Monday, October 29, 2012

If God were King # 2... We Would Treat His Blessings His Way (Deut. 1-6)

             I read a while back that in trying to build up the Roman Empire, the emperors needed soldiers. To motivate volunteers, recruits were told that if they served the required length of time, they would be granted full Roman citizenship. The catch, however, was that they were required to inhabit special cities called colonies.
            The thought was these former citizens were to create a “little Rome.” Paul wrote a letter to one such colony—Philippi. Perhaps it raised the antennas of the Christians there when Paul wrote,  “But our citizenship is in heaven.”
            Paul was calling the Philippian Christians to create a little heaven on earth.
            In Deuteronomy, you have the vision of what a nation would look like if God were King. Israel, on the verge of entering the Promise Land, is reminded by God through Moses that their citizens were to serve as representatives of Jehovah. As one commentator put it, “They could, by their spiritual behavior and devotion, appeal to the hearts of their neighbors. On the other hand, with spiritual disobedience, they could become caught up in useless and destructive pursuits.”
            Within this context, words were spoken, which you know well:           

5 Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your being, and all your strength. 6 These words that I am commanding you today must always be on your minds. 7 Recite them to your children. Talk about them when you are sitting around your house and when you are out and about, when you are lying down and when you are getting up. 8 Tie them on your hand as a sign. They should be on your forehead as a symbol. 9 Write them on your house’s doorframes and on your city’s gates.

             We typically teach that this passage is talking about teaching our kids spiritual lessons about loving and serving God faithfully. Certainly, it is.
             But we forget this teaching had a very practical component. For the Israelites, what did loving God look like? Among other things, it meant being a good steward of God’s gracious blessings. And before they entered the land, the Lord warned them to beware of forgetfulness after their homes were full of good things.
            Are our homes full of good things today? You bet.
            Some estimates I’ve seen state that the U.S. occupies 6% of the world’s land, contains 7% of the world population, and 67% of the world's wealth. Certainly, most of us sit at tables loaded with good food, drive wherever we want to go, send our kids to college, and, when we are sick, have access to the best health care in the world.
            Do we appreciate our good things?
            Do we by our spiritual behavior and devotion appeal to the hearts of our neighbors, or, by our spiritual disobedience, have we become caught up in useless and destructive pursuits?        
            Do we harden the hearts of our neighbors?
            Do we carve out a little bit of heaven here on Earth?
            Call me idealistic, but if we will carve out a colony of heaven here on earth, our nation will be a good place to live.

Monday, October 22, 2012

If God Were King

             I have been interested in politics and government all of my adult life. In 2011, in anticipation of this year’s election, I attempted to cultivate a theology of government.
            That project didn’t last long.
            Later, I began studying the book of Deuteronomy. I had never preached Deuteronomy and desired to do so to our Sunday night group.
            While journeying through Deuteronomy, I came as close as I ever will to a compiling a theology of government. I preached it in detail in the spring. I thought I would share in this blog some of my amazing insights (he said tongue planted firmly in cheek).
            The thing about Deuteronomy is it comes the closest to telling us what God was thinking when it comes to running a country. God inspired Moses to preach sermons; in them, Moses is saying, in essence, God is King… here is how he wants his nation run. I believe Moses’ words offers us insight today, which we can apply to our own nation.
            [Disclaimer: In Deuteronomy, God was talking to an ancient people in the Middle East 3500 years ago. No direct one-to-one correlation should be made between that ancient government and the United States of America. Attempts to do so may cause arthritis, stomach cramps, high blood pressure, and irritation. If any of these symptoms appear, please consult a doctor.]
            Now, one thing I was reminded of in this great book: God shows his love for people by becoming involved in their lives. He showed his love for the Hebrews in Egypt by rescuing them from the tyranny of the Egyptians.
            He expected a response from these rescued slaves: wholehearted love and devotion to God. They were to offer God heart, soul, mind, and strength, and they were to offer it to God alone (Deut. 6:5-6.)
            The natural result of this commitment was love for one’s neighbor. As one has stated, since these people were loved by God, they were qualified to extend God’s love to their neighbors—Israelites or otherwise. (When Jesus was talking about the Great Commandment and how to live it out, this perhaps was what he was thinking.)
            Unfortunately, this did not occur naturally. To keep people from hurting and killing each other, God gave humanity government.
            Now, regarding us today, as God blessed those Hebrews, so has he blessed us. How will we apply those blessings? How do we love our neighbor?
            Doug McIntosh, in his commentary on Deuteronomy, illustrates the importance of this point. There was a fellow who lost control of his car and crashed into the front porch of another’s house. Rescue crews and other skilled groups arrived on the scene.
            A utility crew began checking for gas leaks. They discovered that the homeowner’s chimney and gas pipes were clogged by rubbish. As a result, carbon monoxide had been seeping into the house for a while.
            For two years, the homeowner had been experiencing flulike symptoms, trembling, headaches, chills, and nausea. He had also been blacking out occasionally. The owner had no explanation for any of this.
            Because of the accident, the homeowner was able to address the problems in his house, and his symptoms vanished. Without that wreck, he may have died as a result of the poisonous gas.
            Strangely enough, the homeowner had formerly made his living… as a building contractor. He knew the blessings of chimneys and furnaces, and he knew how dangerous furnaces and chimneys could be. He had always warned his customers to check them two or three times a year. Nevertheless, he had never checked his own.
            A lot of American citizens today are guilty of the spiritual equivalent. God has blessed us with a nation that is, compared to others, healthy and safe. However, provision must be made to keep things in check.
            Human nature produces a lot of “rubbish.” Unchecked, that rubbish—selfishness, greed, immorality, or whatever form it may take—can poison us all. God has given human beings government to address this problem and to facilitate the proper application of the blessings of God.
            May we the people apply the blessings of God in the proper way. 

