Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Our Hosts

We were blessed to be hosted by our dear friends, Steve and Jeannie Schlissel. Seeing the sights in NYC was great. Very enjoyable. But it paled in comparison with the fellowship we had with this faithful Christian family.

Unfortunately the lighting didn't allow us to get as clear a picture as we would have liked. Pictured are Steve, Jeannie, Jedidiah (son), Esther (daughter), Rebeccah (daughter), Craig Brann (son-in-law).

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

And...we're off!

Melinda and I will be heading to Brooklyn tomorrow. We'll be visiting Rev. Steve and Jeannie Schlissel and the saints at Messiah's Covenant Community Church.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Is it a sin to desire to be rich?

The Bible takes it as a given that people wish to be wealthy and that there is nothing wrong with this. While there are certainly dangers inherent in the wish, the wish itself is never rebuked, except insofar as illicit means are used to fulfill it.

Many people think that it is unspiritual to talk about money. But one of the things that I love about the Bible and have come to appreciate more and more over the years is that it is very down to earth. It’s very worldly, in the sense that it teaches us how to live in this world. And this is a good thing because this is where we live. We need to know the way to heaven, to be sure. But we also need to know how to live in this world while we’re here. And a very large part of living in this world has to do with money.

Money is not regarded in Scripture as an intrinsic evil, as some people suppose. Someone will ask, “But doesn’t the Bible say, ‘Money is the root of all evil?’” Well, no it doesn’t, actually. It says, “The love of money is a root of all kinds of evil” (1 Tim. 6:10a). Not money itself; but the love of it. And there is a big difference! Paul warns us that there are many dangers that attend the desire to be wealthy. And we would do well to be aware of them. He says,

Those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs (1 Tim. 6:9-10).
You see here how it is not money itself but the love of money, especially where this love is pursued as an ultimate goal where the acquisition of wealth subordinates every other consideration and makes you willing to cut whatever ethical corners are necessary in order to make a buck.

But let us understand this clearly. Money is not an intrinsic evil. It is simply a tool—in fact I would argue that it is the single most useful tool there is. If you have a mechanical problem with your car and you don’t have the proper tool to fix it, but you have money, you can purchase the tool you need. Or better yet, you can hire someone to do the repair work for you. Money is merely a means to an end. Money is “in order to.” I have a need, and money enables me to fulfill it. That’s all. It has no more moral character in and of itself than any other tool. Does a screw driver have moral character? Is it good or evil in and of itself? No, of course not. A good or evil purpose may be made of it. You can use it to fix something that is broken. Or you can use like a weapon to kill somebody. But it has no moral character in and of itself. By itself it just sits there and does nothing.

The same is true of money. It has no moral character. It can be used for a good purpose or a nefarious one, but by itself it's inert. It doesn’t do—it can’t do—anything, whether good or evil. Money is merely a tool, serving as a medium of exchange.

The Lord himself, in Deuteronomy 8 tells Israel—warns Israel—not to forget that it was he who gave them the power to get wealth. And later in this same book he promises the blessing of wealth as a reward for covenant faithfulness. Some of God’s choicest saints were fabulously wealthy men. Think of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Think of King David and Solomon.

It’s true that the possession of wealth carries with it certain temptations, but so does poverty. And if it’s all the same to you, I think I’d rather deal with the temptations that come with wealth, than the ones that come with poverty! (In my favorite movie, "The Fiddler on the Roof," when Perchik told Tevye, "Money is the world's curse," Tevye said, "May the Lord smite me with it...and may I never recover!")

The fact of the matter is that money is essential to life, and so long as we keep the desire for wealth in proper perspective, there is no sin in it. Let Proverbs 3:9-10 serve as the guiding principle and you’ll be alright:

Honor the LORD with your wealth
and with the firstfruits of all your produce;
then your barns will be filled with plenty,
and your vats will be bursting with wine.
This is something that everyone should do, regardless of how much or how little you have. “Honor the LORD with your wealth…” And then, as the Lord prospers you, recall Deuteronomy 8:17-18,
Beware lest you say in your heart, “My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.” You shall remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your fathers, as it is this day.
If you do these things you’ll be okay.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Which side is God on?

Both liberals and conservatives invoke God from time to time, claiming him as a patron of their respective causes. But which side is God on? The book of Ecclesiastes tells us:  "A wise man's heart inclines him to the right, but a fool's heart to the left" (10:2).

Friday, June 11, 2010

What to think about Fred Phelps

What do you think of Fred Phelps the Baptist minister from Topeka who goes around picketing funerals and protesting homosexuality?

He’s a clown. Fred Phelps fancies himself something like a latter day prophet and one of only a handful of righteous people alive in the world today. But he is more like a megalomaniac than a prophet of God. He seems to believe that whatever happens to him and his Westboro Baptist Church is at the center of what God is doing in the world today.

