Thursday, May 26, 2005

Stem-Cell Research and the Sanctity of Life

So once again, President George Bush is choosing the side of "Life" on a crucial issue and debate facing our country…or is he?

Congress just passed a bill providing federal funding to stem-cell research - research that could lead to cures for millions of Alzheimer's, Multiple Sclerosis, and other brain or neurological disease suffers. It is a bill that could mean hope and life to millions where only darkness and death now reside.

But, consistent to his campaign promises, President Bush stands to veto this very important bill on the basis of Sanctity of Life. The question before us is whose life is being sanctified - certainly not those suffering from the ravages of neurological disease. Apparently, their lives are meaningless as compared to the potential life of discarded embryos.

Scientific research, seen by most as a blessing from God, has made amazing strides in our history to improve life. As compared to the life facing humanity during the dark ages before science broke through with medical cures and advances, we live in a very blessed time - a time where good health is almost assured for all.

One scientific breakthrough that has blessed millions of people is in-vitro fertilization. Life has been created where no hope for life had previously existed. People have been blessed with families when childlessness was seemingly their unfortunate fate. God has reached into their lives through scientific research and has provided them with a miracle - the miracle of life.

In this process of life-making, extra embryos have been created. Just like fruit on a tree or vine, spares have been made to insure that some fruit will grow and thrive. Once the fruit is thriving, then fruit-fall occurs. This is a time in early growth where many if not half of the fruit that had set on the vine will fall to the ground, making room for the remaining fruit to grow and thrive.

These embryos from the in-vitro fertilization process have served their purpose and now are falling to the wayside. Not unlike billions of their half-cell cousins, the sperm and egg, their destiny is to be flushed, discarded, and unused. Their existence is completely consistent with the way God has created life - many are created in order that a few will survive.

But unlike the fallen fruit from the vine, through science, the discarded embryos still have a promise of life to fulfill - life to those who suffer from potentially curable diseases. It is the life of Alzheimer and MS patients we should be sanctifying not the life of a discarded piece of fruit.

But where is the Biblical proof or support of this stance?

Jesus was about to send His disciples out into the world and stood before them giving them last minutes instructions on ministry. "As you go, preach this message: 'The kingdom of heaven is near.' 8Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received, freely give." (Matt: 10:7-8) His instructions to them are the basics to the ministry that we are all called to pursue as Christians in a modern world - preach the gospel and heal the sick of all disease.

When these instructions are combined with the second of the two great commandments - "And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself. 40All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments." (Matt. 22:39-40) - we can clearly see that our responsibilities, our ministry efforts, and our focus on the sanctity of life belongs with our neighbors - not with some discarded fruit lying on the ground.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Peacemakers - An Exchange of Beliefs

(Dear Friends in Christ, I am posting the following email exchange that I had earlier this week regarding Peacemaking as a basic tenet to the teachings of Christ and how it applies to the War on Iraq. The other participant in the discussion did not respond to my request for permission to post this so I have deleted any personal references they may have made. I have decided to post the discussion inspite of the lack of permission as I think it clearly represents the two sides on the Peacemaking issue. Basically, it appears that supporters of just wars feel that the Peacemaking that Christ referred to is on a personal level only and that the battle against evil in the world at large requires greater sacrifices. I will let the rest of the discussion speak for itself. May the Peace of Christ be with you - gs)

Included within a devotional based on Acts 10: 34-43 that I posted on Reflections of the Spirit this week, I wrote the following reflection regarding the topic of Peacemakers:

"Are you a peacemaker? If the gospel is available to those of every nation who fear God and do what is right, why do we continue to experience wars and strife between countries? Shouldn't the good news of Christ breakdown these barriers? Shouldn't His model of "doing good" and preaching peace have a greater impact? Are we truly following His example, doing what He would do, when we involve ourselves in war and conflict? Are there conflicts in your life that need the peace of Christ?"

