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Turning the Bible Into Behavior

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Ethics

The Cool Kids

Sometimes it seems our world has lost it’s ever-lovin’ mind. We split into divisions and factions. We see people as “like us” or “other-than us.”

Whites Only

Here’s the thing – I don’t think it’s biblical to see people as “other than.” It diminishes the other and treats people sinfully. This is what happens with discrimination.

Every kid in the world knows what it’s like to play favorites. Have you ever played kickball on the school field? Every kid who has ever been part of picking teams knows first-hand what discrimination looks like.

I have never ever been one of the cool kids. All my life I was always on the outside looking in but I’ve always been moreCool Kids Club of a nerd (before nerds were cool, so I guess I’m an original hipster). When you’re picking teams on the field who are the first to get picked? The cool kids. Then the athletes. Then, standing off to the sidelines, are the rest of us.

 

Picked last.

Now 6 and 7 year olds don’t go around saying, “You know, I’m gonna discriminate today based on athletic ability and the cool factor.”

The biblical writer James has something to say about how we segregate and differentiate. While James specifically talks about discrimination based on wealth or poverty, the Bible would have us understand that discrimination isn’t cool. For any reason. James 2:1-13 says:

My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, “You sit here in a good place,” while you say to the poor man, “You stand over there,” or, “Sit down at my feet,” have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor man. Are not the rich the ones who oppress you, and the ones who drag you into court? Are they not the ones who blaspheme the honorable name by which you were called?

If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. For he who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. So speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty. For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.

In our society we have a belief that I can break one law while still obeying other laws. We may not cheat on our taxes, but we speed. We differentiate our lawbreaking and lawkeeping. But Jews understood The Law to be a unified concept. If you break any part of the law you’re breaking all of the law.

How can you pretend to be righteous when you have your little side sin going on? This is what discrimination is. It breaks God’s law and makes us lawbreakers. But James tells us that we cannot treat Christians differently because of differences.

I’m not so naïve as to think we will ever eliminate distinctions. I’m not advocating some futuristic classless society. The key question is this – can we treat each other equally and fairly in spite of our differences and distinctions?

Jesus is the great equalizer that wipes away the distinctions between us. No, not literally. But the way we treat people who are “different” needs to be the same as we treat the best society has to offer.

Kids.
Women.
Poor.
Dark skinned.
Uneducated.
Foreigner.
And on and on and on…

We cannot assign people value based on categories. This is human, but this isn’t what the Kingdom of Heaven is supposed to be like. Today is Martin Luther King Jr. day in America. Take some time to reflect on discrimination and racism. We’ve come a long way.

We still have a long way to go.

Stop looking at people through human eyes. Start seeing people through God’s eyes.

 

**For Reflection**
How have I faced discrimination in my own life?
How have I discriminated against others?
Am I willing to see beyond the labels and categories and treat people as children of God regardless of their differences?

Related Posts:
Reflections on Racism from a Mixed-Race Couple
America: Still Racist After All These Years
My Kids Don’t Know They’re Black

You’re Breaking the Law But You Want the Church to Protect You?

Breaking the Law

Recently I read an article from MSN about a man who was ordered to be legally deported out of the U.S. back to Mexico. Instead of surrendering himself to the authorities, he took refuge in a church and sought sanctuary. As it stands now the government is not immediately taking action.

For some reason I can’t get Homer Simpson out of my head yelling out, “SANCTUARY! SANCTUARY!” and Reverend Lovejoy muttering to himself, “Why did I ever teach him that word?”

In all seriousness, though, I get that how we deal with illegal immigration is a hot topic for many.

The Bible calls us to treat well the foreigner in our midst. At the same time, I believe that Christians are called to be law abiding citizens (when the law doesn’t conflict with the Bible).

I understand the desire to help people, but I don’t think that the church should be getting involved in politically assisting people who break the law. I’m not cold-hearted, and I would see exceptions being granted for unjust, unethical, or immoral laws, but for all intents and purposes, we should not be assisting criminals – even in the name of grace and mercy.

