I Hate Religion

I wasn’t raised in the church. I didn’t become a believer until I was 31. When it came to spiritual beliefs, what mattered to me was how my life might be personally impacted. I resisted formalities, was turned off by rituals and church felt like being pressured to surrender my individuality in order to conform to the group identity.  

Religion never made me a better person. Religion never brought me to God. Yet, when I try to talk about my faith, the conversations invariably take the form of discussing religion. For all intents and purposes, religion actually distracts us from realizing who we are in relationship to our Creator and how that relationship defines our lives.

Even earning a PhD in theology will not necessarily bring a person closer to God. But the fear of the LORD is the beginning of both knowledge and wisdom. One must begin by believing in God. Learning then becomes building upon and growing in one’s faith. But I do not call the process of seeking God and growing in faith “religion”. As I see it, religion is mainly outside things we tack on to our faith.

For anyone who is interested, there is an article at https://frankpowell.me/jesus-hates-religion that explains the shortcomings of “religion” per se, as compared to true Biblical Christianity. It has become a trite saying that Christianity isn’t a religion, but a relationship, and I’ve come to see that saying so can be a bit off-putting to people, even if they are genuinely interested. 

Yet that is exactly my side of the story. I came to Christ personally. I didn’t come to a decision to follow a certain religion. I had always hated religion. What changed my life was deciding to be a follower of Jesus Christ. Deciding to attend a church came later. My decision to follow Christ is what changed me — what saved me and got me on the right path. My decision to start going to church helped me grow as I learned that God wants believers to grow and serve together on our spiritual journey. 

That part definitely involves “religion”. But religion doesn’t produce righteousness. It can only express righteousness. So if there is no righteousness to begin with, religious expression is just an exercise in hypocrisy.

A part of me wants to say that God hates religion. But he gave the Hebrews a perfect religion that had they followed it perfectly would have produced blessings beyond measure (Deuteronomy 7:12-15). The truth is that God hates false religion. James 1:26-27 says,

If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.

In Amos 5:21-25 God lists many of the things we associate with religion as things he does not consider worthy. Scripture is clear. If you fill your life with so-called religious practices yet continue to mistreat others and live in sinful ways, then your religion has no value.

I hate, I despise your feasts, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; and the peace offerings of your fattened animals, I will not look upon them. Take away from me the noise of your songs; to the melody of your harps I will not listen. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

Perhaps you have already concluded that since most “religious” (church-going, Bible-thumping) people are hypocrites, how can you rationally consider anything they say? They’re all a bunch of losers, using their religion as a crutch.   

If so, doesn’t it strike you that they claim to have a strength that is greater than their own weakness? Will you ignore the “higher power” they point to on the basis that they are too fault-ridden to believe? If this presents a quandary to you, then you do not really understand who Jesus Christ is or what he has done for all humanity. 

Do you know the gospel? That’s just a word that means good news. When you know you are already condemned, it’s good news to hear that Jesus has redeemed you. But here is the first obstacle to receiving this good news: not admitting we already stand condemned before God. That means all of us — every human being.

We make the mistake of asking, “Why would God condemn me?” Isn’t he supposed to be loving and forgiving? Our error is that God hasn’t condemned us, we have condemned ourselves. It’s called sin. Now days a lot of people refuse to admit that sin even exists. But those of us who are honest with ourselves know that sin has infected our very being — not just in specific acts we can point to, but in the very character and nature of who we are.

So, what is the exact nature of our condemnation? We are imperfect beings created in the image of a perfect God. There are many wonderful things in life to enjoy. While on the other hand, there are many circumstances that give us pain and sorrow. This life is a blend of blessings and curses. We can accentuate the positive and look at the sunny side of life all we want, but in the end we all die. And that is the curse. We are condemned to die.

Romans 6:23 explains, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Again, the good news that Jesus offers eternal life is apparent to the person who knows they deserve death. Here is the love and forgiveness of God. In spite of our sin, if we by faith accept the sacrificial death of Jesus on the cross as atoning (paying) for our sin, ask him to forgive us and receive him as Lord, then we no longer stand condemned. We are forgiven. We are in Christ.

The Bible verse that led me to decide to live for Christ is John 1:12: “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God”. If you don’t know who Jesus is, read from the beginning of this chapter. Start at John 1:1. Jesus is God. God the Son. He voluntarily laid down his human life as the only possible perfect sacrifice for the sins of mankind. 

No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father. ~ John 10:18

But the Christ not only died for our sins, he triumphed over death itself — the very curse of all mankind. He rose from the grave, ascended into heaven and raised us up with himself. Ephesians 2:4-7 “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.”

In 1 Corinthians 15:1-6 Paul summarized:

Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep.

