Archive for July, 2010

The Water and the Bridge

July 30, 2010

Taken from Sipsey River bridge near White's Chapel Church of Christ. You can see the remains of the old bridge in the background.

I was enjoying my lunch the other day at one of the local eateries.  A creek crossed the road nearby and I had just driven across the bridge traversing it.  That experience got me to thinking.  We sometimes look back over our life, perhaps to some distant event that was a part of it, and say, “A lot of water has gone under the bridge since then.”  So, here’s what I got to thinking.

The water just keeps on moving.  You often wish it would slow down and not move so fast.  You wish you could grab it with your hands and hold on to it.  But, when you try, it just slips right away.  It doesn’t slow down at all.  You want to hit pause and make the moment linger, make it last so you can milk it for all its got.  You want to savor it, but the water won’t stop.  You long for a bucket to at least catch part of it.  But when you put the bucket in the water, it acts like a sieve, everything goes straight through.  It won’t even slow down, much less stay put for awhile.

You keep struggling.  If the water won’t stop, maybe it will just move more slowly.  If it won’t move slower, maybe you can catch some of it in your bucket and take it with you.  But the bucket is full of holes and your efforts are futile.  There is nothing you can do.  The river rolls on.

The water under the bridge is our life moving through time.  We can’t stop it for awhile, revel in the present, and then make it pick back up again.  The water keeps moving.  The clock keeps ticking.  Time won’t cooperate by kindly stopping and waiting while I enjoy the moment.  Time won’t back up and allow me to revisit the past, either to correct some ill-advised blunder, or to linger for a time in those lost days that I can never reclaim.

How I would like to go back and date my wife again, or change one thing I failed miserably at in high school because of my own stupidity and fear, or redo some of the time spent in college, or make some business decisions differently, or play with my kids when they were growing up, or ask Dad some things I couldn’t think of while he was still alive, or . . . the list goes on – it’s endless.

But the water keeps moving, right on under the bridge.  Why won’t it stop for me?  I’m not that bad of a guy.  Can’t I just get it to back up a few miles . . . a few years?  The water just flows on, ignoring my questions.  If it would just talk to me, I think I could convince it by reason.  But the only response I get is silence.  The river is mute, and apparently deaf.

So, what do I do?  If time won’t stop for me, much less back up, I guess I’ll just have to stay in my boat and make the most of the ride.

This all reminds me of the words of the Old Testament prophet Amos:

But let justice run down like water, And righteousness like a mighty stream. (Amos 5:24 NKJV)

As I sail down the stream which is my life, let me leave in my wake the honorable treatment of my fellow man and an abundance of Christian good deeds.  The main thing is not to stop the river, but to determine its proper course.

We must not forget the words of the Lord to the woman by the well in Samaria:

…whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life. (John 4:14 NKJV)

Jesus is that Water of Life.  My brother sees that water when he sees Jesus living in me.  This must be the constant daily goal of my life – that others will see Christ in me.

I cannot stop the water from passing under the bridge.  But I can sure determine its quality.  If I let Jesus purify my life, the water in which my boat is sailing becomes pure along with it. The goal is to make every liter of my water that passes under my bridge to be pure . . . because it comes from Jesus.

Sermon on the Mount – Matthew 7

July 30, 2010

Here is the final “targum” on the Sermon on the Mount.  I am offering my expanded paraphrase only this time.  The Bible text is Matthew 7.1-29.  The purpose of paraphrasing is to make the words of Jesus our own, to understand what He was saying, and to contemplate how I can better incorporate these truths into my personal life.  The words of Jesus bless me to the extent that I live them out day by day. The Master’s words will do that for anyone.

I have divided the text into sections and omitted the verse numbers.  Here is my paraphrase.

– Instead of always being ready to condemn someone else, look at your own behavior first.  If you are always finding fault with others, they will tend to find fault with you.  People have a tendency to point out some minor bad behavior in someone else’s life, when there is major bad behavior in their own life.  This is an attempt to shift the attention from themselves to another person.  You don’t be like that.  Let it be obvious to all that your own life is one of constant humility and repentance, and that you are seriously trying every day to improve your Christian life.  You will then be in a better position to help others improve their Christian lives.  As an individual disciple, you will want to help everyone, but simply won’t have time to personally minister to every person you see.  Some that you will try to help don’t want to be helped and won’t let you help them.  You would have to fight them to help them.  Don’t fight them, just move on to someone else, who wants to be helped, and minister to them.

– I want to bless you so bad.  If you will ask Me, I will give.  If you will try hard, you will be rewarded.  If you will keep at it, your life will be a blessing.  I have the ability to bless you without limit.  If you will live as I teach you to live, this is the best way for you to live, I will overwhelm you with blessings.  If your own children ask you for something they need, you don’t fuss at them for asking, you give them what they need.  You are imperfect, yet you do these good things.  How much more will your Father in heaven, who is infinite in His perfection, give you the good things that you need.  Make your life a life of prayer.

– The way “Love your neighbor as yourself” looks in practice is this:  you treat others the way you would want them to treat you if your situations were reversed.

– There are two highways.  One is a narrow gravel road.  The other is a broad interstate.  Most people are flying through life along with everyone else on the interstate.  But, the bridge over the river on the interstate is out ahead.  They have been warned repeatedly, but have chosen to ignore the warnings and race ahead.  The narrow, winding gravel road isn’t fancy and most people miss it, but it leads to a peaceful farm in the valley where sits a white house with a big front porch and supper cooking in the oven – and no bridge is out.

– Not everyone will teach the truth.  Watch out for people like that.  They will present themselves as completely innocent, but they are very dangerous.  You can judge them by their lives, carefully examining what they say, and by the results of their teaching.  You would not expect to gather grapes or figs from a briar bush.  A good fruit tree will give you good fruit, but you won’t get any from a bad tree.  It just doesn’t work that way.  The bad trees are eventually cut down, piled up, and burned.  You will know a teacher by the results of his teaching.  Not everyone who says they are a Christian, really is one.  A real Christian is one who obeys the will of God.

