Loving Your Neighbor

~ Radical thoughts to follow. ~

So many Christians these days are stuck in thinking of God as the almighty Creator of the universe, the final judge and authority on everything good, and they fear this powerful deity enthroned in unfathomable power.  They get so caught up in the God who utterly crushed Sodom and Gomorrah, caused the ground to swallow up disobedient men whole, and sent bears to maul dozens of “youths” in response to a curse by His prophet after their “teasing” of him.  If that is the God you know, you are missing Him… essentially in a forest for the trees moment.

Now let me get this straight – the God I’m talking about did all of those things, but He is so much more.  The God I’m talking about is not vengeful and destructive – He is creative, He is merciful, He is loving.  He is not hovering somewhere up in space ready to cast down lightning and hurl giant hailstones at you if you stumble and fall in trying to serve Him.

This is why the concept of God the Father is so important.  Think to your own children if you have them.  As a father, we only want the very best for them.  We teach them, guide them, influence them, discipline them, and love them as much as we can before we turn them loose on the world.  God the Father is no different, except that He doesn’t want us to ever get turned loose, but rather to turn back to Him – to love Him in return and to become not just His child, but rather also His friend.

Few men in the Bible were ever credited as friends of God – Abraham, Moses, David. These men didn’t go on and do measly things either. Abraham is the forefather of two great peoples – Jews through Isaac (by extension Christians) and Muslims. Moses became the first civil rights leader the world has ever seen – he led an entire nation from slavery to freedom.  David established Israel as a nation-state and also provided the family lineage for the Son of God to be born with a royal bloodline.  These men also give us a stark contrast though because of their friendship with God – Moses talked God out of destroying the idol worshiping Israelites, but He also repeatedly angered God as well to the point where he was forbidden from entering the Promised Land at the end of the decades-long journey to freedom.  David had a man killed because he thought his wife was smoking hot and wanted her for himself.  Neither of these men were perfectly moral, but they sought and loved God for who He was and unconditionally on their parts.

It is friendship with God that brings with it God’s unconditional mercy.

Instead of fearing God because of His righteousness, power, and judgment, we should strive to befriend God because He is right there waiting for us to do just that.  It’s all that He wants as our Father…. the absolute best for us.

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.

Matthew 22:37

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A Prayer for My Country

Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord,
the people he chose for his inheritance.

Psalm 33:12

Why do people look for their salvation and safety with government instead of God?

The stories in the Bible have a common thread running through them…. and some of the most referenced stories often have hidden meaning and message buried beneath the surface, while others are right out in front.

Let’s talk a bit about faith this morning.  Faith is a firm belief and trust in something for which there is no proof.  When we turn to mankind, to government, for an answer to the problems of life, are we acting out of faith or fear?

When the giant Goliath taunted the Israelite army for weeks on end with no challengers, were the Israelites acting out of faith or fear?  Saul, the anointed king of the people was trained, armed, and a physical specimen, yet he cowered, and by his example all of the army did the same – none willing to challenge a single man and place his life in the Lord’s hands through faith.

It was God’s will through this lack of faith to demonstrate the power of faith.  A boy, the youngest born of a small family, a shepherd – not a soldier, was offended by the nature of the giant’s taunts and how none dared stand against him.  He did not put on the armor of man, but rather the armor of God.  He then stood in front of the evil of his time unafraid and unashamed of his faith.

You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This day the Lord will deliver you into my hands, and I’ll strike you down and cut off your head. This very day I will give the carcasses of the Philistine army to the birds and the wild animals, and the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel. All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the Lord saves; for the battle is the Lord’s, and he will give all of you into our hands.

1 Samuel 17:45-57

When did this country stop trusting God and start trusting man to provide for it?

Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today.

Exodus 14:13

So do not fear, for I am with you;
    do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you;
    I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

Isaiah 41:10

Could all of our past and current problems be a result of a collapse of faith in God and the prideful replacement of it by faith in man?

