Tuesday, May 01, 2007

On Protests and Blunt Clubs

I drove by San Juan High School yesterday, where my daughter attends school, and saw a rather large protest going on.

Members from a local church were protesting the suspension of a student for wearing an anti-gay t-shirt during the Day of Silence a week or so ago. The Day of Silence is in support of Gay and Lesbian tolerance on campus, and a Christian young man wore a t-shirt stating "homosexuality is sin". He was asked to remove it, refused, and so was suspended as being in violation of school policies against wearing clothing with offensive messages.

Now, I understand that this places the schools in a tough position, because both sexual orientation and religious views are "protected" groups in the schools. The schools are charged with promoting a safe atmosphere for learning, and State education codes explicitly prohibit discrimination or harassment based on gender, race, sexual orientation, and religion, among other things. That's not what my letter is about. I feel for the administrators who are mostly decent people trying to do their jobs the best they can, and are put in a very tough spot.

There were about 30 or so people lining Greenback Lane directly in front of the main parking lot of San Juan HS. They held professionally printed signs, with bold letters proclaiming "God Hates Sin", "God Hates Sodomy", Homosexuality is Sin", The Wages of Sin is Death", "Christian Student Suspended for Wearing T-shirt", and several with bible verses relating to Sodom and Gomorrah and Romans 2, as well as a sign saying something about "taking our nation back". The group was general peaceful, standing for the most part quietly along the street, talking to each other while drivers went by and either honked in support or not.

What I want to say is, it broke my heart when I drove by that scene. Looking into the faces of those with the signs, and reading the message they were relating, I felt nothing but aggression and severe judgementalness from that group. Here were Christian brothers and sisters, fellow followers of Christ, and all I could think was "How does any of this show the love of Jesus to students they are trying to reach?" I had no quarrel with the theology of their statements, and the leaflet they were handing out was biblically accurate as far as I saw, but where was the love of Christ?

It honestly brought tears of sadness to my eyes to think that my daughter, who attends San Juan, would look at this group and in some way equate their actions with what I'm trying to teach her about Christ.

I though back to JT's sermon on Sunday. I think he was right on the money. Luke 6:22-24, "God blesses you who are hated and excluded and mocked and cursed because you are identified with me, the Son of Man. When that at happens, rejoice! Yes, leap for joy! For a great reward awaits you in heaven. And remember, the ancient prophets were also treated that way by your ancestors." NLT

We know the world will hate us BECAUSE OF our love for Christ. I think Christ is assuring us that, if the world notices we are different, then we are on the right track in serving Him. I just don't see the joy or celebration of Christ in this type of protest, though. Instead, I see a political statement, demanding that the world respect Christ's message and our right to say it, when that's not the way Christ brought his message into the world! He brought it freely, to those that would have "ears to hear", not to be drummed into our ears by force. No one is ever forced to accept Christ's message, OR bend politically to appease the desires of His followers.

Luke 6:26-29, "What sorrows await you who are praised by the crowds, for their ancestors also praised false prophets. But if you are willing to listen, I say, love your enemies. Do good to those who hate you. Pray for the happiness of those who curse you. Pray for those who hurt you. If someone slaps you on the cheek, turn the other cheek." NLT

As JT said, this turning of the cheek is the Christian response to the personal attack on our faith, our ethics, our morals, and our very being because of Christ. In so many places throughout the bible, the Christian response to persecution is prayer for our "enemies" (whoever they be), responding not in kind (by protest and political action) but by kindness, gentleness, and assertive preaching of the Good News of Jesus.

Mind you, JT noted that that this passage is not saying we should lie down and allow ourselves to be physically assaulted without trying to protect ourselves. However, he also sighted the example of the early Christians, who, when faced with no other choice, and were unable to do anything to protect themselves, went to their deaths in the Roman Coliseum and elsewhere with that joy and faith that Jesus talked about in Luke 6:22. Jesus spoke that "turn the other cheek" phrase not just as a spiritual lesson, but with full understanding that His followers would, on occasion, have to literally turn the other cheek even unto death.

Anyway, I say all this in an effort to clear my own mind and solidify my own thoughts on this protest that I observed. My daughter said most of her friends thought the protesters were stupid and mean, and she did too. That broke my heart.

As Christians, we do have a responsibility to share the Good News in all places, boldly, but with love. The lack of love makes the Good News into very bad news because it confronts people with sin in their (our, my) life, and places a choice in front of each of us. Without the Good News that not only is there sin, but a
loving, hopeful way to overcome that sin and find reconciliation with God, then the Good News becomes nothing more than a blunt club with which to beat people over the head.

