Friday, May 18, 2018

Heaven On Earth?

It has been said that greed is good, but God's word says differently. God tells us to, "Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry." (Colossians 3:5; emphasis added). 

Furthermore, God tells us that while idols are nothing but mere objects, the worship of idols (idolatry) is demonic (1 Corinthians 10:19-21). So greed is idolatry, and idolatry is demonic. Wow! That's pretty intense! But it's God's honest truth!

Greed is definitely not good. It is a grievous sin. And sadly it is a sin of which probably most of us are guilty. I'm guilty. God's word tells us that "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23). And it is only through faith in Jesus Christ that we can be forgiven and reconciled to God (John 14:6, Acts 4:10-12, Romans 5:1-2, Ephesians 2:8-9). And every person who trusts in Christ is a work in progress till (s)he stands before the Lord in heaven (Philippians 1:6, 3:12-14, 1 John 3:2).

In America, people have the right to be greedy. As a great American poet, Robert Frost, once said, "I hold it to be the inalienable right of anybody to go to hell in his own way." But if we are followers of Jesus Christ, we have a higher calling. "Our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ." (Philippians 3:20). 

We are supposed to be eagerly anticipating the heavenly country, of which we are told in Hebrews 11:13-16. America is not the heavenly country. Nor can it be. No earthly country will ever compare with that kingdom of perfection - ever. But Christians are called to be Christ's ambassadors, representing the heavenly country, in the midst of every earthly nation (2 Corinthians 5:20). And so we ought to be striving to live in accordance with the principles of the heavenly country; which 
are not politically correct concepts. They are biblically correct precepts.

Among those principles are selfless love and compassion; the polar opposite of greed and materialism. It is our Lord's desire that we should be for each other, and not each of us for ourselves (Philippians 2:3-4). In this "dog eat dog" world, we are called to be His sheep, and His doves.

There's a lesson to be learned from the Christians described in Acts 2:44-46 & 4:32-37. They lived out the principles of the heavenly country like few have since; not because some despot forced them against their will, but because they had the heavenly country in their hearts. And so they acted from their hearts.

"And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had. They sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need. They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity" (Acts 2:44-46).

"All the believers were united in heart and mind. And they felt what they owned was not their own, so they shared everything they had. The apostles testified powerfully to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and God’s great blessing was upon them all. There were no needy people among them, because those who owned land or houses would sell them and bring the money to the apostles to give to those in need.
For instance, there was Joseph, the one the apostles nicknamed Barnabas (which means 'Son of Encouragement'). He was from the tribe of Levi and came from the island of Cyprus. He sold a field he owned and brought the money to the apostles." (Acts 4:32-37).

Saturday, December 23, 2017

A Proverb

Proverbs 16:7 says, "When a man’s ways please the LordHe makes even his enemies to be at peace with him" (NKJV). That can be a very encouraging Scripture. The thing of it is, though, it didn't really  work that way for Abel. Nor did it work that way for John the Baptizer, or the other prophets, or the apostles, or even Jesus Christ. So we might look at that and say, "Hey, what gives?" Well, here's what gives. The book of Proverbs is an example of wisdom literature. Which means it contains very basic, generalized advice on life. In other words, it is a big book of whopping generalizations. Gasp! It's true.

Referencing Proverbs 22:6, Christian writer, Kathy Howard, points this out exquisitely, in item number two of her article, 10 Bible Verses Everyone Gets Wrong.

Another example, which makes our point even more obvious, is Proverbs 26:4-5:

"Do not answer a fool according to his folly,
Lest you also be like him.
Answer a fool according to his folly,
Lest he be wise in his own eyes"(NKJV).

So here we have two consecutive verses, each one seeming to be a direct and glaring contradiction to the other. Well which is it, oh wise King Solomon? Please tell us! One must make a judgement call, on a case-by-case basis, whether or not to bother answering a fool.

But here is the big point that I really want to make. You can not use the book of Proverbs as an excuse to not have compassion on those who are fallen on hard times. You are not promised that if you follow Solomon's advice, you will never need help from anyone. Nor are you promised that no one will ever need any help from you. One of the worst things that a Christian can do is point to a proverb about wise and responsible living, and use it to blame and judge those who are living in hardship. When we, as Christians, do that, we are failing God. And it is shameful. Some time ago, I was telling a fellow Christian about a local ministry called Ruth's Harvest, which donates food items for school kids who otherwise would not have a lunch. The man's response was, "That's great. It's such a shame, though, that there are so many dead-beat parents". There may be some dead-beats out there, I'm sure there are. But not everyone who is poor got that way by being lazy or irresponsible. Many of them got that way just by living in a broken world that caters to the rich and the strong, ensuring that the rich will almost always get richer, and the poor will in most cases stay poor. 

