Let me begin by suggesting the single most important rule for Christians who are public figures—especially politicians—is they need to behave like Christians. Former slave and abolitionist Frederick Douglass once said, “Between the Christianity of this land and the Christianity of Christ, I recognize the widest possible difference.” Douglass was speaking of the institution of slavery in America, but his words still ring true when it comes to American politics today.

Christianity gets a bad rap when people claiming to be Christians don’t act like it.  Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Trump, you have labeled yourselves Christians. The way you behave as candidates will reflect on all Christians.  Frankly, neither of you has behaved well thus far.  You’re both given to name-calling and mud-slinging that reflects poorly on your character and your faith.  Please stick to criticism of your opponent’s policies and dispense with character assassination.

Presidents and presidential candidates must seek wisdom.  As Christians, you needn’t look far; just open the Bible. Jesus told Pontius Pilate, “My kingdom is not of this earth.”  This is great wisdom. Even if elected president, as Christians you still have a higher authority.

1Kings, chapter 22 describes a time when the King of Israel had to decide whether or not to go to war with Syria. Jehoshaphat, the King of Judah, advised him, “Inquire first for the word of the Lord” before making a decision.  Sound advice you should take to heart!  Seek God’s guidance before seeking the guidance of man.  You should also note Matthew, chapter 5, “…let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”

For Mr. Trump, sir, you seem to have a difficult time keeping your mouth shut.  You frequently blurt out opinions and ideas before thinking them fully through.  Then you have to “walk them back” as the media calls it, leaving yourself open to criticism of being a flip-flopper. 

One of my old Army battalion commanders liked to remind his officers, “Engage your brain before operating your mouth.”   Ecclesiastes, chapter 5 says it even better: “Be not rash with your mouth, nor let your heart be hasty to utter a word before God, for God is in heaven and you are on earth. Therefore let your words be few.  For a dream comes with much business, and a fool’s voice with many words.”   

Also, Mr. Trump, you anger quickly at comments from your opponents.  Proverbs, chapter 12 says, “The vexation of a fool is known at once, but the prudent ignores an insult.”  Proverbs, chapter 17 says, “Whoever restrains his words has knowledge, and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding.”  Don’t take your opponent’s words personally and become angry.  Instead, keep a cool head and explain clearly to the American people why you disagree with your opponent’s assertions. Otherwise you end up looking like a spoiled, rich brat.

This is for you Mrs. Clinton. You appear to have difficulty telling the truth.  This business about your unauthorized, personal email server when you were the U.S. Secretary of State has made you look very untrustworthy, as many national polls indicate. Your story has changed so many times that it I actually feel sorry for you when I see yet another version of your weak explanations. Ecclesiastes, chapter 5 says, Let not your mouth lead you into sin, and do not say before the messenger that it was a mistake.”  It’s time to admit you were wrong and ask the American public for forgiveness. We Americans tend to be very tolerant and forgiving to those who show genuine contrition.

Then there’s your problem with a string of seemingly shady deals for personal financial gain.  From receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars in speaking fees from Wall Street banks to receiving hundreds of millions of dollars pumped into the Clinton Foundation by individual investors and foreign entities seeking favors when you were the Secretary of State. By all appearances you value money over honesty and integrity.  Ecclesiastes, chapter 5 says, “He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves wealth with his income.” 1 Timothy, chapter 6 says, “…the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.”  Steer clear of evil Mrs. Clinton.  

In closing, I offer both candidates a final word of advice from Ecclesiastes, chapter 12:  “Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.  For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.” As candidates and, if elected, as president you must answer to a higher authority.  You can do as you please for now, but your Christian faith promises there will be a day of reckoning. How will you rate?

Note:  All Bible quotes were taken from the English Standard Version (ESV).

 

Radical Christianity

Jesus Calms the Storm

And Jesus awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea,

“Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm.

                                                                           —Mark 4:39*

Today it is nearly impossible to read a newspaper or watch a TV newscast without hearing something about “radical Islam.” The images of beheadings, torture, human rights abuses of women and the ethnic cleansing of Christians and other religious minorities send chills down one’s spine.

Our political leaders can’t agree on a proper response to radical Islam, but they all seem to agree that doing nothing is not a viable option. Many push for military action—even all out war. Others see diplomacy as the answer.  I believe the only effective response to radical Islam is radical Christianity.

History has shown that nothing can be more effective than Christianity in its purest form. It was radical Christianity that survived by hiding in the catacombs beneath Rome and slowly emerged to peacefully convert it from a pagan empire to a nation united under the banner of Jesus Christ. It was radical Christianity that led a small group of religiously oppressed pilgrims to establish a colony near Plymouth Rock.

