Thursday, November 19, 2015

BUT ...

     It seems that whenever an issue comes up that has ethical and political undertones as well as biblical, there is usually someone who will protest, "But what about ...," or "But if ..."
     Try discussing Jesus' teachings on non-retaliation - Matthew 5:38-42:  "Do not resist the evil, but whoever hits you on your right cheek turn to him the other ..."  Often before these words are out of your mouth, someone will protest.  "But what if someone is breaking into your home?" or "But what if your wife is being raped?"  I actually had someone say to me, "But what would Jesus have done if He saw His mother being raped?"
     Or bring up this one, Matthew 5:44, "But I'm telling you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you ..."  If you do you may be immediately confronted with some-thing like, "But it's the government's job to protect us and punish our enemies and we're commanded to support our government!"
     Or the current hot-button issues of the receiving of refugees or undocumented aliens.  The Old Testament is full of commands regarding the acceptance of aliens and strangers.  Leviticus 19:34, "The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as the native among you and you shall love him as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt."  Or Jesus' words in Matthew 25:35, 40, "I was a stranger and you took me in ... In that you did it to the least of these my brothers, you did it to Me."  Try discussing these issues and someone will immediately protest something about protecting America or that we have enough poor in our own county.
     So we discuss care for the poor.  Again the Bible - Old and New Testaments - is full of commands to honor the poor.  Deuteronomy 15:11, "For there will never cease to be poor in the land; therefore I (the LORD) command you, 'You shall open your hand freely to your brother, to the needy and poor in your land.'"  Or James 2:5, "Listen my beloved brothers, didn't God choose the poor in the world, rich in faith and heirs of the Kingdom ... ?"  Bring this up and you may be interrupted with protests about welfare fraud or drugs or alcoholism.  "But how do we know how they'll spend it?"
     I'm not speaking here of whether or not these protests are legitimate.  They may or may not be.  I've attempted to deal with many of them elsewhere in this blog.  What concerns me is our tendency to immediately protest these and other biblical teachings as though they were unreasonable demands.  In fact, it seems as though these protests are raised in order to excuse ourselves from being required to obey them.
     Yes, there are legitimate questions.
     Whenever we are confronted with demands in the Scripture, we should ask if these demands are directed at us (not all are) or if they have implications for us.  And once we understand that God is making these demands on us, we need to ask "how" questions.  How can I integrate this command into my life?  How should this affect or change my thinking?  How will my obedience affect my life?  My relationships?  My politics?
     If we call Christ our Lord, then we are responsible to submit to His demands on our lives, even when they may seem to be unreasonable or contrary to our political opinions.

Monday, November 9, 2015


Our Sunday School class has been studying the Book of Acts.  We are moving slowly through the early chapters which relate the beginnings and early history of the church.  These chapters describe the church's early preaching and growth.  We've been discussing the conflicts within the church and the persecutions without.  One of my main goals has been to compare our 21st century church with that of the 1st century.
One of the seeming points of contrast is that of the miraculous:  the early church experienced genuine miracles regularly; our church doesn't.  And yet we hear of miracles and healings occurring in the church elsewhere.  So I invited a member of our church who had recently been on a mission trip to Africa to describe what he had seen and experienced.

As he spoke, (I must confess), I got sidetracked by his comparison of the traditions of the church he had visited, with our own church.  One in particular impressed me.  He told how, while we would think that we should give Bibles to all the church people, the church leaders there did not.  Bibles were kept at the church, where they could be studied.  The people would come, read and study, then leave the Bibles at the meeting place when they returned home.

The reason given for was that every household has a shelf on which sit the various idols of their culture.  The fear was that if a person were given a Bible it would be carried home and placed on the shelf to become just one more idol to be paid lip service to.  (I'm not here attempting to discuss the wisdom of this policy; I'm sure that experience had taught the church leaders a need for this concern.)

While our speaker appeared to think of this as an interesting and quaint contrast between two cultures, my mind focused on the similarities.  These people in Africa who were still burdened with the paganism of their past, were tempted to so something that we educated European Americans are guilty of.

Isn't that what we do?  Don't we take our Bibles home and set them on a shelf along with our other  gods?  And not just the Book, but also the God whom that Book reveals.