– Let me tell you what the person is like who lives like I am teaching.  He is like one who builds a house on a carefully prepared foundation.  The winds and floods rage against it, but it remains standing, because of that solid foundation.  The one who ignores My teaching is like someone who builds his house without a proper foundation, he just builds on the ground.  When that house faces the winds and floods, it will fall, quickly and violently.

– This is the end of Jesus’ sayings on this particular occasion.  The people were amazed because Jesus, unlike the rabbis they were used too, knew what He was talking about.


Sermon on the Mount – Matthew 6

July 26, 2010

I am worried that many Christians do not really believe Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.  In this sermon Jesus presents a way of living marked by humility, mercy, and service to others.  I am concerned that these Christian character markers have become merely talking points and not living points by many who loudly profess to be followers of the Master.  Such will simply not do.  If Christians are to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world, there must be something distinctive about our lives – not just what we claim and preach, but what we actually do.  The Sermon on the Mount is an excellent summary statement of the way Christianity is to look in the daily lives of its adherents.  I just wish we truly believed it.

In an attempt to help us (myself included) better understand the Lord’s teaching in this sermon, I am continuing my expanded paraphrase of it.  Hopefully, a better understanding will lead to a better faith and a better practice.

Below you will find the Bible text first in regular type with my thoughts under it in italics.  The text has been divided into sections.  I would like to have your comments as it is important to me that I get this right.  Thanks.

Matthew 6

1 Take heed that you do not do your charitable deeds before men, to be seen by them. Otherwise you have no reward from your Father in heaven.

2 Therefore, when you do a charitable deed, do not sound a trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory from men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward.

3 But when you do a charitable deed, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing,

4 that your charitable deed may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will Himself reward you openly.

– Don’t just do good things when others are around because you think you will impress them.  This won’t impress God.  When you do something good, don’t make an announcement of it.  Only hypocrites do that.  And when they do, they get what they were seeking: the praise of men.  When you see an opportunity to do good, just do it.  Don’t care if anyone knows about it or not.  Even if your good work or good word is known only to God, He will reward you.  Live to please God, not to please men.

5 And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward.

6 But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.

7 And when you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do. For they think that they will be heard for their many words.

8 Therefore do not be like them. For your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask Him.

– And when you pray, don’t show off.  If the purpose of your prayer is to impress others, then that’s the only reward you will get.  When you pray, it is to be between you and God.  If your prayers come from your personal relationship with God, everyone will see how He blesses you.  Also, in your prayers don’t keep repeating the same phrases over and over.  People who do that are not thinking about God, but themselves and how they think God is impressed with their many words.  Don’t be that way.  God knows perfectly well what you need, even before you ask for it.

9 In this manner, therefore, pray: Our Father in heaven, Hallowed be Your name.

10 Your kingdom come. Your will be done On earth as it is in heaven.

11 Give us this day our daily bread.

12 And forgive us our debts, As we forgive our debtors.

13 And do not lead us into temptation, But deliver us from the evil one. For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.

– Here’s a model of how you should pray.  “Our Father in heaven, we praise your name.  May Your kingdom increase.  May Your will be done as perfectly here on earth as it is in heaven.  Bless us with the material things we need.  Forgive us of our sins, as we remember to forgive those who have sinned against us.  Help us to avoid temptation and give us strength when we have to face it.  The kingdom is Yours, the power is Yours, the glory is Yours – now and forever.

14 “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.

15 “But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

– You must forgive those who wrong you if you expect God to forgive you, for you have certainly wronged Him.  If you are forgiving, you will be forgiven.  If you are not forgiving, you will not be forgiven.

16 Moreover, when you fast, do not be like the hypocrites, with a sad countenance. For they disfigure their faces that they may appear to men to be fasting. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward.

17 But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face,

18 so that you do not appear to men to be fasting, but to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.

– When you fast, don’t try to look like you are suffering, but clean yourself up.  God knows what you are doing and He will bless you if it is good.

19 Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal;

20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.

21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

– Don’t make your main investment in this life, too many things can go wrong here and the things here don’t last very long.  Instead, make your main investment in heaven, where nothing ever goes wrong and nothing ever wears out.

22 The lamp of the body is the eye. If therefore your eye is good, your whole body will be full of light.

23 But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in you is darkness, how great is that darkness!

24 No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.

– You see with your eyes and go where you wish to go.  If you have good eyes, you will see clearly and successfully move about.  But if your eyes are bad, there is no telling where you will wind up.  You could easily hurt yourself.  If your eyes are poor, it is a terrible thing.  There are two kinds of masters: the world and the Lord.  As your eyes will be either good or bad, with predictable results, you must choose the correct master.  You can’t have it both ways.  If you love the world, you don’t love God.  You cannot serve God while pursuing the world.

25 Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?

26 Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?

27 Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature?

28 So why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin;

29 and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.

30 Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?

31 Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’

32 For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.

33 But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.

34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.   (NKJV)

– Just don’t worry about this life.  Don’t get all caught up in eating and drinking and having.  Your life is more than what you eat and your body is more than what you dress it in.  Look outside at the birds, they neither plant nor harvest; But God takes care of them.  Aren’t you worth a lot more than they?  Does worrying about things change them?  So why do it?  Look at Solomon in all his wealth.  He wasn’t clothed as well as the wild flowers along the side of the road. They are mowed down and left where they fall.   God provides for them and He will for you.  Where is your faith?  Don’t worry yourself about food or drink or clothing.  Those who don’t know God are chasing those things.  Your Father in heaven knows very well what you need.  Here’s what you do:  you chase God’s kingdom and God’s righteousness, you pursue that, and let God take care of your worldly needs.  Don’t worry about the future and what trouble it might bring.  Concentrate on today, there are plenty of things that need your attention right now.

Are the Examples in the New Testament Binding Today?

