SMH @ u 2

Dear Christian Friend,

Recently you shared a meme on Facebook calling CNN reporters liars because they reported that the people of Puerto Rico are not getting the aid they need. Indignantly, you commented, SMH!

Well, my dear, I am shaking my head at you too. You say you are a Christian. You frequently share posts about your faith. But I’m not seeing Jesus in you. And if I, as a follower of Jesus Christ, can’t see Jesus in you, what are all the non-believers thinking?

You claim to worship the God of Abraham, the God who gave Moses the commandment not to kill. After every mass shooting, instead of mourning the senseless loss of life, you are among the first to stand up in defense of inanimate objects that were designed to kill people. You worry that the government will take away the right to bear arms, even those military-style weapons designed to maximize carnage. It is sad to see you care more about your “rights” and about objects than you do about innocent human beings.

You portray yourself as a good, patriotic American, so much so that you were disgusted and enraged when black Americans took to their knees to protest racial injustice while the national anthem plays. Clearly, you love the flag and the anthem, symbols of this great nation. There is a lot to love about this country and about the brave men and women who have defended its ideals, including the freedom of speech and freedom of religion. But you have made a religion out of patriotism and think you have the right to demand that others practice it. You freely express your opinions yet think you have the right to determine how someone else expresses theirs.

This nation is far from perfect. Its greatness has been tarnished by racism and other forms of injustice from the beginning. God has shown this nation what is good. And what does He ask of those who trust in Him? That we act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with Him (Micah 6:8). Yet you refuse to see the injustices in the criminal justice system. You refuse to extend compassion and mercy to the oppressed. You refuse to even listen when black Americans tell you that their lives matter. It is sad to see you care more about symbols and a song than about human beings.

You have made an idol out of killing tools. You have made an idol out of patriotism. I shake my head in disgust at this. But I shake my head in shame at the mockery you have made of Christianity.

You’ve made no secret of your hatred of Obama and your adulation of Trump. You shared a meme that showed President Obama saying that this is not a Christian nation. Below the photo of Obama was a photo of your president holding a Bible.  If you believe what that meme suggests (and you must or you would not share it), you are actively making a  mockery of the Christian faith.

I don’t know whether Obama actually said that America is not a Christian nation but if he did, he would have been right. According to Barna, the organization that conducts surveys of religious beliefs, 73% of Americans identify themselves as Christians. But only 31% of Americans are “practicing Christians” – those who attend church services at least once a month. And I am convinced, that if it were possible to look inside the hearts of church-going folks, you would see an even smaller percentage of people who actually understand what Jesus was trying to teach us about love and forgiveness, grace, justice, and mercy.

If you think that not standing up for the national anthem is disrespectful, equating your president with the Christian faith is downright blasphemous. You don’t become a Christian by holding a Bible. You don’t become a Christian by pretending to fight a war on Christianity, e.g. defending the right to say “Merry Christmas.” The only way to be saved is to confess your sins and to repent. Yet your chosen one has publicly stated that he does not believe he needs to repent or ask for forgiveness.

You claim to be a Christian with good moral values. But non-Christians see that you have put your faith in a man who is as anti-Christ as a person can be. You condone his behavior. The fruit of the Spirit, the evidence that a person follows Jesus, is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. It is not hating and threatening your enemies. It is not anger and rage. It is not insulting and demeaning people who don’t praise you. It is not sowing discord and division. It is not uncontrolled twitter rants. It is most certainly not worshiping yourself.

Go ahead and call me judgmental. Call me a “libtard” if it makes you feel better. But please, please, please, stop calling yourself a Christian if you don’t follow Christ. Stop calling yourself a Christian if you don’t love your neighbor. Stop calling yourself a Christian if you follow an ungodly man. And most importantly, stop turning people away from Jesus with your hypocrisy.

Dear friend, we pray to the same God. I pray for you. I pray that God will soften your heart. I pray that you will have eyes that see and ears that hear. I don’t want you to be one of the hypocrites Jesus spoke about – the ones who will come to him saying, Lord, didn’t we prophesy in your name and perform many miracles? And he will say to them, I never knew you.

