MIXING POLITICS AND RELIGION

Even in my Bible study group people say don’t mix politics with religion. Well, Jeff Sessions has gone and done it. And it’s gonna bite him and this administration. When you mess with God and God’s little children by quoting scripture as some kind of proof text for your behavior you are on a slippery slope south, and I don’t mean Virginia. What we sow we reap.

We, as a country of Christian values and morals, have now set a ‘made up law’ above Christ’s commands to love, and God’s command to take care of the poor strangers and immigrants among us. And the current regime cannot get out of this by blaming another political party. And to further aggravate God I read that the leader is using this FAMILY SEPARATION as a bargaining chip to get his way on things like THE WALL.

In my less than theological language I say this all sucks. I cannot keep silent living in a country that has such a terrible track record and history against people like native Americans, Africans, and immigrants who trying to find a way to life which is what we all want.

“Hey, he’s the head of a country, and I mean, he’s the strong head, don’t let anyone think anything different,” Trump told Fox News “He speaks and his people sit up at attention. I want my people to do the same.” The  leader of this nation has made it clear in humor and seriousness that he prefers the totalitarian way of rule over democracy. I believe him. Christians must stand up and say NO.

Jeff Sessions, Sarah Sanders and the whole administration can quote Romans 13 all they want but may they never forget that we as God’s people do not bow to the IDOL OF LAW. We stand against any laws that go against the will of God as the book of Daniel illustrations, as the early Apostle’s practiced against Rome, and as people throughout history have done perhaps best understood in the UNDERGROUND RAILROAD.

At the Southern Baptist Convention Jeff Session invoked God in his defense of making life more miserable for immigrants than that life already is. But the President elect of that body of religious people made something else clear:

“Greear in particular had urged the denomination to step back from politics, including this passage in his speech to the meeting on Monday, prior to his election:

“We believe that Jesus is the lord of the whole earth. He is the king of kings and he is the lord of lords. We believe that he, not any version of Caesar, is the Messiah. He is the Christ, the son of the living God, that salvation is found in him, not in the Republican platform or the Democratic platform, and that salvation did not come riding in on the wings of Air Force One. It came cradled in a manger.””

While I do not equate the actions of this present government with those of Nazi German  I do find the following quote most interesting:

  • Hence today I believe that I am acting in accordance with the will of the Almighty Creator: by defending myself against the Jew, I am fighting for the work of the Lord. (Mein Kampf)- Adolf Hitler.

Yes, we have all heard about safety, about laws and how we are a nation of laws. Maybe we need to read more about grace and love and caring for the ‘least’.

This government, if it has the will, can find a way to alleviate this situation, govern rightly and justly and if we are going to side with God then we had better make sure we understand who God is and whom Jesus died for.

Let our leader make the same effort for our neighbors to have peace as he is making with the worst totalitarian leader on the planet. (My opinion).

 

Exodus 12:49 and Leviticus 24:22 – “There shall be one law for the native and for the alien who resides among you.”

Exodus 22:21 – Moses gives God’s law:  “You shall not wrong or oppress a resident alien; for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.”

I urge you all to find a way to donate to groups/organizations who are helping with the refugee crisis because in truth you cannot have politics without religion.

Please let’s find a way for these little ones to be with their parents.

 

 

THE ATTRACTION OF UNIVERSALISM

It is difficult for me to comprehend how humans can think to be more merciful than God with regards to the eternal destiny of each human soul. After all we are made in God’s image to love, and to forgive but it would seem that according to traditional Christian teaching there is a limit to God’s own loving nature and actions.

In 1990 I became a convinced Calvinist assured that God’s glory was somehow tied into the justice of electing some out of all the reprobates on earth. Otherwise, I reasoned, we should all end up in eternal torment if not for the limited atonement of Christ for certain people.

But as I read the entire Bible it appears more and more that God’s plan is to bless the entire world and those in it. It appears that God’s desire is to have mercy on all people, that Christ is the second Adam in whom all are made alive.

Jesus said he would draw all people to himself through his death. And the Bible states that God really desires all people to be ‘saved’.

In my own mind without doubt is the idea that God’s love and grace are universal. But is that grace finally successful? I believe it is. That’s my presupposition if you will, somewhat akin to the presupposition of a loving God as see through Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.

