I Pledge Allegiance to the Christian Flag…

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It’s a pledge many Christians have never cited or memorized:

I pledge allegiance to the Christian flag, and to its Savior, for whose Kingdom it stands; One brotherhood, uniting all true Christians in service and in love.”

It’s a flag that represents not an earthly country with manmade borders but an eternal kingdom that will exist long after the earth and its kingdoms are destroyed.  It’s a flag that recognizes a people bound by a heavenly citizenship that isn’t subject to limitations, temporary visas or naturalization. It’s an emblem that is common to Americans, as well as Asians, Hispanics, Africans, blacks, whites, young and old with belief in Jesus Christ and brotherly love as its only criteria.  It is my flag and I love all it represents.

Yesterday was a shamefully divisive day among Christians and non-Christians alike as we witnessed a sport we all love and anticipate in the Fall of each year become a necessary platform as players and owners alike showed solidarity on some form of protest against not a country they hate, as some believe and wrongly accuse, but a country they love who in many documented cases, has not been fair in it’s distribution of equality and justice for all.  How I wish that any other platform had been chosen but football, but alas, here we are, millions of people being made aware of continued and systematic pockets of racial prejudice, yes even in 2017, and forced to acknowledge its evil exisstence. It is not something that all whites are guilty of, nor is it something all blacks are victims of, but if few are affected, all are. The chosen protest is a perceived lack of respect for a country and it’s flag, as well as all who fought for its freedoms.  To say it’s a touchy subject is a severe under-exaggeration. My opinion is not popular among many people.

The argument as to whether players are on company time as salaried employees will be left up to others to debate.  My concern is not over rights, but over where our true allegiance should lie as Christians.  I thank God daily that I was born into a country of rights and freedoms and I’m genuinely grateful to be born American.  But my birth was not by my choosing but only by God’s providence.  I could have just as easily been born in Nigeria or Afghanistan or Myanmar, point being I had nothing to do with my birth origin. I honor our flag and all those who fought so bravely to assure my freedom, many paying the highest cost of their lives-I aknowledge that. I participate whole-heartedly in July 4th activities and festivals celebrating our freedom and uniqueness and yes, greatness as a country.  But at the end of the day, or quite literally, at the end of days, I will exist as a Believer and one of the elect, not as an American or any other nationality.

God caused the seas to divide the land, according the the creation story in Genesis.  It is man, however, who divided, conquered, plundered in some cases, and ultimately created the borders used to define countries as we know them today, creating laws and limits as to who can cross, who can benefit, who can be referred to as its citizens and share in its freedoms. When God refers to nations it is usually a reference to a people of common origin, not a people defined by borders.  Jesus clearly pointed this out when he was asked about paying taxes in  a scheme to trick Him.  His answer, give to God what is God’s and to a government what is the government’s, is self-explanatory-one does not necessarily belong to the other. What and who belongs to God is not determined by borders or restrictions established by man.

So what is my response as a follower of Christ?  Holy scripture assures me I will be judged on how I loved and treated my fellow brother, ala sheep and goats. I will not be judged on how patriotic I was to a country that on Judgment day will not be in existence. I will be judged on whether I practiced true religion as defined in the New testament, not whether I stood or kneeled during a song about a country.  Did I speak out against injustices when I witnessed or was made aware of them? Did I treat my brothers according to the Golden Rule? Did I classify men by their skin color or Nationality?  Did I pray for my enemies and all those out of my reach who are daily persecuted for their faith, not their allegiance to a country?  Will I receive a robe of red, white and blue on that glorious day or a robe of pure white with neither spots or wrinkles?

There is nothing wrong with showing love and patriotism for the country you were destined to be born into.  But when patriotism becomes instead nationalism, an idol has been erected and a very defined scriptural line has been crossed. Philipians is clear that Christian brothers and sisters are aliens to this world and no longer its citizens, but citizens of a heavenly kingdom anticipating the return of our supreme commander-in-chief, Christ. With that in mind, as much as one may love their country, the kingdom of God and it’s mandated treatment of its people, along with awareness and assistance for all those who are hungry, hurting, homeless, orphaned and widowed, i.e. true religion, “Trump’s” all other allegiances.  While it is possible to be both patriotic and Christian, as soon as one contradicts the other, Christianity must rule as absolute law.  We who are treated unjustly or are made aware of and stand, or kneel with others of our brothers who are, are not “sons of bitches”, but sons of God. We need to be sure the flag of Christ flies above the flag of country in our hearts and in our actions. Beleivers truly have no alternative response but that of Christ’s own words, love God and love others over yourselves.

I’m proud to be American, but I’m humbled, grateful and blessed to be Christian.  I will honor our national anthem, but I will shed tears of privilege with my fce to the ground over Amazing Grace, my eternal anthem.  Love and peace to my readers.

