Discovering what’s real

Back in the day, I wrote an occasional column for The Saginaw (Mich.) News. I received far more feedback from one column in particular than I did for any other. The headline on that column, published Oct. 24, 2006, was:

Fake news pundit doesn’t help, could hurt Spirit

I was writing about “fake news” almost 11 years ago. Many readers didn’t appreciate it, either.

Who was the “fake news pundit?” None other than Stephen Colbert.

What is the “Spirit” that I was referring to? The minor league hockey team that called – and still calls – Saginaw home. The team name is the Saginaw Spirit.

spiritmascot

The Spirit had held a contest to name a mascot. Colbert found out about it, entered a name and won the contest. Steagle Colbeagle the Eagle.

In the column, I said I didn’t think Colbert and the cumbersome mascot name he entered would help the Spirit much. (So much for my prognostication. Steagle Colbeagle the Eagle lives on today.)

I went further, though: I wrote that Colbert’s persona opposed the family values that the team stood for. Colbert, on his show The Colbert Report, which aired from 2005 to 2014, bounced back and forth between his real self and his alter ego, which centered around his essential rightness about the issues of the day, according to one reviewer.

Several readers told me to lighten up, to take a joke, that in his personal life Colbert is a strong family man. Good points, all.

But life then, and even more so now, is a combination of real and fake, with fake too often taking center stage in our lives. Was I wrong to point that out in 2006?

Real vs. fake

What’s worse, today we often don’t know the difference between real and fake. It’s not as simple as moving between a real self and an alter ego. For many, I fear the alter ego has become real.

When my alter ego clashes with yours, we have a disagreement we can’t resolve. Because the clash isn’t about what’s real. It’s about our perceptions of reality.

book-of-discipline

I first saw this a long time ago in the United Methodist Church. I worshiped in that denomination for many years. One of its core foundations, according to The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church, is this “theological guideline:” Scripture, tradition, experience and reason.

The founder of Methodism, John Wesley, “believed that the living core of the Christian faith was revealed in Scripture, illumined by tradition, vivified in personal experience and confirmed by reason.”

In other words, we need to understand those four concepts in that order: Scripture first, then tradition, then personal experience and finally reason.

But many in the United Methodist Church change the order. They start with reason or experience, and use Scripture and possibly tradition to justify their experiences.

An immovable clash ensues.

Case in point: homosexuality.

Elsewhere in the Book of Discipline is the statement that homosexuality is “incompatible with Christian teaching.”

Some people within the church have been trying for a half-century, since the 1960s, to remove that language from the Book of Discipline. They say experience and reason come before Scripture, and find various Bible verses to justify their position.

Because they read the Bible differently than the “Scripture first” folks do, they come up with a different conclusion.

Reality exists

So, which side is right? Which is “real” and which is “fake?”

Depends who you ask.

I can give all the arguments I want for my position, and those of you on the other side won’t change your mind. And vice versa.

Does that mean reality doesn’t exist, or that reality is in the eye of the beholder?

No. Reality does exist.

velveteen rabbit

As a child I read The Velveteen Rabbit, a children’s book first published in 1922 that chronicles the story of a stuffed rabbit and his desire to become real, through the love of his owner.

The owner, a small boy, at first preferred more modern and mechanical toys. Eventually the boy’s nanna gave the rabbit to the boy to sleep with to replace a lost toy, and the stuffed rabbit became his favorite toy.

The Velveteen Rabbit helped the boy through a serious illness; when the doctor ordered his room disinfected and everything in the room – including the rabbit – destroyed, the rabbit learns what it means to be real.

In real life, as with the Velveteen Rabbit, it often takes tragedy or a crisis to discover what reality really is. When something meaningful is lost, what remains?

One of my Facebook friends posted this recently:

The truth of the matter is that, in many ways, we’re all fakes. Facebook is “fakebook” where we put only our best face forward because we all long to be loved. We present portraits of ourselves we hope will get us love. But the good news is that God loves us REALy. He sees the REAL us and says, “I love you. You were made by Me. And my arms are open to you.” True, deep joy is found in the grace of the cross. He really is the answer.

Truth

When trying to discover “truth,” a good friend offers this litmus test: If it’s true for me, for my 100-year-old grandmother in Oklahoma and for a starving child in Africa, then it must be true.

I can’t determine truth on my own. Truth must be true for you as well as for me, or it isn’t truth.

Even more than that, it must be true for all people in all cultures in all nations in all time periods, past, present and future. That’s how we determine truth.

When I took on Stephen Colbert in 2006, I picked the wrong fight. “Fake news” and “real news” are much bigger than that.

