Can Salt Really Lose Its Effectiveness?

Last week I wrote about being lights in the world.  In the same passage from Matthew, Christ refers to us as being the salt of the earth.  He goes on to ask how salt can be made salty again if it loses its flavor.  Many will read this passage and move on without much thought, but inquisitive minds want to know-why salt?  Of all the spices used in ancient times, why not use cinnamon or sage or any one of a host of other commonly used aromatic and flavorful spices- why plain old salt?  So, I did some research.

Salt played an immensely important role in Biblical times. It was highly valued, highly guarded and even ferociously fought over.  In Rome there were roads built and designated for the sole purpose of transporting salt from the mines or beds to the city under heavy Roman guard.  These were called Salt roads.  In a time before electricity or refrigeration was available, salt was used as a primary food preservative.  While it definitely changed the taste of foods, it allowed them to be stored for days without spoiling.  Salt was also used as a cleansing agent, or disinfectant, if you will.  In Biblical times when sacrifices were offered, no sacrifice could be made that did not include salt.  It was forbidden to not include salt and the sacrifice would not be honored or accepted without it.  It was that important!  Salt was also traded as a commodity and even used as currency, which is why Rome kept it under such heavy guard.  It played a crucial role in everyday ancient times.  Of all the spices used, Christ knew that salt carried more value, just as long as it always remained salty, or possessed it’s preserving benefits.

So then back to the question and the statement Jesus made-can salt become less salty or lose its flavor?  The chemical compound for salt is sodium chloride.  As such, it is highly stable.  In other words, salt doesn’t chemically break down or become something else unless something is introduced which would change its chemical makeup.  However, salt does have one nemesis-Moisture, humidity, water.  In highly arid climates with lower humidity levels, salt can last for thousands of years.  But once introduced to moisture, salt can be dissolved, or in essence, lose its effectiveness.  It may still exist in a solid or crystal state, but lose much of its preservative qualities.

How does this apply in the lesson Christ was teaching us?  If you are in tuned to current social trends, especially within many of our churches, you will see exactly what Jesus was referring to.  In an effort to become more tasteful to the unchurched, or seeker friendly, the whole of the Gospel has evolved into a feel-good approach of inspirational clichés, non-judgmental mission statements and a come-as-you-are-anything-goes approach to worship.  In other words, we have Watered Down the salt of Biblical truth, making it less salty and good for little more than a temporary good feeling, with no discipline, no accountability and virtually no challenge.  While most of us will admit that old school fire and brimstone preachers are not our cup of tea, the fact remains that too many have attempted to alter the Gospel to make it more friendly, more pleasing and much more tolerant lest it become offensive to some or exclusionary in nature.  We attempt to make scripture relative to today’s society and times as if the Bible is to be a living and evolving document subject to 21st century interpretation and application, much in the same way our Constitution can be amended.  This is unacceptable and goes against the very warnings we were given in the last few verses of the Bible.

The words of Jesus himself recorded in Revelation 22:18-19 are a stark warning against the practice of altering scripture:

And I solemnly declare to everyone who hears the words of prophecy written in this book: if anyone adds anything (even a single word) to what is written here, God will add to that person the plagues described in this book. 19. And if anyone removes any of the words from this book of prophecy, God will remove that person’s share in the tree of life and in the Holy City that are described in this book”.  Italics mine.

This is not about worship styles, cultural approaches or proper church behavior.  I am all for both traditional and progressive services, and am of the opinion that God designed us all uniquely with different responses to Him.  Some dance, some kneel, some dress up, some come in shorts, some like hymns and some want to rock His house-some drink, some abstain-some observe holy days, some see every day as holy-ALL GOOD AND ACCEPTABLE!  No, this is about taking something intended as absolute and unchangeable, The Word, and watering it down to a point that it becomes unrecognizable and ineffective. This is about salt losing its saltiness.  Just as Jesus stated that a light under a basket offers no benefits in the darkness, so does salt become useless when it no longer has the ability to protect, to preserve, to add flavor and credibility to Christianity.  It is then that it becomes good for nothing but lining a trail or path to be walked on.

More than ever before in history, I believe the world is watching us.  Some are looking to see if we are legit in our faith, some looking to see if we are walking what we’re talking, and others looking for real answers by witnessing what a God-life looks like.  Believers should never feel like they live in a vacuum.  God wants us “In the world”, a city on a hill, a small candle in an otherwise darkened room.  Don’t discount your effectiveness to add seasoning and illumination by the way you live out your life.  Act as true preservatives of all we know to be the Truth!

