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.

 

Seeing the World of Rabbi Jesus with New Eyes

Do you ever read something in the Bible and think “what in the world does that mean”?

Do you ever read something in the Bible and think “that doesn’t sound right?”

Do you ever read something in the Bible and wonder “how does that fit in today’s society?”

Well – I have done all of the above.

Recently I read a book that really help shed light on why I do not always “get it” when I read God’s Word.

The book is called Reading the Bible with Rabbi Jesus.  Written by Lois Tverberg, I highly recommend it if you want to gain a better understanding of what you read in the Bible.  After earning a Ph.D in biology and teaching in college she started learning Hebrew and Greek, studying in the land of Israel and searching for more knowledge of the first-century Jewish world in which Jesus lived, died and rose again.

What she discovered was that not only are we thousands of years from the time the Bible was written but an even greater obstacle to our understanding is we are from a different culture.

She listed a few of the differences in our culture which I found very interesting and eye-opening.  (The following is copied from her book.)

Our world:  Thin is beautiful                                    Biblical world:  Fat is blessing, wealth

Our world:  Youth is attractive                                 Biblical world:  Age is wisdom

Our world:  Does God exist?                                     Biblical world:  Whose god is greatness?

Our world:  Me – personal goals                              Biblical world:  We – family legacy

Our world:  Sunshine – happiness                          Biblical world:  Rain – utter joy

Our world:  Logic and reason                                 Biblical world:  Parable and prophecy

She pointed out that Bible translators have found that many cultures today have less difficulty understanding the Bible when it is translated into their language than we in the Western world do.

often the cultural issues we have with the Bible are not a problem for people elsewhere in the world.  They’ve struggled with the Christian message as they’ve heard it filtered through the perspective of Western missionaries, but when it’s explained in its original non-Western setting, it makes much more sense to them.”

Perhaps the problem is not the number of years between us and the writers of the Bible as it is the number of miles between our Western culture and the Middle East culture.

I found a lot of her points in the list above to be true when I spent some time in the Philippines.  Over and over people I met would say “you are fat.”  (I am actually fat now but at the time no one in the USA would have considered me overweight.)   Until I understood their culture I felt insulted and that they were the rudest people I had ever met.  Only after living there a few months did I understand they meant that as a compliment.  Clearly by not being very thin I obviously had plenty of money to buy food and was therefore a successful person.

Tverberg also explains how many Jewish words have so much depth and multiple meanings than our English words.  Recognizing that really helps when we read things that tell us to “fear” God or when we forgive we must “forget.”

After reading this book, I am ready to do more studying on the Hebrews meaning of words and delving more into the Mid-Eastern culture.

Interested in learning more too?  I highly recommend this book and follow her on FB at Our Rabbi Jesus (Lois Tverberg) where she breaks down the meaning of many Hebrew words to help us get a better understanding of exactly what the Bible means.

Check it out!

 

 

 

 

My Husband Says

During my marriage to my pastor husband, I have kept scrapbooks of our many years in ministry.  Looking through the scrapbooks tonight I came across the pages from when my husband retired as pastor.  (This was his first retirement.  He came out of retirement twice – once to serve with me as worship pastors, once to be an interim pastor for a local church.)

Part of the ceremony of that day included a bulletin summarizing some of his work.  Looking at the bulletin, I found his “Top Ten Sayings.”

Thought perhaps some might find them interesting.  Some are a little amusing but many contain a truth to consider.

  • Say “no” to sin and “yes” to God.
  • Eternity is too long to be wrong.
  • What part of “thou shalt not” did you not understand?
  • You have a right to be wrong if you want to.
  • There is more to serving God than 11 am on Sunday morning.
  • Emotion without devotion is just commotion.
  • Serving God is walking straight after you repent.
  • I never saw a U-Haul behind a hearse.
  • If you want something out of church, put something in.
  • It is not what Grandma told you, what you think or what you saw that is the truth, but what “thus says the Lord.”

Stand Firm – Love Well

My church has been doing a sermon series on the book of Daniel.  At first glance you might wonder how a book written thousands of years ago has any relevance to today.  As I listened to the messages each week I found it clearly spoke to our current culture today.

