My “Rights” as an American vs. My Call to be A Follower of Christ

The last few weeks I have missed a lot of Sunday morning services at my church due to some health issues.  Since I hate to have a Sunday without hearing a good sermon I have watched quite a lot of ministers on TV.

Let me start by saying this post is not meant to be a bashing of TV ministers.  I have heard several excellent sermons based on the Bible that were challenging and encouraging.

However, there did seem to be a theme running through many of the ministries on the TV which I found not biblical and disturbing.

One recurrent theme seems to be that becoming a Christian means a life of material blessings and nothing but victories in every area of your life.

One service I watched on video had a pastor praying over the offering.  I could not believe his words.

Basically he told God because the congregation were tithe payers, they were claiming:

promotions at work, increased interest on savings, great real estate deals, new sources of income.

I could not help but think:  really, this is why Jesus died on the cross?

Granted, I believe Jesus has promised to bless those who follow Him and give to others.  In my own life I have seen God provide for me and my family many times when we were in real need.

But I think Christians in America have come to think of material blessings as the main part of the gospel.  Our country has been blessed with many freedoms and for many years Christian believers have been in the majority.  We have experienced little persecution.  On the contrary, until recently, our laws protected and even encouraged the Christian faith.  Instead of recognizing how blessed we have been to be born in this country I am afraid we have come to think material blessings, freedom to worship as we please and laws that protect our way of life are all the “rights” of being a Christian.

Sadly, that is not what Christians in other countries have found to be true.  And that is not what I believe the Bible teaches.

Do not misunderstand me.  I am so grateful for being an American.  My husband, our youngest daughter and I all spend time in another country teaching in a Bible college.  As our plane touched down in Hawaii, I wanted to kiss the ground and thank God for being an American.

But these blessings of life, liberty and pursuit of happiness with all that entails is not what Jesus died for.

Jesus came to set up a kingdom but He made it clear it would not be a worldly kingdom with our own leaders.  Rather He would be the one in charge.  In His kingdom things would be much different than what we experience here in the USA.

His gave us an idea of what His kingdom would look like in His discourse we call “The Sermon on the Mount.”  The things He said would make us “blessed” or “happy” were opposite of what we as Americans have come to think are our “rights.”  

As we find our nation becoming more and more post-Christian – even anti-Christian – we are beginning to experience what the first Christians knew, what a large majority of Christians around the world know.

Jesus did not promise us “rights.”  Rather, he called us to a high standard of love and commitment.

“If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake and for the sake of the Good News, you will save it.”

“If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross daily, and follow me.”

“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, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? …

“If the world hates you, remember that it hated me first. The world would love you as one of its own if you belonged to it, but you are no longer part of the world. I chose you to come out of the world, so it hates you. Do you remember what I told you? ‘A slave is not greater than the master.’ Since they persecuted me, naturally they will persecute you. And if they had listened to me, they would listen to you.”

The early Christians did not demand their “rights.”  They were focused on sharing the good news with all who would listen and willing to give up any right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

I am not suggesting that we should not work to keep our government committed to the freedoms our fathers died for.  My own father won in the Pacific in World War II and my first husband (now deceased) was a Purple Heart recipient from the conflict in Vietnam.  I honor and respect them and others who have given so much for our freedom.

But I am suggesting that we keep our eyes on God and not forget that nations rise and fall, politicians come and go, but God remains forever and His kingdom calls for us to be Christians first, Americans second.

Let us not confuse “success” as the measure of what is right.

“In a world where success is the measure and justification of all things the figure of Him who was sentenced and crucified remains a stranger and is at best the object of pity. . . . The figure of the Crucified invalidates all thought that takes success for its standard.”….Dietrich Bonhoeffer

No offense meant – but as a Christian I cannot proclaim “America first.”

I’m a follower of Christ first, then an American.

 

Don’t Worry! Be Happy!

 

Don’t you just hate it when you are going through a time of stress or difficulties that cause you to begin to worry and then some Pollyanna comes along and says:

worry

Recently I have been stressed out.  My husband and I have begun downsizing and making plans to move to a smaller place which will require less work for us “old folks.”  Then the only child that lives close to us moved to another state leaving us without any family close by.

So—-all this began a series of decisions to make.

First, where do we move to?  Which of our children live in an area that will work best for us as we age?  (And the worry that when we decided we might hurt the feelings of our children who we did not move by.  Would they think we like one child better than the other?)  And depending on where we moved, we might be closer to some but be moving even further away from others.

Decision made.  All is well.  Our children are wonderful and totally in agreement with our decision.

So—all this starts another series of decisions to make.

How much should we ask for the sale of our house?  What do we keep and what do we get rid of as we move into a smaller home?  The possessions we are not going to keep – do we sell them, give them to children, take them to Goodwill?

So—how do we find a new place in another state?

New home found.

So—now to do all the things required when you make a move.  Utilities turned off here, turned on there.  Address changes made.  Find new doctors.  (This is very important for us as we both have heart issues and are diabetics.)  Get involved in new church.  Pack up everything carefully for a move of almost 400 miles.  On and on this list goes.

So – I have been worried a lot lately about all these decisions and things to be done.

Then, today I read the words of my precious Savior in the Gospel of Luke.

