Monday, September 25, 2006

Are radical Christians dangerous?

Rosie O’Donnell, the former Queen of Nice, raised some eyebrows when she recently said “Radical Christianity is just as threatening as radical Islam.”

That got me to thinking about radical Christians. Here are a few:

* Sister Leonella Sgorbati, who was recently murdered outside a hospital where she worked as a missionary in Somalia. The 65 year old nun lived and worked with the starving and sick in Kenya and Somalia for 38 years in Africa.

* Mother Teresa committed her life to the dying untouchables in India.

* Martin Luther King, Jr. led the fight for civil rights for people of color in America.

* William Wilberforce was not martyred but he did give 44 years of his life to lead the fight to abolish slavery in England.

* St. Patrick was so radical that he returned to the Irish tribe that had once enslaved him to teach them about the love of God.

* The Apostle Paul endured beatings, prison and death threats to teach gentiles about Christ.

There are so many others and, also, there are ordinary Christians who gave so much money in response to the tsunami in India, Hurricane Katrina, and the earthquake in Pakistan. Come to think of it that’s kind of radical, too.

Maybe radical Christians are dangerous. They willing give their lives as a “living sacrifice” to show God’s love to the world in tangible ways. Dangerous, maybe, but to whom?

Friday, September 22, 2006

Another look at prosperity

While wealth is not an indicator of spiritual health, the Bible does have much to say about work ethic and social justice. Proverbs is full of wisdom like this:

“He who tills his land will have plenty of bread, but he who follows frivolity will have poverty enough!” Proverbs 28:19 (NKJV)

“The righteous care about justice for the poor, but the wicked have no such concern.” Proverbs 29:7 (NIV)

There are many provisions for taking care of the poor in the Bible. A church is not out of line in helping its members and people in the community better their lives. One big issue in many churches is debt. Teaching our members to spend money wisely, live within their means and save for a rainy day will improve their lives and allow them to bless others with their finances.

Some in our churches and community lack the skills to get a decent job. Even the smallest churches can offer training in how to dress for business and conduct yourself in an interview (maybe, even, provide some clothes) and help prepare a resume. Churches with greater means can provide literacy classes, basic math, computer training, etc.

On a larger scale churches can pool resources to provide affordable housing through groups such as Habitat for Humanity or clean up a neighborhood.

On a political level, churches can ensure that government provides equal opportunities and does not allow the disadvantaged to be exploited.

“Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.” Proverbs 31:9 (NIV)

Friday, September 15, 2006

Prosperity preaching v. the gospel

This week’s TIME cover story asks, “Does God Want You To Be Rich?” It looks at a number of prosperity preachers who teach that faith in God can lead to material blessings. Remember Jim Bakker?

Saying that God wants you to have nice things does have a nice ring to it. How can the gospel compete with that? Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself…” (Matthew 16:24, Mark 8:34 & Luke 9:23) He told a rich young nobleman to rid himself of all riches (Mark 10). He called a prosperous businessman a fool for focusing on the material rather than the spiritual (Luke 12:16-21). One of his most well-known stories is about a wealthy man and a poor, sick beggar. The prosperity preachers of that time would have us believe that God smiled down upon the rich man, while the beggar, Lazarus, was paying for some sin. Jesus taught that the opposite was true. Lazarus went to heaven, while the rich man went to a place of suffering. (Luke 16). This is but a partial list of Jesus’ condemnation of materialism.

If God wants his people rich, why was Jesus poor? Why were the apostles poor? Do the prosperity preachers know something that our Lord did not? I don’t think so. Prosperity preaching plays well to the greedy, materialistic American society but it won’t play in Sudan.

It’s not just the wealthy who are obsessed with money. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus cautioned us not to worry about food or clothing. We are to rely on God for our daily bread.

I must admit that living by Christian principles can lead to a measure of prosperity. Giving your employer an honest day’s work can lead to a promotion. Staying out of debt can put interest in your savings account instead of the credit card company. Owning a home and putting your children through college are good things. The accumulation of material things for the status they bring and extravagant luxuries while others suffer is not.

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Matthew 6:19 - 21 (NIV)

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Sometimes you've got to cowboy up

You can find a lot to complain about in the Army, especially if you are deployed to the Middle East. I must confess that I have found a thing or two to complain about. Most of the time, I try to focus on the small comforts that are available to me. I know that there are soldiers who are suffering greater hardships than I.

There are others, however, who are so negative that their lives are a never-ending song of woe. They frequently repeat their litany of all the wrongs, real and imagined, that they have suffered in the hands of the Army. While most people will steer clear of these grumblers, others will gathers around and add their voices to the chorus of complaints.

Grumbling should not be a part of a Christian’s life. “Do all things without complaining and disputing, that you may become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world.” Philippians 2:14 - 15 (NKJ)

A bad attitude can be contagious and detrimental to the morale of those around you. In the Army it can lead to punishment; at work it can lead to dismissal; at home it can lead to divorce. Moreover, bitterness can blind us to small blessings we can enjoy in spite of difficult circumstances.

Holocaust survivor, Viktor Frankl, said that through all his suffering, anguish and loss he learned that, in the end, the only thing a person can control is his attitude to a given situation. The Apostle Paul knew suffering, too: prison, 39 lashes (five times), beaten with rods (three times), stoned, shipwrecked (three times), a night and a day in the open sea, constantly on the move. He knew hunger, thirst, cold, danger and betrayal. (1 Corinthians 11:23-27) Yet Paul said, “…I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.” Philippians 4:11(NIV)

When I face another 130+ degree day, an extra shift, sandstorms, or some other unexpected hardship, I will think of Paul’s words and strive to be content.