 

War

Blessed be the Lord my strength which teacheth my hands to war, and my fingers to fight:

My goodness, and my fortress; my high tower, and my deliverer; my shield, and he in whom I trust.

Psalm 144:1-2

War.  A terrible concept.  Hell visits Earth in battle.  Men kill.  Men die.

What is the Psalmist saying though here?  He isn’t exalting God for keeping him out of war, but for preparing him for it.

In that day, wars were fought up close and personal with sword, spear, ax, and club.  They were fought at throwing range with slings and javelins.  They were fought at slightly longer ranges with bows.

Wars were dirty business, just as they are today.  They required athleticism, just as they do today.  They required mental discipline, just as they do today.  They required a stout heart, a steady hand, and a discerning judgment, just as they do today.  Those truths are eternal and they hold true whether we are speaking about physical human war or spiritual war, like those we fight continually day-to-day just living on this Earth.

I know that I have been particularly laser-like in my focus on the current push for greater gun regulation.  I also know that it is a temporal issue, not an eternal one, but I also know that the Psalmist (whom I presume is David, the man after God’s own heart) wrote this Psalm.  I firmly believe that scripture speaks on multiple levels and while it is able to be interpreted that we also must not ignore the plain speech.

I hope that the next time you read scripture, you are shown not only the hidden deeper meaning to it, but also the bold plainly written one right in front of you.

If you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one.

Luke 22:36, NIV

He that hath no sword, let him sell his garment, and buy one.

Luke 22:36, KJV

Let the one who has no sword sell his cloak and buy one.

Luke 22:36, ESV

He that hath none, let him sell his coat, and buy a sword.

Luke 22:36, 1599 Geneva Bible

et qui non habet, vendat tunicam suam et emat gladium. (roughly translated: and who does not have, sell your tunic and buy sword.)

Luke 22:36, Vulgate

 

Lord, make me fast and accurate.
Let my aim be true and my hand faster
Than those who would seek to destroy me.
Grant me victory over my foes and those that
Wish to do harm to me and mine.
Let not my last thought be if I only had my gun.
Lord, if today is truly the day that you call me home,
Let me die praising your name and in a pile of empty brass.

 

 

Uplifted

My wife and I are embarked on a journey to read the entire Bible in a year.  We’re reaching the parts about David prior to the establishment of his kingship over Israel and I am reminded how divinely provident so many of the actions and coincidences in his life were.  David was extremely cognizant of the divine nature of these things, and I find myself wondering how many instances of divine providence that I’ve encountered in my life?  How many did I recognize at the time?  How many days, week, months, or years later?  How many did I fail to see at all?

In all things God works for the good of those who love him.

Romans 8:28

A few nights back, I watched the movie Machine Gun Preacher.  I tried to put myself in the main character’s (Sam Childers) shoes.  He was an outlaw, a man as far from God as light is from dark.  He is at the absolute bottom of the pit.  He can’t see his way out, and isn’t sure there is a way from him to get out.  Long story short, he comes to find Christ and begins to turn his life around.  He becomes inspired some years later to build a church for men and women like him – people at their absolute worst who need Christ’s saving grace and forgiveness, and to begin using that church to support his passion of saving the children and orphans of the ghastly civil war in Sudan.

Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst.

1 Timothy 1:15

The divine providence evident in this man’s life (since the movie is based on the real Sam Childers) was incredibly portrayed.  While in prison, his wife and daughter find Christ, which opens the door for him to find Christ as well.  Once he is starting to get his feet under him, he goes on a mission trip to Uganda and convinces a soldier to help him go to the front lines of the war because he feels called to help those in need.  There he sees the plight of the children who live in constant fear.

Newly built, the village and orphanage he built are burned to the ground by the Lord’s Resistance Army in Sudan.  He becomes despondent and discouraged.  He calls his wife and she says “Get off your butt, stop your crying, and build it again.”

This man poured his life and spirit into his passion to build something for the glory of God and to help the children and he earned a price for his head.  His response was that he “must be doing something right then.”