You proudly say that you stand for the flag and kneel for the cross. When you kneel for the cross, you stand up for justice. When you kneel for the cross, you stand up for mercy. When you kneel for the cross, you walk humbly before your God. When you kneel for the cross, you love God with all of your heart, all of your mind, all of your soul and all of your spirit. When you kneel for the cross, you love your neighbor as yourself.

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Here I Am, Lord

Here I am, Lord. It is I, Lord.

I am the woman at the well, a despised Samaritan. You know my secret shame, the mistakes in my past. Yet you, a Jew, spoke to me anyway and asked me for a drink. Day after day, I return to this earthly well for water. You told me about the gift of God – living water. Now I drink from a never-ending spring that leads to eternal life.

Here I am, Lord. It is I, Lord.

I am the woman in the crowd that nearly crushed you. I suffered for years from an affliction no one could see. Bleeding and weak, I touched the edge of your cloak. Your power flowed to my body and I was instantly healed. You knew. I fell at your feet, trembling, as I explained why I touched you. You sent me off in peace. You made me whole.

Here I am, Lord. It is I, Lord.

I am the woman who sits at your feet, eagerly listening to you speak. The worries of the world melt away when I am in your presence. Teacher, show me your ways. Teach me your paths. Other things can wait. You give me all that I need. I hunger and thirst for your righteousness.

Here I am, Lord. It is I, Lord.

You are the true grapevine. I am a branch. You purified me with your love and forgiveness. Your pruned me so I can bear good fruit. Your words remain in me. Your love remains in me. Apart from you, I can do nothing. Apart from you, I am nothing.

Here I am, Lord. It is I, Lord.

You are the shepherd. I am your sheep. I hear your voice. I know you. You lead me beside still waters. You restore my soul. Your rod and your staff comfort me. My cup runs over.

Here I am Lord, Is it I Lord?
I have heard You calling in the night.
I will go Lord, if You lead me.
I will hold Your people in my heart.

 

 

Love Will Prevail

Someone posted a 22 minute video of the “Unite the Right” protest in Charlottesville, Virginia. I couldn’t watch more than a couple of minutes of it. It made me sick to my stomach. I know that I’m not alone in being upset about the hatred directed at blacks and Jews. It’s vile and disgusting. As a nation, we should be better than this.

Many people have spoken out about the false equivalency the president made between the behavior and character of white supremacists and that of counter-protesters. He said there was blame on both sides. He said that some of those people were “fine people.” But there is nothing fine or good about people who hate people of another race, religion, sex, or nationality. There is an evil darkness where their hearts should be.

Yesterday, we saw the outrage of a man who has no moral compass. His anger was directed at the people who pushed him to denounce the abhorrent behavior of racists. He showed his true colors. He is a man without morals. His comments shocked many but were absolutely consistent with everything he had already shown himself to be.

Last night, I went to bed distraught about racism, Anti-Semitism and the president’s defiant comments in defense of white supremacists. I prayed for my country. I had a dream that I was at some sort of protest. In my dream, I yelled out, “Jesus will prevail!”

My dreaming self reminded me that even when it seems that wickedness is getting the upper hand, hate will never win. Love is much more powerful than hate. It always has been and always will be.

Love builds others up.

Love consoles.

Love encourages.

Love gives me hope for my country.

Tonight, I pray the prayer of Saint Francis. Lord, in this torn and divided country, make me an instrument of your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love. Where there is darkness, let me shine light. Where there is sadness, may I spread joy.

Peace Prayer of Saint Francis

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace:
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.

O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

Amen.

 

 

 

 

Red Letter Alerts

These are troubling times indeed. The country is deeply divided along political party lines. Hatred, hypocrisy and deceitfulness abound. Although I’ve watched this divisiveness build up for some time, I was not prepared for the deep division between believers. On one side of the divide are Christians like me who cannot condone behavior that completely contradicts the gospel of Jesus. On the other side are seemingly conservative folks who are able somehow to excuse vile, amoral behavior. And many believers are caught in the middle, not knowing what to believe.

This division between believers is distressing but it should not have surprised me. When I first realized how deep this chasm is, I remember thinking, Jesus warned us that it would be like this. Brother will turn against brother. Believers will be lured away by wolves in sheep’s clothing.

