PLACES IN GOD’S HEART

I am wondering why some Christians, supported by denominational doctrines, and certain biblical passages, want there to be a hell of eternal torment. Is it for justice or perhaps revenge? Like ‘they’ get what’s coming to them for not believing in Jesus or doing bad things.

Surely it’s not from any sense of love. Jesus reminds us to love our enemies. (Matthew 5) We are told often in the Bible that the essence of God is love. A great definition of love is to work for the good of others even at our own expense. I am thinking of God doing that very thing through the sacrifice of his Son on the cross. Why, I wonder why would God go to such an extent with his love only to one day say to some folks, ‘Too bad for you’. God’s love is eternal. (Jeremiah 31:3, for example.) I think that Jesus expressed God’s love for the thief on the cross who was to be welcomed into Paradise. Jesus also asked God’s forgiveness for those who were crucifying him.

We know that God knew, planned, or permitted the FALL to take place back in the Garden of Eden because Scripture asserts that Christ’s sacrifice for all God’s creation took place before the creation of the world. ‘Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes.’ (Ephesians 1:4 NLT) The Trinitarian love of God is eternal and being shared with us through creation and redemption and finally reconciliation.

See 2 Timothy 1:9 (God’s grace came to us in Christ Jesus before the ages)  and 1Peter 1:20 (Christ was chosen before the creation of the world, but revealed in these last times for our sake).

God is a good ‘love investor’, having already planned for the inevitable conclusion of giving humanity free will. God was not giving up on creation and surely not on any of us who were created in God’s image, stamped with the life of God’s son, and it is in God all humanity lives and moves and has its being. (See Acts 17:28 for this last phrase.) This is all grace.

Scriptures declare that even after the rebellion of God’s people God’s love remains everlasting. Paul even writes that all ISRAEL will one day be saved. (See Jeremiah 31:33,34 along with Isaiah 59:20,21 for God’s everlasting love and Romans 11:26 for Paul’s statement about ‘all Israel’.)

Do I really want murderers, rapists, Nazis and the like sitting with me at the marriage supper of the Lamb (Rev. 19:6-9)? ‘Of course not’, my flesh replies, but if I walk by faith and love I will not reply from my flesh. And yes, my flesh looks for the Bible readings where the righteous prevail and the wicked are doomed but I want to live by grace, forgiveness and with enduring love.

The Bible tells us that ‘God will be all in all.’ (1Cor. 15:28) Perhaps it’s a mysterious passage or it well could match up with what Paul says to the philosophers in Athens about everyone having their whole lives wrapped up in God with the possibility that we may indeed look for God and find God.

In the meantime the church is Christ on earth to help bring creation back to the Garden as it were. God, through the church, is filling the earth with God’s presence. (See Ephesians 1:23) That is a call to responsibility and joy.

The final scene in the movie PLACES IN THE HEART depicts a gathering at worship of all the characters, the ones who have died and those who are alive. Some have been mortal enemies. They are sharing the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper together. I pray and hope that one day all people will bow and worship God as one. Paul writes that in Philippians 2.

So this Christmas let us proclaim God’s love, an eternal love, for all creation. It’s going to be a great day when all the creation realizes that the babe in the manger came to redeem the ones God loves so much.

 

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.

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why Tell Anybody About Jesus

So I was asking myself the question, ‘Why tell others about Jesus?’ Why not just leave people alone to their own beliefs or lack thereof? Then I thought, “Why did Jesus tell his disciples to go and train other people to be disciples?’ Was it to propagate a new philosophy of life? Was it to keep everyone from going to hell because that’s not a very attractive way of love or grace? I rather think that Jesus wanted people to follow him, trust him, and place their confidence in him for all the positive reasons. Consider the following:

  1. He believed himself sent from God, embodying God to reveal the fullest picture of who God is, clearer than anyone had ever portrayed God.
  1. He was offering people a way to life. He, the author of life, knew exactly the way life could best be lived, not be external acts or ceremonies but by a heart formed in Godly love.
  1. He wanted people to know how to live each day according to what was most real, ‘THE KINGDOM OF GOD’.
  1. In the most positive sense he wanted us to know that through his ultimate sacrifice, one of justice and love that our sins, our separation from God was forgiven, that God himself was paying the price we should have had to pay for rebellion against a just God.
  1. Jesus came as the epitome of the new creation that God was initiating to bring all things together in a final wonderful way starting with this present creation and finishing with a new heaven and new earth, a re-creation of all that was God.
  1. Jesus promised hope not for this life only but for eternity. His resurrection is the validation of all that is to be new.
  1. Jesus is the perfect Jew chose to complete the Abrahamic Covenant to bless the WHOLE world.
  1. Jesus came to make sure that we knew just how much God loves the brokenhearted, the downtrodden, the lost, and the marginalized.
  1. Jesus came to bring us freedom. Guilt and shame are gone. People were rescued from the false promises and power of idols.

Take for example a man whose life was controlled by his addiction to alcohol and he, through the 12-step program, is released from that idol. He wants to share with others that message, not to beat them over the head but to share what is REAL, what WORKS, what is GOOD.

And because Jesus lives He knows each one of us, what sorrows, sins, hurts, joys and He promises to be with us forever.

So these and I am sure many other reasons are good motivation for sharing the Good News, sharing not shoving. May God help us to be faithful to Christ as we do so.

A Fresh Approach to the Beatitudes

It seems that a lot of folks look at the Beatitudes in Matthew 5 as some sort of spiritual self-examination to determine if they can get into the Kingdom of God.

I see them as wide-open invitations for everyone to place their confidence in Jesus because he IS the Kingdom of God. And he is there for everyone.  It is not a matter of reaching some kind of spiritual achievement before you can realize his presence. It’s a matter of trusting him to give you the Kingdom, entrusting it to you and me.

I want to imagine for a moment Jesus on a hillside with lots of people who have come there because they have heard that he might be the new Messiah for the people of Israel. Most of them have come to the hillside because they are not so welcome in the temple or synagogues. Perhaps the sick, the sinful, a few ‘righteous’ folks and among the crowds those whom Jesus would call to follow him were there too.

Now this is the first large gathering of folks and what Jesus would say would set a tone for his ministry. He wanted to be clear about what was expected in this new age and he wanted the people to be sure they knew their place in the Kingdom of God.  Some say that Matthew used ‘Kingdom of Heaven’ out of sensitivity about using the name of God. Kingdom of heaven and Kingdom of God are the same.

So Jesus is looking over the crowds. He knows who they are and why they have come. And he is about to make an invitation to join him in this Kingdom that he has brought. Remember that his first words were, ‘Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand’. (Matthew 4)

So now I want to use some different language for the beatitudes, words that have more impact on the folks for whom religion has become irrelevant or outdated. Nevertheless they express this good news that Jesus is announcing.

So let’s begin.

You have a special place in God’s heart and providence, you who think so little of yourselves, who have so little.  Even though you are not knowledgeable about spiritual things God places high value on your life and wants to give you his kingdom.

And you, the ones who hurt, ache, and grieve over life’s casualties, God has taken special regard for you in his kingdom. He wants to soothe you, comfort you, and hold you in his arms in his Kingdom and say, ‘It’s ok. You’re safe now’

And then he looks around and notices the people who always seem to take the last place or perhaps have been shoved there. There seems to be no room for you but THIS, my life surrounding and embracing you, is the new Promised Land You are with me and God will make sure that you share in everything that I have and will have. God is colonizing the earth with people like you. You rule!

And then Jesus takes note within his spirit of the Jews in the crowd who have longed for justice, righteousness, fairness that only the Kingdom of God could bring, only the Messiah could enact. Jesus is that justice, righteousness they long for. He is the Son of God, the King incarnate and tells them in so many words that their search is favored by God, approved by God if you will. They will be as satisfied as the sheep that graze on good ground.  God has heard their cry and sent his son to set things aright in the Kingdom of God.

And then there are those in the crowd who are so kind to others. In the midst of their hard lives they take time for others for it’s the only way perhaps right now that justice can be done. One on one. Face to face. God has a place for them in his heart. It’s for them his Kingdom has come. They may not have religious training. They may not be good Jews but they care. Love matters to God and so Jesus promises that in his administration they are going to receive, know, and experience the mercy, the kindness of God.   MORE TO COME…..