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“No man can tell whether he is rich or poor by turning to his ledger. It is the heart that makes a man rich. He is rich or poor according to what he is, not according to what he has.”  —Henry Ward Beecher

 

thankfulThe question we ask and are asked following that holiday in late November is, of course, something to the effect of: “Did you have a nice Thanksgiving?” What do we mean by the question and how do we typically answer? Aren’t we really wanting to know what you did, where you went, who you were with with, what did you see, and perhaps most importantly, what did you eat? For many of us, there are really good reasons we can recite that made for a “good thanksgiving.”

The question I ask myself is not whether I had sufficient reason to thank God, but whether in fact I actually thanked God. Is the day merely for taking time off, eating and celebrating, and maybe shopping for bargains? I want to suggest that having reasons for thankfulness, and even feeling thankful, isn’t the same as actually thanking God. The Gospel writer Luke records a story of ten desperately ill, outcast men with a dreaded, consuming, contagious disease. From a distance they cry out to the passing Jesus for help, and from a distance he grants their plea. In their joy (and thankfulness?) they scurry off, enjoying their blessing. But there is one of them—only one—who stops, turns around and comes back to the author of his joy and has an intimate face-to-face encounter with God in the flesh. Jesus’ comment about Him, rings true about all of us, “Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?” (a hated Samaritan) This particular blessed man, the small minority of the blessed ones, got to meet Jesus, got to be included in holy scripture, and had his joy and thankfulness made full in personal relationship.

For even when our day seems dull and ordinary and small. Even when we bear a burden or frailty, do we then have no reason for thanksgiving? Have you never noticed that often people with the least can seem more content and happy than the ones wreathed in luxuries? These odd ones seem to thank God for things and in things that mystify us! Why aren’t they mad at God? They have this inexplicable Attitude of Gratitude that doesn’t seem to need a reason. These are the ones who demonstrate the deeper realities of the sufficiency of grace. These can glory even in their weaknesses. Why? Because they get to experience God’s strength. They get to possess joy and peace when everyone else’s joy and peace is absolutely defined and dependent upon favorable circumstances alone. Is it possible that we want stuff from God more than we want God himself?

I submit that, in fact, you cannot experience joy in your life without thanksgiving. Furthermore, I suggest that it is only the truly humbly thankful one who has the grid to even perceive God, much less receive Him and enjoy Him.

The Apostle’s letter to the Roman believers tells us, right there in the beginning, that the proof of the fallen nature of humanity is that we do not personally acknowledge His obviousness—and that, though there is so much to actually thank Him for—we tend to refuse. The result, says Paul, is a foolish, ignorant, and darkened way of understanding the world and the One Who made it.

So, how was your Thanksgiving? Or better, what is the expression of your thankful heart? Did you set aside all else and bring it all personally and directly to God? Give thanks. You’ll get far more from the transaction than you gave.

 

“Keep your eyes open to your mercies. The man who forgets to be thankful has fallen asleep in life.”  —Robert Louis Stevenson

 

A little life from our perspective.

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In the middle of the Caribbean, on top of a mountain, we gazed at the place God had sent us. We had climbed to about 3,800 ft. Yet we could faintly hear the sounds of the moto traffic on the narrow streets in the distance. Felt like you were closer to God up there. But God’s view of Jarabacoa is not aerial. It is not distant. His view of the places is defined in the faces. He loved the World enough to redeem the people living there. Like some of our neighbors who live in an unfinished building visible from our home—with no light, or water, or doors and windows. People who would love to have a job in the local supermercado where they would work for 6-7 days a week for perhaps the equivalent of $25. What can one man do?

They call this home

They call this home

It reminds me of the man who walked down the beach where hundreds of starfish were washed up and baking in the sun. He stooped from time to time and flung a fortunate one back out to sea. A man approached him and asked why he engaged in such futility. He remarked that with so many there dying in the sun, what did it matter? As the man threw one more back out to sea he turned and replied, “It mattered to that one.” Pray for us to know how we can make a difference here to the particular ones God leads us to. Not everybody is this destitute, but all of us desperately need God!

We have come to this place in the Name of the One Who has redeemed us and it is you who have made it possible! Thank you for your faithfulness and love. We pray for you and we depend on you to keep holding the rope.

If you haven’t found us on Facebook, you may click (https://www.facebook.com/groups/1725699647708577/)  to take you to our group “Serving in the Dominican Republic”. In future emails we’ll suggest specific concerns to pray about, and tell you things we’re praising God for!