In response to this I received the following message:

"Serving in a military community, even though my background is in more of a "peace witness" mode, has given me cause to rethink the concept of war and peace. There are many active duty military who consider themselves followers of Christ yet the engage terrorists and oppressors who do not have any sympathy with the way of Christ or the path of peace. In a fallen world, sometimes a radical response must be chosen to address the evil that so easily destroys life, even innocent life. As I see it, the members of the US Army and the coalition forces who are in Iraq are doing the work of God by defending the cause of freedom and justice in that land. As I read your comment, "If the gospel is available to those of every nation who fear God and do what is right, why do we continue to experience wars and strife between countries? Shouldn't the good news of Christ breakdown these barriers?," I agreed with it but at the same time recognized that the issues among nations are much more complex than merely the availability of the Gospel to all people. The former regime in Iraq, as well as the terrorists who still attack the innocent in that land, seem to neither fear God or have commitment to what is right. If their fear of God is prompting car bombs, beheadings, and the assassination of innocent civilians and elected leaders, then I would suggest that it is a twisted interpretation of what God desires of people. It most certainly has not incorporated the teaching and example of Jesus. Anyway, I am not trying to challenge you on this matter, just to share that I have a very different expectation and understanding of how peace is achieved in this world."

My response:

I apologize if the devotional for Acts 10 that I wrote for today on the topic of Peacemaking seems to infer that I do not support our troops. I certainly didn't mean to indicate or infer that they were somehow not Christians because of their choice to fight in a war.

I do think however that Jesus was very clear in His teachings regarding peacemakers, loving your neighbor, and turning the other cheek. With His focus on peace, I think we have to look at every conflict in our lives, both personal and global, to see if we are making every step possible towards peace. Yes, there is true evil in the world and some times it may only be possible to insure peace through force. However, when we choose to take that step I think we should do so very reluctantly and not without prayerful consideration of the other choices we have before us. Some of the questions that I feel need to be asked in any conflict are these:

1) Is my response just? Or am I allowing my hurt feelings, anger, resentment, and self-righteousness to inflate the issue beyond its current scope?

2) Am I responding with force because I have to or because I can?

3) What other problems am I creating by my response? Will I be hurting innocent by-standers who are not involved in the conflict in the first place? Am I escalating the cycle of violence in a way that further conflict will result?

4) Is my response solving the problem and leading everyone involved towards an eventual peaceful solution?

Yes, I have been an anti-war activist since the 1960's and I admit that my opinions of this issue are colored from that perspective. At the same time, I realize that real evil exists in the world and sometimes we are faced with difficult decisions that require force. Unfortunately we live in a world where it is necessary to have police officers and military personnel in order to maintain and establish peace in our neighborhoods, cities, countries. I realize that much of the peace we do enjoy comes from these military options.

But, again, if scripture is to be our guide and if Christ is who we are to be like, then I wonder if we don't choose the violent option all too readily. If we continue to ask our selves 'What Would Jesus Do?' in this situation, I think we will find him on the side of Peace, Peace, and more Peace.

Response to the Response:

Let me respond with complete agreement to your statement, "if scripture is to be our guide and if Christ is who we are to be like, then I wonder if we don't choose the violent option all too readily."

Thank you for lifting up the questions in the Just War Theory. Probably many of us can look at the current circumstances in the world, incorporate some thinking about our faith, but yet come up with different answers to those important questions. From my perspective, the current situation in Iraq meets the requirements of being a Just War. I respect that others have come to a different conclusion in that matter…

One thing that is still important to me is that peace witness, in its most essential expression, is a matter between two persons.

Wrap up:

I think if I could hope for one thing from our exchange is an understanding that Christians who are calling for peace and for bringing the troops home are not against the troops. I think they generally feel that they are supporting the troops by working to bring them home to safety. Any death, military or civilian, breaks our hearts.

Saturday, March 12, 2005

Leaving the Left Behind

Okay. I admit it. I am a liberal, progressive, left-wing radical. I have been a "Liberal" ever since I protested against the Vietnam War and the Kent State massacre on the University of Denver campus in the spring of 1970. Not withstanding a four-year stint in the Navy (my attempt to avoid the Vietnam draft), I have always found myself on the left side of U.S. politics. As the years have progressed I have consistently been aligned with liberals in every political issue debated. I have even spawned liberals as witnessed by my daughter's active campaigning for John Kerry in the small towns of Iowa this last fall and by my son's adamant involvement in underground music. (If you mistakenly feel that the only true protest music ever to emanate from the hearts of mankind came from Woodstock, you should try listening to Anti-Flag, Propagandhi, Bad Religion, and Travisty and the Screw Ups.)