July 21, 2010

The New Testament book of “Acts” is a document of narrative history.  In it Luke, the writer, recounts the first thirty years or so of church history.  Acts begins with the ascension of Jesus into heaven and concludes with the apostle Paul imprisoned in Rome awaiting trial before Caesar.  A large number of the New Testament epistles, or letters, were written during this period.  The ones that were not written during the period covered by Acts were written shortly thereafter.  Taken together, Acts and the epistles tell us what the early church did and how they did it, along with practical instruction on Christian living.  They also include warnings that the “doctrine” must be kept pure.  “Doctrine” is what a person believes, teaches, and attempts to practice.  Take, for instance, these scriptures (emphasis mine, JB):

Now I urge you, brethren, note those who cause divisions and offenses, contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them. (Romans 16:17 NKJV)

Also,

Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine. Continue in them, for in doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you. (1 Timothy 4:16 NKJV)

Again,

But as for you, speak the things which are proper for sound doctrine: (Titus 2:1 NKJV)

Further again,

Do not be carried about with various and strange doctrines. … (Hebrews 13:9 NKJV)

And finally,

Whoever transgresses and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ does not have God. He who abides in the doctrine of Christ has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this doctrine, do not receive him into your house nor greet him; (2 John 1:9-10 NKJV)

Thus we have an abundance of witness that it was essential to have the doctrine right in order to enjoy God’s approval.

But then the question comes up, “Was the example of the way the early church did things a part of the doctrine, or was doctrine limited to the moral/ethical teaching of Jesus?”

I believe the New Testament teaches that the example of the early church is a binding pattern for today and all time.  That is, doctrine includes their example.  Examine the following passage:

And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers. (Acts 2:42 NKJV)

“They” is the church.  If the early church “continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine” then it would appear that the way they did things had apostolic approval.  Look at the phrase again, “they continued steadfastly in ….”  Therefore, if their example in worship, organization, etc. was part of “the apostles’ doctrine” we must follow it today if we are to practice “the apostles’ doctrine” as they did, that is, if we are to restore the church of Christ of the New Testament.  This would appear to me to be a simple, straightforward reading of the text.

It is granted that some of the early congregations had problems, such as Corinth, for example.  But, it is obvious what was approved and what wasn’t.  Continuing with Corinth, they were condoning adultery, they were abusing the Lord’s Supper, and other issues.  But Paul corrected them for these things.  Their wrong practices were clearly identified, not approved, and should not be imitated.

Why would anyone desire to “worship” in ways different from the church in the New Testament?  When they were functioning correctly, which is always clear in the text, they enjoyed God’s approval.  If we worship, organize, and serve as they did, why would we not enjoy the same approval of God that He gave them?  Clearly, if we look like them, and God was pleased with them, He will be pleased with us.  Why would anyone want to try and make it any different?

Sermon on the Mount – Matthew 5

July 17, 2010

I am working on an expanded paraphrase of the Sermon on the Mount to aid my own understanding of Jesus’ words and to help my attempts at teaching His sayings to others.  I would greatly appreciate your input, criticism, etc.  You are encouraged to offer your own comparative paraphrase.  The Bible I used is the NKJV.  My words are below the Biblical text in italics.  Please comment freely.  Thanks.  This post is limited to Matthew 5.

Matthew 5

1 And seeing the multitudes, He went up on a mountain, and when He was seated His disciples came to Him.

2 Then He opened His mouth and taught them, saying:

3 Blessed are the poor in spirit, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

You are better off if you understand your need for God.  That will prepare you to be a part of His nation-family.

4 Blessed are those who mourn, For they shall be comforted.

You are better off if you are truly grieved by your own personal sins and by the hurt of others.  Your own hurt will be diminished as you learn humility and you will be encouraged as you become involved in meeting the needs of others.

5 Blessed are the meek, For they shall inherit the earth.

You are better off if you learn to control yourself – your thoughts, words, emotions, and actions – your whole self.  You will be able to see beyond yourself and to see the heart of God in all His creation, and thus to feel a certain oneness with the earth, if you will do this.

6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, For they shall be filled.

You are better off if you yearn to act as God acts, if you long to be like Him.  The stronger your desire, the nearer you will come to success.

7 Blessed are the merciful, For they shall obtain mercy.

You are better off if you can forgive others even when they don’t deserve it.  God will forgive you when you don’t deserve it – but He will not forgive you, if you do not first forgive your neighbor.

8 Blessed are the pure in heart, For they shall see God.

You are better off if you refine your heart, as if in a furnace, to absolute purity.  If you can use a pure heart to see things through pure eyes, you will see God everywhere.

9 Blessed are the peacemakers, For they shall be called sons of God.

You are better off if you will help people to get along.  Those who work to heal wounds and encourage good relationships are acting like God when they do that.

10 Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

You are better off if you always do what is right, even if others don’t like it and hurt you because of it.  God sees your patient endurance and He will bless you for it.

11 Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake.

12 Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

You are better off even if people say bad things about you because you take your Christianity seriously.  This has happened to God’s people of all ages.  He rewarded them, and He will reward you.

13 You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men.

14 You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden.

15 Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house.

16 Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.

You are to be the seasoning of the world; but if there is nothing special about – how will you make the world better? You are to show the world real life, if you will just live that life, everyone will see it.  People don’t turn on a lamp and then cover it up so the light can’t get out.  No, the lamp is used to light the room so everyone can see what needs to be done.  You be that lamp, and let your light show God to your friends.  Then they will want your God to be their God.

17 Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill.

18 For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled.

19 Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

I have not come to defeat the Torah.  I have come to show you how to truly live it.  Nothing can defeat Me in My purpose to fulfill the law.  My people will not praise the one who disobeys even one seemingly small command of the law.  But the one who obeys and encourages others to obey will be praised by all My family.

20 For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.

You must really live my teaching.  Only then can you enter my kingdom.

21 You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment.’

22 But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, ‘Raca!’ shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be in danger of hell fire.

