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Cancer – Up Close and Personal

Somewhere around eleven years ago we found out that my wife has non-Hodgkins Lymphoma.  Probably like most people, I did not know a whole lot about cancer.  However, I did know that this was not a good diagnosis.  Among the first things that I learned was that it is very confusing to think about cancer as though it were a singular thing.  There are many different kinds of cancer that have differing characteristics and differing treatment options.  There are even many different kinds of Lymphoma.  After my wife had gone through the diagnosis process and got connected with a very good oncologist, one of the first things that we were told was that when it comes to Lymphoma we should hope that she had one of the very aggressive and fast growing forms.  That certainly seemed counter-intuitive.  The doctor did explain that with the more aggressive forms after a course of treatment a cure was a reasonable outcome.  No such luck.  She has a more slow growing and less aggressive form.  In these cases, treatment can beat back the cancer and lead to periods of time without symptoms, but it cannot be cured and it will return.

She is now at the mid point in her fourth round of treatment spaced out over the past eleven years.  We know that over the years cancer treatment and the results that can be achieved have progressed significantly.  Many forms of cancer that were once immanently fatal can now be cured.  There are many cancer survivors out there who have benefited greatly from progress that has been made.  Even for those who have been treated successfully the treatment is most often brutal.  People often point to losing one’s hair as one of the negative side effects of treatment.  That is only a question of vanity and is minor on the scale of what people in treatment go through.  When we were talking to the oncologist just today, he said the same thing that I have said a number of times, “Chemo-therapy takes you as close to death as possible without crossing that line.”  The body’s immune system is reduced to near zero.  So every bug is ready to take advantage bringing whatever illness it can with it.  When she is able to go out, it is routine for me to grab the sanitizer near the store entrance and wipe down the shopping cart before she touches it.  The effect of the drugs used in chemo is also to cause nausea and exhaustion.  Mental sharpness can also be impacted.  My wife calls it “chemo-brain”.

Now the duration and scheduling of treatment varies depending on the kind of chemo or radiation involved.  Some treatments may be daily for a week or more.  Others, like my wife’s are one day every three weeks.  This time she will will be having six treatments, so the treatment will last almost four months.  Where the cancer is localized surgery may be part of the treatment process but even then it will usually be paired with either radiation or chemo.  Here is some helpful guidance for all.  If you know anyone who is going through cancer treatment and you even think that there is a possibility that you may be getting sick, stay away from them!!  You may be well motivated and want to visit and cheer them up, but the very last thing that they need is your germs.  Bringing flowers or plants to them is also probably not a good idea.  During the times when my wife is most compromised she must even avoid any uncooked vegetables, so no salads or coleslaw.

If you would like to help out and bring a meal that might be a great thing to do.  But, ask about dietary issues first.  Chemo can have a major impact on taste and digestion.  My wife never cared much for spicy foods until she had chemo.  Then when everything tasted so bland spice helped some.  She has always loved a good steak or piece of prime rib but while on chemo she cannot tolerate beef.  We have a friend who is Polish and always love kielbasa but since chemo she has not been able to eat it at all.  We went to a restaurant one time and requested that all raw vegetable garnish be left off of my wife’s plate.  When the food was brought out there they were.  We had to try to explain to an unsympathetic server that we could not accept this and that it would simply not do to take the plate back to the kitchen, remove the veggies, and bring the plate back to us.  Not at all sure that this happened.

As cancer treatment has improved and more people are being cured that has come to be more and more of an expectation.  It is always great to hear that someone has been “cancer free” for five years, or ten year or more.  At the same time it is important to be sensitive to those, who because of the kind of cancer that they have, will never be cancer free.  There may me times when the cancer has been reduced and they actually feel pretty well.  They may be able to live relatively “normal” lives during these times.  But, the cancer is always there.  It will become active again and the need for treatment will need to be considered once again.  We have discussed with each other and with our adult children that at any point it is entirely up to my wife if she chooses to opt for treatment.  She is the only one who can make that decision and I will support her in every way that I can whatever choice she makes.

Another consideration for those dealing with cancer.  It is one thing to embark on the ordeal of treatment is the prognosis is a potential cure.  To consider treatment when it means going through the ordeal knowing that this is a cycle that will repeat itself again.  As I said my wife is currently going through her fourth cycle of treatment in eleven years.  When she was first diagnosed we were told that average life expectancy for someone with her type of cancer was about ten years.  She has beaten that average.  There is always the hope that before she needs to face treatment again there will be a new medical breakthrough that will mean cure is possible.  We are people of strong and enduring faith.  We believe that miracles are always possible and have prayed that this might happen, but it has not.  We can accept that.  Faith that only works when things go well seems that it is not worth much.  My wife is an incredibly strong woman and her strength of character and faith dwarfs my own.