I will use a universalistic hermeneutic (way of interpreting the scriptures) as I study God’s word and writings that pertain to this subject. I want to make the case for believing that the new heaven and new earth will resolve all sin, injustice and sorrow to the glory of God.

In my mind the story of the Bible is not about the power of God but the love of God as revealed in Christ and known through the Trinity.

Your reflections and questions will be most appreciated.

 

 

MY FRIEND GARY

My friend, Gary, died this past week. His body was ravaged by cancer for almost a year. Gary was 66, not quite making it to retirement.

A faithful Christian, husband, father, grandfather and brother, his body finally succumbed to the groanings and travails of this earth. So many prayed for his healing and strength. They prayed by touch, by distance and most assuredly in the name of Jesus.

Gary kept saying to doctors and friends alike that his problem was a ‘win, win’ situation. He quoted scripture that to live is Christ and to die is even greater gain. And yet a great earthly sorrow darkened his last days until the comfort of hospice and his loving family along with some special doses of morphine allowed him to pass from this earthly life into eternity.

Some friends and I were talking about how that should have been us if this illness had anything to do with living a less than good moral and faithful life, which Gary lived. And I question the notion of ‘faith healing’ that was so desired by and for Gary. This world is frail and broken by all kinds of things and I just can’t fathom why Gary had to die. Death seems to be no respecter of persons. It is called in the Bible ‘the enemy’.

And yet when I look to the Christ on the cross I see a God who suffers with us while God works to restore and reconcile God’s creation. And in that suffering I do not know how my good and loving God is bringing about God’s purposes but I trust this Christ whom I know, the same Christ who in his own agony said to his Father, “Thy will be done.”

The earliest Christians were always facing one hardship or another. Everything from illness to persecution and martyrdom was their lot and we read in Hebrews 11:16 that they looked for a better home. This one breaks down after a while.

Sometimes people report marvelous miracles. Other times I believe God is quietly transforming death into life. And through it all I trust God. So do many of you.

Now this part may wonderfully disturb you but I believe that Gary, being with Christ, is praying for me even as I write. I believe that Gary is as much alive now as he was 10 days ago, and even more so. And why wouldn’t he pray for others and me in the presence of Christ.

Thank you Gary. God bless his family and friends and may the God and Father of our Lord Jesus be praised for Gary’s life and witness. I miss you, my friend.

THE TRAIN AND THE PATH: A CHRISTMAS MESSAGE FOR ALL

In John 1:14 we are told that everything about God, his presence, being and most of all his love became a human being in Jesus and lived with us.

This is the message of Christ for everybody. It’s a message of grace to the world made evident in Christ. God, we are told, was pleased to have all his fullness in Christ. (See Colossians 1:17)

Grace is God’s initiative in bringing salvation to the world through Christ.

Not that grace was missing in the Old Testament. Certainly it is evident through creation, covenant, kindness, mercy and forgiveness on the part of God. But in the Old Testament it was the LAW that held the covenant people together. The law was the boundary, the wall, or the custodian, all set in the context of rules and regulations for the safety of society.

Let’s compare LAW AND GRACE this way.

The LAW is a passenger train with God as the conductor. If in disobedience you jump off the train you are on your own. Oh, every once in a while you will hear the whistle blow and if you are strong enough and fast enough you might catch up with the train and pray the conductor to let you back on.

GRACE is the pathway through the wilderness. (See Isaiah 43:19) Jesus is at the front, at the back, and by the side of each traveler. If you should wander off the path, Jesus goes with you wherever you are and finds you another way with him to the goal of everlasting life with God.

Grace is the drawing influence of God upon the whole world. (That means you and me wherever we are.) You can get off the TRAIN at the next stop, which would be RIGHT NOW, and begin the journey with Christ.

Christmas is the word of God to the world that the grace of God has been revealed bring salvation to ALL PEOPLE.

So …a Blessed Christmas to all.

 

 

I CHOOSE GRACE

Why does God choose to work in our weaknesses rather than in our strengths? Does God want to show us who is boss? Does God have a pride problem? Does God perhaps want to humiliate us for our sin? Is God himself weak?

No. It’s because God cannot develop a relationship with his creation if we think we are strong enough to succeed by ourselves. That’s what happened in the Garden a long time ago. And it’s what happens whenever and wherever humans build their own egos (their territorial walls) against the love of another, in this case God.

