Sunday, November 23, 2014

Faith vs. Politics

   In our world there are always going to be issues where our faith and our politics come into conflict.  We serve the Prince of Peace, but sometimes find ourselves warring against other nations and ideologies.  We find our conservative politics comes into conflict with the admonition of Jesus to “let the little children come unto me.”  We are admonished by our faith to treat strangers with love and concern, but our politics tells us to stop them from coming to my house (country).
   Frankly, I am not sure how to answer the dilemma I am confronted with when I hear my conservative friends railing against illegal immigrants.  Yes, I know they have broken the law, but I am not responsible for upholding the law. I am responsible for how I treat the “stranger within our gates.” 
   It is easy for me to criticize the president for what he has done regarding about 5 million illegal immigrants. Let’s look at who these people are.  The vast majority of them are the parents of children born in the USA.  Others are young people who have never lived anywhere but the USA.  Some do not even speak any other language but English.  That’s how long they have been here.  They were brought to this country, illegally, years ago, just so they can have a better life and get a better education.
   Yes, I can see that “ILLEGAL” sign flashing and I understand there are thousands waiting in line to come here legally.  The vast majority of these illegal adults in the USA would never be able to get legal status by waiting in the line at a consulate, because they had no particular skills for which they could be granted entry.  However, some of these youngsters who were brought here when they were babies or small children, are now in possession of great skills, learned in the schools of America.  They are capable of making a living, paying taxes, etc. 
   The questions that come to me are, 1. How can we ever round up and deport millions of illegal immigrants?  2.  Why should a wage earning, tax-paying person who has been here for five, ten, or even twenty years be uprooted from the home they have made and sent back to a country they hardly even know?  3.  How in the name of Jesus can I turn my back on the needs many of these people have?
   So far, not one of my conservative Republican friends (of whom I am one) has come up with an answer to question # 1. 
   As much as I dislike the fact that the president took what I believe to be unlawful action, I agree with him when he says, “If you don’t like my actions, pass a law to make it irrelevant.  Do something about this horde of illegal immigrants.” That is a fair challenge.  So far, all I have heard is criticism, and not a single one of my Republican heroes has stated what he would do with these people.  It should also be noted that the president’s action does not make these 5 million people voting citizens.  As far as I can tell, there is not even a pathway to citizenship, just a green card that allows them to work  without fear of being the subject of an immigration raid.  So, in that regard they are not “jumping the line.”
   My faith tells me to treat the stranger within our gates with courtesy and a sense of hospitality.  My politics says, “Kick ‘em out.”  I think I will follow my faith.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

We Need To Wake Up

For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline.  (2 Timothy 2:7 NASB)

   Whatever your belief is about the Mormon faith, and I know many of my readers believe theirs is a man-made religion, you have to hand it to them when it comes to spreading the word about their faith.  One could say the same about another religion that many believe is man-made, the religion of Islam.  Muslims are adept at spreading their faith.  Large numbers of prisoners in the incarceration units of our country have converted to Islam.  Untold millions of poor and down and out people across the globe have converted to Islam.  People who have been born into the Islamic faith rarely leave it.  Are we able to say the same things about Christianity in our time?  Whether it be by intimidation, encouragement or persuasion, Islam is the fastest growing religion on the planet.
   The verse at the head of this post comes from, a letter the Apostle Paul wrote to a struggling young pastor who was dealing with lots of issues in his church.  He was dealing with people who doubted core beliefs of Christianity, people who thought it was cool to tell people that if they became a Christian God would make them rich, people who could not leave the practices of their old religion when they came to Christ, and others who were just such babies in Christ that they had little ability to contribute intelligent conversation during the church troubles.
   The verse above reminded me that as a young pastor I was bold and unafraid to go knock on every door and present the claims of Christ.  In fact, the very first person I ever baptized was a professional wrestler who stood about 6’ 5” and weighed 350 pounds.  I was out knocking on doors one Sunday afternoon (that was before we had a T.V. set and the Dallas Cowboys did not yet exist).  I was a brash young pastor, still in co9llege, but I knew the Lord wanted me to knock on doors in Floydada, Texas and witness to whomever answered my knock, and invite them to drive out in the country six  miles to attend the little country church that had called me to be their shepherd.
   When that big ol’ wrestler answered the door I looked up at him, told him my name, and said, “I have come to talk to you about Jesus.  Do you have a minute or two?”  Immediately, my work was confirmed and I understood why on that Sunday afternoon I was supposed to be at that house in Floydada, Texas.  The big wrestler said, “Please come in.  My wife and I were just talking about needing to be in church.”  In less time than it took for me to  write this post, I invited both of them to bow their heads and ask Jesus into their lives.  Both did and both were baptized into Christ and our church.  The lesson I learned that day was that wherever the Lord leads, He precedes.
   I often think about that time in my life and how though the years I have somehow lost my zeal to go out door to door and, with boldness, proclaim Jesus.   Oh, sure, I get that things are very different now than they were in 1956.  I know all the reasons why that kind of thing is not done today.  Somehow, though, those reasons sound a lot like excuses. 
   I am convinced that the church should be encouraging this kind of witness.  We need to be putting ourselves in situations where we can speak up for Jesus.  Whether it is by inviting people to neighborhood gatherings, or by bringing people to events, it is imperative that the modern church rediscover what it means to be a witness.  We need to be sensitized to listening for opportunities to share Jesus, and our faith in Him.  Look again at the promise embedded in 2 Timothy 6:7.  It is a promise of power, love and discipline.
   Are you willing to do for your faith what others are willing to do for their?

