Sunday, July 19, 2015

What is Right?

"What do you mean I don't belong at the table?"
The world seems to be going crazy.  What used to be wrong is now right, and what used to be right is now wrong.  And what are right and wrong, anyway?  Can anyone really know?  Doesn't it depend on who you are, or where you are, or what you want, or what someone else wants?  What if what's right for me is wrong for you?  Or vice-verse?  Can't I just live my life the way I want to and you do the same?  How dare you say I'm wrong, anyway?  Who died and made you judge?  Doesn't the Bible say "don't judge?" then how can you tell me that I'm wrong?  If you can't agree with me, you must hate me.  What, are you perfect or something, that you can tell me what to do?  Well, you know what?  I don't need you anyway!  I have other friends who believe in me.  If you don't.....

I'm sorry.  I guess I got a little carried away, there.  But this is what I see happening around me.  The air is charged with animosity.  All in the middle of "Love wins" is this ball of hate.  It's as if people are looking for a fight.  With anyone.  With everyone.  It doesn't matter who.  Just poke me one time, and that'll be the last time.  I'm not going to wait for you to explain.  I'm not going to give you the benefit of the doubt.  I'm going to unload all of my pent-up frustration and anger.  So don't step wrong, or you've got it coming.

Double Rainbow         
 This double rainbow appeared outside our church a few weeks ago - in fact it was around the same time as the Supreme Court ruled in favor of same-sex marriage.  It is now the law in the United States that people are allowed to marry others of the same sex, instead of marriage being defined as between one man and one woman.  Ironically, the rainbow has become a symbol of the LGBT movement.  Caitlyn Jenner is receiving an award for courage because "she" determined that God was wrong and made "her" the wrong gender to begin with.  So I'm wondering.  Is God wrong?  Is it possible that God is mistaken about all of these people and their sexuality?  And has all of this "love" and "acceptance" made life better for the people of the United States, or anywhere else on this sphere we call home?

We are studying the book of Judges now in our Bible Study.  The judges were leaders who were set over Israel by God after the death of Joshua and the elders who were with him.  We read in the second chapter of Judges that "there arose another generation after them, which knew not the LORD, nor yet the works which he had done for Israel.  And the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the LORD and served Baalim:  And they forsook the Lord God of their fathers, which brought them out of the land of Egypt, and followed other gods, of the gods of the people that were round about them, and bowed themselves unto them, and provoked the LORD to anger (Judges 2:10b-12).

This is disturbing.  The book which we had just finished was the book of Joshua, which ends with the victorious Israelites entering the land of Canaan.  They had defeated their enemies with amazing feats and with God's help.  Do you hear the trumpets?  Victorious!!!  And yet, the next generation - the children of those valiant men and women, KNEW NOT THE LORD!  How can this be?  How could they have gone so far to fall so low?  And you know what?  This happened OVER and OVER and OVER!!!  The book of Judges is made up of chapter after chapter of God raising up a judge over Israel who delivered them from their enemies and turned them back to God, and every single time the next generation went back to following other gods and back into captivity and oppression.  

Don't you want to yell across the ages - "Hey you!  Don't you get it?  You are supposed to do what God says!  He gave you rules and he told you to teach them to your children!  To write them on your foreheads and on your doorposts so you wouldn't forget them!  Hey you!  Why don't your children know what is right???"

Why don't our children know?  Why does each generation get farther and farther away from God, and away from His laws, and away from the laws that were set up by our founding fathers?  Why are we straying so so so far away?  Generations from now, when people look at our history will they want to scream at us as I would like to scream at the ancient Israelites?  Will they say the same thing:  "Why don't your children know what is right?"

Because they don't.  They know what they like.  They know what is politically correct.  They know what makes them happy.  They know that bullies are bad.  They know that religious bigots are bad.  But they do not know what is right.  They are taught that everyone is allowed to live the way they want.  They are taught not to say someone else is wrong, even if they believe something else.  They are taught that what they believe is their own opinion and it doesn't mean everyone else has to believe or behave the way they do.  They are taught that there is no right and wrong, only shades of gray.  They are not taught what is right.  

