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Making Jesus Real in an Unreal World, Part 1

Ok, sure, I’m a pastor……

While some of you make think that’s great, far fewer may think it’s cool and perhaps many of you may think I only work one day a week, I can boil the most visible part of my job (the teaching part) down to a very simple parallel: I’m a mailman.

Me, the Pastor-dude!

Me, the Pastor-dude!

Now unlike the guy who drops off your mail at your home or business, I read your mail; I read it for my information and I in turn read it to you.  I have even gone to school to learn how to read your mail properly and accurately!  I have become an expert in reading your mail because the mail of yours which God has sent to you was originally written in Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek!  I guess I am an expert at reading God’s mail addressed to people!

Now since it is the Bible which identifies what sin is (at the behest and will of God) I am bound by my relationship with God through Jesus Christ the Son to deliver His Word (His mail, if you will) truthfully.  For me to not tell you what His Word identifies as sin would lack integrity and love.  It lacks integrity because I am purposely and willfully hiding the Truth of God from those who want and need to hear what God says.  It lacks love because I do not really love you if I won’t tell you what God says.

The Bible says divorce, lying, cheating, murder and overeating (among others) are all sin.  It also says homosexuality, abortion and same-sex sexual relationships of all kinds are also sin.  All of these actions (and I have not listed them all) are all sin and God views them all equally as rebellion against Him.

Remember, I’m the mailman!

Do I believe these things are sin?  Yes I do.  I also believe the Bible when it says, “All have sinned and missed God’s intended target of perfection (sinlessness).”  Even in the Jewish Old Testament (the first part of the Holy Bible) a prophet many hundreds of years before Jesus stated, “There aren’t any righteous people anywhere; everyone has sinned.”  This means every single person is guilty and there isn’t a single human anywhere who isn’t guilty of sin—we are all equally guilty!

This means when I identify a particular act as sin, I must do so knowing there isn’t any sin the Bible identifies which would be beyond my ability to do.  I am capable, under the right circumstances and the right temptations to engage in overeating, divorce, homosexuality and lying.  True, some things are fairly easy to do while others may take much more motivation, but I am capable of any and all sin.

So this is where I am: I’m a full-blooded human with all of the capabilities and predilection to commit sin.  I am also a pastor; I am fulfilling God’s design and plan for me through ministering to people and teaching them about God’s Word and the good news of His Son.  My role often means I put on my “Captain Obvious” cape and identify as I teach the Bible what the Bible calls sin.

Yet this is the important part: I must do so without personally judging anyone in the process.  If it wasn’t for God’s grace and His power in my life (it’s all God and Jesus!) I could be caught up in the same things the Bible states is sin.  If I am who I claim (a pastor and a believer in Jesus Christ) then there should be evidence of my claim.  If I live like there is no evidence of who I claim to be, at best I am a liar and at worst I am severely deluded!

Why is any of this important?  Because as I live my life, I am to make Jesus real in an unreal world!  This world is unfair, unjust, cruel, brutal, out-of-control and often incredibly stressful.  Believers (those with a relationship to God the Father through Jesus Christ the Son) must hold their faith and their testimony to others carefully and gently.  We must desire to have every part of our lives testify and proclaim who Jesus is in our life.

This also means we must understand even in our obedience to God’s Word and His Son we must allow those who do not believe as we do see the love of God in our life.  Will this remove all of the misunderstanding and hatred we may face because of our desire to be obedient?

christian-cross-christ-field-18619705  Unfortunately it will not; just as there will be those who will absolutely hate my        identification of what some people are doing as sin even in this blog, I have to    remember it really isn’t about me.  I am to obey and sometimes in the process of  obedience, I will become a target of opportunity by those who dislike what the  Bible (and me in this context) says.

Yet they better see God’s love in everything I do.  Otherwise, I am in danger of being judged by the same God I claim to be serving!

 

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Assuming America

All of us make a number of assumptions every moment of our lives.

We tend to assume what we order at McDonalds will be what we get.  We assume the person coming from the opposite direction on a highway or motorway will stay on their side of the road.  We assume the lights will come on when we flip the wall switch.

