Saturday, September 11, 2010

Where were you when the Earth stopped turning?

I can't imagine a better way to observe September 11 than with this song.
Let us pray that all Americans would someday believe and live by the sentiments in Allan Jackson's lyrics.

I remember being dumbfounded that day. The sky was the most beautiful blue I'd ever seen. America would never be the same and we were all in shock for weeks.

This song was amazing what Jackson premiered it live on the Country Music Awards. It made me cry, as I'm sure it did millions.

Remember the families of the thousands who lost their lives that day. And remember 1 Corinthians 13:13

"Where Were You (When The World Stopped Turning)"

Where were you when the world stopped turning that September day
Out in the yard with your wife and children
Working on some stage in LA
Did you stand there in shock at the site of
That black smoke rising against that blue sky
Did you shout out in anger
In fear for your neighbor
Or did you just sit down and cry

Did you weep for the children
Who lost their dear loved ones
And pray for the ones who don't know
Did you rejoice for the people who walked from the rubble
And sob for the ones left below

Did you burst out in pride
For the red white and blue
The heroes who died just doing what they do
Did you look up to heaven for some kind of answer
And look at yourself to what really matters

I'm just a singer of simple songs
I'm not a real political man
I watch CNN but I'm not sure I can tell you
The difference in Iraq and Iran
But I know Jesus and I talk to God
And I remember this from when I was young
Faith hope and love are some good things he gave us
And the greatest is love

Where were you when the world stopped turning that September day
Teaching a class full of innocent children
Driving down some cold interstate
Did you feel guilty cause you're a survivor
In a crowded room did you feel alone
Did you call up your mother and tell her you love her
Did you dust off that bible at home
Did you open your eyes and hope it never happened
Close your eyes and not go to sleep
Did you notice the sunset the first time in ages
Speak with some stranger on the street
Did you lay down at night and think of tomorrow
Go out and buy you a gun
Did you turn off that violent old movie you're watching
And turn on "I Love Lucy" reruns
Did you go to a church and hold hands with some stranger
Stand in line and give your own blood
Did you just stay home and cling tight to your family
Thank God you had somebody to love

I'm just a singer of simple songs
I'm not a real political man
I watch CNN but I'm not sure I can tell you
The difference in Iraq and Iran
But I know Jesus and I talk to God
And I remember this from when I was young
Faith hope and love are some good things he gave us
And the greatest is love

I'm just a singer of simple songs
I'm not a real political man
I watch CNN but I'm not sure I can tell you
The difference in Iraq and Iran
But I know Jesus and I talk to God
And I remember this from when I was young
Faith hope and love are some good things he gave us
And the greatest is love

The greatest is love
The greatest is love

Where were you when the world stopped turning that September day

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Johnny Poppin 14; we are in him who is true

13I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life. 14This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. 15And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him.
 16If anyone sees his brother commit a sin that does not lead to death, he should pray and God will give him life. I refer to those whose sin does not lead to death. There is a sin that leads to death. I am not saying that he should pray about that. 17All wrongdoing is sin, and there is sin that does not lead to death.
 18We know that anyone born of God does not continue to sin; the one who was born of God keeps him safe, and the evil one cannot harm him. 19We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one. 20We know also that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true. And we are in him who is true—even in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life.
 21Dear children, keep yourselves from idols. ~I John 5:13-21
I'm not sure why it's taken me months to get back to writing about the books of 1 and 2 John. Could've just been busy-ness, summer classes and work, family, and church obligations. I think that I may have been unsure of what exactly to write about this part of Chapter 5. I think I may need to break this passage up a little.
13I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life. 
If you go back and read through my other commentaries on 1 John, you'll see that I've tried to make a point of explaining that John was writing to encourage believers and to warn them about false teachings that were cropping up.
14This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. 15And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him.
What an incredible thing! This is THE creator and ruler of the entire universe that we're talking about here- and we not only have permission, but are invited and encouraged to talk to Him! We can do this with "confidence." Prayer is not something that we should ever be afraid of.