For instance, if you go to his website you’ll find a story that tells about how someone set off a homemade bomb in his daughter’s yard one night back in 1995. His daughter serves as the spokesman for the church. And she says in this article that this incident is why so many of our soldiers are being killed by homemade bombs in Iraq. She says,
Every player in this disgraceful event [the homemade bomb set off in her yard; by the way, there was only minor damage and no one was hurt] will stand before God on the Judgment Day and account, in the minutest detail, for his or her role. It will be a great day of reckoning. Recompense is already unfolding at the hands of the Iraqi insurgents…It is perfectly fitting for a just God to avenge his little Saints by using IEDs…to destroy the fruit of America.
She is tying the death of American soldiers in Iraq to what was done to her as a member of Westboro Baptist Church.

Soldiers who are killed in action are automatically assumed to be damned to hell. On May 14, Phelps released a statement saying, “Thank God for 13 more dead troops. We are praying for 13,000 more.” And a little further down the page it says, “Here is a roster of the damned.” And it lists the names of the soldiers. And of course they picket the funerals of the troops killed in action. The rationale goes something like this: The United States has officially approved of the homosexual life-style, thereby bringing down upon itself the wrath and curse of God. And since the United States is under God’s curse, those who fight for her must be under his curse as well.

This highlights one of the many problematic aspects of his ministry—he seeks to tie specific tragic events, whether terrorist acts, mass murders, or “natural disasters”, to specific personal or national sins, and often to wrongs committed specifically against him and his church.

He said, for instance, that the city of Greensburg must have been an especially wicked city to have suffered the devastation it did by the tornado in 2007. He called Greensburg a “God-cursed town…a rebellious little demon-possessed hotbed of evil masquerading as a municipality.” He said that what happened to Greensburg was the face of God’s wrath against the state of Kansas for how the state has attempted to silence him.

The same is assumed about those who died in the West Virginia coal mine last month. The church has a flier on its website with the words “Dead Miners in Hell” emblazoned on it. And it talks about how this mining accident happened because when members of the church were previously picketing in West Virginia, they were “set upon with hard words and violent hands.”

Back in the Fall of 2006, there were five Amish school girls in Pennsylvania that were murdered execution-style in the little one room schoolhouse. Another five were very seriously wounded. According to Phelps this happened because the governor of Pennsylvania had previously denounced him and his church.

Phelps assumes that a tragic death, whether in war, or in the Greensburg tornado, or by the hand of deranged gunman, or in a mining accident, or whatever is proof positive of divine judgment and eternal damnation.

But tragic events often happen to both the righteous and the wicked. The righteous are not immune to trouble. Job received testimony from no less an authority than God himself that he was a blameless and upright man who feared God and turned away from evil (Job 1:1). But he suffered the loss of all his possessions as well as all of his children. But God had a wise and holy purpose for it, as he always does.

Suffering tragedy, therefore, is not a certain indicator of God’s wrath. Many of the prophets and apostles came to a tragic end as they were often persecuted even to death. But they were good and holy men. And Jesus himself was brutally treated and killed; but it was not because he had done anything wrong.

The fact is, the same suffering may be experienced by both the righteous and the wicked, but God has a very different purpose in each. For Phelps to claim that a U.S. soldier who dies in service to his country is therefore certainly damned, or a miner who dies in a mining accident must necessarily be under God’s wrath and curse, or that a murdered Amish school-girl must be in hell, is really quite out of order.

Furthermore, the glee that Phelps takes in announcing God’s judgment is difficult to reconcile with the attitude of the prophets, and even with Jesus himself, when they announced impending divine judgment. When members of his church picket soldiers’ funerals they carry signs that say, “Thank God for Dead Soldiers.” And they pray for more soldiers to die. Contrast this with the prophets of God wept for the people of Israel when they announced God’s judgment. They pleaded with the people to turn back to God so as to avoid his wrath. They didn’t pray that the body count might increase.

Likewise, Jesus lamented the impending fall of Jerusalem, even as he announced its destruction (Matt. 23:37-39). And when he was being led away to crucifixion, he told certain women who were mourning him, “Do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children.”

The joy that Phelps and the members of his church take in other people’s suffering is hardly consistent with being human, much less a Christian. He would have more credibility if he would pray like Moses prayed, “This people have sinned a great sin… But now, if you will forgive their sin—but if not, please blot me out of your book that you have written” (Ex. 32:32). Or if he had a heart like Paul, who said, “I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsman according to the flesh” (Rom. 9:2-3). Paul didn’t take joy in the judgment that fell upon his people. In Ezekiel, God said, “Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, declares the Lord GOD, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live? … I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord GOD; so turn, and live” (Ezek. 18:23, 32). You see none of this in Phelps and his followers.

I say none of this for the purpose of minimizing the enormity of the sins of which our country is guilty. Nor do I wish to imply that God does not judge people and nations for these sins. But it’s always a risky business to think we can confidently identify a particular tragedy as a judgment for a specific sin or to make confident assertions about the spiritual state of people we don’t know anything about. How does Phelps know that the miners who died were not Christians who died in a state of grace? Or that all the soldiers who have died in Iraq are not Christians? Or that the Amish school girls are in hell?

And how is it that he can show no sympathy and have no compassion for those who suffer, even if they are suffering justly for their sins? He offers no hope of mercy from God. His bitter tirades do far more to drive people away from God than to draw them to him. He’s a clown and a buffoon and an embarrassment to the church and to the cause of the gospel. And he’ll have to answer to God for it.