Today it is radical Christianity that leads missionaries to leave the comforts of life in America to spread the Gospel in places where they face persecution and even death. It drives some men and women to refuse to renounce their faith in Christ, even if it means being tortured or killed.

Radical Christianity can counter radical Islam. What could be more radical than a religion that professes God became incarnate in human flesh, born of a virgin for the sole purpose of suffering a hideous death to set mankind free from sin?

For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. —Romans 5: 7-8

What could be more radical than a religion that professes that there are no “good” people; that all men have sinned and fall short in the eyes of God; that it is impossible to earn one’s way into heaven?

…as it is written, “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” —Roman: 7-8

What could be more radical than a religion that professes that salvation and eternal life are given freely by God to those who accept Jesus as their personal savior, profess that He is the son of God, believe that he died for the forgiveness of their sins and rose from the dead, and ask him into their lives?

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. —Ephesians 2: 8-9  

A U.S. State Department spokesperson Marie Harf recently came under intense criticism when she suggested one way to counter Islamic terrorism was through helping terrorists find jobs. She went on to suggest that “We can’t kill our way out of a way.” Now perhaps this is a bit simplistic, but Jesus’ radicalism turns logic on its head when he says:

You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.   —Matthew 5:43-45

While our elected officials seek various solutions for curbing radical Islam, radical Christians can follow Christ’s example and pray for our enemies. Adopt a Terrorist for Prayer is a radical Christian approach to countering radical Islam (www.atfp.org) through prayer. The organization’s website explains the approach as follows:

The Christian Response: Where is the Christian response to terrorism? If the struggle against violence done in the name of Islam is primarily spiritual, then defeating it requires a spiritual response.

Overcoming Fear: Terrorism inspires fear. According to Jesus, the antidote to fear is love. When we hate, we are reactive victims. When we love we have the initiative.  Love for country helps soldiers to risk their lives. Love for children enables parents to discipline them without being intimidated. Love for us took Jesus to the cross. Love for enemies will give courage to face, overcome, and transform them and the environment that breeds them.

Historical Precedent: Historically, Stephen was the first fatality in terrorism directed against Jesus’ followers. As Stephen died from stoning, he prayed, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” Later, Paul, who had supervised Stephen’s stoning, met Jesus in a vision and repented. Can we pray today like Stephen prayed then? Would Paul have repented if Stephen hadn’t prayed?

Are you willing to get radical for Christ? Visit the ATFP website and adopt a terrorist for prayer.

*All Bible quotes are taken from the English Standard Version   

Out of Control

Out of Control

Read Psalm 42

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.   —John 14:27 (NIV)

Watching the evening news these days can be depressing.  In fact, it’s getting so bad that some people try to hide themselves from what is going on around them.  Recently I’ve heard several people say they no longer watch the news because they just can’t stand hearing about all of the problems in this world. Just look at what’s happening today!

  • NASA recently reported its scientists have determined that a massive solar storm in 2012, which narrowly missed making contact with Earth’s atmosphere, had the potential to radically alter life on our planet. A direct hit would have disabled nearly every satellite in orbit and crippled the global electric power grid.  According to NASA, we would still be “picking up the pieces” some two years later.  The National Academy of Sciences estimated, “the total economic impact could exceed $2 trillion or 20 times greater than the costs of a Hurricane Katrina.”
  • Things are heating up in the Ring of Fire region around the Pacific Rim. New volcanic activity and earthquakes are making headlines weekly. With every undersea earthquake comes a tsunami panic.  Doomsday prophets warn of a gigantic volcanic eruption that could fill the planet’s entire atmosphere with ash and darken the skies, causing an ice age.  Others warn of global warming and climate change, while still others are raising an alarm about global cooling.  What is one to make of it all?
  • Ukraine and Russia are on the brink of an all out war that could threaten stability throughout Eastern Europe and beyond. A Malaysian airliner was recently shot down by a surface-to-air missile over Ukraine, killing all onboard.  Russia and Ukraine blame each other for the mishap.  Meanwhile, there is talk of a second Cold War between Russia and NATO.
  • The so-called Arab Spring uprisings, which some dreamers believed would bring a new era of peace and freedom to the people of the Middle East and North Africa, has backfired. Egypt, Libya and Syria are on the verge of implosion and total chaos. Terrorist activity in Syria is spilling across the border with Turkey, a NATO member, threatening to drag all of NATO into the fray.
  • In Iraq, a hitherto little known group of Sunni Muslim militants called ISIS is conducting a rebellion that has captured large swaths of the country and threatens to collapse the government, reversing all of the gains paid for with American blood and treasure for over a decade. Christians there are increasingly being persecuted by ISIS.  The growing abuse of Christians is not unique to Iraq, however. Believers are under fire in Egypt, Sudan, Libya, Syria, Pakistan, India, Vietnam and China just to name a few places.  Some would even argue there is an anti-Christian movement afoot here in the United States, where it sometimes seems that Christians are the only unprotected group in our society.
  • The Israeli military has moved in force into its semi-autonomous Gaza Strip territory in response to months of rockets fired by Palestinians at Israeli cities. As always, security problems in Israel have the potential to rapidly blossom into larger problems extending beyond her borders.
  • China and Japan are rattling their sabers over a territorial dispute involving the Senkaku Islands, an uninhabited chain in the East China Sea. The islands are surrounded by rich fishing waters and have significant natural gas deposits.  The current dispute reaches back to World War II.  China, Japan and the United States have all controlled the Senkaku Islands at various times in history.  The United States, which is heavily in debt to China and bound by treaty to assist in the defense of Japan, finds itself between a rock and a hard place in this argument.
  • Speaking of debt, the U.S. economy is in horrible condition as a result of decades of uncontrolled borrowing and spending by federal legislators. Jobless rates across the nation are staggering. People desperately seeking work find themselves frustrated and disillusioned.  With a rapidly shrinking middle class, America is quickly becoming a nation of haves and have-nots.  There is growing talk of a total economic collapse that could make the Great Depression look like a walk in the park.