For real.

See the big picture

The devil is in the details.

According to Wikipedia (not my usual first source for details, but useful on occasion), that phrase refers to something that might seem simple at a first look but will take more time and effort to complete than expected.

This applies to numerous issues in today’s America. We get caught up in one or two details that we think make our point, and ignore other details – or, more important, the big picture – which might prove that we really don’t know what we’re talking about.

I’m becoming more of a big picture person these days. Details are important, of course, but only as they fit into the grand scheme of things.

Let’s start with a couple of Facebook pass-along one-liners that I often ignore, but these two got my attention this time.

Adultery

homosexuality

This post, by an ordained minister, defends homosexuality by saying that it’s not in the Ten Commandments, while adultery is.

My response:

Homosexuality is one form of adultery. Sex outside traditional marriage. You’re right, though; we’ve too often ignored the “traditional” adultery.

That generated a couple of responses:

Yes, traditional marriage such as marrying two of your cousins who happen to be sisters (Genesis 29), or a rape victim being required to marry their aggressor (Deuteronomy 22:28-29).

 

I have always thought it a very curious obsession, especially when read within the context of the chapters that surround it (e.g. no shellfish, no mixed garment clothing … I routinely break lots of those, but I don’t see anyone demonizing me for my impure behavior.

Given the objectively far more serious things humans can do to one another (e.g. murder, assault), it just seems like small potatoes for flawed humans to judge other humans so harshly based on what they deem are “bigger” flaws.

Here’s another one:

ignore

Don’t wear clothing of mixed cotton and wool! Leviticus 19:19

As long as we’re looking at “the context of the chapters that surround it,” let’s show that both of these posts do not do that. The Genesis 29 passage refers to Jacob marrying Leah and then Rachel. That wasn’t his first choice, but he followed the rules set by the girls’ father. The man married off his own daughters that way. And in the Genesis time period, when there weren’t very many people around, marrying cousins was not unusual.

The man buying the bride he raped is not “traditional” marriage, nor does the Bible call it that.

The Leviticus passage is even sillier. The quote is just one part of one verse that starts, “You shall not let your animals breed with a different kind …” My version of the Bible ends that verse this way: “… nor shall you put on a garment made of two different materials.” (The wool and linen, not cotton, passage is actually Deuteronomy 22:9-11, which proves the person who generated that post didn’t do his research.)

From gotquestions.org is this response:

https://www.gotquestions.org/different-types-of-fabric.html

The rule against wearing different types of fabric was not a moral law. There is nothing inherently wrong with weaving linen and wool together. In fact, the ephod of the high priest was made of linen and dyed thread (Exodus 28:6-8; 39:4-5). The dyed thread would have been made of wool. This fact is probably the key to understanding the prohibition. The ephod of the high priest was the only garment that could be woven of linen and wool. No one else was allowed to have such a garment. Apparently, this rule was to place some distance between the high priest and the people, with the ultimate purpose of reminding Israel of how holy God truly is.

Read the entire Bible before posting such comments. God supports “traditional” marriage, in many places in the Bible, for a reason. We can pick and choose a verse to say just about anything we want it to. But put it in the context of the entire Scriptures, and you’ll understand what it really says.

And God’s holiness is a major theme throughout both Testaments.

There are other big-picture topics that we miss as well.

The Cleveland Cavaliers

LeBron James

The Cavaliers had a 7-10 won-loss record in March, then lost their last four games of the season in April and gave up the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference to the Boston Celtics. Those of us worried about details were afraid that the Cavs weren’t ready for the playoffs as they limped into the post-season.

Not to worry. The players themselves all along were thinking big picture: repeating as NBA champions. They didn’t care, really, about their March record.

So far, they haven’t lost a playoff game yet this year. They swept Indiana and then Toronto, winning eight consecutive games, most of them easily,

Will they win the NBA championship again this year? Time will tell. Their big-picture focus has them prepared to do just that.

Retirement savings

saving

Nearly half of families in the United States have no retirement savings at all, the Economic Policy Institute says.

The median for all families in the U.S., which means half have more and half have less, is $5,000 in retirement savings.

However, according to the EPI, the mean retirement savings of all families is $95,776. That means the rich are getting richer and the poor are staying poor, because many of those who have retirement savings have a nice nest egg.

http://www.cnbc.com/2016/09/12/heres-how-much-the-average-american-family-has-saved-for-retirement.html

We are caught up in an instant-gratification society: I want it, and I want it now. Many of us aren’t willing to delay gratification. Some of us can’t, certainly, but some of us can and just don’t.