Copyright © 2016, Timothy Pack, All rights reserved.

Our mailing address is:

Tim and Joyce Pack
Doulos Discovery Unit 3017 DDSDR
3170 Airmans Drive
Fort Pierce, FL 34946

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My Dear Friend (who is gay),

I want you to know that I don’t hate you at all. Hating you is the furthest thing from my mind.

I don’t pretend to tell you what you MUST do with your life. God has given all of us our lives to live as we choose. (though, of course, we’re all responsible to Him for how we do that).

It isn’t even any of my business should you marry within your sexual preference.

I wish there was a way that all of us could simply live like each of us prefers, in as mutually exclusive a channel as we each prefer or find necessary. Wherever possible, we all should seek this, don’t you think? You know, I’ll leave you to your way and you leave me to mine? Surely we don’t all have to be required to agree in order to love one another? You don’t have to agree with my convictions and I don’t have to agree with yours to sit together and laugh over a beverage.

There are those times, though, when two divergent views cannot run simultaneously. I know you don’t understand my biblical Christian convictions, and I’m sure it’s true that I don’t truly understand yours. But my most deeply seated belief is that a marriage is exclusively between one man and one woman. Your definition is that any two human beings of any gender may marry. (I know I speak the obvious here, but please bear with me).

In a different kind of world we could just make accommodations for both definitions, agree to disagree and carry on. Yet, to our dismay, in the real world we don’t seem to be able to do that. For if, on the one hand, you find that I don’t believe your marriage is a marriage, then you see me as hatefully bigoted. And then, on the other hand, if I see that you don’t care about my conviction, and insist that I compromise it to agree with you, then I have become one who cannot freely exercise my religious convictions. It’s a real conundrum, isn’t it?  Seems both sides of the issue are calling for unconditional surrender. So it is evident here, from this example, that not everybody at all times and circumstances may enjoy the luxury of “agreeing to disagree.”

Jesus, I think, gave voice to this principle when he declared that light and darkness may have no fellowship (for where one is the other may not be). You will, naturally, feel that your point of view is the light and that mine derives from darkness. Therefore, it may be thought, any whose worldview has been shaped by an historic orthodox Judeo-Christian conviction in this regard, have been wickedly discriminatory all along.

Today, every side of every issue invokes it’s impression of Jesus to stand and endorse it’s cause. “This is what Jesus would do.”  “This is what Jesus would say.”  I do believe, however, that very few of us probably know exactly what Jesus would do or say. However, we may go to what he did in fact do and say and extrapolate.

But if we even do that, we have to be rigorous in taking in ALL that he said and did in the record we have. We can see what he did in one circumstance with a certain subject and make that a template for every one of his interactions. Such a procedure would produce strange results if one did that to the varying contexts and players that constitute our complex relational lives.

One thing rings clear on a careful summation of all the data: Jesus loves sinners and hates the sin that binds them enough to come and destroy it. His last words to those who would be his followers was not to go and be accommodating of everything. No, it was rather to show them that the way to receive Jesus was to turn from the sin he hates and love him instead.

Luke 24:47 “…and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.”

 

The Apostle John tells us that the world hated Jesus then (and they still do) because “men loved darkness rather than light. [See John 1]”  In other words, people preferred their evil deeds in favor of giving them up to choose Jesus instead. The same sources that introduce us to Jesus (and without which we would know very little about Him) also tell us what sin is, what it looks like—including very vivid examples and descriptions. So these convictions we possess that compel us are not our own. We only see and hear and try to obey. When the Christian wants nothing to do with participating in your gay marriage, it is not unlike, perhaps your aversion to participate in our constructs and rituals. I am not compelled to go to a particular church, or to go to church at all. You are not compelled to believe in nor adhere to my beliefs nor I to yours. I will give you the benefit of the doubt that our disagreement doesn’t necessarily mean you hate me.

But now, you may say, that my failure to fully agree with you on THIS point IS different. It constitutes illegal discrimination. It is the same, in principle, you might allege, as denial to serve that black man at a Mississippi lunch counter. That one who would deny service would not have been in sin to have served that woman. In fact, he was in sin NOT to.  Yet, when it comes to a demand that a fervent Bible-believer suspend his trust in God’s Word there is something different happening. At the lunch counter we were all collectively demanding that justice be done by OBEYING the truth consistent with the Bible. In this present issue, we are being commanded by men to do the opposite—to disobey and disregard a clear and ancient precept. This we cannot do, else we deny the One Who called us.