If you have not yet received forgiveness from God, whenever you are ready to ask, he is there to listen. But don’t expect that by “being saved” or “becoming a Christian” all of the problems in your life will disappear. 2 Corinthians 5:17 tells us: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” But we still need to deal with the daily realities of our circumstances. There is no quick fix. The process of sanctification is more of steady growth than sudden, dramatic change. Walking by faith takes persistence and patience. At times you might even see yourself as a hypocrite.

A good thing to remember is the encouragement Paul gives us in Romans 6:10-14:

For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.

If you want this, just pray a simple prayer. The exact words don’t matter, but what’s in your heart. Something like… Jesus, forgive me for my sinfulness. I believe you are God the Son. I believe you died on the cross for my sin; that you were buried but rose to heaven on the third day according to Scripture and are seated at the right hand of God the Father. And I receive you as Lord and Savior. Help me to live the rest of my life according to your will and to the glory of God the Father. Lead me, strengthen me and help me by the power of your Holy Spirit. In the name of Jesus, Amen.

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Mitt Romney

Mitt Romney says he believes in God and is a very religious person. But what God does he believe in? Mitt Romney is a Mormon. It has been long established by sound scholarship that Mormonism is a cult which deviates substantially from historical Christian orthodoxy. 

A repeated principle found throughout Scripture is the admonition against either adding to or taking away from the word of God. Mormons regularly disregard this issue by accepting sources other than the Bible as authoritative. 

As a result, Mormons use many of the same names and terms familiar to historical Christianity, but with definitions, meanings and characters that are in stark contrast to established Biblical norms. They change definitions to fit their theology.

The God of the church of the Latter Day Saints is different from the God of the Bible; the Jesus of the Mormons is different from the Jesus of the Bible; their concepts of salvation, resurrection and eschatology all differ from Biblical Christianity. 

Mitt Romney says he hasn’t slept past 4:00 AM in months because he’s invested so much time and effort researching the facts relevant to the impeachment of President Trump, resulting in his decision to vote for guilt and conviction. I wonder if he examined the facts that much when it comes to the tenets of his own religion. Because I know from my own research that the more familiar you are with what the Bible teaches, the more you see the deceptions of Mormon theology.

Fundamentally, there are only two ways to view the impeachment of the President. Either he is presumed to be guilty or he is presumed to be innocent. House Democrats (as well as the media) have consistently been clear for three years in their repeated accusations that they have already judged him to be guilty. So much so, that on the very strength of those accusations, they feel Trump should be impeached.

But that concept turns American jurisprudence on its head. In this country, a person is always presumed to be innocent until proven guilty. It is the job of the accusers to prove their contention of guilt. It is not the job of the accused to prove his innocence. 

For all of Mitt Romney’s moral pontifications to the contrary, the House managers failed to prove their case. Despite repeatedly claiming they had irrefutable proof and incontrovertible evidence, they in fact did not. All they could do was to repeat their accusations and use language of mischaracterization and outright lies.  

Mitt Romney, as well as those who are opposed to President Trump, not only go along with the presumption of his guilt, but lean on that argument, even rejecting evidence to the contrary. On the face of it, that’s un-American. As I looked at the leftist extremists visibly demonstrating their opposition to the President’s State of the Union Address, I could not help feeling the deep distress that these people are not just anti-Trump. They are anti-American and essentially anti-freedom. They are a threat to my freedom.

Mitt Romney claims to be acting in good conscience by voting to oust Trump from office, but the entire foundation of his beliefs and the basis of his principles are not only flawed, they are false to begin with. You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. There is a difference between what the farmer harvests from his fields and the excrement he uses to fertilize the soil.  

Posted in Principles, Religion, U.S. Constitution | Tagged , , , | 13 Comments

Morning In Martinez

The other day I had one of those bone density scans. Turns out my bone density is low. The medical term is osteopenia. This is in spite of the fact that I’m doing everything right: getting the proper exercise, taking the right calcium and vitamin D supplements, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. I’m just getting old. As much as we fight it or deny it, it’s the way of all flesh.

The appointment was in Martinez which is only 13 miles from home. Some 20 years ago we lived in Martinez, but these days my travels rarely take me in that direction. The bone scan appointment was one of those rare occasions. 

I felt an immediate affinity for the technician who did the scan — a middle-aged woman with a gentle spirit. She gave the impression of being a believer. You may be wondering what I mean by “believer” because people can believe in lots of things. But I say there is only one true thing worth believing, and that is Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world, as revealed in Holy Scripture.

My visit wasn’t long enough for me to explore her belief system but as I was leaving, I said, “Merry Christmas!” She thanked me and said, “Some people are afraid to say Merry Christmas”. I answered, “Not me” and she replied, “Me either”.  

As I walked back to the car I wondered why people insist on separating one another on the basis of color. To my way of thinking, there is only one human color: melanin. While it’s true that melanin produces a variety of subtle pigments, the main difference in skin colors is in the concentration of melanin. The more you have, the darker your skin. The less you have, the lighter your skin. 

