Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Pursuing the Spirit

The power of God is the Spirit of God.  If we have the Spirit, we obtain the power of God within ourselves.  Without the Spirit, we are in the flesh, the natural self, and we end up pursuing the weaknesses of the flesh—greed, fear, anger and desire.  Because that is our natural state, where we end up if we are left to our own devices.  Not because we are bad people but because these are extremes of how God built us.  He created us to rule, to make order, to create equity and to love.  But our emotions go to extremes and our justice becomes judgment, our order becomes control and our caution becomes anxiety.   That’s just how we roll.

To have balance, we need the Holy Spirit.  Love is the fruit of the Spirit, the natural outcome of living in the Spirit.  And love is the true balance.  Some will say that compassion or self-sacrifice is an extreme, but in reality they are extremes because our society has become so imbalanced toward judgment or hatred, that these reactions are there to create balance in the world.  The true center is love.  The true balance is care for all, no matter what they’ve done to you.  And the Spirit is in the world to direct us to that true balance.  To help us rejoice in others, no matter what they’ve done to us.  To help us have self-control so we do not hurt others.  To help us have mercy so that others may reach their true balance.

If we do not have the Spirit, we will tend to drift. This doesn’t mean that we won’t pursue love, but we will find it difficult, almost impossible, to have love as our center.  If we are in the Spirit, living in the Spirit, we have the power to release, the energy to delve into love.  Outside of the Spirit, we are pursuing love on our own, and we inevitably create laws that we demand everyone follow.  This is a warped love.  True love has the power to be flexible, to see the world through other’s eyes.  And that only comes through the power of the Spirit.

So how do we obtain the Spirit?  How do we obtain this power of loving that so eludes us?

Asking for the Spirit
If we desire the Spirit, we must ask for the Spirit.  “Ask and you shall receive…  How much more will the Father give the Spirit to those who ask?”  The Spirit comes by asking, and the Father freely gives.  The Father always wants to give what we truly need, and He knows that we need the Spirit more than anything else.  The Spirit makes us who the Father wants us to be, and so the Spirit is the one gift the Father gives freely, if we would but ask.  But we need to ask.  Because if we think that we can live independently, without the Father’s help, the Father will allow us to live that way.  It isn’t what He wants, but he will let us do that.  But if we ask for the Father’s help, then He will gladly give it, He will gladly give us the Spirit.

The Kingdom of God
We are living in the wrong nation if we want to live in the Spirit.  Our nation doesn’t work by love, it works by pursuing greed and anger.  In living in this nation, we might have experiences of the Spirit, but they will be short-lived, temporary highlights of our life.  The only way to live in the Spirit is to immigrate to a different nation, a nation that is empowered only by the Spirit.  This nation is called the Kingdom of God, and Jesus is the King.  To be a part of this nation, one does not need to be a Christian necessarily.  Rather, one must be committed to Jesus as the King.  To immigrate to Jesus’ nation is to receive the Spirit as a gift, daily.  Those who only live as Christians do not experience this, and often they do not recognize the Spirit when he comes.  But those who love Jesus recognize the Spirit and seek to live in the Spirit, even as Jesus did.  They know that the Spirit isn’t miracles (although he sometimes uses miracles), isn’t doctrine (although he encourages faith and trust), isn’t correct practice (although he guides to right action), but love.   And those who dwell in the kingdom encourage others to the Holy Spirit of love as well.

Listening to Jesus
Jesus lived life in the Spirit to the full.  If we want to see what a life in the Spirit looks like, we need to experience Jesus’ life.  Jesus is the model.  Jesus is also the one who explains.  He lets us know how to pursue the Spirit and how to be empowered to love.  But most important of all, Jesus lets us know what love looks like.  There are many things that claim to be “love”.  There are many people who claim to be lovers.  But the Father’s love is the love of Jesus.  Jesus came to show us love, to define love through his words and his deeds.  The more we listen to Jesus, the more we observe him, the better we understand what love is, and the easier we find it is to reject the cheap substitutes.

Turning Away
In order to live in the Spirit, it is not enough for us to pursue love, we must be rid of the things that keep us away from love.  The Spirit will lead us to what these things are.  In fact, the Spirit speaks to us all the time about avoiding the things that squeeze love out of our hearts, that limits our mercy and compassion and sacrifice.  If we keep the things that destroy our love, then the Spirit cannot do the work that he wants to do in us.  Be rid of those things, those actions, those pursuits that limit the Spirit of love.