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Time To Pull The Weeds

   In Saint Louis in 1984, an unemployed cleaning woman noticed a few bees buzzing around the attic of her home. Since there were only a few, she made no effort to deal with them. Over the summer the bees continued to fly in and out the attic vent while the woman remained unconcerned, unaware of the growing city of bees that was taking up residence just above her ceiling.  The whole attic became a hive, and the ceiling of the second-floor bedroom finally caved in under the weight of hundreds of pounds of honey and thousands of angry bees. While the woman escaped serious injury, she was unable to repair the damage of her accumulated neglect.
   Doesn’t that sound a lot like many people’s lives?  We tend to put off dealing with things simply because it is inconvenient to do so at the moment.  Then, at some point in time, it is too late.  The ceiling falls in and we have to deal with the consequences of our procrastination.  Then we discover that our neglect requires a price.
   Mayors and police chiefs have discovered that crime can be reduced if they just spend some time cleaning up neighborhoods.  If there is a building with a broken window, it invites vandals to break more windows.  But, if broken windows are repaired and the streets cleaned up, crime is reduced.  It works!   Crime can actually be reduced by cleaning up what has been neglected.
   Jesus once told a parable about a man who sowed good seed in his field. But, in the night while he was sleeping, someone with a grudge against him came and sowed weeds among the wheat. When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, the weeds also appeared.

"The owner's servants came to him and said, 'Sir, didn't you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?'
"'An enemy did this,' he replied.
"The servants asked him, 'Do you want us to go and pull them up?'

"'No,' he answered, 'because while you are pulling the weeds, you may root up the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.'"  

   In Syria and Palestine there is a weed known as the bearded darnel which grows profusely.  The problem with this weed is that it look a whole like wheat. It can hardly be identified until it is mature and the heads appear on the wheat.  Then  and only then can one tell the difference. The weed appears to be wheat until the time comes for it to produce fruit.  That’s when its true nature comes to light! Trying to weed it out sooner is virtually impossible without destroying the good plants—the wheat.
   Weeds and wheat. That is a parable that should scare the daylights out of us.  Think about this.  It is really easy to talk about the grace of God, how he accepts us even though we do not deserve it.  But, we must consider these harsher teachings of the Lord Jesus.  Some people are like wheat; some are like weeds. Just as wheat goes into the storage place and the weeds go into the fire, that is exactly the destiny of all people.  Those who are “wheat” will be saved.  Those who are “weeds” will burn.
   This is precisely the message the church needs to be teaching in our culture.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The Coming Muslim Takeover?

   For those conspiracy theorists who believe the Muslims are seeking to take over America from the inside, there is new evidence for them to think on.  It has been announced that the National Cathedral in Washington D.C. will host a Muslim prayer service on Friday.  The last time I looked, the National Cathedral was a Christian place, specifically Anglican (Episcopalian for you older folks).  Keep in mind that Muslim prayer services include a sermon or a sermonette, as well as the prayers.
   Now, I am eagerly awaiting the announcement that the biggest Muslim Mosque is going to invite the leaders of America’s mainline Christian groups to hold a similar meeting in their mosque.  I do not plan to hold my breathy awaiting that announcement.  The organizers say that this is an attempt to foster more understanding between Christians and Muslims.
   I don’t know about you, but I think I have about all the understanding I need.  Radical Islam is waging jihad against America.  Thousands of our young men and women have died in that war, as well as more than 3,000 no-combatants here on our own shores.  That tells me about all I need to know about Muslims.  It is the stated goal of Islam that every single person on planet earth profess their religion or be killed as infidels, which is pretty well stated in their holy book. 