As a Christ follower I often find myself in total disagreement with the values all around me.  Much of society speaks and acts in ways so opposed to the words of Jesus Christ.  Everywhere I look – entertainment, fashion and especially politics I find much to disagree with and can often find myself feeling overwhelmed.

How should I respond to my culture when I am so many times in disagreement with it?

Probably each generation thinks they are the first ones to face this perplexing situation – when our own values and lifestyle seem so different from the lifestyles about us.

But we are not the first.

Looking at Daniel we see a young man taken by force from his own home and placed forcefully into a totally alien culture.  The food was different, the religion was different, the customs were different.  Even his name was changed from a name that meant “God is My Judge” to Belteshazzar which meant “Bel protects his life.”  His very identity as a believer in the God of Israel was challenged by this new name honoring an idol god of the Babylonians.

I struggle with the friction between speaking the truth, not backing down from the principles I strongly believe to be right and showing the love of God to those whose beliefs are different than mine.

How do we “stand firm” but “love well.”

Daniel is a good example of that.

He and his friend stood firm on their foundation of faith refusing to bow down to idols and continuing to speak to God when the king said they could pray to no one but himself.  They were willing to lose their lives for their belief in God.

However, if you read Daniel’s interaction with the king he was always respectful and never spoke in anger or showed irritation with the king.  He served within the Babylonian government and obviously worked for the good of the government disobeying only when his basic belief in God was challenged.

We need to follow his example.

Stand firm – never compromise our principles even when it may led to persecution or difficulty.

Love well – never treat those who disagree with us with disrespect or hatred.

My pastor ended Sunday’s sermon with a powerful question:  Do we truly love our enemies as Jesus told us to do.  We often say to “hate the sin, but love the sinner” but in truth do we love the sinner?

A great example of this today I feel is how so many famous Christian ministers are calling for the church to pray for Donald Trump.  We should do so.  The Bible clearly tells us to pray for those who are in authority over us.

But where is the call for pray for Nancy Pelosi or Adam Schiff?  The Bible clearly tells us to pray for those who persecuted us.

Regardless of where you fall on the political spectrum – which ever politician you would view as the enemy, I challenge you to pray for them.

Let us Stand firm but love well!

 

 

Do I Reflect Being With Jesus?

Every Sunday I meet after church with a small group to study the Bible and right now we have started walking through the book of Acts.

One story in chapter 4 of that book really makes me stop and examine my own Christian witness.

Peter and John had been brought before the religious leaders who were disturbed at the message they were sharing with the people.  A message that Jesus had risen from the dead.  A message of hope for salvation in those who believed their report.

After careful questioning they ordered them to never speak or teach again in the name of Jesus.  They answered that “We cannot stop telling about everything we have seen and heard. “

History tells us that they did not stop but later it is reported that in Thessalonica it was said of the followers of Jesus “they have turned the world upside down.”

What caught my eye in this passage of scripture is the religious leaders description of Peter and John.  They were amazed at the boldness of these ordinary men who had no special training in theology.  They recognized these two as men who had “been with Jesus.”

How was it these ordinary fishermen became bold and successful messengers of the Good News that Jesus Christ died and rose again and that belief in Him led to salvation?

They had spent time with Jesus.

Examination of my own life makes me question.

Does my witness to the goodness of Jesus reflect that I have spent time with Him?

My language, my attitude, my compassion, my awareness of the needs of others, how I spent my time and my money – would people say of me that “she has been with Jesus”?

That is my prayer today.

Heavenly Father, help me to spend time with you – in Your Word, in Your house, with fellow believers, in quiet times of worship.  Help me turn off the television, the internet, stop fussing about having a perfect house.  Keep me from the things that would distract me from time with you.  Then, help live in practice of what I profess to believe.  Help me treat others so that they will know I have been with You.

 

 

 

 

Is Your Body Suffering?

Today I went to church.  I walked from my car in a public parking lot with my Bible in my hand and never once felt afraid.  Entering the foyer of my church, I visited with fellow worshipers in front of large windows without once looking to see if anyone was watching us.  When it was time for the service to start I joined with others as we sang loudly and our musicians played loudly without worrying that someone might hear us and report us to the police.  My pastor stood up and gave a sermon reading from the Bible without any fear of being dragged out of the church and off to jail.