God wants to love us and love is best enjoyed when neither lover is a bully or egotist.

God has already demonstrated his own weakness and vulnerability in Jesus. That’s what the incarnation is all about. Not only does God live with us but God loves with us and suffers with us in order to give love a fertile ground in which to thrive. See, God’s grace can only flourish in weakness. It’s the law of God’s universe and God’s salvation and restoration of humankind. And while much suffering is unthinkable and unbearable it is the only path of love in this world and God wants love enough that God gives freedom even to evil and greed on this journey. Certainly God can work all things to the good for those who understand this but unfortunately not many do. And God will not force his love on us or coerce us to love him. That would be abusive and meaningless.

In 2 Corinthians 12:9 God tells Paul that God’s love is sufficient/enough for Paul’s needs in the midst of Paul’s own suffering. And through it Paul will develop more understanding of God’s love in this world. It will be the kind of love that will develop community and form a bride for the living Christ. And through Paul’s own suffering God will develop a character that God can trust with his powerful love and restoration of this creation.

It’s as though God is letting the EGO of this world be ‘lost’ in order to be ‘found’ again.

There are a great many trees in our contemporary Gardens of Eden. And if we could we would choose them over God and make our own way. But creation doesn’t work that way. It is been arranged that we NEED each other. We love each other. We care for each other. And without suffering there would be only self-sufficiency.

Fortunately the tree is now inaccessible and unavailable try as we might to find it or grow our own.

Before the tree there was only love. Now through Christ love, eternal love, has been restored. Through the poverty of Christ our lives have been enriched. There is a choice now: self-sufficiency or grace. I CHOOSE GRACE.

WAKE ME WHEN WE GET THERE

Hope, as translated in the Message version of the Bible, is ‘keeping alert to what God will do next’. (Romans 5:5) We know that God is involved in our lives. Jesus was and is God’s loving presence making his home among us (John 1:14) He came to prove that God is ‘for us’ and not against us. (Romans 8:31). He came find those of us who have been ‘lost’ and bring us home. He comes not to judge but so save. (John 3:17)

All this and much more leads to ‘hope’ because the same God who was in Christ is in us by his Spirit (Romans 5). It is an organic and intimate hope. It’s in our DNA as believers and those yet to be.

Sometimes when we were kids our families would go on car trips with my parents, dad being the designated driver. And as could happen we’d get a bit lost but dad always said that he knew or could find the way. And it’s because we trusted him that we knew everything would be okay. But, as I still felt a tad uneasy with these ‘strange’ journeys, I would decide to go to sleep in the back seat trusting that when I awoke all would be well. Our dad was good to us. He could be trusted. Even asleep I was alert to the good that would eventually happen. HOPE.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer once wrote, “There is meaning in every journey that is unknown to the traveler.” And every day is a journey with God. Hope is keeping alert to where God is taking us even in the most daily routines and into the darkest of nights. And it is only God’s goodness to us, his children, that gives us any certainly even in uncertainty, that the journey will be blessed.

Bonhoeffer being in a prison cell had hope that he would be released. But as time went on he began to realize that his death was inevitable. But even in that realization he did not lose hope. His last words were hope-laden. “This is the end but for me it is the beginning.” These words are a mirror of Jesus’ prayer on the cross, ‘Father into thy hands I give myself.” Paul reflecting on his dark days wrote, ‘For me to live is Christ and to die is gaining even more.”

These are all statements of hope, not naïve positive thinking. They have a foundation in the promise and person of God. They are borne of experience with God and through redemption by Christ.

So we never give up. But if you have to for a while (like falling asleep on a trip) know that ‘while scary uncertain stuff comes at night, joy always comes in the morning.’ (From Psalm 30:5)

Remember this. Hope always contains a bit of uncertainty because we still live earthbound and in the flesh. See faith is saying yes to following Christ- hope is the anticipation of the good in the journey.

Hope can be like the man who is asked by Jesus if he, the father, really believes that his son can be healed. The man responds ‘I believe, help my unbelief, my doubt.’ Sort of like saying, ‘Jesus I trust you and I know what you can do but there is reservation within me, a feeling of doubt about which I must be honest and even with that doubt I will trust you.’