Have we placed our Christianity right there along with all the other goals, desires and pleasures we seek?  Is God - is Jesus Christ - merely a supplement to our life?  Is He someone we can go to when needed, but normally left to sit neatly on the shelf to receive an occasional dusting along with the other idols and His Book?

Didn't God tell His Old Covenant people, "You shall have no other gods besides Me."?  (Yes, that Hebrew expression can be translated "besides.")  Didn't He say, "I the LORD your God am a jealous God."?  Yet I fear that we want Him to sit conveniently on the shelf next to our other gods.

What are they?  Well, we each have our own pantheon.  But here in 21st century America, I suspect that Mammon is there in a prominent place, along with Civil Religion and many other minor deities.

I have no easy solution.  I fear that we deal with the problem the same way that that African church does:  we keep God at church where He is convenient when we need Him.

Perhaps we should start by cleaning the idols off the shelf into the (metaphorical) trash can and bringing God home from church and giving Him the prominent position He deserves - and demands.
Romans 12:1-2

Thursday, September 24, 2015


(February 1985)

While cleaning out my old files, I discovered this little paper that I had written over 30 years ago for a class I was taking.  Though the numbers and a few details have changed, I can't say my thoughts are much different today.  So I'm posting it as written.

(P.S.  I received an A-.)

An article in Parade Magazine caught my eye last week.  It was titled "A World Without Disease."  The article told us to "imagine a new world, a world in which disease no longer kills or maims, ... (where) there is ample food to feed all people because crops also resist disease."  It promised that this is no science fiction tale and that we are on our way to this because of the marvelous new science of genetic engineering.

We've all read stuff like this before, haven't we?  Is it possible?  Or is this somebody's utopian dream, a sugar pill for the problems of the world?  I believe that it is just a dream, impossible of fulfilling.  Not only that, but setting our hopes on a world without suffering through science may divert us from making real efforts to alleviate suffering in the world.

There are moral problems with this idea.  I'm not speaking of ethical implications of tampering with human life; I'm speaking of the moral implications of rich versus poor, of developed nations versus undeveloped.  The majority of funds spent on research in this area is being spent in the western world.  Cures are being found through genetic engineering and other research, people are being relieved from suffering, but who are these people?  Their number mainly includes those of the upper and middle classes of the richer nations.  Do we have any indication that their number will ever include those of the lower classes of the world - those who are really suffering?

The sheer mathematics of world population growth belies the idea that one day we will have cured the ills of the whole world.  The population of this planet now stands somewhere between 4.75 and 5 billion.  The World Bank estimates that by the year 2025, forty years from now, world population will be somewhere near 8.3 billion, almost double today's figure.  The greater number of these is, and will be, found in the under- developed nations.  Do we really believe that we will be able to cure the ills of all these?  We are unable even to feed them.  The images of starving Ethiopian children staring at us from our TV screens during the evening news are a reminder of that fact.  Can we cure their diseases without first relieving them of starvation?

Another problem with the elimination of disease in the world is the problem of administration.  Who is capable of initiating and carrying through a disease control program in any of the underdeveloped nations of the world?  Corrupt and inept govern-ments in many nations do not desire that larger nations dictate the use of foreign aid.  Who is going to convince them that they need to eliminate disease?

There have been successes in disease control in the underdeveloped nations.  A recent report on 20/20 centered on a medical team in Bangladesh which had virtually eliminated cholera deaths in a certain region at a cost of only a few cents per person.  Their problem, however, was that even for its low cost there were not enough funds available, though funds are being invested in medical research elsewhere.

Shall we then discontinue medical research and spend all our time, money and effort on other matters?  I'm not saying that.  I have a grandson with a congenital defect.  He would not be alive today if it were not for medical discoveries made in the recent past.  I hope too that someday a cure for his illness will be discovered.  Genetic research and engineering does hold promise.  But there are others with the same and other defects who will never be cured.  There ought to be a balance between the enormous amount spend on medical research for the few, and the relatively small amount spent on helping the many.