Mind you, prayer is as much about God transforming us than it is about getting what we want from Him. He's not going to spoil us like Santa Claus or give us all we dream of like some kind of magic genie. He is a wise and loving parent who knows what's best for us and has plans for us. Thus if we ask anything "according to His will," we know that we as good as already have what we ask of Him.
"If anyone sees his brother commit a sin that does not lead to death, he should pray and God will give him life."
I'll be open here, verses 16-17 may have been the stumbling block that kept me from writing on chapter 5 for so long. Does John mean that we shouldn't pray for murderers? Should we not pray for those who struggle with suicidal thoughts? What about addictions or abuse that could eventually lead to death?

Although, I wondered- was John even talking about physical death? Or could he be talking about spiritual death? If that's the case, does he mean sin that makes us callused about sin itself and gradually separates us from God? Could he mean "debauchery," that is influencing or leading others into sin or away from God? Or does he mean absolute and final denying and denouncing of God, blasphemy to the point of completely rejecting God once and for all- no turning back?

Surely God wants us to intercede for everyone in prayer, even our worst enemies.

Well, I'm still not sure I completely get it, but I THINK that John is warning again about the heresies, the false teachings that were going around that claimed that Jesus was just another human and not God's only begotten Son, and some of them taught that anyone could become "godlike" if they just got in touch with their inner light.

A professor at the Dallas Theological Seminary (Baptist) puts it this way,
"Here, having implied that sins committed by believers (sins “not resulting in death”) may be prayed for and forgiven, the author does not want to leave the impression that such sin is insignificant, because this could be viewed as a concession to the views of the opponents (who as moral indifferentists have downplayed the significance of sin in the Christian’s life). Therefore he reminds his readers that all unrighteousness is sin." 
~Exegetical Commentary on 1 John 5:13-21 By: W. Hall Harris III
If I understand Professor Harris correctly, John is telling readers to pray for fellow believers whom they know of that are sinning, that they would repent and be forgiven. However, John considers the false teachers to not just be unbelievers, but to be beyond help.

Verses 16-17 were hard enough, but I managed to put that on a shelf in my "over-my-head, not necessary to get too hung-up on, ask God about it when I get to Heaven someday" department. But boy that verse 18, that really makes me feel ashamed.

Someone once said that the definition of "death" is "to stop sinning suddenly."

This again, is one of those times when we laymen with we could read Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic. It's also one of those times when context rears it's ugly head. Those of us who believe that the Bible is God's inspired Word like to think that all of it is written to all of us, regardless of what time we live in- yet we can't ignore the fact that the specific author had a specific intention of what he was trying to communicate to a specific audience in a specific place and time, facing specific dilemmas.

In this particular case, remember that John has been warning Christians about false teachers. He is saying that if you're really a believer and follower of Jesus, you aren't going to spread the kinds of lies or mislead people the way that these false prophets were.

When in doubt, "test the spirits" like John told us in 1 John 4:1. There are people who want us to think of them as "Christian," but ask them who they say that He is (Mark 8:29). Do they believe that He is true God? Do they believe that He genuinely died? Why did He die? Do they believe that He actually rose from the dead? Do they know why that matters?

Do they deny the doctrine of the Trinity like some Jehovah's Witnesses and 7th Day Adventists? Do they think that Jesus and Lucifer were brothers? Or that is we're good enough, we can all be gods of our own planets, like some Mormons? Do they think He was a great prophet and teacher, like Muslims and Buddhists? Do they think that He achieved some level of enlightenment or figured out how to tap into His inner-light or more effectively use obscure regions of His brain or become one with the energy force of the universe- things that if we're careful or lucky, we could accomplish too?

Verses 16-21 are basically telling us that if you are in Christ, you won't continue propagating the misinformation about Jesus that those who do not truly know Him keep spreading. If you "get" that, then 16-19 won't make you nervous and verses 20-21 will be incredibly encouraging. They might just make you want to shout "AMEN!"

Choose Love Not Power

One of the things that I feel strongly about when it comes to politics and religion which I hope this blog reflects, is that we should follow the example of Jesus, not the example of Machiavelli. It seems to me that if we want to call ourselves "Christian," we must adopt the humility and sacrifice of a servant-leader like Jesus. 