News like this has the potential to make anyone depressed. It sometimes appears as if the world is increasingly growing out of control—but it isn’t.  It only seems out of control to those suffering from the delusion they can control it.  Many politicians and businessmen are constantly planning and scheming, trying to make things go their way. Sometimes it seems as if they’re succeeding, but their victories are only illusions.

In fact, God has been in control all along.  He is in control now and always will be. As Hebrews 13:8 reminds us, He is the same “yesterday, today and forever.”  The Bible is filled with examples where God snatches victory from what appears to be certain defeat.

  • Moses, the adopted child of Pharaoh’s daughter, was chosen by God to lead the Hebrew people from bondage in Egypt.
  • As a youth, David the shepherd boy overcame the fearsome Philistine giant Goliath in direct combat, thereby saving the children of Israel from certain defeat.
  • While captives in Babylon, the children of Israel were freed and allowed to return to their land by Cyrus the Great, the King of Persia, after his armies conquered Babylon.
  • Saul, the greatest persecutor of the Jews in Jesus’ time, was described to Ananias by Jesus as God’s “chosen vessel” (Acts 9). Saul the great persecutor of Christians became history’s greatest evangelist.
  • From the ashes of the Holocaust the modern Jewish nation of Israel arose.
  • And most significantly, Jesus overcame a brutal death on the cross to rise from the dead as the Savior of all mankind.

Christians needn’t worry when they hear bad news.  God has promised, “I will never leave you” (Hebrews 13).  When standing in the midst of chaos, remember that He is in control.

My assurance is to be built upon God’s assurance to me. God says, “I will never leave you,” so that then I may boldly say, ’The Lord is my helper; I will not fear’ ” (Hebrews 13:5-6, NIV). In other words, I will not be obsessed with apprehension. This does not mean that I will not be tempted to fear, but I will remember God’s words of assurance. I will be full of courage, like a child who strives to reach the standard his father has set for him.   The faith of many people begins to falter when apprehensions enter their thinking, and they forget the meaning of God’s assurance— they forget to take a deep spiritual breath. The only way to remove the fear from our lives is to listen to God’s assurance to us.  —Oswald Chambers

“Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father, who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace, comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word.”  —2 Thessalonians 3:16-17 (NIV)

Twila Paris – God is in Control  (Click to listen)

Peace through Weakness

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USS Dwight D. Eisenhower, CVN-69

As someone who served 24 years in the military, I naturally favor a strong national defense.  But I have to ask, just how much defense is enough?  Practically every day we hear one politician or another warning there’s not enough money for Obamacare, Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, education, job creation and a host of other programs.  Even worse, there’s not enough money to help feed hungry Americans, so many children go to bed hungry every night.

The popular TV comedian Stephen Colbert, who is also an outspoken Christian, said of America, “If this is going to be a Christian nation that doesn’t help the poor, either we have to pretend that Jesus was just as selfish as we are, or we’ve got to acknowledge that He commanded us to love the poor and serve the needy without condition and then admit that we just don’t want to do it.”  Among the needy I include those who lack the health care, education and jobs that are essential to growing self-sufficient, productive citizens.