I can’t ignore the AMBER alerts on my phone. They’re too loud. Unfortunately, JESUS alerts are easy to ignore, especially if you let the noise of the world drown out his voice. So I spent some time rereading the red-letter words in my Bible, searching for other warnings.

Ten Red-Letter Warnings

1. Guard yourself against hypocrisy (Luke 12:1)

Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.

Hypocrisy is holding yourself out to be godly but not being obedient to God’s commandments. It is reducing faith to a rigid set of rules about how people should behave – especially other people. It is an outward display of righteousness that does not match what is in the heart. Hypocrites honor God with their lips but their hearts are far from him; they worship God in vain. (Mark 7:6-7)

The Pharisees and teachers of the law were experts in religious laws and made a great show of piety. They practiced cleansing rituals and tithing but neglected more important matters like justice, mercy and faithfulness. They were greedy and self-indulgent. Even worse, they led other people astray.

Jesus was so disgusted by the hypocrisy of the Pharisees that he called them blind guides, a brood of vipers (Matthew 23:13-36). He saw through the outward displays of righteousness into their hearts. To guard yourself against hypocrisy, you must look inside your own heart to see what is not pleasing to God.

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean.

2. Guard yourself against all kinds of greed (Luke 12:15)

Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.

Greed is an intense, excessive desire for wealth or possessions. Why did Jesus say that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone rich to enter the kingdom of God? Because you can’t serve both God and money. If you place too much value on money and possessions, you become a slave to your possessions. You will not be devoted to God and the things he values. Instead of focusing on acquiring earthly possessions, we should store up for ourselves treasures in heaven. (Matthew 6:19-20).

But notice that Jesus said to guard against “all kinds” of greed. People can also be greedy for power or fame or attention. Be on guard against any overwhelming desire to acquire more for yourself.

3. Avoid temptation; Take all sin seriously (Matthew 5:19, Mark 9:43)

Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called the least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed, than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out.

Jesus didn’t just warn believers to not be greedy, self-indulgent hypocrites. He warned his followers to take all sin seriously and to not lead others astray. Believers should remove any source of temptation even if it is painful. That may mean giving up something you value – a relationship, a job or a hobby.

Jesus didn’t just caution his followers not to sin in ways that people can see; he set the bar higher. For example, it is not enough to avoid killing; we must also avoid anger and hatred. It is not enough to avoid adultery; we must avoid lusting in our hearts. It is not enough to love your neighbor; we must love our enemies.

4. Watch your words (Matthew 12:34-37)

You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of. A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him. But I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.

Although Jesus was responding to the scribes and Pharisees in this passage, his words contain a warning for believers as well. Jesus made it clear that what comes out of our hearts is what makes us unclean. When I find myself saying something unkind, it’s a sign that my heart is not pure.

With this warning, Jesus also tells us how to discern wickedness in others so we can steer clear of their influence. We should not ignore hateful words because hateful words come from a hateful heart. Lies come from a deceitful heart. Bullying comes from a mean heart. Boastfulness comes from an overly proud heart.

Make a tree good and its fruit will be good.

5. Consider carefully how (and what) you hear (Luke 8:18, Matthew 13:11-15)

Jesus often spoke in parables. When the disciples asked why, Jesus told them that there are people whose hearts are too calloused and hard to understand his message. If they were receptive to Jesus, they would see and hear and understand with their hearts. Understanding a message through parables takes more study and reflection.

The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them. Whoever has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him. This is why I speak to them in parables:

“Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand.”

Jesus revealed secrets about the kingdom of God. Many people hear the message but do not believe. Others believe the word of God, but do not allow it to take root and change them. Anyone who sincerely seeks Jesus can hear and understand. But if we want to understand, we must consider carefully how we listen. Are we listening with an open heart? Are we remaining in his word so we can grow? Or are we letting his words be choked out by life’s worries, riches and pleasures?