So it is with this true confession firmly established that I have begun reading Jim Wallis' book, "God's Politics." Of course I purchased his book because, as a progressive Christian, I felt a need to repair the damage to my Christian faith caused by the ostracism of the religious right in the election last fall. I was certain that finding like-minded Christians would help me to rally around the foundation of my faith and to give meaning and purpose to those tenets of Christ's teachings that I feel truly address the ills of society we face. Jesus was a healer and a forgiver. As followers of Christ we are called to be like Him in every respect. The self-righteous and narrow-minded attitudes of the Christian Right, in my opinion, are killing the essence of Christianity. It was in the reading of Jim Wallis' book that I was to experience justification and confirmation. As Jim puts it, it was to take back the faith that had been stolen from me by the Right-wing political agenda.

However, the aspect of Jim's book that points a finger in my direction and says I don't get it, has stirred within me a rumbling of uneasiness. What do you mean the Left doesn't get it? Most of us on the Left are very certain that it is the Right that doesn't get it. After all, they're the ones who have narrowed the 'sanctity of life' to a single litmus-test issue called abortion and in so doing have closed the world's mind to issues of poverty, health, war, and capital punishment as they pertain to the holiness of life. Isn't it the Right that has closed its doors to loving forgiveness and acceptance of all people by railing against homosexuality and the evil empires of darkness? Aren't they the ones who are focused on exploding personal wealth and theocratic patriotism at the cost of the global environment and with indifference to the burgeoning masses throughout the rest of the world?

The Left is right! And we have to find ways to move the world back into our ways of reason - or at least that is the way we tend to think.

I have not finished reading Jim's book at this writing but I am beginning to catch a glimpse of his vision that calls us to move from a Left vs Right approach. If we continue to rally ourselves around the Progressive Banner, we are no different then those we criticize. We too, become self-righteous bigots. We too, become too focused on our agenda and lose sight of God's agenda. We too, become the problem and not the solution.

Jim calls us to fight fundamentalism by becoming more faithful. If society is better served by Christian love, then we should become more loving. If the world is to move towards peace and reconciliation, then we need to study the Bible more earnestly and pray more fervently. Should we chose to take on the political agenda of the Christian Right then we will need to do so with a sound Biblical base, one that is wholly conclusive of all Christ's teachings, not just those that justify our beliefs.

It is with this new vision creeping into my mind that I have changed the name of this blog. It is my intent to no longer point fingers at the Christian Right and glorify the positions of the Christian Left. From now on my focus will be on the matters of the heart because, as doing so, it just may be possible that I will be focused where Christ wants me to be focused. Jim puts it this way: "We should talk less about the ideological categories of Left and Right, and more about what kind of people we want to be, what kind of community, what kind of world."1

Jim, I disagree - it is all about the type of people, community, and world God wants us to be.

1"God's Politics - Why the Right Gets it Wrong and the Left Doesn't Get it" by Jim Wallis, Copyright © 2005, publishers HarperSanFrancisco a division of HarpersCollins Publishers, pp. 68.

Saturday, February 19, 2005

Issues that Divide - part 2

If George Bush was elected president in the 2004 election on the basis of moral values, how is it that the War on Iraq was not factored into the "moral value" mix? Is there such a thing as a "just war" and is the killing of terrorists a Godly thing to do or are the pacifists within Christendom more attuned to God's moral stance on the waging of peace in all circumstances instead of war?

We are all very familiar with the verses in the Bible that focus on peacemaking as a reflection of our faith. "Love your neighbor as your self" (Luke 10:27), "Turn the other cheek" (Matt. 5:39), "Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called the children of God" (Matt. 5:9), "Bless those who persecute you" (Rom. 12:14), and the entire thirteenth chapter of First Corinthians are only a few examples. There is little doubt that Jesus taught a ministry of love and peace but are there times and situations where war can be justified?

Is the War on Iraq justified?

This question deeply divides Christians. Both sides feel Biblically justified for their beliefs. The answer, however, is not to be determined by ascertaining if our beliefs and actions can be justified Biblically. The true acid test for all our actions must first stem from a constant focus on God and by following His Spirit to lead and guide us. Does God want America to be Top Dog, flexing our muscle, bark, and bite throughout the world? Is this the path in which He is leading us? Or, have we mistakenly looked upon our rich bounty of blessings as evidence of God's favor? Do these blessings empower us to do whatever we feel like doing? Are we following God or leading the way, hoping that He will keep up and continue to bless us?