We are a rich nation.  Perhaps we can eliminate disease here.  But what about the rest of the world?  Are we to ignore their need?  Does our hope for the future only include ourselves?  Maybe we cannot find a solution for all the world's ills, but that does not mean that we ought not to put more money and effort into relieving the suffering of as many as we can.  The Bible says, "The poor will never cease to be in the land."  To let utopian thinking cause us to forget that, will also cause us to forget what follows, "You shall freely open your hand to your brother, to the needy and poor in the land" (Deuteronomy 15:11).  The great danger of false utopias is that we do not make an effort to relieve the sufferings of the poor in the world.

Thursday, September 3, 2015


In July Uni and I attended the 60 year reunion of my High School Class of 1955.  It was different than previous reunions - a bit slower and with a few more serious moments and a lot fewer in attendance.

A few weeks earlier I had been called by Shirley, one of the "girls" who were in charge of the festivities and asked if I would give the invocation.  I told her that I'd be honored to, but I wanted her to know that I'd be praying in Jesus' Name, as that's the only way I pray.  She said that would be fine.

Usually when I'm asked to pray at a public occasion I pray extemporaneously - off the cuff - though I usually give the prayer some thought beforehand.  However, Shirley and I had quite a lengthy phone conversation beforehand, so I knew that this occasion would be different than any other.  Many of my classmates had passed away in the five years since the previous reunion; most of those of us who are left are not as healthy physically, emotionally and memory wise.  So this prayer would not be just me in communication with God.  I would need to attempt to express some of the feelings and desires of all of us.  So I spend many hours writing out my thoughts and rewriting them.

At the Saturday evening dinner/dance, we sat with two of my classmates I had known since grade school, and their spouses.

My class has a reunion every five years and with each gathering our number decreases.  Many have passed on.  Many are unable to attend for health and other reasons.  And yet each gathering seems more open and intimate.  As someone observed, there are no more cliques.  We are no longer jocks, cheerleaders, nerds, wallpapers.  We're more and more like family.  We're glad to see each other.  Maybe it's simply that we are survivors.

Anyway, when it came time for me to pray I gave a brief introduction and then read the prayer that I had typed out, of course with ad-lib remarks.  The following is my introduction and prayer as I recall it:

We're told in the 90th Psalm that:  "As for the days of our life, they contain 70 years; Or if due to strength 80 years ..."  (Psalm 90:10a)  All of us here have passed that 70 year mark and we are now in what we might refer to as our extended warranty.

Heavenly Father:  We grieve for those classmates who are no longer with us, who have passed on.  We pray for the spouses and families of those who have passed - for comfort and for the assurance of seeing their loved ones again.  We recognize too that our time for joining them is drawing nearer.

But Father, we thank you for those who are still here, for those who have gathered here - to renew old acquaintances and friendships, to retell tales of our high school adventures and misadventures, to get caught up with what's been happening in our classmates' lives over the past 60 years.  We thank you especially for those who have worked hard to make all the arrangements for this affair.

Tonight we'll be doing a lot of comparing - weight gains and losses, wrinkles, hair loss, aches, pains and illnesses, the latest meds.  Help us not to be proud or ashamed of our physical condition.  Forgive us if we are.

And we thank you Father that you love us.  We thank you most of all that you loved us enough that you sent your Son to die for us. We thank you too that you approve of our having a good time with old friends.  When your Son Jesus was on earth, he seemed to enjoy eating and drinking.  He even provided wine for a wedding!  We might even imagine Him here with us, digging into a good meal and enjoying a drink or two.  Perhaps we can even imagine Him putting in a few rounds on the dance floor.

So we ask you Heavenly Father, to bless this party.  For some this may be our last.  Bless the food, the drinks and the fellowship.  We pray that all we do and say here would be pleasing to you.

We pray in the name of your Son Jesus, our Savior.  Amen

Later a few people commented on the prayer and/or thanked me for it.  One comment I really loved was, "It was like you were inviting Jesus to join the party."  I guess I was.

We ate, had a few drinks and Uni and I danced a bit.  Most of the dances were slower than at previous reunions, though I did do The Twist with Diane (or was it Joanne; I still can't tell those twin sisters apart).  Dancing was supposed to be till 11, but when the one-man band came back from his 10 o'clock break, most of us were gone.

The next day was our picnic.  Few showed up.  Guess it was just too much excitement.

We're looking forward to Uni's reunion next summer - class of '56, same High School!