A final note: if you know someone with cancer, consider their caretaker.  I know that this may seem self-serving for me to say at this point.  I don’t mean for it to, but the reality is that cancer does not only affect the person with the disease.  I know that I feel guilty when I even consider myself to be having a difficult time.  My wife is going through so much more than I am.  Remember cancer is not contagious.  You cannot get it from someone who has it.  They will likely appreciate hearing from you.  Be encouraging without being unrealistic.  Let them know that you care.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Whole Gospel

THE WHOLE GOSPEL

 

 

You shall not pervert the justice due to the sojourner or to the fatherless, or take a widow’s garment in pledge, but you shall remember that you were a slave in Egypt and the Lord your God redeemed you from there; therefore I command that you do this when you reap your harvest in your field, and have forgotten a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to get it; it shall be for the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow; that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands.  When you beat your olive trees, you shall not go over the boughs again; it shall be for the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow.  When you gather the grapes of your vineyard, you shall not glean it afterward; it shall befor the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow.  You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt; therefore I command you to do this.   Deuteronomy 24: 17-22

 

And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that He answered them well, asked        him, “Which commandment is the first of all?”  Jesus answered,  “The first is, ‘Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’  The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’  There is no other commandment greater than these.”                                    Mark 12: 28-31

 

 

 

Particularly during the past hundred years, Christians have been guilty of bisecting the Gospel.  We can define Gospel as the good news of God’s desired plan for man to live in relationship to Him.  This plan is very comprehensive and thorough.  It impacts on all of life and this is very clear from any substantial study of the whole of Scripture.  Because we have come to see human beings as dichotomized, we have also seen the Gospel dichotomized.  We draw rather distinct divisions between what is “spiritual” and what is “physical”.  The result is that the Gospel has been divided into these same two realms.  This has led to two separate and equally false new “gospels” that have been created.

 

THE SOCIAL GOSPEL

In the early part of this century, following the thinking of liberal theologians, there developed what came to be known as the “Social Gospel”.  To somewhat oversimplify this perspective; it held that the true message of the gospel was to improve society by improving the physical conditions of people.  It was very much concerned with the Biblical mandates to meet the needs of the poor and to seek justice.

Exponents of the “social gospel” either minimized or discounted all together the need for personal salvation.  Salvation was instead seen in societal terms.  The creation of a world in which human needs were met, and the lot of those who suffered injustice was seriously addressed, was seen as all that was need to fulfill the will of God.

Largely in reaction to the “social gospel”, evangelicals and fundamentalists rejected the involvement in social issues and defined the gospel in purely spiritual terms.  From their perspective the gospel dealt only with the need for personal regeneration.  Evils in society would all be solved if only everyone were saved.  It also seemed reasonable that since the soul is eternal, and the body is only temporary, it was of more significance.

 

As a result of this perspective, those of this school of thought removed themselves from involvement in any effort to correct areas in the culture that involved physical needs or issues of justice.  Where Christians of the previous century had been involved in the abolitionist movement and the “social gospel” adherents were involved in the civil rights movement, these Christians chose to be uninvolved in these kinds of issues.

It is true that there was some involvement in meeting physical needs, which can be illustrated by what I would call the “rescue mission mentality”.  This does not contradict my point, but rather helps to clarify it.  Those involved in this type of effort did get involved in meeting physical needs of those who needed food or shelter, but they did so only as a means to address the spiritual needs with which they were primarily concerned.  This is why the typical methodology was to provide a meal and shelter only on the condition of attending a service with an evangelistic appeal.  The dichotomization is emphasized and not eliminated in this approach.  Meeting physical needs alone could not be justified.  It must serve the higher purpose of getting to the more significant spiritual needs.

 

HALF TRUTH PRESENTED AS WHOLE TRUTH BECOMES UNTRUTH

The problem is that both of these perspectives are wrong.  They are clearly what Paul refers to as “other gospels”.  They are not the gospel of Scripture.  The true Gospel is not either or, it is both.  Either half of the whole to the neglect of the other half becomes a lie.

 

Throughout the Old Testament, it is clear that God judges spiritual fidelity by concern for physical needs and justice.  Any reading of the Law and the Prophets will drive home that point powerfully.  Jesus own ministry must be looked to as the ultimate living out of the Gospel.  Throughout His time on earth He met physical needs of people AND He preached about the need for spiritual new life.  Never did He say to anyone, “I will heal you.  But, first you must listen to me preach.”  He, as best we can tell, healed many who chose not to follow Him.  In one case we know that nine out of ten lepers whom He healed did not even bother to say thank you, let alone follow Him.  Since Jesus was God, He healed people and fed people knowing that they would reject His spiritual message.  This is completely contrary to the “rescue mission mentality”.

Jesus demonstrated that meeting physical needs was good and worthwhile in and of itself.  It is truly part of the Gospel.  But, Jesus did not just meet physical needs; He also clearly and directly confronted the need for personal regeneration.  In clearest terms He told Nicodemus, “You must be born again to see the Kingdom of Heaven.”  Jesus practiced and taught the whole Gospel.  The two dimensions were not necessarily linked in every encounter with needs, but they were both equally vital parts of His ministry.

 

We must recapture this sense of wholeness and reject the dualism that has taken over our thinking.  God is concerned with people.  The Gospel is addressed at meeting whatever needs exist.  The physical and the spiritual are two sides of the same coin.  They cannot be separated.  We need to reject terms like “soul winning”.  (The only time that this phrase appears in the Bible is in Proverbs 11: 30, is a bad translation in the King James Version and is very unclear as to its actual meaning.)  “Soul winning” reinforces the dichotomization.  We should be involved in winning people, whole people.  When we see people, we need to see them with all of their needs and we need to be concerned with meeting all of those needs.  Out of love, we need to do what we can to meet those needs.  They are all integrated in ways that may not be immediately obvious to us.

It should be noted that not all believers may be involved in addressing all kinds of needs.  Those with different gifts and interests will be involved in meeting different kinds of needs.  What is significant is that, as the Body of Christ, we should be corporately involved in meeting all kinds of needs.  Some are gifted to evangelize, while others are gifted to meet physical needs.  As a Body, we must recognize that both are of equal importance in fulfilling our mandate to live out the Gospel.

