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Monday
Sep262016

Your Ministry Relationship:  Jesus as Servant 

(This is the next chapter in the book Hand in Hand: Deepening Your Relationship with Jesus Christ.)

Consider your conversion to Christ as an extreme makeover.  You no longer define yourself as a self-determining individual who lives for selfish purposes alone.  A new set of conditions govern your life that give you a radically different role from your former identity.  You now answer to the role of a servant, although servanthood subsists in diverse manifestations.  A singer in the master’s employ is essentially the same as the cook; the treasurer is no different than the chauffeur; the executive at a religious organization’s headquarters building is equal to the janitor who cleans the restrooms in the same building.  As a servant, you function according to the master’s will, regardless of any particular task to which you are assigned. 

Your Ministry Is Not Your Ministry 

No one has to be taught selfishness; as a consequence of the fall, it is built into Adam’s progeny.  As children, we tend toward possessiveness.  We learn the word “mine” quickly.  As adults we tend toward gatherers, proprietors, and owners.  We mark off territories, establish seniority and claim finder’s privileges.  We threaten to destroy interlopers who disregard our self-proclaimed rights.   

Many leaders mistakenly assert these dubious claims on “their ministry,” as though they were independent agents acting on their own.  But the servant is not greater than his Lord.  All of us are interchangeable parts.  When you tighten your grip around the role you play, you bend its outcome to serve yourself, not your Lord.  To illustrate, think of a play in which an actor plays the role of a king.  Backstage, during the performance, or after the play is over, the other actors do not think of him as a king.  He is just one of them playing a role.  Neither do we assume an attitude of self-importance because of our ministry, notwithstanding the honor that we give to elders or the basic respect we owe to each other.  For I say, through the grace given to me, to everyone who is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly, as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith. For as we have many members in one body, but all the members do not have the same function, so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another. Romans 12:3-5. 

Your Ministry Is to Serve the Kingdom

If you want a picture of servant leadership, I would venture this: Consider the ladder.  The modest, unassuming ladder is an ideal picture of the servant leader.  Call it “servant laddership.” 

  • The ladder does not exist for its own purpose, but only for someone else to take advantage of whatever height and strength it may possess.  Neither do servants pursue their own agenda.  They have no other vision for their life.  True servants realize their full potential only as they assist others in fulfilling their agenda.  As a servant leader, you understand that if you help others to reach their goals in life, they will invariably help you reach yours.  
  • The ladder achieves its primary usefulness in allowing someone to use its rungs in a climb to the top. Climbers do not have the ladder in mind; they need to reach something totally apart from the ladder.  In fact, they may need to extend their reach beyond the top of the ladder.  Servant have no selfish motives.  They do not insist that they become the focus of any work or project.  Servant leaders are only too happy to see someone utilize their abilities for gain, even if it propels them far beyond the servant’s own status.  
  • A good ladder is built with the strongest, yet lightest material available.  It needs to be carried around with ease, yet support the heaviest loads.  Likewise, servants make sure they are up to any task demanded of them and never make themselves a burden to those who need them.  Servant leaders never exploit and robs people of their assets.  Instead, they always want people to look back and say, “I would never have gotten as far as I have, had it not been for my leader.”  
  • The worst thing that can be said of a ladder is that it is rickety.  It must be built right because its structural integrity is vital to the safety of its climber.  Good servant leaders understand that their own, personal integrity is key to the success of their followers.  If they fall apart, they cause great harm or loss to others besides themselves. 
  • The ladder must provide secure footing for the climber so that it will not shift unexpectedly when the climber is in a vulnerable position.  Servant leaders seek out the best possible circumstances, even when asked to do the most difficult jobs.  There are some places they cannot go, not to disappoint their followers, but out of regard for their follower’s wellbeing.   
  • The ladder reaches the top first, but only to provide the path-way for the climber to reach the top.  Servant leaders do not compete with or become a lord over their followers.  They are there to help people, whether they need their lowest or highest rung. 
  • The ladder reaches the top, but always remains securely planted on the ground.  It does not matter how high it reaches if the reaching causes it to lose its footing.  Servant leaders do not become so enamored with their own success that they forgets their purpose in leadership.  They realize that their success is not an end in itself.  It is only good as it relates to the success of his followers.  No leader can claim success if his or her followers fail.  
  • The ladder is stored until needed, never losing its strength or integrity while unused.  In fact, after it does the job required, it expects to be put back in the closet and kept out of the lime-light.  Servant leaders keep their feelings under strict control.  They do not have to be used to maintain their integrity or value.  Their sense of worthiness does not depend on the appreciation or gratitude of others, even those they help the most.  They know that the work of climbers is the ultimate purpose, not to praise the ladder that helped climbers do their job.  
  • One final thing:  even the ladder needs help sometimes.  Those who are not capable of climbing, can always stand at the bottom and hold the ladder.  Servant leaders may find their job taxing from time to time.  They will be eternally grateful for those who find their greatest usefulness in serving the servant.  “I commend unto you Phebe our sister, which is a servant of the church which is at Cenchrea.”  Romans 16:1. 

Your Ministry Must Advance God’s Kingdom 

In executing your ministry, opportunities arise that seem harmless at first, but can propel you in the wrong direction.   It is possible for you to focus on goals that are only collateral benefits of a gifted ministry, like fame, money and prestige.   Instead of advancing the Kingdom of God, you may become more interested in advancing your own kingdom.   