The rainbow was given by God as a promise and a reminder.  It did not condone the behavior of men.  It was a covenant with all of the people and animals which would ever populate the earth from then on, that God would not destroy the earth by a flood again. (Genesis 9:8-17)  It was rather in spite of the evil that man can do.  In Genesis 8:21, God said "I will not again curse the ground any more for man's sake; for the imagination of man's heart is evil from his youth; neither will I again smite any more every living thing as I have done."  

I wonder, those people who have made their profile pictures rainbow colored on Facebook, who fly the rainbow flags and display the rainbow bumper stickers, do they know what that rainbow means?  It does not mean that what they are doing is right.  It means that God will not give them the punishment they deserve in this world.  But I fear for our children.  They don't know that this life is not the end.  That they have an immortal soul which will not die with their bodies, but will have to pay the price for their actions.  They don't know that the price is paid for those who repent, or turn away from their sins, and who follow Jesus Christ, the Son of God.  They don't know that going against God's will is sin, that sin is payable by death, and that they are in danger.  And they don't know that there is a way out, a way to freedom and eternal life with God.  Because they are not taught what is right.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Why do Bad Things happen to Good People?

I think everyone has asked this question at least once.  I know I have.  Why is it that someone can do everything right, and still everything will go wrong for them?  It is a popular teaching in some churches that Christians are meant to be prosperous.  That we should "name it and claim it."  If we have health issues or financial issues or catastrophes of any sort coming upon us, it is because we don't believe well enough. 

The problem I see is that God never promised us an easy life if we chose to follow him.  You would think that those first disciples and apostles would have deserved such a life, if anyone did, but they didn't have it.  They were persecuted, and most were killed.  As Christians, we are followers of Christ.  And as such, we have to go where he went.  And before he went to Heaven to sit at the right hand of the Father, he suffered.  We should not be surprised that we have to follow him in his suffering. 

Peter, in his first letter, warns us that this will happen to us, and explains that it can be the will of God that we go through these things.  "Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing; so that also at the revelation of His glory, you may rejoice with exultation...Therefore, let those also who suffer according to the will of God entrust their souls to a faithful Creator in doing what is right."  1 Peter 4:12-13,19.

The prophet Jeremiah, in his Lamentations, explains God's compassion and mercy, even in regards to his judgement.  "The LORD's lovingkindnesses never cease, For his compassions never fail.  They are new every morning; Great is Thy faithfulness...For the Lord will not reject forever, For if He causes grief, Then He will have compassion According to His abundant lovingkindness.  For He does not afflict willingly, Or grieve the sons of men...Is it not from the mouth of the Most High That both good and ill go forth?  Why should any living mortal, or any man, Offer complaint in view of his sins?"  Lamentations 3:22-23, 31-33, 38-39.

We know that our sins are blotted out if we but confess them.  "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness."  1 John 1:9.  But we still have to live in this sinful world.  Once we confess and repent from our sins, they are no longer held against us.  They cannot keep us from God any longer.  But as long as we are in this physical world, our deeds will have consequences.  A murderer can repent and become a child of the most high God, but he still has to serve out the jail term he was sentenced to.  The family of his victim will still have to bear their grief in this world, whether they are Christians or not.  Just because we follow Christ, we do not become immune to the decay of this world.  Isaiah told us:  "Lift up your eyes to the sky, Then look to the earth beneath; For the sky will vanish like smoke, and the earth will wear out like a garment, And its inhabitants will die in like manner, But my salvation shall be forever, And my righteousness shall not wane."  Isaiah 51:6

So, why do bad things happen to good people?  For the same reason that good things happen to bad people.  God isn't in the business of favoritism.  He created each one of us, and loves each one of us, whether or not we love him back.  But we are in a fallen and sinful world, and we are under natural laws.  Gravity works.  We can fall off a ladder and hurt ourselves.  The economy can go bad.  Cancer can invade our bodies. Some of our problems come as a result of other people.  This is because God gave all humans a free will.  We are not robots who are controlled by some big remote in the sky.  We each have our own minds, and are free to live however we want.   Sometimes we hurt each other through our actions. 