“Finally, All of You, Live in Harmony…”

PeaceLoveHarmony

When you combine three or more specific but unique root notes on the musical scale they create a very pleasant sounding single harmonic chord. These chords are then arranged or scored and the result is a beautiful piece of music-Harmony.  Some of the greatest bands of all time are known for their incomparable harmonies-The Bee Gees, Boys to Men, The Eagles, The Stylistics, Acapella and yes, even Abba! Harmony is a beautiful thing when aspired to and achieved.  It can also be extremely painful even to the untrained ear when one of the notes is not in tune with the others!

As followers of Christ we are exhorted through scripture to live at peace with each other, in harmony with our Christian siblings and with the world at large so that nothing evil can be said of us and so that the name of Christ is not tarnished. Sadly, this is not always the case.  As I observe the recent riots centered around hate groups and the resulting violent counter protests in Charlottesville, the controversy over the NFL, the extreme left and right rallies wherever the POTUS is appearing, the obvious agenda of media coverage to create false barriers and all the consequential replies and posts on social media, which has made experts of us all in each and every subject, I am left wondering why we have allowed our Christian mandates to be hijacked by emotional responses that cause betrayal and division. When differences of opinion, strategy or approach result in labeling, bashing or overly heated exchanges aired on social media like yesterday’s dirty laundry, we are not only betraying each other but our Lord whose name we sometimes falsely bear.

The title above is taken from 1 Peter 3. This is what it says in full context:

 “Finally, all of you must live in harmony, be sympathetic, love as brothers, and be compassionate and humble. Do not pay others back evil for evil or insult for insult. Instead, keep blessing them, because you were called to inherit a blessing”.

The circumstances of this particular letter is extremely relevant to what is going on in our world today.  The author of the letter is the Apostle Peter, believed to have been written while he was Bishop of Antioch.  It was addressed to various churches, Christ-followers in Asia Minor who were enduring religious persecution for their faith by those opposed to the church and its teachings, much like what we are seeing today.  The difference, however, and it’s a biggie, is that the church was not at odds against itself but wholly united for the cause of Christ.  But many in the church today are being wounded by friendly fire from within the brotherhood. Those wounds are profoundly deep and take much longer to heal and recover from.

In an effort to avoid any contribution on my part to the divisions seen in the Body, I decided to refrain from politically partisan posts or comments.  And yet, try as I might, I am sometimes compelled to add my two cents worth of wisdom since I too have become a social media expert, only to be quickly reminded why I swore off such participation.  Wee can’t all be alike, thank God, and we will each have different perspectives on certain issues based on our upbringing, our environment and our own personal experiences and history.  But the vigor with which we sometimes respond and the emotional hijacking of our character whenever those differences are made known, offers little resemblance to the passage above from 1 Peter. The words harmony, sympathetic, compassionate and humble, should be our guiding compass if we are compelled to jump into the fray of a particular cause or injustice.  But we can’t be harmonious if we are all off key, we can’t be sympathetic if we refuse to consider opposing views, we can’t show compassion if we’ve left grace and mercy behind, and we most certainly cannot be humble if we are hell bent on winning an argument and being seen as “right”.

The ideal of a perpetual state of peace may only exist in old Beatles songs, but the daily commands left for us in scripture can not and should not be so easily tossed to the side jut because we feel compelled to take up the banner for some issue that hits close to home. Yes, scriptures also tell us to combat injustice whenever we see it, bit is also tells us how that should be accomplished and seen. However when we crank up our volume to match the intensity of the worldly volume, we lose all credibility and can do more harm than good.  There will be a day for all Christian believers when the differences we so vigorously exaggerated just for the sake of a Hatfield-McCoy like feud will be of no consequence or recollection as finally we achieve harmony and one accord around the Great Throne and the mandates of Holy scripture are finally fulfilled in a peaceful eternal Kingdom.  Would that it would begin here with the time we have left on Earth.

Hatred and Rejection, a Love Deficiency

9732484265db5a4776c89bdbce506090

As I witnessed the events of the Virginia Riots this weekend, coupled with issues I’m dealing with on a personal level, I am left with an overwhelming sorrow at the realization of a world where proactive and unconditional love are becoming as outdated as hand-written letters and leather-bound Bibles. My heart aches at the display of violence and hatred based solely on a person’s melanin or what country they were born in or who and how they worship.  Who are these people that they would hijack an entire ethnic group and claim supremacy as if they accurately represent us all?  The widespread wounds of racism will never heal because of the radical ideology of a relative few, but a few too many.