“But Peter and John answered them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge…”  Acts 4:19

In spite of anything to the contrary you might believe about me, I do not hate you. I have no judgment for you (that’s not my job). Mine is only to be faithful to my Master.

I seriously doubt that I have been able to effectively communicate here. I’m trying though. And I DO love you. There’s no question that God loves both of us. He loves us, indeed, just the way we are. Yet, thankfully, He loves us too much to leave us that way.

Sincerely,

Tim

While stopped at an intersection the other day I happened to notice a young woman on the sidewalk, attractive and smartly dressed. I spied her there, walking briskly, as if on a mission, toward the corner of the block.

Almost at once, from my vantage point she passed another young woman heading in the opposite direction who got my attention. The second woman appeared to have been victimized by polio. Her gait was twisted and awkward, her legs of differing lengths, her slender arms thrust down into the braces of metallic crutches as she painstakingly ambled along. Yet, upon her face was a determined and bright smile. In a moment, before I turned the corner I noticed something else. She had in one hand a small plastic bag. With the other hand and with a slow, deliberate effort she was bending over and reaching toward the sidewalk. There she picked up a piece of carelessly discarded wrapper and placed it in her bag.

Her objective was clear. She was cleaning up the litter in that public place. What had taken someone else only a thoughtless moment to deposit, was taking her a good deal more effort to retrieve.

Smiling, I reflected then on the two young ladies I had just observed. The first was pleasant to look upon. The second—more so. For in her example beamed a lovely character and an inspiration. The first may have brightened that corner by her presence. But the second brightened that corner because she left it better than it was. Yes, it was a  little thing, but it seems to me that the cumulative effect of a lot of us doing a little adds up to something pretty great.

A wedding is a society’s shared witness to an institution.
It’s the basic building block of a society and of this generation extending to the next.
It is, therefore, accepted as right and proper—a cause for joy and celebration.
It is the ceremonial observance initiating a relationship set forth and defined by God.
When we attend a wedding and when we contribute to the ceremony we are endorsing it as good.
Therefore, when we accept gay marriage we are declaring all that. We are saying it is right in the sight of God that we participate in and celebrate it.

Most of our gay friends, of course, heartily embrace this “rightness.”  Most consider their attractions as their own immutable identity. They cannot be other than what they are. Nor do they think it appropriate that others should somehow require them to be who they are not. Surely, God, it is reasoned, would not be so cruel has to hardwire them in a way that He himself condemns? So, we must have gotten it wrong, right? With all due respect to those who think so, revisionist biblical theology is an extreme contortion and an obvious exercise is eisegesis. There can be no question that the Levitical Law spells it out, alongside other sexual prohibitions, most of which (at least for now) society still doesn’t question. The New Testament picks it up and spells it out quite specifically (e.g. Rom. 1:26-27, 32).

We mustn’t forget, too, that Jesus grew up an obedient, observant Jew who loved and knew the Law the way King David had, yet even deeper. Jesus expressly tells us that He did not come in opposition to the Law, nor to set it aside. He came, in fact, to fulfill it and write it on our hearts, and cause us to keep it. He told his listeners to take heed to the teaching of the Scribes and Pharisees God had placed over them (though not perhaps to how some actually lived). He had no need to reiterate the Law. It was a given.  To say that Jesus approved of something because he never mentioned it would be an argument for pedophilia and rape, which He also never mentioned. What he did mention was this:

Mark 10:6-9 “But at the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female.’ 7 ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, 8 and the two will become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. 9 Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

Consistent with the Law, then, here is what the Apostle to the Gentiles whom Jesus personally selected relates from God.

Rom. 1:26-27,32 “…Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. 27 In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.”

[here’s the scary part]

32 Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.

We see Jesus in company with many sinners. We know he ate and drank with them. We know he had mercy for them when many others would judge. We know that Jesus told the stuffy religious sort that many of this lawless lot was in fact passing into the Kingdom of God ahead of them. The means of their passage was the universal means that still holds today. Impressed by his tender, pursuing kindness, they came to him in repentant tears and generous, grateful hearts, while the aloof leaders considered themselves too good to repent.  I, and many like me, have had great relationships with our gay friends (and our alcoholic friends, etc.) all our lives (being recovering sinners ourselves) and will continue to do so. Neither Jesus, nor I, would find it necessary to exclude or judge or lecture any particular sinner’s ways (Although there are important biblical exceptions to this, and reasons to do so).

