WE WON’T BOW

In the Book of Acts the religious leaders are persecuting Jesus’ disciples. In Acts 4:29 they are praying they call out to God, “Please take note of the leaders’ threats against us’. They are praying with the implicit request that God punish these leaders. And they also ask for a boldness to continue to speak the truth about Jesus.

And so this is what I am doing, writing and praying right now. I believe that our ‘leader’ is threatening so many who want to live in faithfulness to God as revealed in God’s Word. I believe the character of God is not remotely being understood and lived out by our leader and his political allies.

The Bible speaks of humility, compassion, repentance, and care for the ‘least of these.’ Instead all I hear is boasting, arrogance, pride, self-serving political maneuvering and the making of an idol called ‘Make America Great Again.”

Greatness in the eyes of God is only achieved by compassion and faithfulness to the one and only God. Faithfulness is expressed by a desire to follow Christ and to love our neighbor. Here’s what God desires, according to God’s word: He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. (Micah 6:8) And I am so weary of our leader’s rhetoric, which has little or nothing to do with the above.

I know that Paul says Christians are to be submissive to the governing authorities. But Paul is discouraging open armed rebellion against Caesar. He is not saying we are to obey when the leaders are doing wrong to the good folks. (See Romans 13) Some Christians have wrongly interpreted this to mean that whatever the ‘mis-leader’ says, goes. Jesus said that we are to give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God. He might have been referring to tax money but if I am not mistaken our money says that ‘in God we trust.’ Not the leader or any of his idols. Christian people say that better employment rates, more money and power is the way of the faithful American. And being pro-life. How about all life? Not just those precious lives in the womb but the ones who are trying to live on any side of the border.

There is an insidious evil to what I see going on and while I do not wish to return evil for evil I want to take my stand in the face of an idolatrous leader and say like Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, ‘We won’t bow to your idols.’ And I pray to find ways to express my protest against leadership that would spend millions on parades, armaments, and walls while people in this world are starving to death wondering why.

I do not hear Jesus saying at the end of time, ‘Well done good and faithful servants. You were the most powerful, richest, and safest people on the face of the earth.’ That’s not in the Bible that I read.

I pray that God will take note of the threats of this leadership towards the poor, the abused, as well as decency and morality. I heard just today that the leader expressed sympathy and well wishes for the man who was fired or resigned for his alleged (some proven true) abuse of former spouses. May God take note of this as well.

So instead of Romans 13 about submission to authorities let’s take a look at Psalm 109, a particular favorite of mine. It is usually attributed to David and in verses 7-8 has the following: (the parenthetical is mine).

“When he is tried, let him be found guilty, and may his prayers condemn him. May his days (in office) be few and may another take his place of leadership.”

Now you may think me judgmental or even hypocritical since I deal with my own sins but I choose to lay my words before God and let God be my judge in these matters. But I cannot and will not bow to the idol of ‘make America great again.’ And I cannot follow a leader who proclaims that all human rights are given by the Creator alone (see prayer breakfast speech of Feb. 8th) when his regard for those human rights are minimal at best.

Two weeks ago I was in Haiti. Our leader called it a ‘shithole’. I had to stand before a congregation of Haitian believers, human beings who deserve respect and dignity, and apologize for the leader.

And where are the cahoneys of other leadership in our government who won’t stand and say no to the ‘leader’? Political power is an idol to which they bow.

In a time when Israel worshiped God and practiced idolatry they looked for “the day of the Lord” when God’s rule would defeat their enemies and bring peace and prosperity to the nation. But God told the idolatrous people that they had wronged God by treating the poor unjustly even as the nation’s leaders shouted their loud praises to God. And so Amos the prophet brings God’s message to the people: (from Amos 5:21-24)

“I can’t stand your religious meetings.
I’m fed up with your conferences and conventions.
I want nothing to do with your religion projects,
pretentious slogans and goals.
I’m sick of your fund-raising schemes,
your public relations and image making.
I’ve had all I can take of your noisy ego-music.
When was the last time you sang to me?
Do you know what I want?
I want justice—oceans of it.
I want fairness—rivers of it.
That’s what I want. That’s all I want.

 

No. Lord God, please take note of this mess and my complicity in it. And let your people speak with boldness about the cause and compassion of Christ. Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

MY PRAYER

Lord Jesus I come to you because I need some good serious learning from my God.

I am thinking about violence today, Lord. It’s overwhelming. It’s ubiquitous- in families, on the streets, in churches, at concerts and against all kinds of people. It’s on an international scale. We are fearful, anxious and angry.