And by the way, no one should have to put in 60-70 hours every week, or dish out tens and scores of thousands of dollars for college, just to be able to make ends meet. A person who refuses to do those things is not lazy or irresponsible. On the contrary, that person has more sense and than a lot of the greed-driven maniacs that populate the earth. And there is no shame in having to live with roommates or family members. What is a shame is that the cost of living is so high that many people have little  choice but to live with roommates or family.

But consider this commandment:

"If one of your brethren becomes poor, and falls into poverty among you, then you shall help him, like a stranger or a sojourner, that he may live with you" (Leviticus 25:35, NKJV).

The so-called social gospel is not the whole gospel; but it is a part of the whole gospel. This is made clear in Galatians 2:9-10 where Paul describes James and Peter's acceptance of Paul as an apostle of Christ, and minister of His gospel. Verse 10 reads, "Their only suggestion was that we keep on helping the poor, which I have always been eager to do" (NLT).

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Respectable Members of Society?

Religious people often assume that being a Christian means, or involves, being a respectable member of society. Yet none of the prophets, none of the apostles, and not even Christ Himself, fit that bill. They were the sort of people who would preach real loud in the streets and deserts, and nobody would listen; on account of that everyone thought they were "Cuckoo! Cuckoo!". They were like that homeless-looking guy on the corner, outside your apartment building, holding a sign that says, "THE END IS NEAR."

Jesus was always quoting from the Old Testament Scriptures because He believed them to be divinely inspired. (And that's why I believe them too.) And the two Old Testament writers that Jesus quoted from most frequently were David and Isaiah. Isaiah spoke a great deal about the coming Messiah (for example, see Isaiah 11:1-10; Isaiah 53; and Isaiah 61:1-3). But quite shockingly, the prophet Isaiah also went around naked for three years because God told him to (Isaiah 20:2-3). Let that sink in. The man ran naked for three years. Because God told him to.  What would you think of your pastor if he started going around naked, and said that God told him to? You would most likely think he was crazy and, find a different church. But that's what the prophet Isaiah did. And many years later, the authorities placed him inside a hollow log and sawed him in two for preaching the word of God. Not a very dignified end.

And what about David, the psalmist and prophet? When one of his wives, Michal, objected to his undignified behavior, David said to her, "I will become even more undignified than this" (2 Samuel 6:12-23). Have you ever just wondered exactly what he meant by that? The only recorded undignified actions of his, after that day, are his a fair with Bathsheba, his attempt at covering it up, and then, much later, his uncalled-for tax/census of Israel. David suffered grievious consequences for those sins. But he also experienced God's forgiveness and found redemption, making him an enduring symbol of God's grace and mercy. And we all need God's grace and mercy. We are all sinners in need of forgiveness.

But those are the guys that Christ quoted  from the most - the man who went around naked for three years because God told him to, and the one who famously said, "I will become even more undignified than this".

And what about Jesus Christ? He left His throne in Glory to assume the modest life of a poor carpenter, and later, a wandering preacher with absolutely no earthly credentials. He disturbed the peace at least twice during His earthly ministry, by turning over tables and shouting, and chasing people with a whip. John tells us that He did so at the beginning of His earthly ministry, (John 2:13-17) Mathew, Mark, and Luke mention Him doing it toward the end. So clearing the Temple was probably something Jesus did every Passover during His three-year ministry. He was despised and rejected by the people. Stripped of His clothes, He died like a criminal, on a Roman cross, in front of all the public.

And the apostle went all over the world doing the same kind of things. Preaching with no earthly credentials to people who mocked, laughed at, despised, and rejected them. They were all martyrs for the faith. They were not respectable members of society.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Standing on the Promises, a Measure of Success

One of the myriad lessons to learn from the Bible is that God does not measure success the same way that mortals do.

Take, for example, the life of Jeremiah. He is remembered as "the Weeping Prophet". He served the Lord faithfully. He did exactly as God commanded him. He preached the Word so hard for so long; but no one listened. No one repented. Jeremiah was despised and rejected, even by his own family.

In the end, the disobedient people of Israel were handed over by God as captives to Babylon. Jeremiah was neither honored nor influential among his peers. But he was successful in doing just what God called him to do.

Jesus Christ succeeded too, by leaving His glorious throne to become a lowly, poor, human being. He was despised and rejected, and submitted Himself to death by crucifixion (Isaiah 53: 1-10, Philippians 2:5-8).

All the apostle, as well, faithfully served Christ, working hard to spread His gospel. And for their service, they all endured hunger, mockery, imprisonment, floggings, beatings, and stonings. All despised and rejected, only one of them, John the Revelator, survived to die of old age, a prisoner in a Roman rock-yard.