Our primary purpose as the church is spiritual, not to protect people from the law. I’m reminded of the baptism scene from “O Brother Where Art Thou?”

Delmar thinks that his earthly crimes are no longer held against him because of his baptism. Later on his companion has to tell him that, though God may have forgiven him, the state will take a different view.

Ed Stetzer once wrote, “When you mix faith and politics you get politics.” We in the church ought to help the disenfranchised and show kindness to those who hurt and suffer. I don’t think the church should get involved in the political arena as much as it has been (especially in the U.S.). Where do we draw the line? For what crimes will we offer sanctuary? When will we turn people away?

It’s hard to balance demonstrating love and practically governing a nation. I don’t pretend to have all the answers on this issue, and I recognize that good Christian people will have different opinions. So I’m asking you:

What do you think? (keep it civil, keep it nice, and keep it from being racist…)

Related Post:
Christianity and Immigration Reform

Hobby Lobby and Taking a Stand for Faith

Hobby Lobby

You must be blind and deaf not to know about what’s going on in the Supreme Court today. Well, perhaps you’re just not plugged into the news. At any rate, Hobby Lobby is going before the Supreme Court to argue against the Affordable Care Act’s “Contraceptive Mandate.”

Basically, Hobby Lobby is saying that they are religiously opposed to providing types of contraceptives that work after conception. The government is going to try to force the issue saying that corporations are not individuals and cannot use religious belief to opt out of the government mandate.

The argument brings up a whole host of issues, but one of the primary issues is this: How do Christians behave in the middle of culture that is becoming increasingly hostile to Christian faith and practice?

I concede that not everyone believes the way I do. Some don’t see the contraceptive issue as a religious issue. Ed Stetzer released some data from Lifeway indicating that a majority of Americans believe organizations SHOULD be forced to provide contraceptives even when it goes against religious beliefs.

We’re all waiting to see how the Supreme Court will rule and what impact the ruling will have for “Christian” organizations and individuals.

In the meantime, let’s consider the example of Peter and John in the Bible. When they were called before the Jewish leaders and told to stop preaching or teaching in the name of Jesus. Peter and John answered:

Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God. (Acts 4:19)

As Christians our ultimate accountability is to God, not to civil government. When we truly feel God calling us to do something, heaven help us if we ignore the call and yield to man. The Apostle Paul writes:

Our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for a savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. (Philippians 3:20)

When we understand where we belong and where our ultimate loyalty lies, sometimes we will stand against civil government and say, “I will not yield on this point.”

Here’s the kicker.

It will mean that we endure hardships here. It may not be possible to have our cake and eat it, too. When Christian businesses take a stand on faith, they may be forced to pay penalties and fines or even be forced out of business. This is the cost of being a believer in a broken and sinful world.

While I would like to see the Supreme Court rule in favor of Hobby Lobby, I will not be surprised if doesn’t happen. Then the real test comes. Will Hobby Lobby remain loyal to the faith they now proclaim or will they yield to the rule of man?

Like Jesus said:

I have told you these things so that in Me you may have peace. You will have suffering in this world. Be courageous! I have conquered the world. (John 16:33)

 

How Bad Can I Be and Still Be a Christian?

 

Image courtesy of fotographic1980 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of fotographic1980 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

We are masters at justifying our behavior. If we REALLY want something then we will find a way to convince our brains and our hearts that it is okay to do it. Those of us who are really slick and have a little bit of the Bible tucked away in our heads will bring up Scripture to justify our behavior.

The Apostle Paul once heard a report from the church in the city of Corinth that blew his mind. It seems that one of the church members had an affair with his father’s wife. The church was so proud of their liberty and freedom and openness. Paul was not proud. Instead, he wrote:

Shouldn’t you rather have been filled with grief and have put out of your fellowship the man who did this? (1 Corinthians 5:2)

I would guess that a good many of us have never tried to get frisky with our step mothers, there are other areas in our lives where we do what we want to do even when we know we shouldn’t be doing it.

Someone once talked to me about the two types of Christians: law-driven people and grace-driven people. When it comes to justifying our behavior we all suddenly turn into grace-driven Christians, promoting God’s grace above all else.