Absalom was David’s charismatic son, capable of charming people and winning their loyalty.  He should have supported his father’s administration, but he used his talents for personal gain.   At the city’s gate, he stole the affection of the people away from King David, and fomented a rebellion against his own father.  His legacy fell far short of a revered conqueror.  He is remembered as a usurper, an ego-maniac whose narcissistic ways devastated David and led to his own tragic death.  Such is the profile of a man who lost sight of righteousness because he was blinded by self-love.  

Those who excel in the performing arts often contend with this temptation.  The spotlight turns into a seductive mistress when their talents attract the attention of fans.  Gradually, the focus of their performance can shift from worship of God to exaltation of self.  Giftedness needs to be consecrated to God or else one’s blessing becomes a curse. 

Wednesday
Sep072016

The Goal of Education

(This is the final segment of the next chapter in the book, Hand in Hand: Deepening Your Relationship with Jesus Christ.) 

Stop for a moment and think.  Why should a believer REALLY pursue an education?  If we believe that we are eternal souls, that we are destined to live forever with Christ, and that this world is not our home, then what should motivate us to do anything?  The conclusion of such introspection should be the knowledge of Christ.  Everything we learn must enhance our knowledge of things eternal, not temporal.  The Apostle Paul wrote to the Colossians, “For this reason we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.” Colossians 1:9-10.  Ultimately, any knowledge we gain must increase or enhance our knowledge of Christ.  

Knowledge of Self vs. the Knowledge of God 

Educators themselves understand that math, English, science, etc. do not comprise the whole of learning.  Marc Prensky, founder and executive director of the Global Future Education Foundation and Institute, says, “The real goal of education, and of school, is becoming—becoming a ‘good’ person and becoming a more capable person than when you started. Learning is nothing but a means of accomplishing that goal, and it is dangerous to confuse the ends with the means.”  (www.edweek.org).  

The goal of “becoming,” however, still falls within the province of humanistic learning.  One of the tenets of faith celebrated by humanists involves self-actualization or the effort of the individual to develop his or her own life to the maximum capacity possible.  The British Humanist Society says, “Humanists differ from religious people in a number of ways. We do not ask for help from “god”, nor do we expect any reward in “heaven”. Instead we rely upon ourselves and other human beings, and devote our time and energy to the world we live in.” Contrast this with what Jesus said, “Without me, you can do nothing.” John 15:5. 

Secularists accentuate self-knowledge over external knowledge, including a knowledge of God.  This view became popular in the literary elite of England in the nineteenth century  and was articulated by a number of their celebrities and poets.  For example, Robert Browning, a skeptic, if not an atheist, said in his poem, Paracelsus, “Truth is within ourselves. It takes no rise from outward things what’ere you may believe. There is an inmost center in us all where truth abides in fullness, And to know, rather consists in opening out a way whence the imprisoned splendor may escape, than an effective entry for a light supposed to be without.”  For Browning, who knew the Bible very well, this statement is a deliberate corruption of the words of Jesus, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.”  

As a believer, you need to ask yourself the question as you embark on an educational career, “How will this lead me closer to God?  How can I use this knowledge to strengthen and deepen my relationship to Jesus Christ?  The minutiae of details you must learn to get a degree or to qualify you for a position may work for this world, but it cannot fatten your soul.  Use any knowledge of self you gain along the way if it assists you in your quest for divine intimacy.  Otherwise, you are only rearranging the chairs on the deck of the Titanic.  

Self-Serving or God-Serving 

The twin of self-knowledge is self-service.  The former affords you an awareness of your person, your abilities, your talents and your aspirations.  The latter identifies your activities, your employment and your career choices.  The first is knowing; the second is doing.  The relevant question here involves the goal of your busyness, the overall objective of all your work days.  Are you dedicating your time to yourself?  Is pleasure, pride, esteem, popularity, wealth, status or admiration the reason for your employment?  Even if you have a noble and lofty goal, the absence of God in the picture of your life shrinks your vision to a small and pathetic end.  What you do with your time becomes the true measure of your life.  As another poet said, “I have measured out my life with coffee spoons.”  (T. S. Elliot).  Your relationship to God is not only based upon what you know, but also on what you do.  Little children, let us not love [merely] in theory or in speech but in deed and in truth (in practice and in sincerity). 1 John 3:18 (AMP). 

Your education should point you towards service to God, not the advancement of self.  Keep in mind that the assets you have at your disposal represent gifts of God.  None of us are entitled to any blessing, any gift or any valuable resource.  Therefore, it is only right that God, the Landlord and true Owner of the estate we call Earth, should reap the benefits of our labor.  At the end of life, all believers need to look back over their shoulders at the life they lived and say, “To God be the glory!” 

Just let me live my life
Let it be pleasing, Lord to Thee
Should I gain any praise,
Let it go to Calvary.
 

With His blood, He has saved me
With His power, He has raised me.
To God be the glory
For the things he has done

(Andrae Crouch)

Jesus Is Your Mentor 

Christ, the Master Teacher, imparts value to your soul that transcends secular or temporal education.  He will not school you in algebra or trigonometry, but He embodies the reason why these subjects are necessary.  He will not tutor you in the English or Spanish language, but He leads you to the purpose of communication.  He will not train you to become a vascular surgeon or an actuary, but He will give you an understanding of how these careers are vital to your mission of serving Him.  Everything you learn becomes a runway or a ramp to a more complete education in eternal matters. 