“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.” Philippians 4:8-9 (NIV)

I’m not taking about a rose-colored glasses, glass is half full type of optimism. It’s just that sometimes you have to cowboy up.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Competition destroys peace

This is of one of the shepherds I frequently visit. We always share food with him and cold bottled water.

Living in the Arabian Desert this past year has brought the Bible to life for me. I have had ample opportunity to observe the desert and its inhabitants and meditate on Old Testament passages. I have seen foxes and the holes they live in; I have seen Bedouins and bandits; I have seen grazing sheep, poor shepherds and watched the grass wither.

I now understand what a precious commodity grass is. It is abundant in the spring and but withers in the heat and drought of summer. Although the land is very poor, there is enough to sustain camels, sheep and goats. The herds provide sustenance for people. In ancient times a man’s wealth was measured by the size of his herd. Herdsmen compete for the best grazing today as they did in ancient times.

In Genesis (GEN 13) we read about Lot's shepherds fighting over grazing rights with the shepherds of his uncle, Abraham. Lot and Abraham wound up going their separate ways. Abraham graciously gave Lot the choice of lands. Lot chose the better grazing.

Sharing was not a concept that Lot appreciated. It is a rare thing today. Whether it is grass, oil, market position or a comfortable seat, people compete for an advantage. I have watched as corporate executives have taken control of potential website names and vanity phone numbers so as to deny a competitor their use. I have seen supervisors slander bosses in order to get their jobs. One individual that comes to mind was always bringing up the faults of coworkers to his boss in order to divert attention from himself.

Lot made a choice that seemed to make sense at the time but things started to go badly for him. His family was ultimately destroyed by the choices he made. Abraham was a peacemaker and made a sacrifice that proved to be the wise choice.

Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God. (Matthew 5:9) Instead of seeking to gain an advantage at the expense of another why not seek to live in harmony? You’ll probably get ahead faster and will be called a child of God.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Public School v. Homeschooling

I remember seeing a tract back in the 70’s that showed a school bus with the name Sodom & Gomorrah Public School on the side. This tract from a fundamentalist group illustrates the alarming rhetoric coming from some people that want Christians to pull their children out of public school.

We homeschooled (OK, my wife did) for a time but now my kids are in public school. Both choices were based on circumstances and both turned out to be good. I have met many homeschooled children and have been impressed by how polite, intelligent and socially adjusted they were. On the other hand, I have met a few who were withdrawn and not as educated as their peer group. I guess it depends on the quality of their education, just like public school.

It is possible that my school district might be the best in the USA. It is certainly far different than the horror stories circulated by Roger Moran, who is trying to get the Southern Baptist Convention to endorse a public school pullout. My guess is that the SBC telling parents to pull their kids out of public schools will have as big an impact as the Disney boycott.

Sadly, the inflammatory words coming from the supporters of the public school pullout, cast suspicion on all homeschoolers. Most of the homeschooling parents I have met were not fundamentalists. They included Lutherans, Catholics and Jews. In fact, my own view of homeschooling was more unschool, “Let the kids express themselves and study what interests them,” than a rigid, curriculum-based approach of religious indoctrination.

Those who are sounding the alarm that a Christian exodus from public schools will bring about the collapse of society can stop. The vast majority of Christian parents aren’t going to homeschool. Guilt trips and hyperbole will not sway them.

The truth is that homeschooling is a great option for parents who have the patience, aptitude and economic viability. Homeschooling out fear, rather than love is a bad idea. However, parents who choose public schools would be wise to be involved in the schools and not neglect moral and religious instruction at home.

“Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” Proverbs 22:6 (KJV) article

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Cooperating churches build the Kingdom

When I was a young Christian I attended a church that participated in a softball league. The other teams were churches from various denominations. Our softball team created a door into the church for those husbands who stayed home on Sunday mornings.

I remember one very talented player who, after getting to know our athletic pastor and some of the guys, began to accompany his wife to church and Sunday school. Soon he committed his life to Christ, was baptized and was serving as an usher. Because he was an officer in the US Marines, I expect his conversion would have had a positive impact on both the troops who served under him and his colleagues. Stories like these were found every year.

Not all churches appreciate such cooperation. One area church launched a protest over the inclusion of a congregation they believed to be doctrinally in error. The protesting church believed that playing in the same league with such a heretical group would be the same as accepting their beliefs. Other churches in the league disagreed over excluding a team based on beliefs and the protesting church left the league.

The protesting church lost sight of the greater good. In order to bring doctrinal purity to a softball league, they gave up an opportunity to bring new believers into their congregation. Instead, they went back behind their walls and added a few more churches to their list of heretics.

Churches can cooperate, despite doctrinal differences, to meet their own goals and kingdom goals. Jesus only established one church. Paul did not start his own denomination for Gentiles in protest to Peter’s Messianic Movement.

Some churches don’t play well with others. (They might run with scissors, too.) Ever see a sign that reads: Independent, fundamental, King James, pretrib, premil, EVERYONE WELCOME?

Jesus said, “I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me. (John 17:20-21 NKJ)

Jesus prayed not for our agreement but for our unity. Through our love for each other, outsiders would now that our love and our faith is true (JN 13:35). The world is watching.

One winter in Havelock, NC, (the same community with the church softball league) the churches decided to have a community Christian music festival in the park. This was very loosely organized. Everyone was welcome. There were choirs, bands, gospel groups, and soloists with taped accompaniment.

When rain threatened to end the event, the Roman Catholic Church opened their gym and the show went on. As a young Christian I learned the lesson that other Christians are not the enemy. They are not even competitors. We are partners in building the Kingdom of God. I know that there will be no divisions in heaven, why should there be divisions on earth?

“Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”