There IS a place for Christian activism, and I will support those who feel led to go out and speak up boldly regarding what they see as wrongdoings in society, but that activism must ALWAYS be tempered with love and gentleness. What I saw yesterday felt much more like a blunt club, and that made me very sad.

I wonder what a prayer rally held in front of the school would have looked like, with signs stating that we are meeting to pray for the students and asking that God would bless those who are standing firm in their faith as a way to show His love to even more students and staff at the school? Probably very different.

If you actually read this far, God Bless you for putting up with my tirade! I speak not as any authority, just as one trying to work things out in his heart and mind, to try to serve Christ better.

I invite your thoughts or comments.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

On Slavery to Christ, and Why It's Not a Bad Thing

In another forum, in response to a post stating that the poster was "a slave to Christ", there was the terse response,

"if you want to be slaves go ahead . I am a free man and I will stay a free man until I stop existing".

The problem with that statement is that, we're all slaves to one thing or another in this life. Some are slaves to money, to food, to fashion, to relationships, to sex, to greed.... whatever. Name your poison. Everyone has driving forces in their life about which we can do virtually nothing. Its our condition, and how we as humans were made. We need and desire and crave purpose, and through our cravings we become slaves to that which feels like it will give us some fulfillment.

Through Christ, accepting his resurrection as a real thing and understanding that because he rose from the dead He proved that he has the power and authority, given him by God, to forgive sin and grant eternal life, I've chosen to become a slave to God and righteousness... the good things in life. I'm a slave to kindness, honesty, patience, and simple unadulterated joy. My life has very difficult times, but I have the tools, through my relationship with Christ and an understanding of the eternal nature of my existence, to pass through those times with peace.

Slavery has a negative taste in our western mouths because of our history. Any time a human subjugates another human against his/her will, it's a horrible thing.

But to subjugate oneself, freely, to the benevolent living God, understanding God has my best interest at heart in all things, knowing He has forgiven me of all my sins and made me clean before Him, and that he accepts me as an adopted son, God becomes both my master and my loving Father who loves me and knows me better than anyone else in existence.

It becomes my opinion, then, (and dare I say the opinion of Paul and other followers of Christ) that to freely become a slave to the Living God, the granter of all things good, knowing that my life WITH God is far, far better than any life WITHOUT God.....it is a better life than to stand on my own before the Living God and demand He respect me for my own works.

How any human thinks they have authority or the right to stand before God and demand anything from their creator is just beyond me. If that's the path you choose, to rail against God on your own, I wish you luck with that. I don't think "the goddess" (this participant claimed to worship in some fashion) will help you much, but feel free to ask her. Let me know if she answers you.

My Attempt to Answer a Toughie

A posting in a forum asked,

"If God is the all seeing, all divine, all powerful big creator, why are there millions of innocent people starving to death in the world?"

The question is a good one, one that has been a stumbling point to belief in God for as long as people have wrestled with the idea of God.

I think first you have to consider that this world is not all there is. There is an eternal aspect to each and every one of us, which is an almost universal concept no matter what religion you look at. But since I believe in the God of the Bible and Jesus, I'll do my best to reason from that standpoint.

First, if indeed God is the creator of all things, then all things are His to do with as He pleases. Period. However, I think God does things for a reason and with purpose.

Example: Jesus and the disciples were walking through the temple in Jerusalem one day when they came upon a man who was blind from birth. The disciples asked Jesus was it this man's own or his parents sin that caused him to be born blind.

The disciples were asking essentially the same question you asked. Why would God allow this man to be born blind? Isn't that a bad thing? Why would a loving God allow or cause this type of suffering?

Jesus answer was, so that I'd have the chance to show God's glory by healing this man here on this today (paraphrased, but that's the essence). Jesus indeed healed him, and that was one miracle of many in Jesus attempts to prove to the people who he was.

The point being, God did it for His own reason, not any reason that, beforehand, would have made sense to us. We, as humans, have such a short-sighted view on life, especially if we don't understand the eternal aspect. Was it a lack of love on God's part? A lack of compassion that God made this man blind most of his life? Or was it because God had a plan to reveal Himself to this man, and others through him, at a particular point in his life by doing something amazing? Again, the point being, God did it for his own reasons, but with purpose.

And, if God is indeed the creator, He doesn't need to ask us or justify to us His reasons, but I appreciate the beauty of the fact that He did explain it to us, on that occasion. And on many, many others.