Go to college to learn how to make a living.  Go to Jesus to learn how to make a life.  College gives you information; Christ lives in you as the Informer.  College enlightens; Jesus is the Light.  Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light. Matthew 11:28-30. 

I found an impressive recommendation for Jesus as Mentor in a surprising place:  a T-shirt marketer: “If they keep pressing to find out who your mentor is, you can say:  My mentor is the one of the most influential people on earth today. They’ve worried governments, they’ve aggravated the wealthy and frustrated the religious. I don’t follow him because he’s got a number one best seller of all time on the market that’s sold more than 6 Billion copies. I follow Jesus Christ as my mentor because he was the only one who claimed to be God and backed that up with a perfect life and a variety of different miracles to prove it.  

“That’s why I try to study him to see how he lived and what he would say about how to live in the 21st century. In fact, before he left earth, he said he would give people who believed in Him a Helper, who he called “his Spirit” who would guide us into all truth.”  www.walkingproclamation.com 

Tuesday
Sep062016

The Methodology of Education

(This is the next segment of the chapter on Your Educational Relationship: Jesus as Mentor), in the book, Hand in Hand: Deepening Your Relationship with Jesus Christ.)

Renunciation of Faith 

While we may fault the content of higher education, the methods used cause believers equal concern.  It reminds one of thievery versus vandalism.  A thief may take your possessions, but leaves everything else alone.  Vandals have no interest in enriching themselves; their purpose is to destroy and cause disruption.  Some college professors seem more intent on destroying the faith of naïve young people rather than adding value to them.  Whether the methodology is by design or default, vast numbers of Christian college students cannot succeed academically unless they offer up their faith on the altars of secular religion.  (David Barton, http://www.wallbuilders.com/LIBissuesArticles.asp?id=95644) 

Those who deny this intent say that no such demands are ever made or that no professors make overt suggestions for students to renounce their faith.  Of course, the secular faculty is far too clever to open itself up to such a charge.  But, if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, then …!  This is related to a phenomenon known as the Pygmalion Effect, or the Rosenthal Effect in which student performance is directly proportional to their professor’s expectations.  If the tone of lectures, the preponderance of reading and writing assignments and the resources used to conduct the course all promote a slanted view of Christianity, then the conclusions reached by students are statistically predictable. The active social media too often spills the beans about what happens in the classrooms. 

Discrimination in Grading 

Obviously, believers cannot agree with the anti-God and anti-Bible attacks they hear in the classrooms.  Those lectures can be dismissed immediately.  The greater problem, however, concerns test scores, written assignments and oral participation which raises the conflict to a combustion point, and also reflects on the grade.  Christian students have been known to turn in academically credible work but still given low grades because they didn’t agree with the professor.  

Timothy Larsen, McManus Professor of Christian Thought, Wheaton College, writes the following piece.  “John had been a straight-A student until he enrolled in English writing. The assignment was an ‘opinion’ piece and the required theme was ‘traditional marriage.’ John is a Southern Baptist and he felt it was his duty to give his honest opinion and explain how it was grounded in his faith. The professor was annoyed that John claimed the support of the Bible for his views, scribbling in the margin, ‘Which Bible would that be?’ On the very same page, John’s phrase, ‘Christians who read the Bible,’ provoked the same retort, ‘Would that be the Aramaic Bible, the Greek Bible, or the Hebrew Bible?’ (What could the point of this be? Did the professor want John to imagine that while the Greek text might support his view of traditional marriage, the Aramaic version did not?) The paper was rejected as a ‘sermon,’ and given an F, with the words, ‘I reject your dogmatism,’ written at the bottom by way of explanation.” (https://www.insidehighered.com/views/2010/07/30/no-christianity-please-were-academics). 

Hostile Environment 

Professors may assign homework calculated to attack or undermine faith, show videos during class time that promote anti-Christian sentiments, conduct experiments or field trips designed to “offer an alternative viewpoint,” or otherwise manipulate the educational experience with an atheistic bias.  Students should not be surprised at hearing the following statements:

  • The Bible is a myth.
  • Paul’s letters contradict Jesus’ message of love.
  • The male gender is responsible for the world’s problems.
  • Current translations of the Bible are not accurate.
  • There are no absolute truths.
  • The Bible is full of inaccuracies and/or inconsistencies.
  • Tolerance means accepting all lifestyles as valid.
  • Human beings were not created by God.
  • Christians are responsible for the earth’’s pollution.
  • If you disagree with homosexuality, you are hateful.
  • Christians are bigots.
  • All religions say the same thing.

(Doug Britton, www.dougbrittonbooks.com

Surviving the Storm 

A rather homely, but accurate, aphorism advises one to “eat the chicken, but throw away the bones.”  Believers can get a good education in today’s colleges and universities if they know how to negotiate their way around the hazards.  There are plenty of professionals in nearly every field who have endured the tribulations of required degree programs while keeping their faith intact.  

Dr. Bill Brown, President of Cedarville University breaks down a believer’s approach to higher education:

1.  Accept the fact that your faith will be tested and prepare for it.

2.  Take time to understand what you believe.

3.  Take responsibility for your faith.  Find accountability partners.

4.  Make a preemptive strike.  Determine the outcome before going. 

Going to college is much like taking a wilderness hike.  You don’t head out into the forest on a whim.  Know where you’re going, know your enemies and obstacles, pack everything you need to survive, and makes sure a friend knows where you are at all times.  You can survive college, but it won’t be by accident.  