We are not given a different lot in life because we are Christians.  We are, however, held to a different standard.  Jesus said:  "You have heard that it was said, you shall love your neighbor, and hate your enemy.  But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you in order that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous."  Matthew 5:43-45.  We are to treat everyone the same, regardless of how good they are.  Even regardless of how good they are to us!  That's a hard one.  But it is what sons of God and followers of Jesus are to do. 

We are not promised different circumstances because we are Christians, but we are promised peace in all circumstances.  We can be joyful even in our afflictions.  As Paul wrote to the church in Philippi:  "Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice!  Let your forbearing spirit be known to all men.  The Lord is near.  Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.  And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, shall guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus."  Philippians 4:4-7.  Notice that he did not promise the answers we wanted for our prayers, but he said we would have peace which would guard our hearts and minds. 

So, next time someone asks you why bad things happen to good people, you can tell them.  And you can let them know that even though things aren't going well, they can have peace through Jesus Christ.  All they need to do is ask.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

What Would You Do?

I just received my newsletter from Voice of the Martyrs.  It occurs to me that here in the United States, we have very little idea of what persecution really is.  We are insulated from the horrors that our Christian brothers and sisters in other countries deal with everyday.  We consider ourselves persecuted if someone wishes us "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas" while we are doing our Christmas shopping.  We may see a news report from Iraq or Kenya and feel sorry for those "poor people," but then we go on with our lives, worrying about such things as what to eat for dinner and what to watch on TV.  We dress up on Sunday morning and freely go to our comfortable church buildings and smile and wave and sing a few songs, and then go home to a nice dinner and relax for the rest of the day because of course you are not supposed to work on the "Sabbath." 

But what if all of this changed?  What if your comfortable church building was burned to the ground by a militant group, and the members were chased by people who were trying to kill them?  Would you still show up the next day ready to praise God?  This is what our family in the Republic of Niger had to deal with in January.  What if you were in your home, when someone pulled your family out, asked if you were Christians, and then killed your husband when you said you were?  This happened in Hindi, Kenya last July. 

We live in a relatively safe, affluent country.  But our brothers and sisters are suffering all around the world from religious persecution, from lack of food, lack of medical care, and lack of educational opportunities.  And worse, there are countless people lacking all of these things plus the knowledge of Christ.  Can we ignore this?  Can we continue to walk around in our own little insulated bubble, living the good life, and limit our involvement to feeling sorry for "those people over there" every once in a while?

I confess that I don't pay a lot of attention to the news.  Partly because I feel that I'm not getting the whole story anyway, and partly because I can't deal with the pain of seeing so many horrifying images.  I tend to come away feeling depressed, rather than encouraged or empowered.  But when I read the stories from Voice of the Martyrs, Amazima Ministries, or Gospel for Asia, I see that there is hope.  There are people who are making a difference.  There are everyday people like you and me who are risking some of their comfort to make someone else's life better. 

I hope that if I were in a situation where I had to defend my faith, I would be brave enough to do so.  I believe that what the apostle Paul wrote to the Roman church still stands. "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?  Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?  As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.  Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us.  For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nore things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord."  (Romans 8:35-39)

But I think the time to act is now.  Those of us who have been given much cannot go on keeping for ourselves, and squirreling away our extras in case hard times come to us.  For so many people, hard times are now.  In God's kingdom everyone has enough.  So why are things so unbalanced?  We need to take a good hard look at ourselves.  It is not enough to feel sorry.  We cannot enjoy our gifts in isolation.  Our family is in trouble!  "Those people over there" are our brothers and sisters, our parents, grandparents, and children.  They are not nameless and faceless.  Our Father knows each one intimately, just as he knows you and me.  And he is hurting because they are hurting.

I am preaching to myself, here.  I am the first to try to get the things I want without thinking of the needs of others.  And I am so sorry for acting this way.  Please pray for me, as I pray for you, and we all pray for our family all over the world.  And lets put some hands and feet on our prayers!  For God expects us to do what we can.
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