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A House Divided

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At no other time is the division of the church more apparent than during the heated and passionate weeks leading up to a Presidential election. But politics in general is just an umbrella label that covers several very controversial and divisive issues that separate the church, some to the point of drawing lines in the sand against brothers and sisters of the faith.  As free moral agents God equipped each of us with the ability to reason and form opinions.  Those opinions may be based on several factors including life experience, demographics and upbringing. Thank God for diversity of thought lest we be zombie-like followers void of any uniqueness. However, are we as believers afforded the option to differ over basic tenets of Biblically doctrine?  What are some of the hot-button topics the enemy is using to divide the church?  With much trepidation, I want to examine just a few, in no particular order.

  1. Same Sex Marriage-this is most certainly not a new issue as the early church had to deal with this shortly after the birth of the church. It has only become a hotly contested issue with current legislation that makes it legal for same-sex couples to marry.  As with any good argument, opposing sides seem to be extreme.  Stones are cast with equal velocity by those who view this as the mother of all abominations and by those who “judge not”.  Is it indeed biological, is it a moral choice, is there restoration offered or is restoration required?  As with anything under the sun these answers may be found upon close study of scripture and a sincere seeking of God’s spirit for direction.  One thing is certain-it is dividing the body at the highest of levels.
  2. Racism-perhaps no other issue in modern times has resulted in or been the result of a blasphemous twisting of Holy Scripture.  Slave Owners used passages with slave references to instill fear and obedience in a way that was never intended.  Although we have evolved as a society from those shameful days of hatred, cells of bias still exist in the church that propagate a continued mistrust particularly between black and white Christians.  I have seen and felt this first hand in largely futile attempts at spurring racial dialogue between us.  That level of bias is exhibited even behind many pulpits.  You have on one side a black church body that continues to see and feel discrimination in a system largely lopsided to their disadvantage, resulting in a defensive and sometimes revolutionary posture. On the other side, a white church that knows the evil of bigotry between brothers but is either ill-equipped to properly engage in the battle, or for self-preservation, chooses to stay clear of controversy completely resulting in a complete ineffectiveness in ending racism.  I’m convinced we will never see a complete dissolution of racial hatred in our lifetimes, and it continues to plague the health of the church.
  3. Abortion-the number one reason some will vote for their favorite candidate or abstain from any vote.  More than any other issue, this one affects the voiceless and defenseless innocent.  It has been masked as an anti-government invasion of privacy between a woman and sometimes the biological father.  It has been debated on arguments of life vs. conception, whether pain is experienced by the unborn child, whether or not the fetus is a living soul before birth, whether or not an unborn child is entitled with the same right to life and liberty the living are afforded, etc.  It has been a painful and shameful cancer in the church that tears us asunder much like that of a late term abortion.  It’s ugly, disheartening and continuing. There are solutions to reducing abortion that include education, counseling and yes, birth control.  While I would never sponsor government endorsed contraception in schools, parents need to stop being naïve about sexual activity during teenage years and be active in teaching Biblical precepts regarding sexual intimacy accompanied with practical advice on contraception.  While some would argue that there is no difference in the sin of fornication vs. the sin of abortion, one involves an innocent victim.  Yet the church will look the other way on this topic when voting for their candidate of choice, which leads to the next issue.
  4. Politics-perhaps it has always been this divisive in the body and the popularity of social media simply casts a spotlight and magnifying scope on its existence. That said, the ugliness of partisan political affiliations displayed on posts and threads available for public consumption truly shed a bad light on the body of Christ. At no other time do Christian brothers and sisters hurl such hateful insults at each other than when done over political stances. Core convictions are placed to the side in preference to personal gain and welfare.  Personal responsibilities are discarded in lieu of government intervention and regulations. The custody and control of “do unto others” is surrendered to a largely non-Christian administration, defended by those who cite separation of church and state as if we are personally absolved of considering “the least of these” in light of big government agencies. Believers are highly criticized if they vote red-they are equally criticized for voting blue-they are called un-Christian if they abstain-they are called mindless if they vote third party and even accused of supporting ABC candidate if they vote for XYZ candidate. A temporary man-made form of secular leadership has caused many to overlook our eternal citizenship and relationships to each other long after any two-party system ceases to exist.  And lest I sound like a stuck record, this too is a top (clergy) down situation where even pastors hang their dirty laundry on social media for all to observe.

What ever the issue of the day, the Word is still relevant and has MUCHO to say about divisions in the church.  It plagued the early church just as it does us today.  John the Baptist or Jesus, Paul or Apollos, circumcision or not, foods, rituals, traditions-all divisive then just as our social issues are today.  Consequently, much was recorded for our consideration:

Romans 16:17; “I appeal to you brothers to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to what you have been taught, and to avoid them, for such do not  serve our Lord…”

1 Corinthians 1:10: “I appeal to you brothers in the name of Jesus Christ that you agree and that there be no divisions among you but that you be of one mind and judgment. “

Titus 3:9; “Avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels over the law for they are unprofitable and worthless. “

Like 11:17; “But He, knowing their thoughts said to them ‘Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste and a divided household falls'”.

