Thursday, July 25, 2013

Here's Your Verse!

Ephesians 5:22 (NASB95) — 22 Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord.

Ephesians 5:25 (NASB95) — 25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, 
John 13:34 (NASB95) —34 “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.

Maybe it’s the heat of summer. I know that several years ago, summer heat was seemingly blamed for a lot of heated protests. Maybe that’s what’s happening today. I don’t know. What I do know is that I’m hearing lots of protest. Not that some of it isn’t legitimate and deserved, mind you. Who in their right mind wants to pretend that there aren’t some real problems that should be addressed? And for those real, legitimate protests, I say go right ahead.

But a lot of the hot air expelled lately is just that. It’s hot air. Real facts are ignored and emotions run high. That’s a recipe for trouble any day. Years ago somebody told me that if you want to guarantee that you’ll get run over, just stand in the middle of the road on any hotly debated topic. And that’s exactly what’s happened to me. Why? Because my personal opinion is that George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin are the wrong guys to use as a basis for a racism debate. There are just too many conflicting facts.

If you favor Trayvon Martin, George Zimmerman is a cold-blooded murderer. Never mind that he was acquitted by a jury of his peers. Never mind that the people involved in the trial said it wasn’t about race. Never mind that George Zimmerman isn’t white. At most he’s Hispanic, and I’ve read that his ancestry includes a black great-grandfather. And you have to discount a physical altercation that likely was precipitated by Trayvon Martin.

If you favor George Zimmerman, you must ignore the fact that he exceeded the responsibilities of a neighborhood watch captain. You have to ignore the fact that he spent way too much time following Martin, and ignored the 911 operator who told him they didn’t need him to follow Martin.

Here’s another truth. Either of them could have simply left the scene and avoided an altercation. That’s a fact. Either of them. I think what you really have is a terrible tragedy, but it’s not the basis for a racism discussion. But this may be exactly why it’s being used this way. There’s just enough confusion, just enough argument for each side, just enough so that manipulated by people with an agenda on either side of the divide, they can make a case. That feeds dissention, and that feeds all the rhetoric, and that feeds hatred, animosity and hostility.

What real truth does all the rhetoric ignore? It ignores the truth about violence in the U.S. You can go look this up. The United States government actually keeps statistics on these kinds of things. By far violent deaths against blacks is caused by other blacks. Just about the same statistical fact is true for whites. The vast majority is caused by other whites. The inconvenient truth for those who want to stoke the race fires is that a young black man in the United States today is in far greater danger from others of his own race, and the same is true for young white men. Want to address the real problem faced by our young people. Start here.

Now I’ve seen signs with references to Bible passages. “Love your neighbor,” was one. OK. I agree. We should love our neighbor. But let me suggest, it’s the wrong person, using the passage in the wrong way. Let me explain.

Years ago, I ran a counseling center. We provided Christian counseling to the southern part of metropolitan Atlanta, Georgia. We did a lot of marriage counseling, and a lot of those we counseled were Christians. Here is an amazing thing, witnessed over and over, when Christian couples came for counseling. The husband would come in and say, “You know, if you could just help my wife be submissive, like the Bible teaches, we wouldn’t have any problems.” And the wife would say, “You know, if you would help my husband love me like the Bible teaches, we wouldn’t have any problems.” Now there is a lot of truth in both statements. I have no doubt but that husbands needed to love their wives and that wives needed to submit to their husbands. We would get around to addressing those issues in counseling. So where’s the problem?

The problem is that people were using the wrong passage. You want to know which verse was written to husbands? It was Ephesians 5:25. Husband, love your wife. Until a husband refocused on the passage that was his, his marriage seldom improved. Want to know which verse was written to wives? It was Ephesians 5:22. Wives, be subject to your own husbands. Until a wife refocused on the passage that was hers, her marriage seldom improved.

That brings me to the broader point I’m writing about. “Love one another.” And that is reflected in a variety of ways. “Love your neighbor.” “Love your enemies.” But it does little good to write those slogans on signs and wave them around demanding that some other, nameless person should get it together and start doing what the Bible teaches. I doubt anybody has ever seen such a sign and experienced a sudden epiphany. “Oh! I didn’t know that. Why, I must start that right this moment.” No. That’s not how it happens.