Trusting the Spirit
More than likely, the Spirit has already been speaking to us.  Perhaps we can remember the last thing the Spirit told you.  Perhaps the Spirit is pleading with us to be rid of something.  Perhaps the Spirit is compelling us to make a step that is difficult to make.  Perhaps the Spirit is encouraging us to do something we just haven’t gotten around to.  Whatever it is, listen to the Spirit, do it.  Often the Spirit will withdraw until we show that we are ready to walk with him.  Living with the Spirit is like any other intimate relationship, it is a companionship of trust.  If we show that we trust the Spirit, then the Spirit will open up more to us.  If we do not trust the Spirit, then we limit our relationship with the Spirit.  But if we listen to the Spirit, then we can pursue our relationship with love.

Practice Your Joy in the Father
Each of us has something that helps us experience joy in the Father.  For some, it is experiencing the Father’s creation, for others it is participating with the Father in growing His creation.  For some, it is embedding oneself in music, for others it is reading God’s word.  For some it is the ecstasy of grateful prayer, for others it is the hard work of interceding.  For some, joy is found with the poor, for others, joy is found in dancing.  There are many, many ways to experience the joy of the Father, and each of us have different ways to do that.  To be enlivened in the Spirit is often found through joyful express of being with the Father.  Be aware of pursuits that take us away from love.  If our expression limits our capacity to love, then we do not have the full joy the Father wants us to have.  But if our expression is a part of love, is a partner with love, then the Spirit fills us to the full and overflowing to all around us.


As in any relationship, we must take time to listen. If we are constantly busy, constantly distracted, constantly talking, then we cannot hear the Spirit.  If we do not hear, we cannot experience the voice of the Spirit.  If we do not pause, we will never experience the peace of the Spirit out of which flows love.  The Spirit wants us to do acts of love, but the Spirit also pleads with us to stop all acts and just rest in him.  After working hard in the Spirit, to rest in the Spirit is like experiencing beauty in our soul.  It is awe-inspiring, powerful, and deep.  It is not always easy to find time for this.  If you have small children or constant daily distractions, we may not have an opportunity for this silence.  But if you can, pursue it.  This deep peace isn’t to be our lives, but it is meant for a respite, an enlivening so we can continue to pursue the life of love in the Spirit.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

A Complete List of New Testament Sins

These are the sins mentioned by Jesus and the apostles as being opposed to God's rule.  They are not based on the law, which the disciple of Jesus need not obey, but based on the Kingship of Jesus.

The disciple of Jesus should avoid all these sins.  However, if someone claims that you are "sinning" but you are not breaking one of these, you might seek the Lord, but you need not accept their claim.  Only God declares sin and only Jesus is the Word of God. 

Sins of rebellion

Rejection of God—Disobeying God,  not trusting in him, denying God or Jesus or the gospel, idolatry.  Opposite—Love of God, submission to God, faith in Jesus, boldness.
Ephesians 5:5-6; Matthew 7:21-27; Deuteronomy 5:8; Matthew 6:24; Matthew 10:32-33.
Rejection of authorities—Disobeying God-ordained authorities (even if they are evil), as long as they do not directly oppose God’s command.  Opposite: Submission even to evil authorities.
I Peter 2:13-14; Titus 3:1; Matthew 5:39-42.
Rejection of God’s people—Disobeying the elders of God’s people; refusing to meet with God’s people; refusing to assist God’s people; divisiveness.  Opposite: Considering others as better than yourself.
Hebrews 13:17; I Corinthians 10:9-10; Hebrews 10:24; I John 3:17; Jude 1:19.

Sins where we replace ourselves for God

Hostility—Murder, slander, insults, excessive force, threats.  Opposite: Gentleness, meekness, long-suffering.
Genesis 4:3-8; Matthew 5:21-24; Mark 3:1-5; James 4:1-3; Ephesians 4:26-30; Galatians 5:14-22.
Arrogance—Thinking of yourself as better than you are.  Opposite: Humility.
Luke 14:11; Matthew 23:12; Philippians 2:3.
Grasping for power or authorityOpposite: Lowering yourself for the sake of others.
Luke 22:24-27; Mark 10:42-45.