Every step in this man’s life along the way prepared him to be a man willing to live with a price for his head.  That is great faith.  I envy that faith.  Despite all of Sam’s failings, Christ reached down into that pit of despair, of drugs, of violence, vulgarity, and wretched sin and grabbed this man and pulled him up.  He washed him clean and used him in such a way as to glorify Himself.

Paul called himself the worst amongst sinners, and he was saved by grace and became one of the most righteous and faithful men to have ever lived.  David lived a fallen life, replete with sin and failings, yet God loved him and provided for him at every turn.

It doesn’t matter where you are or how far down you have fallen, Christ can reach you. Christ will reach for you.  You just have to be willing to take his hand.

I waited patiently for the Lord;
he turned to me and heard my cry.
He lifted me out of the slimy pit,
out of the mud and mire;
he set my feet on a rock
and gave me a firm place to stand.
He put a new song in my mouth,
a hymn of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear the Lord
and put their trust in him.

Psalm 40:1-3

 

Firm

One of the most well-read and God-loving men I know has as one of his guiding principles that when phrases or concepts are repeated in the Bible, there is a distinct and incredibly important reason.  For instance, the combination of “Fear not,” “do not fear,” “be not afraid,” etc are in the bible hundreds of times.  Why is that?

Simply, if God, the eternal, all-powerful, Creator of every last subatomic particle and ampule of energy in the entire universe and beyond, is on your team, then really, what does it matter what is arrayed against you?

Something I have heard a lot of late amongst conservatives and patriots is a lament, a deep-seated concern that perhaps we are outnumbered.  To this I say what does it matter?  Does it matter if we philosophically outnumbered?  Does it matter if we are physically outnumbered?  Does it matter whatsoever how many people attack us verbally, disrespect us publicly, or assault us physically?

Even in the most dire of circumstances where you are being hunted or persecuted for your beliefs, you have one amazing thing on your side if you have the Lord of all in your corner.

So what should you do?  Should you cave on your principles in the face of a numerically superior enemy?  Should you compromise on your principles?  Should you do whatever it takes to survive?

Stand firm.

You will not have to fight this battle. Take up your positions; stand firm and see the deliverance the Lord will give you, Judah and Jerusalem. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Go out to face them tomorrow, and the Lord will be with you.

2 Chronicles 20:17

Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today.

Exodus 14:13

We rise up and stand firm.

Psalm 20:8

When the storm has swept by, the wicked are gone,
    but the righteous stand firm forever.

Proverbs 10:25

Stand firm, and you will win life.

Luke 21:19

Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.

1 Corinthians 15:58

Don’t give up the ship. Fight her till she sinks.

James Lawrence

What does it look like to stand firm?

Imagine a shield wall.  Tens, hundreds, thousands of foot soldiers with interlocked and overlapping shields arrayed and shielded on both sides by something immovable, like a rock wall.  You hold fast, assured that your sides are protected just as well by your comrades in arms… but as a Christian, that faith does not need to be in men, but rather the God of the universe.

I read a book not long ago that spoke about “the covering” as something God bestowed on David and his mighty men (Benaiah, etc) in combat.  They did not understand it, but when they were under “the covering,” they were invincible.  Standing firm, or standing fast, in faith is much like that… you are within that shield wall and you are untouchable.

Rise

Have you ever been knocked down?  Has the world ever landed a body blow on you that took you off of your feet?

Perhaps you lost a loved one that was particular close and important to you.  Perhaps a marriage fell apart.  Perhaps you suffered a terrible illness or a prolonged period of joblessness.  Perhaps you have felt persecuted because of your faith.  Perhaps you have felt disheartened by the path that the world seems to be taking.

What keeps us from just giving up?  Why do we not just surrender?  Turn the other cheek?

Hope.  Duty.  Faith.  Love.

Hope for the future.

Duty to our country and family.

Faith in His faithfulness and the promise that the future holds.

Love of Others, even our enemies.