I am thinking of you Lord who had every reason to be violent against your enemies, against those who were so set against you. Paul wrote somewhere that vengeance belongs to you but you never exercised it. Oh maybe against a few tables in the Temple but not against your adversaries. You wept over those who resisted you. You forgave a thief in his dying moments. You pardoned all your accusers and executioners. Somehow you are even going to restore your whole creation, the good, bad and ugly. Please give us some of your spirit to know how you are doing this.

When we consider your life it doesn’t seem that you were afraid. If anything, you looked evil in the eye and took it to the cross with you. You even let it take you to the cross. That was your own loving scheme to destroy the power of evil to hurt us. With just a word you drove the demonic powers to their ruin.

How is it that we have moved so far away from you? We’ve taken to protect our own little kingdoms instead of trusting yours first. Fear has caused us to amass more weapons of violence than ever. How did things get so bad?

Certainly there are ‘bad’ people out there but it seems that your goal was not to destroy them but to create a community that would be able to influence them, be agents of change for good in this world.

How often, Lord, did you tell us ‘fear not’ even for the people out to kill our bodies but couldn’t harm our souls. I’m not sure that assurance is planted in my own soul never mind taking it to the world. Have we gotten to the pointe of protecting ourselves so well that we think or act like we don’t need you?

And Lord, what about all this family abuse, sexual and otherwise. It’s rampant and now every day someone is being accused of assaulting others. Can we not find loving ways to combat this and other forms of evil? Is your church become impotent, prayer less, and loveless?

You know, Lord, that much of it starts with anger- plain ole simple egotistical anger. It’s in my own heart so I’m not judging others. Even conversations about violence bring anger to a boil in conversations that become heated arguments.

I feel like there are two kinds of people going into the Temple again to pray. One is standing and praying. Thank you Lord that I have this all figured out. Thank you for my righteous ways of violence against those who are my and your enemies. And the other person is simply praying, ‘Lord Jesus have mercy upon me, a sinner.’

Jesus, wasn’t there a time when you could have called 10,000 angels to come and rescue you and destroy your enemies but somehow you would rather trust you life to your Father. How did you do that? Can I do that?

Lord you could have come and taken the world by storm and simply destroyed your enemies but instead we are told you gave up all you power, your equal standing with God and humbled yourself to the point of becoming a servant and even further- to the place where you gave up your life. And in that same place we are told to have YOUR attitude, YOUR mind. Why does that make so many of us afraid? Why are we ruled by fear? Have we needed to replace the crucifix with some sort of gun or a tank or a nuclear bomb? That would look ridiculous and maybe that’s how it does look to you.

I fear Lord that you will leave us to ourselves with our greed, our boasts and guns and you will go to the poor, the vulnerable, the people who most trust you. Maybe you have already? Please don’t abandon us. There are many trusting people right here in our own nation, in our communities of faith who really want to know you and know your ways and know how you love so well. You are our fortress, our rock.

And Jesus, you tell us not to try to overcome evil with evil but rather with good. How can such good infiltrate the masses of terrorists seeking to destroy us? Maybe, just maybe we’ve not tried the good enough. The loving way seems weak and we have to entrust its results to you. Please help us towards that way, to beat our swords and egos into plowshares and instruments of peace and righteousness. It’s not about being strong is it? It’s about the power of love, isn’t it?

Jesus, I fear we have created a culture of violence that is hard to reverse and our little attempts seem so futile and risky. Violence seems to be our choice to resolve conflicts everywhere. Please help us all, perpetrators and victims to see this is not the way you set before us. We are to choose life, not death.

Lord, we need you grace to be sufficient in our weakness. I want to trust you more, be more expressive of your world conquering love, seek you more, plead with you more to be present to those involved in violence.

And all the while I want to pray for those who mourn, those who are too weak to even speak for themselves, like the little 18-month-old child and the unborn, those whose countries are on the brink of annihilation because the big nations are preparing for war.

And Lord please have mercy upon all your people in all your creation that they may have a resurrection to eternal peaceful life with you that they couldn’t have on this earth.

And Jesus, my own confession is that I am not all that peaceful. I think to live in your love but my first impulse at any kind of hurt is to be angry inside and on the outside. Please help me to establish your life in my life that I may speak and act as one who walks with the Prince of Peace.

BACK TO THE GARDEN

Back to the Garden

So, I am not really sure how evil got here. Oh, I know about the fallen angel, about the serpent, about the disobedience of our first parents and subsequent rebellion of humanity to God and how death and destruction has pervaded the world ever since. But concepts like original evil elude me.