“That is why I tell you, don’t worry about life, wondering what you are going to eat. And stop bothering about what clothes you will need. Life is much more important than food, and the body more important than clothes. Think of the ravens. They neither sow nor reap, and they have neither store nor barn, but God feeds them. And how much more valuable do you think you are than birds? Can any of you make himself an inch taller however much he worries about it? And if you can’t manage a little thing like this, why do you worry about anything else? Think of the wild flowers, and how they neither work nor weave. Yet I tell you that Solomon in all his glory was never arrayed like one of these. If God so clothes the grass, which flowers in the field today and is burnt in the stove tomorrow, is he not much more likely to clothe you, you little-faiths? You must not set your heart on what you eat or drink, nor must you live in a state of anxiety. The whole heathen world is busy about getting food and drink, and your Father knows well enough that you need such things. No, set your heart on his kingdom, and your food and drink.”

Jesus is not a Pollyanna, but He clearly reminds us that He knows what we need and He will supply.

So—Don’t worry!  Be Happy!

God is in control!

 

 

What is the “Joy of the Lord?”

Jesus laughing

We hear a lot from Christians about “the joy of the Lord.”  Often a verse from Nehemiah is quoted when speaking of joy.

The joy of the Lord is my strength.

But I wonder what does that mean?  What is the joy of the Lord and how does it give me strength?  I have found many times in my life when I was going through a difficult time and struggling with pain or sorrow that well-meaning people would quote that verse to me suggesting if I would just be “happy” I would find strength from the Lord to get me through this difficult circumstance.

If I would just adjust my attitude.

If I would just think positive thoughts.

If I would just “put on a happy face.”

Then, God would give me joy.

So – strength from God depended on me.  If in this time of despair I could just either “pretend” to be happy (“fake it ’til you make it”) or if I could somehow find some inner strength to think positive thoughts, God would give me joy and strength.  Our culture (and many TV preachers/teachers) tell us having the right attitude, having self-esteem, is the road to the joy of the Lord.

Yet we know that many great men of God did not always have a positive attitude.  Look at the Psalms.  They are full of times when David and others even questioned if God cared.

for you are my God, my only safe haven.  Why have you tossed me aside?

My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?
    Why are you so far away when I groan for help?
Every day I call to you, my God, but you do not answer.
    Every night I lift my voice, but I find no relief.

As I look at the verse in Nehemiah what stands out to me is that the joy Nehemiah is talking about is not some feeling I produce by my own ability to “put on a happy face” and adjust my attitude.  Rather, this joy is the joy OF THE LORD.  It is something that comes from God.  True joy, I submit, does not come from within me – it comes from without.

The joy of the Lord is not dependent on me adjusting my attitude or thinking positive thoughts.  I am not disputing that our thinking, out attitude does many times needs some work.  Paul wrote in Philippians:

Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.

And the writer of Proverbs told us:

For as he thinks in his heart, so is he.

But if having God’s joy is simply me thinking on things worthy of praise, then the joy of the Lord is not really from the Lord.  It is simply having a good philosophy or a good outlook on life.  That benefits those of us who have a tendency by nature to be positive, who bounce out of bed each morning ready for the day and get excited about the new coffee favor we just bought at Target.  However, it puts those who have a more melancholy personality and basically say “don’t talk to me until I have had my coffee” at a great disadvantage.

So – what is the joy of the Lord?  And how do we get it?

Take a look at the times Jesus spoke about joy.

In the Beatitudes he told us:

 What blessings await you when people hate you and exclude you and mock you and curse you as evil because you follow the Son of Man. When that happens, be happy! Yes, leap for joy!  For a great reward awaits you in heaven. 

One reason for joy, then, is the hope we have of what awaits us.  This life is not all there is for us.  Regardless of what is happening to me right now, I have a great future awaiting me and when I realize that I have something to look forward to it can give me a sense of peace and comfort.  This present circumstance may be terrible but it is not the end.

But how do I find joy in difficult times for the “here and now.”  Does this mean my only joy is in anticipating what will come in the future?  Can I find joy in this life now?

The Psalmist gave us the secret when he wrote:

in thy presence is fulness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore.

When we learn to stop running about and trying to solve everything ourself, when we take time to be still and quiet with the Lord, when we allow our minds to dwell on Him and His Word, we will find that joy that Peter wrote about that is:

At present you trust him without being able to see him, and even now he brings you a joy that words cannot express

The joy of the Lord gives us strength to face those difficult circumstances because it is the joy that comes from a real relationship with Him, not from something we can create.  I submit if you are lacking joy, ask yourself these questions:

  1. When was the last time I spend some time just sitting quietly reading God’s Word or listening to a good worship song and just remained quiet and allowed God to speak to my heart?
  2. When was the last time I took some moments to sincerely make a list of all the blessings God had given me and then took some time to truly thank Him?
  3. When was the last time I looked at the difficult situations in my life and asked God to show me where/how I could use these times to grow more like Him?

As we take time to focus on God, to allow Him to speak to us, as we come into His presence, there we will find the joy of the Lord.

Help us all Lord in the midst of our busy and crazy lives to take that time and allow You to minister to us of your love and fill us with your joy.