Friday
Sep022016

Dangerous Assumptions for Disciples:

You’ll have time to pray later today.

You’ll catch up on your Bible reading tomorrow.

You’ll never forget that Bible verse you thought of when you woke up this morning.

That dream about falling into a pit of snakes doesn’t mean a thing.

You’ll have the money to double up on your tithes next week.

Just because you didn’t pay your tithes doesn’t mean your car will break down.

Nobody will see you celebrate with your co-workers one time down at the bar.

Your back will be fine if you play golf this Sunday instead of going to church.

Your blessing Sunday morning means that the devil won’t bother you for a month.

The pastor won’t ask you how things are going in your marriage.

The devil wouldn’t dare challenge the commitment you made on Sunday.

No one will miss you at the church work day.

Your spouse won’t mind if that pretty lady (or handsome man) gives you a hug.

Your kids will understand if you bought that motorcycle instead of taking them on the vacation you promised.

That tirade you went on last week will never get back to the pastor.

Nobody expects you to be good all the time.

The pastor will appreciate your scolding of the new convert.

Wednesday
Aug312016

Your Education Relationship: Jesus as Mentor

(This is the next chapter in the book “Hand in Hand: Deepening Your Relationship with Jesus Christ.”)

The secular history of education runs from amusing to appalling.  At one time, play comprised the primary method of education.  Much later, forced education became the norm, and schoolmasters employed the tried and true method of beating pupils to keep them in the learning mode.    Peter Gray, Ph. D., writes, “The brute force methods long used to keep children on task on the farm or in the factory were transported into schools to make children learn. Some of the underpaid, ill-prepared schoolmasters were clearly sadistic. One master in Germany kept records of the punishments he meted out in 51 years of teaching, a partial list of which included: “911,527 blows with a rod, 124,010 blows with a cane, 20,989 taps with a ruler, 136,715 blows with the hand, 10,235 blows to the mouth, 7,905 boxes on the ear, and 1,118,800 blows on the head”. Clearly, that master was proud of all the educating he had done.” (www.psychologytoday.com/blog

Given the brutality of the process, one could understand that school was unpopular with many children.  Today, corporal punishment may be out, but controversy still engulfs modern education.  National standards, common core curriculum, the “new” math, diminishing scores on achievement tests compared to international students, zero tolerance policies, charter schools, school vouchers, enforced nutrition standards and transgender bathrooms just scratch the surface of issues primary and secondary schools deal with in the twenty-first century.  On the college level, the problems are even worse.  Campus safety, school loans, rising tuition costs, threatened free speech, online (distance) learning classes and transfer of credits are among the hotly debated topics in colleges and universities around the world.  Despite all of this hullabaloo, nearly one hundred percent of the academic world still says, “Get an education!” 

While there are many reasons for getting a college degree—interest in the subject matter, self-esteem, the desire and joy of learning, prerequisite for pursuing a dream—money will probably continue to be the biggest incentive.  College graduates earn about twice as much money over their lifetime than those with high school diplomas, according to the U. S. Census. That statistic remains constant, even with factoring in the cost of going to college.   So, after you have made your decision to go to college, what questions need to be answered?  How does a close relationship with Jesus Christ influence your educational choices? 

Before going any further, you need to understand is that secular colleges and universities are the antithesis of Christianity.  Not only do most of them disbelieve in the Christian faith, many professors actively teach against it and denigrate the biblical foundations that believers have been taught since childhood.  As hotbeds of atheism, agnosticism, hedonistic ideas and ultra-liberal philosophy, you will encounter the most hostile environment that you have ever experienced.  Expect your faith to be attacked with humanistic reasoning, sarcasm, ridicule, mockery and an in-your-face celebration of deviant lifestyles.  

Many matriculating students have been blindsided by this frontal assault on their faith identity and have abandoned their faith as a result.  Do not go into this atmosphere naively.  Be spiritually prepared, scripturally grounded and make sure your pastor/church relationship is strong. 

The Content of Education 

Students in higher learning will find a much different atmosphere than they experienced in secondary education.  Benign subjects like mathematics, biology, chemistry and English composition no longer comprise the bulk of the material covered.  Instead, social issues, religious foundations, political positions and other volatile subjects populate the classrooms, and the average learning setting will resemble a boxing ring more than a desk-and-chalkboard lecture space.  All basic assumptions of typical students will be questioned and deconstructed.  

Evolution 

In academia, the theory of evolution has become an accepted fact.  This transition has had far-reaching implications.   It offers an explanation of life without any supernatural act. Julian Huxley explains: “In the evolutionary pattern of thought there is no longer either need or room for the supernatural. The earth was not created: it evolved. So did all of the animals and plants that inhabit it, including our human selves, mind and soul, as well as brain and body. So did religion. All aspects of reality are subject to evolution, from atoms and stars to fish and flowers … to human societies and values indeed … All reality is a single process of evolution (Julian Huxley, Essays of a Humanist, New York, Penguin: 1966, p. 128). 

As students, believers need to know that creationism does not receive the respect and treatment of an alternative belief system.  It is thought of as bizarre, unworthy of serious consideration.  Evolutionists view all of life through the prism of gradual development.  (Even the term “evolutionist” is an anachronism since that is deemed the only real classification in existence).  They believe that physical and organic laws, tempered by time, account for everything known or unknown to man.  They see any gaps in evidence for the evolutionary process simply as facts not yet uncovered or deduced.  

