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