My stomach turns when I hear the term Christian Nazi or I see KKK members carrying the cross of my Savior as if He would ever endorse such hatred or twisted theology. You absolutely can not hate your neighbor, your brother, your ex, your boss, a nation or an administration and wear the sash of Christianity!  It is inconsistent with all we believe and all the words left behind by Him whose name we bear.  If you are marching for any movement claiming superiority over any other group based on skin color, gender, religion or nationality while claiming Christianity, STOP IT-you are a liar and are deceiving yourself.  And if you are endorsing such hatred, either actively or passively by non-action, then you too need to check yourself.  Christians are called to abhor all evil, hatred and injustice.  “To he who knows to do right but does it not., it’s a sin”.

Perhaps it’s hitting a bit close to home because I know the pain of rejection, when those who should love you suddenly reject and turn away from you.  Pure, unadulterated love is such a precious commodity in this age. Loving just because, loving others especially when they are somehow different, honoring vows meant for a lifetime are not stories that make headlines.  Whether you have been rejected by a spouse, a parent, someone of a different color or anyone close to you, the hole left in the heart knows no bottom. When I see these violent protests, or lonely people on the street I see a complete deficiency of love.  Love eradicates hate-love gives comfort to a lonely heart-love frees the soul held captive by evil ideology-love truly can conquer anything, if and where it exists.  Sadly, in too many situations, the perfect love that casts out fear is being crushed and compacted by the overwhelming weight of a dark heart doing the bidding of an evil ruler bent on our destruction by way of starvation and deficiency. When a person or a group of people have been beat down so many times their will to fight back eventually becomes compromised and the light of their love lamps so desperately needed is soon extinguished.  What are we doing to each other? It ought not to be this way.

I may or may not be around for any long period of time-only my Maker knows for sure. But when my time comes, I want to be remembered as someone who loved, someone in whom no hate was found or in any way manifested. I want to know I did something positive or left something behind for my kids and grandkids that showed them love still wins out and is not something to be feared but rather embraced. There will be a day, whether you choose to believe it or not, when we will have to stand before the author and the perfector of love and give an account on how we distributed the sacrifice of love He freely provided us.  Every word, deed, action of lack thereof will be recalled and an explanation will be demanded.  If you count yourself among any hate group, I fear for you on that terrible day. Scripture says that many will say “Lord, Lord” but will be turned away.  If you claim a cross but carry a Nazi flag, God have mercy on you!  If you claim the name of Christ but hide behind a sheet or a hood, Lord have mercy. If you take up space behind a pulpit but shout hate against your brother or sister, there will be a special place reserved for you.  If you claim righteousness but have hatred for anyone, you can not take part in any eternal reward or kingdom.

I wish with all I have that love always won, that love always lasted, that rejection and abandonment never existed, that differences could be celebrated and not marched against.  I wish my heart was not so heavy at the reality of hurt, of fear, of loneliness, of being isolated because you are for any reason not worthy of love. I wish I could hold all those who feel as I do just to say, “me too”.  I wish I had the power to stop hatred dead in its tracks and reverse the damage done when any one person is rejected by any other person.  But all I have are my words, this small platform, a few faithful followers who for whatever reason choose to read my musings each week. So I will use that which I have to disavow myself from any appearance of hatred on any level and I encourage you to do the same. God sees the brokenhearted and hears their cries and heals all their wounds. Let our will be to be used as a healing instrument in His hands whenever and wherever hatred is rampant.

Fast Food Faith

selective-faith-st.-augustine-quote

We live in a world of convenience and choices, especially when it comes to fast food. Tonight we might prefer a run to the border; tomorrow maybe a double whopper or a pizza-pizza. Sometimes we just crave something sweet and at others a jolt of java to wake us up. Not only do we have choices of where to go but what to  order once we get there.  Some of this, a large order of that, hold the other, just make it my way. And our choices can be amusing.  Give me the double-heart-attack griller with extra cheese, and a large diet soda, just to feel good about my otherwise unhealthy food choice.

What a perfect picture for many who claim the name of Christianity. And yes, I’ll say it-it is never more evident than in a heated political season. A good diet is supposed to consist of generous portions of all the major food groups but many don’t want lean meat unless it is smothered in A-1 or can’t tolerate healthy vegetables unless they are swimming in a rich cheese sauce. Still others live on a diet of sugar alone which causes muscular apathy and a false sense of being full and satisfied when in fact the body is being starved of vital nutrients that will result in catastrophic medical episodes or death. What a dangerous game to play…with the Gospel.

I have come to loathe the political process because it reveals the ugly and inconsistent nature of Fast Food Faith. At no other time is it more evident at how we select certain Christian tenants and precepts but blatantly lay aside others, depending solely on how we can receive the most benefit from elected officials and their administrations. We use terms like the “greater good” or “lesser of two evils” to justify and feel better about voting for someone whose platform smacks in the face of true Christianity, specifically the teachings of Christ. I know, I’ve been guilty for many years. The angst I feel when I see how beloved brothers and sisters turn on each other and even resort to labels and name-calling is something even I can’t adequately portray with words. Worse is the fact that even when pointed out these faithful will have a list of template justifications for their temporary disregard for truth only to be blessing one another come Sunday.  It is little wonder that the world sees our inconsistencies and calls us out on them.

