Category Archives: Current Events

Don’t Be So Cavalier About It

Lebron James (a.k.a. King James) has caused no small stir the world of professional basketball.  In what resembled a celebrity divorce, he shook the Cleveland dust off his feet only to wiggle them in the white sands of South Beach.  Cleveland got stood up at the altar while Lebron parades around town with his new girlfriend(s).  The Heat are in first place and the Cavaliers are dead last.  Despite the desperate longings of all Cleveland fans, poetic justice is heretofore denied.   The divorce wasn’t an amenable one and the aftershocks still reverberate.  The Cavaliers try to save face while Lebron rubs their face in it.  The drama is as entertaining as it is silly.

Last Tuesday night the Los Angeles Lakers handed the Cavaliers a 55-point drubbing.  And like a husband who prides himself on exploiting how pathetic is ex-wife is without him, Lebron James tweeted during the game: “Crazy.  Karma is a [expletive]. Gets you every time. Its not good to wish bad on anybody. God sees everything!”  It’s not good to wish bad on anybody; unless, apparently, you’re Lebron James speaking of Cleveland.  Poor Lebron.  Little Ol’ Cleveland just won’t leave him alone to play million-dollar footsie with his new suitors.

Dare I call into question King James’s theological acuity.  After all, I don’t want him tweeting about me!  But he was quite confused to use “karma” and “God” as cooperating partners (i.e. syncretism).  Karma, an Indian concept, is the universe’s (or gods thereof) way of maintaining moral balance.  Do good things and good things will happen to you.  Do bad things (like pick on Li’l Lebron) and bad things will happen to you (like 55-point losses to the Lakers).  In the end, god (whoever or whatever that is) rewards those who do good and punishes those who do bad.  So do good, Cleveland.

This, however, has nothing to do with how God orders the universe.  Lebron was right in one sense: God does see everything.  I suppose this includes the process by which Lebron fathered two children out of wedlock, whose mother he’s stringing along as a perpetual “fiancee.”  Nevertheless, God does see everything but not in order to reward self-righteousness.  God doesn’t measure his favor based on human merit because no human is meritorious of his favor (Rom 3.10-18).  Good things happen because Christ happened.  And only those in Christ can expect any favor from God.

Still, there are Christians who might snicker at Lebron’s sophomoric tirade but themselves live as though God does co-op karma to accomplish his will.  For example, how often do we think that since we read our Bible this morning then God owes us some favor this afternoon?  Or, since I prayed earnestly about something that God should return the favor.  I scratched God’s back so he will scratch mine.

What about the other side of the coin?  My car wreck this afternoon was God getting me back for sinning this morning.  Or, since I’m on God’s “bad side” then I shouldn’t expect his favor until I can get back on his “good side.”  That’s a karmic way of life, and one that is not fit for God’s people.

There are consequences for sin that God rightly sees they’re played out (Gal 6.6-10).  But this is different than viewing the universe as a cosmic chess game in which we’d better make all the right moves before God checkmates us.  God doesn’t relate to us based on how well we impress him.  On our best day, we are still law-breakers and God cannot abide law-breakers (Rom 3.23).  As Christians, we are at all times dependent on the intercessory of ministry of Jesus (Heb 7.25) “who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption” (1 Cor 1.30).  There is never one moment when God does not relate to his people apart from the imputed righteousness of Christ.  We don’t impress God.  He impresses us in Christ.  Jesus is the only one who has rightly obeyed and earned a way back into Eden (Heb 10.19-20).  And our best effort at worship must be filtered through and cleansed by the interceding ministry of Christ.

In catechizing our children we ask, “Can you see God?”  They respond, “No, but he always sees me.” Lebron might tell his children that since God always sees you then make sure what he sees is good so that he’ll do good to you.  Let us tell our children differently and biblically.  What God sees in and from us is worthy of eternal death.  But he sent his Son to die for what he saw in us.  Now, for all who repent and believe, even when God sees everything about us he chooses to see Jesus instead (Col 3.3).

Lebron may think himself worthy of God’s applause, but God has a far different understanding of “heat.” One taste of God’s heat and Lebron will beg to be back in Cleveland.

Would Jesus Join the Tea Party?