We let money control us, rather than taking control of our bank accounts.

More of us need to think long-term. We need to see the big picture.

Driving habits

I encounter this every day. If we would set our alarms five minutes earlier every morning, we might not be in such a hurry to get to work in the morning. Or to hurry back from lunch. Or to hurry … wherever we’re going.

Notice the rest of us, and get where you’re going. Just get there. And let me get to my destination too. I shouldn’t have to slam on my brakes because you can’t control your vehicle.

Here’s another one: I wish we understood that when we’re turning left at a major intersection and we block traffic when the light turns red, we’re causing gridlock. If we truly paid attention to traffic patterns, we’d understand that we’re not getting where we need to go any faster by blocking traffic. Indeed, we’re slowing others – and ourselves – down. Really.

Look up. Pay attention. Observe red as well as green. Things will go smoother. I promise.

Again: Just get there.

Obama’s legacy

obama.jpg

I see posts that say former President Obama was the best president this country has ever had. I’ve seen others that say he was the worst.

Please. Legacies aren’t determined five months after the president leaves office. It takes time, possibly decades, for history to show how a president affected the country.

Obama was the first black president; that’s obvious and historic. What he did, however, will take time to evaluate. That’s true with every president.

The long view

It takes time to read the entire Bible, to win a pro sports championship, to save enough for retirement, to determine a legacy. The devil really is in the details.

Winning long-term is so worth it. Even if I can’t see the results today. Look up. Think big. Think long.

That’s the winning formula.

Saturday

O Lord, how long shall I cry for help,

and you will not listen?

Or cry to you “Violence!”

and you will not save?

Why do you make me see wrongdoing

and look at trouble?

Destruction and violence are before me;

strife and contention arise.

So the law becomes slack,

and justice never prevails.

The wicked surround the righteous –

therefore judgment comes forth perverted.

  • Habakkuk 1:2-4

 

I ask this question of God all the time. Maybe not in those exact words, but the question remains.

When will good prevail?

I know it will eventually, but what about today?

We just celebrated the holiest week on the Christian calendar. Such wide-ranging events, such wild swings of emotion:

  • Jesus washing his disciples’ feet in a surprising act of servanthood. (Have you ever washed someone’s feet, or let someone wash your feet? It’s humbling, almost degrading.)
  • Jesus crying out in anguish to his father, asking for the unfolding scenario not to happen. “… yet not what I want but what you want.” (Matthew 26:39)
  • An unfair – and illegal – trial in the middle of the night. Jesus remained silent through most of it.
  • The horrible crucifixion on Friday.
  • Jesus’ life-altering resurrection on Sunday.

Wait a minute. There’s one day in that week where nothing seemingly happens. Only silence.

Saturday.

The day between the crucifixion and the resurrection.

Habakkuk wrote his essay about 600 years before Jesus lived, but he easily could have written it on that Saturday. Jesus promised that he would rise on the third day, but it hadn’t happened yet. There’s only the sorrow of death. Tomorrow hasn’t come yet. What about today? What do we do now?

In a very real sense, the year 2017 is taking place on Saturday. Yes, the resurrection has occurred, but the final victory hasn’t come yet. The Bible promises that it will. Eventually.

What do we do in the meantime?

In my personal journal, I concluded a Good Friday entry with this paragraph:

 

“It’s a nice day today, Father. I don’t feel it. Birds singing, flowers growing, window open, sun shining. A beautiful spring day. Where You die, and I sin. Sunday is coming. Eventually.”

 

When will good prevail? It already has, and still is. I often have a hard time seeing it, though.

It’s easy to focus on the negative, personally and globally, and live my life there. Sad. Frustrated. Disappointed. Angry, perhaps. Knowing that Sunday is coming, but not seeing it.

Our church gave us a Holy Week devotional that I found helpful. The Saturday entry includes this thought:

 

“The promise is clear: Jesus will rise. But the grief and pain are so overwhelming, nobody can hear the promise now. Nobody can remember the promise. Saturday is the day of such emotional pain, that it seems impossible to remember the promises of God. Isn’t it true that much of life is lived on “Saturday?” We’re so beleaguered by our circumstances that we forget what God has said … We doubt in the dark what God has said in the light … We cry out for help, but God does not listen.”

 

I get that. I put my head down when I’m jogging to watch for potholes and dog poop on the path, but I don’t see what’s ahead of me: a curve in the trail, deer in the woods, other walkers or joggers coming towards me. How far to the bridge over the river or to the overpass I’ll cross under? Am I paying attention?