If being Christian is defined as being “like” Christ of “of” Christ, is it for us to select only certain aspects of his character or only glimpses of his glory in our walk, our speech and our actions?  Is our approach to reflecting our faith tantamount to pulling up to a fast food window based on the whims and desires of the moment?  If others see in us a poor or false reflection of the one true and complete Christ are we to be held accountable?  And is the objective of personal faith only to be expressed as an inward benefit and not an outward invitation?  How do we look each other in the eye and exhort others to good works through false pretenses of inconsistency and partial application or worse, scriptural relevance?

It is not my design to bash the church but rather my concern that so many are leaving the church in early adulthood or being turned away from the church through mixed messages and meat smothered in sauce. When I observe my reflection in the mirror I see the ugly truth in my own life.  The call to follow and accurately reflect the glory and the image of Christ is a tall order.  It is only by the restorative works of grace that any of us stand a chance. But if our foundation is selective, if we choose what to believe and what to throw out, then as St. Augustine said above, we are no longer serving God but ourselves.

We are in for a long few months heading up to the election. There will be many opportunities if taken, to show love and light or to cast shadows and doubt, to bridge peace or to usher in discord, to reflect Christ or your personal welfare. It may be an ugly truth, but it can’t be laid aside for the convenience of a campaign and then gathered up again after the election is over.  Too much damage can be done, both to those watching us and those guilty of falsifying the name of Christ.  Just as we choose wisely at the polls, we must choose wisely in our character. It is no the next eight years at stake but an eternity.  Peace.

The Perversion of Social Media Amongst the Flock

social-media-and-ecommerce

When I was younger we thought two tin cans attached by a string made for great communication devices for our war time games.  If we wanted to catch up with a friend we had to use a land-line telephone-that’s a phone that actually had to plug into a wall for your millennials.  Now we can reach out and touch like never before in real time with friends and family across the oceans by way of social media vehicles and smart phones.  I am an avid user of such media and have to admit that  without it I may have never reconnected with some of my childhood and school friends and caught up on their lives hundreds or thousands of miles apart.  And who doesn’t enjoy watching cat videos to pass the time.

The number of active accounts on social media is mind boggling.  On Facebook alone there were over 1.65 BILLION active accounts as of April 2016!  I would swear some of my FB friends know every last one of them. The potential to reach the masses has never been greater or easier as it is now with everyone having access to these media outlets right on their personal smart phones.  But like any good invention it didn’t take long for some of us to pervert it and abuse it to the detriment of many.  Specifically I am addressing us church folks who have used it to preach false doctrines, perpetuate hate and alienate Christian siblings who have differing views on social, political and religious issues. I have witnessed just within my limited circle of friends how harmful social media can be when used for the wrong purpose.  It can be embarrassing, hurtful and quite frankly, not very Christ-like.

There is a verse, Mark 13:10 that says the Good News must first be preached to all nations.  The worldwide usage of social media may be the very vehicle God intends for us to use to fulfill that requirement. In countries where Bibles are not allowed, study can still be done discreetly on smart phones  by way of URLs to Bible sites.  The Word is going forth by way of social media into areas where Christianity is otherwise forbidden. The impact social media has on spreading the Good News can not and must not be ignored. The potential for people to be pointed to the only source of salvation, Jesus Christ has never been greater. But alas, just as there are those who use the very Word of God to divide and tear down instead of its intended purpose of offering hope, there are those who abuse sites like Facebook to bring harm and disruption and discord among the Church. For me this  a travesty, and one I have been guilty of myself in years past.

If you are concerned about your activity on social media let me suggest the following verses as a measuring stick regarding social media posts:

1 Thessalonians 5:11; “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up…”

Hebrews 10:24; “Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works…”

Romans 14:19; “So let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding”

Eph. 4:29; “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths but only what is good for building up”

1 Peter 2:1-24; “Put away all malice, deceit and hypocrisy and envy and slander. Be like living stones used to build a spiritual house…

Exodus 23:1; “You shall not spread a false report.  You shall not join with a wicked man to be a false witness.”  (This is a biggie on social media, sharing uncorroborated posts).

Does this mean we have to type “Amen” to every lame meme that comes into our box, of course not-that is only another form of a false doctrine.  However it does mean that we need to be aware that our social media posts may as well be billboards for the number of people who will come across them in your circle.  There is but one truth, one Holy Gospel and not a myriad of relative truths based on our socio, economic, political or religious persuasion. To cause others to stumble in the faith is irresponsible at best, and to turn someone who is genuinely seeking away from the truth because of a hateful or divisive post is simply unforgivable. Don’t be like I once was, guilty of perverting a tool that should have been used to exhort, not destroy.  Peace.