In reality, the theory of evolution rests on extremely shaky ground.  The gaps in the fossil record, animate and inanimate realms, and between vertebrates and invertebrates pose unanswerable problems for the theory.  The Second Law of Thermodynamics which holds that things go from order to disorder, and the absence of a designer for the enormously complex organic systems of the human being also weigh in against evolution.  A number of creationist scientists have written extensively against evolution, charging it as a non-scientific belief system that conforms more to the definition of religion than it does of science.  For those students who are interested in the details of these studies, much material may be found to discredit evolution.  Regardless of these arguments, however, the vast majority of evolutionists have no inclination to doubt their theory.  

Social Liberalism 

The policies of social liberalism are entrenched in the modern system of secular colleges and universities.  These policies include abortion, same-sex marriage, gun control, affirmative action, feminism, social justice and related issues like fetal stem cell research, green energy and government intrusion to enforce their ideas.  The philosophies that drive much of social liberalism are atheistic or agnostic, and tend strongly toward humanistic beliefs.  

Believers who uphold the Bible as their standard of belief and practice will clash with most social liberals on most, if not all, of their policies.  The Scriptures decree the sanctity of life from conception to death, marriage as a monogamous union between a man and a woman, the duty to protect and defend one’s family, the distinction between the sexes, and submission to God as the final authority in all of life’s decisions.  Many of these issues will be discussed and/or debated in classroom settings, or they will be hot topics in lunchrooms, commons, or activity groups.  Also, it is highly likely that professors will require reading assignments and papers of students with regard to these subjects.  There are many stories of students receiving low or failing grades because they did not align themselves with the socially liberal beliefs of professors. 

Rationalism 

No student in the typical college setting escapes jarring challenges to his or her beliefs.  No one can hide behind statements like, “I believe … or, “the Bible says…”  Students are forced to provide some kind of concrete evidence of their opinions, positions or belief system.  The philosophy of rationalism holds that all claims of knowledge must stand up to the test of reason.  Vernon Bourke said that rationalism is a theory “in which the criterion of the truth is not sensory but intellectual and deductive.” (Rationalism).  This means that all references to God, the Bible, the supernatural, spiritual forces or religion disqualify the argument.  Students who conform to this rule jeopardize their faith.  But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him. Hebrews 11:6.  

The content, or the academic subjects taught in college deviate in substantial ways from biblical doctrine.  As reasonable as these subjects appear, and as documented as they may be, you must examine their premises well.  Impressive buildings set on faulty foundations will not last.  Neither will teachings endure when based on falsehoods.  Jesus said, “Thy Word is truth.”  Filter everything you hear back through the Word of God. 

Tuesday
Aug302016

Dubious Assumptions

You can jump to the other lane because the traffic is moving faster.

No one will pull in ahead of you in the McDonald’s drive-thru.

The guy at the drive-thru got your order right.

You know right where you put your registration and proof of insurance.

The big, muscular guy knew you were just joking with him.

The new pair of pants will fit without trying them on.

The new tie will match the suit you have at home.

You can tee off because you can’t see the players in front of you.

Forgiveness is easier to get than permission.

The restaurant can accommodate ten when you only reserved a table for six.

The salsa is mild.

The hamburger you ordered will look just like the picture in the menu.

No one drank that last bottle of water you put in the refrigerator.

The store will take cash instead of credit (or vice-versa).

The empty sign on the fuel gauge means you have a gallon of gasoline left.

The price of gasoline will be that same as it was this morning.

You are allowed ten miles over the speed limit.

The cops won’t notice that you forgot to renew your license sticker.

You don’t need any notes to make that little speech.

The boss won’t mind that you spelled his name wrong.

No one will notice that you didn’t brush your teeth.

Your friend will laugh when you share his most embarrassing moment at the Christmas party.

Wednesday
Aug242016

The Christian and Social Problems 

(This is the final segment of the chapter on Your Social Relationship: Jesus as Prime Minister).

Christianity was born during an era in history in which believers had little or no political power—certainly not enough to make a difference.  Thus, the Bible does not advocate governmental strategies to address social problems.  The Scriptures admonish each of us to be kind and compassionate on a personal level, but government action was not relevant for them at that time.  The maturing church, however, did begin to service the needs of widows, orphans, the sick and other victims of tragic events.  Most of these gestures were for the benefit of church members.  Today’s problems, such as war, poverty, hunger and disease, exist on a global scale that the historical church did not address.  

Christians are realists.  We freely acknowledge that social problems exist.  We have no immunity to the suffering nor are we exempt from the solutions. The danger, however, is that we would allow secularists to define the problems and dictate the solutions.  As believers in Christ, if we reduce everything we face to the lowest common denominator, the problem is sin and the solution is salvation.  And we know that we are of God, and the whole world lieth in wickedness. 1 John 5:19 (KJV).  Paul writes to the Romans, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Romans 3:23. The solution to sin is the Savior, Jesus Christ.  The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” John 1:29. The primary mission of the church is to spread the gospel.  Then He said to them, “Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day, and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.” Luke 24:46-47. 

That conclusion does not sit well with the world.  Secularists deride the spiritual message of the church because they say it ignores the real pain and suffering in the real world.  Their criticisms should not be dismissed out of hand.  To the extent that we can address these problems, we should make an honest effort to do so.  Christians are at the forefront of many humanitarian causes.  Some support organizations that fight world hunger, some contribute to outreaches in developing countries that drill wells for clean water, some engage in agencies that care for orphans, and some provide medical services for refugees or war victims.  Parachurch organizations also sponsor orphanages, homes for troubled teens, adoption agencies, charitable ministries that help the homeless and victims of poverty and disaster relief efforts. 