Next, I've noted another person asking the question, what makes you assume people are innocent? Something to understand, from the Biblical standpoint from which I take my understanding of God, is that ALL people have sinned, and are under judgment and deserving of death. Everyone, everywhere, for all time. By God's standard, there IS no innocent person on earth. Jesus was the only one to live a sinless, perfect, truly innocent life, and even he was killed, quite brutally I might add. But again, he was killed for God's purpose and plan.

So, if we are all sinful, each of deserving of God's wrath and judgment, I think an even better question is: why does God allow his saved people to suffer? Biblically, those who have accepted Christ and are now clean and white as snow in God's eyes, and truly made innocent by Jesus' sacrifice. You'd think God would do everything He could to keep them safe, being truly innocent now, wouldn't you?

But look throughout history - the Christians in the Roman coliseum, all throughout Asia Minor and elsewhere, down through history and all over the world. God has not spared "His people" one bit of suffering. Among those "innocent people starving to death" as you put it, are believers who call out to God for help. Why doesn't He save them? I think that's a good, valid question.

I think it's because those who do not know God have a misunderstanding of what God's purpose is for our lives, and exactly what God is saving when he acts. True, there are times on this earth when God acts and literally saves people from physical calamity. Look at the biblical examples of Daniel in the lions den, or the guys who were thrown into the fire and escaped unburned. They served God's purpose to reveal himself to people at that time.

But God is in the business of granting eternal life to those who believe. This life, with is problems and suffering and what appears to be injustice and cruelty, is short and very temporary when compared with eternity. God is in the business of preparing us for that eternal life.

God promised even believers we'd have trouble, pains, and fear, just like everyone else - but to be of good cheer because Jesus has paid the price for sin, and those who trust God will escape the final judgment and live forever. It's THAT hope which makes the suffering bearable, and why the Christian faith perseveres.

So, the short answer to your question might be, I don't know the reasons why God does what He does. But because I DO believe in God, the creator of this world, and because I've seen the examples of love and generosity through Jesus dying and resurrecting to save ME, I can have faith and an actual firm, worldly assurance that God is not capricious. He is not callous or whimsical, and that everything He does has a purpose. One day, when that eternal existence begins, I'll have a better understanding.

But for now God says, trust me. Because of my own experience which proves to me God is who He says he is, I will. My hope is that many more will too.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Peace and the Long Perseptive

I've been reading today in my bible study preparation in the book of John, chapter 11, where Jesus goes to Bethany to raise Lazarus from the dead. There's a couple of things I want to note before I go to bed that I think relate to how I need to relate to Jesus when I'm praying and bringing my requests to God.

First is that Mary and Martha sent Jesus a note telling him that their brother Lazarus was sick. All the note said was "Lord, your dear friend is sick". No big details, no great pleadings, no weeping and gnashing of teeth. Just a note, telling Jesus about something that was troubling them.

Understand, the women were likely very worried about their brother if they sent word to Jesus regarding the illness. This was not a cold or the flu they were talking about, and they didn't just put a stamp on an envelope and drop it in the mail, or fire off a short e-mail. They send a messenger on a full day's journey to find Jesus and relay the message. They were concerned that, as it turns out, Lazarus was very near his deathbed. But in that note they didn't plead or demand anything of Jesus. They knew that Jesus could heal the sick, and they trusted that their beloved Teacher could heal their brother, if only he was made aware of the illness in time.

I think that says a lot about how we should approach God with our prayers and requests; trusting that God will take our requests and concerns and do the right thing with them. The faith part comes in trusting that whatever God does will be the right thing.

Mary and Martha had faith, without question, but their faith was limited in its scope.

Jesus waited 2 days before taking the full day's journey to Bethany. In total , four days had passed since Mary and Martha sent word, and it turns out Lazarus died soon after the messenger left. By the time Jesus arrived in town, Lazarus had been dead four days.

Martha met him and showed her grief and limited faith (the little faith of which I sometimes wonder if I have), and told Jesus that, had he been there in time, she knew her brother would have survived. Martha knew that Jesus had power over illness. She didn't yet grasp His power over life itself. Her scope was still limited.

Jesus declares that Lazarus will rise again. Martha, still not quite comprehending, takes the long view, which is not the wrong view but in this case a limited view, that indeed Lazarus will raise in the last days with all God's children at the last Resurrection.

Jesus then knocks Martha's socks off by stating "I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me will live, even though they die; and those who live and believe in me will never die. Do you believe this, Martha?"

