Reflections On living In Response To The Creator of Our Garden Planet
I am not sure the best way to address the continual drum beat by those who insist that the United States is a “Christian Nation.”
I am tempted to address the issue historically, and point out that among our most influential founders was Thomas Jefferson, a Deist, who edited out the parts of the bible he didn’t like.
I could also address the issue politically, and point to the form of government and its assumptions about democracy and the influence of the Greeks, The Iroquois, the Romans and the Enlightenment thinkers, none of them Christian.
Neither are our founding documents explicitly “Christian”. Instead, our Declaration of Independence and our Constitution express a faith in people, in freedom, and in a system of checks and balances. Yes “God” is included in the documents, but the bible is not mentioned. Indeed, rejecting the states involvement in the Church, the first Amendment to our constitution expressly proclaims that the individual is to be free from the government control of religion. This Amendment reads:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise there of; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
Upon this first amendment we see the articulation that government cannot chose a religion for our nation, nor prohibit the exercise there of. What is important is that we keep reading, as the freedom of the press, speech and assembly all point back to the government being prohibited from telling us what to believe, think, and say, and to gather peaceably/petition to object when these rights are infringed.
The tricky part is how do we allow people of all faiths express their faith in the public square without imposing one faith upon another? This has always been at the heart of our political and public discussion because there have always been those whose world views conflict with the majority, and majorities always tend to think that “might makes right.” The beauty of our Constitutional form of government however is that the rights of individuals are in constant tension with the will of the masses, and this is how it should be. The challenge, and the reason for our form of government with its distinct branches, is to prevent the “tyranny of the majority.”
So to my fellow Christians, let me suggest that the best way to think about the United States of America is not as a Christian Nation, but as a majority Christian nation. As the majority we have the opportunity to create a “more perfect union” with the minority to improve the lives of our neighbors, pursue justice and to live freely. We also have the opportunity to share our faith as the bible instructs, and not assuming that all will respond to the gospel. Along the way we must remember that message of the gospel is that people from every tongue, tribe and nation are called to be His people. (Rev.5-7)
To me, we are a Christian Nation only so far as we are yeast, teaching people how to love and live in the peaceable Kingdom. While many religions force converts at the tip of a sword, the hallmark of biblical Christianity is that all are called by Grace. There is nothing one must do to live in the eternal Christian Nation but to repent and confess. God is on the throne, regardless of who occupies Washington.
What do you think?
Should we believers in the Western Reserve start a new team,
Team Jesus already plays, most Sunday mornings, and has a tremendous coaching staff, owner, General Manager, and some of the best players, if you want to call everyone that has been recruited by the Holy Spirit by that name.
Some of Team Jesus plays in fairly large arenas, with professional musicians and teams of ushers, and even one or two security guards. They have professional sound and light technicians, and the state of the art scoreboards.
Most of team Jesus however assembles in small venues, seating less than 200, with a small coaching staff, mostly amateur musicians. Nevertheless, these squads of team Jesus are just as fervent as any other. They come to pray, to shout acclamation, and even cheer for their hero, the one whose symbol is often on the walls or on the steeples. The one who doesn’t fumble, but whose body was so broken they thought he would never pray again.
While some think so, team Jesus doesn’t have special jerseys or shoulder pads, and certainly doesn’t have a color commentator broadcasting every prayer. It does have choirs of angels however, an advance team that doesn’t rely on instant replay. Come to think of it, they are the advance squad, making sure all the players show up.
Go Team Jesus!
Garbage day is the best day of the week,
because on garbage day I can take anything I don’t want
and just throw it away….wherever away is.
Garbage day is the best day of the week,
because on garbage day some guys with a truck,
come by and just empty the cans,
leaving them for me to fill up again.
And all that stuff I didn’t want becomes out of sight and out of mind.
In some respects, the sabbath day is Garbage Day,
because on the Sabbath I am reminded that the Lord has taken
all my stuff…… all my mistakes, my tresspasses, my sins,
and carries them away,
not to some landfill in the next county,
but so far away there are barely words to describe it.
Psalm 103 tells us;
The Lord is compassionate and gracious,
slow to anger, abounding in love.
9 He will not always accuse,
nor will he harbor his anger forever;
10 he does not treat us as our sins deserve
or repay us according to our iniquities.