Despite our country’s perilous economic condition, some politicians wail and moan that we need to spend more on defense.  They warn that China is going to overtake us in military capacity.  Iran and Syria are threats to the world.  North Korea has the ability to strike America’s west coast with a nuclear missile. And the list goes on!  These are the talking points of the war hawks—and the hawks aren’t limited to those on the political right.

Many liberal politicians have joined the war hawk ranks on the premise that growing the defense industry can help bring jobs to their respective districts.  Perhaps that’s true, but manufacturing televisions or a host of other products that are no longer made in America would also create jobs.

According to the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, in 2012 (the last year for which full records are available), the United States spent 4.12 percent of its GDP ($645.7 billion) on defense.  China spent 1.24 percent ($102.4 billion).  In fact, the United States outspent all Asian countries combined, which had a total defense expenditure of $314.9 billion, less than half of America’s total.  In 2012, the United States accounted for 41 percent of global defense spending.  How much is enough?

“Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies in the final sense a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.”                                                                                                                                                           —Dwight D. Eisenhower

I believe we need a strong national defense, but we have to balance defense with domestic needs.  If we can’t maintain a healthy, well educated, well nourished and self-sufficient population, then what is left to defend?

America is truly threatened from many directions, but the greatest threats stem from internal problems, not foreign countries or transnational groups.  Perhaps the biggest threat is our ignorance of history.  American society seems to have lost site of a key historical fact—the farther a nation separates itself from God, the more imperiled it becomes.

The Bible is full of examples validating this.  Those who don’t care to read the Bible should try reading Edward Gibbon’s “Decline and fall of the Roman Empire.”  The similarities between Rome’s decline and what is occurring in America today are astonishing.  (Sharie Pyke comments on this topic in an informative piece titled, “Is America like Rome in decline.”  http://goo.gl/7BgZFS)

“God is present in the places where our fears live.”   —Randy Kilgore, Our Daily Bread

Just as our nation is imperiled by pulling away from God, the more we humble ourselves before God the stronger we become.  1 Peter 5:6-7 says, “6Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, 7casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.” (ESV)

Chapters 6 and 7 of the book of Judges provide a wonderful example of this. The Midianite people had impoverished the land of Israel through constant raids and pillaging of the countryside.  God chose Gideon to defeat the Midianites at a time when they were encamped in the land of Israel with a large Army.  From across the land, Gideon raised a great Army to defeat them.  But God had other plans.

God knew that Gideon’s army would overwhelm the Midianites, increasing their confidence in their own abilities to take care of themselves.   God wanted to teach Gideon’s followers to trust in Him, not in their own abilities.  He had Gideon select 300 of his best men and instructed him to have them surround the Midianite encampment.  With these 300 men and through a clever ruse God enabled Gideon to crush the Midianite force.  God delivers strength from our weakness.

I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.  —Philippians 4:13 (ESV)

Just as God wanted the Children of Israel to trust in him, he also wants us as individuals to trust in him. The law given under the Mosaic Covenant does not consider the moral weaknesses or infirmities of humans in their natural, fallen condition.  God’s law is absolute, demanding absolute morality and obedience before Him.  The law accepts no excuses.  When a person comes to this realization, his life seems an inescapable, fatal tragedy.

St. Paul describes this in Romans 7:9, “I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died.”  (ESV)  This is the powerful conviction of sin—a person coming to grips with his or her absolute weakness and inability to please God through works.  The cross of Christ is just a foolish notion to anyone who has never come to this realization. To believers, however, the cross is the only logical remedy for sin.

“A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual doom.”  —Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Likewise, the cross of Christ is a foolish notion to anyone who believes our nation can prosper without God. Jesus doesn’t command us to have a strong national defense, but in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), he does say He will bless us if we are merciful, pure in heart, peacemakers, and hungry and thirsty for righteousness.  He also tells us to give to the needy, love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us.

The best form of national defense is unquestioning trust in God.  God will allow us to push him away from our government, schools, businesses, social organizations, sports teams, televisions, movies, homes and lives.  Unfortunately, those pushing God away do not understand that every vacuum created by God’s departure is filled by something less desirable.

Winning Isn’t the Goal

Wrestling

“Defenders of the faith are inclined to be bitter until they learn to walk in the light of the Lord. When you have learned to walk in the light of the Lord, bitterness and contention are impossible.” —Oswald Chambers

If maintenance on a house is neglected for years, the house eventually becomes derelict.  Once a house has been neglected for too long, the owner is faced with two choices: save it by performing a costly renovation or simply demolish it and haul away the rubble.

Saving a house through renovation requires a sizeable investment of time, patience, and tender loving care—not to mention the monetary investment. Demolition, on the other hand, is the easiest path.  It simply requires that the house be vacated and demolished.  It is faster than renovation and usually much cheaper, but in the end there is no shelter remaining.