Sins where we replace material things for God

Greed—Desiring and striving for what does not belong to you; idleness, envy, theft.   Opposite: Giving freely to those who have need.
Luke 12:13-21; Matt 6:19-24; James 4:2; I Thessalonians 3:10-11; Ephesians 4:28.
Service for money—Focusing on money or the things that money buys as what will give you peace. Opposite: Giving your money away to those who have need.
Matthew 6:24; Luke 12:33.
Hoarding—Keeping any excess for yourself when someone else needs it.  Opposite: Giving your excess possessions away to those who have need.
Luke 16:20-25; I John 3:16-18.
Drunkenness/drug abuse—Seeking a substance that will ultimately harm others.  Opposite: being filled with the Holy Spirit.
I Corinthians 6:10; Matthew 24:49; Ephesians 5:18.
Orgies, course jesting—Participating in entertainment that encourages greed, violence, the degradation of others, or sexual immorality.  Opposite: Rejoicing in the salvation and spirit of God.
Luke 21:34; I Corinthians 10:5-8; Ephesians 5:4.

Sins where we replace other powers for God

False religions. Opposite: Worshiping and serving the God of Jesus Christ.
Exodus 20:2-3; Deuteronomy 8:19-20.
False teachings.  Opposite: Submitting to the teaching of Jesus alone.
II John 1:7-10; I Timothy 6:3-6.
Occultism.  Opposite: Seeking our strength and power from the God of Jesus alone.
Deuteronomy 18:10-12; Galatians 5:20; Revelation 21:8.
Nationalism.  Opposite: Seeking salvation and security from God and his ways alone.
Isaiah 31:1-5; Matthew 22:21.

Other sins that are an indication of some rebellion against God

Unfaithfulness—false witness, not keeping promises, lying, divorce (except if your spouse commits adultery)  Opposite: Speaking what is true, not going back on your word.
Matthew 5:37; Colossians 3:9; Exodus 20:16; Matthew 5:31; Matthew 5:27-28.
Hatred – Murder, unforgiveness, false separation, divisiveness, not giving to those in need.  Opposite: Loving your neighbor as yourself
Matthew 5:21-22; Ephesians 4:26-27,31; Mark 7:21-22; Romans 14:4; I John 3:15-17.
Gossip—Speaking negatively about others without their consent.  Opposite: Speaking the truth in love.
Ephesians 4:31; I Peter 2:1.
Sexual immorality—Having sex with anyone apart from your spouse; sexual speech or imaginings about someone who is not your spouse.  Homosexuality, bestiality, incest.  Opposite: Purity, monogamy.
Leviticus 18; I Thessalonians 4:3; Mark 7:21-22.
Causing others to sin.  Opposite: Encouraging others to love and good deeds.

Matthew 18:6.

Saturday, April 27, 2013


Throughout history, there have been people who have decided that the best way to deal with the world is to escape it.  In the Christian tradition, this begins with Antony of Egypt, who would live in a cemetery and then later in the desert to escape the temptations of the world.  Of course, Antony then found temptations in the wilderness, and he bravely overcame them.  His solution to the temptations and struggles with other people was to get away from people, become a hermit, and to isolate himself as much as possible.

In later years, the hermit became one of the primary examples of a saint, of living as a holy man.  However, this is not the way of God.

Jesus declares that to be right before God our primary way is to love.  We cannot obtain any kind of righteousness without loving.  And this means that we have to be with other people, not to isolate.  Running away from people isn’t living the life that God calls us all to.   To love is to deal with others’ pain and to weep with them.  To love is to face the temptations others give us and to overcome them.  To love is to be made angry by others and to do what is peaceful in return.  To love is to be rejected by others, but to respond in kindness. To love is to be available with others need you, with whatever you have.  God calls us to be with others, for without others we cannot achieve His will for our lives.

God has made us in such a way that we can only be happy if we are with others.  Mind you, people are often the cause of our unhappiness, as well.  People frustrate us and mock us and wound us and hate us and yell at us and irritate us.  So we often have temporary unhappiness by being with others.  But God has made us so that our long term happiness is by being with others.  If you want to be self-centered and depressed, spend most of your time alone.  Our soul is made to work better with other people, no matter how frustrating they are.

There is only one path of God.  It is the path of compassion, the path of gentleness, the path of mercy, the path of patience, the path of self control, the path of sacrifice.  We do not stay among others just to survive their presence, but to benefit them.  In that pattern of benefiting others, even in small ways, that is the way of life, eternal life. The only way God has presented is the path of love.