That would be like my dad saying to me, ‘Son do you believe I can find the best route on this trip?’ ‘Sure dad, but would it be okay if I took a little nap back here and then you can wake me when we get there.’

RELIGIONLESS CHRISTIANITY

I have taken up readings by and about Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945) once again.

He was a Lutheran pastor who gave his life in resistance to the Nazi Reich of the 30’s and 40’s. And what he observed in Germany was a piety that pushed God away from the center of a person’s life. In this way God was safer.

This marginalization of God was done by language, ceremonies, and even church sacraments. One could be a Nazi and still give allegiance to God through the label of ‘Christian’ and even go so far from the center to have a ‘God blessed baptism’ without the effects. (It reminds me of a scene from ‘The Godfather’.) The same people who received the church sacraments could be the same persons who were anti-Semitic and executed their own citizens for the security of the Reich.

It’s hard to imagine how the German Nationalists could live with themselves. The reason perhaps is that they pushed God to the periphery of their lives, A God to whom they were only accountable for their religious observances and not their day to day lives.

We do and have done the same in America, myself included. We use our religious labels like ‘born again’ or ‘evangelical’ as ways of aligning ourselves with the God of religion. We get baptized, carry large study Bibles and join churches as a means of attaining an acceptable righteousness with God.

But what truly matters is very little of any of this. What matters is Christ, not religion. Christ is the understanding of Bonhoeffer was the epitome of ‘giving ones life for another’. In Philippians 2 Paul writes that we are to have the attitude, the mindset, the character of Jesus who ‘gave up power’ and his equality with God to become a servant to humanity even to the point of dying on the cross. That’s the center where Jesus lives and to where he calls us. In the vocation of salvation, to which we are called, we are to be a people who are for ‘all the others’ not just the few who belong to ‘our group’. Jesus didn’t die for only the Jews. He died for everyone, for all people. He was/is the Lamb of God who takes away ‘the sin of the world’. (John 1)

So if I am called to be Jesus’ disciples whom do I get to exclude in the name of nationalism, politics, the economy or even safety. Jesus did not call us to be ‘safe’ in this world. Rather he said we should carry a cross and deny ourselves, which is the only real way to discover who we really are.

‘Religion’ keeps us thinking that this is what we have really done. I Tithe. Wow, what a burden, a cross to bear. Jesus said that the very people who tithed were the same ones who neglected weightier matters of just and mercy.

Here’s the Message Version of Luke 11:42 “I’ve had it with you! You’re hopeless, you Pharisees! Frauds! You keep meticulous account books, tithing on every nickel and dime you get, but manage to find loopholes for getting around basic matters of justice and God’s love. Careful bookkeeping is commendable, but the basics are required.

And now one of our states has a ‘good Christian’ man running for the U.S. Senate. His past is questionable with several allegations of sexual abuse. He has been compared with Joseph the carpenter who married a young virgin, Mary and bore a son, Jesus. So what’s the problem? And it was 40 years ago. It’s not relevant, some say. And he’s good for the country, a quality that outweighs any past behavior.

See what Bonhoeffer means by pushing God to the peripheral even while using God to condone our own character.

Remember Paul in 1Cor. 13 writing that we can ‘do’ or ‘perform’ all the right acceptable and seemingly moral behaviors but with love it counts, in the salvation vocation to which we are called, for nothing.

God did not send his Son to only save our personal souls to go to heaven when we die but to establish once and for certain His Kingdom, the beachhead for a reconciling of earth and heaven. In Luke 4 Jesus tells about his own presence on earth.

God’s Spirit is on me;
he’s chosen me to preach the Message of good news to the poor,
sent me to announce pardon to prisoners and
recovery of sight to the blind,
to set the burdened and battered free,
to announce, “This is God’s year to act!”– Message Version

We are called to follow Jesus in the center of all life, loving others, those on the fringe of life, needing to know the love and blessing of God for everyone. We are called to be the light of the world- the whole world.

And as Jesus taught, ‘not even the powers of hell can stop that kind of church’.

We are the bride, getting ready for the Bridegroom to meet us, to feast with us and to restore this creation to a new heaven and new earth. That cannot happen with God on the periphery of our lives. We are not looking for a Christian State but rather the state of Christians to make Christ the center.