Yes, America, at least New York City, was attacked and many people died. It was a gruesome day and our hearts filled with anguish for the senseless murder of innocent people. But most importantly, our hearts filled with fear. Who are these people willing to give their lives for the murder of innocent Americans? Why would they want to attack America? How will we ever feel safe again?

It wasn't long, however, that the diatribe turned from questions and the seeking of truth to vengeance and justice. We have to get the bad guy. He is dark skinned, speaks a strange language, and worships a different God. Justice must be served. Retribution dealt. Something must be done now. We're the Top Dog and we have to put the world in its place. We want to feel safe and secure but most importantly, we need to show them who's the boss.

The focus became war. It was the only answer. "Tooth for a tooth" retribution and more so… For each American killed on 9/11, thousands of Arabs have died. For each building destroyed in New York City, hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses have been flattened in Afghanistan and Iraq. For every terrorist killed hundreds have been created by the largest fire-bombing of a city since Dresden and Hiroshima. The Top Dog's bite is worse than its bark.

The only justification to the War on Iraq that can possibly hold water is a justification based on fear and self righteousness. We are fearful of terrorists so it is ok to kill them and we are right to do so in order to make the world safe. Our fears dominate our hearts. Our fears of the unknown shake the foundation of our faith. Our fears lead us into creating arguments of justification. Our fears have led us to war. And the only thing larger then our fear is our patriotism.

Patriotism has become our new god. It is our golden calf except this time it is a red, white, and blue calf. This patriotic god, however, is not a god of love. It is not even an accepting god. If we voice a single disagreement with the President we are labeled unpatriotic. We are told by our religious leaders that if we don't vote for Bush then we must not be true Christians. Our faith is no longer measured by our focus on God - it is measured by our vote, which better be red, and by our patriotism. If we choose to be on the right team, the Top Dog team, then and only then, will God's will be accomplished. The conservative arm of Christianity has become so self-righteous in their morality that they can't even consider the concept of having an anti-Bush bumper sticker and a Christian fish insignia on the same vehicle. Patriotism, war, and God; this is the new morality; this is the new crusade.

Why are we so fearful? Why have we become so susceptible to the fear-mongers of the world? Is patriotism our only hope? Has God lost His power? Or is it because we have lost faith in God? In Genesis 15:1 God said to Abram, "Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great." Doesn't this promise still apply? Should we set aside of our fears and rely on God's love and protection as a commitment of faith? Or do we have such little faith in God that we have to take the world by storm and destroy everything in our path? Is this the only way to calm our fears?

Perhaps a different approach, a Godly approach, other than war would be to "try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord." (Ephesians 5:10) Perhaps God's method for allaying our fears is to "take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them." (Ephesians 5:11) Maybe if we choose to allow God to "lead (us) in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake" (Psalm 23) we will learn how to love and trust. Perhaps, if we took the time to expose all the works of darkness in the world, we would find roads to peace and common grounds for understanding. Perhaps this different approach would reveal that God loves us all and blesses everyone, not just the barons of Wall Street. Perhaps, just perhaps, we will rediscover our faith in the one and true God. When this occurs it is my guess that we will fear no more, our reward will be great, and the moral values we all treasure will be upheld.

Saturday, February 05, 2005

Issues that Divide

In order to be able to do anything about the schisms of Christianity that have developed over the millennium, it is an important step to look at each issue that causes separation and analyze it within the context of Christ and the Bible.

The largest rift in American Christianity has to do with the issue of righteousness. Our relationship with God is dependent upon it. Without righteousness we are adrift in the wilderness and the hope of growing closer to God is dead. This is based upon the premise that God hates sin and the only way we, the sinner, can come into His presence is to be made clean. The founding premise of Christianity is that we have been made pure through the sacrificial lamb, Jesus Christ, who gave His life in payment for our sins. In Christ we are made holy. In Christ we are made right with God.

So if we all agree to this premise, (and we must or we wouldn't call ourselves Christians) where does it go wrong? How does righteousness become such a divisive issue?

Unfortunately, it is not a new issue. In his letters to the Romans and the Corinthians, Paul vividly outlines the problems of living rightly. At the time there were Jewish Christians who held tightly to the belief that all Jewish law and tradition had to be maintained if a person were to gain access to the salvation available in Christ. In their view, anyone coming to Christ must live their lives according to Jewish law. Circumcision became the "hot-button" topic of the day. It divided the church.