[Upon re-reading this for the umpteenth time, I realize I’ve neglected to say why I got to thinking about this. The reason is that I am “white” and the lady technician was “black”. But rather than feeling different from her, I felt connected to her in a real way.]

Literally speaking there is no such thing as a “black” person or a “white” person. If there were, then we would also see a lot of gray people walking around. But instead, we see many variations of browns and tans. 

I was talking to my wife about this and she told me that there have been twins born where one is light-skinned and one is dark-skinned. If you think about it for a moment you will understand the reason. There is only one race: the human race. 

Have you ever stopped to wonder why people make such a big deal out of categorizing others by the color of their skin? Objectively speaking, it is a baseless, childish, stupid thing to do. There are so many better ways to categorize people, take for example, Martin Luther King Jr’s suggestion: the content of a person’s character. 

As I got back to my car, I had the impulse to drive down to the marina, one of my favorite haunts when we lived in Martinez. Driving down Alhambra Ave. I saw that many of the businesses were new, while some of the old, familiar ones had gone. 

And just as I was trying to assimilate these changes, I drove by the old apartment where our daughter had grown up. One Christmas we bought a live, potted Christmas tree. It was very tiny and only cost a dollar or two. Eventually, after it had grown several spindly feet, Marilyn and I transplanted it next to the sidewalk out front. When Marilyn was in college we moved to Concord. By then the tree had grown some, but it still didn’t give much shade to the front window.

But now, as I drove by, I saw that the tree towered over the two-story building. Its branches totally covering the lane I was in, closest to the sidewalk, and stretching half-way across the other lane. I was not prepared to grasp the time it had taken to grow so much. And by comparison, it seemed so little had happened in my own life. If I could only step back, perhaps I could see it.

I drove through town, down Ferry Street to the marina, past locals on bicycles who didn’t seem to be going anywhere in particular. A woman with her foot in a cast was using a scooter to push herself along in the middle of the road. She was in no particular hurry, and as I waited for her to get out of the street so I could pass, I wondered why she didn’t use the sidewalk.

Once at the marina, car parked and walking on the trail, I found myself in a different world.  Recent rains had produced muddy ground. Puddles abounded. The winter grass had sprouted along borders and open spaces in colorful contrast to the earth-tone tangles of cat tails and unnamed marsh growth. Most people would call them weeds.

But if you’ve ever see an Andrew Wyeth painting with wild, wind-blown grasses, you know what deep beauty “weeds” can possess. These were browns and grays of native plants that flourished this past Summer…even one patch of a faint, whitish violet. For a moment my thoughts returned to the meaninglessness of “black” and “white”. 

Dead or dormant now, the thick, woody tapestry evoked the somber, sober grace of God. There is wisdom in the changing seasons…wisdom that prepares us for change.

I crossed the slow stream where one Summer I’d seen a large turtle sunning itself on a log, and followed the worn and lichen-covered walkway through the reeds to the duck pond. Well, it’s not strictly speaking a duck pond. You also see geese, gulls and various wild birds I can’t identify. 

An elderly couple was watching the birds with a pair of binoculars. I asked them if they knew what kind of birds were wading there. They had long legs and seemed to be almost striped with layers of grey and white and black and brown. They told me the names, but names I forget. What I remember is that one of them has orange legs and during mating season all their plumage turns orange. 

You see a lot of people walking their dogs along the marina trails. Seems like they’re all happy and friendly. One gentleman was walking a poodle mix. I commented, “Beautiful dog!” to which he said, “This is George. He comes here every day.” 

“Hi George,” I said, as I petted the soft ears and muzzle. “Enjoy the rest of your day.” I never did get the man’s name. 

Most of the time when you look people in the eye and say hello, you’ll see a reflection of the same appreciation you feel for just being there. It’s as if you can read people’s minds and they’re all saying, “Isn’t life better today because we came here?”

Some people come to the marina to fly kites. The off-shore breezes are perfect for that. Some people come to fish off the pier. And some like to jog along the trails. But most folks just seem to like being there, enjoying the openness of the scenery. You can look across the wetlands to the tree-pocked hills that surround Martinez; you can look across the Carquinez Strait to Benicia and watch the boats going by — sometimes big, ocean-going ships.

On the pier, pigeons lazily sunned themselves along the leeward edge. They barely took notice of me as I walked by…they’re that used to people on the pier. After a while the crisp December breeze compelled me to bring this trip to an end and go home. Coming back to the marina had been like visiting an old friend. I hadn’t realized how much I had missed it. 

On the drive home I was jarred back to “normal”. Freeway construction made the traffic more stressed than usual and I was reminded of the hectic pace we come to accept as our regular way of life. I got back home well before lunch, thought about how full my morning had been and wondered why I don’t do this sort of thing more often. I guess it was because today wasn’t just routine. It took a medical appointment to break my habits and a willingness to be spontaneous to do something outside my normal pattern. 