And listen- I’m no pillar of virtue when it comes to all the above. I have performed many religious acts and ceremonies that I have thought appeased God and even after 60 years of being ‘a Christian’ I need Christ more than ever at the CENTER, the center of all I am and do. Thanks be to God for his grace in all of that.

Maranatha

 

 

 

 

GRACE IN ATHEISM

So here’s what I think about atheists. There are folks who say God just doesn’t exist, no way, shape or whatever. They are sometimes adamant that there is no power or authority, influence or being and certainly no entity called God.

So I got to wondering one day. What would or could give someone the idea that there is no god, no being of authority in the universe? Could be that people have been hurt by religion? No, that’s enough to maybe stay away from the church but not to believe in nothing. I suppose believing in nothing is some kind of religion but to my mind IT requires more faith than believing in God. But that’s for another time.

So after some pensiveness I came to at least one conclusion. Authority is one of the main issues contributing to atheism. If you believe there is a God, or even gods, you might draw the conclusion that someone or something has authority over your life. And who enjoys anyone being in control or having some authoritative say in our lives. Notice I switched from you to us because this ‘authority thing’ is a problem for believers as well as unbelievers. In atheists it may be more apparent by their words of rejection concerning God, Jesus or any religious figure.

See, we love to be the only authority in our lives and believe me, that is a poor foundation for living. I mean just take a look at AA to see that one of the first steps is surrendering to a higher power. And that is no easy feat.

But believers can experience profound truth concerning authority from atheism. We too love to be in control of our own lives. Oh, we talk a good game about surrendering to Christ, trusting God and so forth but when the rubber hits the road we discover that the words of Jesus ring empty to our ears when it comes to living the life of faith. So that’s why I call this piece GRACE IN ATHEISM. It’s because we have something to learn about ourselves through others.

You know, if an atheist person wanted to, he or she could search and search to really discover if there is a God. God knows there is enough evidence in nature, in philosophy, in science and in writings like the Bible to be able to uncover this God. But if he or she did, then what? Uh oh. Authority.

Recall something Jesus said. And by the way I cannot fathom why anybody could have a problem with Jesus, the smartest, most loving being to walk this earth. But I digress. No I don’t. I want to say something about Jesus.

At one point Jesus told the people around him, especially the religious leaders (now there’s some folks we could have problems with). He said to them that if anyone chooses to do the will of God that person will find out whether Jesus’ teaching really comes from God or if Jesus simply made it up on his own. (Found in the Gospel of John chapter 7:17)

So right there you have it. From the lips of God’s own son. That son, who by the way, in the Garden of Gethsemane tried to work things out on his own but finally said to his Father, ‘Your will be done’

So my invitation to all, including to myself, is to simply say to God –your will be done. And discover that Jesus is real. There is a huge sigh of relief in surrendering one’s life, imperfect as that life might be. See the authority of God, if we really search, is such that we cannot miss the great love of the God of the universe who from the beginning has had only one desire, to share that love with all of us in the midst of all the crap and our own misdeeds. “God is love” is not some trite slogan but the essence of the ONE who governs this creation.

So, see if we look diligently we can find in atheism some of the same stuff we believers are struggling with. Let’s be honest enough to admit that struggle.

DO WE REALLY HAVE TO BELIEVE THE BIBLE?

You and I don’t have to believe in the Bible as the ‘strictly exact’ words of God. Some people call that ‘inerrancy’ or ‘without error’. Humans, who are not perfect, have written the Bible. Nothing in the Bible claims that it is inerrant. The Bible itself claims to be ‘inspired’ or ‘God breathed’. Some of the sermons I have preached over the years are inspired but God knows they weren’t perfect. They were conveyed by the Spirit of God.

I don’t believe the Bible is 100% factually correct and the moment I realized that was the moment I felt freer to read the Bible as it was written. I didn’t have to be insecure, anxious or defensive about each word and every story. The only reason people want to defend inerrancy is that they believe if one error is found then the whole Bible will be proven wrong. NOT.

The Bible is a revelation of God’s plan for his creation, particularly humanity. It’s not a science book. It’s a love story written in narrative, symbol, poetry with the complete revelation found in the person and work of Jesus Christ who is ‘every’ word, thought or expression of God. It’s why Jesus is called THE WORD OF GOD.