Too often people who think of themselves as Christian instead operate under the assumption that life is a zero-sum game, that we must win by controlling everything at all costs- thus the so called "culture wars." Part of the problem of this kind of militarism is that it presupposes that God can't win unless we do everything we can. Hello? Isn't He omnipotent? It also assumes that our perceptions of what needs to be made right is always absolutely correct and if He's not taking care of it, then we must. Hello? Isn't He omniscient and eternal? And aren't we each, and every one of us imperfect, impatient and mortal?

Perhaps the biggest problem with the "waging war in God's name to somehow reclaim the culture on His behalf" world view is that in our zeal, we too often fall into believing and living by the falsehood that "the ends justifies the means." If we believe that God opposes something we assume that it must be okay to do just about anything and roll over pretty much anyone in our quest to advance His "kingdom." 

First of all, "ends justifies the means" is from Machiavelli's "The Prince," whereas "Love your enemies and pray for those that persecute you" is from Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew. Second of all, some scholars now think that "The Prince" may have originally been intended as a political satire. In other words, he was making fun of power-hungry, manipulative, greedy politicos (like Steven Corbet does today), NOT offering sage advice on how to accumulate affluence or acquire and retain political power.

One of my favorite Christian authors, sociologist and political activist Tony Campolo has a new book, "Choose Love Not Power."  I'm looking forward to reading it and just listened to a series of radio interviews he gave on the subject. Campolo explains that Jesus (and our) authority doesn't come from negative campaign ads or signatures on petitions or position or prestige- but rather from credibility and that credibility comes as a result of love and service. Like the old saying, "They won't care what you know until they know that you care."

This is a great argument for good works. Not because you need to do good works to be saved (we are saved by grace) but 1) others need our help, 2) it shows love, and 3) it builds our credibility up so that we can speak with authority because people will know that we speak from love, not from some misguided compulsion to be in control.

In other words, if the Word is the seed, and the soil is a trampled path, a stony area, or a weedy spot- perhaps showing love and being wiling to become a servant will help plow, cultivate, or fertilize that soil so that it will be more receptive to the seed. 

Here is the podcast of Campolo's interviews:

“Choose Love Not Power” Interview

Tony Campolo delivered this sermon at World Christian Broadcasting Corporation in Franklin, TN on May 25, 2010

See notes on these interviews and links to other Campolo podcasts at his Web site:

    Sunday, September 05, 2010

    Bone Fire Blues- 1

    I started reading through the book of Jeremiah again today. I figured I may as well post about it since this is a faith-blog. I'm not planning on it being nearly as organized or formal as any of the Bible studies/reflections that I've done before on this blog. Which reminds me, I still have a couple more to write on 1 John, 2 John, and Philippians, each.

    Jeremiah appeals to me because he was trying to shake the people of Judah out of their spiritual complacency and challenge them to oppose social injustice. Jeremiah was written around 585 BC,  thirty years or so before Confucius was born in China and maybe twenty years before Aesop wrote his fables in Greece.

    God calls Jeremiah in chapter 1. He objects that he's too young and doesn't know what to say. God assures him that He knew the prophet "before I formed you in the womb," and God assures him that He had set him apart for a purpose.

    God directs Jeremiah to call the people of Judah on their idolatry, and assured the prophet that He's right behind him all the way.

    How awesome that God knows what you're capable of because He knows you better than yourself? How awesome to know that God can use you and has plans for you and that He wants to use you to make a difference. What a comfort to know that no matter how outrageous anything He asks you to do might be, He's gonna have your back?

    The people of Southern Israel (Judah) in Jeremiah's time not only were worshiping pagan idols, but much of that worship included ritual sex. In chapter 2, God compares His people to an unfaithful spouse, so you might say that they were both figuratively and literally acting like whores.

    I think that one of the most wonderful metaphors in the Bible is in verse 13,

    "My people have committed two sins:
    They have forsaken me,
    the spring of living water,
    and have dug their own cisterns,
    broken cisterns that cannot hold water."

    It reminds me of when Jesus tells us in John 7:38 that "Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him."