And Jesus said to them, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Mark 12.17)

Abraham Lincoln wrote in 1862 about the conflict over slavery between the Union and Confederacy “In great contests each party claims to act in accordance with the will of God. Both may be, and one must be wrong. God can not be for, and against the same thing at the same time.”

In his second inaugural address in 1865, he’d not changed his mind: Both [North and South] read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. . . . The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes.”

And when asked by a preacher if he was sure God was on the Union’s side, Lincoln replied famously and summarily the question was not whether or not God was on their side but if they were on his.

So whose side is Jesus on anyway? Mine or yours? Ours or theirs?  Would Jesus join the Tea Party? What does he think about income taxes and government loyalty? Is he an anarchist (all government is bad and should be resisted)? Is he a theocrat (society should be ruled by religious law and devotion mediated by the authority of the church)? Where does Jesus stand politically: with conservatives, liberals, progressives, independents, libertarians? Would he plug his car in or gas it up or ride a bike?

The Pharisees tried to pin Jesus down on a similar issue: should Jews pay taxes to Caesar or not (Mk 12.14)?  Did Jesus join the Jews in their hatred of paying tribute to a Gentile who think s himself God?  Or did he sell out and cower in the shadow of Tiberius Caesar, Son of Divine Augustus?

While Jesus did not say everything that would be said about the relationship between his followers and the State, he did provide enough for the apostles to unpack.

1) Civil government—even an evil one—is a legitimate institution to be supported by taxes and respect.  Christians should be the most faithful and honest taxpayers on the planet.

What if our taxpayer dollars go to fund ungodly initiatives (abortion, for example)? Caesar was no altar boy himself. He spent taxpayer dollars building pagan shrines and temples to himself and his false gods. Yet, Jesus said to give Caesar his due not because we agree with his policies but because he will be held accountable to the authority granted him by God (see Rom 13.1-7).

After all, Paul wrote Romans during the reign of Nero after having survived the reigns of Caligula and Claudius. I think he’d be surprised at how easily we complain about our democracy!

2) Christians are to live as exemplary citizens so that if they are despised it is only because of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The world must have no charge against Christians except where their allegiance to the gospel trumps their allegiance to the State.

Christians are not to be seen as revolutionaries or mutineers. They’re not tax cheats or snarky loophole lovers. The freedom provided by Jesus in the gospel is not be used for rebellion, but for humble submission (see 1 Pt 2.13-17; Heb 10.32-39).

How we joyfully submit to the state often reflects how much faith we have in God to make good on his promise in the gospel. Do we really believe this world is not worth what we often spend to hold on to it?  Don’t throw away your confidence in God to hold onto stuff. Believe it or not, submitting to our civil government insofar as we can without compromising the gospel is an act of worship to God.

3) Jesus prioritizes the two kingdoms. Jesus did not define two mutually exclusive kingdoms: Caesar’s and God’s. He wasn’t saying Caesar has his kingdom and God has his kingdom and we live in one or the other. We often separate them into the secular and sacred. Jesus wasn’t proposing radical separatism or radical revolution. He prioritized the kingdoms. He didn’t offer an either/or scenario but a both/and scenario, with one kingdom subject to the other.

He was prioritizing the kingdoms as one being temporal and earthly (Caesar’s) which is subject to one that is eternal and sovereign (God’s). Paying taxes to and honoring Caesar is part of living in this kingdom; this age of fallen humanity where we need police and firemen and roads. What Caesar does with those taxes and honor will be held accountable by God, but we entrust that to God while we gladly file our 1040s and honor the king.

The church should never be despaired by any administration. Listening to Christian talking heads, you’d think electing President Obama was the end of the world. Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s. Give to God what is God’s. But don’t give to Caesar what is God’s. And ascribing any king, president, monarch, dictator, sheik or imam the power to govern the affairs of redemptive-history is to give to Caesar what alone belongs to God.  God alone determines the affairs of the world.

If it’s the end of the world, it won’t be because of President Obama or a nuclear Iran but because of our Great and Sovereign God who is bringing all things in subjection to the Lord Jesus Christ. We should be less concerned about who is in office and far more concerned about who is in Christ, because it’s before his court we’ll appear in the end.

Of course, we must engage in civil affairs in this life but only as long as we remember the priority of God’s kingdom to come.