Aside from the adage claiming “When we assume, you dare make an ‘ass out of u and me,’ our assumptions far too often prove to be wrong!  The chances your McDonalds order is correct is proportionate to how far away from the restaurant you are when you check it; the person driving toward you often crosses the dividing line while answer their phone and we are always surprised when the lights do not come on as we “flip the switch.”  It’s always risky making assumptions!

One of the tacit assumptions made in history for over two-hundred years is the continued existence of America and its influence—this is especially true of its citizenry.

Please keep in mind the underlying assumption I am making here (one I make by faith—and one in which there has never been a disappointment) is the validity and truth of Scripture (remember, I am a pastor-dude).  Regardless of the pundits and the critics, Scripture and biblical prophecy has never been proved as wrong.

I remember being interviewed by a German independent documentarian when I was living in Illinois.  The question came up regarding the history of the world and Scripture; basically, what the Bible says about the future.  As I explained the Bible’s declaration of the future coming anti-Christ and the re-subjection of Europe, the Middle East and much of Asia by his government, she stated many people in Europe would be highly offended by this interpretation.

Artist's rendition of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse

Artist’s rendition of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse

I asked her if she understood the prophecy as a statement of further American hegemony; in other words, was she assuming Christianity and its belief system were synonymous with America and its culture?  Being from Germany and being thoroughly secular in her ideology, she saw no difference between “America” and “Christianity.”

What I then told her almost left her speechless.  I informed her there are no symbols nor is there any mention of “America” in any biblical prophecies; for whatever reason, the sovereign entity of the United States plays no role in the affairs of the world in the prophecies contained in the Bible regarding humanity’s future.

Does this mean America is no more?  Has it been marginalized politically by world events or the rise of new and more powerful world powers?  God in His wisdom does not inform us.  All we can know with surety is there is no mention of the United States in end-times descriptions.  While there are many who will try to insert an American presence into the events of the last days, it simply is not there if one follows the normal rules of interpretation.

I believe what we see playing out in the newspapers, RSS feeds and televisions news coverage certainly grants us insight into the beginning of the demise of America.  America has lost much of its influence internationally.  Because we have failed to discipline ourselves financially (especially personally), our government sees no reason to do so and our private, personal actions has granted them the permission to do likewise.

We have lost all semblance of a “moral high ground” due to our own hypocritical stances domestically—it is difficult to chide other countries for their mistreatment and slaughter of their own peoples when we have systematically killed over 50 million babies through legalized abortion.  When other countries choose to kill a group of people like this, we refer to it as genocide!

The Bible states “Righteousness exalts a nation but sin is a disgrace to any people.”  It isn’t a particular sin—it’s not homosexuality or divorce or overeating or overspending—it’s sin!  There is a reason why so many in other parts of the world assume there is a direct link between Christianity and America; for many decades this was a legitimate fact.  Yet when those who have identified themselves with Christ so blatantly ignore the very commands of God, God judges those who know Him more harshly!  The Apostle Peter reminded his readers judgment begins first with “God’s household.”

Here is something to keep in mind as those of us who seek comfort from God’s Word study it: the prophecies of Scripture never demand a particular method or means, they merely tell us what “will be” and sometimes they give us insight into the results which follow.  God has given us prophecy for the same reason He gives us all things: to increase our faith in Him.

Trusting in God’s control of our future and eternity is not an assumption—it’s a surety!

The Ugly Christian Part 4

A Marriage of Convenience

 

There are some things I do not believe I will ever understand.

 

I went into a McDonald’s a while back and there was a sign hanging on the wall: “Braille menus available.”

 

Who is that sign for?

 

There were a couple of songs on the radio in the early seventies which have always given me fits.  One was MacArthur Park: “someone left the cake out in the rain, I don’t think that I can take it, ‘Cause it took so long to bake it, and I’ll never have that recipe again.”

 

Seriously?  Forget the cake; what about the hash brownies the writer obviously inhaled before writing this jingle?