 

I believe that we have little appreciation for how integrated we as human beings really are.  When we are truly concerned for the physical needs of people and address them with true compassion, we often open the door to the spiritual realm as well.  This is NOT justification for meeting physical needs, but an observation of how things often work out.  If a person perceives that we are interested in their physical needs only so that we can “preach at them”, and they will, then they will be likely to put up their defenses.  But, if the honest concern for their immediate need is sensed they may be open to knowing why we care when everyone else is preoccupied with their own desires.

Several years ago, my wife started a shelter for women in crisis pregnancy situations.  She did this because she was tired of Christians saying that abortion was wrong and not providing a viable alternative.  They also far too often communicated far more concern for the unborn baby than for the needs of the mother.  She was sincerely motivated by compassion for women who were involved in very difficult situations.  For her this was a totally legitimate living out of the Gospel.  It was never a major point to see that every woman who stayed at the shelter was confronted with her need for salvation.  They all knew that their lives were messed up.  My wife’s experience, over and over again, was that women wanted to know what made he do what she was doing.  Why did she care so much, when no one else seemed to?  This was an open invitation to deal with spiritual issues.  The important thing is that it was invited and not forced.  This was not an agenda.  It was an understandable reaction.  I have heard it said that our most effective evangelism will take place in response to questions that people will ask about why we do what we do.  I believe that this is true.  But, first we must be doing.

 

As a contrast to my wife’s experience in the maternity shelter, there is a center in our city that also seeks to help women in crisis pregnancy situations.  Their philosophy is very different.  They operate from the “rescue mission” approach.  They have as their primary goal evangelism.  They use the crisis situation in women’s lives to get at the spiritual need.  They believe that this is the more important issue.  In reality their second motivation is to prevent the baby from being aborted.  Concern for the physical needs of the woman involved comes third on their agenda.  People are sensitive to this type of manipulation and are very likely to resent the dishonesty that is involved.  It would be much more constructive, and so much more Biblical, if they would operate based on an understanding of the wholeness of the Gospel.

If we call ourselves Christians, that means that we claim to be followers of Christ.  If He is our Lord, we are obligated to follow His example and His commands.  To understand what the Gospel is and to understand the will of God demands that we act in light of the whole of His revealed word, not just some part with which we are comfortable and familiar.  If we do not we are guilty of creating a new gospel, a false gospel, rather than living out and preaching His Gospel.  Only the Gospel of Christ is true.  Anything else is merely a parody or a lie.

 

SUGGESTED READING:  Deuteronomy

Mark

John

“Let Justice Roll Down” by John Perkins

Understanding the Church

 

And now I am no more in the world, but they are in the world, and I am

coming to you.  Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have

given me, that they may be one, even as we are one…I do not pray for

these only, but also for those who believe in me through their word,

that they may all be one; even as you, Father, are in me, and I in you,

that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have

sent me.                   Jesus prayer in John 17: 11, 20-21

 

I appeal to you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all

of you agree and that there be no dissensions among you, but that you be

united in the same mind and the same judgment.  I Corinthians 1: 10

 

 

 

WHAT IS THE CHURCH?

The concept of Church is crucial to our life as Christians.  Our understanding of Church has departed substantially from the Biblical standard.

The consequences of that departure are of major significance.  To consider the validity of these statements we need to start with how the term Church is used in the New Testament.  The Greek word that has been translated Church is ecclesia, and it is used in two different ways within the Bible.

 

THE CHURCH UNIVERSAL – The word Church is used to describe the universal spiritual body of all Christians everywhere.  In other words whenever anyone, anywhere, comes to Christ, that person immediately becomes a part of the one true Church.  The Church in this sense of the term is a huge umbrella that covers all Christians.  In Matthew 16:18, Jesus, Himself, uses the word in this way when He say to Peter, “…upon this rock I will build my Church.”  There is very little disagreement on this understanding of the Universal Church.

THE LOCAL CHURCH – The second way that the word is used in the New Testament is more particular and limiting.  It is used to describe the more definitive group of believers who lived in a particular city.  In I Corinthians 1:2, Paul addresses his letter to the “church of God which is at Corinth”.  This is just one of many examples of this usage.  Where the Universal Church crosses boundaries of time and space, the Local Church is defined by time and space.  It is a subset of the Universal Church resident in a given city at a given time.

What is most significant is that in the New Testament the Local Church is always singular in a given city.  There was never a question of “Church membership” in the New Testament.  When a person became a Christian, they not only became immediately a part f the Universal Church, they also became a part of the Local Church where they lived.  Every believer in Ephasus would have been a “member” of the Local Church of Ephasus.  There were no choices involved.  One verse that might seem to contradict the idea of one city/one Church is Galatians 1:2.  In it Paul address the ChurchES of Galatia.  This is easily clarified by understanding that Galatia was a province, not a city.  There were a number of cities in Galatia and therefore could have been numerous Local Churches.

 

 

THE MODERN “LOCAL CHURCH” – In the modern American context the “local church” has come to mean something very different.  There are in fact many “local churches” in just about any city using current terminology.  Each individual gathering of believers, defined by theological differences, style of worship, philosophy of ministry, or whatever else makes it different, is defined as a “local church”.  There are Baptist churches, Presbyterian churches, Methodist churches, Catholic churches, etc..  Many of the denominations are further divided.  There are Southern Baptists, Conservative Baptists, American Baptists, Missionary Baptists, etc..  There are United Presbyterians, Orthodox Presbyterians, United Methodists, Free Methodists, etc..  All have some differences that make them distinct from all of the rest.  It is necessary to realize that while the multiplicity of “local churches” is a modern fact of life, it was a situation that was unknown in the New Testament.