David prayed that God would reduce his enemies that surrounded him and the Psalms are filled with examples where he prays that justice is done.  Christ commands us to pray for our enemies though.

Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.

Matthew 5:44

Why should we do that?  Our God possesses perfect Justice and He seeks that all may come to know Him.

I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people—for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people.

1 Timothy 2:1-6

It is your steadfast defiance to naked force, that which can only destroy the body, that allows you to become more powerful than anything or anyone that attacks you.  The simple fact that you get back up after being knocked down is an act of faith.  Faith that you won’t be held down.

The next time you take a shot from the world, whatever it might be, don’t grumble and curse it. Pray for it.  Pray that you might shine the light of Truth as you rise up again and again.

Some trust in chariots and some in horses,
but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.
They are brought to their knees and fall,
but we rise up and stand firm.

Psalm 20:7-8

Though the righteous fall seven times, they rise again,
but the wicked stumble when calamity strikes.

Proverbs 24:16

Do not gloat over me, my enemy!
Though I have fallen, I will rise.
Though I sit in darkness,
the Lord will be my light.

Micah 7:8

Rise and rise again until lambs become lions.

When the world challenges and destroys?  Will you go quietly like a lamb or will you take on the mantle of a lion?  Rise.  Rise again.  And Again. And Again… until those that choose to be lambs and go silently along with injustice, with hate, and with evil see you relentlessly rising over and over again to meet the challenges of the world.

If you want to change the world and restore the soul of your nation you need to take the first step in faith.  Rise up, bear your cross with honor, and roar with your battle cry.  The world will do it’s best to knock you down to discourage you, to break your will, to break your faith, to ultimately, if necessary, break you.  They will land blows.  What do you intend to do?

Rise.

Prize Fight

Is it possible to be meek and unassailable?

Meekness is a hard concept to understand because it is not a word that is used terribly often in modern society.  The modern definition is akin to calmness and gentleness.  As followers of Christ, we are called to behave meekly in all matters.  Christ did not come to call us to being completely submissive or compliant with the world though, but to challenge it openly.  Now some might say that is a paradox, but I don’t believe it is.

I believe it is completely possible to be meek and strong at the same time.  What strikes me is odd is how much focus is on Christians being meek.  The word “meek” appears four times in the entire Bible (1 Kings 21:27, Psalm 37:11, Zephaniah 3:12, and Matthew 5:5).

David may be our best example from the Bible about being openly meek.  Throughout the Psalms, he shows humility and deference to God, but was David weak?  Was he a pushover?  David routed those that came against him and Israel because he was centered and controlled.  He was gentle, he was humble.

Could meekness be strength under control?  The writer of Proverbs seems to think so.

The wise prevail through great power,
    and those who have knowledge muster their strength.

Proverbs 24:5

This is all well and good because we are called to draw strength from God through faith, but how can we apply this to the world today.  Why does this matter?

We are in a prize fight.  Christ says that the “meek shall inherit the Earth,” but never stated how.  The world, as I have mentioned before is fallen and at war with itself.  The one constant in human affairs since the beginning of recorded history is that war is never far in the past and never far in the future.  How does a people seek to live meekly without appearing weak and ready for conquering or slaughter?

President Theodore Roosevelt may have best summed up this paradox resolution with the philosophy of speaking softly with a big stick.  In order to be gentle, one must be strong first.  Meekness is controlled and disciplined strength.

Being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience.

Colossians 1:11

Strength uncontrolled is rage and destruction.  Humility without strength is an invitation to those with strength to attack you.  Strength and humility in tandem is a powerful combination as it allows you to respond patiently.  Why did Christ direct us to “turn the other cheek?”  Not to offer it up to be hit again, but in order to confront our attacker directly.  To dare the striker to try it again while we are looking, ready, aware, and able to respond.  Why else then would David praise God in this way?

Praise be to the Lord my Rock,
    who trains my hands for war,
    my fingers for battle.