There is a real danger in not paying attention to what Jesus is saying, in not sincerely seeking to know God’s will. To me, absolutely the worst words I could ever hear would be Jesus saying, “I don’t know you.” (Matthew 7:21-23)

Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’

6. Do not judge, or you too will be judged (Matthew 7:1-5)

Do not judge, or you too will be judged.  For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

This one is tough because a lot of people don’t understand the difference between judging and discerning. Jesus is not saying that we should ignore wrongdoing. He is not saying that we shouldn’t warn people about the consequences of sin. He is saying that unless we are without sin (and no one is), we are not qualified to judge other people. Instead of judging, we should focus our energy and attention on correcting our own behavior. We should put ourselves in the other person’s shoes. We are not to condemn other people if we don’t want to be condemned ourselves. If you want forgiveness, you must forgive. Again, don’t be a hypocrite. Deal with your own stuff first.

7. Watch out for deceivers (Matthew 7:15-16)

Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit, you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles?

People will come claiming to be righteous, claiming to speak for God,  but their real motivation is something else – power, money or status. How can you discern whether a teaching is false? Does it glorify God? Is it loving or hostile towards other people? Does it conflict with what the Bible teaches about God? Does it take scriptures out of context?

Be very suspicious of claims that just don’t ring true. The claim that God would “raise up” a wicked man to do something good for this nation does not ring true. Why? Because Jesus made it clear that an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him. How do I know that a man is evil? By his rotten fruit: sexual immorality, hatred, discord, jealousy, anger, selfish ambition, arrogance, idolatry, cheating, greed, and dishonesty.

8. Be prepared for division (Matthew 10:34-36)

Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn “a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law – a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.”

Jesus warned his disciples about coming division. Being committed to Christ means your relationship with him is the most important relationship in you life. A believer’s values and goals conflict with the world’s values and goals. The choice to follow Jesus separates believers from those who reject him.

But I’m starting to see that the division is not just between those who believe in Jesus and those who don’t. I see the separation between hypocrites and real followers of Christ. I see the separation between Christians who pursue redemption through legalism and those who believe that salvation is through God’s grace alone (sola gratia). And Jesus said that when the Son of Man comes, “he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.” (Matthew 25:31-46)

9. Be prepared for hatred and/or persecution (John 15:18-21)

If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A slave is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they kept My word, they will keep yours also. But all these things they will do to you for My name’s sake, because they do not know the One who sent Me.

People may hate you not because of what you’ve done or because of who you are but simply because you follow Jesus. As Jesus explained it, the world loves people who belong to the world. If you follow Jesus, you no longer belong to the world. You no longer conform to worldly values. You should be radically different – turning the other cheek, loving your enemies.

A couple of words of caution because many people distort the meaning of this warning.

  • Some believers blame Jesus because they are hated. But many non-believers hate Christians because they don’t see Christ-like behavior. They see a hypocrite. They see someone who is judgmental. They see someone who doesn’t love her neighbor as she loves herself.
  • Some believers use accusations of hatred as a weapon. If you don’t agree with them, they accuse you of being hateful.
  • Many Evangelicals falsely claim to be persecuted. Separation of church and state is not persecution. Not being able to say “Merry Christmas” is not persecution.
10. Be spiritually prepared for Jesus to return (Luke 21:25-28; Mark 13:32-33)

There will be signs in the sun, moon, and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. Men will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken. At that time, they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.

No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come.

No one knows when Jesus will return. He will return when people least expect it. While I long for Jesus to return, I do not expect him to return anytime soon. But what if he did? Am I living a life that pleases him? Am I ready for the unexpected?

The first Christians expected Jesus to return at any time. When the apostle Paul wrote to Timothy around A.D. 64, he said that there will be terrible times in the last days. He also described the kinds of people that we should avoid.

People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God – having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people.

Guarding yourself with the gospel of peace

Jesus told his followers to be on guard because he did not want them to stray from his teaching. He wanted them to be prepared for difficulties – like the troubled times we face today. He wanted his followers to be on watch for his return.

I can’t imagine anyone who was more prepared for conflict than Paul. He was beaten and imprisoned for spreading the gospel. But he was not discouraged. He encouraged other believers to stand firm in their faith. In a letter to the Ephesians, Paul said to put on the full armor of God so that you will be able to stand when the day of evil comes.

Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

I pray that other believers when faced with the troubles of today will not listen to the teachings of modern-day Pharisees but will instead listen to the words of Jesus.