Must we live rightly to become holy? Are the laws of Moses, the Beatitudes, and the Great Commandments requirements that must be obeyed or else? Are we responsible for insuring that society as a whole lives by these statutes? Is it God's will that we fight abortion, homosexuality, and stem-cell research, or are they simply the "hot-button" topics for our day and age? Have these issues become the source of divisiveness in such a way that the Church, as a whole, is not able to do the tasks of building God's kingdom it is called to do? Worse yet, are these hot-buttons keeping people from Christ? Are they barriers erected by Satan himself?

In Romans 4:1-18, Paul provides some insight to these questions as he reminds his readers of Abraham, "our faith father." (Rom 4:16 MSG) Abraham was made right with God but not because he did certain things or followed certain laws. In fact, the Law of Moses was not even around at the time. Abraham simply trusted God and gave his life over to Him. (Gen 15:6) We are justified by faith and by faith alone. Nothing we do, none of our works or righteous acts, will gain us the salvation that God has freely given.

Because of this our focus on righteous living is misplaced. We are not growing closer to God by creating a world of right living people. This has been borne out throughout history and we only need to reread the stories of the Israelites to understand the hopelessness of this tact. Our holiness is as a result of our faith and trust in God. It just happens. Christ made it so. We do not need to force these ideals and concepts down the throats of sinners in the world. What we need to do, what we are called to do, is to love one another. But even this we can't do without God.

Focus on God. Listen to God. Believe in God. Trust God. "Believe (in) the LORD, and the LORD (will) declare (you) righteous because of (your) faith." (Gen 15:6 NLT)

Friday, January 28, 2005

Divisions That Hurt - part 3

So what can be done? Where is the common ground in our midst that is fertile enough to feed the seeds of unity? What issues need to be laid aside for the sake of the kingdom of heaven?

The issues that divide our Christian communities are broad. They are steeped with tradition and have been inbred for generations. Even as Paul warned the Corinthians against aligning with the prophets of choice such as Apollos and Cephas, Christianity has evolved into a set of cliques and sects based on the teachings of one leader or another. "I follow the Wesleyan tradition." "I am a Calvinist." "Our church follows the teachings of John Darby." "Martin Luther is our inspiration."

The list does not end with the prophets of the past. Modern-day leaders such as Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, Billy Graham, James Dobson, Bill Hybels, and many more inspire zeal, excitement, and a strong sense of self-righteousness.

Individuals hop from one church to another, seeking just the right situations where their beliefs are affirmed and not challenged. We strive to be on the winning team that supports the right issues and promises victory in the end. We wave our banners and unfurl our colors in an attempt to cheer our team to victory just as though it were Super Bowl Sunday. Victory assures our righteousness.

There is nothing wrong in feeling good about our churches or the successes in ministry we are having. But just as in a football game, the feeling of victory is only felt by half of the people. The other half walk away as losers.

In the kingdom of heaven there are no losers. The Beatitudes make this point quite clearly. (Matt 5:1-12) The kingdom of heaven is for the outcasts of society. And no matter with which winning team we align ourselves, on some level, we find that we are all outcasts. We are outcasts as women, children, or men. We are secluded in age and in illness. We are alone in our anxieties and worries. We are naked in our hearts and in our souls. If we are to draw a line that separates the 'ins' from the 'outs,' we will find that, depending on who draws the line, we will all be out.

So how do we erase these differences? Where is that fertile and common ground? It starts with the ability to talk to one another face to face and heart to heart. It begins with the elimination of exclusivity? It grows by erasing feelings of closure and self-righteousness and flourishes through the ministry of acceptance. It explodes when we glorify our differences and celebrate the presence of Christ in the world.

Acceptance is the love of God. Remembering that Christ came to save the world and not to condemn it, (John 3:17) we are called to reach out beyond our selves and embrace the world with love. We are to love those different from ourselves. We are called to love the outcast. We are called to create peace and harmony in the world. We are called to provide comfort. We are to be gentle. We are to feed and be fed. And we are show mercy in everything we do.

We are called to be builders of the kingdom of heaven…not a kingdom that may happen in some future millennium when the stars and the geopolitical maps are all aligned, and not when the "powers of evil" are eliminated. The kingdom of heaven is at hand, now and forevermore.