Psalm 144:1

David understood the way strength, meekness, humility and faithfulness all must be intertwined in order to sustain yourself in the world.  In order to achieve the peace and prosperity promised, in order to gain the inheritance promised, strength was needed.  That strength was harnessed though by his faithfulness to God.

Great you might say, but how does that matter today?

Consider the incidents in Benghazi and Cairo on September 11th, 2012.  American soil was attacked.  An Ambassador was killed along with other American citizens.  The President of the United States, together with the other talking heads of his administration, have waffled about this issue.  They have stated that it is our own fault by blaming our freedom of speech and the movie maker of some two-bit piece of junk that has been online for months anyway.

The administration has blamed terrorists within Libya of the attack, but without acknowledging the command and control exhibited by the attackers which allowed them to not only overwhelm the Consulate in Benghazi, but also the former Navy SEAL bodyguards with the Ambassador, and the supposedly secret safe house.  

They have blamed the passion of the mob, but independent reports from inside Libya have said there was no mob in Benghazi prior to the attack.

The lack of coordination here is not the patience I spoke of above, but rather than ineffective understanding of the fundamental problem that the United States, and western civilization as an whole, has with the Islamic world.  We look weak.  The United States has enough firepower and destructive power pent up that we could destroy every square inch of this planet, yet the person who wields that mighty gauntlet is weak because his personal viewpoint of America’s role in the world is not one of strength and preeminence, but one of supplication.  The President has been deferential, has promised more flexibility in the future, and has literally and figuratively bowed before the world.

This invites disaster.

Why have American deaths in Afghanistan in Obama’s not quite four year term totaled 1458 when President Bush’s term ended with 575 American deaths?  Is it because we are winning the peace and the war is “winding down?”

No, it is because the current Commander in Chief does not understand the basic precept of si vis pacem, para bellum (“if you wish for peace, prepare for war”).

David did not shy away from war.  He was humble. He was obedient. He was faithful.  He was a warrior with strength under control.  Our current President has neither strength, nor control, and that lacking is an invitation to the forces arrayed against us in this world to challenge us.

Just look at the news for examples of those challenges.  China and Japan are potentially heading toward a war over uninhabited islands.  A peace deal with the Taliban has been scrapped (the fact this was even considered is a sign of weakness too). Russia is reestablishing it’s influence in it’s former Warsaw Pact states.  The U.S. is running out of Benghazi with it’s tail tucked between it’s legs.  North Korea has increased it’s belligerence and threats of war. Drugs, weapons, invaders, and war has spilled over our southern border more than once during this President’s administration.

Instead of being meek, we have a President who is weak.  The rest of the world knows it too and are taking advantage.

Perspective

You and I are nothing.  The concerns of this world are ultimately nothing.

Consider this.  Both of us live on Earth, the third planet from our sun.  There are eight planets in our solar system (nine if you want to lump Pluto in).

That star (the sun) is just one of somewhere between 200,000,000 and 400,000,000 stars just in the Milky Way galaxy, and the Milky Way is a small galaxy.  Most galaxies contain between 100,000,000,000 and 1,000,000,000,000 stars (Universe Today).  There are also probably 100,000,000 to 500,000,000 galaxies in the universe based on our calculations.  That is unfathomably large.

Galaxy

A speck in a speck in a speck that is a speck on a speck.

That makes you less than a speck, on a speck, orbiting a speck, amongst millions of specks, that happen to be specks compared to a few hundred million specks.  You are infinitesimally small.

Guess what else…

Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Luke 12:7

Before I was born the Lord called me;
from my mother’s womb he has spoken my name. Isaiah 49:1

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16

You may be small, but so was David.  He was the smallest of his brothers, and rose to be King of Israel through faith and deed.  He is credited as a man of great faith, as one to be emulated, not because of his stature, but because of his recognition and perspective gained in light of it.  David recognized he was weak and threw himself at the feet of an almighty God.

Are you going to be a speck forever or are you going to throw yourself at the foot of God and wrap yourself in His love and power?

Isn’t that the only true path to liberty?

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