 

 

 

 

SO WHAT’S THE BIG DEAL?  THINGS ARE JUST DIFFERENT NOW.

DISUNITY DESTROYS CREDIBILITY – Jesus addressed the issue of unity among His followers in His prayer to the Father, shortly before His crucifixion.  This is recorded in John 17: 11-21.  He prayed not only for the unity of His disciples who were there with Him then, but also for the unity of all who would believe because of their words.  That includes us.  Jesus goes on to state that the reason that He is concerned with unity is, “…SO THAT the world may believe that you sent me.”  We must take this statement in Jesus’ prayer seriously.  Yet, I have rarely heard it addressed at all.  Jesus said that our unity as Christians would be the proof to the world that He was sent by the Father.

 

Evangelical Christians today are generally willing to give intellectual assent to the Spiritual unity of all believers and suggest that this is somehow what Jesus was talking about.  In looking at the statement, this clearly would not make sense.  For unity to be evidence to the world, it must be visible to the world.  Some spiritual reality, as true as it may be, cannot validate anything to anyone who cannot see it.  If we are to take Jesus concerns seriously, we must conclude that visible unity of believers is critically important for the world to understand who Jesus is.  Conversely, we should not be surprised when people do not see Jesus for who He is, when we do not exhibit unity.

In I Corinthians 1, Paul also addresses the issue of unity in the Church.  In that chapter he speaks to divisions that were beginning in the Church at Corinth.  How different were the statements of the Corinthians, “I belong to Apollos.” or “I belong to Cephas.” from the modern statements, “I am a Lutheran.”, “I am a Presbyterian.”, or “I am a Baptist.”?  The answer is clearly that they aren’t different in character at all.  Paul’s response to the situation is unequivocal.  These divisions have no place in the Body of Christ!

 

CAN WE REALLY DO ANYTHING ABOUT IT?

 

Many may respond at this point that this is nice idealistic theory, but it cannot work now, or if everyone else would just realize that we are right and join us, we could have unity.  I believe that neither one of these attitudes is acceptable.  To treat unity as some pie-in-the-sky ideal that is so remote and unachievable that we don’t even try, is to accept the consequences, both for the world and for the Church.  These consequences are simply too great to accept without a good fight.  On the other hand, the attitude in any group that they are right about everything an the only way for others to be united with them is to conform to their thinking will never bring unity.

 

 

 

There are certain essential truths that cannot be compromised and still remain within the framework of True Christianity: the Trinity, the humanity and deity of Jesus Christ, the substitutionary death of Jesus and the resurrection, salvation as a work of grace through faith, and the authority of Scripture.  This might not be the exact list that you would choose, but the list should not be very long.  Most of the other issues that have divided us are clearly issues of secondary importance: how and when to baptize, how to celebrate the Eucharist, millennial views, predestination versus free will, etc..  To say that these issues are of secondary importance in not to say that they are unimportant.  It is to say that we should not let them divide us.  Historically, disagreement on some of these secondary issues has led to Christians even killing one another.  We generally don’t go that far today.  We just ignore one another.  The results are almost as damaging.

 

VOCABULARY

 

The first practical action that I suggest is that we change our vocabulary.  We should only use the word Church in the ways that it is used in the New Testament.  We can use it in the universal sense or the local sense of all believers in a given city.  We should not use the word Church to describe a specific smaller gathering of believers or to describe a building.  To describe a gathering of believers, I suggest that we use the word congregation as a replacement.  Instead of the First Lutheran Church, then we would refer to the First Lutheran Congregation.  The Quakers have long referred to their buildings as Meeting Houses.  This is a good alternative when we are referring to an edifice.  We could also simply call our buildings “centers”, or some other creative term.  With a change in vocabulary there needs to be instruction.  It needs to be explained that the word Church is the more inclusive term, and that the various congregations in the city, in combination, are the Church.  It gives more of an awareness of being a part of a larger whole.

I am sure that this sounds trivial to some.  We have done this in our own congregation and have found it to be very helpful.  Because old habits are hard to break, we still slip into the old vocabulary, even after years.  When one of us does, there is always someone ready to remind them.  Every time we are reminded to correct our vocabulary, it also reminds us to correct our thinking about our relations with other believers who are not part of our congregation.  If education is a part of the initial change in vocabulary, the vocabulary is the constant reminder of the new knowledge.

 

 

 

 

 

COOPERATION

 

Changing vocabulary is only a start in the right direction.  If we stop there we still haven’t done anything that visibly demonstrates our unity to the world around us.  We need to do more.  We need to start looking for things that we

can do by getting various congregations working together.  By cooperation we create at least three major benefits.  We bring into the picture greater resources of people, knowledge, and finances.  We start to build working relationships that bridge the gaps between congregations.  And, we do things that demonstrate to the world that we have an underlying unity in spite of our differences.  To gain these benefits, we must only sacrifice some of our individual congregational self-interest.  This may be difficult for some to give up, but we must start putting our concern for the whole Body of Christ ahead of our narrower interests.