Martha, in her wavering sorrow and mourning over the loss of her brother, seems to begin to understand, and confesses her belief in Jesus by saying, "I do believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who was to come into the world." Imagine being there, on the dusty outskirts of town, probably on a hot, dusty road or field, standing next to Martha, who was torn with grief over the loss of her brother, watching her look into the eyes of Jesus, a teacher from Galilee, and telling him that she thinks he is the anointed one from God sent to save her.

What a moving moment! But.... Martha, for all her profession of faith, still doesn't quite get it. She's getting there, but has one last step to take.

A few minutes later, Jesus, moved by his love for Lazarus, Martha, and Mary, and His desire to glorify God and show those around that Jesus indeed had authority over life itself, went to the tomb with Martha and the others and told the people to roll the tombstone away from the entrance.

Martha, still not quite comprehending what Jesus was saying, that he was going to raise Lazarus from the dead right now, tells Jesus, "There will be a bad smell, Lord. He has been buried four days!" She assumed Jesus wanted to see the body or something other than raise the dead man. Her faith was still limited to the scope of what she was able to understand. She had that one last step of faith to take.

Martha's last step to take was a step of obedience. Jesus had commanded the stone be rolled away. Martha objected and did not want to roll it away. Then Jesus said to her, "Didn't I tell you that you would see God's glory if you believed?" Martha still hadn't grasped Jesus' true nature and power over life and to forgive sins because of who he was.

Martha and Mary, along with those present, took that step of obedience, and moved the stone. Jesus told Lazarus to come out, and Lazarus staggered out of the tomb, still wrapped in the burial linen, but healthy and whole.

It is through obedience that faith grows. Even in the times of our worst loss, and our worse tragedy and sorrow, obedience to God, and faith in Jesus our Lord, are essential to joy through the sorrow, and peace through the grief, and to understanding that God is working things always in our best interest and to glorify Himself.

Knowing that Jesus is not only Lord of my life, but has the power to give me eternal life, and that in Him I have my treasure which is not perishable is an ever present comfort.

In my life I've not experience great losses, for the most part. I've not had to put my faith through the fiery test of depression and anguish that comes with losing very close loved ones. What with the aging of my parents and family, I am poised to experience such loss in the not to distant future.

I have, however, experienced marriage problems, separation, and will go through the actual divorce very soon, and I've experienced the loss of an intact family and the horrible disruption that causes. Through it all, I found that is was my faith that sustained me. Having the long picture, the "leaning on the everlasting arms" perspective, helped sustain me and keep me going.

Having that "long perspective", that Jesus lives and has granted me an eternal life, gives me faith and hope, which in turn gives me peace, continues to make life not only worth living, but a joy to live.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

A Word About Kindness

Lately, kindness has been at the very heart of my experience with Jesus, in His call to me to be a kind person in my own life. Not that I'm perfectly kind and gentle in all things, or have laid complete hold of the attribute of "kindness", but Jesus has definitely put a call in my heart to BE kind, and I'm doing the very best I can, with the help of the Holy Spirit changing my life.

Broader than being kind, though, is a call in my heart to live a life worthy of Jesus' sacrifice, and to be obedient to God, and to be an example the type of life that Jesus commanded us. After all, "they will know you are my disciples by your love for one another."

In 2 Corinthians, Paul tells the Corinthian church, "We try to live in such a way that no one will be hindered from finding the Lord by the way we act, and so no one can find fault with our ministry. In everything we do we try to show that we are true ministers of God." (2 Cor 6:3-4a)

This "we" Paul talks about about is not only the "ministers", or in his case himself, the other apostles and other leaders of the early church, but every single member of the body of Christ. Every believer is called to be a "minister". We should be ministering to each other day in and day out. We all have different roles, some teach, some preach, some serve, etc.... but we all "minister". That's the way the body works.

So then, each of us... every single believer in Jesus, is called to live a life such as Paul describes - in everything show that we are true ministers. Now, I know that's tough. I'm not claiming to have laid hold of anything close to living "so no one can find fault", but I do feel a desire, a tug on my heart, to strive in that direction.

I once heard a description of holiness as "tilting your life toward God in everything you do." Not perfection, since I am imperfect and will never be perfect in my human form, but having a yearning for God and His glory in all things, and letting His strength and perfection be made perfect in my weakness.