Thank you, Lord, for that. Help me to be open to do this kind of thing more often.

Posted in Discussing differences, Just a thought | Tagged , | 2 Comments

The Spirit Of Christmas

Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations. He will not cry aloud or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street; a bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice. He will not grow faint or be discouraged till he has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands wait for his law.

Thus says God, the LORD, who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and what comes from it, who gives breath to the people on it and spirit to those who walk in it: “I am the LORD; I have called you in righteousness; I will take you by the hand and keep you; I will give you as a covenant for the people, a light for the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness. I am the LORD; that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to carved idols. Behold, the former things have come to pass, and new things I now declare; before they spring forth I tell you of them.”  ~ Isaiah 42:1-9

And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy — the Son of God.”  ~ Luke 1:35

“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor…”  ~ Isaiah 61:1-2a

And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”  ~ Luke 4:20-21

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”  ~ John 14:6

“For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  ~ Romans 6:23

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”  ~ Matthew 11:28-30

“…and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; to grant to those who mourn in Zion—to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit; that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he may be glorified.”  ~ Isaiah 61:2b-3

Then the seventh angel blew his trumpet, and there were loud voices shouting in heaven: “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever!”  ~ Revelation 11:15

 

 

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Seeking Unity

 (based on 1 Corinthians 1:10-17)

According to Chuck Smith’s commentary, despite their giftedness, the church at Corinth was rife with carnality. This tells us giftedness does not equal spirituality. Realizing this fact should motivate us to submit to one another out of reverence to Christ (Ephesians 5:21).

I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgement. (1 Corinthians 1:10)

Paul appeals not by his own power or authority, but by the name of Jesus, that the Corinthians turn their eyes away from self-identification based on personal preferences, and instead be unified in following Jesus and proclaiming his gospel.

This appeal holds the same intrinsic value today as when Paul first voiced it. In John 17:20-21 Jesus prayed, “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.”

But the Church today continues to struggle to attain to such unity. What can you and I do about that? How can we end divisions and become united in mind and judgement?

Chloe’s people reported to Paul that there was quarreling among the believers in Corinth. At least they were honest and open about their divisions. They all knew where everyone stood. Today we tend to hold our disagreements close to the vest. We avoid making waves in order to keep up the appearance of unanimity. Not unlike the hypocrites Jesus called whitewashed tombs (Matthew 23:27), we tend to act nice on the outside while keeping those things that divide us hidden inside.

Those in the church of Corinth were outwardly drawing their lines of distinction:

“I follow Paul.”                                                                                                                                         “I follow Apollos.”                                                                                                                                  “I follow Cephas.”                                                                                                                                 “I follow Christ.”

I include “I follow Christ” in this list of divisions because it was used in a quarrelsome way, coming from an attitude of superiority. Those who used this phrase weren’t actively seeking unity, but justifying their own judgementalism, implying, “I am right and you are wrong”.

In Paul’s rabbinical style he responds with three rhetorical questions:

“Is Christ divided?”                                                                                                                         “Was Paul crucified for you?                                                                                                       “Were you baptized in the name of Paul?”

The Corinthians well knew what Paul was saying. And so should Christians today. Christ did not call Paul for recognition and acclaim. Nor does he call any person to be elevated above others in some special church hierarchy. In Mark 10:45 he said, “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” And he told his disciples, “…he who is least among you all is the one who is great” (Luke 9:49).

Modeling the Great Commission, Paul wrote, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1). He was simply called to preach the gospel, not with words of eloquent wisdom lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power (1 Corinthians 1:17).

This is the church’s single unifying purpose — not the eloquence or wisdom of individual messengers, but the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes (Romans 1:16). We can all take steps to deny our “selves”, lay aside our various pet preferences and opinions, turn to Jesus and find our unity in him. Unless we do, we will never really be able to love one another (John 13:34-35).

“Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:12-14)

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The Christian Vote

Habakkuk 2:4 gives us the saying, “the righteous person will live by his faith.” Romans 1:17 rewords it slightly, saying, “…as it is written, The righteous shall live by faith.” Other verses, such as Galatians 3:11 repeat this concept. But what does it mean to live by faith? 

Language experts tell us that faith goes beyond the mere mental agreement with an idea. Faith is an action word. It’s not just saying we believe something, it’s putting our convictions to work, expressing what we believe by how we live. 

This is best illustrated by James 2:14-16:

What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?

According to My Faith Votes, “25 million Christians who are registered to vote won’t vote in the upcoming presidential election unless we motivate and equip them to vote!” A CBN article from September 20, 2019 cites even worse numbers:

The goal is to get Christians across America more engaged in the political process – 90 million Christians in America are eligible to vote, but as many as 40 million fail to vote in Presidential election cycles. And 15 million are not even registered to vote, according to the My Faith Votes website.