This doesn’t mean that occasional bouts of isolation aren’t good for us.  There are times we need to be alone to focus on God, to recharge our ability to act right toward others, to bask in the joy of God’s creation, apart from the tension that others bring.  Jesus took a break from people for forty days. But we, like Jesus, must not remain in isolation.  We must always, regularly return to be with others. 

Because without those irritating, frustrating, horrifying, idiotic people, we do not have God.  The way of God is found in others, as much as we might wish that were not so.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

The President is Not the Commander-In-Chief

Yes, the president of the United States holds in his hands great power and authority.  There is no single human being more powerful than he in the governments of the world.  However, ultimately, it is not the president who is in charge of the world, or even the United States.  Rather, it is God.         

God is the ruler of the United States

The kingdom is the LORD'S and He rules over the nations.  Psalm 22:28
God is not just the ruler of heaven, but he is the ruler of all the nations on earth.  He is the one in charge of all political entities.  On the surface, it may look like that He is not doing a very good job of ruling—things seem chaotic.  However, the Lord’s rule is much like the president’s—if people chose to have an attitude against him, there is little that he would chose to do.  God is rarely in the business of controlling the world, or in sending in the troops to punish a rebel.  Rather, God’s choice is to wait and call people to His ways.God is not only the one in charge of the governments of the world, but he also watches who is ruling every nation in the world, including the United States.  There are some he particularly places in power in order to rule righteously, or to punish the wicked.  There are others he deposes because they have acted in opposition to the Lord, because they were arrogant or because they were excessively violent.  The Lord allows each nation to rule its own affairs, until he sees terrible injustice or oppression—and then he will act swiftly.

God’s purposes are not the president’s purposes

The LORD nullifies the counsel of the nations; He frustrates the plans of the peoples. The counsel of the LORD stands forever, The plans of His heart from generation to generation. Psalm 38:10-11
Any president, any ruler in the world, sees things differently than God.  Rulers of a nation desires to have their nation succeed, to have their agenda passed and to have their nation be secure.  However, God does not look at the world through the perspective of one nation alone, but he sees all the peoples of the world.  The Lord wants to have his glory be known throughout all the earth—and the Lord can see today that there is much work that needs to be done in this.  God wishes to have all people on the earth live according to his will and his principles of devotion and care for all people—but few wish to live in accord with that.  The Lord desires his chosen people (those faithful to Him) to be secure—but he can see persecution and hatred against his people.
            A ruler’s goal of establishing peace in his nation may in fact be in accord with God’s notion—depending on who the president wishes to punish in order to obtain that peace.  Also depending on how much violence he is willing to use to obtain a peace.  God does not see one nation or one group of people as being unworthy of forgiveness, as long as they repent.  And it is the Lord’s agenda to see that all people have an opportunity to repent.  This plan is rarely in agreement with a president’s idea of security.

God’s plan is not the president’s plan

 “My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways," declares the LORD. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways And My thoughts than your thoughts.” Isaiah 55:8-9
The current president has certain plans for Iraq, certain plans for social security and certain plans to boost the economy.  He is sure that he can make the United States a strong country through economic and military might.  God’s plans for the U.S. are completely different, because he is looking at a different perspective.  The Lord knows that ultimately, strength and wealth come only from him, not from a military or economic power of the world.   God’s plans are for making the U.S. more righteous, and so to obtain strength and wealth from Him.  It is the Lord’s plan to see those who despise him repent, so he can offer inner peace to them.  It is God’s plan to personally judge those who oppress the poor who cry out to him.

Knowing this, how are we to respond?

a. Give Honor to the President

Submit yourselves for the Lord's sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right. For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men. Honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king.  I Peter 2:13-17
The president does, in a way, sit in God’s seat, and so we are always to honor him and to submit to him, even if he is an evil man, and especially if he is not.  We are not to be disrespectful, but we are to follow the laws as we can and be good citizens, doing good to everyone.  No matter how bad we consider a president to be, as followers of Jesus we should not insult a president or spread rumors about a president. 