For me the worst persecution I might face because of my beliefs is hearing some comedian make fun of Christians.  But I really know nothing about real persecution

Today was the National Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church.  I wonder how many churches actually took time to pray for their brothers and sisters who face real difficulties because of their belief in Jesus Christ.

The book of 1 Corinthians compared the church to a body.  In that chapter it states:

“If one part suffers, every part suffers with it…”

One group who documents persecution in other countries has listed North Korea as the country with the worst persecution of Christians.  To be a Christian in North Korea is to be seen as an enemy of the state.  If someone is found to be a Christian they are treated as a criminal and sent to labor camps or even killed.  Their family also faces harsh treatment.  They cannot meet openly and it is very dangerous for them to gather in more than groups of two or three.  Because being a Christian is so dangerous, it is even hard to know if someone you meet is also a believer as everyone has to remain secretive about their faith.

In Afghanistan no expression of faith except Islam is permitted.  To become a Christian is seen as betrayal of the family, the tribe and country.  Anyone who becomes a Christian is exposing themselves to death even by the hands of their own family.  They are considered to have brought shame on the family and the family honor must be protected at any cost.

In India it is the radical Hindu nationalists who view Christianity as alien to their way of life.  Christians are often physically attacked and churches burned or bombed.

In Myanmar persecution of Christians (and other ethnic minorities) is backed by the army which leans toward Communism.  More than 100,000 Christians live in camps for displaced persons, deprived of access to food and health care.  Buddhist monks have taken over churches and made shrines to Buddha on the church property.

These are only a few of the places where the body of Christ is suffering.  The causes range from corrupt government to the various other religions of the world.

But today as fellow Christians are suffering, I have to ask myself if the body of Christians in America share in any way in their suffering.  Where are the prayers?  Where is the concern?

I believe a large part of the problem is we simply do not know how we can help.  Here are a few suggestions:

  •  Become informed.  There are several organizations that can help you gain more understanding of the persecution taking place around the world.
  • Pray.  We often under estimate the power of prayer.
  • Write letters to those who are in prison.   Many who have been released from prison have testified how much getting letters meant to them, giving them courage to endure.
  • Become a spokesman for helping the persecuted church.

The writer of Hebrews tells us to “Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.”

Here are a few organizations that work with the persecuted church.  Check them out and learn what you can do to help.

  1. OpenDoors: One of the most well-known ministries advocating for the persecuted church. (Write, Pray, Donate, Advocate, Learn)
  2. Voice of the Martyrs: Another well-known ministry that raises awareness and provides support for the persecuted church. (Write, Pray, Donate, Advocate, Learn)
  3. Samaritan’s Purse: Their ministry focuses on providing physical and spiritual aid to people around the world. They also provide opportunities to donate to the persecuted church. (Donate)
  4. PrisonAlert: Prison Alert is part of Voice of the Martyrs. (Advocate, Write, Donate, Pray)
  5. Be-a-Voice: Part of Voice of the Martyrs as well. It focuses on providing prayer points and writing letters to the persecuted church. (Pray, Write)
  6. icommittopray.com  (Pray)

Part of the body of Christ is suffering?  How does it effect you?  Are you suffering with them?

 

 

Good Advice from the Apostle John

In our devotion today my husband and I read the New Testament epistle 1 John.  Written by one of the disciples of Jesus the letter is, of course, giving advice about spiritual matters.

However, in light of today’s constant barrage of information from cable news, newspaper and magazines, twitter and Facebook accounts, I find his advice very timely and practical for our daily life.

His words:

My dear friends don’t believe everything you hear.  Carefully weigh and examine what people tell you.  

Oh, that we would all be careful and examine what we hear.  I see many people on Facebook sharing something they see that expresses their own view on a subject and they post it on their wall without ever checking to see who the post was from and if it is accurate.

Then, sadly, people begin repeating things they heard or saw as if it were true.

Let us follow St John’s advice and check for facts behind what we see or hear.

Something my husband says a lot applies here too:

Be careful of listening to half-truths.  You may have heard the wrong half.