23 Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you,

24 leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.

25 Agree with your adversary quickly, while you are on the way with him, lest your adversary deliver you to the judge, the judge hand you over to the officer, and you be thrown into prison.

26 Assuredly, I say to you, you will by no means get out of there till you have paid the last penny.

What the law actually says is: ‘Do not commit murder.’ What that means is: if you are angry with your brother, you are in danger of the local court.  If you speak hatefully to your brother, you are in danger of the higher court.  If you dismiss your brother as an ignorant fool and try to humiliate and embarrass him, you are in danger of the Supreme Judge in the Supreme Court.  If you think attendance at a worship service will offset mistreatment of your brother, you are badly mistaken.  You must be taking the Christian life seriously every day for your worship to be acceptable.  You need to make things right while you have time, lest it soon be too late and the consequences unbearable.

27 You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’

28 But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

29 If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell.

30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell.

What the law actually says is: ‘Do not commit adultery.’  What that means is: when awareness becomes desire, adultery has already been committed in your heart.  Whatever gets in the way of your Christian life: get rid of it – even your right hand or your right eye.  That’s right, cut them off and throw them away.  It is better to not have things you thought were essential, than having them, to burn in hell.

31 Furthermore it has been said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’

32 But I say to you that whoever divorces his wife for any reason except sexual immorality causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a woman who is divorced commits adultery.

The law says if you divorce your wife to give her a written certificate of that.  What God really wants is for you not to divorce and remarry unless your spouse is guilty of adultery.

33 Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform your oaths to the Lord.’

34 But I say to you, do not swear at all: neither by heaven, for it is God’s throne;

35 nor by the earth, for it is His footstool; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King.

36 Nor shall you swear by your head, because you cannot make one hair white or black.

37 But let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No.’ For whatever is more than these is from the evil one.

The law says to take your oaths in Yahweh’s holy name and to keep them.  I say to stop all this swearing by something other than God’s actual name in an attempt to get out of keeping your word.  I say if you say “yes” mean yes and if you say “no” mean no.  That is all that should be necessary for people to trust you.

38 You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’

39 But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also.

40 If anyone wants to sue you and take away your tunic, let him have your cloak also.

41 And whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two.

42 Give to him who asks you, and from him who wants to borrow from you do not turn away.

The law says: ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’  The intent of that was to stop violence, not increase it.  What God wants is a life of non-resistance.  If someone slaps you in the face, let him do it again.  If someone takes away some of your personal property, give him some more.  If someone forces you to work an extra hour, work two extra hours.  If someone asks you to help them, just do it, not thinking of what you might get back from them later.

43 You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’

44 But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you,

45 that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.

46 For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?

47 And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so?

The law says: ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’  What God really wants is for you to love your enemies too.  Speak kindly to them, do good to them, and ask God’s blessing for them.  If you only love those who love you back, how does that really help?  How does that set you apart from the world as My people?  Even worldly people tend to befriend those who treat them well.


48 Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect. (NKJV)

I want you to live like I am teaching you and like I am showing you.  I want you to be like Me.  Be holy, for I am holy.

“Targum” John – The Beatitudes

July 15, 2010

This isn’t really a targum, but it reminds me of one.  I offer below an expanded paraphrase of verses 3 – 12 of Matthew 5, commonly known as The Beatitudes.  They form an abstract of sorts of the Sermon on the Mount, which itself is the heart of Christian behavior.  I have worked only from the English of the New King James Version.  I encourage you to comment and give your own paraphrase.  The Bible text is in regular type.  My paraphrase is under it in italics.

Matthew 5

1 And seeing the multitudes, He went up on a mountain, and when He was seated His disciples came to Him.

2 Then He opened His mouth and taught them, saying:

3 Blessed are the poor in spirit, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

You are better off if you understand your need for God.  That will prepare you to be a part of His nation-family.

4 Blessed are those who mourn, For they shall be comforted.

You are better off if you are truly grieved by your own personal sins and by the hurt of others.  Your own hurt will be diminished as you learn humility and you will be encouraged as you become involved in meeting the needs of others.

5 Blessed are the meek, For they shall inherit the earth.

You are better off if you learn to control yourself – your thoughts, words, emotions, and actions – your whole self.  You will be able to see beyond yourself and to see the heart of God in all His creation, and thus to feel a certain oneness with the earth, if you will do this.

6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, For they shall be filled.

You are better off if you yearn to act as God acts, if you long to be like Him.  The stronger your desire, the nearer you will come to success.

7 Blessed are the merciful, For they shall obtain mercy.

You are better off if you can forgive others even when they don’t deserve it.  God will forgive you when you don’t deserve it – but He will not forgive you, if you do not first forgive your neighbor.

8 Blessed are the pure in heart, For they shall see God.

You are better off if you refine your heart, as if in a furnace, to absolute purity.  If you can use a pure heart to see things through pure eyes, you will see God everywhere.

9 Blessed are the peacemakers, For they shall be called sons of God.

You are better off if you will help people to get along.  Those who work to heal wounds and encourage good relationships are acting like God when they do that.

10 Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

You are better off if you always do what is right, even if others don’t like it and hurt you because of it.  God sees your patient endurance and He will bless you for it.

11 Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake.

12 Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

You are better off even if people say bad things about you because you take your Christianity seriously.  This has happened to God’s people of all ages.  He rewarded them, and He will reward you.