   Little by little Muslims are causing Christian traditions to be torn down.  Year after year more schools and towns have quit saying “Christmas” because they fear it will offend Muslims.  For instance, just this week a suburban DC district stripped Christmas and Jewish holy holidays from its official calendar after Muslim parents complained.
   But, that’s not good enough for Muslims.  They say, “Simply saying we’re not going to call this Christmas, and we’re not going to call this Yom Kippur, and still closing the schools, that’s not equality.”
   CAIR, the predominant Muslim voice in America stated, “Equality is really what we’re looking for.”
   This is the state of affairs in America these days.  First it was, “If you are going to have a day off from school for George Washington, then we need to have a day off for Martin Luther King (who, by the way, was never elected to anything, let alone our first president.)  Then it was Caesar Chavez (Neither was he elected to anything by the people).  What King and Chavez did for the people they represented should not in any way be denigrated, but national holidays should be reserved for those events and people whose impact is national. 

   Now, Muslims want to either do away with Christmas or recognize Eid.  Now, I have no problem with giving Muslim kids some time off for any of their holidays, but if we keep this up we will soon have more holidays from school than we have teaching days.

   Little by little it appears Muslims are demanding more and more from our country.  How long will it be before they ask for all of it?

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Faith That Controls The Tongue

   Once there was a man who had gotten angry at his neighbor and told some false stories about him.   He later came to regret what he had done.  He went to his pastor to ask how he could make amends.  The wise old pastor told him to go get a sack full of chicken feathers, take them to the highest hill and scatter them to the winds.  The man later came back and said, "I have done it.  Now what?"

   The pastor said, "Now go search for the feathers and gather them up."
   The man protested, "That is impossible.  The feathers have scattered to the winds. They are everywhere."
   The pastor said, "That’s just how it is with words.  Once they have been spoken, you cannot take them back."
   Put another way, you cannot unring a bell.
   What the pastor was illustrating here is that even though you might be sorry for what you did, and even though the person may forgive you, the consequences of your words are still out there.  The tongue can do terrible damage.  It seems likely the control of the tongue, or rather the lack of control, was at the heart of the difficulty being experienced by the Christians to whom James, the brother of Jesus,  wrote.  He had already mentioned the tongue in chapter 2 in the context of letting your faith work for you, but in James 3  he goes through a more detailed explanation of what he was talking about.  He gives some very specific applications concerning the control of the tongue.
   There must have been someone asking a question James felt compelled to answer.  The question was, "How can anything as small as the tongue have so much power?”.  James responds by providing some portraits, or illustrations about size and power.  He talks about the power to direct, as illustrated by the bridle of a horse and the rudder of a ship.  He spoke of the tongue’s power to destroy, when he likened the tongue to a fire, and the venom of a snake.  Because of the power to destroy, the tongue must be brought under the control of a strong faith. 
   But, it was not only the power of the tongue that needed to be curtailed, but also the perversion of the tongue.  With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God; 10 from the same mouth come both blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be this way.”  (James 2: 9-10)  James suggests that we pervert the tongue by using it for both blessings and curses.   A strong faith will control that problem.  Simon Peter is a good illustration of this.  In Matthew 26:35 Peter had declared, "Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you…."  Peter uses his tongue to avow his loyalty to Jesus.  A good thing for which to use the tongue.  Only a few hours later he would use it to deny he had ever known Jesus.  
   With the same tongue he both blessed and cursed the Lord.  Why do we do this?  Why do we pervert the tongue like this?  
   James ends his significant discussion on the tongue on a positive note.  He speaks of the purpose of the tongue.  A life of faith will lead me to control my tongue.  This means each of us will use our tongue in such a way as to create the characteristics described in verse 17.   17 But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy. 18 And the seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace. James says a person of faith will use his words not to annoy, but to appease.  He will speak the truth, but he will be careful to speak the truth in love.
   I have heard of people who have eyes but do not see clearly or ears and do not hear completely.  But I have observed there are not many people who have a tongue and do not speak.  The average individual spends about thirteen years of his life just talking.  That’s probably why James offers us such good advice on the use of the tongue.  Develop a genuine faith, a faith which can control the tongue.  A genuine faith is a faith that controls.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Do What We Say

   Now that the election of 2014 is all but over (there are still some runoffs to be held), it is probably a good thing to look at what both losers and winners said in their speeches Tuesday night.  It is always impressive to me how humble and grateful the losers are, and how they strike such a conciliatory tone in their speeches to their losing followers. It sounds nothing like their rhetoric during the campaign.