What I do know is that since the coming of Christ we are making our way back to Eden not driven farther from it. There may be an allusion to this idea even back in Psalm One. I print it here from the MESSAGE paraphrase:

 

  • You’re a tree replanted in Eden,
  • bearing fresh fruit every month, Never dropping a leaf, always in blossom.

This is from the Psalm that speaks about staying close to God and to God’s word. The word ‘Eden’ is not in the original translation but the idea remains that we who now place our confidence in Christ and obey his commands are really ‘like those trees planted by the rivers’ and later in Revelation will see the completion of that vision. Revelation 22:

 

The River of Life
1Then he showed me a river of the water of life, clear as crystal, coming from the throne of God and of the Lamb, 2in the middle of its street. On either side of the river was the tree of life, bearing twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit every month; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations…

Read how Paul puts it in 2Corinthians5 (NIV):

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!

In one place in Ephesians 2:6 Paul writes that we are seated with Christ in the Kingdom of God, in Heaven. That’s our position and from that position we bear fruit for him.

The Resurrection of Christ is proof of the Eden to which are returning and wherever and whenever the presence of Christ breaks into our lives, the Kingdom is there, and Eden’s rivers run strong. Whenever evil is overcome by good, there is Eden. Where reconciliation takes place the fruit of Eden becomes a witness to the world.

I am afraid that America as a whole is not Eden, nor is it on the way to Eden as long as the nation maintains its level of violence against anyone. Recall how Jesus overcame evil. And maybe most people don’t really care about Eden but I believe that the church, where the church proclaims good and places its confidence in Christ, cannot be held back from

Eden and not even the gates of hell can stop the progress of the church especially where the church and Christians are so badly persecuted.And the hurting people of the world may be the first find Eden.

Eden’s guardian angels are letting God’s people back to paradise. Some of us can see it now in front of us. Some are yearning for the day but fear not says God for God is making all things new and restoring God’s creation. Let us pray, worship and work for the day when God’s grace will lead the way back.

DELIVER US FROM EVIL

I can’t help but think that in our overthrowing one particular evil in a region of the world another more monstrous evil was perpetuated.

I am not sure of the exact application of these next words but they are worth considering. “Do not be overcome by evil but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:21)

Jesus tells us ‘not to resist evil’ (Matthew 5:39). I have to wonder why this is so. Perhaps we don’t truly know what real evil is or how it is born. Perhaps only God knows. So Jesus in the Lord’s Prayer tells us to pray to the Father, ‘deliver us from evil.’

It is constructive to notice that Jesus in surrendering to evil was thereby the victor through his resurrection. The early Christians faced their deaths rather than ‘fight’ with worldly weapons against evil.

And then I love this verse, which so strengthens my allegiance to Jesus above any earthly rule. “And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them triumphing over them by the cross. (Colossians 2:15)

Our weapons are not material. They can’t be bought only believed. Let us continue to trust our God and where there be any evil in this world let us make sure it does not spring from us in the personal or worldly sphere.

DIVINE MAESTRO

 

Check out this quote by Dallas Willard. Confidence in Jesus as absolute Maestro of the universe is the first indication of regeneration. Is that great or what? And a divine maestro who is a master musician has one goal. He wants to bring about the most wonderful piece of music imaginable. He wants every instrument or voice in tune; every musician performing his or her best. That is the joy of the Master.

In this world Jesus is the Divine Maestro working with his Father to bring about the greatest good, the greatest artwork of creation imaginable. ‘God is good’ declares the Scripture. But, we often look at the world as a jumbled up batch of amateurish performers at their worst and the background of creation is a wreck in the eyes of many. How did the maestro even let some of the players into his orchestra? They seem downright evil.

Thomas Oden, a Methodist theologian, has written of this topic in his book called CLASSIC CHRISTIANITY. He says that we look at the fallen world, this messed up world, with cloudy eyesight at best. This world of all the worlds that might have been created is the best one.

Many of us who take a good look at the entire world throughout history will observe the goodness in this creation, and thus the goodness of God. God does not make anything badly insists the classic Christian writers. The creation has been skewed by our disobedience and still the creator, the Divine Maestro, is at work to take his creation and bring it back to harmony and perfection through his love for this world.

At the beginning everyone knew their notes, their parts and chose, from their own God given freedom, to distort the work, rebel against the maestro and this unfinished world is the result. And so are our unfinished lives.

