Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Taking Our Country Back

I keep hearing people of all political stripes talking about taking our country back. Back to where? Back to George W. Bush's era? A time when we were borrowing from China in order to finance two wars at a rate which increased the national debt faster and higher than any time in history? Back to the beginning of the greatest recession since the Great Depression?

Back to the era of Bill Clinton? A time when the United States was losing the respect of more nations so quickly that we fell from the number one position as the most respected and highest regarded nation on Earth?

Back to the time of George H. W. Bush when the economic downturn was so vastly ignored by our government leaders that the best statement to describe those four years was/is, "It's the economy, stupid!"

Back to the time of Ronald Reagan when 'trickle down economics' was the national policy? When the middle class decreased at the fastest rate since the middle class started being monitored? When more than 50% of our national budget was spent on military expansion?

Back to the time of Jimmy Carter when unemployment was in the double digits, inflation was in the triple digits and the lines at the gas pumps stretched for blocks?

Back to the era of Richard M. Nixon/Gerald Ford when the American people finally became aware of the deceit and illegal activities that were going on on Capitol Hill? When it was revealed that the U.S. government keeps a file on the majority of the U.S. citizenry documenting our most personal information, choices, shopping history, etc.?

How about back to the 60's when there was a massive war on the American people by our own government? When protesting the government was considering anarchy, illegal and when there was a huge war between the races?

How about back to the 50's when women had few rights, blacks were required to sit at the back of the bus, drink from separate water fountains and weren't allowed to use the public restrooms whites used?

I don't want to take our country "back", I want to see our country move FORWARD. Toward something that is good, where people are considered based on their ethics, morals, behaviors, achievements and education. Where gender and ethnicity has absolutely no consideration when determining jobs, pay, housing, etc. A country where the rights of each and every citizen is guaranteed, protected and defended, even if someone doesn't agree with their opinion, stand, speech, etc.

I know, I'm a dreamer; I'm longing for Utopia, et al. Or maybe it's just that I'm longing for Heaven. But I think the U.S. could come a lot closer to Utopia/heaven than where are currently, and much closer than we would be if we were to go "back" to any time in the past.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

When I Feel I've Failed God in His Calling

I'm just a man.

I'm just an ordinary man.

I'm just an ordinary man called by God.

I'm just an ordinary man called by God to try to make the world a little better.

I'm just an ordinary man called by God to try to make the world a little better by shining God's light.

I'm just an ordinary man called by God to try to make the world a little better by shining God's light of love.

Today I feel like I've failed God. When I first truly understood God's calling, I thought, "Whew! That'll be easy! What could be easier than sharing God's love and getting His people to understand that it's about love. To show the lost and hurting that His love has already overcome all their problems, their hurts, their disappointments and He's waiting with open arms to embrace them in an amazing cocoon of His divine, perfect love? I truly believed that I had escaped one those difficult missions God sometimes gives His people; ya know, going to a third world country where the people are starving, thirsting, have nothing but a hovel to live in and know nothing about God. I thought that would be just too difficult for me to do.

Was I ever in for a massive surprise! I've come to realize sharing Jesus with someone who knows nothing about Him is relatively simple. They have no preconceived notions about Him. They don't have years of believing their dogma and mindset are in accordance with His Word. There are no stubborn lines in the sand to cross with those who know nothing about Him. But, going to those who have grown up in a church or spent years and years in a pew believing that's all they are required to do. And those in third world countries haven't spent years being taught and embracing this concept of "tough love" which has no basis, or even a remote resemblance, to God's Word!

I've been accused by people who claim the name of Jesus of being everything from misguided to deceived. I've been accused of trying to sow discord amongst the church or lead people down a path away from Christ and the cross. I've even had Christians tell me, point blank to my face, that I am not a Christian because I've challenged their long-seated notion of what showing God's love is. I found out that what I thought was going to be an easy calling has turned out to be one of the hardest things I've ever attempted to do and I've often questioned whether I'm up to the task. And, I'll admit there have been times I've questioned whether I heard God correctly, even.