Monday, October 15, 2012

The Secret to Unity

            I believe in the goal of unity. After all, Jesus called his followers to be unified.
            Now, how do you live that unity?
            Scripture teaches us that, if we are truly serious about pursuing the life of Christ, if we truly desire to be remade into the image of Christ, an integral part of this process is making disciples of Jesus.
            Jesus came to earth to make relationships with people, which is another way of saying Jesus came to make disciples in his image. When we give birth to spiritual babies, and dedicate ourselves to helping them grow up to be like Jesus, we are ourselves becoming more like Jesus.
            In a church, no greater question can be asked than this: what do the (new Christians) babies need? Unfortunately, it is rare churches ask this question. Usually, if members of churches are honest, including those members who should be more mature, the question they will often find themselves asking is this: what do I need? Or, more crudely, what do I want?
            Often the result of this is that baby Christians fall away; meanwhile, Christians who should be more mature spiritually gorge themselves, consuming what they wish. All the while, baby (young) Christians are starving to death.
            If we in churches ask ourselves, “What do the babies need?”, we will cover all of the important things of the Bible. We will emphasize the Lordship of Christ; we will emphasize the sound doctrine of Scripture; we will create strong relationships with these baby Christians to help them grow up; and we will learn how to prioritize and serve them.
            Probably the most difficult implication of asking the question, “What do the babies need?” is the fact that we would have to give up so much more than we would like. This is good for the spiritual babies, AND this is good for us as well.
            For a married couple, nothing could be more stressful than to bring a child into the family. Some marriages break up because of their inability to cope with the responsibilities of parenting. But in those marriages where the husband and wife, the mother and father, are able to prioritize and ask, “What does the baby need?”, they will find as a serendipity more maturity and unity.
            Many married couples discover they can sacrifice extensively when they recognize a young life is at stake. Raising healthy babies is more important than their own wants and desires. On a spiritual level, this premise lies at the core of Paul’s admonition to the Roman Christians in Rom. 14-15.
            I am convicted to the core that more churches can find maturity and unity if they will submit themselves to the transcending goal of training up new Christians, spiritual children, in the ways of the Lord.
            May those children never depart from Him.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Spiritual Infertility

            As I have written before, I have never met an infertile couple, who did not express great pain and disappointment over the reality of their lives. They always yearned to have children.
            When it comes to Christians, I rarely see this attitude regarding spiritual infertility. I am not saying that when we are spiritually unfruitful, we should be beating our chests, dressing in sackcloth, and pouring ashes over our heads.
            Yet, scripture shows us a God who yearns for us to have spiritual children, much more than we do. He also goes to great lengths to see that it happens. We can observe this in two stark ways.
            First, he desired spiritual children so much he was willing to allow his Son to carry a cross. Indeed, he engineered the events of the cross. The cross was no accident.
            Second, God desires spiritual children so much that he is willing to allow his church to carry a cross. That is what happened in the book of Acts. Jesus told his disciples to take the gospel to Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. 
           Unfortunately, the Jerusalem church did not do this. The Jerusalem church was content to remain infertile and not allow the Gentiles to be born into the Kingdom of God, so God allowed the Jerusalem church to carry the cross. Specifically, that was seen in the persecution she experienced, which drove the Gospel ultimately to the ends of the earth. Gentiles at last entered into the Kingdom, in droves.
            How badly does God want to have spiritual babies? Enough to allow his church today (whom he loves) to carry a cross—even if it means experiencing persecution.
            I doubt we will ever want to have spiritual babies that much, but we all probably need to ratchet up our desire a few notches. The cross tells us God badly wants to have more spiritual babies; do we?

Monday, October 1, 2012

The Measure of Accomplishment

           A few years ago, Warren  Buffett led a discussion amongst some of his closest friends. The premise they were pondering was from Andrew Carnegie—“He who dies rich dies disgraced.” The group dialoguing the subject contained some of the richest people in the world.
            When he had the opportunity to speak, Bill Gates asked an important question, “Shouldn’t the measure of accomplishment be how many lives you can save with a given amount of money?”
            Gates was referring to physical lives, and his question makes a valid point. I believe, however, the more profound question is this: shouldn’t the measure of accomplishment be how many spiritual lives you can save with a given amount of money?”
            After all, Jesus once said, “What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?” (Mark 8:36.)
            If all this world has to offer one’s physical life is ultimately not enough, then clearly anything less will not be sufficient either.
            For this reason, I believe we need to reassess our emphasis on helping people. If all we offer the world is the physical (which is never enough), and we never get around to addressing the spiritual needs of people, what have we accomplished? 

Source: THE SNOWBALL by Alice Schroeder