But to have an accurate assessment of the whole situation you and I must read the score, the whole score. People who bash God and Christian faith have rarely done so.

Just read this account of the Maestro’s character and work from Colossians 1:

15-18 We look at this Son and see the God who cannot be seen. We look at this Son and see God’s original purpose in everything created. For everything, absolutely everything, above and below, visible and invisible, rank after rank after rank of angels—everything got started in him and finds its purpose in him. He was there before any of it came into existence and holds it all together right up to this moment. And when it comes to the church, he organizes and holds it together, like a head does a body.

18-20 He was supreme in the beginning and—leading the resurrection parade—he is supreme in the end. From beginning to end he’s there, towering far above everything, everyone. So spacious is he, so roomy, that everything of God finds its proper place in him without crowding. Not only that, but all the broken and dislocated pieces of the universe—people and things, animals and atoms—get properly fixed and fit together in vibrant harmonies, all because of his death, his blood that poured down from the cross. (MSG)

Let’s go back to Willard’s quote and see that indeed it is the beginning of faith to realize the goodness of our creator and our savior.

Now there are people like Bill Maher of T.V. fame who make their living denigrating God and Jesus and thus have no clue as to what is going on in this universe. To people like that religion is nonsense and even evil. But I suggest that they get to know the Maestro to understand God and his love for his creation and his desire both for our freedom and hopefully a redeemed responsibility to care as deeply as he does.

According to one of the smartest men who ever lived, St. Paul, this creation does indeed groan but God is working all things towards a good purpose, a good end that some of us see even now amidst the groans. (Romans 8)

The great Maestro of the Universe spent time with his creation, going to each student, one by one, to help him or her learn his or her parts to be able to perform the greatest masterpiece possible. And each student, apprentice will add his or her skill, talent, or new learning to the great work that was designed by the Maestro. Those who don’t want to be in the orchestra will have the choice to walk away. But in this masterpiece even the birds will want to sing, the flowers will bloom, and the trees will shout for joy to their Master.

I detest much that is happening on this earth, and make no mistake, evil abounds. It seems as though the devil secretly steals into the orchestra to create disharmony. But I don’t have the big picture. I see only a few pages at a time and trust that when it all comes together there will be a new heaven and a new earth whose brilliance will be unsurpassed by anything we can imagine. The final score is already written and we are invited to sit under the Maestro and learn the parts that have been assigned to us trusting that the music can be heard even now by those who have ears to hear.

 

SUFFERING

Someone once said that suffering is getting what you don’t want and not getting what you do want. Suffering is loss. It comes in many forms and even as you read this I am sure you can think right now of something in your life or in the life of someone you love that qualifies under the heading of suffering. The origin in Latin has the sense of ‘bearing under the weight of something.’ Such burdens seem often unbearable. Grief is the body’s mechanism for distancing us from being absolutely crushed by the burden we experience.

According to Scripture suffering is sometimes permitted by God as we read in the Book of Job. Suffering is sometimes seen to be caused directly by God, as was the case with Pharaoh or with the disobedient people of Israel. But come the New Testament and we seein this new age a vision of God who is in the process of alleviating suffering through the coming of his Kingdom in the presence of Jesus, his Son.

Jesus doesn’t answer the question of suffering except to show its demise through miracles of healing that are signs of the coming of God’s Kingdom. The resurrection of Jesus demonstrates the end of death and evil ultimately.

Paul writes in Romans 8 that suffering comes into all the creation and that creation will one day be liberated and this liberation can be seen in the faith and hope of believers even now. And of course we all have the opportunity to alleviate some suffering. We are commanded through love to minister to one another and to the world. See Matthew 25.

And we come to understand that Jesus is the face of a good and gracious God. The Scriptures say, “God commanded light to shine in the dark.” Now God is shining in our hearts to let you know that his glory is seen in Jesus Christ. 2Cor. 4:6

This good work of God is displayed in Christ, his life, his teaching, death and resurrection and promised coming. We are invited to know and understand this work. We cannot thrive on emotions, which are fickle. We live on faith that is based upon knowledge. In 2Peter 3 we are encouraged to grow in grace and in knowledge.

Suffering is a reality. It hurts like hell. But the Kingdom of God life bathes this world in an overwhelming reality that Christ is even now conquering the evil that suffering might think to do in our lives.

We don’t need to go to the school of suffering. Most of us are in that school right now or have been or will be. But we do need to go to the school of Christ and learn Christ, learn his dealings with pain and suffering, learn his love and the goodness of his Father.