  Likewise the winner’s speeches were always congratulatory and respectful regarding their losing opponent.  Such respect and appreciation, it seems to me, should be the kind of attitudes we should have in the way we govern.  Instead of looking at opponents as enemies, we should view them as loyal Americans, who just happen to have a different view of the future.  It just seems we do not respect one another’s views, without agreeing with them, and instead of seeing them as people who love our country, we see them as enemies of the country.
   Before the voting, I prayed that the Lord would have His will in the election.  I was prepared for people to be elected that I disagreed with and having people I liked defeated.  But, my prayer was “Thy will be done.”  I was praying that people would be elected who would commit themselves to bringing our country back to her religious roots, where God’s will was what all sought.  I do not need for all our leaders to be Baptist, but I do pray that all of them would have a relationship with God—a real relationship that would put them on the side of doing what is right in the eyes of the Lord.
   I heard a couple of candidates say, “I love the Lord” in their campaign ads.  Oh, I pray that is true.  I would that all candidates would “love the Lord” and seek His wisdom before voting or making decisions.  Candidates who used the Lord in their bios, now have to measure up.  It is time to do what we say, or be what we say.  What I witnessed in the campaign was that some who “loved the Lord” had no problem speaking lies about their opponent.  That kind of campaigning is not indicative of love for the Lord.  And that kind of governance will not do so, either.
  So, I guess now is the time to pray that all those who got elected will do what they say.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Is Your's A Faith That Works?

   What would happen if everyone found out you were a Christian? 
    I heard of a fellow once who went to work in a logging camp out in the northwest.  His Christian friends were concerned about him, whether or not he could get along with such a rough and rowdy crowd as the other loggers.  On one of his trips home they couldn't wait to ask about his experiences.  They wanted to know how he, a Christian, could make it in the rough and tumble world of lumberjacks.  "Oh", he said, "It was not a problem.  No one ever found out I was a Christian."
   Now, that is what I would call an anonymous Christian. One of the main thrusts of the book of James is that you cannot be a Christian and be anonymous.  Either your Christianity will overcome your anonymity or your anonymity will eventually overcome your Christianity.  If you have a faith at all, it will eventually show.  How?  What are the evidences of a Christian life?  How can people tell whether or not your faith is real?  One fellow put it this way.  "If being a Christian were a crime, would there be enough evidence to convict you?"
   James, the brother of Jesus, in His New Testament book suggests that a genuine faith is a working faith.  A Christian is not just a hearer of the Word.  He is also a doer.  This working faith manifests itself in several ways.
    First, James Says real faith is demonstrated by control.  "If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless." James 1:26.  Isn't it interesting that when James wanted to illustrate control, he went immediately to the tongue.  He is telling us that a working faith is strongly demonstrated by controlling the tongue.  In other words, the tongue can be a powerful and unruly force, and it needs to be controlled.  A faith which does not control the tongue is an empty, fruitless, powerless faith.
   Then, James says a real faith is demonstrated by compassion.  In James 1:27 he said, "Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this:  to look after orphans and widows in their distress…"  James is telling us something very important here.  He is telling us that a real religion  has a practical application.  Real faith leads to practical service to those who are in need.  Now, it isn't widows and orphans who are the issue here.  They are merely representative of all those who need help.
   Also, James suggests that a real faith is demonstrated by cleanliness.  The last part of verse 27 says,  "…and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world."  True faith will encourage us to keep ourselves unstained by the world.  In other words, it will help to keep us morally clean, reflecting a personal holiness in our lives.  Real faith will eventually lead to holiness. 

   This eminent author also suggests that a real faith will be demonstrated by consistency.  In chapter 2, verse 10 he said, "For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it."
   While it is true that sin is sin and one sin is no more a sin than another, it is also true some sins have more far reaching consequences than others, and in that sense they are worse.
   Finally, James says that a real faith is demonstrated by commitment.  In verse 18 of chapter 2 he said, "But someone will say, 'You have faith; I have deeds.  Show me your faith without deeds and I will show you my faith by what I do."  Now, on the surface one might see this as a contradiction of Paul's dictum of salvation by faith alone.  In fact, some of our Christian friends in other denominations find this to be a convenient doctrine…salvation by works.   James is not contrasting faith and works;  he is contrasting a saving faith…and a spurious faith;  an enthusiastic faith… and an empty faith; a working faith…and a non-productive faith.
   Is your faith really working for you?