God does not promise a comfortable life to anyone; even if you serve Him faithfully, even if you work really, really hard. You are not promised good grades or a successful career. You are not promised monetary gain. You are not promised material wealth. You are not promised physical health. You are not promised that you will be respected or influential. In fact, if you follow the One who was despised and rejected, there's at least a pretty good chance that you'll be despised and rejected too. For no servant is greater than his master (John 13:16, 15:20).

So, what does God promise? I'll get to that in a moment.

The American Dream promises health and wealth and worldly success to anyone willing to work for it. But the American Dream can't keep that promise toward everyone who works hard because they're all competing against each other. Competition is the ongoing quest to defeat one's fellow human beings. That's not how the kingdom of God works, but that is how the world works. Therefore, someone has to be defeated, (according to the world's standards of success and defeat) even if they tried really, really hard, even (perhaps especially) if they faithfully serve the Lord. And in a competitive world it's difficult enough for everyone just to get job, let alone forge an actual career in a choice field. Some will succeed. Many will not; even though they do their best.

God does not validate the promises of the American Dream. But what He does promise is that He will be with you through all the joys and inevitable sorrows you encounter as you serve Him. He promises every spiritual blessing of spiritual comfort, joy, and peace in the midst of tribulation (Ephesians 1:3, Philippians 4:7, John 14:27, 1 Peter 1:6-9). And your reward for all your service will be in heaven (Romans 8:18). And that's what God calls "success".

"Therefore if there is any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and mercy, fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others." (Philippians 2:1-4).

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Ordinary Rockstars

I am so thankful that one does not have to be a rockstar in order to be pleasing to God. And here I am using the term, "rockstar" in a figurative sense. I mean that one does not have to do anything extraordinarily spectacular to be pleasing to God. One may be a most ordinary person, living an ordinary life of ordinordinary days, going to an ordinary job, for ordinary wages. One may only have a small circle of ordinary people that they see, every ordinary day. And if that ordinary bloke lives that ordinary life by faith in the Son of God, such a person is just as likely as Billy Sunday, or Mac Powell, to be pleasing to God. We may even find, that the most ordinary of God's children are the biggest rockstars in His kingdom. As the Lord has told us, "But many who are first will be last, and the last first." (Matthew 19:30).

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

The House of the Righteous

"In the house of the righteous there is much treasure,But in the revenue of the wicked is trouble." (Proverbs 15:6).
"In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also." (John 14:2-3). 
"Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." (Matthew 6:19-21).

The house of the righteous is not of this world. The house of the righteous is part of the kingdom of Christ, which is in Heaven. (John 18:36). Yes; the house, the reward, the treasure, and the heart of the righteous is in heaven. This is a concept that was not fully grasped in the times before Christ came into the world, when Solomon amassed his worldly wealth and then wrote about the house of the righteous. Nevertheless, it is an integral part of the gospel message.

Much of the Old Testament is concerned with showing the futility of worldy and human attempts at fullfilment. As the saints of those times awaited God's Messiah, who alone can bring salvation and fulfillment, God showed that the Law, a body of religeous rules and regulations could not bring about the fulfillment of His plan; which is salvation and new, everlasting life for those who trust in Him. Likewise, the waging of physical war can not bring about the salvation and peace that God desires for His people. And in the same way, worldly wealth does not make the righteous prosper.

Job's frenemies judged and condemned him in the time of his deep hardship because they thought worldly wealth and health was a sign of righteousness. The Pharisees believed the same garbage. And that is why they also condemned and oppressed the poor. Luke tells us,

"Now the Pharisees, who were lovers of money, also heard all these things, and they derided Him. And He said to them, 'You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is highly esteemed among men is an abomination in the sight of God.'" (Luke 16:14-15). 

Then verse 16 really drives home this point concerning the Old Testament.

 "The law and the prophets were until John. Since that time the kingdom of God has been preached, and everyone is pressing into it".

Now in the gospel, we have hope of true and etenal wealth, which is spiritual, not carnal. It is heavenly, not earthly. Everything that is carnal and earthly is corruptible and passing away. But we "were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold...but with the precious blood of Christ" (1 Peter 1:18-19). And we are reminded in Scripture,

"Now godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows." (1 Timothy 6:6-10).

Sunday, February 12, 2017

No Perfection

Ethiopian Emperor, Haile Selassie I, was a Christian, and publicly discouraged Rastafarians from worshipping him. He urged them instead to read and study the Bible, and trust in the crucified carpenter who is risen from the dead.

There is a Selassie quote that I really appreciate. In a 1968 Christmas interview with Dr. Oswald Hoffman, he said,

"It is quite true that there is no perfection in humanity. From time to time we make mistakes, we do commit sins. But even as we do that, deep in our hearts as Christains we know we have a chance of forgivness from the Almighty."