11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his love for those who fear him;
12 as far as the east is from the west,
so far has he removed our transgressions from us.
Come to think about it, for those who know Christ as Lord, every day is garbage day.
One of the biggest mysteries of our lives is the way the Lord draws us together to be his people. In the age before the unprecedented mobility of the middle class, and indeed for most of the world today, churches are composed of believers that live together in the same neighborhood or town.
Of course in modern America, we chose our churches, by doctrine, denomination or dozens of other priorities. While there is a church within a half a block of my house, we chose to be a part of one that is a few miles away. Many travel 10, 15 and 20 miles every Sunday to their church home.
There is something liberating about the mobility that allows us to chose a church that we feel is faithful, fitting for the life of our family, and frankly – comfortable. We want to find a place we belong, and more and more this is possible, given the choices. This is the up side of the church as “voluntary association”, an organization that we chose, assuming that the church accepts us, and our faith confessions are in sync.
The challenge of course is that if we can shop for churches as easily as we shop for a cake or a car we can start to think that being a part of the body of Christ is about us. We can start to think that our “needs” must be met, the parking lot is paved and well lit, that the music is to our liking or that the pastor delivers a powerful message. But the mystery of the gospel is that while we join a church voluntarily, the holy spirit compels us to abandon our preferences and priorities for the sake of the whole, so that in us the world might know that God is love, and that not only does he command us to love, but that he delivers us into a kingdom not of our making.
I go to church because I love Jesus and I love his people. While I am not the most loving and most easily loved, I know that at church love is the whole point. I go to church because Jesus loves me.
I go to church because it is a place where I am not expected to impress anyone, and where it is not acceptable to stand in judgement. While I know some people are there to impress and some people cannot help but to judge, I know that it is a place that is expected to be welcoming and warm. I go to church because no matter how unimpressive or unacceptable I feel, Jesus still accepts me.
I go to church because it is a place where I can expect to meet God and his people. I know that sometimes I do not go with the right mindset, the right heart or the right attitude, and that others might be in the same boat. But no matter what, there are always people there that are glad to see me, and always a new person to meet or someone to get to know better, if only I make the effort.
I go to church because I am one of His people, and his people are my people.
I go to church because God’s people gather to sing and be sung to, songs of worship and songs of faith are a central part of the gathering. I go to church because it is where God’s people sing praises to the One who transformed earthly flesh into eternal spirit, the one who was greeted by a heavenly host at his birth. I go to church because we sing, and by singing we join with the angels in celebration of life and love.
I go to church to hear God’s Word. We hear God’s word in the church lobby, in the classroom, from the mouths of babes and from the teaching of our elders. We hear God’s word from the lectern and the pulpit, from the building and the bulletin. I go to church to hear Gods word.
I go to church………. Perhaps this Sunday you can join me?
Who is the Church? Is it the pastor, the pope, the bishop, the presbytery, the congregation, the board of elders, the deacons?
My hunch is that the difficulty in answering that question has a lot to with the reason behind the way our Lord provided us guidance on such matters through the Word. In the Word, the church is presented metaphorically, using terms that the listeners and the readers could connect to. The list of metaphors is long, the church is among other things:
the house of God
the body of Christ
the bride of christ
The church therefore is presented not as an organization but rather an organism. The emphasis is on the relationship, not so much the hierarchy; on the integrity rather than the energy, the power or the money.
We are the flock, that listens to the shepherd who loves us (John 8)
We are the house of God, being built to edify him.
We are the body of Christ, composed of many members, all of equal worth and importance.
We are the bride of Christ, anxiously awaiting our groom.
Some would say that these images are matters of principle rather than practical guidelines for how to organize the church. To that I must ask, are not our leaders shepherds, willing to die for the lost and the weak? Is not our body, made up of weak and strong, all needing each other to become better disciples of Christ? Are we not all working hard at being the radiant bride, acceptable to the bridegroom? Are we not building an edifice, not of brick, and stone, steel and glass, but a people that together are beautiful because we work so well together?
We are the church.
Two big words that describe what Easter is all about.
Jesus is, by his death, a sacrifice for our sins. He stands in, is our substitute, taking our punishment for us. In the words of Romans 3:25,
“God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood.”
Atonement is a hard concept to the modern ear, and this is easy to understand. It is used 98 times in the old testament, and only 4 times in the New.