 

 

 

OUTRAGEOUS OUTRAGE – The Flap over Frap

Starbucks-Red-Cup-2014-670x670

The controversy du jour of the day for religious zealots everywhere is a plain red cup void of any traditional holiday graphics save its red color. Social media ironically has been lit up like a Christmas tree with comments and posts over the absence of, said Christmas tree, snowflake, angel or other Pavlov-esque seasonal stimulators. Zealots everywhere have called for, or fallen for the command to either boycott this coffee establishment, or give a false name like Merry Christmas when ordering just so employees are forced to comply with our demand of a cheery holiday greeting. To that I reply with a resounding Bah Humbug!

The things that get some Christians’ panties knotted up continues to baffle me. Real, everyday situations that scream for our help and attention barely get a glance, but we stick our chests out like a Thanksgiving Butterball when it comes to a $5.00 cup of Frappuccino that fails to inspire us to have a Merry Christmas. This is nothing new. We’ll step over the legs of a homeless person or claim to be cashless when confronted by a vagrant wanting change for a dinner,  but we can become indignant over conceived evils of corporate America and pick up our crosses and blare out our off-key rendition of Onward Christian Soldiers as a sign of our unashamed allegiance to the cause.

I fully support taking a stand on legitimate principles based on personal convictions. Right or wrong we are given the freedom to protest and boycott at will.  What I question is our consistency to do so across the board, opposed to our selective preferences or trending evils, preferring to isolate others instead of remaining open to them in an attempt to be Christ whenever and wherever we can.  Out of curiosity I did some quick research to see just who and why Christians are boycotting these days.  The following are the current top 10;

  1. Starbucks, for lack of holiday spirit and views on serving everyone including the LGBT community.
  2. Pepsi for allegedly supporting the gay agenda.
  3. UPS for stopping their funding of Boy Scouts who initially disqualified gay scout leaders.
  4. Oreo, yes Oreo Cookies for support of same gay agenda.
  5. The Muppets for reasons above.  I always wondered about Beaker and the 2 old men.
  6. JC Penny for offering fashions to the gay community.  (See a pattern yet?)
  7. Nike for shoes that let you be light on your feet, like Mikee
  8. Home Depot for selling to the gay community.  Tool guy from Village people was consequently fired.
  9. General Mills because gay people have to eat too.
  10. Girl Scout Cookies-the only one in the top 10 not related to the LGBT agenda. They just aren’t godly enough.

If we as a faith-based community could demand that every corporation doing business in America do so based on our Christian values, there would be no need for us to be the light and salt of the earth.  Jesus said it Himself-it’s not the healthy that need a doctor but the sick. We are exhorted to let our light shine before men and bring glory to Christ.  We can’t do that if we refuse to enter into places that are dark to the Gospel. Our views on ministry and evangelism are terribly skewed. However, in keeping with the current boycott trends based on our perception of supporting sinful lifestyles, I would like to propose that we add the following companies to our boycott list for their sins:

  1. Holiday Inn and all hotel chains-a hot bed (pun intended) for fornication and adulterous acts.
  2. If JC Penny, then Walmart, Target, Macys, Sears and any retail outlet that sells paisley.
  3. Any restaurant or club that sell alcoholic beverages because too much liquor makes you drunk.
  4. Any dance hall or club because dancing leads to touching-dancing is the devil.
  5. Any all-you-can-eat-buffet because the saints are getting gluttonous. Glutton is a sin.
  6. Churches-yes, they are full of hypocrites and sinners! Boycott them all.

How ridiculous can we be and how foolish we must look to a world we should be reaching out to as Christ would if He were still here in body. It is fine to be viewed as foolish because of the Gospel, but it is questionable to be viewed as fools because of misdirected indignation over things as silly as a red cup.  So here is my proposal and challenge to all my blog followers who read this.  If you really want to be in the Christmas spirit, buy a homeless person a hot cup of that coffee in a red cup.  Better still, get them a gift card for several and wish them a Merry Christmas. Ship your holiday packages with UPS and slap a Merry Christmas sticker on it somewhere. Buy a case of Oreos and deliver it to the local orphanage with a big red bow on it-better yet, wait until the red holiday Oreos come out. Raid your local JC Penny store for their clearance on scarfs and gloves and hand them out to the local homeless tent cities. Find that little boy whose parents are struggling and buy him a pair of Nikes for his parents to wrap for Christmas. Go to your local grocer who sells General Mills and get some Gift Cards for families who may not have a decent Christmas dinner this year.  I’d imagine they would gladly accept General Mills food without protest.