Between 25 and 40 million registered Christians not voting? 15 million not even bothering to register? However you cut it, these are big numbers. Sadly, I think lots of Christians  feel discouraged and disenfranchised, and withdraw from community and national involvement because they feel alien and alone.

While we are called to be separate from the sinful world (2 Corinthians 6:14-17), this is a call to purity in our relationships, our worship and our righteous living. We are still to be light and salt to the world — not hide who we are from our neighbors (Matthew 5:13-16). Romans 12:18 says, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” 

I believe that voting is a vital part of being a good citizen and a fundamental way all Christians can “live peaceably with all” by serving their community, State and nation. Voting is a very practical way to influence the world around us with godly judgment, a Biblical perspective, and the love of Jesus Christ. 

The USA is designed to be self-governing. When Christians do not vote, they are allowing the ungodly to govern us. Please Christians, register to vote. And when the time comes, do your civic duty and vote! Let God use you to influence the society we live in. 

One final thought: Back when all nations were ruled by kings, God often brought harsh judgments down upon those nations because of the deeds of their kings. Now we don’t have a king to blame. We only have ourselves. If God chooses to judge our nation, the responsibility will be 100% ours because we freely elect our leaders. The onus is on us. 

Put your faith into action in 2020!

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Show Me Your Papers!

On our 41st anniversary my wife and I bought some wine. The check out clerk said, “I’ll need to see some ID.”  “Why?” I asked. The store requires it. We check everyone’s ID who buys alcoholic beverages. I told her she must think I’m a teenager with a premature aging disease that makes me look older than I am. She didn’t laugh. 

The law says you must be 21 years old to buy alcohol. I’m 74 years old and I certainly don’t look anywhere near 21. There is no reason to card a 74 year-old. It’s nonsense and I told her so. But she wasn’t listening. She didn’t care. She had her job to do. Period. No discussion. “We card everyone.” And that’s that.

There are a lot of folks out there who don’t seem to be bothered by this in the least. In fact, they’ve become used to providing their identification and other personal information at the drop of a hat for the convenience of making some purchase. Not only is personal information required when you make internet purchases or use various apps on your smart phones, but many stores offer savings which require your phone number and email address. 

When you make purchases now days, giving them money isn’t enough. You also have to give them your personal information. Most people seem to accept this practice without question. But frankly, it terrifies me. I see it as no different from measures taken by totalitarian states to control their subjects. And by control, I mean restricting what you can do, where you can do it and how you can do it. 

When you live under a dictatorship, you can be walking down the street minding your own business and for no cause the police can demand that you show them your papers. How does that kind of authoritarian power begin? At some point, people get used to being required to show their identification and personal information in order to receive some benefit. This is an example of what is called the boiling frog syndrome.

The theory is that if you put a frog into a pot of hot water it will try to jump out because it is aware of the danger. But if the water in the pot is comfortable to begin with and is gradually heated to the boiling point, the frog won’t be aware that he is being cooked until it is too late and it will make no attempt to get out of the pot.  

Americans are very much like that unaware frog. The water is getting dangerously hot and they don’t know it. They are fat and prosperous, enjoying everything credit can buy and government can promise. But theirs is a flawed fantasy which is fundamentally unsustainable.

Basically, the fantasy is socialism — the idea that government can bring about equal and satisfactory conditions for everyone, which on the surface appears to be a noble, if not loving goal. The problem is that it isn’t real. History proves that, and so it comes as no surprise that those who support socialism ignore the history of socialism. 

The fatal flaw of socialism is the power of the state over the people. Socialism always restricts personal freedoms and requires greater and greater government authority to enforce those restrictions. Socialism is based on the power of government to restrain its people. But freedom is only possible when the people exhibit their own self-restraint. 

Historically in America, that self-restraint was based on most people’s belief that they were held accountable to the God of the Bible and his standards. In general, people did what was good and right not because government demanded it but because that was what God wanted them to do. Our American form of government was designed with the idea that people were to do for themselves and that the role of government was to protect their God-given rights to pursue their own lives, liberty and happiness. 

This design was in the context of a culture that taught Biblical love and compassion for one’s neighbors. The idea of helping the poor had always been seen as a matter of personal charity, community service and church ministry. It was not seen as being primarily the job of government. But as we have become less of a Christian nation, we look less to our own personal response and expect more from the government.

On October 11, 2019, speaking at the University of Notre Dame Law School, Attorney General Bill Barr echoed a sentiment of our founding fathers. He said that the Framers of the U.S. Constitution believed that a “free government was only suitable and sustainable for a religious people.” 

He also said, “And this is really what they meant by self-government. It did not mean primarily the mechanics by which we select a representative legislature. It referred to the capacity of each individual to restrain and govern themselves.” 