According to my unscientific observations, in many ways modern Christianity is like a house that has become derelict. The greatest threats to this house (the Church) come not from the outside, but from the inside where in many places the foundation is crumbling and the framework is rotting.  Just like a real house, repairing the damage the Church has suffered in recent years, much of it self-inflicted, will take a large amount of time, patience and tender loving care.  The Church today needs a major renovation.

Many Christians are disturbed, even outraged by social changes they perceive as threats to their religion.  Some of the most controversial perceived threats are the gay marriage movement, the “pro choice” abortion rights movement, prohibitions on prayer in public schools and prohibitions on the display of the Ten Commandments and other religious symbols on public property. There are many, many other examples, but these four seem to frequently make the news.

Some Christians have become activists against these perceived threats. While activism aimed at keeping the government from encroaching on the freedom of religion is certainly appropriate, Christians must be careful to follow in Christ’s footsteps and show love to those who disagree with them and even to those who might hate them!

Some Christian activists exude anger and hate, contrary to Christ’s teachings. In isolated instances, there has even been violence and threats of violence. Extreme examples of activism, like that displayed by the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas, have made national headlines and are harmful to Christianity as a whole.  Members of this church have adopted a radical anti-gay stance that includes picketing funerals carrying signs declaring “God hates fags.”  The church’s website claims its members have participated in over 50 thousand pickets.

While the Westboro example is extreme, there are many other examples where Christian churches have become embroiled in nasty political battles. Rather than worrying about perceived threats from the outside, Christians would benefit more from focusing on the real threats from within the church.  Indeed, we see that much of the hate and anger exuded by some Christians today is directed towards fellow believers, as denominational infighting is ripping many mainstream denominations apart. How can we expect the lost to listen to us when they see the shameful behavior Christians display towards one another?  How can we hope to convince them we offer a better way?

In Revelation 2:3-4 (NIV), Jesus admonished the church in Ephesus for “having left your first love,” indicating the church needed to get back to the basics.  This ties in directly with Colossians 3:8 (NIV), where St. Paul tells us to put away anger, wrath, and malice; instead, he says in verse 12, we must, “…put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering.”  This is the model Christ gave his followers through many examples in his own life; it is the model Christians should adhere to in our actions towards believers and nonbelievers alike.

Far from trying to overturn Roman rule, as many Jews had hoped he would, Jesus did not resist Rome’s temporal authority. When asked whether the Jews should pay taxes to Rome, Jesus replied, “Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” (Matthew 22:21 NIV)

When interrogated by Pontius Pilate, the cruel Roman Governor of Judea, Jesus did not question Pilate’s authority.  Instead Jesus told the man who could release Him or order His crucifixion, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now My kingdom is not from here.” (John 18:36 NIV) Afterwards, when addressing the Jewish leaders who had delivered Jesus to him to be crucified, Pilate said of Jesus, “I find no basis for a charge against him.” (John 18:38 NIV)

Around 312 A.D, during the reign of Emperor Constantine, Rome recognized Christianity as a legal religion.   This remarkable feat, going from persecuted underground church to a legal religion recognized by the Empire, was accomplished not through violent revolution, but by years of adhering to the tenets of the faith while suffering terrible persecution.

It was not political activism that ultimately convinced Rome to accept Christianity, but perseverance and faithfulness to Christ’s teachings by the early Christians. The tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, and longsuffering displayed by Christians prevailed over Roman cruelty and oppression.

John 3:17 (NIV) tells us, “…God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.” Will the modern Christian Church continue to demolish itself from within or will it choose the more difficult path and renovate?  In the meantime, will the Church show hatred and cruelty towards those it disagrees with, or will it win them over in the manner that Christ commanded?

When you come across someone you disagree with, or someone whose behavior you condemn lying injured by the side of the road, what will you do?  Will you stop to give help or simply cross the road and pass by on the opposite side? Jesus answered this question in the parable of the Good Samaritan. (Luke 10:25-37)

If we are commanded to so show so much concern for a stranger’s physical wellbeing, shouldn’t we care even more about his or her spiritual welfare?  Think about this the next time you become angered by something in our changing society or something in Christ’s Church.

Our time would be better spent repairing our own house than trying to demolish the house of our neighbor.  Remember that the kingdom we serve is not of this world (John 18:36).  Winning arguments with those we disagree with isn’t the goal of Christianity—the goal is winning souls for Christ.

Ephesians 5:2 (NIV) tells us,Walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God.”  If more Christians would focus on doing this, everything else would simply fall into place.