b. Depend on God to do justice

Do not trust in princes, In mortal man, in whom there is no salvation. His spirit departs, he returns to the earth; In that very day his thoughts perish. How blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, Whose hope is in the LORD his God.  Psalm 146:3-5
There are two focuses of justice and law.   One is to fulfill the earthly-focused purposes, and that is done through men’s laws—this is what the president focuses on.  The other is to fulfill God’s desire (divine justice) and that is done through God’s law.  If we really want to gain well-being, security and wealth in our lives, we need to focus on God accomplishing his own justice, and not through frail men.  Humans are weak and they will mess up in numerous ways to create justice.  God sees all and knows all truth and will make sure that justice is done to those who ask him to judge on earth (Luke 18:1-8).
            Even if a president is Christian and he prays a lot, that does not mean that he is necessarily righteous.  Praying to God by itself does not mean that one is focused on the law and justice of God—it just means that they want to have God do what they want.  The only kind of prayer God will answer is the prayer of faith.  This prayer is not just believing enough, but being faithful in God and desiring his desires and being willing to do whatever he says.  The only Christian who is worth focusing on is the one who fully obeys the law of Christ—to love his neighbor as himself, to be humble in his leadership, to be devoted to God before his country. 

            c. Change the President’s mind

The king's heart is like channels of water in the hand of the LORD; He turns it wherever He wishes.    Proverbs 21:1
The Lord can take even the most wicked king, and control decisions he makes—for good or for judgement.  Even as every ruler is weak in some ways, the Lord will assist them at times to make decisions that will ultimately be for God’s glory.  This is an amazing process and God is at work at it all the time.  And he also invites us to participate in this powerful political process.  He invites his faithful people—those who have God’s glory and the good of humanity at the front of their minds—to mediate for decisions that need to be made.  All changes of a ruler’s heart is ultimately determined by the Lord, but he welcomes the input of those who are faithful.

The final result

The Lord is at Your right hand; He will shatter kings in the day of His wrath. He will judge among the nations, He will fill them with corpses, He will shatter the chief men over a broad country.  Psalm 110:5-6
Eventually, one president or another will rebel against the Lord.  They will stand against God’s people and persecute them.  They will look at the oppressed and laugh and cause them to die.  And when it happens, the United States will be judged by God.  This is not unique,  God will eventually judge every nation of the world.  He awaits the nations to show their selfish focus by oppressing the poor, either in their own nation or in others.  The U.S. has already oppressed the poor in the past, yet the patience of the Lord is the only thing that has kept Him from judging the U.S.  The Lord showed patience as the U.S. were oppressing the Native Americans and the African Americans.  That patience bore out, for the U.S. is treating those groups much better now. 
But the U.S. is continuing to oppress other nations around the world, and the Lord’s patience is only so long.   Let us pray for God’s glory.  Let us pray for the good of God’s people.  And let us pray for the gospel to be spread so all will have the opportunity to repent before the final day arrives.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The Christian and Government

What to recognize about human governments

v  The government is appointed by God

Every government only gains its authority from God—even evil governments.  Although governments may misuse or even abuse their authority, the authority itself comes from God.  Thus, we need to respect the authority of the government, no matter who is using it. (John 20:11)

v  The government represents God

The government is meant to do some of God’s work on earth—specifically, to punish those who do evil and to reward those who do good.  This does not mean that the government is God’s servant, necessarily.  Satan also punishes the evil at God’s bidding, but he is not an obedient servant of God.  But ideally, the government does God’s will. (Romans 13:1)

v  The government will be judged by God

Men do not have the right to judge governments.  Even as a government’s authority and work has been given to it by God, so it is God who evaluates and determines the fate of governments.  Often, God is patient and willing to wait for change.  But some governments will be destroyed by God immediately: specifically those treat the needy badly and those who do much unnecessary violence. (Psalm 82)

v  There is only one truly godly government

The only government that has been appointed, approved and having passed testing by God is the kingdom of God, led by Jesus.  No other government can call themselves approved by God.  Nor can any other government call itself truly “Christian.”  (John 18:36)

What not to do about human governments

v  Resist them when they do injustice against you

We do not rebel against authorities, but we are supposed to submit to them.  We don’t need to hate them or speak evil against them.  Instead, if a government does us wrong, we pray about it and ask God for justice. (Matthew 5:39)

v  Judge them for not following the laws or principles of God’s kingdom.
Although the governments represent God, they do not understand the principles of God, except in the most general notions.  And so it is not our job to judge them or condemn them for what they do not know.  We can inform them of what God says, but it is God’s right to judge them and to punish them if they were inadequate.  (I Corinthians 5:9-10)

v  Rebel against the authorities
We don’t need to do evil to the government.  If the government is to be fought against, then we can pray for God to judge them, according to his will.   (Romans 13:2)

v  Obey them when they tell you to disobey the principles of Jesus.
We must take care to always place God and God’s will in our lives above the government’s will and desire.  We submit to governments in all things except when they tell us to disregard the teachings of Jesus and the apostles. (Acts 4:19)