Of course, God is ever faithful, and during those moments of uncertainty, questioning and even doubt, He has always reaffirmed His call, His mission for my life and truth of what my message is supposed to be. That doesn't make it any easier to face Christians, whom I love and respect and admire, who question me, accuse me or even condemn me. At those times I remember that the religious of Jesus' day were the very ones who mocked Him, accused Him, charged Him and were ultimately responsible for His death. That's right, the ones who were supposed to be God's representatives here on Earth were the ones who had Jesus put to death! Granted, that was God's plan all along, that Jesus would come, live, minister, die and be raised from the dead. There is no redemption from sin without sacrifice and Jesus became the final sacrifice for every sin ever committed on the face of this planet by every single person who has ever lived, from Adam right down to you and me, today. Considering there are 7 Billion people on the planet today and who knows how many billions between those living today and the day Adam fell, that's a whole lot of sin to take on His shoulders!

I will not abandon my calling. I will not walk away from the message that love is severely lacking in our modern, 21st Century lives. There's an old song from the 60's that is more appropriate today than ever before: 'what the world needs now is love, God's love.' But, those lyrics could also be changed to 'what the church needs now is love, God's love' and still be equally accurate. There's too much hate coming out of our pulpits, today.

Too much hate coming out the front doors of our churches.

Too much hate coming from the hearts and mouths of Christians each and every day within their daily lives.

No, not every Christian is hateful. And even the ones who do speak hate don't speak hate all the time and toward everyone in their sphere of life. Yet, there is still hate being broadcast out of the hearts of Christians and churches, today. And just as the Word tells us that light and darkness cannot reside in the same place, there is no place in the heart of God's children for both love and hate. Hate will take over and become the main emotion being spread.

Loving someone does not mean you accept their sin. It doesn't mean you approve of the lives of those who are living in sin. But there are scriptures that tell us how we are to behave when we truly live a life of Christian love.

The first scripture is this: Galatians 3:28: There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. What does that mean? For today's Christian living in the United States of America, it could be worded as: There is neither Republican nor Democrat, there is neither rich nor poor, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Oh, I know, I've just spoken heresy as far as some Christians are concerned. But let me explain something to them, and to you: not every Republican is a Christian. And there are Christians who are registered Democrats. I know many Christians think that you cannot be a Democrat because of some of the planks in the Democratic platform, but I can be part of an organization and not agree with every single part of what they believe or do. Just as I can love someone and not approve or condone every single thing they do or say. I'm sure those who are condemning Democrats don't believe and support every single part of the Republican party's platform, either.

And I've found that the surest way to identify those who are struggling with truly loving each and every person, whether they are Christian or not are those who use the tired, and often false, old cliché: Love the sinner, hate the sin. For God that is an easy principle to put into practice, but not quite so easy for humans. We have trouble separating the two and in our hate for the sin we wind up hating the sinner and punishing them for what we consider to be their sin.

Oh, I know sin is sin, but Paul also told us, what is sin for me may not be sin for you, and what is sin for you may not be sin for me. That's a very difficult concept for us to swallow as well. Another scripture that tells us how to live as Christians who truly show love to everyone involves the story of the woman caught in adultery.

I find it interesting that the men who brought that woman and threw her to the ground at Jesus' feet only brought the woman when the Law of Moses is clear: when a man and woman are caught in the act of adultery, both are to be stoned to death. So, where was the man involved in this adulterous act? It's impossible for someone to commit adultery alone! But, Jesus' response, in John 8:7, tells us how we, as Christians who live our lives in and with love are to behave: He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first.