All of these philanthropic causes are extremely important, but to make our primary mission alleviating the social ills of the world subverts our calling.  We are in the business of saving souls.  Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?” Matthew 16:24-26.  

The gospel message is not for time only, but also for eternity.  If we stop all wars, eliminate all poverty, feed all the hungry and cure all diseases, and yet do not lead people to Christ, then we will have failed in our true mission.  If, however, we succeed in turning people to Christ, their lives will be infinitely better.  Jesus stated this principle in forceful terms.  If your hand or foot causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you. It is better for you to enter into life lame or maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet, to be cast into the everlasting fire. And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you. It is better for you to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes, to be cast into hell fire.” Matthew 18:8-9.  

Opportunities and Dangers of Social Media 

Social networking has ballooned to such a huge phenomenon that it cannot be ignored.  Irresponsible conversation, damaging comments, unfair characterizations, breaches of confidentiality, racy pictures, vicious gossip, wild rumors and every sordid type of communication gets pumped into cyberspace hour by hour through this medium.  The fact that it can also be used for positive purposes compounds the problem.  The evil side of man seems to always find ways to deface the good. 

Chances are great that your name has been mentioned on someone’s page.  Your picture may even be orbiting in cyberspace.  The significance of this fact is that users form opinions about pictures they see, or about people, events and things they read of on social networking sites.  You have little or no control over this information, regardless of how personal you consider it to be.  It is a wild, wooly, barely regulated and volatile realm where almost anything goes.  Employees have lost jobs, students have been kicked out of school, friendships have been ruined, marriages have ended in divorce, leaders have lost credibility and homes have been burglarized because of information on social media.  Numbers of people have been stabbed, shot or murdered over postings.  Relentless harassment, name-calling, stalking, intimidation, and threatened physical abuse, all on one outlet over multiple months, reportedly caused one teen girl to commit suicide and the same is suspected in other cases as well.  In a worst case scenario, a seventeen-year-old girl was raped and murdered by a thirty-three-year-old man she met on Facebook who was posing as a teenager.  Law enforcement agencies have stepped up warnings about social media, and many colleges and high schools caution students about its use.  Employers now routinely ask for a prospective worker’s social media accounts as part of the hiring process. 

In church circles, I am increasingly hearing stories about questionable entries on pages of church members and ministers alike.  Most use it for good, or at least for harmless banter and discussion.  A minority, however, post statements rooted in sarcasm, disrespect, a desire to foment division or to broadcast personal opinions that contradict the position of a church, a pastor or an organization.  Some comments may simply be unwise or thoughtless mental musings.  Others may not be so innocent.  

Whatever the motive, it is time for the church to address the problem.  While we have no illusions about ending or even curbing the use of social networking, we can make sure that people understand its potential for disaster.  Most users know about common caveats: “Once you post, it’s permanent,” “unknown posters may be imposters,” “all pictures are public property in cyberspace,” and, “there are no secrets on Facebook.”  But, for those in the church, more subtle guidelines come into play.  Here are a few:

  • Gossip and innuendo is always bad, but on Facebook, it multiplies by the power of ten.  
  • Questioning or criticizing spiritual authority in social media equals rebellion.
  • Faith-undermining and conviction-bashing are transparently wrong.
  • Soliciting membership to another congregation via social media is still sheep-stealing.
  • Don’t play with people by mocking or provoking them into dangerous discussions.
  • Playing the devil’s advocate through “what if” scenarios nearly always backfires.
  • Pastoring is largely private.  Ministers should not pastor over social media.
  • Barbed statements and/or sharing embarrassing stories can crush people.
  • It is always wrong to malign someone’s character, spread rumors or tell lies.
  • Confessions on Facebook lead to derision, not forgiveness.
  • Murphy’s Law applies:  Anything that can be taken wrong will be taken wrong. 
  • When in doubt, leave it out. 

Many other examples exist of abusive and dangerous ways that social media can be used.  The point is that social media is a stage, not a closet.  The intimate interaction between a person and his or her computer has global publication potential.  Some organizations, the Washington Post for example, simply say: “If you don’t want it online, don’t put it there.”  

For believers, social networking does not exist outside the parameters of scripture, as though social media justifies acts that would be anathema in any other venue.  Evil communication still corrupts good manners.  Proverbs 18:8 says “The words of a talebearer are like tasty trifles, and they go down into the inmost body.”  Social media is never the proper place to rant, vent or share sensitive information.  If you want to use it, weigh your words carefully, post wholesome and helpful thoughts, exemplify Christ in everything you say, and use it to promote unity and strength.  It is your solemn obligation to the body of Christ, and it is your right response to your relationship with Jesus Christ. 

Beware of Toxic Relationships 

All relationships are important. Accept as a given that each relationship into which you enter will change you in some way. Your close association with an individual may intensify your passions, inflame your anger or inspire you to nobility. If the relationship becomes especially meaningful, you may engage in radical kinds of behavior that you would never have contemplated otherwise. People have been known to kill over relationships. You may give away everything you have, you may move to some distant point on the planet, you may turn your back on your achievements, you may sacrifice cherished possessions, you may become an essentially different person, all because of the profound impact that one person makes on your life. 