What to do with human governments

v  Give honor to whom honor is due

Government officials require that we speak politely to them, with the proper titles.  Whatever honor is expected, we should give it. (Romans 13:7)

v  Pay taxes when you are required to

All governments require us to pay taxes to them.  Even if you feel that the government isn’t representing you or doing what you think is right, you still have to pay the taxes that they demand of you. (Romans 13:7)

v  Pray for the leadership

We need to pray for government officials so that we will show respect for the officials, and also so God will direct the authorities to have wisdom to create a society of peace, so the church can do what God is directing them to do. (I Timothy 2:1-2)

v  Submit to authorities, even when you come to harm

We are to submit to authorities, even if they do evil, even if they irritate us, even if they harm us.  This is how we show that we are fully submitted to God and will do good, even if others do us evil. (I Peter 2:13-24)

v  Obey all laws, unless they tell you to disobey God

Since the governments have the authority of God and act for God, we need to obey them.  Even if you think the law is wrong or unjust, obey it.  The only time we disobey, is if they tell us to disobey God. (Colossians 3:22)

v  Do good to those who do harm to you
When government officials do harm to us, we are to respond with blessings and prayers for their benefit.  We do not curse them or abuse them, but instead do what we can to benefit them. (Romans 12:17-21)

v  Warn them away from God’s judgement by encouraging them to repent
If governmental officials do evil in God’s sight—especially if they are enacting unnecessary violence or harming the needy—they need to be warned that God will judge them unless they repent. (Ezekiel 33:9)

What Christians don’t have to do

v  Participate in the government

Many feel that it is one’s civic duty to vote in governmental elections, sign appropriate petitions or to participate in neighborhood meetings.  However, since we, as Christians, belong to the kingdom of God, we should focus our attention on participating with God’s people, not a secular government. (James 4:4)

v  Agree with any particular politics or politician

Some Christians feel that a certain politics is the only real Christian choice, or that a certain politician is the “godly candidate.”  However, we do not need to support any policy, politics or candidate.  Rather, we need to focus on policies and decisions within the church and among those who represent Jesus. (Ephesians 4:17-19)

v  Call the nation we live in “our country”

The nation of all those who follow Jesus is not the one they were born in or the one they live in—it is the kingdom of God.  And the kingdom of God has no king but God and no lord but Jesus and no realm on the earth.  The non-godly government we live in the midst of is not “our” country.  It is the country we live in .  Our nation is only the kingdom of God. (II Corinthians 6:14-18)

v  Protest injustices

The ungodly governments of this world will do unjust and evil things sometimes.  We do not need to protest them, although we might warn them what God will do in response.  Some might choose to protest, and receive what persecution comes with gladness.  But it is not necessary.  However, when some in the church who represent God does open evil, then we need to respond. (I Corinthians 5:9-11)

Honor government leaders, 
but focus on God’s will among God’s people

Thursday, March 29, 2012

How To Be a Christian Patriot

As Christians, we declare Jesus to be Lord—which is saying that our citizenship is in the kingdom of God, and Jesus is our King.  However, we still acknowledge that we live in this country and we are tied up in the welfare of this country, for good or for ill.  And many Christians still want to acknowledge that they love their country and want to seek its best.  It may not be perfect, but it’s what we got, until the kingdom of God comes.  So how do we show this love?  How can we declare ourselves to be patriotic as a part of our nation, even though our citizenship is in heaven?  To be a patriot doesn't mean voting for a certain party, or holding certain political views, or even supporting the troops in a particular way.  Ultimately, to be a patriot is no different than loving our neighbor as ourselves.  We need to act for the benefit of those around us.  How can we love our neighbors who live in our nation?

1.      Pray for This Country
In the first century, it was the duty of all Christians and Jews to pray for the Emperor, and the Scriptures acknowledge this in I Timothy 2:2 and Jeremiah 29:7.  Even so, we should pray for the nation we live in and for there to be security and peace there.  If we see God give those around us peace, then we too may experience that peace.  We should also pray for the leaders in the country so God would guide them with wisdom and righteousness.

