Archive for December, 2010

Birth of Christ An Historic Scandal

It is Christmas Eve! Many of us look forward to this time of year for many reasons. I include time with family and friends, all the good foods, uplifting movies and music, people’s kindness among those reasons. Of course the greatest reason of all to look forward to this time is that we celebrate the birth of a savior. Who would not want to celebrate the birth of the one who would save us from our fate of separation from God for all time because of our rebellion?  

As I was thinking of that I was intrigued by a couple of articles in the news today about how the celebration of Christmas was angering folks. In Jakarta, Indonesia, Muslims were angry that the Malls were “too demonstrative” in their Christmas decorations. In North Korea officials were calling a huge Christmas tree just across the border in South Korea, “a provocative propaganda symbol.” Neither of these perceived offence’s that elicited these negative remarks were overtly Christian in any way, but I was reminded that the reactions of the Muslims in Indonesia and the North Koreans to Christmas is really a reflection on the reaction of many people to the benevolent offer of salvation made by Jesus.

What is it about Jesus that brings offense? Is it His offer to bring reconciliation of the broken relationship between man and God? Can’t be that! Who does not want to have a relationship with God? Could it be that He wants to give eternal purpose to our lives? Can’t be that, we all want our lives to count, not just in this life but forever. Maybe it is the offer to bring Peace between men? No, it can’t be that because we all want to live in peace and amity with everyone. Doesn’t it just wear you out to be at odds with others? It does me, that can’t be it if we really think about it. Who wants to always be on edge or on guard in all of your relationships? No there is something else that makes us react with anger at the celebration of Christmas or the celebration of Christ.

Christmas celebrates a baby’s birth, and that can’t be offensive, unless that baby is more than just a baby. Herod the Great, King of Jerusalem at the time of Jesus’ birth knew Jesus was not just a baby. He saw him for what He was and that was a scandal to Herod. Herod is instructive for us. He knew that Jesus was to be a king or a ruler and that just was not going to fit into Herod’s plans. Herod was in charge and he was not going to make space for a baby to usurp him. Could this be the reason so many people react negatively to celebrations of Christmas? Do they see Jesus as the ruler that He was born to be and instinctively rebel as did Herod?

Well I suspect that is the reason so many either rebel against Christmas or are even a bit embarrassed by the celebration of Christmas. Jesus is not just a baby in a manger to be admired, but He is savior of the world. He is Savior of everyone in the world – not just Christians, but anyone who will come to Him. Anyone who is savior of the world is also a ruler and supreme King. We can not embrace the salvation without recognizing His lordship over our lives. Muslims can not accept His Lordship and neither can the dictatorship in North Korea. Their reactions should be obvious, but we should ask ourselves, do we shy away from Christmas; do we shy away from Christ? Let’s embrace His birth, His salvation and most of all His Lordship. He deserves it, He earned it.

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Merry Christmas – Your Republic Depends On It!

As Christians, this is a very Holy time of year when we remember the Good News of The Gospel as it burst on the scene in Bethlehem 2,000 years ago. The God of all creation became man, was incarnate in human flesh and the miracle story or our redemption from our rebellion against Him opened an exciting new chapter. No longer would we be separated from Him, no longer would His perfection be inaccessible to us, He had become a little human baby just like us and He would break the barrier of the curse. He would fulfill the penalty for our sin and “When he ascended on high, he took many captives” – that is us, He took us captive and what a glorious captivity!!

This is a story, so amazing, so inspired, so unusual and so refreshingly freeing, it needs to be told. Indeed a story that needs to be told in the nooks and cranny’s of society. It needs to be told to the abused Mom thrown out of her home all the way to banking customers in affluent suburbs. The news is that good, but someone wants to stop you.

In recent years, there has been a debate as to whether sharing this good news was appropriate in the public arenas. We are a nation founded on the separation of church and state don’t you know. Interesting thought but I think that is one of those things Paul called the “Doctrine of Devils” I Timothy 4:1. You see it is a lie from the enemy that to be good Christians and good citizens in the United States is to separate Christianity from public life. We take it out of the schools, out of public policy decisions in all manner of ways, but it was not always so and in fact it is bad theology and bad politics.