We can make a real difference, and not by engaging in social facades of overly righteous appearances.  Jesus had a term for that too-white washed tombs, pretty on he outside but full of dead bones on the inside. If you agree, share this with your social friends.  If not, I’ll still love you and drink to your health, with my red cup.

Applied Christianty-Do We Really Get It?

WEB-orphans-with-food

Upon our recent trip to Southern California we had the privilege of spending some time with one of our adopted kids-in-Christ. She and her peers from Vanguard University had gone on a mission to the Philippines earlier in the year to work with an orphanage.  When she arrived back in the states she was very certain that God was calling her to go back for an immediate return trip.  Learning of the opportunity and the need my wife and I were happy to provide some staple items that she would deliver to the orphanage and a birth center.  In every aspect, it really was the least we could do.  While in California we were blessed and convicted to hear the report of her latest mission trip.

She described for us in great detail the climate of the islands. Her “accommodations” were hot, humid and buggy. It was required that she sleep in long sleeves and pants to ward off insect bites and other night time creatures, though sleeping in this hot and humid climate with no air conditioning. Although she felt God’s hand of protection, safety is always an issue on the island as local law enforcement can be bought by the highest bidder. While she was relaying her experiences she was popping antibiotics for an amoeba she had picked up on her last trip.  As she told us her story we were all to the point of tears.  Why?  Because she suffered so much while doing good? Because of the horrendous living conditions of those she was serving? Not at all.  It was because of the glow on her face as she gave us the details-because of the love you could see in  her eyes and her expression for the kids she had come to know on her trips. And because of the true guilt we felt when  she told us that she could not wait to go back!

This young college student was showing me, a professed follower of Christ for over 45 years, what Christianity looked like when applied.  I was and am still dumbfounded. Still dealing with parasites and bug bites this young lady can’t wait to go back into the conditions most of us would shy away from, just to be a blessing to children who have no family but show love to all who come into their villages.  I was so proud and at the same time, so shamed.

We sing “Give Me Your Eyes” and “I Want to be Your Hands and Feet” emotionally in our comfortable climate controlled worship services and listen intently to messages about the Good Samaritan once a week to get out “feel good” on, but do we take it to the streets?  Are we living an applied Christian faith in our everyday lives?  Are we quick to jump on a soapbox over social ills and ungodly laws but slow to buy a homeless person a meal or give a coat to a street teen?  Are we guilty of hitting Like and Share and typing Amen on social websites to show our faith but stingy in our response to support even our local shelters or charities?  I have to tell you straight up-upon hearing this young lady’s testimony I was convicted to the core.

James 2 in the Message Bible speaks this same sentiment to me like this:

“Does merely talking about faith indicate that a person really (gets it)? For instance, you come upon an old friend dressed in rags and half-starved and say ‘Good Morning Friend! Be clothed in Christ and filled with the Holy Spirit!” and yet walk off without providing so much as a coat or a cup of soup-where does that get you?  Isn’t it obvious that God-talk without God-acts is outrageous nonsense?” 

I am not a man of means but I know now that if I am to reflect through my walk what I profess in my talk, I need to be less concerned with my approaching retirement and more concerned with the real-time needs of those around me “while it is still day”. I need to be teaching our young people how to show forth good works rather than being schooled by those who “got it” much sooner than I did. She will tell you that she’s been blessed by crossing paths with my wife and I, but I will tell you I’ve been changed by crossing hers! God help us to emulate those around us who get and apply their faith, even when they are 20 or so years our junior.

Red & Yellow, Black & White-ALL Lives Matter

SameDayAbortions-998x698 tumblr_llqh491CfM1qkxa4ao1_500

If you were raised in Sunday School as I was you will remember this song we all knew:

Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world

     Red and yellow, black and white-they are precious in his sight.

A simple little tune composed for children but perhaps one that should be revisited by us adults for it’s purity as it is the core of Christianity. There is a conspicuous hypocrisy in the protests and riots covered recently by news media like piranha circling a bloody corpse in murky water.  Lest I be stoned or my car set on fire, allow me to explain. We have a civic right, and some might even suggest a duty to voice our strong opposition to what are deemed social injustices when and where they occur. We are indeed protected under our rights for peaceful assembly and protests. In recent cases made known to us by media outlets and social sites that show rogue cops asserting unreasonable force, the resulting protests should not be surprising. Officer Friendly is taking a social beating like the one some of his comrades appear to be dishing out. The rush to judgment and the indignation leading to burned out cars, looted businesses and destroyed housing complexes is covered and the flames fanned by news media and modern social activists, seemingly to bring light and change to the situation.