Instead, it’s people willing to do the hard work and make the personal application. “Love your neighbor.” Yep. That’s what the Bible says, I believe the Bible is God’s word, I’m trying to learn and become what God wants, so this is something I need to do.”

We need less sign waving and more people who will simply go out and love their neighbors. “Yes, but they need to go first!” Really? Exactly where in your Bible does it tell you that you don’t have to implement God’s teachings until the other guy goes first? That’s playground talk. It’s immature kid-stuff. None of us should wait for the other guy. Just start.

I think that people can actually have serious and different opinions about a lot of things, including George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin. But you don’t get to then make false accusations about people with a different view. You don’t get to feed your suspicions of people, and decide what’s in their heart. Isn’t that exactly the kind of problems that produced the Zimmerman/Martin case to begin with? If you don’t like the way it went down, repeating the same stereotyped thinking will neither undo it, nor prevent from happening again. And folks on both sides are claiming they don’t want it to happen again. Really? Exactly how does feeding animosity, hatred and prejudice produce something different than what animosity, hatred and prejudice has always produced?

So, if you want to hold up a protest sign that reads, "Love your neighbor," I'm all for you. I just hope you're proclaiming your love for your neighbor, not demanding something that you're not willing to do.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Let's Ban All Religions

According to the singer-songwriter [Elton John], 59, his solution would be to "ban religion completely, even though there are some wonderful things about it". 
He added: "I love the idea of the teachings of Jesus Christ and the beautiful stories about it, which I loved in Sunday school and I collected all the little stickers and put them in my book. 
"But the reality is that organised religion doesn't seem to work. It turns people into hateful lemmings and it's not really compassionate." -- Sir Elton: Ban organised religion,

My first reaction when reading comments like these is to argue. "You're wrong! You don't understand! You're not being fair!" And I might be right. But who cares? One must still deal with the point being made, and that is religion "turns people into hateful lemmings and it's not really compassionate." Ouch!

Christians haven't always been good at taking criticism. We get all huffy about it, and often resort to proving how we're right and everybody else is wrong. Of course, from the other guy's point of view that just proves the point! Hateful lemmings that we are, void of any compassion for others, we feel justified in spouting condemnation and consigning all the critics to hell.

I wonder if it might benefit us to dare to listen for a moment. Is it possible that people like Elton John are offering a legitimate criticism? After all, it's well-known that religions love to war against one another. Even within a religion (let's use Christianity for example), we love to divide up, choose sides, and take pot-shots at one another. Not friendly pot-shots either. We shoot to kill - if not physically then spiritually (and we've been known to literally kill a few folks). If we were honest, we might willingly admit that the criticism, though distasteful, undesirable, aggravating, and sad, is true.

Of course we have disagreements. We see things differently from one another. What's important to one person isn't so significant to another. We have differing values. Our politics are different. Our social customs and traditions vary. We've got different, and sometimes conflicting histories. We're white, no we're black, no we're brown, no we're red! You know it makes a difference which you are! Even if we're Christians, all these other things matter because they still divide us. Our religion, instead of helping us minimize these differences, overcome our problems, and love our neighbors who are different from ourselves, ends up giving us new ammunition. We now have theological ammo with which to shoot our own, alongn with those who are not our own.

I wonder if we know what we look like and sound like to those who are not us. The Bible tells us that Jesus was a compassionate man. We're supposed to be his followers, and as followers we're supposed to be like him. Yet Elton John specifically observes that we (along with people of other religions) are not compassionate. Sure, he has his own social, philosophical, even religious point to make, but he's saying something about us that we need to hear. We're not compassionate. Nope. No sir! We've no heart in our chests. We're just cold, ruthless, hateful lemmings.

Is it possible that such observations are right? "Possible," I'm asking. If they are, then we should do something about them. Surely we don't want to be so unlike the Jesus we claim to follow. Every day, in countless situations, we demonstrate whether we're compassionate people or just hateful lemmings. Whether that criticism hurts or not isn't the point. What counts is whether it's true or not. All our claims to be "Christians" won't change the truth about us.

Recently, due to a major event that has gripped our nation, and has resulted in very strong opinions, many expressed in vile, angry, and contentious language, I asked a question. "I'm wondering if anybody thinks they've been more or less like Jesus the last few days?" If you can only see Jesus on your "side" of things, then I suspect you're less like him than you think. If your words burn and tear their way through others, even the ones you think are wrong, you should be very careful. If your words sound angry, hostile, and hurtful then you are probably giving folks like Elton John all the proof they need to just ban all religions, including yours. We Christians are going to have to sound and look different than we do.