2.      Honor the Government
The Scripture clearly says that we should honor the government in which we live, including our leaders (I Peter 2:17; Romans 13:7).  This means that we offer due respect to our leaders—which means that we cannot be insulting them or gossiping about them.  Also it means that we pay our taxes as they require.  Paying taxes isn’t just our national duty, it’s our Christian one.

3.      Obey the Laws
To be a good Christian, as well as a good member of our country, we need to obey every law—even the inconvenient ones.  This can be complicated at times, and it may even require some work or sacrifice on our part, but it is what we do as people who honor God’s authority (Romans 13:1).  The only time we disobey the government is if they are asking us to disobey Jesus.  If our two authorities clearly come in conflict—and this happens only in rare cases—then we must choose Jesus as our Lord.

4.      Seek the Welfare of this Country
The Scripture says that wherever we live, we must do good to everyone, and assist the people wherever we are living  (Jeremiah 29:7; Galatians 6:10).  This means that we will work toward the well-being of this country as best we can, doing service among our neighbors and community.

5.      Assist the Needy in This Country
One of the best ways that we can seek the welfare for the whole nation in which we live, is to assist the needy.  God says and has shown that he will judge nations if they oppress the needy and poor (Ezekiel 16:49-50; Psalm 82).  But if we, in the nation where we live, help the needy, then God will not be so likely to judge our nation.  In fact, the Lord will bless us greatly if we help the needy and that blessing will overflow to our community!  (Proverbs 14:21; Psalm 41:1-3)

6.      Warn This Country away from Judgment
If you want to be an extra good patriot, then let the nation know when they are especially disobeying God, and are being threatened with his judgement.  As citizens of God’s kingdom, we do not have the right to command the nation what to do, just to give it the opportunity to change it’s ways, even as Jonah did with Nineveh  (Jonah 3; II Chronicles 19:10).  Thus if the country is increasing in its sin before God, and even making it difficult not to sin, then the good patriot will warn the nation of their plight.

This means we need to encourage the country to be just, to help the poor, to love each other and to seek peace.  If a country seeks war, ignores the poor, kills the innocent and has injustice in the courts then it will be judged by God.  A good patriot does all they can to keep their nation away from these evils. 

7.      Invite Citizens of this Nation to the Kingdom of God
The best way, though, to grant peace and health to your country is to welcome it’s citizens into God’s kingdom by acknowledging Jesus as Lord.  If we truly want the best for the people of the nation we live in, we will invite them to receive of God’s blessings, which are far greater than anything else we will gain in this world  (Psalm 33:12).  To obtain this kingdom of rest and peace and righteousness and joy in the Holy Spirit, then we will need to teach them to be disciples of Jesus and to live the life of Jesus (Matthew 28:19-20).  In this way, we will offer the greatest gift to our fellow countrymen (and women).

Look for Ways To Bless the Nation You Live In

Sunday, March 18, 2012

The American Dream and the Good Life

Ultimately, all of the great American heroes were after one thing: The American Dream.  George Washington sought freedom.  Benjamin Franklin sought independence.  Thomas Jefferson sought security.  Alexander Hamilton sought financial freedom.  Abraham Lincoln sought unity.  Martin Luther King, Jr. sought equality.  They all had a vision that together we can call the American Dream.  The American dream was broad in its vision, and they all saw the United States as being a beacon for the whole world, an ideal for all the oppressed to hold to.

                However, over time, the American dream evolved.  It has been taken up by advertisers, real estate agents, television shows, and cigarette manufacturers.  Rather than being a quality of life, it has taken on the characteristics of a particular kind of life—a life of a certain economic level, a certain kind of work, a certain level of materialism. 

The freedom of the enlightenment idealists was originally an opportunity for everyone to reach to their highest moral and spiritual self.  But our society has taken this freedom to be to partake in the lowest common denominator of pornography, greed, violence, covetousness and gluttony, while causing only a limited amount of harm to others.  Limiting the freedom to live to people in other countries, or limiting the ability to sustain one's life in order to give a few freedom to partake in more personal vice is the call of freedom for today.
The ideal of the American dream is that of equality, so that all are treated with fairness and justice, no matter what society or culture or race they are in.  Now equality is meant to limit one’s choices to hundreds of channels on television, but if someone wants to live an alternative lifestyle, they are punished by having their children taken away from them.  God forbid that anyone should choose to be poor or live a life of restriction for God!