 

PART II

What becomes problematic here, is that there is really no direct parallel to gay marriage in The New Testament to witness. We don’t see in Jesus’ ministry any particular group of sinners declaring categorically that their sin is not sin, per se. Furthermore—it is claimed—not only is it not sin, it is worthy of institutionalizing and celebrating. The closest we could come to this, as I see it, is the Pharisees’ unholy codification of the commandments of men. Jesus reserved his harshest words and tone for such as them. We certainly don’t see Jesus institutionalizing and endorsing a sin as the veritable “building block” of family and therefore society at large.

What we do see is Jesus referring to our evil natures in a matter-of-fact way*. We see Him emphatically warning the masses of the dangerous results of sin*. It was Jesus who told us that if even our hand should cause us to sin, we should cut it off rather then enter into hell with it still intact*. Jesus dealt ruthlessly with sin because he loves us. The measure of his complete resolve against it is demonstrated on the cruel bloody cross*. His last words before his ascension were to bear his message of repentance for the forgiveness of sins to the whole world*. Repentance IS the mechanism for believing and receiving Jesus*. We choose Jesus over sin*. He forgives us and begins then, to overcome it in us until at last we are forever separated from it and spared its horrible consequences.*

*References from the Gospels can be supplied upon request.

 

One might say that homosexuals are only choosing to be their honest, authentic selves. I could also choose to declare that my authentic self is, and pretty much always has been, prone to lusts and greed and gossip and falsehood, (among other things). But if I take pride in any of these things; if I declare my intent to continue in and celebrate these things,…what have I done? I have a form of godliness but deny His power to redeem and transform me. Many have experienced God’s miraculous, overcoming deliverance. Many others have attested to a sincere effort to “change” and have come to believe that at least, for them, it’s impossible.

So, there we are. Are we in mutually exclusive categories? Intractable? Irreconcilable? Must one take, in this regard, only one of two diametrically opposed positions? Either (1) homosexual intimacy (copulation) is repugnant sin, and those who insist on practicing it will fall under the judgment of God; or (2) homosexual intimacy is as loving, natural and legitimate as any other union.

Venn LoveHow can we bridge the gap between mutually exclusive firmly held convictions? Well, it should be obvious that it’ll never happen without an additional firmly held conviction. It’ll be difficult and so will not even be attempted by most. Successful relationships are hard and require diligent work. Being patient, and compassionate, and understanding, and gentle doesn’t come naturally for most of us. But, at last, the only reality that overlaps both distant circles is love. Not sentimentality. Not unanimity. But just determined, gritty, rugged love that says, essentially, “In this matter we do not see eye to eye and it looks like we’re not ever going to. But regardless, my friend, I’m gonna love you. Even if you don’t love me back, I’m still gonna love you.”

If there is ever to be even the slightest potential that an occupant of the one circle should migrate to the other, s/he could only pass over by way of love. And that kind of love, my friends, can only come from God.

Hint: Power and How We Use It

judgesandhypocritesPeople who believe the Bible is true have long been asked to be tolerant of those who do not. This was not an inappropriate expectation, since the Bible itself expresses forbearance and patience with one another and a love that accepts and pursues in mercy. For all the faults of these believers, there have been few people groups in all of history who have done so any more than Bible believers. While some religions insist on violence when insulted, the Christian was enjoined by the Christ to “turn the other cheek”, give what was not demanded, and go the surprising extra mile.  The Christ Himself went through a mockery of justice and a cruel execution without opening His mouth in judgment or reprisal. The roll call of the ones who have followed Christ in this way, “loving not their lives, even unto death” is long and distinguished. Yet there were also many who fancied themselves followers who were not. These were filled with malice, judgment, and even violence “in the name” of the One who gave us no such command.

Today, the influence of the Bible and those who claim to believe it has waned. A host of other standards have arisen and are in the ascendency. Many of these have borne with them along the way the ethics of co-existence, toleration, and fairness—the very things they justly demanded from those who claimed to have a Judeo-Christian worldview. When morally objectionable material began to be broadcast and telecast, the Bible-believing malcontent was called upon to “turn it off” or change the channel if they didn’t like it. The believer was castigated if s/he demonstrated a reluctance to accept and tolerate the alternative beliefs and practices of the increasing tide.

And so, believers tolerated. Some, because they loved, others because they conformed.