I need not go into the theology of sharing our faith in all we do at all times. We know that we are to let our light shine before others, that they may see our good deeds and glorify our Father in heaven. Do we also know that it is good public policy to let our light shine? Our founders and early leaders of this country thought it was:

“It is impossible to rightly govern the world without God and the Bible.” – George Washington

“It is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor.” – George Washington

“Congress passed this resolution: “The Congress of the United States recommends and approves the Holy Bible for use in all schools.” – United States Congress 1782

“We recognize no sovereign but God, and no King but Jesus.”
– John Adams and John Hancock

“The Declaration of Independence laid the cornerstone of human government upon the first precepts of Christianity.” – John Adams

“We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Avarice, ambition, revenge, or gallantry, would break the strongest cords of our Constitution as a whale goes through a net. Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” – John Adams

God who gave us life gave us liberty. Can the liberties of a nation be secure when we have removed a conviction that these liberties are the gift of God? Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just, that His justice cannot sleep forever.
– Thomas Jefferson

“[The Bible] is the rock on which our Republic rests.” – Andrew Jackson

“In regards to this great Book [the Bible], I have but to say it is the best gift God has given to man. All the good the Savior gave to the world was communicated through this Book. But for it we could not know right from wrong. All things most desirable for man’s welfare, here and hereafter, are found portrayed in it.” – Abraham Lincoln

“Our laws and our institutions must necessarily be based upon and embody the teachings of The Redeemer of mankind. It is impossible that it should be otherwise; and in this sense and to this extent our civilization and our institutions are emphatically Christian…This is a Christian nation” – United States Supreme Court Decision in Church of the Holy Trinity v. United States, 1892

I could go on, but I think this sampling provides ample evidence that our founders and early leaders all felt that our civil society depended on our living and sharing the Good News of Jesus. John Adams said it most clearly above when he said that our constitution will only work for a moral and religious people. Civil government does not work unless the people are bridled by their allegiance to God.

It is interesting that the New Testament echo’s this thinking (or I should say the founders thinking echo’s the NT teaching) in that Paul tells us that the law brings death. Romans 8:2-3 “because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering.”

Our laws are not sufficient to make us good people. We need the redemption of God. We need the teaching and instruction that comes from God’s word and we power of God in our lives to live what the Bible teaches us. Being a Christian is the best thing you can do to be a good citizen. Do not cow to those who say Christianity has no place in the public arenas of the day. It does. He does. We are a sinful people and without the power of God in our lives to change us, we are a lawless people who can not be constrained by law except by bringing about death.

So, have a very Merry and Holy Christmas and renew your commitment to let the power of God in your life to transform you that your light will so shine before men that they will glorify God.

Politics – A Holy Calling?

For me this question has not always had a simple answer. Although I have long thought that our faith should inform every area of life and that there was no real separation between the secular and the holy, I found the sentiment did not seem to be widely shared in regards to politics. That has always bothered me because I could not make the “politics” exception. I do believe that all of life is holy as we consecrate it to God. In other words an athletic contest, a concert, a show, a business endeavor and, yes, politics were all as spiritual as a prayer, a hymn, bible reading or a worship song.

God has created each one of us to be unique. As we live our lives according to our God given desires, we are giving back to God the highest form of worship. Living our lives and reveling in the way God made us is truly taking thankfulness from our lips to our actions and therefore to high praise to the one who made us. That must include politics.   

That being said, I know that as a believer our number one role is to fulfill the great commission, to take the gospel to the whole world. Politics, however, according to Word-Origins.com is “etymologically the art ofcivil administration’” and I think that captures what I think of when I think of the term politics – how society organizes and governs itself.  But back to fulfilling the great commission, how can politics do that? Our kingdom is not of this world so why should we concern ourselves with this worldly endeavor?

Politics is something which affects much, if not all of our lives, and over the past few years I have seen more and more clearly how politics and our involvement and interest through informing ourselves on the issues of the day is increasingly necessary and, indeed, a holy calling. Jesus challenged us to be salt and light to our culture and Christians through the ages have fulfilled that charge by slowly turning and molding the collective consciences of their communities. A cursory history of Western (Christianized) culture will show that in the areas of slavery, treatment of women, rule of law, treatment of prisoners, the poor, handicapped and infirm among others, the church has positively influenced culture.

We are still called to affect our culture and as citizens of the largest Republic, we have unprecedented opportunities to affect and mold the conscience of our nation and because of our nations influence, the world. Jesus and Paul both affirmed a duty of Christians is to be good citizens and in order to do that, we first must be men and women like the men of Issachar “who understood the times and knew what Israel should do” I Chronicles 12:32. Do we understand the times? Do we know what America should do? Because I think that as a Christian, I am not well enough informed to know, I think it important to pursue knowledge. Will you join me?