4) It’s of more eternal importance that we give to God what is God’s than we give to Caesar what is Caesar’s. Jesus said to these Pharisees and Herodians, “You hypocritically assume that it’s more important what a person gives to Caesar than what a person gives to God. You’re the religious leaders of Israel and you are not giving God what he is due. Who cares about Caesar’s tax rates when you have no fear of God? Why are you more concerned about what happens at Caesar’s palace than what happens in the temple of God?”

We must prioritize the kingdoms such that God’s kingdom—evident in the church now but ultimately realized in a new heavens/earth—takes precedence over all other allegiances.

Folks often ask preachers what they’re going to do if/when it become illegal to preach on certain topics. While God will supply sufficient grace should the time come, I’m not scared of what the government might do if we preach the gospel. I fear what God might do if we don’t!  We don’t fear wrongly (in the eyes of men) preaching the gospel. We fear preaching the wrong gospel (cf. Acts 4.16-30).  We need not fear what laws may be enacted against Christian witness. We’d better fear God more than the state.

So, we pay our taxes on time. We do the speed limit. We buckle our seatbelts!  We gladly obey the law insofar as it doesn’t collide with God’s law.

And even more, we joyfully preach Christ. And we give the state only one option for despising/arresting us: hatred of Jesus and his gospel. And on the way to prison or the gallows we pay up our taxes, we speak respectfully of those arresting us (see Acts 24.2-4; 26.2-3), and then thank God that all government rests on the shoulders of Jesus (Is 9.6).

For the Christian, the health of the church, purity of her witness, the zeal of her worship is more important than the health of city hall, Nashville (in our case) or Washington. The church of the Lord Jesus Christ is the only God-ordained institution by which he broadcasts his interests to the world. And she will be the only “nation” standing in the end. So the amount of energy we spend on political discourse should be exponentially outdone by the amount of energy spent on gospel discourse.  The amount of energy we spend compelling others to this or that candidate should be exponentially outdone by the energy spent compelling them to Jesus.  Our allegiance to Caesar must be exponentially outdone by our allegiance to the church of the Lord Jesus Christ. We’re merely aliens and strangers here. We’re citizens of God’s kingdom.

Despite what I may nor may not want to give to Caesar, am I giving to God what is God’s? We were stamped with the imago Dei—long before anything was stamped with any other image. Therefore, I owe God my life and paying Caesar is a small price to pay in light of that.

Brother and sister, what do you fear more: national socialism or local church apostasy?  In what do you put more hope: the spread of democracy or the spread of the gospel?  What makes you rejoice more: the election of a certain candidate or one sinner who repents?  Which kingdom takes priority in your time, money, efforts and conversation?

How would Jesus answer those questions? Would he be on your side, or would you be on his?

There will be hundreds of professing Christians gathered locally and thousands nationally for the National Day of Prayer in about a week. And they will be Christians who never gather with their local churches to pray. They will gather to pray for people they’ve never met and situations they’ve never touched. But yet don’t gather with their churches to pray for people who sit right around them every week in situations that affect them greatly.

But God hasn’t ordained your town to be a house of prayer for the nations. He’s ordained the church as the house of prayer for the nations!  God will change America, not when towns take a National Day of Prayer seriously, but when the local church takes her weekly day of prayer seriously. I’m not saying boycott the National Day of Prayer (I plan to be at our local one). I’m staying participate with far less expectation, investment and energy then than the local church gathers in prayer.

Would Jesus join the Tea Party? In one sense, who really cares? The question is are we part of his party? He’s more concerned about saving and sanctifying the people for whom he died. He’s more concerned about people hearing and believing that this world is under judgment and only those who repent and believe in Jesus will survive its destruction. He’s more concerned about holiness than taxes.

So pay your taxes. Rally your candidates. But you’d better make sure you’re keeping God’s kingdom in Christ your primary allegiance. Get out the vote if you want, but make sure you’re getting out the gospel more. You’d better be sure to love Jesus and the church more than democracy and the State. You’d better make sure that when these two kingdoms collide (and they always do) that you’re standing with Christ and his people.

And if someone asks you what you think about what’s going on in America you tell them it’s not nearly as important as what’s going on with them and God. Are they giving God what is God’s?