Not all relationships are good.  If someone is bad for you, if that person brings out the worst in you, if he or she makes you feel unsafe, then you cannot afford to stay in close association with him or her. Women who suffer physical and mental abuse over a lengthy period of time, usually by a husband or other dominant male figure, are called “Battered Women.” Helplessness, constant fear, and a perceived inability to escape are listed as typical of this syndrome. (American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 3rd ed.). While it may be too late for some, if you have an opportunity to leave an unhealthy relationship, you will either leave in a body bag or walk out on your own. Even the proscriptions of the scripture against divorce do not warrant a spouse to offer himself or herself up for murder. Obviously, marriage vows are important and married partners should seek out counseling to reconcile their differences before something tragic happens. A relationship that corrupts or abuses, however, needs to change or come to an end. 

Enter into all new relationships carefully. Love-struck romantics often cast all care to the wind when they profess their love and commitment to each other. Unfortunately, their naiveté tanks all too quickly when they really learn what each other is made of. In pre-marital counseling, I take the lead in asking probing questions, like:

  • “Are you in debt?”
  • “Are you in trouble with the law?”
  • “Are you on parole?”
  • “Have you been convicted of a felony or misdemeanor?”
  • “Have you ever been committed to a psychiatric facility?”
  • “Do you have serious health issues?”
  • “Have you shown your prospective husband or wife your health records?”
  • “Have you been honest in talking about previous relationships?”
  • “Have you been a user of illegal drugs?”
  • “Do you have any dependents that you have not mentioned?”
  • “How secure is your job?”

Questions like these—and many more—are difficult to ask.  Desperate people who want the relationship badly enough will consciously avoid asking them for fear that they will get the wrong answer. If this happens, they may forever rue the day that they put their heads in the proverbial sand and chose to be willfully ignorant. Pay now or pay later…that’s my advice. 

Edify those with whom you are in a relationship. If you don’t want others to drag you down, do your best to lift other people up. This is a fabulous secret that too many people do not understand: When you add value to people around you, you will never be lonely. Lifters attract. People will feel stronger, more secure and more inspired when they associate with you. You are not only influenced; you have the opportunity to be an influencer. Accept this role heartily and with great passion. You may very well be the person who is responsible for powerful and positive changes in the world. 

Tuesday
Aug232016

Your Social Relationship: Jesus as Prime Minister

(This is the next chapter in the book Hand in Hand: Deepening Your Relationship with Jesus Christ.)

In the book of beginnings, we read, “And the LORD God said, ‘It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him.’” Genesis 2:18. Adam and Eve were fruitful, bearing sons and daughters (Genesis 5:4).  They filled the earth with families who eventually spread out over the land—extended, clannish and enculturated.  When Aristotle said, “Man is, by nature, a social animal,” he confirmed what God had put in motion: society.  Notwithstanding a few hermits, humankind works best in pairs, families, tribes, communities and nations.  At the same time, these social groupings also bring out the worst in humanity.  Violence, murder, rape, theft and the whole litany of social crimes result from people living in proximity to each other.  Society had to develop structure if it was to work.  Thus, out of necessity, civilization based on law and order, appeared. 

Kindness to all people is a hallmark of Christianity.  Much of the teaching expounded by Jesus concerned treatment of fellow human beings—love, forgiveness, peacemaking, mutual support, helping others—all of the social obligations empowered by the influence of the Spirit of God.  Our relationship with Jesus informs our relationship with others.  We need to understand these principles as they relate to our attitude and behavior towards other people. 

Respect for Others 

God instructed Israel to be kind to strangers.  You shall neither mistreat a stranger nor oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. Exodus 22:21. This statute represents a basic attitude of respect that believers were to have to other people, regardless of their background, ethnicity or religion.  Toleration of strangers prohibited racial prejudice, discrimination or abuse of any kind.  The New Testament continued with the same sensitivity.  Paul commended widows who were “Well reported for good works: if she has brought up children, if she has lodged strangers, if she has washed the saints’ feet, if she has relieved the afflicted, if she has diligently followed every good work.” 1 Timothy 5:10.  The Scriptures reserved a special blessing for those who were kind to strangers.  Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some have unwittingly entertained angels.  Hebrews 13:2. 

Followers of Christ must treat others with concern, dignity, and respect. The radical extremism, genocide, ethnic cleansing and other atrocities that we have witnessed in recent decades speaks of total barbarism.  Other crimes against humanity, such as abortion, euthanasia, slavery, human trafficking, kidnapping or human experimentation contradict fundamental Christianity.  Christians should reject and openly protest this kind of savagery.  All people need to feel safe around Christians.  Anyone who falls into the hands of believers should have no fear for their health or well-being.   

Love Your Neighbor 

Respect may guarantee that we will not harm others, but the practice of Christian values goes further.  We must proactively and intentionally help, support and love others as we have opportunity.  Jesus affirmed this practice when He said, “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.  When a lawyer asked Jesus to define neighbor, He told the parable of the Good Samaritan.  It would seem, then, that to love your neighbor involves more than refraining from harm, but to do deeds of kindness and care for his or her welfare.  

To love God is to love others.  In terms of Christian practice, the essence of it all is love.  It could not be clearer than John’s epistle.  Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love. In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him.  In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 1 John 4:7-11.
Love is the primary proof of a right relationship with God. 

Responsibility for Others 

Jesus mandated His disciples to help less fortunate people with works of benevolence.  Then the King will say to those on His right hand, “Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.” Matthew 25:34-36. And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.” Matthew 25:40.