The principles of self-restraint and personal responsibility are what make our form of government work. Socialism is the exact opposite. As we walk away from those principles and embrace the control others have over us, we will continue to lose our freedoms while they gain power in determining just how we live our lives, what liberties we have and what happiness we are allowed.

We are coming close to the “Show me your papers!” stage. How far beyond can we expect to see the mark of the beast imposed? Are you ready for that? From Revelation 13:15b-17

…cause those who would not worship the image of the beast to be slain. Also, it causes all, both small and great, both rich and poor, both free and slave, to be marked on the right hand or the forehead, so that no one can buy or sell unless he has the mark, that is, the name of the beast or the number of its name.

Things are heating up. Are you getting used to it? You have a choice: either jump for freedom or boil like a frog.

For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. ~ Galatians 5:1

Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved. ~ Acts 16:31 

Posted in Belief in God, Bible, Freedom | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Categories Of People

Every day the world is telling us there are different categories of people. We hear it in the news, we see it in advertising, we find it in the laws our government passes. It’s what our institutions now focus on: political groups, age groups, race groups, body type groups, disability groups, victim groups, gender groups (greatly expanded from the two that God created), language groups, cultural groups, economic groups, religious groups…I’m sure I’ve left out someone. Bottom line, as people see themselves in these separate categories they are pushed further and further apart. The very concept of ‘community’, which originally included everyone who lives and works in close proximity, now is used to describe categories of people. 

It has become the norm for many Americans to primarily self-identify according to their most meaningful people category. But when I was a child in the 50s, it was common for most Americans to identify with one another simply  as American, considering their differences to be secondary. That generality now seems to have reversed. As a society, we have become so obsessed with the “diversity” of our various people categories that we hardly any longer think of ourselves as one people. The phrase,“We The People” has become little more than lip service to the values of a bygone era, when we believed in the “melting pot” of pluralism.

But now, the emphasis on different people categories has produced a form of tribalism which is destructive to national unity. Identifying with a particular people category tends to produce tribal feelings of identity, pride and loyalty, replacing broader feelings for the nation we live in. Our schools now even teach that the history of our nation is evil. So the net effect of the increase in tribalism is less patriotism, less knowledge about who we are as Americans and less interest in really learning the facts.

Historically, nationalism has been what has held peoples together, not because of fanaticism but because national cultures provide peoples with meaningful, cohesive identities. Chauvinist, ultra-nationalist Nazi Germany is by no means typical of nationalism. To use it as a template for the evils of nationalism requires a complete distortion of the facts. The evil of Nazi Germany was not in its nationalism. It was in the dictatorial power given to Hitler by the National-Socialist German Workers’ Party (the Nazis). 

One of the practices of socialism is to divide and conquer people by placing them into different categories — some virtuous and approved, others evil and enemies of the state. This was the real evil of Nazi Germany — the fact that they embraced socialism, which predictably enabled their dictatorial government to be totalitarian in their treatment of each category of people. Nationalism does not lead to totalitarianism, but socialism does. There is a simple reason for this. The ideals of socialism always fall prey to universalism, which claims to seek “the greater good”, but which can only be achieved by governmental force. 

This feeds on group think and is distinctly different from our constitutional form of government which is designed to represent the aggregate of individual voting citizens, allowing for changes in accordance with the will of the people. Our constitution is based on the sovereignty of the people (citizens). Socialism is based on the sovereignty of the State. It is Socialism — not nationalism — that represents the greatest threat to freedom.  

A pretense of socialism is that by highlighting various categories of people who have supposedly been denied equal treatment we are being “inclusive”. But what this actually does is to prioritize and favor some people categories over others. It is divisive and always results in laws that apply unequally, giving special consideration and even special rights for some at the expense of others. 

The greatest expression of this socialist pretense is found in globalism. Pretending to be for universal equality, what globalism does is take away our national sovereignty and constitutional protection of individual rights declared to be from God — not government. In place of national freedom, we are promised the “greater good” of universalism, which always boils down to whatever those in power decide for us and then enforce.

Think twice about the enticement of getting special treatment for your particular people category. If we allow ourselves to be a nation of divided categories of people, we can forget “One Nation Under God” and the Biblical principles of our founding. We can forget the hope of Galatians 3:28 (“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus”). We can forget concepts like free speech, open debate, loyal opposition and personal freedoms. All we will have is an unaccountable ruling class dictating to us how we are to live.   

We in America have the unsurpassed opportunity to live in a nation founded on the universal concept that “all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these, are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”. Under such an inclusive principle, all people categories can be united together as one.

For what I have received I pass on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures; that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. The wages of sin is death. But the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. God demonstrates his love for us in this: that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved. 

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What Does God Want Me To Do?