Chasing Peace

July 15, 2010

Peace on earth is elusive.  Maybe if we pursued (chased) peace as hard as we do other things that are important to us peace would come easier.  We have to want it.  Then, we have to actually try to make it happen.  Do we believe the Bible, or just the parts of it we like?  Listen to this part:

Come, you children, listen to me;
I will teach you the fear of the LORD.
Who is the man who desires life,
And loves many days, that he may see good?
Keep your tongue from evil,
And your lips from speaking deceit.
Depart from evil and do good;
Seek peace and pursue it.
The eyes of the LORD are on the righteous,
And His ears are open to their cry.
The face of the LORD is against those who do evil,
To cut off the remembrance of them from the earth.
(Psalms 34:11-16 NKJV, emphasis mine, JB)

Note the reference to chasing (pursuing) peace in line eight. I have indicated it with bold type. A large part of this passage is quoted in the New Testament:

Finally, all of you be of one mind, having compassion for one another; love as brothers, be tenderhearted, be courteous; not returning evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary blessing, knowing that you were called to this, that you may inherit a blessing. For “He who would love life And see good days, Let him refrain his tongue from evil, And his lips from speaking deceit. Let him turn away from evil and do good; Let him seek peace and pursue it. For the eyes of the LORD are on the righteous, And His ears are open to their prayers; But the face of the LORD is against those who do evil.” And who is he who will harm you if you become followers of what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you are blessed.… (1 Peter 3:8-14 NKJV, emphasis mine, JB)

Verse 13-14, beginning “and who is he…,” is of particular interest. It seems that Peter is saying, “If always seeking peace causes you to suffer, what can another human really do to you? They cannot cause you ultimate harm. Therefore, you don’t have to worry. You can pursue peace, and leave the consequences to God.” Now, it takes faith to take Peter at his word. We are reminded of Jesus’ statement:

And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. (Matthew 10:28 NKJV)

Which reminds us of the apostles’ statement:

And the apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith.” (Luke 17:5 NKJV)

Yes Lord, we need more faith to accept Your word. We look at those about us, and let them form our attitudes, instead of looking only to You. Forgive us, and please mercifully help us.

In this context of pursuing peace, likely the passage that comes the most readily to mind is the seventh Beatitude:

Blessed are the peacemakers, For they shall be called sons of God. (Matthew 5:9 NKJV)

I understand that “sons of God” can not only mean “children of God,” but can also mean “like God.” Thus, we are like God when we are peacemakers. Surely, we all desire to be like God. So, while we are constantly at war with the devil, we should just as constantly pursue/make peace with God and with one another.

I can think of at least three areas in which the position of “peacemaker” is open and begging to be filled.

Peace with God. The Peacemaker par excellence is Jesus. He bought peace, not with the blood of others, but with His own blood.

But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation, … so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace, (Ephesians 2:13-15 NKJV, emphasis mine, JB)

I wish we could learn from Jesus to produce peace by giving instead of attempting to produce peace by fighting. Give yourself to God and to your neighbor. It is the only way you will ever have peace. It is not the way of man, but it is the way of God. It takes a strong person with a healthy self-image to seek peace in this manner. Are you up to it?

Personal Peace with Others. Peacemaking involves friendmaking. How do you make a friend? Usually, by meeting some need they have. You meet their need to be taken seriously, to have a trusted someone they can talk to, to have a physical need provided, or something else that is important to them. In a word – you serve them.

… through love serve one another. For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Galatians 5:13-14 NKJV)

If you are trying to help someone, you may be less aware of any perceived hurt they have directed toward you. If you are helping someone, it should be obvious that they would be less likely to try and hurt you. Of course there will be exceptions, but surely that is generally true. The more you are looking outward the less you are looking inward. The less you are looking inward, the less likely you are to be offended/hurt. The less you feel hurt, the more likely you are to look outward – and serve. So, the cycle is complete, and it spins around giving/serving – like, guess who, Jesus.

Collective Peace with Others. This section involves the Christian and civil government. Most Christians vote and most Christians pray for the civil government. Some Christians even serve in the civil government. I have two sons who do so. We are not isolated from the civil government.

I feel it would be absurd to argue that the scriptures I have cited and the points that I have made above would apply only to individuals and not to the civil government. If a Christian is to pursue peace by being a peacemaker, should not the civil government do the same? I would certainly think so.

I am a strong supporter of our military. I believe, along with our brothers the British, that we have the best military in the world – and I am glad that we do. However, we must keep in mind that our military does not make foreign policy, they enforce it (when ordered to do so by their civilian political handlers, that is, the civil government). Thus, one may be an opponent of a foreign war, while at the same time continuing strong support for our military forces.

If you will look back through history and examine human warfare, I believe you will find few wars that can be Biblically justified. I think there may be some justifiable, but that they would be in the minority. As you know the Bible gives the reason for war:

Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members? You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. Yet you do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures. (James 4:1-3 NKJV)

Most wars are caused by two things: greed and arrogance. I am a lay student of the American Civil War. I have an ancestor who fought in it (43rd Mississippi Infantry CSA). It was caused by greed and arrogance on both sides. Are we Christians or not? Let us not encourage greed and arrogance.

Let us “seek peace and pursue it” thus becoming blessed peacemakers. The weak cannot do this. They will Zombie-like bow down at the altar of the opinions of others. You must be an independent thinker, by letting Christ control your thoughts. Your decisions must not be driven by the thoughts and actions of others.

Let us pray privately and publically for our men and women in the armed forces.  Let us continue to pray fervently for them. May we pray for their physical safety, for their emotional health, and that they may soon be able to return to their families.  May I suggest that using phrases like “fighting for our freedom” in our public prayers could be taken as an endorsement of the political decision to wage a particular war. I suggest that we keep politics out of the church by praying for peace and the safety of our soldiers, and leave it at that. Let us not endorse every action of the civil government, with phrases we use in holy worship, simply because they are the civil government. If I were writing this about abortion or homosexuality, I would probably get numerous “amen’s” here. I hope our feelings are as strong about the seventh Beatitude as they are about those two issues. Prayfully consider your feelings, as I shall mine. May God bless the U.S.A. May we all believe and obey all the commands of the Lord Jesus Christ.