Now, to be 100%, technically correct, as Christians we've been forgiven our sins, so we are, in His sight, without sin, but we all know that as human beings we continue to commit sin each and every day. Not a single one of us makes it through 24 hours without committing some type of sin. There was One there, however, who met the criteria Jesus laid out: Jesus, Himself. He truly was without sin, so by His own words He could have picked up a stone and thrown it at the woman first. But what did He do? He lifted her to her feet, forgave her and sent her on her way. Yes, many will scream, 'He told her to go and sin no more!' Yes, He did, but how many of you "sin no more" since you've been saved?

And I know many will now turn and say that I'm throwing stones at my brothers and sisters in Christ. I know this because they've done so many times, already. I am not throwing stones, I am following scripture, (Galatians 6:1) Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted. Trust me, I've very aware of this temptation. When I was new to this calling, there were times I struggled mightily with the temptation to hate those who refused to hear what I was trying to share with them. I've since come to understand that it is only my place to share what God has given me to share. I cannot force anyone to hear it or apply it to their lives. Do I hate those who don't hear? Do I hate those who call me names, hurl insults and even accuse me of being deceived/un-Christian? No, I don't. I love them just as much as I did before those things happened. That doesn't mean it doesn't hurt my feelings, my heart and soul when they make those statements, I am, after all, human.

Jesus also gave us clear instruction when someone refuses to hear us: (Matthew 10:14) And whoever will not receive you nor hear your words, when you depart from that house or city, shake the dust from your feet. Now, Jesus was talking about witnessing to the lost who refuse to hear our testimony and the Good News, but it applies when speaking to our Christian brothers and sisters, as well.

I love so much and want to share that love with each and every person I come into contact with, whether saint or sinner. And I've been called to share that love and teach that love to not only the sinners but also to the saints. Although I sometimes gets discouraged and feel as though I'm failing in my calling, I will not stop. I will not give up. For love covers a multitude of sins (or slights/insults/hurts). I will only give up on telling an individual about God's love when that individual flat out refuses to hear me and the Word of God. And when I do turn away from that person, I will shake the dust from my feet, and Jesus tells me in Matthew 10:15, Assuredly, I say to you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment than for that city (or person)!

9/11 - 11 Years Later

Eleven years have passed since that horrible day when foreign terrorism first touched the shores of the United States of America. The attacks on the Pentagon, World Trade Center and the plane that crashed in that Pennsylvania field were not our first taste of terrorism. But it was our worst, and the first time foreign forces had brought it to our soil.

Some people don't understand why I don't like to talk about 9/11. They comment and post their remembrances with banners that say "We will never ever forget!" and they include all kinds of patriotic imagery. They talk of our unity to fight terrorists, and encourage us to stand up and persevere in the fight against terrorism. But, I tend to not make a big splash on this day. I tend to post very little on social media, at all, and I don't usually post those images or banners or cries for remembrance and vengeance.

Some who don't know me have even said I'm un-American or not patriotic because I don't join in to the noise, fracas and the plastering of images and slogans and cliché on the internet. Those who do know me worry about me because they know I am all of those things but they also know it's unusual for me to be so quiet for an entire day. The truth of the matter is, my heart breaks anew every 11th of September. My heart and soul grieve not only for the 2,998 souls lost on that horrible day, but also for the sense of unity and patriotism that we shared in the days and months following.

We were neither Republican nor Democrat, neither black nor white, neither rich nor poor; we were simply American. For a brief time we laid our differences aside and became united. It sort of reminded me of what Paul said in Galatians 3:28, "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus." There was a unity not seen in this country in many years; several generations, in fact. We came together to grieve for those lost, even though the vast majority of Americans did not know, had never met or even heard the names of those who were slain in New York City, Arlington, Virginia or in Pennsylvania. The pain and loss of the families and friends of the victims became a national pain and loss.

My prayer is that as we post our remembrances and encourage one another to never forget that we not limit ourselves to remembering that we were attacked or seeking vengeance against those who perpetrated those attacks, but we also remember the unity we shared in those dark days and the hope we held for those brief few months afterward that we could, once again, BE the United of the United States of America.