The Church’s “Public Option”

If the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you. . . . And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body (Rom 8.11, 23).

A revolutionary spirit blows across the Fruited Plain.  Arguably sensationalized by a ubiquitous media, congressional “Town Halls” erupt with vehemence over government-sponsored health care.  The issue has become too unwieldy for even those-(supposedly)-in-the-know to sort through the details.  For the federal government the infamous “public option” has become a public relations nightmare and a financial boondoggle.  For the church, however, it is another golden opportunity to proclaim the excellencies of Christ.

Christians cannot be disinterested in health care.   Like Jesus, we are to be the world’s strongest advocate for merciful, timely, indiscriminate care for suffering people.  We champion the sanctity of life and must encourage any and all means that encourage life in every context.  And by “every,” we must mean “every”!  Being pro-life means more than being pro-breathing.  The church is God’s “welfare” provider as she takes seriously the commands to care for her widows and orphans.  But our Babelesque compounds have eclipsed “pure and undefiled religion” (Jas 1.27), hogging all the light to leave the least of these in our impressive shadow.  But I digress.

Our concern for health care is not an ultimate concern.  Even the world’s greatest health care “system” (which the United States obviously has) merely prolongs the inevitable.  No health care system in all the world at any time will ever be able to remedy our greatest enemy: death.  The libertarian and the socialist may live differently but they die just the same.  They may stand on opposing sides of the aisle but they share the same coffin.  They may differ on the government’s public option but they will both run out of options when the wages of our sin come due.

The church, therefore, offers a public option from another world that is guaranteed to secure life for all those who “buy” into it.  That option is the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.  The best free-marketeers, socialists or anyone in between can offer when it comes to health care is a way to temporarily sustain this life.  The church offers a way to live eternally.  Our hope is not in health care no matter who runs it.  Our hope is in the Risen Lord Jesus who has solved our health care “crisis” by resurrection, not legislation.  And we proclaim that Christ Jesus gives life to our mortal bodies through a glorious resurrection.  This option is already paid for by the blood of our Lord Jesus and all who repent and believe are guaranteed eternal care.

Health care options may help us die painlessly, but no health care option helps us die well.  Only the gospel can do that.  So, dear Christian, have your debates and assert your convictions.  But make sure your zeal is not misplaced or sinfully earthbound.  Let us not leave people hoping in affordable health care, but in the redemption of our bodies by the Spirit of God.  That’s something worth shouting about.

Trickle-Down Recession

Nobody should care what I think about economics (or anything for that matter) but I wondered recently about the following.

Two competing economic philosophies are at loggerheads in our day.  One is the Keynesian model named after John Maynerd Keynes (1883-1946).  Keynes asserted that the burden for economic stimulus lay with the government.  The state must regulate interest rates and wages as well as create employment through infrastructure projects.  To stimulate growth Keynes argued the state must create consumers (not savers) by hiring bridge-builders or print stimulus checks, thus supplying more money to the system.  Generally speaking, the state creates and empowers consumers (demand) who then spend their money.  By increasing demand they drive up supply and its concomitant effects (employment, wages, etc.).

Were Keynes to have seen Field of Dreams he would say, “Buy what you want and they will supply it.”  This approach starts with the micro level (the individual consumer) to influence the macro level (collective companies and industries).  Through printing and taxation, the government increases the supply of money to the system.  The state must regulate the value of money through constant and reactionary (slow-moving) policies.  And in the end we’re at the mercy of a government we hope is not corrupt or tyrannical.

The other model is known as Say’s Law named after Jean-Baptiste Say (1767-1832).  This Law is more commonly known as “supply-side economics” or “trickle down economics” or more recently “Reaganomics” (named such for Ronald Reagan’s approach to economic stimulus).  As opposed to Keynes’ govermnent-based approach, Say’s Law is a market-based approach.  The government must limit its involvement in private industry and free up companies (via lower taxes, minimal regulation, etc.) to invent, manufacture and supply their goods.  As manufacturers/suppliers are in business to make money they are driven to supply what people will want to buy.  The success of their product then trickles down to the various wholesalers, retailers, service and repair folks.  The more money people make the more they buy and save.  The more they save the more banks have to lend.  The more banks have to lend the cheaper it is for companies to borrow for investment.  Eventually, the economic flood helps all boats rise.