My life expectancy and health give me another 30 or 40 years here on Earth. That’s a lot of Saturdays. Can I wait that long for Sunday?

The devotional continues this way:

 

Learning to live on Saturday is learning to exercise faith despite the pain, and clinging with all we’ve got to God and the promises he’s made. God will make good out of evil. God will bring joy out of mourning. God will bring light out of darkness. There will be a Sunday. Lord, I believe.

 

Habakkuk gets an answer from God to his plea:

 

“Look at the nations, and see!

Be astonished! Be astounded!

For a work is being done in your days

that you would not believe if you were told.”

  • Habakkuk 1:5

 

Wow. Is that message relevant in 2017? Why not?

Sunday is coming. Sooner or later.

That gives me hope. I don’t have to live with Saturday’s pain.

None of us do. Sunday is promised. The resurrection is proof, and Jesus’ second coming is undeniable. No one knows when that will happen.

Until then, it’s Saturday.

Good and evil co-exist. We need discernment to discover which is which. Sometimes it’s obvious, sometimes it isn’t. Searching for good when evil often reigns is the definition of Saturday.

It can be done, but it’s hard.

I’m ready for Sunday.

I’ll conclude this essay with the final thought of the Bible:

 

“The one who testifies to these things says, ‘Surely I am coming soon.’

Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!”

  • Revelation 22:20

At Easter: Why Jesus?

Even if I could prove beyond doubt that Jesus Christ not only existed but was – and is – the Son of God who takes away the sins of the world, some of you, perhaps many of you, still would not accept that.

I heard a conference speaker say recently that the evils of smoking are well documented, but millions of people do it anyway – with the full knowledge that they are harming their bodies. Smokers have their reasons. I don’t judge them; it doesn’t bother me one way or another, as long as no one smokes in my car or house (where the effects will linger, proving that no one lives in a vacuum; every decision we make does affect others).

So, if proof isn’t enough, why follow Jesus?

Because it works.

Abundant life

Jesus wants the best for us.

“I have come that you might have life, and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10)

Why would we not want that?

Because having “abundant life” means giving up things that do not benefit us. We don’t like being told we can’t have something or can’t do something, even if it might hurt us.

“Thou shalt not commit adultery.” (Exodus 20:14)

How antiquated is that in American society? And yet God put that in the Ten Commandments for a reason. Marriage is supposed to be the highest form of relationship, when done right, when the husband and wife want the best for each other.

Many of us have screwed that up, so we look for validation in other places. But we’ll never find a deeper relationship on Earth than we will in “holy matrimony.” There are plenty of effects of relationships gone sour when we don’t want the best for each other.

We are inherently selfish. I want the best for me, even if that hurts you. But if I hurt you, I won’t ever find the best for me, because I’ll feel sadness when you are hurt. We are inherently that way too.

The Ten Commandments are a list of dos and mostly don’ts that we are to follow. All of them are for our own benefit. Our common laws are based on them (do not steal; do not commit murder; do not bear false witness against your neighbor; you shall not covet anything that belongs to your neighbor).

Whether the Ten Commandments are posted on the Courthouse lawn or outside a school doesn’t matter to me. They’re just words on paper, or stone. When they are written on our hearts, then they mean something.

The ACLU has no jurisdiction over my heart.

Head and heart

My heart. That’s where “faith” meets “prove it.”

I had a lonely, insecure childhood. My family moved around some in my elementary and junior high years, including out of state a couple of times. Getting uprooted meant I never formed deep friendships. I’ve never been more afraid than the first day of ninth grade, in a new town in a different state where I didn’t know a soul, except my seventh-grade sister in another part of the building.

The following summer, we attended a church camp in western Pennsylvania, again someplace I’d never been before. I was accepted immediately. The counselors and even other campers noticed me – not because I did anything, but just because I was there.

They made it clear they did that because Jesus loves them as much as He loves me. We don’t have to earn His love; He gives it away freely.

This was new to me.

I wanted what they had.

I didn’t ask for a theological discussion. I didn’t know the history of the Bible then. I didn’t know what the Bible said about marriage, money, pain and suffering, or the End Times. I just knew that Jesus loves me, because I saw it and felt it in the people around me.

That was my starting point.

As I’ve studied the Bible since, on my own and in groups and with Sunday morning sermons, I’ve learned more about Jesus’ love for me, and how to live that way. Mind and heart. Jesus connects in both places.

Good and evil

Why do bad things happen to good people? That’s a big stumbling block for many. If God wants the best for us, why do we all suffer?

My wife and I just attended the funeral of her cousin. She died a week ago of a heart attack at age 56. Left four children and 15 grandchildren. No warning. Totally unexpected. Why?