 

Let me suggest several areas where inter-congregational cooperation could be effective: 1) Meeting Physical Needs – Problems like homelessness and hunger are ever growing problems most places in America.  Most individual congregations would find it difficult to address these needs in a meaningful way, because the scope of the problem is just too great.  If all of the congregations in a city combined their efforts, a major impact could be realized and everyone would notice.  2) At certain times of the year, such as Easter and Christmas, a truly city wide time of worship and praise could be organized.  Get the biggest stadium, hall, gym, or whatever, and get every congregation possible to participate.  The idea would be to try to get all of the Christians from the city together at one place at one time.  This would certainly make an impression, both on those participating and everyone else.  3) Special Youth Programs – Each congregation typically has it’s own youth group with varying amounts of resources.  From time to time a major event, getting all of these groups together could be planned.  Some ideas might be: an all day Christian music festival, an all sports day, or a fund raiser to meet a specific local need.  You could also have a day when all of the young people in the city did yard work for senior citizens and then got together for a big cook out.  4) Biblical Studies Institute – In addition to the education that each congregation provides for its members, a cooperative program for more advanced or specialized study could be provided cooperatively.  This could offer classes in Greek and Hebrew, Systematic Theology, Christian History, Modern Christian Thought, Teacher Training, etc..  It could be run like the adult education programs that exist in many areas today.

Those are only a few of a virtually limitless number of possibilities.  Be creative, look at the needs around you, and start building relationships that bridge the gaps that currently exist.  In some places today there are “Ministerial Associations” where “pastors” from various congregations get together.  It would probably be good to try to organize some kind of local committee with representatives from various congregations to seek out things that can be done cooperatively.  Including people who are not “pastors” would probably be more effective since “pastors” are typically too busy to get anything done.  People who are concerned and creative will be most effective.  The more things that can be done in cooperation between congregations, the more members of all the congregations will have a practical sense of our unity, and the more that those on the outside will be able to see that unity is real.

 

 

INTERNAL PROBLEMS CAUSED BY DIVISION

DISCIPLINE – The problems caused by disunity of the Church are not limited to those on the outside.  There are serious problems for the internal workings of the Church as well.  The Biblical mechanism for dealing with correction for the person who calls him/herself a Christian, but continues in sin after being confronted, is rendered powerless.  In I Corinthians 5, we are told to exclude such a person from fellowship and not to have anything to do with them.  Such exclusions we designed to bring the person to their senses and bring about repentance.  To be excluded form the support of and interaction with all other Christians is a serious matter.  In America today, a person who is disciplined in one congregation is likely to move on to another congregation that is unaware of what has gone on.  In doing this the person involved is deprived of the corrective awareness of the seriousness of their actions.  And, the new congregation is exposed to a potential negative influence.

 

This problem could be, at least partially, alleviated by better communication between congregations.  If a new person shows up in a congregation, it should be routine procedure to check with the leadership of the congregation which he/she left most recently.  This need not be only to check for the negative kinds of information.  It could also be an opportunity to find out what kinds of strengths the individual brings to their new congregation in order to more expediently get them involved in contributing to the corporate life there.

 

 

SETTLING DISPUTES – In I Corinthians 6, Paul warns of the inappropriateness of one Christian taking another Christian it to the civil courts to settle a dispute.  He states that such matters should be decided by the Church.  Today, if there is a dispute between two Christians who are from different congregations, there is not a common authority to whom they can look for settlement.  The only alternatives seem to be to simply let the matter drop, which in many cases may be the right thing to do, or to violate the Biblical instruction and go to the civil courts.

 

The civil courts are, unfortunately, resorted to today to settle many disputes between people who claim to be Christians.  This has a serious adverse reaction in our corporate reputation in the world around us.  We need to work at developing mechanisms to settle such matters within the Church.  In our city we had a dispute between a young man from our congregation, who bought a motorcycle from a young man from another congregation.  The motorcycle developed major mechanical problems very soon after the purchase and the buyer felt that he had been cheated.  He was even more upset because he felt that a brother had cheated him.  In order to settle the problem, I, as an elder, contacted an elder from the other congregation.  We discussed the matter thoroughly and were able to come to an understanding with which both people could live.  This situation was relatively easy to resolve.  If it had not been resolved at this level we could have sought a leader from a third congregation who could have been more impartial and helped in the resolution.  What is necessary is to be committed to the principle of staying out of the civil courts, and being willing to find creative ways to bridge the gaps between congregations to solve problems.  It can be done.

 

MEETING NEEDS – Unfortunately, the divisions that currently exist between congregations also involve differences in economic resources.  We have, in most cities, some congregations that have more than they need, while others have far less than they need to meet the basic needs of the people in their membership.  There is a clear principle throughout Scripture that God’s people are to meet the needs of Gods people.  In II Corinthians 8: 13-15, Paul says that those with excess have a responsibility to supply for the lack of others.  Many congregations that have resources do not even meet the internal needs of their members.  This is a terrible failure on the part of those congregations and reflects badly on the Church.  We too easily become controlled by the values of our culture, such as self-sufficiency and independence, rather than the Biblical value of mutual support.  But, just meeting the needs within the congregation cannot be enough.  Where the excess exists, the responsibility exists to seek out where there are needs.  Most congregations that really look for needs will find them among believers in their own cities.

 

There need to be channels created for the flow of resources from places of excess to places of need.  This must be done in ways that preserve the dignity of the leadership in the congregation where the needs exist.  The attitude of paternalism can never be tolerated.  To avoid this, while allowing for responsible stewardship, would require a working relationship of mutual respect between leaders of the contributing and receiving congregations that recognizes that they are all leaders in the same Church.

If there were to be, to any significant degree, in cities across America, the kind of equalization (that is Paul’s word, not mine) that Paul talks about in

II Corinthians 8, the reality of the unity of the Church would be readily visible to everyone.

To close this chapter I go back to the initial statement, “Disunity Destroys Credibility”.  What is most significant is that, according to Jesus own statement, it destroys not only the credibility of the Church, but to the world at large it destroys the credibility of Jesus Christ Himself.  If in fact this is true, and if we believe Jesus it must be, then we must actively seek ways to practice unity and show it to the world around us.  To re-establish a complete institutional unity, while it might be an ideal, is not a practical alternative in any short-term time frame.  Therefore, faced with the limitations with which we live we must do what we can to experience and demonstrate unity across the separations caused by those institutions.  Only then can we truly lift up the Lord whom we claim to serve for the world to see.  Until then we lift up only a caricature.