I've thought also about how hard it is to be "holy" in this world; to live a life such as Paul describes. I think, "It's just so hard sometimes!" Then I read on a little further and see some of the things Paul and his followers went through:

"We patiently endure troubles and hardships and calamities of every kind. We have been beaten, been put in jail, faced angry mobs, worked to exhaustion, endured sleepless nights, and gone without food. We have proved ourselves by our purity, our understanding, our patience, our kindness, our sincere love, and the power of the Holy Spirit." (2 Cor 6:4b-6)

Ok, that puts to shame my "hard" life here in California. I hang my head that I ever think of my life as "hard" at all, when I think about it in this context.

Yet, through it all, Paul and the disciples prove themselves, and thereby their message of Christ, by their purity, understanding, patience, kindness, and love through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Which brings me back to the beginning of this post, and kindness. I believe that kindness - a gentleness of spirit toward, and an empathy of the heart for another - is an absolutely key attitude for a Christian to have. Without kindness, love, and patience, there is no message in my life for an unbeliever - only condemnation and guilt.

So, my prayer is for me to have patience and kindness in my own life to serve as an example to those that see me and are closely examining my claim of Christ in my life. My prayer for you, dear reader if you are a believer, is the same. That you would have patience and kindness in your life, because those that hear you claim Christ are watching closer than you may think.

I know I was before I accepted salvation from Jesus.

The adage is true: No one cares what you know, until they know that you care.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Jeremiah and Peter

I've been reading the past few weeks in the Old Testament book of Jeremiah. Poor guy, seems he could never catch a break.

He kept telling the Israelites of all tribes, all of whom refused to listen, to turn from their wicked ways and turn back to the Lord in order to forestall the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians. God was so tired of all the Israelites going to the temple, going through their motions of worshiping the Lord, and then going back to their homes and lives and worshiping of the idols they'd made or bought.

Seems the Israelites had this odd thing for idols. Go figger.

But even though they were going through the motions of making a good show in the temple, of making the sacrifices and giving the tithes that The Law demanded, God knew their hearts. Who did they think they were fooling? There were actually other "prophets" in Israel, saying they had received messages or dreams from God, saying "Don't worry! The LORD says you will have peace!", and to those that stubbornly follow their own evils ways, they were saying "No harm will come your way!". (Jer 23:17).

But God says through this poor guy Jeremiah, "Am I a God who is only in one place? Do they thing I cannot see what they are doing? Can anyone hide from me? Am I not everywhere in all the heavens and earth?" (Jer 23:23-24)

God knew the thoughts and desires of the Israelites better then they knew themselves. What I'm learning out of Jeremiah is that God knows all my thoughts, my desires, my dreams and my fears. I have been redeemed, set aside, and now have a relationship with the Living God, and I don't want to be like the other "prophets" of Israel who claimed to have visions and messages from God, hearing and knowing His will, but actually were lying to themselves and others about God's message.

Peter says, "Be obedient to God, and do not allow your lives to be shaped by those desires you had when you were still ignorant. Instead, be holy in all that you do, just as God who called you is holy. The scripture says, 'Be holy because I am holy'. " (1 Peter 1:14-16).

Holiness is a lofty goal, and unattainable on my own. Only through a relationship with God, depending on the Holy Spirit and keeping my eyes on the Living Hope that I have in Jesus can I hope to live a holy life. That comes through obedience to God. I can no longer live in or claim ignorance of that fact.

For this I'm both grateful and, like the prophet Jeremiah, sometimes almost dismayed because, although I'm wonderfully and awesomely thankful for the grace and mercy God has shown me in calling me aside and saving my eternal life, it's not an easy life to live, and sometimes I find myself thinking, I wish there were an easier way! But nothing worth having is easy, and nothing worth earning is cheap.

Not that I've attained this holy life, but I am running the race. Thanks be to God, through Jesus Christ, there is now no condemnation for those who live in Christ. There IS no price I can pay or amount of work I can do to earn that.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

New Directions

After much deliberation and trepitation, I've decided to restart blogging, but with a more focused goal in mind.

I still want to use my blog to recount important, fun, or significant events in my life, and to comment on the silly or weighty issues of the day. But I want to use this new focus to comment on what I see as God's actions in world, and especially my own life.

I've come to the conclusion that God is there, despite what anyone may believe. My belief or disbelief does not alter the immutable truth - God exists.

In exactly what form?
I'm not certain.

What is God's plan?
I'm not sure.

Do I want to be a part of it, whatever it is?

How do I become a part of it, and get involved?
That's the journey of discovery I hope to take.

I've been a Christian for many years, but until recently my walk has been unsteady, and my spiritual depth quite shallow. My walk is becoming more steady, and the depth of my learning more substantial. I hope to use this forum to bring attention to, and glorify the works of God that I see everywhere.