I can’t answer that.

But none of us is exempt from that kind of story, are we? Who do I think I am that I am above pain?

If we lived life happily ever after on Earth, where would we find meaning? Seriously.

We find meaning in helping others. We fundraise to fight cancer or world hunger. We provide clothes and other necessities to victims of fires, earthquakes or floods. We mentor in schools. We raise awareness for autism or diabetes. We do a myriad of things to serve those less fortunate than us.

Why?

If life is only about making me happy, why should I care about you?

God put a deeper purpose in our hearts than the “pursuit of happiness.” There’s nothing wrong with being happy, of course, but how do we do that? Really?

God: yay or nay

Here’s the kicker, the real reason most people don’t follow Jesus: He demands a response from every one of us. “Faith is fine for you, but not for me,” you might say. Or, “What makes you so certain that your faith is the right one?”

Because Jesus is the only “god” who wants the best for us. No other god can offer salvation from anything. There’s no bigger picture.

Jesus is inclusive and exclusive at the same time.

“I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)

The invitation is open to every person, but not everyone will accept the invite. There are rewards and consequences either way. No exceptions.

Good Friday is the most horrific story ever told. What makes it so compelling is that Jesus died on that cross willingly, because He wants the best for us: relationship with His Father.

Jesus overcame even death on Easter.

We do not want the best for our own lives. I say and do things I know I shouldn’t, but I do them anyway.

I ask forgiveness, and Jesus forgives. Every time. He knows the human heart. He created it. I reach out to Him again. He smiles. I walk away, then return to Him. He smiles again.

This is relationship. This is the way life is meant to be.

It’s the way we should treat each other as well.

Think how much nicer America would be if we did.

If we let the God who wants the best for us lead us.

Take a deep breath. Could it happen?

Theoretically, yes. In practice, no.

Because we cannot know good without evil.

So, we live with both.

Which side will you choose?

Jesus not running for office

They say that in polite society, we shouldn’t talk about politics or religion. Well, let’s break all the rules and talk about both. At the same time.

No, I’m not going to talk about Donald Trump and the Christian vote. Let’s tackle something bigger, with longer-lasting consequences.
Jesus Christ is not a political figure. He had – and has – a much wider purpose than that.

Some people try to politicize Jesus, claiming that He stands for their political or social viewpoint. He hates gay marriage and abortion so He must be Republican, right? He’s all about love and wouldn’t judge anyone, so He favors the Democrats, right?

You and I can make the Bible say just about anything we want it to. We do that by emphasizing certain parts of it and ignoring the rest.

But God doesn’t work that way. If we decide what parts of God we like and which parts we don’t, then we are making ourselves to be God – and the true God is just our puppet, whatever we want Him to be.

No wonder God says He’s a jealous God (Exodus 34:14).

God has a much higher calling than to play these games. He is God, after all.

Jesus is God. This becomes clear in the gospel of John: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him … And the Word became flesh and lived among us …” (John 1:1-3,14)

Therefore, Jesus also has a much higher calling than to play political games.

Let’s take a tour through the gospel of Matthew, written by that disciple of Jesus to an audience of Jews, to show that Jesus is not a political figure, even though other people tried to turn him into one.

First opponent: King Herod

Not long after Jesus’ birth, King Herod saw him as a future political enemy. Wise men from the East came to Jerusalem to pay homage to Jesus. “When King Herod heard this, he was frightened …” (Mat. 2:3) As a result, Herod tried to kill Jesus: “… for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” (Mat. 2:13)

Why would King Herod care about a baby, unless he saw the child as a threat to his own power?

In response, his parents, Mary and Joseph, fled the scene (Mat. 2:14) until Herod died and the threat was over.

First adult opponent: Satan

As an adult, Jesus could choose His own path. First up: Satan himself tempted Jesus in the wilderness (Mat. 4:1). Among other things, Satan offered Jesus authority over all the kingdoms of the world, “if you will fall down and worship me.” (Mat. 4:9) If Jesus wanted political power, He had the chance right there to be the greatest ruler this world has ever seen. Jesus turned him down cold: “Away with you, Satan! For it is written, Worship the Lord your God, and serve only Him.” (Mat. 4:10)

Blessings and faith

The Sermon on the Mount, recorded in chapters 5 through 7, records nothing political. He talks about blessings, salt and light, fulfilling the law, anger, lust, divorce, vows, retaliation, loving enemies, giving to the needy, prayer, fasting, money, worry, criticizing others, asking, heaven, fruit, and building our house on rock or sand.