Saturday, January 22, 2005

Divisions that Hurt - part 2

Have we emptied the Cross of its power? How can we tell?

The promise that attracted us to Christianity in the first place is that no matter what we may have done, a life dedicated to Christ is a changed life. Our relationship with Christ means transformation. Things of which we have no control in our lives can be controlled. Issues of sinfulness are forgiven. Feelings of worthlessness are erased. We find purpose and hope in Christ. These are the promises of the Cross. This is where all our questions are answered. This is where everything makes sense. We all are equal in the shadow if its glory.

So where do we go wrong? How is it that we so readily walk away from the Cross and onto our soap boxes of self-righteousness? Isn't that how divisiveness develops - when two people believe different things? Isn't this how lines are drawn and teams formed? Aren't these the foundations to conflict and war? Aren't these the seeds to hate, pride, envy, and bitterness?

Jesus, however, is not calling for mindless conformity. He glorifies our differences in the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-12) and lifted our uniqueness with His healings and teachings. He constantly reached out to the outcasts and embraced them for their differences. He invited them to the banquet and gave them the seats of honor.

So how can we honor all that is unique in an individual but refrain from allowing those differences to create divisiveness and conflict? How do we resolve the differences in ways that the kingdom of God is glorified? How do we open the love of God to the world and not just to those who think as we think? How do we refrain from closing the doors to the kingdom by pontification, justification, and rationalization? But most importantly how do we keep our focus on the love of Christ and live holy lives immersed in His truth?

Is there an easy answer? Is there one Bible verse that bridges all our differences? Is there a common bond that can be used to bring the kingdom of heaven to the world? John writes that Jesus came to save the world not to condemn it. (John 3:17) Is this verse enough to bridge our differences? Should our actions reflect salvation instead of condemnation? Is it too idealistic to simply use love as a guideline in an attempt to follow the great commandments? (Matt. 22:37-40) Or is the love of God revealed when we focus on the Cross as Paul indicated to the Corinthians? (1 Corinthians 1:18)

Is there hope for Christianity in this modern day world of selfish pursuits? Or are we always destined to fall short? Should we simply accept that we will stray from unity and our lives will always be filled with conflict? Will there always be differences of opinion that isolate people from God's influence and empty the Cross of its power?

Any effort at eliminating the differences between us will probably be a failed waste of time but would it hurt to try?

Friday, January 14, 2005

Divisions that Hurt - part 1

The Christian world is dividing itself up and taking sides. Lines have been drawn in the sand. Debates are running rampant. Accusations abound. Name calling and labeling profusely rule the day.

In our post-election climate, Christians are searching for a sense of Christian identity. The outspoken, Christian conservative movement has new found momentum but is not a flavor that has lasting appeal for everyone. The Christian Left is fragmented but beginning to speak out. Divisions within the Christian community are the result.

In Paul's letter to the Corinthians he simply says: Stop! "I beg you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ that all of you agree with each other and not be split into groups." (1 Corinthians 1:10 - NCV) Today, we are facing a crisis in the Christian church that far surpasses the "Apollos vs. Peter" debate of Corinth. But it is the same debate - a debate of identity.

Whereas the issues are many and the lines a bit gray, the basis for this identity crisis stems from a focus on Social Justice versus Righteousness. Do we have the moral obligation to impose a specific brand of morality onto the world in the name of Christ or should our hearts reach out and embrace the world in love?

The Christian Left will say that it is not our job to judge the world. Jesus taught us to love one another, including our enemies. All aspects of our faith should be measured by our love. "But if I do not have love, I am only a noisy bell or a crashing cymbal." (1 Corinthians 13:1 NCV) The problems of the world are better served through loving outreach.

On the other hand, the Conservative Right throws its emphasis towards righteous living. The problems of our society are caused by ignoring God moral plan. We need to create a climate of righteous living. In this view, the sins become the main focus and we are called by God to fight sin, wherever we find it. "For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness..." (Romans 1:18 - NRSV)

These two little paragraphs do not begin to account for the current schism in the Christian community. A doctoral treatise on the topic would probably fall short in capturing the complexity of this modern debate.