“God’s grace covers all.”

Paul had to fight this mentality from the church in Rome. His response:

What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? (Romans 6:1-2)

Don’t get me wrong – I’m a big believer in God’s grace. If God were not gracious with us we’d all be toast. But we must walk that line between receiving grace and abusing grace.

Grace does not give us carte blanche to sin and willfully make unrighteous decisions. Grace does offer to catch us when we fall. Grace helps us get back on track. But as we grow in our faith and in our relationship with God, our new life should pull us away from the old behavior into a new way of doing things. It’s spiritual maturity. Paul continues:

In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires….For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law but under grace. (Romans 6:11-14)

Remember when you fell in love for the first time? Most of us will go through a lot in order to change ourselves so that we can be the perfect partner for the one we love (many young people foolishly pretend to be something other than what they really are, and that will blow up later). The point is this – grace isn’t about abusing the freedom God has given us. It’s not a get out of jail free card to continue making evil choices. Grace should be drawing us in a closer relationship with God to the point where we WANT to be different.

It’s not about “How bad can I be and still be a Christian?”

It’s about “How much do I love Jesus, and what am I willing to do to belong to him?”

Related Posts:
Making Waves: Behaving Badly
Becoming a Better Me
Creating Life Change

How Can a Real Christian Support Abortion?

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

In a recent blog post I made the case that, contrary to some extreme Evangelical positions, Barack Obama is not the AntiChrist. You can read the original post here:

Quick summation: The President has publicly claimed that he is a Christian. The Bible makes the point that the antichrist will be self-promoting and deny that Jesus is the Christ. The end result is that, while people may be unhappy with the president and his policies, we are in no position to judge his faith.

What really got me was one of the comments someone left on that post. Someone asked:

How can a real Christian support abortion?

The question really made me stop and realize that this country needs to have an honest conversation about what makes a Christian. No, not just about what makes a Christian—about what makes a REAL Christian. It seems that some people have a belief that there is a difference between a real Christian and a fake Christian and that it is possible to discern the difference based on the political and/or ethical positions one does or does not support.

So what makes a Christian?

The Apostle Paul writes in Ephesians 2:8-9:

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.

Simply put, it is our faith in Jesus Christ that restores us to right relationship with God (that’s what Evangelicals mean when we say “saved”). Left to ourselves we end up breaking our connection to Him. Our faith in Jesus restores that relationship. What makes a Christian? Someone who has faith that Jesus is the Christ (the anointed one).

For millennia the Christian Church has held to the Apostles’ Creed, the set of beliefs that unifies Christians regardless of denominational differences. The Creed contains the “biggies” that unite us despite our differences. The Creed states:

I believe in God the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth. I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord. He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary. Under Pontius Pilate, He was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended to the dead. On the third day he rose again. He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again to judge the living and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.

Did you see it? The part in there about real Christians vs. fake Christians and politics and ethics? No?

That’s because it’s not there. It’s not in the Bible. It’s not in the Church’s historic Creeds. Salvation is God’s gift of grace through our faith – it’s not something that can be earned by doing the right things or by avoiding the wrong things.

Dang. This means that salvation is much broader than we would like it to be! This means that we can’t throw derogatory labels on others simply because they hold to positions that we think are wrong.

Don’t misunderstand me – I personally believe that life (inside or outside the womb) is precious and should not be taken lightly. I don’t favor abortions. At the same time, we should be highly uncomfortable labeling someone as a fake Christian simply because we disagree with them on matters of politics or ethics.

Good Christians with good intentions can still disagree with each other. We get too caught up on what a real Christian looks like that we stop acting like Christ towards those with whom we disagree! Even in disagreement we can remain civil and behave decently towards each other.

C.S. Lewis once wrote that it is not possible for us to look at another Christian and judge their faith based on their behavior. At the MOST all we can say is that we don’t believe their behavior aligns with that which we consider to be Christian behavior. We give in to un-Christian impulses when we say, “Real Christians don’t support….” It’s not about ethical positions.

Because in the end the only position that has eternal consequence is our position before the cross.

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