These are spiritual issues. Jesus has a much different take on anger, lust, divorce and money, for example, than politicians do. Read the Sermon on the Mount and discover this for yourself.

Faith trumps politics

Next, Jesus encountered a Roman centurion, a military figure in that time period. Jesus praised this centurion for his faith (Mat. 8:5-13). Faith rises above politics in Jesus’ eyes.

Soon after, Jesus called Matthew, author of this book, and challenged him to “follow me.” Matthew was a tax collector (Mat. 9:9), a Jewish person employed by the Romans to tax the Jews, often unfairly. We think the IRS is evil; the IRS is nothing compared to the cheating, traitorous, overcharging tax collectors of Biblical times.

When Matthew left his job to follow Jesus, he made a permanent break. He lost his tax booth permanently. Faith trumped politics big-time in Matthew’s life.

Something old, something new

Next, Jesus told the disciples of John that the Holy Spirit is an entirely new game, not even a new take on the religious/political system of the day. “No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old cloak, for the patch pulls away from the cloak, and a worse tear is made. Neither is new wine put into old wineskins; otherwise, the skins burst, and the wine is spilled, and the skins are destroyed; but new wine is put into fresh wineskins, and so both are preserved.” (Mat. 9:16-17)

Jesus brought an entirely new way of thinking and living to this Earth. It didn’t fit in with the old system; it required a different mindset and lifestyle.

This was radical then, and it’s radical today.

For example, the religious leaders had turned the Sabbath into a do-no-work-under-any-circumstances day, with a couple of loopholes. Jesus threw all that out and changed the game. Jesus let his disciples pick wheat on the Sabbath because they were hungry, and he healed a man’s hand on the Sabbath because He could (Mat. 12:1-14).

Next comes a chapter of parables, none of which are political: four soils, weeds, mustard seed, yeast, hidden treasure and a fishing net. Jesus is changing the mindset and lifestyle of His listeners, nothing less.

Misunderstanding the parade

Let’s jump to Palm Sunday. Jesus orchestrated a parade for His entrance to Jerusalem, even though He knew the religious leaders there wanted to kill him. He did not hide from his accusers at all.

Most interesting is the response of the general population. Those attending the parade shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!” (Mat. 21:9)

Why “hosanna?” They wanted a military leader to overthrow oppressive Rome.

Hosanna, according to http://www.biblestudytools.com/dictionary/hosanna/ is a joyful Aramaic exclamation of praise, apparently specific to the major Jewish religious festivals (especially Passover and Tabernacles) in which the Egyptian Hallel (Psalms 113-118) was recited. Originally an appeal for deliverance (Heb. hosia na, please see Psalm 118:25), it came in liturgical usage to serve as an expression of joy and praise for deliverance granted or anticipated. When Jesus came to Jerusalem for his final presentation of himself to Israel, the expression came readily to the lips of the Passover crowds. (emphasis added)

Hosanna is a military term of deliverance from oppression. Later in the week, when the crowd realized Jesus wasn’t going to do that, they ordered Him crucified (Mat. 27:15-26).

Jesus’ real purpose

One footnote during Holy Week: Jesus supported paying government taxes. “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s and to God the things that are God’s.” (Mat. 22:21)

Jesus even supported the government leaders and their taxing authority as they were finalizing details to crucify Him. He did not change his “morals” just because His life was threatened. Who has that kind of moral backbone today?

Jesus had one purpose in coming to Earth: to make His Father personal, to offer intimate relationship with Himself to us. That’s it.

Jesus’ mission and ministry were 100 percent spiritual. Politicians and religious leaders could not kill him or defeat him, although they tried. Jesus had – and still has – a much higher calling.

This is good news! As Jesus taught, we are so much better than what we’ve become. It’s time we started living like it.

 

For further reading:

http://archives.relevantmagazine.com/god/deeper-walk/blog/19069-jesus-is-not-political

Doing what Jesus would do …

If Jesus walked the Earth in the flesh in 2017, where would He go? What would He do? Who would He spend His time with?

I wonder about that every so often.

In response, I turn to the four Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, which describe the life He lived among us. There isn’t much in the Bible about the first 30 years of His life, but His three-year ministry offers plenty of evidence about what and who were important to Him.

Inside the church

Jesus spent some time in the synagogue, the church of His day. He spoke there on occasion as a visiting preacher. He did a healing or two there. He overturned the money changers’ tables there when He discovered they were overcharging the parishioners who needed to buy sacrificial animals.