We moderns want to be self-sufficient, but we are as legalistic as the ancients. We want justice, we want the scales to be balanced, and we think that we alone can make that happen.
Like the ancients we think that we are good enough and can work hard enough to secure our temporal and eternal destiny. While we want to be at-one with God or the universe, we think we can atone alone. We think we can be righteous if only we do the right things.
Paul the apostle reminds us otherwise.
“But now a righteousness from God, apart from the law, has been made known, to which the law and the prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe, there is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his Grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. (3:21-24)
We are a one car family, and its a little one at that. It is so small that when we get any significant amount of snow the wheel wells can get so clogged with snow it is hard to turn the wheels, and it can be difficult to brake.
This wheel well snow is really compacted and frozen gray slush that every car seems to capture to some degree. In contrast to the pure white snow that covers the lawn and garden, this stuff is just plain ugly, and it encumbers our mobility.
I have tried to find out what the name of this wheel well crud is, and unlike regular snow, it doesn’t have dozens of names in the Inuit language. For this reason I just call it wheel well sin.
Like every day sin, wheel well sin reminds me that cars are dirty, ugly, polluting and dangerous beasts that kill and maim hundreds of thousands in our country alone. While we might enjoy driving, and especially driving through fresh snow, the snow on the streets doesn’t stay pretty very long. Sin tarnishes our pristine lives and encumbers us in ways that are not always so obvious. Sometimes it is our sin, sometimes the sins of others.
The Psalmist speaks of God cleansing our sins, of being washed, whiter than snow. (Psalm 51:7), This is a grand metaphor of the work of Christ, being cleansed of our sins, being washed with hyssop.
As for the wheel wells of our little car, we have a nifty car wash down the street from our house that does a great job. I’m told vegetable oil in a spray pump can works pretty well too, preventing the wheel well sin from getting hold in the first place.
One of the interesting things about Facebook is learning the political persuasions of fellow church goers. While I have known quite a bit based on running for office on the local level, it is eye opening to read the posts of others and the linkages they make between a political issue and Christianity. Many times these linkages are not explicit, indeed most times they are not, but even so, I have to wonder if some of my brothers and sisters believe in the same Lord that I do, read the same bible or are seeking to be faithful to the same Gospel. Thank God we are not called to agree, but to be one.
The call to community, what my pastor calls “the new community” is one of the most unique aspects of the Christian faith. Christianity is a “one- another faith”. Eleven times in the New Testament believers are commanded to “love one another,” . This is a hard teaching because many times we find it difficult to even like, the people that God has brought together into a body. Finding ways to love, as difficult as that may be, is only possible by the power of the holy spirit and our submission to God’s Word.
I like to think that God calls us to his new community so that we can learn how to call those outside the body, and especially others that are not likable, to join in his eternal communion. We are vessels of clay, fragile, depending upon God’s grace, held together by the most improbable of ties, the sacrifice of God himself.
This is why we are reminded in Ephesians, Chapter 3 3 Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.
I once wrote a letter to the editor of the local paper, quoting Galatians 5:19-21
“The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. “
My letter was an attempt, in response to many hate-filled epistles about the sin of homosexuality, to show how the bible puts sexual sin into context. Surely, “selfish ambition”, “dissensions” and “factions”, combined with a little “jealousy, and discord”, are central “acts of the flesh” prevalent in and out of the church.
To my letter, someone who I later found out was a bisexual partner of a transsexual, and with whom I had worked on several open space preservation projects, reacted with hostility.
Another time I was out campaigning for city council and came to the house of a psychologist who in his practice counseled many homosexuals. He knew that I was an evangelical Christian. What he said, and I paraphrase, still echoes in my bones. “Have you ever counseled someone who wanted to kill himself because his family and church told him that there was something wrong with him, but not them?” Every year, thousands of gay and lesbian people kill themselves in America. As many among us work so diligently to “defend” marriage, many in the world in need of a savior only see a crazed, self-righteous coalition that wants to legislate everyone’s morality except their own.
As people who have been liberated by the dying work of our savior we must not be afraid of the liberation of others from the laws that have been codified about sexual sin. Indeed, do we not think others deserving of the same Grace that we have known?
In Galatians 5 13-14 Paul wrote, You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
And his answer to those, and indeed all of us, who struggle with “acts of the flesh”, is worth repeating: (verses 22-26)
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.