You can justify all this "hateful lemmings" stuff if you want. Many will. I'd just say that one of the most difficult teachings of Jesus (if not THE MOST difficult) is that we should love one another as he has loved us. You want to convince Elton John that you're a follower of Jesus and that the Christian faith should never be banned? Love people. Jesus said that the world (folks like Elton John) would know we're his disciples if we have love for one another. People who really love one another don't get accused of being "hateful lemmings" void of "compassion."

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Does Jesus Lead? Do You Follow?

25 “It is enough for the disciple that he become like his teacher, and the slave like his master. If they have called the head of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign the members of his household! — Matthew 10:25 (NASB95)
Then we began to talk about the gospel. We talked about it long into the night, and before we left I said to him, "Look, you're serious about our conversation, I know. It would not be faithful of me not to ask you if right now you'd like to put your trust and confidence in Jesus Christ." He said to me, "You don't know what you're asking me. Do you know what would happen if I did that? If I announced it to anybody, my wife would leave me. My family would disown me. My boss would fire me. I may want to leave to go back to the United States, and the government would not give me an exit visa. I'd give up everything. You go back home tomorrow. I would not expect you would support me, and I would starve to death in my own culture." – Haddon Robinson, from the sermon "Love Keeps Going"
That conversation was one that Haddon Robinson shared with a Muslim man from Turkey. To become a Christian meant far more in practical terms than it does to us here in the U.S. We don’t face anything like what that man would if he were to become a Christian.

If you faced those dangers would you be a Christian? If it meant that you would lose your family, your job, your whole life, would you follow Jesus? It puts the meager problems we face in perspective, doesn’t it. We stress over all sorts of meaningless things, and so much that means so little gets in our way of following Jesus.

We’re a little tired, so it’s too much trouble to get up on Sundays to assemble with our church family. Our friends might laugh a little if we get too serious about our faith so that they think we’re becoming a fanatic. Stand up for truth, morality, goodness, and all things of God, and you might get a bit of flak. We might have to miss our favorite ball game. Oh, what a tragedy that would be!

History is peppered with martyrs who died for their faith. Today, too many people would die if they had to live their faith. The Bible speaks of the souls of the martyrs around the throne of God in heaven. That indicates how highly God thinks of those willing to suffer and die for their faith. Wonder what God thinks when we shun anything but easy living and a no-bother faith?

Following Jesus demands your life. There is only one way for Jesus to be Master and you be his servant. It certainly isn’t telling Jesus what to do. Does he lead? Do you follow?

Called To Be Disciples

19 “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit — Matthew 28:19 (NASB95)
The way to Christian growth is often to allow oneself to be puzzled and startled by new apparent complexity … Is it, after all, Jesus we want to discover and follow, or would we prefer an idol of our own making? – N. T. Wright, The Challenge of Jesus (InterVarsity Press, 1999)
The question posed by N.T. Wright is important. We Christians are supposed to be followers of Jesus. We all know it. We claim it, teach it, preach it, and expect it from the people we know who also claim to be Christians. But the real question is, “Do I follow Jesus?”

Our first reaction might be something like surprise. “Why, sure I do!” we exclaim. But when we examine that claim, it sometimes falls short. Jesus said in Matthew 10:25 (NASB95) “It is enough for the disciple that he become like his teacher, and the slave like his master. . . .” Therefore, the real test of discipleship is how much we’re like Jesus. The more we’re like him, the better a disciple we are; the less we’re like him, the greater the failure at being his disciple. Seems like a pretty easy test doesn’t it?

Of course, that means we need to know a lot about Jesus. We need to know the man, know his thoughts, his attitudes, his habits, behaviors, beliefs, and more. I believe the word “apprentice” may be one of the best words in our modern language to help us understand the idea behind the word “disciple.” An apprentice has the goal of becoming like his master. He learns the master’s skills and seeks to duplicate in his own life what he’s observed in his master’s. An apprenticeship usually takes years. There is no shortcut. It is demanding work, and must deal with multiple failures, producing things not quite up to the master’s standard.