Most often when He visited the synagogue, He was not there to worship. He was there to confront the hypocrisy of the Pharisees and Sadducees, who ran the synagogue and knew the Old Testament Scriptures inside and out, but still didn’t understand them. The leaders missed the prophesies about Jesus in the Scriptures. They also added a whole lot of rules to the Books of the Law, the first five books of the Old Testament, which describe in detail how a follower of the living God was supposed to live.

Jesus called them blind guides and hypocrites. When He claimed to be God and to have an intimate relationship with His Father, they went berserk. They killed him for that.

Christians, beware. Jesus attacked religious leaders hard. They didn’t take it well.

Should Jesus visit the United States in the flesh in 2017, I fear He would give a similar message to the church today. And we would give Him a similar fate. Not every local church would reject Him, but many would. This scares me.

Does it scare you?

Outside the church

However, my reading of the Gospels tells me that Jesus spent most of His time outside the synagogue, with tax collectors and sinners. He gave them the benefit of the doubt every time. He was all compassion:

  • The woman caught in adultery.
  • A Samaritan woman at a well. (The religious leaders of His day treated women like second-class citizens. Jesus treated them like the daughters of God they were – and are. Jesus could be considered a radical feminist, if you read the Bible that way.)
  • Matthew, a hated tax collector, one of the 12 in His inner circle.
  • Zacchaeus, a religious leader who asked the right questions.
  • All kinds of people who came to Him for healing, both physical and demonic.
  • Hungry people. (He fed 5,000 of them with five loaves of bread and two fish.)
  • A couple getting married who ran out of wine. (Jesus liked to party, by the way.)
  • And on, and on.

Doing time

As Christians, we so often spend most of our free time inside the walls of our churches. We worship there, we study the Bible there, we offer social programs there and invite the community in.

That’s not what Jesus did.

  • He prayed on mountainsides.
  • He healed people in their own homes.
  • He ate at their homes, too. Matthew is a great example. He wanted his friends to meet Jesus, so he invited them to dinner, then invited Jesus to join them.
  • He traveled the countryside, visiting cities and towns along the way. He counseled his 12 disciples as they walked and as they served those they met.

I think this should be our pattern, too. We need to worship; Jesus did not avoid the synagogue, even though He wasn’t very happy with most of the leaders He met there.

But Jesus spent most of His time mingling with unbelievers on their turf. He was comfortable in crowds; He was comfortable in one-on-one settings, and in groups of just a few people. He traveled. He had a hometown, but He didn’t claim it. He knew Jerusalem was important, and He did spend time there (and died there), but He visited other places as well.

WWJD

A few years ago there was a bracelet in Christian circles that was all the rage: WWJD. What Would Jesus Do? It was a fad question that most Christians didn’t take seriously, but that’s the question I’m asking. What would Jesus do? Really?

Are we prepared to do the same? He said we should.

Perhaps big fancy church buildings aren’t a good witness. I’m not sure Jesus would be impressed with them. He’d rather those resources – money and human time – be spent elsewhere.

Jesus said full-time Christian workers should be paid a fair wage. This is important.

Taking the job home

But our leaders should be equipping the rest of us to do the work of the church – outside the church, in our spheres of influence. That’s what Jesus did with His 12 disciples. He gave them His heart, then told them to go make disciples of all nations.

I meet people every day who would never set foot inside a church. If I call myself a Christian, I am Jesus to them. How do I wear that “job title?” Do I represent Christ well?

Do you?

Is your church equipping you to be the church to those outside the church? If not, what’s the point of church?

Yes, we worship God and praise Him for what He’s done for us.

So what? Do we leave our praise on the altar? Or do we take it home with us?

That’s what Jesus did.

And what He’d continue to do in 2017.

 

Faith and America: Judge others carefully

Is President Trump a Christian, or should he be? Is he attacking Muslims as a religion with his travel ban on people from certain countries? Can Christians and Muslims co-exist peacefully?

Many Americans say church and state should remain separate, and they offer some good reasons. As a Christian, my faith is a lifestyle, a major part of who I am. My faith affects the way I think and the way I live. In that vein, “church” and “state” cannot be separated, unless I don’t participate in our democracy in any way, including voting.

So, where to draw the line?

Co-exist: Yes and no

Can Christians and Muslims co-exist? Let’s start there.

The answer depends on what you mean by co-exist.

If we mean that we can respect each other’s views and beliefs even if we disagree, then yes, we can co-exist peacefully. Our co-workers, parents we meet at our children’s schools, people we meet at athletic contests, people we volunteer with, the waitress at the restaurant … we meet people outside of our religious boundaries all the time. Can we get along?

We certainly should.

