“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.

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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 Perversion of Social Media Amongst the Flock

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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

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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.

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.