Now, in America, persons who say they believe in the Bible are in the minority. Even among them, there are many who only accept and practice a selectively approved subset of its teaching. And there is by no means a solidarity and uniformity to the prevailing ethical and moral sensibility of the rising tide. In fact, there is an astonishing variance in belief and practice of these ascending voices. At many crucial points the stuff of their various faiths are ultimately on a crash course. If there is one thing clear from history; if there is something humanity can disagree about and divide over we will not miss the opportunity to seize it. At what point for any zealot or ideologue will they lay aside their forbearance? Most likely when they feel they have the power to force compliance, or conversely, when they sense their power and influence has ebbed to the point that they will no longer be able to believe and practice what they cherish.

So it is, in this latter case, for the Bible-believer, who would like now to be tolerated. The Christian would like the same consideration others were demanding of the Christian. If you don’t like what they believe and preach, turn the channel. If their moral practices seem immoral to you, feel free to practice your own and leave them to theirs. There was never a legal demand for you to participate in their faith. They’d appreciate the same consideration, but know, really, that the prevailing ethic isn’t truly about tolerance at all.  We all should justly expect, in this country, to freely exercise our specific beliefs and practices without toppling the wall of separation between church and state enabling a dominant group to coerce not only the behavior, but even the very thoughts of dissenters. Invading communist North Vietnamese subjected their captives to “Reeducation Camps” in vain attempt to control the hearts and minds of those who held differing beliefs. Hutus or Tutsis. Sunni or Shiite. Catholic or Protestant. Liberal or Conservative. Theist or Atheist. Can’t we all just get along? We seem to be able to make a show of it for a while. But sooner or later somebody starts feeling frisky and moves their tanks into the Rhineland.

God forbid that we should be a country who enforces a dominant worldview at the point of a gun nor under threat of loss. But wait,… we already have been. Every group fancies the notion that “You can’t legislate morality” only up to the point that they themselves gain enough power to do so.  Every law is the legislation of somebody’s morality.

Surely we do not now demand that Jewish delis cater Neo-Nazi events with ham and bacon on the menu? In a free multi-cultural society we can do business with whomever we choose for a variety of personally held reasons. Apparently, a coffee shop can deny me a latte for the lame reason that I left my shoes in the car. If doing business necessarily requires violation of conscience then a line has been crossed. A card-carrying member of the infamous Westboro Baptist should not be denied the basic human needs of an apartment rental or the purchase of groceries at a gay-owned business. They should not deem it a “civil right”, however, that these same business owners accompany them to their rally, participate in it, photograph it, and top it off with a celebratory cake.

packportraitbwI’m tired. I struggle with discouragement. I have my doubts and fears. Sometimes existence seems a dreary burden.

I do this to myself, you see. I am a believer in God and actually trust that He has spoken to us, and has visited us, and dwells within many, and has forever plans for us. And yet I struggle on. Am I the voice in U2’s ‘80s hit crying out, “…but I still haven’t found what I’m looking for”?

I relate in a very deep way with the man Simon (ironically renamed by Messiah, “Rock”) who was thereafter more like shifting sand. Impulsive, confused, and in the end, cowardly like the rest—and inclined to speak before thinking.

Much of what Yeshua did and said in the presence of this man and the others was inscrutably difficult to understand. How much more perplexing would it be later on The Hill of the Skull? On one such occasion of mystery, their Master said something mind-blowing and impossible. Formerly interested and intrigued individuals were walking away now in unbelieving disgust (and Yeshua was not attempting to dissuade them). We can tell that the “inner circle” of these disciple adherents were also rocked to the core and considering their options. So Messiah asks them a question and when He does I feel the point of it speaking to me. “Do you also want to leave me?”  I don’t know what Simon Peter was thinking, but if I’m being honest, I’m actually seriously considering His question. Yet when I hear the man’s response I resonate with it as my own: “Where else would I go? You have the words of life.”

There it is. My confession. Here I stand, I can do no other.

For all my fault and failure. For all my ignorance of things others may know. For all my doubt, I cannot escape the fact that coming into contact with my Savior has changed me and I cannot elude it, nor do I want to. It is my own, subjective experience and hardly qualifies as proof in a court of law, yet I cannot deny that Life has touched my death and changed me.