Unfortunately, too many Christians aren’t much like the one they claim to follow. They know little about him, and if you were to look to see how much like Jesus they are in their lives, you might see very little. Perhaps the biggest reason is that so many seem to want to invent their own Jesus to be like. The original is of little interest to them. Maybt they think it’s too hard, too time consuming, too demanding.

Make no mistake, real disciples are people who are becoming like Jesus. It’s not that they have to already be successful, with no more growth required. It’s that they’re well on their way. You see them, you see Jesus. This should be our goal much more than other identifiers. We love to call ourselves “members of the church,” and that’s surely accurate, but it’s not our best identifier. You’ve been called to be like Jesus, not to membership.

The Practical Purpose Of The Church

20 Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, 21 to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen. — Ephesians 3:20–21 (NASB95)
The church is not a theological classroom. It is a conversion, confession, repentance, reconciliation, forgiveness and sanctification center, where flawed people place their trust in Christ, gather to know and love him better, and learn to love others he has designed. The church is messy and inefficient, but it is God’s wonderful mess – the place where he radically transforms hearts and lives. – Paul David Tripp, Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands, p. 116.
There are at least two ways in which the church demonstrates that it has fallen into the trap identified in the quote above from Paul David Tripp. The first is the fault of preachers and teachers. The problem is the idea that we need to preach and teach in a way that makes academic theologians out of the folks in the pews. Don’t misunderstand. We surely need to educate people with good theology. But folks in the pews need something better.

The other fault lies with the folks in the pews. Too many of them think that all they need is to learn the facts and figure taught by the teachers and preachers. The problem is that there is a great difference between just knowing a lot of Bible, and living a lot of Bible.

Our particular religious heritage, the American Restoration Movement, has a long history of studying the Bible, pleading that we should go back to the Bible, and correctly saying that we need God’s word instead of all the theology books in the world. But we also have a colossal failure on our hands. We can study things to death and leave people right where they were in terms of how they live.

This is no anti-intellectual argument. Quite the opposite. It is a plea use our academics for a higher purpose. What I mean is that excellent scholarship is necessary, but not just so we can know more and more. God has a purpose behind our knowing. What we learn must shape our lives. There is no theology exam to get into heaven. But there are daily tests of faith that give us opportunity to use what we have learned.

The end result of our efforts to preach and teach is to convert the lost, encourage confession of Jesus as God’s son, call sinners to repent and find forgiveness. That’s our practical purpose and it’s so much more useful than a head full of facts.

Things That Help You Call On The Lord

22 Now flee from youthful lusts and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. — 2 Timothy 2:22 (NASB95)
     . . . people across the world celebrated the development of their mobile device on its 40th birthday.
     On April 3, 1973, engineer Martin Cooper placed a phone call in New York City on his Motorola prototype, the DynaTAC.
     In a phone call to his development rival at AT&T, Joel Engel, he reportedly said, "I'm ringing you just to see if my call sounds good at your end."
     "We knew even in 1973 that one day everyone would have a cell phone," Cooper told CNN's Erin McPike.  –
Reminiscing can be fun. When I read the article, quoted above, I immediately thought of a few of those long-ago efforts to communicate. When I was a kid, the guy next door and I poked holes in the bottom of two tin cans, strung a kite string to connect the cans, then he and I had our own personal “phone” that ran between our houses. I don’t remember if it worked well. In the early 90s, I had a “bag phone.” Yep. Carried it around in a bag that looked like a large shaving kit. Had an antennae that stuck up over my head when I talked on it. I recall the reception was great for a phone that almost broke the bank and weighed a ton. Of course before all that, before dial phones, we had the telephone operator who asked, “Number please!” when you picked up the phone. My aunt was one of those operators and whenever I got her on the phone, she’d first say, “Well, hello Billy! How’s your momma?”

I love my Android smart phone, even though I don’t use it for all it can do. It keeps up with lots of information, helps me keep in touch with people all over the country, reminds me of appointments and a lot more. Of course I don’t remember anybody’s phone number any more, but I don’t have to. I can just speak your name and up comes your number!

What does any of this have to do with spiritual things? Well nothing really. Everything actually. How’s that for a “forked tongue” answer? Seriously. At the heart of the matter, phones are for calling people. But I’ve got an even better technology for you. Call on the Lord. You can speak out loud, or you can just think it, and God will hear. How’s that for being in touch? Check out the “number of things” that help you call on the Lord.