My soul has dwelt too long With one who hates peace.
I am for peace; But when I speak, they are for war.
(Psalms 120:6-7 NKJV)

(This article has been moved here from my old Blogger blog … John)

Returning to My Childhood, Part 2

July 12, 2010

If you ever run across a copy of my old high school annual, and search it to get the low-down on me…you’ll be disappointed.  You won’t find much there.  High school was pretty uneventful.  I think most all of us (fifty-something, I can never remember the exact number) were ready to go.  What I got out of high school was my future wife.  But that almost didn’t happen.  More later.

I spent the Summer of ’69 waiting for classes to start that fall at Freed-Hardeman.  And, while so doing,  spending a lot of time with my wife girlfriend.  We didn’t get married till ’73, but I digress.

There are two competitors for the one word to describe my feelings while at Freed-Hardeman: lonesome and homesick.  Debbie was back at good ole Sulligent, and getting prettier by the minute.  That, as it turns out, would be a problem of sorts.  I was stuck at Freed and I had to stay there.  Since I didn’t make friends easily, I’m an INTJ, you know, I spent the days wishing for Friday, when I could return home for the weekends.

Through the week I majored in Bible and tried to work in the pre-med courses.  I wanted to be a faithful Christian and felt obliged to do some preaching, but what I really, really wanted to do career-wise was be a physician and come back to Sulligent and grow into the old, patriarchal doctor.  As you know, only half of that happened…I came back to Sulligent.  Some guys like to learn about cars and work on them.  That’s great.  I wanted to learn about how the human body worked and be that kind of repairman.  I thought that would be as exciting as, well, intimate relations with your spouse.  That’s how appealing that field was to me.

So, what really happened was, my stupidity issues surfaced again, and I never even applied to medical school.  Would I have gotten in?  Would I have letters after my name today?  Who knows.  One of my buddies from high school did go to med school and he’s a doctor today.  He’s actually my doctor.  He’s smarter than me, but he’s pretty smart.  Maybe I could have gotten in…maybe.  Realistically, I think I would have been on the bubble.  But, I do think that if I had gotten in, I would have gotten through.  Had I gotten through, I believe I would have never worked another day for the rest of my life (catch my drift on that).

My freshman year ended, the following summer (unfortunately) ended, and I returned for year two.  On October 6 of that fall (1970) the mother of all possible disasters happened.  Debbie broke up with me.  I know whose fault it was: it was hers.  If she wasn’t by then the best looking female in the high school, she was a serious candidate for the position.  The boys wouldn’t leave her alone, and she came to enjoy the attention.  After all, I was 135 miles away stuck in Tennessee.  She couldn’t help herself.

So there I was.  I had no serious interest in any of the girls at college and I was bereft of the love of my life.  I lost down to 157 pounds (I had been 190).  I’ve seen a couple of old pictures – I was decently tall, so I looked like a rail.  I’m sure that made the recovery of my girlfriend more difficult.

Well, the short story is: I wouldn’t leave her alone and my persistence paid off.  We were married June 14, 1973 – twelve days after I graduated from Lipscomb with a B.A. in Bible.  My dad asked me to go in with him in his successful insurance agency, so I did, and preached part-time.  We rented for a year and then built a house next door to Dad in Sulligent.  We still have the house.  Austin, Teralee, Ridge, and Brooks live in Dad’s house.  Dad’s small farm is Austin’s hunting preserve.

Excursus on Freed-Hardeman

What you are about to read is one man’s opinion.  There are others.  I am writing about conclusions I have drawn from my experience at Freed-Hardeman in 1969 – 1972 and my sons’ (Eric and Austin) experience at the University of Alabama.  Your experience may vary.

Freed is a good place and I received a good education there.  I did make a few friends there and I still have them today.  Here are the strengths (not intended to be exhaustive).  One: it is a good place to meet a Christian spouse.  I already had my future Christian spouse, so that was of no interest/value to me personally.  With church of Christ dating sites on the internet now, this strength may be less important than in past times.  Two: you can study the Bible at the college level.  My Bible courses were good. One of my professors had a PhD in philosophy from Vanderbilt.  I would call that credentialed.

Here are some weaknesses.  One: it is a sheltered environment.  Some may desire that and if that works for you, go for it.  However, one has to grow up sometime and begin to make one’s own decisions.  There were some detailed rules about dress, etc. when I was there 40 years ago.  I know for a fact there has been some loosening up and it may not be as sheltered now as it was then.  Two: There is little student diversity, everybody looks like everybody else.  Unless things have changed, and remember I was a student there 40 years ago, you may not get the chance to interact with people from different backgrounds and thus different perspectives.  But, when you get out into the real world, a college-educated person will likely encounter people who are different from themselves.  To me, it would be nice to experience more diversity before you get your degree to better prepare you for after graduation.

Here’s a word on public universities.  You may have heard that if you go to a public university they will try and mess with your faith.  Both of my sons went to Alabama following Bevill.  One was a science (biology) major.  No one tried to mess with their faith.  At universities outside the “Bible Belt” it might be different.  Our only experience is with the University of Alabama.

So, what would I do today?  That’s a complex question.  My daughter, Jessica, went to Faulkner, which is similar to Freed-Hardeman but considerably smaller.  However, that’s a long story.  She was originally going to Alabama.  You could shoot for the best of both and go to Freed for a year or two and then transfer to a larger university.  If I had mine to do over today, I think I would go to Alabama as a freshman.

Well, I hope you enjoyed my thoughts.  I may write some more about life after marriage.  I haven’t decided yet.  Thanks for reading.

The Summer of '69

James Wyers, our Gospel Meeting, and Other Thoughts

July 12, 2010

We are excited to have James Wyers with us this week.  After this morning, services are planned for Sunday through Thursday evenings at 7 o’clock.  Y’all come!

James made a profound impression on me during my formative years when he was the minister at Sulligent from 1965 to 1970.  I am sure my humble attempts at public speaking have been strongly influenced by his delivery style.  We have been close friends since I first knew him.  I think I was hired here because I could truthfully provide him as a reference.  If he gave me the nod, then I must be all right.  Such is the high esteem in which he is rightfully held among those who know him.  I have told him that I owe him a commission on my salary here.  He has yet to bill me.