I have seen it in the confidence and confession of my dying parents, and theirs before them. I have known it in my deepest pain and sorrows—an inexplicable calm, and even a joy. When not even trying, I have seen, as it were, the “fingerprints of God” every place I turn. I have experienced his voice as if in the very air I breathe. I have seen lives become amazingly changed by these “words of life”—not the least of which, is my very own.  Oh, how do I describe the nearness, the inspired word at the unexpected, but exact moment of need? Can you describe the taste of ice cream to someone who has never heard of it?  I’m amazed, often enough, by the one who just left me with my jaw on the floor because I could plainly discern, in what they just said to me, an answer, a rebuke, a challenge or encouragement, that came from them, yes, but also from the One who made them. There is too much to tell. This is the assurance of my convictions.

We all have our convictions. To the degree we possess them we will quite naturally struggle a bit with those who possess conflicting convictions. In fact, as has been said, “The pinnacle of tolerance is only achieved by those unencumbered by conviction.”

So I see in the public discourse a good deal of “righteous indignation” at the heretics across the way. I am sometimes one of them  Maybe you are too?  It’s funny (but not amusing) to me how two parties can BOTH be smugly self-righteous and scandalized by EACH OTHER!  Seems a bit like the armies of the Union and the armies of the Confederacy both praying to the same God with the supplication that they be vindicated and their cause upheld. They both can’t be right. Perhaps both were correct in this or that point but both wrong in the way that only God sees clearly. Perhaps then, the greatest test of our authenticity and our possession of the Truth in the end may be how we deal with the one who truly is most unlike us. Someone has said that we only love God as much as the person we like the least. It has also been said that people need loving the most when they deserve it the least (it was hanging on a plaque plainly visible from the toilet seat in my parent’s home).

If I’m right, I must ask myself if I can love and serve and do the right thing by my most strident opponent. I can let them be. I can let them think what they want to think and try to understand. I can do them no harm (of any kind).  If they agree with me, perhaps they can “cut me some slack” for believing in an invisible God and attempting to comport my life according to what I believe He has actually said and done in history. Consider me a fool, if you like, and do as you like. In the end it will be none of us who determines the conclusion. But my money’s still on Israel’s God and the One He dispatched to rescue us. You may believe you have no need for such a thing—but I know that I do.

I must admit that I’ve visited their meetings.

I have been a some-time practitioner of the habits of some pretty dubious clubs.

I lodged no objection at the office, when someone not present was being criticized and slandered.

I chose rather to make my own contribution to the record. There was something somehow irresistible about feeling “better” than the one we accused. I felt a little guilty at the time, but not enough to be courageous. Not enough to stop it and walk away. Certainly not enough to observe that anything was amiss here.

The food at the party was incredible and delicious! There was so much to choose from so I chose not to. Some of just about everything. Had to loosen my belt a bit and felt gorged for the next 4 hours. It was all part of the party.

Friday and Saturday night’s wouldn’t  qualify as “The Weekend” unless we found some way of getting “ripped.” More than likely I’ve spent enough money on intoxicants to buy a new car. Wrecked one or two. Did a stint in the clink for DUI. I’m no saint.

I’ve gotten myself into some pretty questionable settings. There were those times, if it suited me, that my devious mind would spin a yarn—a fabrication—to hide the truth, to keep my dignity intact.

So yes, perhaps like many of you, I have been counted among the gossips, gluttons, fornicators, drunks and liars that the Bible says will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Not just as one who consorts, but as one of them. I have a proclivity that I’ve always possessed to do what I know is not right. I am, in short, a recovering sinner.

I speak now to Bible-believing persons who call themselves “Christians.” If that doesn’t describe you, then you’re not likely to see the point of any of this.

A dear friend of mine once told me of an esteemed mentor from his youth. He was described as an able teacher of the Bible. A giant of a man. In this case that description was apparently literal. This wonderful, loving, godly, man was morbidly obese. My friend related how, when he sat down to eat in the cafeteria, he consumed enough for a family of four. I had the temerity to suggest that this kind of thing was overlooked or “winked at” in Church circles when it is clearly gluttony. I questioned whether this was right when we make such loud remonstrations against other kinds of sins (such as sexual immorality). My friend simply smiled and quipped: “Now you’ve moved from preachin’ and have taken to meddlin.” There it is. Do we need to add hypocrisy to our list of sins?

Suppose I were to weary of this sin-sick world and my own urges to act out the moral deficiencies within? Suppose I have grown tired of the fight and the feelings of guilt?

Why, I might just selectively choose to close my eyes to the sins it would be inconvenient to acknowledge. I might even declare that, though I know otherwise, this thing or that is no sin at all.