    I think that Jeremiah 2:13 is just so incredible. How often in our lives do we try  self-help, and self-improvement or think of ourselves as a self-made man and forfeit the ultimate source of faith, hope, love, confidence and grace? Why do we think we have to always be in control? What makes us think we're so great without God? Why wouldn't we want the best water? What would posses us to decline the amazing free blessings He offers? Trying to make ourselves god is the original sin, after all.

    How easy it is to ignore God and take Him for granted when things are going great- and take credit for our successes ourselves. Ah, but as soon as there's any trouble, that's when we all of a sudden want His help. Just like in Jeremiah Chapter 2, verses 27 and 28.

    There are two other valuable truths that struck me in chapter 2.

    I think that verse 19 makes it clear that when we suffer it is not God's active will to punish us, but rather His permissive will, permitting us to face the natural consequences of our sin. How bitter it is to be separated from God, from His love and parenting protection.

    "Your wickedness will punish you;
    your backsliding will rebuke you.
    Consider then and realize
    how evil and bitter it is for you
    when you forsake the LORD your God
    and have no awe of me,"
    declares the Lord, the LORD Almighty.

    Verse 20 reminds me of the Bob Dylan song, "Gotta Serve Somebody,"

    "You may be a construction worker working on a home
    You may be living in a mansion or you might live in a dome
    You might own guns and you might even own tanks
    You might be somebody’s landlord, you might even own banks

    But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
    You’re gonna have to serve somebody
    Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
    But you’re gonna have to serve somebody"

    In verse 20, God complains that His people broke away because they didn't want to serve Him, yet they "prostituted" themselves, letting themselves be used and enslaved by everyone but Him:

    "Long ago you broke off your yoke
    and tore off your bonds;
    you said, 'I will not serve you!'
    Indeed, on every high hill
    and under every spreading tree
    you lay down as a prostitute

    What a wonderful image in verse 21 though, that He plants us and tends and cares for us like the choicest vines. "I had planted you like a choice vine of sound and reliable stock." If only we would trust Him, imagine what masterful expertise as a gardener He would have.

    John 15:1-8
    I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. 2He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes[a] so that it will be even more fruitful.3You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you.4Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.

    5"I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.6If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. 7If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. 8This is to my Father's glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.

    Watch for more musings on the book of Jeremiah in the coming months- probably shorter and more random, but always from the heart and from the fire locked up in my bones.

    Friday, September 03, 2010

    Glenn Beck a Mormon

    I should be somewhat careful here not to malign any and all Mormons out there. I really believe that the majority of Mormons believe in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior the way most mainline-denomination Christians do and are unaware of many of their church's actual doctrines or the inner-workings of their religion's hierarchy. But as you know FOX television and right-wing radio pundit Glenn Beck has been ramping up the religious rhetoric on his show and characterized his recent "restoring honor" rally in Washington D.C. with Sarah Palin as an opportunity for America to return to God.

    My hope is that thoughtful Christians be aware of Beck's religious background. My suspicion is that, like many public figures, he is misusing religion as a populist weapon to stir up political division in his favor. You may think that my concern is either because he has been critical of politically progressive Christians, trying to make people believe that terms like "social justice" and "community activism" are code for communist, atheist or socialist or even Muslim. Or you might think that I am jealous of Beck's attempt to co-opt the legacy of the civil rights movement of the 1950's and 60's. While both of these are things that bother me a great deal, my greatest concern is that well meaning Christians, Protestant, Catholic, and Evangelical are becoming caught-up in what seems to be a spiritual fervor of what Beck no doubt hopes will become a movement- when in fact, in the strictest sense, Beck himself is not actually Christian.

    Glenn Beck is also a convert to the Mormon faith, joining the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1999 along with his wife and children. Despite Glenn’s Catholic upbringing, he and his wife were inactive in the church. Eventually Glenn and his wife Tania went church shopping to find the faith that they could share as a family. A long time friend encouraged them to try the LDS and eventually Beck asked his friend to baptize him Mormon. 

    Before you stop reading or imagine that I am trying to "get back" for Beck or other conservatives for perpetuating the lie that President Obama is not Christian, please hear me out. I grew up in Phoenix Arizona, a very conservative place. A place where the dominant religion is Mormonism. The Lutheran Church went to great lengths to educate it's members about the history and theology of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Much of it's information has been provided by former Mormons. In Phoenix, the political and economic power brokers of the Mormon Church were more feared than the Mafia.