But in my charge of hypocrisy I must ask the question-do all lives really matter or just the ones that fit into certain social agendas that serve to boost ratings?  Does the unjustified death of an individual really spark rage with us or are we merely reacting to controlled media feedings like Pavlov’s dog?  Does violence, blood, and death really affect us as it once did?  Consider for a moment the #1 selling video game of the last few years, Grand Theft Auto, now in it’s 5th release. The player can choose from one of three characters in a no-rules games that glorifies crime.  You gain points and power for more intense violence by dragging people out of their cars and by beating street civilians to death.  Almost as popular is another game called Watch Dog, set on the fictional streets of Chicago, where you gain points and access into private homes through events that involve violence, blood, nudity, sexual acts, drugs and alcohol. Video games have come along way since Pong and the desensitization of crime and death is instilled in our youth right under our noses, yet we march and protest when we perceive the wrongful death of someone caught up in these acts.

To further support my hypocrisy charge of indignation over death I want to introduce the following statistics of other unjustifiable deaths that few media outlets find newsworthy enough to report.

Year-to-date abortions in the us for 2015 are at 380,000.  There were over 1.06 million last year.  Year-to-date abortions in the world are already at 14,100,000 and expected to top 30,000,000 by years end. Where are the protests?

The Homicide rate in the U.S. last year was over 15,000.  5,000 of those were kids and young adults between the ages of 10 and 24 years old. Around the globe over 437,000 murders were reported with over 95,000 of them being children under legal age.  Where are the picket signs and posters?

This year 1.5 million people will die from starvation-75% of them young children, you know, the ones that are precious in His sight. In fact in the time it will take you to read this post 84 children will have passed away from simple lack of food. Where are the burning buildings?

Although numbers are often exaggerated, there were over 2100 documented deaths last year of persons killed for their religious beliefs and that number however calculated grows each year, with many more going unreported due to lack of proper documentation. Where are our pastors-turned-activists for them?  Do their lives matter?

Last year in the U.S. alone, there weer 466,949 reports of missing children; half will never be found.  Most will end up in the sex trafficking industry in Third World countries where the U.S is too busy hammering out policy to protect oil concerns than to focus on the evil of child sexploitation that includes many kids, mostly girls from our own country. Where is CNN, FOX and MSNBC on these stories?

In the 18th chapter of Matthew Jesus makes it very clear to us how He regards children, and what our responsibility is to them in His kingdom:

Jesus called a little child to him and put the child among them. Then he said, “I tell you the truth, unless you turn from your sins and become like little children, you will never get into the Kingdom of Heaven. So anyone who becomes as humble as this little child is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven.

“And anyone who welcomes a little child like this on my behalf is welcoming me.But if you cause one of these little ones who trusts in me to fall into sin, it would be better for you to have a large millstone tied around your neck and be drowned in the depths of the sea.

The fact that so many take to Facebook and other social sites to voice their two cents worth over sensationalized media stories, however true they may be, but overlook the real atrocities being perpetrated on our kids every day without one comment is the epitome of hypocrisy in my humble opinion. Sending your funds to a Go Fund Me account for the criminal defense of a charged assailant or supporters of social protests but not sending a penny to organizations feeding children around the world seems equally hypocritical. Back in the day many wore the trendy WWJD bracelets that stood for What Would Jesus Do.  If He were here today in body would He be in the streets of Baltimore or in shanties of hungry kids in India?  Would he be in a courtroom trial of an officer or would He be in the streets of Nigeria holding the hands of those being martyred for His namesake?  Would He be marching with a picket sign or would He be crying over the lost innocence of a girl taken from her family and forced to work the streets in Thailand? Would Jesus be found in the church meetings of preachers working up their congregations over police shootings or would He be found in the midst of the souls of the millions of children who never saw the light of day but are just as precious in His sight?

What enrages us today? What makes the hairs on our heads stand on end? What events bring us to tears? What in all the hyped up footage really causes our hearts to break? If we are more outraged at the thought of a same-sex couple than we are at the images of lifeless corpses of dead children we are hypocrites. ALL lives matter-the faceless-the nameless-the inconvenient-the abandoned-the homeless-the incarcerated-they are all precious in His sight.  May they all be precious in ours as well.

 

Judas Syndrome-Subtle Betrayals

Betrayal

The character Judas Iscariot has always fascinated me for some reason. Not much is written about him in the New Testament and little else is available through tradition or other writings. The theories about his life and motives span both sides of the spectrum. Some consider him to be the seed of the devil for his betrayal of Jesus while other sects look to venerate him as a saint, crediting him with putting into motion the chain of events that is our redemption and reconciliation. And yet others believe his role was to be viewed as an example that no one is safe from the snares of personal greed and temptation, even an Apostle of Jesus. Whatever your view, Judas Iscariot makes for controversial study.