Biblical Economics

This is a chapter from a book that I wrote a number of years ago but never was able to get published.  I believe that it is still as relevant today as when I wrote it.

ECONOMICS

If there is among you a poor man, one of your brethren, in any of your towns within your land which the Lord your God gives you, you shall not harden your heart or shut your hand against your poor brother, but you shall open your hand to him, and lend him sufficient for his need, whatever it may be.  Take heed lest there be a base thought in your heart, and you say, “The seventh year, the year of release in near,” and your eye be hostile to your poor brother, and you give him nothing, and he cry to the Lord against you, and it be sin in you.                    Deuteronomy 15: 7-9

I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened, but that as a matter of equality your abundance should supply their want, so that their abundance may supply your want, that there may be equality.  As it is written, “He who gathered much had nothing over, and he who gathered little had no lack.              I Corinthians 8: 13-15

There is no area of life in twentieth century America where we are more protective of what is ours than in the area of our economic resources.  Christians have assumed that as long as they put enough into the offering plate, what they do with the rest of their resources in on one else’s business.  In recent years, we have been even more victimized by the false teachers who have risen to the surface with their, “God wants you to be rich” theology.  This is very attractive in an affluent culture.  Even more, traditional teaching on tithing has led to the conclusion in many circles that, “As long as I give ten per cent, I can do what I want with the rest.”  In the world it is popular thinking among the “haves” that the “have nots” are that way because they are lazy or lack the basic motivation to take care of themselves.  The Bible is far from silent on the issue of economics among God’s people, but there is very little attempt on the part of Christians to understand what it has to say, much less to apply it.

WHAT DOES THE BIBLE SAY?

In order to adequately deal with this subject it is necessary to trace the consistency of Biblical teaching from the early part of the Old Testament on through the New Testament.  To make the transition from the Old to the New, we must understand that in the Old, the nation of Israel was the chosen people of God and He shared a unique relationship with them.  Because He revealed Himself and His will to them in special ways, He had expectations of them that He did not have for other nations.  From the New Testament era forward, the Church has shared that same kind of relationship with God.  Because God has revealed Himself to us, He has expectations of us that He does not have of the rest of our society.  We would make a serious mistake if we thought that we could apply all of these teachings to American society as a whole.  We must see them as teachings for the Church.  Also, I believe that we must see that the principles involved in God’s will for His people in Israel are applicable to the Church as well.  God has not changed and there is consistency that flows throughout the whole of Scripture.

THE OLD TESTAMENT

We cannot in this context look at every passage that deals with economic issues, but we will look at several that are representative and will allow us to see that pattern that God desires is clear and consistent.  In Leviticus 19, God commanded that the people of Israel not harvest their fields all the way to the borders or go back after the initial harvest to glean what was missed the first time.  This was so that there would be left overs for the poor and the sojourner.  No good businessman today would be so wasteful; it just would not make good business sense.

In Leviticus 25, God explains that every fifty years there was to be a Year of Jubilee.  When Israel occupied the Promised Land, the land was to be apportioned equally to all of the people.  Everyone was to start on an even basis.  Over time God knew that the land would be bought and sold and that some would accumulate wealth, while others would lose what they had.  When the Year of Jubilee came around all of the land was to revert to the descendants of the original owners at the time of the distribution.  In other words every fifty years everyone was to start over economically.  Neither wealth nor poverty was to be handed down generation after generation.

Not only was the land to revert to original ownership every fifty years, but also in Deuteronomy 15, God commanded that all debts were to be forgiven every seventh year.  Because He knew how people think, He specifically warned that they should not avoid loaning to someone in need because the seventh year was coming up and they would not be repaid.  It was God’s will that there should be no poor among His people and He promised that there would be sufficient for everyone if they would obey His will.  In Deuteronomy 23: 10, the people are told that they are not to charge interest on loans made to their fellow Israelites.  God promised blessings if they would obey this prohibition.

These are only some of the laws of God pertaining to economics, but they are sufficient to give us a sense of His will.  If you turn back to the prophetic books of the Old Testament, it is very clear that God did not take His people’s disobedience in economic matters lightly.  Isaiah, Jeremiah, Amos and Micah all address these issues and declare that God will judge His people for their failures.  They make it clear that these failures make the people’s acts of religion meaningless to God.

THE NEW TESTAMENT

To begin with in the New Testament, consider just two things which Jesus, had to say.  In Mark 10: 17-22, a man comes to Jesus and asks what he must do to inherit eternal life.  After the man tells Jesus that he has followed the Law all of his life, Jesus tells him that the one thing remaining for him to do is to sell his possessions, give to the poor and follow Jesus.  We are told that the man went away sorrowful because he had great possessions.  We are not told what he might have done later.  Jesus goes on to teach his disciples that it will be very difficult for those with wealth to enter heaven.

In my lifetime in the Church I have heard far more teaching which attempts to explain away this passage than I have heard clarifying it.  It is true that Jesus did not make disposing of all possessions a requisite for all who sought to follow Him.  It would therefore be a mistake for us to suggest that this mandate is universal.  However, the care for possessions is a definite obstacle to the commitment to follow Christ for many people today and we do injustice to the message of Christ if we simply remove that obstacle.