Some Christians are more hung up on a ‘historical Jonah being swallowed by a whale’ than the real story of Jonah, which is about the grace, and forgiveness of God. Read it sometime.

Some people spend too much time fighting over the seven days of creation and the issue of evolution and the Big Bang and they miss the Big Picture that there is a God who out of love brought this creation into being so God could share His love with you and me, so that we could know why we are here and what God’s plan is for now and eternity, so that we could join with God in this great project.

I will tell you this. There is not a cell within me that doesn’t believe that the Bible is God’s Word as a story of redemption and reconciliation, an account of people who broke God’s will and God’s heart, people who are not puppets but creations given free will to live with or without God. This book, the Bible is a magnificent library of 66 different books written over thousands of years with a single most important theme: God from all eternity has been relentless in his search and rescue mission for his creation. It’s is layer upon layer of truth concerning restoration. And it includes love and violence, much gone wrong and much more being made right.

It IS God breathed. You can read it and just ‘feel’ the breath of God blowing through the pages of history and into each of our lives. It’s a beautiful story, IF we as believers don’t get caught in a trap of defensiveness. And IF we as skeptics just let it breathe it’s life into us we will know, without a policy or doctrine, that God is in this place and that Jesus is the centerpiece that brings it all together though his teachings, his death and resurrection.

SOME THOUGHTS ON BAPTISM

I am of the reformed tradition where as part of covenant theology we baptize children of believers. Sometimes it’s call ‘paedobaptism’.

I believe that children are a part of the new covenant in Christ as much as the children of Abraham are part of that original covenant of identifying God’s people. And even though some turned their back on the Abrahamic Covenant the children were all baptized.

I realized there is little if any evidence in the New Testament of a child being baptized. The faith of the first century was an adult faith amidst an adult society and there is no particular reason for children being mentioned. Or is there?

Jesus took the children into his arms and blessed them conveying I believe God’s particular grace upon and within that child.

Jesus told people that unless they had faith like a child they would not enter the Kingdom of God.

When we see John the Baptist graced by God (filled with the Holy Spirit) (Luke 1:15), while still in the womb I would say he is part of the new covenant in Christ Jesus.

When Paul writes that the children of believers are holy, separated to God (1Cor. 7) I believe they are part of the covenant.

See if God’s covenant is a covenant of grace and not works and none of us deserves it then children most of all are the trusting recipients of God’s love and thus candidates of baptism.

As far as faith, confession, belief are concerned they are all part of the process of the new covenant, covenant theology. No one is saved without grace through faith. Children at birth are forgiven, not innocent. They too can come under the understanding of dying and rising with Christ through baptism and then faith.

And I love the passage in Psalm 139:

You are the one who created my innermost parts;
    you knit me together while I was still in my mother’s womb.
14 I give thanks to you that I was marvelously set apart.
    Your works are wonderful—I know that very well.
15 My bones weren’t hidden from you
    when I was being put together in a secret place,
    when I was being woven together in the deep parts of the earth.
16 Your eyes saw my embryo,
    and on your scroll every day was written that was being formed for me,[b]
    before any one of them had yet happened.[c]
17 God, your plans are incomprehensible to me!
    Their total number is countless!
18 If I tried to count them—they outnumber grains of sand!
    If I came to the very end—I’d still be with you” (CEB in Gateway)

If this is how God’s grace impacts and surrounds the unborn then it is my humble opinion these little ones should be baptized as a was of showing they belong to Christ.

Children in the early church were part of the family’s interaction of faith and community. Most likely in the first century at least they would grow up to be believers. The problem today is that we practice ‘cheap grace’ willy nilly baptizing anything that moves. Parents who are not faithful have their children ‘done’. I had one woman tell me that her child’s baptism had to be on a certain date because the great grandmother’s dress would not fit otherwise. I have been guilty of that cheap grace, God forgive me. There should be strenuous testing of the faith and fruits of parents who want their children to be baptized.

Some ask ‘Why not baptize all children into the covenant?’ It’s a good question that could be answered in the affirmative if we sought to disciple people. Jesus said go and baptize all nations and ‘disciple’ them.

Well, I expect to hear from some folks and that’s good. I can always learn.

Grace and peace

george