We know his name in Hebrew means “Praised”. We know that he was from Judah, the only one of the twelve with all others being from Galilee. We know he was the treasurer of the twelve, responsible for the money and necessities of the group.  But what else do find in Judas that may be shockingly familiar?

In Matthew’s account Peter, in his explanation of how prophecy was fulfilled by Judas’ betrayal, describes Judas as “being numbered among us and having a share in the ministry”.  This does not suggest a passive but a hands on involved role, the evangelizing, the bearing witness to the miracles of Jesus first hand, the intimate instruction by the Master and even possibly the faith and partnership with the Apostles as they performed their own miracles in Christ’s name. We have no reason to believe that Judas started out as anything but a fully engaged “on fire” Apostle of Jesus. But along the way Judas fell prey to greed and temptation that he chose not to resist. Judas had a love for money.  We see that in his false narrative as he protests the anointing of Jesus with the expensive perfume.  We are told that he stole from the group treasury funds.  Materialistic greed is a powerful and addicting cancer that even the strongest can’t always escape.  The character of Judas is not one void of all redeeming qualities doomed from the start but one that in spite of the knowledge of Christ fell victim to his own desires.

It is possible that the act of the betrayal itself was merely motivated by profit and greed? Consider how many times we are told in the New Testament that Jesus “escapes” through the crowd because it wasn’t yet His time.  Did Judas believe that Jesus would simply escape again as in times past and that he would reap a reward of silver with no harm being done?  One has to wonder at the remorse Judas displays when he realizes that this time Jesus is indeed apprehended and taken into custody.  His immediate response is one of sorrow and regret as he returns the money and takes his own life feeling unworthy to carry on as an Apostle. The act of his suicide suggests to us that in the end he did not believe the words of Christ pertaining to resurrection and eternity so even his faith and intimate knowledge of Jesus was overcome by his greed and desires. Throughout all history perhaps no one individual was ever elevated to as high a status and yet lowered to a more detestable state than Judas Iscariot. How can one hear first hand the teachings of Christ,  share everyday life and fellowship with Him, observe Him as he heals the lame and raises the dead and even partakes in the initial ministry outreach of Christianity and still fall with so great a fall?  How could one man chosen to be one of the twelve that would see and hear things the rest of us can only imagine, one who literally sat in the presence of God in the body of Jesus who basked in His glory for a three year period, betray Him for any price, let alone a paltry thirty pieces of silver?

And now for a tough question-are we any different than Judas Iscariot? Judas did not harbor the typical hatred of a traitor but rather loved Jesus to the end, betraying Him with a kiss of brotherly affection. Do we openly proclaim our love and devotion for Jesus while in possession of an unforgiving spirit?  Do we praise and worship on the weekends but cuss out drivers throughout the work week? Do we hold onto every possession without thought for the desperate and needy? Do we practice subtle betrayal in our actions when no one else is around?  Do we have an intimate enough knowledge of Christ that compels us in holy awe and exhorts us to acquiring the character of our namesake or do we hang our Jesus outfit in the closet until the next weekend?  Do the thoughts we fail to take captive, the desires we allow to exist in secret or the actions we take when angered serve as betrayals of God’s grace and Christ’s redeeming work? I wonder, and I shudder at the thought. God have mercy on us.

Scripture is full of good news and hope for everyday life, but there is one passage that tends to be haunting to me.  Matthew 7:21-23 says this:

21 “Not everyone who calls out to me, ‘Lord! Lord!’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Only those who actually do the will of my Father in heaven will enter. 22 On judgment day many will say to me, ‘Lord! Lord! We prophesied in your name and cast out demons in your name and performed many miracles in your name.’ 23 But I will reply, ‘I never knew you. Get away from me, you who break God’s laws.’

The Message Translation spins it this way:

21-23 “Knowing the correct password—saying ‘Master, Master,’ for instance—isn’t going to get you anywhere with me. What is required is serious obedience—doing what my Father wills. I can see it now—at the Final Judgment thousands strutting up to me and saying, ‘Master, we preached the Message, we bashed the demons, our God-sponsored projects had everyone talking.’ And do you know what I am going to say? ‘You missed the boat. All you did was use me to make yourselves important. You don’t impress me one bit. You’re out of here.’

Subtle willing betrayals-secret sinful desires-dormant but breathing temptations, just like Judas. “Father, observe and restore our motivation to be like your Son Jesus in all we think and do, and to genuinely reflect His character in our lives so that we are not deemed guilty of His betrayal through our actions and unbelief”

Peace.

The Fall of the Divided Church

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

Mark 3:25

churchsplit

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.