Someone told me once that James was sometimes “too good.”  I said that I didn’t think anyone could be too good.  If that were possible though, James would be a candidate.  You will recall that at various periods in their Old Testament history the Jews thought Yahweh was obligated to them because they went through the motions of keeping the sacrifices.  Some people practice think they are practicing Christianity that way.  We show up three times/week and God is in our debt.  The rest of the hours in the week are ours and God can mind His own business.  Well, it doesn’t really work that way.  James is one person who understands that and lives accordingly.

This all reminds me of the time Jesus was asked about the Great Commandment in the Torah.  He could have said that there was no “great” commandment, that they were all the same.  But, He didn’t say that.  As you remember, He said there were two Great Commandments:  love God first and love your neighbor as yourself.  The idea was the rest was useless if you missed these two.  Those are still the Great Commandments today.  I don’t recall Jesus ever taking it back.  We sometimes invert things.  We take other commandments, that are themselves God-given and must be obeyed, but we make them the great commandments and move what Jesus said further down on the list.  It’s kind of like what Jesus actually said isn’t really there.  We are given to majoring in minors and minoring in majors.  My brother, James, understands the difference.

The church has to get right what it really means to love God first.  That involves coming to understand what humility is and taking seriously its presence in our lives.  That process is assisted by understanding mercy in two ways:  how much I need it and how much I show it to others.  The work-in-progress of humility is further assisted by discovering gratitude.  I am nothing and have nothing apart from God’s grace.  Yet, He has made me something; He is forming me into His very image: in Christ.  Do you think we are grateful for that?  Gratitude plus mercy equals awareness equals humility which prepares a person to love God first.

The church has to get right what it really means to love our neighbor as ourselves.  Some in the church whoop and howl about government social welfare programs.  Did it ever occur to us that maybe the government stepped in because the church (that would be us) was not stepping up?  I am not sure God will be impressed if we have the five items of worship right while we are looking the other way as our neighbor down the road is suffering.  Now what was it that priest and Levite did on their way to the temple?

Jesus said to him, ‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets. (Matthew 22:37-40 NKJV)

Therefore whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 18:4 NKJV)

Therefore be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful. (Luke 6:36 NKJV)

… And what do you have that you did not receive? … (1 Corinthians 4:7 NKJV)

My little children, for whom I labor in birth again until Christ is formed in you, (Galatians 4:19 NKJV)

But whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him? (1 John 3:17 NKJV)

Now by chance a certain priest came down that road. And when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. Likewise a Levite, when he arrived at the place, came and looked, and passed by on the other side. (Luke 10:31-32 NKJV)

Returning to my Childhood, part 1

July 8, 2010

Are we products of our environment?  According to William Clement Stone (1902 – 2002) we are.  I don’t totally buy that, but I’m sure environment plays a large role.  It is not my purpose to restart the nature/nurture debate, but simply to ruminate a little.  These are a few of the things that likely make my watch run today.

Baby John drew his first breath in 1951.  A quick glance at Wikipedia reveals 1951 to be a fairly uneventful year.  Dennis the Menace first appeared in what we then called the “Funny Paper”, Catcher in the Rye (which I would later read as a senior in high school) was published and Luke Skywalker was born (Mark Hamill, actually).

I was apparently born to a middle class ‘old money’ family in South Alabama.  My momma wasn’t married to my daddy – so I was placed for adoption, as was common in those days.  When the rendezvous that resulted in my unplanned birth occurred, my dad was 22 and my mom was 17.  That was interesting to me when I discovered that bit of trivia in 1991 because when my wife and I were married in 1973, I was 22 and she was 17.  Uncanny, isn’t it?

I was picked up off the street – hang on, I’m embellishing that – in December 1951 at the tender age of 9 months.  It all happened through the proper channels.  They said my mother even brought me stuff at the orphanage, or whatever it was called, and that that was unusual.  I talked to her sister once in the 90’s.  She said my mom just went away for a while – and then came back.  The siblings didn’t, at the time, know where she had been.  She had been delivering me.

I was adopted by Carl and Maye Brown.  So, I quit being a Thompson/Sims, and quit being Michael Ray, and became John Walker Brown. Mother and Dad must have been worried that they wouldn’t be approved as adoptive parents, because they apparently enlisted the help of Carl Elliot, who was a congressman or something at the time.  I remember his newsletter coming to the house when I was a kid.  The process worked, the obligatory documents were signed and sealed and I was delivered to North Alabama, about as far from my point of origin as one could get and remain in Alabama.  I figure that was the intent.  I have never met my birth mother; though I saw what I think was her driver’s license picture a couple of years ago.  She appeared to be still alive.  I have no idea whatever happened to my biological dad.  Carl and Maye are both deceased.

I am glad I was adopted, as you will see if you haven’t fallen asleep reading this yet.  I respect my mother (Maye), but it would be hard for a son to be any closer to his dad than I was to mine (Carl).  He died in 1999 and I still miss him every day.  I dream about him frequently.  I wish I had tried to be more like him when I was younger.

I remember very little before I started to school at age 6.  I do recall a framed poem about a baby hanging on the wall in the “back bedroom.”  When my youngest son and his family moved into Dad’s house a few years ago, the framed poem resurfaced.  As I write this, I’m not sure where it got off to – probably in my basement with the other assorted relics.

School was no big deal.  It was small, peaceful, not particularly hard, and I moved from grade to grade.  I turned out to be good in reading.  We took the California Reading Test, I guess it was the precursor to the Stanford, but it was reading only.  I remember my third grade teacher calling my mother when the scores came in; I had scored seventh grade level.  Looking back, that was probably the academic high point of grades 1 – 12.  I also turned out to be pretty good in one particular skill in one particular sport, but I had stupidity issues and wasted it.  I still think about that after all those years.  But, if I had stepped up, I likely would have never met my wife.  I had rather have her.