In Matthew 25: 31-46, Jesus speaks of a judgment day when He will judge the nations.  The standard for the judgment is surprisingly clear, what was done to meet the physical need of people who were encountered during life.  Jesus does not say that He will judge based on worship attendance, giving to the Church, or any other standard of our religious practice.  The question instead will be, “What have you done for the hungry, thirsty, sick, naked, and imprisoned?”

We are told, in Acts 4: 32-35, that in the very early days of the Church in Jerusalem, there was not a needy person in their number because no one claimed his possessions as his own.  The resources that were available were used to meet whatever needs existed and each individual made their resources available.  There are some who have taught that the sin of Ananias and Saphira, in chapter 5, demonstrated that this was a failed experiment.  This makes no sense since in chapter 6 the Church works out a solution to make distribution fair.

Paul, in II Corinthians 8, discusses the need for wealth to be redistributed to meet needs.  He says that where there is surplus it should naturally flow to where there is need.  At some time in the future the roles may be reversed.  If this is done no one in the Church will need to live in poverty while others live in luxury.

WHAT DOES IT MEAN TODAY?

It seems clear to me that the continuous view throughout the whole of Scripture is that God does not desire for there to be any physical need among his people, whether it was the nation of Israel or the Church.  The means of accomplishing this is for those who have more than they need to support those who have less than they need.  This is a very difficult thing for us to accept, because we all want to hang on to what we feel we have earned.  It is significant that while we have God’s will clearly spelled out in the Old Testament for the Year of Jubilee, we have no record indicating that the nation of Israel ever practiced it.  It is likely that they found the whole idea as difficult as we do.

We must also acknowledge that God takes the matter of our fiscal responsibility very seriously.  As we have already indicated, it is a major subject in the indictments of the Old Testament prophets.  Jesus gave clear indication that how we respond to physical needs is subject to His judgment.  James 2: 15-17 says, “If a brother or sister is ill-clad and in lack of daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled’, without giving them the things needed for the body, what does it profit?  So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.”  If the whole counsel of Scripture is so consistent in this regard, we must begin to take it far more seriously than we do.

We must begin by recognizing that what we have is not ours because we earned it.  We only have anything because God has allowed us to have it.  Anything that we have is a gift of His goodness.  We must regard ourselves as stewards and not as owners.  When we begin to truly see the resources in our care as belonging to God and not to us, then we can begin to hold them far more loosely.  As stewards we must take good care of the resources that God has entrusted to us and not dispose of them carelessly.  It is important to ascertain the true nature of needs and not to over-react by throwing money in the direction of every perceived need.  Stewardship demands responsibility.

There is nothing at all wrong with having a large income.  There is something seriously wrong with accumulating wealth while others within the Body are in need.  Tony Campollo received a lot of negative reaction when he questioned the legitimacy of some Christians spending $50,000 or more on a BMW while others have no car at all.  This is a legitimate question that needs to be considered.  A very dear brother, who has income substantially above what I am ever likely to have, put it this way, God wants us to be conduits not reservoirs.

We have created an atmosphere where it is very difficult for people to let their needs be known.  To have needs, in many congregations, is to be treated as a spiritual failure.  Other congregations just don’t have a viable mechanism for sharing needs.  This has led to something of a contrived ignorance.  We cannot be expected to meet needs that we do not know about.  So, we make it a point not to know.  The clear desire of God is for there to be a flow of resources, from mountain tops of excess to valleys of need.  This is to provide a leveling effect within the Body.  Does this mean that everyone should be exactly equal?  Paul does use that word.  I believe that right now we are so far away from anything approaching that point that we will need to be working in the right direction for quite some time before we need to draw any firm conclusions on that particular point.  I do believe that when we start moving in the right direction, God will make His will clear to His Body.  For now we need to acknowledge our past failures in this regard, pray God for forgiveness of this sin of selfishness, and begin making serious strides in the right direction.

SUGGESTED READING:  Leviticus 25

Deuteronomy 15

Isaiah 58

Amos

`Matthew 25

II Corinthians 8

Trivializing Heaven

As I am currently trying to cope with the death of a very dear friend I am driven back to some thoughts that I have been pondering for some years now off and on. I am completely convinced that in our culture at large we have some badly distorted ideas about what Heaven is all about. When there was a terrible tragedy in Connecticut we heard repeatedly of the 26 new angels in heaven. Such ideas though the certainly have no basis in Scripture provide some comfort for those feeling loss and are understandable even if baseless.
I am more concerned about misguided and misinformed ideas about Heaven and Eternity that are common among believers who could be expected to be more Biblically knowledgeable. Some are not so much errors as they are misplaced emphasis. However, the impact is, I believe, to trivialize the reality of what Heaven is.
I have come to believe that even the Biblical physical descriptions of heaven can, when we become too wrapped up in the details, cause us to be misdirected. I doubt seriously that there will literally be streets paved with gold or gates made of jewels. I think that it is far more likely that those descriptions are the Biblical authors means of saying it is such a fantastic place that if you imagine the most glorious place that you can, Heaven will even top that. At any rate, I am confident that gold streets or not we will not be disappointed in any of the physical reality that there may be. What makes Heaven Heaven is not the construction materials. It is the very real presence of Almighty God.
That brings me to what I believe is the more common and misguided way that we trivialize Heaven. How many times have you heard, “Can’t wait to get to heaven to see my mother, or my father, or my spouse, or maybe a little better some Biblical hero.”? Or, on a slightly different tack, __________ is looking down on me? I can fully appreciate, at this moment especially, that when we are suffering from the recent departure of someone that we dearly love, it is comforting to believe that we will be reunited with that person in Heaven. I am not even suggesting that this may not in fact be the case. We may well have that opportunity. What I am suggesting is that this represents a trivialization. It is taking something that is in reality a minor and making it a major.