Thanks for my free lunch…and more

I have a mushy memory from kindergarten about the little half-pint cartons of milk. I wanted to have milk at snack time like the other kids. If memory serves, Mrs. Knowles said, “I thought you didn’t like milk.” I’m guessing we hadn’t paid for it. She told me if I wanted milk, I needed to bring money to school with me. We had just moved to Kansas from Indiana and were living with my grandparents at the time. I went home and said I needed a nickel or whatever it was for my milk. It all got straightened out and I did not have to do without the rest of the year.

We were always poor when I was growing up so I have many memories of doing without. I learned to not ask for much, even things I needed. I remember doing without school supplies, like in the first grade when I didn’t have an eraser. I remember walking home looking at the ground, hoping I would find a piece of rubber or something else that would work better at rubbing out my mistakes than a wet finger.

As I got older, I learned what it was like to sit on the sidelines and not participate in sports or other activities because we couldn’t afford it. There was the time that my class was taken down the hall to look at music instruments. I would have liked to have chosen a clarinet but I knew it was not an option for me. In the fifth grade, on the annual play day, one of my sneakers literally fell apart when I was running because it was ripped from front to back.

When I was twelve, I got my first babysitting job. For fifty cents an hour on Saturday mornings, I watched three kids while their mother cleaned at the hotel. I opened up a passbook savings account and saved what little I could from that job and others. As a teenager, I tried to help out by paying for some of my own things. As a teen, I remember asking Mom to take me shopping to Topeka so I could buy a winter coat with my savings. I didn’t choose something fashionable; I chose a simple, cheap one. As a senior, I paid for my own pictures and graduation announcements with the money I had saved. Poverty taught me the value of frugality and self-sufficiency.

I did without a lot growing up but I got to go to a public school whether or not my parents could afford the school books. I had free lunch every day. There were many times when we did not have enough food at our house. How would I have performed in school if I hadn’t had that dependable, balanced meal every day? I will never know. What I do know is that I was a good student and I am grateful that there are people in the world who thought I should eat.

As a kid, I was well aware that there were people who looked down on us for being poor. I heard the whispers and saw the dirty looks. I knew that people resented us because their tax dollars contributed to our welfare. I write about what it was like to be a poor kid because I hope that people will have mercy on the children who will be harmed by proposed cuts to school lunch programs, the Pell grant program and after school programs that help poor students.

So let me take this opportunity to say thank you, taxpayers, even those of you who resent the poor, for paying for my free lunch. I didn’t ask to be poor any more than you asked to feed someone else’s kid, but thank you, because you did the right thing, even if it was against your will.

White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney defended cuts to school programs with his claim that there is no demonstrable evidence that programs that feed poor kids help them do better in school. He believes that hard-working taxpayers should not have to pay for welfare programs that help the poor without proof that it makes a difference. He is one of those people who would have looked down his nose at me and resented me for being what Paul Ryan calls a “taker” and not a “maker.” But again, I was just a kid. I didn’t ask to be poor.

Today, I am demonstrable evidence that programs that help the poor pay off in the long run. Government grants paid for about a third of my college costs. I still had to work and I still had to get good grades to keep my scholarships. When I graduated with a degree in accounting, I made $21,000 a year at my first job at a CPA firm. That was three times what I could have made at minimum wage. Over the past thirty-two years, I have paid tens of thousands more in income taxes than I would have paid if the government had not helped me out when I needed a hand up. I’ve paid for my free lunches and free school books and college tuition assistance many times over.

The President didn’t ask me if I want my tax dollars to go towards increased military spending or towards building a wall or towards providing security for his second home or for his frequent trips to Florida. Believe me, I would rather pay for free lunches or Meals on Wheels or for taking care of our veterans. But I don’t get to choose where my tax dollars go and a shocking  quarter of every dollar goes towards military spending.

The sad thing to me is that even religious people who should care about the poor often don’t. I see more expressions of compassion from my atheist friends. One of my evangelical friends recently repeated what she heard a guy say on the radio about the difference between Christians and liberals: Christians believe that we should care for the poor with our own money but liberals want the government to pay for everything! Yet I have never heard an anti-government Christian explain just how the church or secular community would replace the government’s role in providing help to the needy.

So again, thank you American taxpayer for every bit of government financial assistance I received in the first twenty-one years of my life. I know there are people who don’t think I was worth it, but thank God someone did.