Our commission is to present through words and our lives a unified gospel of hope, peace, love and forgiveness to a world looking to us for answers.  That can’t be accomplished when there are canyons of division that present anything but unity.  Love has to be a bridge that holds the church together during enemy attacks.  There is but one Holy church, the body of Christ-one savior, and He’s not red or blue but He’s always Right-one Holy Gospel that should be “rightly” divided, not torn into sections to fit preferred lifestyles-one blessed hope that secures eternal communion. How I long for the day when love rules over all evil and the teachings of Christ become our only guiding principle.

 

 

 

 

 

The Fall of the Divided Church

If a house is divided against itself the house can not stand

Mark 3:25

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I must state that my heart aches a bit as I write this because it involves family, the church.  All of us hold close ties to our families and we find our identity in the heritage and legacy of our family names.  This could not be more true for our universal and eternal church family.  To see us suffering is heart breaking.

Social media has afforded many of us a platform which can be used as a positive or negative influence. It is highly public and closely followed yet individually private so that one can speak freely without fear of anything more than a few critical comments or sad faced emoticons. This type of freedom has led many to spew forth previously held deep seeded opinions in the name of Christ that are hurtful and divisive. And there has been no lack of opportunity due to recent events to show the world just how divided the church family can be at times.  The Ferguson situation has shed light on the real and shameful racial divisions in the body.  The on going homosexual debate has revealed divides along theological and socially relevant factions. The upcoming elections are already showing forth the ugliness between brothers who differ in political opinions. And even seemingly harmless debates on social websites about church issues like tongues or the rapture or end times events can create hard line “us against them” sides that go from reasoning together to picking up verbal stones. To watch, read and at times be caught up in some of these inter-family battles is so disheartening and disturbing to me.  What’s worse is that when I choose to abstain for the sake of the body and my own self preservation in the faith I’m often reprimanded for not picking a side or being deemed guilty even in my silence.  What a horrible message we are sending the world who is ever watching us.  Yes, this is heart breaking on many levels.

I was involved in a local church split once. I’m not sure I can even recall what the issue was but it was great enough to cause some to leave the church and for the pastor to step away.  It was one of the most painful experiences I’ve endured as a believer. It was worse than my divorce. Friends and family I had worshiped with for so long were now pitted against each other in a silly dispute that caused us to go separate ways.  It took a long time for those relationships to be mended and restored.  Although highly painful it was localized.  But when the same thing happens on a much grander scale the impact and tremors are felt in the whole body and the damage is sometimes irreversible. And the whole world sees our dirty laundry and scratches their heads.

The scriptural concepts of iron sharpening iron and sitting in the counsel of the Godly imply and encourage a loving and open meeting of the minds, something that the church has done since the first church in Acts. We come from different backgrounds, different economic stations, different life circumstances and different maturity levels in our faith.  We are not expected to be the same and a body functions best when those differences are not only recognized but utilized for Hid glory and the health of the church.  As Paul compares the church body to the human body we all find our place even with differing strengths and ideals, doing all we do for the glory of God.  But when those differences become fed not by love but by pride or self-centered motives that taint the brotherly love we are exhorted to display, the hard human spirit with it’s vile, envy and hatred fights for our thoughts and hearts like a wild male animal fighting for mating rights. The battle is ugly, brutal and sometimes fatal. We are warned against this in several passages.

James 4:1 What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight.

Mark 7:21 For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and defile a person.”

Romans 16:17 I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naive.

Ephesians 4:3 Eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

Matt. 5:22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire

When I’m caught in the midst of some of these harsh social debates I’m reminded of the words of Christ when he says that the world will know we are his followers when they see, hear and read our love for each other, and again His command that we love one another even as He loves us.  I can’t say with any conviction that I can read or see this love on social websites and God forgive me if I too have shown less than brotherly love in my responses to these recent issues.  If I am called an idiot for my beliefs I’m cool with that. But if that remark comes from a brother or sister in Christ then I become concerned not for me but for who might be reading these comments.  If we as a body and the Church can not be united in love and be able to discuss in peace our opinions on hot topics, then how can we expect to attract the unchurched. Back in the day Christian recording artist Carmen came out with a song entitled I Want Some of Dat, referring to the love and joy he found in Christians to the point of wanting some for his own. Can the world see our dysfunction as it stands and genuinely say I want what he’s having?  I doubt it.  God have mercy on your church and forgive us those things which cause us harm and which cause You dishonor.