A few years ago in a discussion about heaven without much thought I said, “If eternity is in fact linear, and I am not at all certain that it is, I would expect to spend the first several million years on my face in front of the Throne.” As I stated earlier in this article Heaven is all about the presence of Almighty God. On this earth I dearly loved my father and believe that he was a great man of God. He died when I was still in high school. My friend Tommy died less than a week ago. He also was an outstanding follower of Jesus and right now the fact that I will not be able to get together with him or call him on the phone hurts more than I can express. These and others that I have known and who have gone before me are some whom I would love to spend more time with. There are also Biblical characters whom I would love to learn from. It is not a matter of any of these people not being important. It is simply a matter of priorities. Given a choice, I can spend time with my earthly father or I can spend time in the presence of Almighty God, sorry dad, you lose that one. Amos, you were one awesome prophet and I really dug your book, but God is right there. And, I would be shocked if my father, and Tommy, and Amos weren’t already on their faces before the throne when I got there. I don’t expect any of these who have gone before me to be “watching over” me. They have better things to do. God has left the Holy Spirit to look out for me. That is more than sufficient.
If eternity is not linear, and again I have come to believe that is likely even though I cannot really grasp what nonlinear means since I am a totally linear person, it might well make the timeline view of eternal priorities irrelevant. However, that does not remove the basic question. If we place too much emphasis on the minor points of what Heaven is about, we miss out on the very most important reality, that we have a place waiting for us in the very presence of Almighty God. All else is trivial.

No Itching Ears ??

Sometime around the middle of the first century, the apostle Paul wrote to a young Church leader, “…For there will be a time when they will not hear sound teaching, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance with their own desires”. While I am certain that this statement can describe the Church at many points in history, it could never have been more true than it is in America today. All that one has to do is to watch “christian” television or visit a “christian” bookstore to see what kinds of teaching dominate. People clearly want to hear that God wants them to be rich, healthy and good looking. God is an American and not only that He is most definitely a very “conservative” Republican. God doesn’t really want people to think too hard so He expects authors and preachers to keep things extreemly simple because thinking too hard might make people question things better left unquestioned.

I believe in “radical Christianity”. That is a faith that cuts to the root. A faith that has serious implications to all of the issues of life. These are issues that I will try to deal with in this blog. Theology, Ecclesiology, Culture, and Politics are all fair game. But, I will always endeavor to deal with each topic from a perspective of Christian faith. While both church and culture have exhibited bias against intellectual efforts, I will seek to write rationally. I see no conflict between faith and reason and each should inform the other. I also encourage feedback and discussion. Criticism, if well-thought, is not viewed here as negative.

I am new to this whole blogosphere, so please feel free to offer suggestions as to how I can use it more effectively.

Being the Food Stamp President

Monday, January 23, 2012Being the “Food Stamp President”
Over the weekend I heard Newt attack Obama for being the “Food Stamp President” and asserting that he would instead be the “jobs president”. Other of the Republican candidates have also attacked the Food Stamp program suggesting that there should be major cuts or dismantling of that program. Food Stamps are something that I know quite a lot about, since my job five days a week is working with eligibility determination for that program along with others. There is a significant misconception that os being preyed upon that indicate that these candidates are either intentionally misleading voters or they are ignorant. I am not sure which is more irresponsible.

First misconception, people choose to receive Food Stamps because they would rather do that than work. The reality is that a large portion of people who receive Food Stamps do work. They work at jobs that either don’t offer enough hours and/or have a pay rate so low that people cannot live on what they are paid. So the necessary choice is not work or Food Stamps it is work AND Food Stamps. That former Republican presidential candidate from Texas that bragged so much about the huge number of jobs that he created as governor, never bothered to mention the pay rates for the jobs that he created. I would venture an educated guess that many of the people who took those jobs still needed to receive Food Stamps to survive.

It is doubly troubling to me that the same people who object to programs like Food Stamps also tend to be those who object to trade unions or other labor regulations designed to insure that people who work earn a living wage. I am old enough to remember when the norm was the nuclear family with a single wage earner, and families were able to get by on that one income. Over the past 50 years or so it is pretty obvious that incomes have declined for most working people to the point where often two incomes are no longer sufficient. I am a firm believer that people who are able to work should work. But, I also believe that people who work deserve to be paid sufficient to survive on the income that work provides.

I said that I work with the Food Stamp program on a daily basis. Based on that experience, I believe that there are savings that could be made in the program. I would certainly support well considered and informed changes to the program. However, the inplicit or explicit vilifation to those who truly benefit from this program is irresponsible.

Just a quick addition on a related subject, I also work with Medicaid eligibility. We need as a society to make a decision regarding the question if whether medical care is a right of all people or a priviledge reserved for the wealthy. I saw an application just today from a couple applying for Medicaid. Husband and wife in their 50’s. He had open heart surgery a few months ago as a result of heart failure. She is epileptic in need of daily medication. They were self-employed and have gone through all of their savings. They have both been determined to NOT be disabled by Social Security. In Florida they are ineligible for medicaid. The result, there is no where for either one of them to turn for the medications that they both need to maintain their health. Yes, if they have a medical crisis and go to an ER they will be seen and treated, and without the medications they need that WILL happen. Is this really the way that we as a society believe the system should work? I believe that we need to address this question directly and act accordingly. If there are politicians who believe that health care is not a right, they need to be willing to say to people like this, your just need to shut up and die.