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

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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.

Racial Harmony in a World Out of Tune

Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble-l Peter 3:8

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Ebony and ivory live together in perfect harmony
Side by side on my piano keyboard, oh Lord, why don’t we?

These are the lyrics to a song written and performed by Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder many years ago.  Black and white keys on a keyboard being played together to create amazing sounds and beautiful music not possible if any of the keys were missing.  Sounds like a simplistic approach to the races living together in love, even naive given the recent events making news headlines.  Is racial harmony attainable in our society or are there powers at work to keep us at odds with each other, trapped in the sins of our past?  I wish I knew the answer.

Let us not beat around the bush.  Two weeks ago in Ferguson, MO a black and unarmed youth was shot and killed by a white police officer during an arrest.  While we are still waiting for the facts to come out, we know from the autopsy report that the youth was shot six times resulting in his death.  Not long before that a white officer applied a rear choke hold to a black man, who stated several times that he couldn’t breathe.  The man died of asphyxiation. And in a case in Texas a man with his hands cuffed behind him allegedly shot and killed himself in the chest while in the back seat of a patrol car.  I am in now way attempting to jump on the “white police are looking for black men to shoot” band wagon message being marketed as common practice.  Being a graduate of the local citizens police academy I have much respect for the police department at large who risk their lives everyday and have the right to return to their families at the end of their shifts.  But when these incidents happen, as isolated or exploited by the media as they might be, they serve to open up old wounds that in all honesty, never healed.  And even those who are siblings in our Lord tend to get caught up in the momentum and the new life breathed into the social demons of hate and bigotry.  It’s a cycle that is like a True Blood vampire-it just won’t die!  How do we love our neighbor and promote peace in ignorance of racial history?

In Luke Jesus tells a parable about the man we refer to as the Good Samaritan;

Jesus answered, “A certain man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who both stripped him and beat him, and departed, leaving him half dead. By chance a certain priest was going down that way. When he saw him, he passed by on the other side. In the same way a Levite also, when he came to the place, and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a certain Samaritan, as he travelled, came where he was. When he saw him, he was moved with compassion, came to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. He set him on his own animal, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him. On the next day, when he departed, he took out two denarii, and gave them to the host, and said to him, ‘Take care of him. Whatever you spend beyond that, I will repay you when I return.’ Now which of these three do you think seemed to be a neighbor to him who fell among the robbers?”  He said, “He who showed mercy on him.” Then Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”

The Samaritan was not only a hated man by most Jews but he was also of a different race.  The road from Jerusalem to Jericho was known as The Way of the Blood due to its history of robberies and murders.  Martin Luther King Jr. and his wife traveled this road when they were in the Holy Land.  I love MLK’s synopsis of the travelers.  The first two upon approaching the man in distress must have thought to themselves, “what will happen to me if I assist this man“, while the Samaritan thought ” what will happen to this man if I don’t assist“.  Jesus had just stated that we should love our neighbors and used this story to show that brotherly love extends beyond the races.

I am a white man.  I was born that way.  Many parts of my character and preferences are more black than white but that’s another blog.  But even I have been criticized by many of my black brothers of  “not understanding” or being to white to get it.  My genuinely good intentions of trying to insert Christian love into the solution and response has been summarily dismissed as a “just get over it” attitude, not my personal stance at all.  I firmly believe that when Christians perceive injustices they have not only a right but an obligation to acknowledge and address them, just not in the same way as the hate mongers given our national spotlights do.  In the widely accepted “Love Chapter”, l Corinthians,  it is stated “…love barely notices when it is wronged“.  I know how tall an order that is to the parents of a youth unjustly shot by an officer, or another the victim of a terrible rape or murder.  The indignation that is the human spirit trumps the divine nature of Christ that should be indwelling us at all times.  Our response is always “yes, but”.  Loving our neighbors and those who persecute us is not turning a blind eye, as I have been accused of, but rising above the existence of hate.  Even scripture tells us that if we only love those who love us, how are we different than the world.  Applying Christian love in situations of hate does not mean we don’t peacefully protest, it does not keep us from seeking justice for all, and it does not render us inactive in seeking resolutions to social ills.  However it does compel us to approach these issues with the mind of Christ as His disciples and as a voice of reason and compassion, seeking restoration, not chronicling all history’s sins against mankind and pouring salt in the wounds.

It is high time that the leaders in the church, black and white, come together and raise their voices in harmony against injustice at every level and set the example on a national platform visible to all, tackle the tough and obvious questions, identify the ugly beast and raise the standard of peace as Christian brothers and sisters who are not of this world, and by doing so draw attention to the ultimate peace keeper, Jesus Christ.   I am convinced with all my heart that there is an attainable solution to this once all parties agree to come together, “forgetting what is past and pressing on” to acquire harmony and balance in our earthly domain as we prepare for and wait in eager anticipation of our Heavenly kingdom and reward.  At the throne of judgment there will be sheep and goats.  I wonder if there will also be peacekeepers and and war mongers.  Label me as you will-I will use what little influence I have for peace and pray every day that I will see it manifested in my world.