These, however, are not new issues unique to a modern age. Jesus began the debate in His unceasing attack on the legalistic and literal views of the Pharisees and Sadducees. Evidence of this debate also can be found in letters of Paul and James. Paul accused Peter of being too legalistic and not allowing the message of Christ to be openly available to the world. Martin Luther and John Wesley, among many others, were deeply involved with these same issues during their lives. We are not breaking new ground.

Is Paul's advice pertinent in our modern society? Are we wrong to debate and divide? Is Christian harmony important? If so, why? What would Jesus say? Ultimately, isn't this the question all Christians should ask?

Saturday, January 08, 2005

A Nation of Pharisees

Where do Christians get the idea that they are the moral champions for the world? Did Jesus ever teach us to go out into the world and make everyone live by a certain code of ethics? Is this how He called us to build the kingdom of heaven? In parable after parable, Jesus illustrates the wrong behavior of the religious leaders of the times. The Pharisees were full of themselves. They had dedicated their lives to reading scripture and monitoring the code of conduct of other people. They were prideful, arrogant, and condescending. And they were wrong.

If Jesus were to walk among us today, where would He find the Pharisees of our modern world? Would He find them in the bars, taverns, and nightclubs of America? Or is it more likely that they are still to be found in our churches and synagogues? Would He be pleased with the rhetoric of our religious leaders? Or would He, once again, hold them up as examples of a religion that has become too full of itself?

What "hot topic" issues would He support and how would He support them? Would He demonstrate and picket in Washington D.C. in support of the Ten Commandments or against abortion? Would Jesus be involved in political agendas, discussing nation-state status, or debating military options? Or do you think He would be more likely to be found in the streets and slums of our cities, handing out coats and words of encouragement? Where would we find Jesus and what would He be doing?

The answer to those questions can be found by reading each and every parable as they are related to us in the Gospels. We can assume that human behavior has not changed that dramatically since the time of Jesus. We still remain overly preoccupied with our own self-interests. Human traits such as pride, ambition, arrogance, and insensitivity still rule the day. Leaders still become self-absorbed with their pet projects and important issues. Barriers caused by human failure and religious dogma still keep thousands, if not millions, of people from knowing God.

So, as disciples of Christ, what are we to do? Are we to create some kind of moral code of ethics and jam it down the throat of the world because we know what is right and good? Are we to continue erecting buildings that glorify our self-righteousness and effectively keep millions from worshipping God? Are we to go on TV and espouse moral dogma and tell others that if they don't agree with our way of thinking then they must not be true Christians? Look around at our world today and that is what you will see Christians doing; advocating and legislating morality.

Should we, instead, choose to follow the parables of Christ as He intended them to be followed, we may find our pathways of ministry taking a slightly different turn. The question still remains: Where would we find Jesus in our modern world? The answer to this question is very important because with it we will discover where we should also be. As Christians, we are to walk as Jesus would walk. As His followers we are called to do what He would do. Would He be in the streets healing and teaching or would He be in the ivory towers espousing dogma and self-righteousness? What kind of Christian will you be?

Closing Prayer:

Gracious Lord: How have we gone this long without really learning the lessons of Jesus? We consider ourselves modern and intellectual and yet, the plain truth of discipleship is overlooked. Your grace has lifted us into the promise of a glory too great to imagine and yet, we remain filled with pride and self-worth. Worse yet, we condemn others. We look out into the world and loudly preach of issues that lift ourselves into a cloud of self-righteousness. We fight for the right to display ancient stone tablets but allow poverty to run rampant in the world. We demand that the world must act according to a specific code of ethics and if it doesn't then it is damned. We tell others that since they disagree with us on some issue then they must not be Christians. We seem to feel that we have a lock on how the world should operate. We are proud of our beliefs and we are glad we are not like the sinners around us. God forgive us for we are still the Pharisees you tried so desperately to keep us from becoming. We are sinners but our pride and arrogance keeps us from recognizing how deeply we hurt you. Lord, forgive us and then open our eyes and hearts to your truth. Lead us into the paths of righteousness not self-righteousness. Show us how to bring your love into the world through healing, loving, and teaching. Remind us that this is the pathway to discipleship you are calling us to follow. Help us to discover where Christ would be in our lives and strengthen us to go there. Through Jesus Christ we pray, Amen.

Inspired by Luke 18:9-14 and by the current trend of Christians in American politics to label and demean everyone who disagrees on any principle, idea, or platform. In all things, may God's will be done.

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