But if co-exist means Christians and Muslims (and people of other faiths) worship the same God, then no – we do not and cannot co-exist. The sacred writings of both faiths prove this.

More on that in a minute.

Church and state

But first, let’s discuss whether “church” and “state” should co-exist.

 

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof …

Amendment I, The Constitution of the United States of America

 

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted …

Declaration of Independence

 

I had a lengthy Facebook discussion with a former co-worker awhile ago about this. We did not agree, because he and I do not have the same “supreme authority” in our lives. His primary focus is on the United States. Mine is on God. They are not the same.

Congress – and by extension, in my opinion, the U.S. Supreme Court also – are not allowed to restrict any religion in any way. So, if President Trump is trying to restrict Muslims as a faith-based people from entering this country, the First Amendment does not allow him to do that.

The Declaration of Independence does assume a Creator. But different faiths worship different Creators, so we need to keep this discussion general, politically speaking.

Faith and violence

Trump says he is targeting terrorists, not an entire religion. Terrorists around the world and in the United States have claimed allegiance to the Islamic God during their terrorist acts. Is Trump’s response a knee-jerk reaction that goes too far?

 

Therefore, when you meet the Unbelievers (in fight), strike at their necks; at length, when you have thoroughly subdued them, bind a bond firmly (on them); thereafter (is the time for) either generosity or ransom; until the war lays down its burdens.

Qur’an, 47:4a

 

I imagine not all Muslims read the Qur’an literally, just as not all Christians read the Bible literally. And yet, these words are in the Qur’an. Fighting words against any who oppose “God, Most Gracious, Most Merciful.”

Are there such fighting words in the Christian Bible? Yes, there are. Here’s an example:

 

As soon as (Joshua) stretched out his hand, the troops in ambush rose quickly out of their place and rushed forward. They entered the city, took it, and at once set the city on fire. So when the men of Ai looked back, the smoke of the city was rising to the sky … When Joshua and all Israel saw that the ambush had taken the city and that the smoke of the city was rising, then they turned back and struck down the men of Ai … until no one was left who survived or escaped.

The Bible, Joshua 8:19-22

 

Why would the Christian God order Joshua and his troops to obliterate an entire city – men, women and children? Because they worshiped pagan gods, and the God of Israel did not want his people to get distracted by teachings of false gods.

This is what the book of Joshua is all about. Israel did not follow directions, and the book of Judges describes the consequences in detail.

Incompatible faiths

According to the Qur’an and the Bible, then, these religions cannot co-exist. Both worship a jealous God.

 

In blasphemy indeed are those that say that God is Christ the son of Mary …

Qur’an, 5:17

 

They say: “(God) Most Gracious has begotten a son!”

Indeed you have put forth a thing most monstrous! …

That they should invoke a son for (God) Most Gracious.

For it is not consonant with the majesty of (God) Most Gracious that He should beget a son.

Qur’an, 19:88-89, 91-92

 

 

Jesus said to (Thomas), “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”

The Bible, John 14:6-7

 

Muslims and Christians cannot worship together, obviously.

Can they live together peacefully?

That depends on how passionate we are about our faiths – and also how passionate we are as Americans. Do we serve the U.S. Constitution, which allows for free expression of all faiths, or do we serve our God, who is a jealous God and who ultimately will judge everyone – everyone – outside the faith?

This is why the current debate is so hot, with no resolution in sight.

Cultures and faith clash. Do our faiths allow us to get along with each other?

Faith and America

This is why many Americans reject Christianity (and Islam as well, I imagine). God forces us to take sides.

Both faiths have a peaceful side as well. After all, no one can “convert” dead people. Both faiths have to give others a reason to follow their God.

The U.S. Constitution is a wonderful document. One of the reasons the Pilgrims reached our shores was to worship freely the way they wanted to.

Are we at a crossroads now? Are we truly willing to accept “Congress shall make no law …” or has that been eroding over time, and Trump has brought the debate front and center?

Should God provide justice, or should we do it for Him?

I saw a guy wearing a T-shirt the other day that said, “No one is my judge.” Again, it depends. I cannot judge your faith. That’s God’s job. But if you molest a child or run a red light, we have laws in this country about those things, and the U.S. court system very much can judge you for them.

I wish we could leave it at that.

 

A couple of other perspectives:

The Qur’an and U.S. Constitution cannot co-exist:

http://louderwithcrowder.com/5-reasons-the-quran-can-never-coexist-with-the-constitution-ever/

Christians and Muslims can get along:

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/belief/2014/nov/18/christians-muslims-co-existed-general-synod-religions-allies