 

One of the thornier issues facing Christians in general and myself as a pastor in particular is same-sex marriage.  Over the years IWedding photo have heard some very good men make some incredibly gifted attempts to claim the existence of same-sex marriage undermines the existence and value of heterosexual marriage.  One pastor used the image of marriage being a boat and the proponents of same-sex marriage were doing the equivalent of boring holes in the bottom of the boat.  In other words, if any other definition of marriage is allowed to occur, the whole of marriage would be destroyed.

 

I cannot more vigorously disagree.

 

Heterosexual marriage, in practice, doesn’t exactly have a “moral high ground” in this matter.  The divorce rate in America still hovers around the fifty (50) percentile mark; those who identify themselves as Christians are not far removed from this mark.  Yet it seems some of the more strident voices against same-sex marriage emanate from those claiming to be Christians—and some of the verbiage they are using gets pretty ugly!

 

As a pastor, I teach the entire Bible.  Some believers have been trotting out the passages in Leviticus which describe the results of “men being with men” (my paraphrase) and “women being with women.”  Those words are there and God was serious when He wrote them—He still is.  The Bible states homosexuality is sin—along with many other activities as well.  I also realize there are many people, some of whom I am friends with—who are homosexual.

 

If you are reading this and have chosen this lifestyle, then I most likely have hacked you off bad enough for you to throw your computer across the room!  I would not recommend that action.

 

I do not dislike homosexuality any more than I dislike divorce, lying, over-eating, greed or any other sin.  In fact, I can state along with the Apostle Paul, “I am what I am by God’s grace.”  If there is anything I or anyone would consider good in my life, it’s not because I’m better or smarter, it’s because God is good.

 

Same-sex marriage is going to be what “is” in our country.  Christians are going to have to come to grips with this.  It doesn’t change what God’s Word says, it doesn’t change my responsibility to be obedient to God’s Word.  We live in a democracy.  If the people in this country decide this is okay, then believe it or not, God isn’t shocked one bit.

 

Allow me to channel my father’s words to me when I was ten years old: “I don’t care what the neighbor kids do—you belong to me!”

 

Our responsibility as believers is to love people with the love given to us by God and demonstrated by Jesus Christ on the Cross.  This “love” is not sex, the “warm fuzzies” nor are we to embrace the definition our culture demands and then has called “good” what the Bible calls “evil.”  True love is lived, it is demonstrated through our action and obedience to Jesus Christ in our lives.  We do not and cannot demand obedience from those who are “not part of our family.”  They may do as they choose.  We are called by God to demonstrate truth through obedience.

 

The normalization of same-sex marriage is an opportunity given by God for us to prove the truth of our God and demonstrate our relationship to Him through our obedience.  Christians should strive to have marriages so everyone who sees them would desire a marriage just like them!  This is the whole point of living for Christ: demonstrating the love Christ has for this world through our obedient love for Him!

 

God has placed American Christians in America.  He understands democracy and the great freedoms it gives.  He also understands the human heart.  When people reject His commands and His offer of salvation, believers should not react in hate and anger.  People who reject the tenets of Scripture are not rejecting Christians or our sensibilities (so we need to get over ourselves): they are rejecting God.

 

Of course, the demand by the proponents of same-sex marriage who say I must state their cause is just and right are just as unfortunately wrong.  I am not called to approve actions because of social pressure; I am called to be obedient to the Lord.  Just as in first century Rome when the Church was in its infancy, Christians were not persecuted because they believed in Jesus Christ or Yahweh-God.  Christians were persecuted because they refused political correctness and would not call Caesar “Lord!”  Our obedience to Christ will always make us incredibly unpopular.

 

For far too long Christians have allowed Satan to get them off task by focusing too much on what those who are outside of a relationship with Christ are doing.  Should sin be identified?  Yes it should.  But the identification of “sin” should be motivated by the same love a mother has for the child who gets too close to a hot oven: the warning is clear, it’s strong and its concern is for the safety of the child.  It’s because the mother loves her child.

 

If we speak out against the sin in this world, let us make sure it’s because we love people like Jesus does.  Our responsibilities are the same as they have always been: to love others.

 

This isn’t convenient.

 

It’s love and obedience.