    According to Christian scholars Ed Decker and Dave Hunt, the Mormon Church still believes and teaches that Jesus was begotten through a sexual relationship between God the Father and Mary. Jesus and Lucifer are brothers. Mormons will become "gods and goddesses" and enjoy the eternal pleasure of celestial sex. Women and minorities have been viewed as lesser beings than white males. Some Mormon doctrines still justifies the practices of blood atonement and polygamy. 60 - 80% of Mormon converts (Church of Jesus Christ of Later Day Saints) come from Christian backgrounds. The LDS Church spends millions trying to convince the public that they are more "Christian" than the Christians. The LDS is one of the largest and most powerful business corporations in the world.

    One of the goals of the LDS is to install Mormons into positions of National and eventual World leadership. I'll be honest with you, this is one of the reasons why I was so disappointed that so many Christians supported Mitt Romney in the last election. Some have speculated that Beck's "Restoring Honor" rally may have been a way of testing the waters for either a possible Presidential run, or possibly running as Sarah Palin's running mate.  A recent article in the Washington Post suggested that Beck seeks to advance a "restoration theology," in which God tells Beck how to rewrite America's laws, establishing a theocracy.

    Again, I do not mean to slander or offend Mormons. Most of the Mormons I have known in my life are wonderful people, devoted to Jesus and to their families and communities. And I may be wrong in thinking that Glenn Beck's motives are deceptive or some how sinister. I tend to think that he is more intoxicated by his fame, influence, and wealth and that he is merely mistaken or misguided about using religion to fire up enthusiasm for libertarian political ideology. Be that as it may, I want all of my Christian friends, Republicans, Democrats and Independents alike to be fully informed about Beck and the LDS before jumping on the Glenn Beck bandwagon- or, to consider jumping off if they're already on.

    I respect and appreciate that for many Christians, issues of abortion and gay-marriage are very influential in our politics and voting- as the issues of poverty and civil rights are to others, but we should always be careful in our passion for what we believe in, not to get swept away by those who would take advantage of our beliefs. We don't want to "strain out a gnat but swallow a camel." (Matthew 23:23-24).

    I encourage everyone to buy or borrow a copy of the movie, Temple of the Godmakers from Jeremiah Films, often your church library or Thrivent agency may already have a copy. I do not wish to stir up any kind of Mormo-phobia the way some have incited Islamaphobia lately, but I do want people who accept and believe the teachings of the Apostles' and Nicean Creeds to be completely aware of the origins and official doctrines of religions that claim to be Christian but don't know Jesus quite the way that more orthodox denominations do.

    Official stance on the LDS of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod:
    Q. Are Mormons generally regarded as Christians, and how do their beliefs differ from those of the Missouri Synod?
    A. The Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod, together with the vast majority of Christian denominations in the United States, does not regard the Mormon church as a Christian church. That is because the official writings of Mormonism deny fundamental teachings of orthodox Christianity. For example, the Nicene Creed confesses the clear biblical truth that Jesus Christ, the second Person of the Trinity, is "of one substance with the Father." This central article of the Christian faith is expressly rejected by Mormon teaching -- thus undermining the very heart of the scriptural Gospel itself. In a chapter titled "Jesus Christ, the Son of God: Are Mormons Christian?" the president of Brigham Young University (Rex Lee, What Do Mormons Believe? [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1992] summarizes Mormon teaching by stating that the three persons of the Trinity are "not... one being" (21), but are "separate individuals." In addition, the Father is regarded as having a body "of flesh and bone" (22). Such teaching is contrary to the Holy Scriptures, destructive to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and indicative of the fact that Mormon teaching is not Christian. 

    For more information about beliefs of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints read this document prepared by the Commission on Theology and Church Relations. ( source )

    Thursday, September 02, 2010

    Fear and Loathing in America

    Another great example of how 1 John 4:18 is definitely not the dominant mood of our country right now.

    Tim Eagan
    The Press Democrat
    Sep 2, 2010