Financial security
The financial security envisioned is that of living according to one’s own means, at whatever level that means.  But this has been transformed to greed, with even the poor wondering what they have done wrong to fail to obtain the riches promised them.  The wealthy, meanwhile, must keep a serving class of minimum-wage workers (or below minimum wage) in order to maintain their wealth.  The greed of the ruling culture is based on the poverty of the lower class.

The comfort of the idealists was equally realized in Thomas Jefferson, the inventor and (writer of Walden), the creator of the simple life.  There was a variety of lifestyles which kept one at peace with one’s environment and society.  But our society has taken comfort to be that of material comfort, with a minimum of physical effort for that life.  This has turned into a culture of entitlement, where we don’t just hope for a materialist lifestyle, but expect it and think that we all deserve it.

Freedom of employment
To have work is to be able to be self-sustaining, to pay for one’s own life and family, whatever lifestyle that might be.  But now, in order to obtain the lifestyle of greed, we must go the avenue of seeking the patronage and goals of one whose purpose in life is to make money, which he promises to share some sparse percentage of with the one whom he employs.  We are trapped in a job ethic that we hate, but we cannot escape.
Democratic ideal
The democratic ideal that was originally held is rule by the people for the sake of the people.  But somehow this has been translated to a plutocratic republic—where the only “people” who rule are the wealthy, for the sake of the wealthy.  Then this ideal of government is imported to other nations when the “people” there don’t want this form of democracy, but a religious republic. 

The Constitution says that the United States must “provide for the common defense”.  Yet this “defense” has become a military complex and society that shapes the rest of the country in support of it’s world-wide mission to promote American welfare.  The result of this is a constant fear to those who want to limit American influence to its own country, even if they have no violent intent.

Ideally, Thomas Jefferson wrote, the American dream is the freedom to pursue happiness.  But the American dream today is not the pursuit of happiness, but the direct injection of it.  All we want for our children is that they be “happy”.  But happiness is found so much easier in an injection, mental health meds, alcohol, television or escapist novels.  The harder to obtain, but more content-producing happiness of service, charity, peacemaking and working for God isn’t sought first or even primarily.  They are small parts of our life that we gladly surrender when more direct happiness appears or is offered by our cable companies, drug dealers or health care specialists.

The Jesus Dream
The salvation we seek is limited to what our society can give us.  Our opportunities are limited to what we think we should have.  Our choices are limited by what everyone thinks is best for us.  Yet there is another option, we are not limited to what our society offers us.  Because Jesus offers us a different lifestyle.

Freedom in Jesus
Jesus offers us freedom from our own limitations.  He offers us freedom from our own limited morality.  He offers us freedom from a pointless existence of self-pleasuring, self-serving, self-pandering.  Jesus offers us the power of God and the lifestyle that He himself lived in order to make a powerful change for good in this country, in the world.  Jesus calls us to be more than human, to live according to the Spirit instead of the flesh.

Security in Jesus
Jesus offers us all the resources of God, without typical employment, without serving a society of greed.  Rather, we can trust in God’s provision, trust in unseen defenses, trust in God’s ways to make a road of security for us and our family in the midst of that which the world fears.

Peace in Jesus
Jesus offers us a peace that is borne by the Spirit, not by a false security of missiles, diplomacy and economic sanctions.  He offers us a peace that comes from within, a peace that we can transfer to others and help others live in.

Community in Jesus
Jesus offers us a people who is in the midst of creating a society based on the revolutionary ideals of Jesus, instead of the lowest common denominator.  Jesus offers us people to live with, to share with, to work with, to pray with, to rejoice with and to support and minister to.  Jesus offers us a full life, instead of the half-life of the American Dream.

Joy in Jesus
Jesus offers us joy—not just entertainment.  Yes, this is joy in persecution, happiness amidst suffering.  But this is the life of richness, the life of fullness, the life of God. 

Why is it the American Dream that the church seeks, when Jesus says the kingdom of God is found through the loss of the American Dream?
Why is the American Dream the primary option offered to our children, when it fails us in so many ways?
Why is the American Dream the only real option offered to the poor, as if that is the true salvation offered by Jesus?
Where are the saints who sacrificed themselves for the poor?
Where are the godly who knew that one could either have God’s kingdom or the world’s?

Ultimately, it is because our church has accepted the American Dream as the true salvation.
 Let’s not go the way of the standard church.  Let’s not be content with half-lives any more.

Seek the community of Jesus