What if I should all at once declare to all that I have grown tired of the struggle against sexual sin. Suppose, I have chosen now to give myself entirely to it and “explore the space”?  Suppose I want you to congratulate me on this achievement and celebrate my liberation”? I can tell you that my wife would not thank me.

It appears to me that there are those selective sins, even within the church, we have effectively declared to be, at worst, “idiosyncrasies” or personal foibles—certainly nothing to get excited about! After all, we’re loving. We’re tolerant. We’re inclusive. And we’re ALL sinners. So,…

But this is an unholy capitulation. It is NOT, in fact, love. It is NOT truth. We need so much to repent of these things and be holy as our Lord commanded us and equipped us to be. We ALL need to repent. I feel like the prophet Isaiah may have felt when he said of himself. “Woe to me, I’m gonna die. I am a man full of uncleanness and I live among a people like me.” (my paraphrase)

If we will not continue this joint effort to lay aside sin, being patient with one another in the process, then how can we expect a people who don’t even CLAIM to believe the Bible to do the same? For indeed, this is happening in our culture and in our day. What has for centuries been understood to be sin, is now the societally approved “new normal” of our age. Whether within the church or without, this throwing off of the will of God and approval and establishment of sin cannot end well for any of us who persist in it.

freestuffIncredulous people often ask opponents of what is variously being called “Obamacare” and the “Affordable Care Act” why anyone could possibly be opposed to providing healthcare for those who need it and cannot afford it? Their impression is that to oppose makes one comparable to Stalin, Hitler, or Idi Amin. Such a one obviously despises puppies, unicorns, rainbows, bacon, butter and love.

Something should be done to address the extreme high cost of obtaining healthcare. It’s just that ACA in it’s present form, is not it.

What, after all, may be observed in all this discourse that would lead one to believe that a healthcare system most of us can’t afford can be made affordable by simply requiring the same people who couldn’t afford healthcare insurance and services in the first place to pay for them anyway? Add to that the costs of a burgeoning federal bureaucratic, tax-supported machine that will oversee. What in this scenario actually lowers the cost of healthcare services? “The rich”, you say? If so, I hope you mean the top 5% who own most of the country. Because the rest of us, in what we used to call “the middle class”, fare little better, if at all, than the ones in the lowest income bracket. We are simply playing a “shell game” whereby we will fund big government and profitable insurance companies to keep paying for healthcare that still costs too much.

Where is it written that in order to address this issue we must socialize medicine and in order to do that we must strengthen and empower our already bloated, intrusive, and inefficient federal government with even more power to reach deeper into our pockets and into our privacy?

I don’t know what the answer is, but I know what it ain’t! It seems to me that what we have here is an oligarchy running a monopoly. There is not enough free-enterprise in this system.

If I go to get my brakes fixed, I will ask in advance, what the parts and services will cost before I approve services. I have choices. But when I seek to obtain medical care I don’t typically have that option. I will have no idea what this is gonna cost, and whatever they tell me it is, after the fact, I’m just gonna have to pay it. It won’t matter how ridiculously expensive it is likely to be.

Call me a cynic, but I believe wherever you see the flow of large amounts of cash, you will see selfishness, greed, and corruption. Our founders knew this about us and separated and balanced the powers of government to account for it. It seems to take forever to get a consensus and move forward with much of what we intend, but it’s due to the necessary checks-and-balances of our unique and brilliant system of government.

If we have built into our governing all this accountability, what has made us think that we can cut loose an enormous percentage of the populace with entitlement privilege paid for by others and not require of them at least an accountability to the whole? You know, a contribution and participation in their own well-being? Why will no one speak of personal responsibility? Does it really seem fair to you that a healthy non-smoking working 27-year-old should pay more for his healthcare (every month whether he needs it or not) as an unemployed 450 lb. sedentary smoker with terrible nutritional habits (who, in fact, will likely pay nothing)? It is one thing for a citizen to open his heart to freely help his neighbor who cannot help himself, it is quite another to institutionalize with government a class of people who will always receive and a class who will always be required to give. Such things ruin men. We can raise the debt ceiling high enough to bury us forever, but no amount of money we borrow from our great-grandchildren can fix this simply because we “meant well.” Able-bodied people must be a part of the solution of helping those who simply can’t help themselves. We have to distinguish the difference!

There will never be a true solution to these complicated problems that does not include personal, individual, responsibility and accountability. True, the rich should pay “their fair share” and the medical industry can be held accountable, but the free recipients can also do their part in what Habitat for Humanity calls “sweat equity.” Everything we get should cost us something. There is no “free lunch.” Somebody has to pay for everything. Being a part of effecting one’s own well-being builds individuals and society.