How can we be the best Christians we can be? What does total submission and dependence on God look like? Where do our own efforts come in to play? If being the best follower of Christ means we must focus on religious performance, then how does that square with the fact that Jesus calls us to deny ourselves?  Where do you draw the line between serving selflessly and the feeling of spiritual pride in our achievements or performance? How are we to walk in faith? 

As the body of Christ, I believe God designs all Christians to fit together and function together as one. The coordination of the body of Christ incorporates our “human” efforts together with the working of His Spirit. So, how do these two forces — the works of God and the works of Man — properly unite in the body of Christ?

Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27, “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.”

He went on say in Philippians 3:12-16, “Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let us therefore, as many as are perfect, have this attitude; and if in anything you have a different attitude, God will reveal that also to you; however, let us keep living by that same standard to which we have attained.”

I find this last encouragement interesting: that we should keep living by the same standard to which we have already attained. Much of our efforts should be focused on maintaining or “holding on” to what we already have (Revelation 3:11) as compared to developing new or additional ministry goals.   

Paul uses an athletic analogy to describe his motivation for being the best Christian he can be.  But where the analogy breaks down for me is in the competitiveness of athleticism today. It is one thing to discipline yourself to maximize your personal performance in order to do the very best you can do. Both discipline and dedication are important. But it is quite another thing to base your best on how many opponents you can defeat. 

While being an effective follower of Jesus involves discipline and the honing of skills, it shouldn’t be a matter of out-performing others, or setting goals based on what you see others doing. Walking with the LORD is a matter of putting off the old self and putting on the new self (Colossians 3:9-10), which allows his Spirit to lead us, edify us and sanctify us.  But in a practical sense, it doesn’t always seem clear to us at what point we are to put forth more individual effort and at what point we are to rely more more upon God’s efforts. 

Some might say it’s a balancing act, because both are necessary. But if that’s the case, we had better be very careful. If I am doing a balancing act, then I am determining for myself not only what my own actions will be, but also when I allow God to act. As questionable as that sounds, I think a lot of us fall into that temptation from time to time. It’s easy to think we know what we need to do, and so we “take charge” in our zeal to get something done.

But the Bible doesn’t teach that. Instead, the word reveals to us that when we receive Christ we become children of God. It is in our loving relationship to him that we discover the limits of our own efforts and the promise of him working through us when we are obedient. Jesus laid it on the line when he said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15). 

1 Corinthians 13:1-3 puts it in perspective: 

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.     

The examples given of notable religious performance are:

  • speaking in tongues
  • prophecy
  • understanding all mysteries and having all knowledge
  • faith to move mountains
  • giving away all you own
  • delivering your own body as a sacrifice to be burned                                                                                                        

But in God’s economy, despite the impressive nature of these human efforts, they have no value unless they come from a loving heart. God is saying he wants all our efforts to be expressions of obedience in love. First. we are to love the Lord our God with all our heart and with all our soul and with all our mind. Second, we are to love our neighbors as ourselves. 

Putting forth our own individual effort includes exercising self-control. And yet, we know that even self-control isn’t a product of our own effort, but is a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). Jesus gives his followers the Helper, who works in our lives to make us more Christ-like (2 Corinthians 3:18). So even while we are putting forth our own efforts, Jesus reminds us, “apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).

So, as we seek to grow in grace, walk with the LORD and serve one another, remember who is in charge. You are a child of God. Hold his hand. He will take you where you need to go today.  

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

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We Are Weak But He is Strong

Jesus Loves Me contains the lyric, “Little ones to him belong. They are weak but he is strong.” Jesus told his disciples, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” Children are not as strong or as capable or as knowledgeable as adults, so they are dependent upon those who care for them. 

Adult Christians are children of God. “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:12-13). And as his children, we are totally dependent upon him. We are weak but he is strong.

To admit “I am weak but he is strong” is a statement of faith and dependence, coming from a humble acceptance of God’s infinite power and authority over us. Apart from him we can do nothing (John 15:5). This is not to say we are nothing or have nothing to offer. It is a worshipful confession that we have a special relationship with God by which his grace is sufficient for us and his power is made perfect in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9).  

When Paul said, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13) he was not referring to his own abilities or strengths, but to the supernatural enabling of the Holy Spirit — the hallmark of walking in faith, which, like walking on water, is doing what we cannot do in our own strength. It’s not us. It’s not our strength. It is God and his strength. 

Galatians 2:20 in part says, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith”. This is a bit of a mystery to us because it is our natural tendency to focus on our own personal identity. And it is a bit more difficult to think of the Spirit of the living God within us. But this is our relationship with God. We are the sheep of his pasture (Psalm 95:7; Psalm 100:3). As sheep, we must follow the Shepherd and obey him.

Scripture gives us many more descriptions of our relationship with God and our total dependence on him.