We were and still are members of the church of Christ.  A congregation was started in Sulligent, where we lived when I was 10 years old.  My dad was, I guess, the main local leader.  M.C.Mills from Hamilton was the one who got the process started.  I was the first one baptized there.  We went to gospel meetings a lot through my early teens.  The older preachers were good men.  In hindsight, I wished they had preached a little more directly about Jesus.  I became deeply religious around the eighth grade.  I would carry my Bible to school and read it openly.  I was the only kid in the entire school to do that, to my knowledge.  Looking back, I guess I was showing off, a practice condemned in the Bible.

After elementary school, my best year was my senior year.  It was the best year for two reasons.  One: it was the last year, and I was ready to move on.  Two: (this is the best one) I met my future wife.  I had discovered her the spring of the year before, but I didn’t actually talk to her till my senior year.  Yeah, I was scared.  I would say she was the prettiest girl in the high school, though some other guys might want to argue that for their wives.  She defined “hot,” but I think that word wasn’t used then as a synonym for “pretty.”  I think it was words like “gorgeous” or some such word that has long since passed out of the vocabulary.  Anyhow, we dated, “went steady” (look that up in an old dictionary), and were pretty much together during the waking hours.  There are pics of her during that time on my FB photos.

After high school I was off to college and my introduction to Freed-Hardeman.  That’s another story.  To be continued….

Flying the Flag

July 2, 2010

Americans celebrate the Fourth of July Sunday.  It is a celebration of the signing of The Declaration of Independence – July 4, 1776.  That document declared that a people (the Thirteen Colonies) would separate themselves from another people (the British Crown) and form their own country (the United States of America).  It led to a war, which the Americans ultimately won.

My thoughts on civil government and carnal warfare have evolved (and I hope matured) over the years.  I attribute the evolution to a study of the Bible.  I am proud to be an American, and so are you.  But, if the other side had won, we would be proud to be Englishmen (or, more likely, something akin to our friends the Canadians).  We would celebrate different days of the year and I doubt that our personal lives would be significantly different.

I could talk about this subject for a long time.  I could talk about how national patriots are determined, not by right and wrong, but solely by human power.  The winner gets to write the history.  Maybe he’s right, and maybe he’s not, but what counts is who won.  God says it is not about human power, but His power – and it is all about right and wrong.  It is all about love, and mercy, and forgiveness, and humility, and – you know – the list goes on and on.  At least, that’s what God says, if you believe Him.

So, have fun with your family Sunday.  Make some barbeque.  Shoot off some fireworks (be careful).  And yes, fly the flag.  Just don’t forget that there is one flag that flies above the Stars and Stripes – the banner of Christ.  It is the flag of ultimate liberty, not from presumed political tyranny, but from the real tyranny of Satan – a tyranny that has nothing to do with ‘taxation without representation,’ but everything to do with the fire of hell.  Don’t forget the nation we Christians are really members of, the one which will eventually crush all others – the Kingdom of Christ.

Since many are thinking about liberty, here are a couple of Bible texts on that theme.  These are about the kind of liberty that matters in eternity: liberty from the guilt and power of sin.

For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Galatians 5:13-14 NKJV)

But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does. (James 1:25 NKJV)

Thanks for reading, and – have a good Fourth!

Empowering Atheism?

July 1, 2010

Do Christians cause atheism?  I think that’s an interesting question.  Christ doesn’t cause atheism, but, many “Christians” are not like Christ.  If all Christians actually acted like Jesus taught and modeled, I don’t think anyone would want to be an atheist.  Everyone would want to be a Christian.

Take what is one of Jesus’ most familiar statements:

Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets. (Matthew 7:12 NKJV)

We’ve come to call this”The Golden Rule.”  We call it that for a reason.  If everyone would act like this, most of the problems that we see and read about every day would dry up.  The root problem to most of our other problems, is that few people actually behave like this.  Imagine how embarrassed an atheist would feel if everyone he met treated him like this because they were Christians.  I don’t think it would be that long before a lot of atheists would convert.  Those who have a low view of Christianity do so, IMHO, because they so rarely see the life of Christ lived before them by someone they know.

Try this one:

Sell what you have and give alms; provide yourselves money bags which do not grow old, a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches nor moth destroys. (Luke 12:33 NKJV)

Yeah, that’s Jesus talking, and yeah, that’s Christians not listening.  You see, if the church was really serious about helping the needy person down the road – and they did that consistently – over time – people would be knocking on our door seeking admission into the kingdom.  And, the atheists would hide their faces in shame, or, more likely, start knocking themselves.  By the way, when was the last time you heard someone preach on the above verse?  Been a while?

Here’s something else Jesus said:

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. …. (Matthew 23:23 NKJV)

You don’t know any Pharisees in the church, do you?  Why do you think that particular statement of the Lord made it into the canon?  I guess because God wanted us to read it.  I guess because God thought the same attitude could characterize us.  I guess because it makes Him unhappy when it does and He wanted to give us a heads up on that.  Figuring all that out isn’t rocket science, is it?

Sometimes we major in minors, just like the Pharisees.  Whatever else is right about our Christianity, if we have slacked on treating people right, loving the unlovable, and trusting God when we can’t see the end of the road – we have messed it up.  If that is offensive, don’t get mad at me, Jesus is the One who said it.

We spend too much time trying to explain away the “shock teaching” of Jesus and precious little just accepting what He says and working on putting it into our lives.  We want our Christianity easy, even entertaining.  We have forgotten what a cross is … if we ever knew.

But, there is hope for us.  God is still patient (Hallelujah!) with his people, as He always has been.  The perfect model of Jesus remains in place.  We can study it.  We can take seriously its implementation into our personal lives … if we just will.  Prayer remains an option, if we can remember how to get down on our knees.  A life of continual repentance can actually be lived, when we decide to do it.

Christians:  we need to take a look at ourselves.  That’s what the atheists have been doing for years.  Many of them haven’t liked what they’ve seen.  What are we showing them today?