 

I think it’s interesting to see how God Himself provided that the poor be cared for.
If you go, for instance, to the OT book of Ruth, you find a wealthy man there named Boaz who had a lot of land, crops, and employees. The Law of God provided that when a field was harvested they were not to pick it clean. They were to leave some good sheaves of grain and the corners of the fields for the poor. They were not required to reap it for them, nor deliver it to them, nor were they required to give them a bigger percentage than that. The poor knew that God had provided that they had the right to glean the leftovers at the end of the day. They had to “wait their turn” and go do it themselves though. In the NT we hear the apostle Paul directing the young church, that if there were any among them who would not work they would not eat.

feed the pig

feed the pig

The Law also extracted a 10% tax rate–no more, no less. Some of that was earmarked for the poor. That didn’t mean, however, that that was all God hoped His people would do and give. He wants us to have big hearts for Him, expressed to others. That has always remained “free will” in God’s directives–not to be coerced at the end of a weapon wielded by any government or individual. Not to be demanded by some tyrannical arm of government, (even if those behind it were a majority of voters who “meant well.”) Boaz freely favored the young woman Ruth. It was his prerogative as the one who was able to freely give.

2 Corinthians 9:7“Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”

The “good” man Boaz was wealthy. Abraham and Solomon were fabulously wealthy. So was Joseph and David and many other “righteous men”. Yet there were still poor among them. They were free to dispose of their wealth as they saw fit to whomever they saw fit. Only God was and is their judge.

Jesus had much to say to us about our personal, individual, responsibility before Him to “help the poor!” So people of all persuasions talk about this wholesome enterprise. We seem to disagree about how best to do it—what best helps people? None of us, however,  are absolved PERSONALLY by depending on somebody else to do it.

And government is almost always a poor steward of what they extract from us. Fact is, our Founders knew this. If you give government an inch, it will take a mile. It has to be carefully restrained. We act as though only corporations are corrupt, and corruptible, and in need of restraint—and seem to think that government is and always will be benign–no matter how much power and personal responsibility we abrogate and relinquish to it.

Our brilliant Constitution and consequent system of government has permitted us the privilege of seeking to secure “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Equality was not on that list. Karl Marx was not correct. And though God loves all people regardless of anything, He too did not call for absolute equality and never provided for it. In fact, in the parables of Jesus some servants were given 10 times what other servants were given (based on discharge of their responsibilities)! Then, based on how they dealt what what was entrusted to them, the Master sometimes came back and even took the little bit they had and gave it to the one who had the most! (e.g. Matt. 25:28) He shelled out His gifts and favors as He saw fit.

In the early church there was much love and care being expressed for those in need. We’re told that the wealthier would, from time to time, sell some of their property and give it for distribution to the poor.
Ananias and his wife Sapphira had sold a piece of their property. They brought some of the money from the sale of the property but lied about it and said it was ALL the money. God was not happy with them (to say the least) because of their lie. But it’s interesting to see what Peter says to them before they are dealt with by God:

Acts 5:4a “Didn’t it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal?”

It was not demanded. It was not coerced. The rest of the believers were not at liberty to require it be given.

I would LOVE to see some leader (from any party) actually propose a viable plan whereby people could get self-respect and retain dignity and work to earn all assistance given. It would be good for them, and good for all of us.

Yes, we are very definitely responsible to help the poor. Let each one see to it. Sometimes people just can’t help themselves. Let us deal responsibly with what we have –be it great or small. There’s so much of the loving heart of God expressed in this. God wants us to give even for our own sakes—so that money and greed will not own us! He told a certain rich young ruler to sell EVERYTHING and give it to the poor. Though the young man went away sad, I sometimes wonder if he thought better of it and did exactly what Jesus said,  some time later? He was, however, free to make that decision. Palestine in the first century was “dirt poor.” There was no social welfare system. If God’s people didn’t help the poor, who would? Perhaps we have government taking over the role that the Church did not stay faithful to discharge? Perhaps too, we have created “a monster” heretofore unknown in human history, whereby such a significant percentage of the able-bodied population lives on the means provided by others, and often are able to have a smart phone, cable TV, and a late-model automobile.

Yet it’s interesting to note in the end, that not even God will help someone who demands it or who will not give an effort to help themselves.

See what Dave Ramsay has said that touches on this issue and the angst and anger being expressed by OWS