Most wealthy, populous nations today service the humanitarian needs of their citizenry, but, because of ignorance or logistics, not everyone can take advantage of the government’s largess.  The church needs to respond to the Master’s call and make sure that these people don’t fall through the cracks.  Moreover, believers must not assume that the government or the church are meeting the needs.  Each person, when faced with a situation in which he or she can help, should provide as much help as possible.  Individuals can’t do everything alone, but all of us can do something.  The cumulative result makes a difference in the lives of needy people. 

Social Responsibility 

A large part of social consciousness includes environmental and ecological concerns.  These issues define much of mainline Christianity’s reason-for-being in this modern era.  Over seventy-five international environmental protection organizations like Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth have been founded, and over twice that many groups exist in individual nations or regions.  Many denominations have partnered with these agencies, citing the responsibility we have to save the planet.  This movement is not without controversy.  Many questions have come up.  Should we not fully embrace measure to protect the earth? Is it not the Christian thing to do? Should we allow industrial concerns, corporate giants and rank-and-file consumerism to rape, pillage and plunder our natural resources? One would think it is a no-brainer. A few strategic questions, however, seem to me to be in order before jumping on the bandwagon. 

  • Who are the major players guiding the movement?
  • Are there any ulterior motives that we should know about?
  • Is the major impetus behind environmental causes a simple conservationist conscience, or do aberrant religious beliefs fuel the activities and philosophies of the adherents?
  • What are the ultimate goals of the green movement?
  • What will be the consequences on the economy, the freedom of the people and the standing of this nation in the world?
  • Will the goals of green make us vulnerable to our enemies?
  • Are the objectives of the green agenda to be followed and enforced internationally across the board, or is this nation expected to comply unilaterally? 

The political, military and economic aspects of the dangerous green movement do not threaten us nearly as much as its religious overtones. A religion drives the green agenda that rivals all other religions of the world. It is pagan, idolatrous and heretical. It stands for ideals diametrically opposed to Christianity. A Christian watchdog organization, “The Watchman’s Post,” says, “Anyone who has studied the global green movement has no doubt heard of “Gaia”. Believers in Gaia, or ‘Gaians’ as they often refer to themselves, claim that the earth is a sentient super-being, an ancient goddess spirit, deserving of worship and reverence. Sir James Lovelock, in his book Gaia: ‘A new look at Life’, states that “all of the lifeforms on this planet are a part of Gaia—part of one spirit goddess that sustains life on earth. Since this transformation into a living system the interventions of Gaia have brought about the evolving diversity of living creatures on planet Earth.” Gaians teach that the “Earth Goddess”, or Mother Earth, must be protected from destructive human activity. It is this belief that fuels the environmental movement, sustainable development, and a global push for the return of industrialized nations to a more primitive way of life.” www.green-agenda.com.  

The Bible teaches us to be good stewards, especially of perishable resources.  Then the LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to tend and keep it. Genesis 2:15.   Tending and keeping refer to cultivation and preservation of the land. Our responsibility toward the care of the earth means that we must not pollute, litter, plunder or otherwise abuse the magnificent planet that we have.  Yet, neither should we engage in idolatrous worship of the earth.  We can be good stewards without the misguided motivations or the hostility to humankind typical of the green movement.  

Socialism 

On the economic front of social consciousness, socialism continues to recycle its seductive message over and over.  The pleasant-sounding overtones voiced by socialism’s proponents, like fairness, equality, even distribution of wealth and erasure of social classes must not fool us.  The platform of the Socialist Party USA says, “Socialism is a new social and economic order in which workers and consumers control production and community residents control their neighborhoods, homes, and schools.  The production of society is used for the benefit of all humanity, not for the private profit of a few. Socialism produces a constantly renewed future by not plundering the resources of the earth.” The theory is utopian; the practice is disastrous.  Socialism, along with its twin sister, communism, has failed every time it has been tried.  Wherever it seems to be succeeding, you will find an oppressive, totalitarian government is necessary to keep it going.

The early church participated in a voluntary system of socialism (Acts 4:32) until it was able to establish itself as a stable, economic entity.  Eventually, it faded from use and people enjoyed economic freedom.  The system was never mandatory as evidenced by ownership of houses and private property (Colossians 4:15; Philemon 1:2), business owners, and an appeal for disciples to give in tithes and offerings according to their ability.   Income equality did not exist.  On the first day of the week let each one of you lay something aside, storing up as he may prosper, that there be no collections when I come. 1 Corinthians 16:2. 

The arguments against socialism would take us beyond the scope of this book, but those who have an interest in researching this economic system need to proceed with caution.  Socialist will use specious reasoning to advance their cause.  Equivocation, stacking-the-deck, appeal to authority, ad hominem attacks, straw men, side-stepping and red herring tactics, taken together, make their case sound impressive.  Under scrutiny, however, it all falls apart.  The Scriptural position is individual responsibility, voluntary compassion, private ownership, rewarded effort and economic freedom.  That is the position we see practiced in the New Testament church and the one that affords each person the dignity and liberty to fulfill his or her own dream.

Ironically, the socialists and communists who denigrate capitalism become de facto capitalists when they ascend to power.  They may not personally own the assets, but they exercise total control over how those assets are used.  Christians who sympathize with socialist causes have no scriptural foundation for their views.  True respect for humanity is not expressed in a forced, contrived sameness, but in freedom to develop one’s own God-given talents and abilities.  Our relationship to Christ encourages each person to soar as high as possible, and to reap the benefits of one’s own efforts.