Part of my effort to sharpen my discernment and wisdom is to read and listen to many and varied sources of information and prayerfully ask God, what is right to do. As a result of that reading, I picked up a book by Hugh Hewitt titled “The Good and Faithful Servant, A Small Group Study on Politics and Government for Christians”. Partially as a result of this book and partly out of conviction on the part of Barb and I to do something to affect the church to be bright, salty and influential citizens, we are going to launch a small discussion group focusing on a wide variety of issues. Hugh Hewitt, in his introduction states “Christians have to get smart about politics because the freedom of the church – in the U.S. and abroad – and thus the church’s ability to spread the Good News of Christ depends on politics.” While that may be a bit of an overstatement, the point should not be missed that the preaching of the Good News is affected by politics.

Politics affects how the poor are treated, how human life is valued, and how freedom and liberty are handled. Different systems have widely different affects on these. So, as Christians, join me in becoming a better citizen: one who is not ashamed as a Christian to be informed and involved in the political arena. It is a blessing from God that we have this responsibility.

Is Capitalism Biblical? How About Socialism?

I have often thought it was interesting that Christians didn’t seem to mind what kind of economic system we lived in “as long as there are Godly people in charge”, or words to that effect. I have wondered when I heard that, if the sentiment was formed based on the theory or the actual practice of such systems. I also wonder “in charge of what”? There is no one in charge of capitalism.

According to the Merriam-Webster Learners Dictionary definition, Capitalism “is defined as a way of organizing an economy so that the things that are used to make and transport products (such as land, oil, factories, ships, etc.) are owned by individual people and companies rather than by the government.” Decisions are based on what they estimate to be in the best interests of the community. It is separate from government, although it can be affected by government.

Socialism on the other hand according to Merriam is “a way of organizing a society in which major industries are owned and controlled by the government rather than by individual people and companies.” It does have people in control, it is actually tied very closely to government.  

The key difference between the two economic systems is of course who owns the property? Should individuals or governments have ownership? Is there ownership that one group would have, that the other should not and vice versa? Those may seem to be extra-Biblical questions, or questions that do not really have an answer in our study of the Bible, but is that possible?  If it is true, then it really does not matter what kind of an economic system we live under. In addition if it is true that the Bible does not speak to economics, it is silent on a major part of our lives, one that affects us in every way. It would seem odd that the Bible would not have any instruction in this area. I think it does.

The Bible makes clear from the very beginning that God owns the earth and He entrusts to man the stewardship of the earth. Is that any indication, or is that too general?

What about the parable of the owner of the vineyard in Matthew 20 (1 “For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. 2 He agreed to pay them a denarius[a] for the day and sent them into his vineyard. …………8 “When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first.’ 9 “The workers who were hired about five in the afternoon came and each received a denarius. 10 So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. 11 When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. 12 ‘These who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.’ 13 “But he answered one of them, ‘I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? 14 Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. 15 Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’) Does this, along with the very obvious reference to salvation, also indicate that private ownership is a good thing, or is that incidental to the story? Does the owner of property really have the right to do whatever he wants to do with his own property?

What about the story of Acts 4 & 5 and the disciples selling their possessions and holding them in common (32 All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. 33 With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all 34 that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales 35 and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need……..Acts 5 1 Now a man named Ananias, together with his wife Sapphira, also sold a piece of property. 2 With his wife’s full knowledge he kept back part of the money for himself, but brought the rest and put it at the apostles’ feet.  3 Then Peter said, “Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land? 4 Didn’t it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal?) Does this indicate that socialism is the Biblical standard? Is this incidental to the story? Were the disciples required to sell all that they had? Could they have kept their property and been a member in good standing?

These are questions that we must ask and we must come up with solid answers because our world is shaped by the battle for free market capitalism versus socialism. Does it matter what kind of economic system we have? How does that affect our government? What role does the government legitimately play in economic systems? Is our society too complex for the instruction or examples from the Bible?

The Bible does say much about economics and it says a lot about our stewardship of possessions. It is pretty obvious as you read through the Bible that we own things, we make decisions about what we own and it does matter.

I would like to revisit this subject and would love to hear input and responses to some of these questions, but in the meantime, I would leave with this thought. I think the Bible is pretty clear that God does not intend us to be slaves, but to be stewards. If the government owns the means of production, we are no longer stewards of God’s creation, but wards of the state. Ask yourself if that is what you were designed for.

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