If people don’t buy their goods then they must think of something else to supply.  By increasing supply (the freedom to invent, manufacture and provide goods/services) they welcome more demand which then creates more supply and so on and so forth.  Say would say, “Build (supply) it and they will come (buy).”  Begin at the macro level (companies and industries) in order to stimulate the micro level.  Through investment, business supplies money to the system.  The market then regulates the value of money through supply and demand principles.

Keynesians are on the offensive these days, decrying the damaging policies and failure of “trickle-down economics.”  But aren’t we in a trickle-down recession?  The ripple affect of GM or Microsoft laying off workers is tremendous.  It trickles all the way down to the local mechanic or computer repairman.  It would seem that the best way to correct a trickle-down recession is to embrace trickle-down economics.  Giving me (an individual consumer) $1,000 doesn’t make me want to go buy a Chevrolet.  It makes me want to save most of it because the government has no idea how to run business and will devalue my dollar.

This does not mean, however, the government loans phantom money to GM in Keynesian fashion.  It means rewarding innovation and removing the disincentives (via lower taxes, less regulation, less unionization, etc.) for building a better mousetrap in the local economy.  Let GM fail and there will be other smaller, more localized, more efficient entrepreneurs ready to pick up their scraps (and hire its employees, etc).  This will encourage more entrepreneurship and force the GMs and Microsofts to compete for our business rather than rely on a handout.

Of course, no system will fix what is fundamentally wrong with any economy: greed.  Only the gospel of Jesus Christ can do that.  So better yet, put down the economics book and read your Bible.  In it you’ll find Paul’s command to “lead a quiet life and attend to your own business and work with your hands” (1 Thess 4.11) so as to be generous to others and “eat your own bread” (2 Thess 3.12).  Paul didn’t care about Keynes or Say. But he did promote hard work, responsibility and generosity as a reflection of the gospel rather than lazy dependence on others.  What Say you?

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Did You Know?

You probaly know a “patron saint” is a person venerated by the Catholic church to provide special protection of a person, group or place.  You probably know that St. Nicholas (4th century bishop from whom our Americanized “Santa Claus” derives his legend) is the patron saint of children (in the West).

But he’s also the patron saint of more causes than any other saint.  Did you know he is also the patron saint of:

Archers, pharmacists, police, bankers (does Congress know about this?), barrel makers, and all things nautical.  St. Nicholas was known on several occasions to help troubled sailors arrive in port safely.

Boot blacks, bottlers, boys, brides, brewers and wine dealers (which is why he’s so jolly), businessmen, and famously: butchers, bakers and candlestick makers.

Buttonmakers, captives, choristers, citizens, clergy, clerks, clothiers, corn/grain dealers, court recorders, dock workers, drapes, embalmers/morticians, firefighters, fishermen, florists, grocers, grooms, haberdashers (I just like saying that word), infants, infertile, judges, lace makers (is that why my Mammy tatted so well?), unjust lawsuits, lawyers, lovers, maidens, merchants, military intelligence (watch it!), millers, murderers, newlyweds, notaries, oil merchants (hmm), orphans, packers (what did Brett Favre do to upset him?), parish clerks, paupers, and pawnbrokers.

The pawnbroker symbol is three gold balls, which derives from one of St. Nicholas’ famous traditions.  A bankrupt father could not provide a dowry for his three daughters to marry thereby forcing them toward slavery/prostitution.  Upon hearing this, St. Nicholas went to the man’s house at night and threw a bag of gold through the window (St. Nicholas had inherited wealth from his dead parents).  He did this for each of the daughters who were then subsequently married.  This is also the tradition on which stocking-stuffing is based.

Perfumers, pilgrims, pirates, poets, poor, preachers, prisoners, prostitutes, pupils, ribbon weavers, robbers/thieves, schoolchildren, scholars, seed merchants, shoemakers and shiners, shopkeepers, soldiers, spice dealers, spinsters, tanners, teachers, timber dealers, travelers, unjustly condemned, unmarried, virgins, weavers, and woodturners.

So here’s to St. Nicholas, patron saint of just about everything.