  • We are to deny ourselves, take up our cross daily and follow him (Luke 9:23).
  • As branches of the True Vine, we can only produce fruit by abiding in him (John 15:4).
  • We are to submit to God and his law and his righteousness (James 4:7; Romans 8:7; Romans 10:3). 
  • Our strength is in the Lord and in his mighty power (not ours) (Ephesians 6:10-18).
  • We are to do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with God (Micah 6:8).

We cannot fight or stand or serve in our own strength. We must not walk in our own power but by faith follow in the footsteps of our Lord. We must walk in the light as children of light. We are weak but he is strong. When we see that he has saved us and realize how utterly helpless we were without him, yet still are called to share in his glory, we respond by worshiping him for his infinite, loving qualities. He is holy, just, forgiving, abounding in mercy and grace, providing for our needs, healing, guiding and teaching us. 

Our focus should be on the One we obey, not on our obedience of his commands. Our obedience does not merit the spotlight. Jesus said, “Does the master thank the servant because he did what was commanded? So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’” (Luke 17:9-10).  God wants our “Amen”, our love and our obedience, but the focus of our faith should  be on him and what he does, not on what we do.

The strength of the Christian faith is the “weakness” of following Jesus in loving humility. We rejoice in the sufficiency of God’s strength to overcome our weaknesses and faithfully do what we are able to do. Living out the Christian faith (walking with the LORD) is all about our relationship with him. God doesn’t do everything without involving us. Simply said, he does his part and we do ours. 

One example of this fellowship or partnership is the idea of sanctification. The Bible says that we are sanctified by Christ’s sacrifice on the cross (as in Hebrews 10:10) but also commands us to be holy (as in 1 Peter 1:15), clearly showing that God has done something, and that we are to do something also. Scripture gives us many such examples.   

Why is it then that on balance so many Christians seem to place more emphasis on the performance of their faith — the things they do to serve the LORD — than on God’s active hand in their lives? How much of being a mature, dedicated Christian is a product of our own self-discipline? How much of being “strong in the LORD” is a matter of our own effort or performance? Why should we evaluate our faith according to our performance when it is God who performs his will through us according to our obedience? Is not the power at work within us in Ephesians 3:20 God’s power, and not our own? 

After we have learned and grown in faith, shouldn’t our humility lead us to emphasize the qualities and deeds of God over our own? On balance, should we not be focused more on him than on ourselves? Should not our worship and study be more about him and less about us? How does what we accomplish in our weakness compare to what God does in his infinite power? 

Perhaps we focus on ourselves, because it is easy to look at outer appearances (1 Samuel 16:7). And perhaps we tend to judge by those appearances. But since God sees the heart, perhaps that’s what he wants us to focus on too. Is it not better to look at our hearts, at what is motivating our deeds, than to focus on the deeds themselves? 

What is more important to God, the deed itself or the faith or mercy or compassion that motivates it? The temptation to measure and evaluate our deeds can lead us to feel pride in how we serve, rather than letting our service be a selfless offering. We need to keep a close watch on our hearts. The lesson of the widow’s mite is that the measure of a gift is in the heart of the giver — not the gift itself.

This is not to minimize the importance of things we do to serve the LORD, but rather to put them into perspective. What we do is second in importance to why we do it. Our focus and our emphasis should always be one of unity in Christ to be shared with all other believers:

Even though we may preach the gospel, which is God’s power of salvation (Romans 1:16), the most eloquent sermon is only foolishness in terms of human wisdom. In 1 Corinthians 1:18 Paul wrote, “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” God used the “foolishness” of his preaching to save souls. It is God who changes hearts, not us. 1 Corinthians 1:21 says, “For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe.”    

If Paul can describe his preaching as folly, we should all take note that his focus and emphasis was not on himself or his performance, but it was on the LORD. He confessed, “I am the very least of all the saints” (Ephesians 3:8). 

When he said, “I press on” (Philippians 3:12) it was not for the purpose of serving in his own strength. It was not about him or his strength at all, but a form of self-denial: that he would be righteous through faith in Christ and experience the power of his resurrection and share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, attaining the resurrection from the dead (Philippians 3:9-11). 

Romans 8:37 says, “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” Some Christians seem to think this means we actually are conquerors — that we have conquered sin. But that’s not what it says. It says “in all these things”, which from previous verses includes a list of every form of trouble and calamity, including being killed, just like sheep to the slaughter. But this passage is saying that in suffering all these things as victims, Christians are more than conquerors through Christ. 

This mirrors Jesus suffering horribly and dying on the cross. Because of his sacrifice, we can escape the condemnation of our sin through faith in him. His “loss” conquered sin and death for all. But this was not a simple victory. He isn’t just a conqueror. He is so much more. He offers eternal salvation to all who will come to him in faith. He ushered in the kingdom of heaven. He reigns forever in glory. And all things will be made new. 

We are weak but he is strong. Let’s focus our worship on how great he is, placing our confidence in him, not on how well we think we can serve him.

   

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