Archive for the 'Characteristics of Believers' Category

Look After the Foreigners

God spoke through Zechariah regarding justice, mercy, and compassion when he said, “This is what the Lord Almighty said: ‘Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the foreigner or the poor. Do not plot evil against each other.” (Zechariah 7:9-10).

If we accept that the Bible (aptly called the Basic Instruction Book for Living on Earth) as the word of God and as a true guidebook describing how Christians are to act, then how does our treatment of foreigners line up?  Are we taking care of immigrants?  Are we recognizing and remembering that we built our nation on immigrants fleeing persecution and danger in other countries – or even just taking up America’s sincere invitation for a better life – so they could live in peace and strive for the American dream?  Do we remember our own ancestry?  And what about foreigners still living in foreign lands? Do we honestly want these folks to have a better life, or do we ignore them, degrade them, and wish them ill?

When I hear people talk about foreigners, I hear a lot of “absolute” statements. You know what they are, and they’re funny things. Absolutes are statements that assume certain facts, use words like “always” and “never,” and, psychologically speaking, provide comfortable shortcuts to help us make sense of a complex world. Most writing sources warn against using them, and, in fact, when used in a purely world setting, absolute statements are almost always wrong.

Take immigration for example. That’s pretty complex, and so we hear a lot of absolutes floating around, like, “They’re all criminals,” and “they’re taking our jobs.” The truth, of course, is far messier. There may be a few so-called “criminals” coming over the border, and still some more who try to evade authorities (making them criminal, perhaps, in the sense that they are in the U.S. unlawfully, though this still must be proved in America through a trial process). Mostly, though, people come over knowing that they’ll be immediately arrested and subjected to the legal processes of the immigration laws, which allow for folks to do exactly what they’re doing – crossing the border and turning themselves in. According to David Bier of the Cato Institute, “It does seem like the majority of people who are crossing the border now are doing it to turn themselves in (seeking asylum).” For purposes of this post, though, I’m going to claim it doesn’t matter because for purposes of the Bible, it doesn’t matter.

Nevertheless, these absolutes persist, and so I see lots of Americans wanting to get armed, build walls, immediately lock everyone up (which, by the way, goes against American law in that we actually use bail – or some sort of pretrial release – even in immigration cases), or more heinously, separating parents from children or threatening to shoot them. Don’t look shocked – I’ve even seen this sort of rhetoric on my Facebook feed. All of these statements foment hatred against anyone even remotely looking like a foreigner, including folks with long American genealogies.

And that’s just the folks actually trying to become American. Lately, we’ve seen a similar trend of “nationalism,” which, by most definitions, causes people to back certain ideas that dismiss, disrespect, and might even harm people from other countries. Once again, for purposes of this post, a foreigner is someone here or there, and I’m going to claim it doesn’t matter because for purposes of the Bible, it doesn’t matter.

But here’s the funny thing about absolutes: God actually uses them all the time. God loves everyone. All persons sin. We are to love and treat all persons equally and as we would want others to treat us. Jesus takes away all our sin. He died for everyone. You get the gist.

So, to me, there appear to be two ways to use absolutes. The first way, apparently needed by us finite creatures of limited knowledge, is to make sense of a complicated topic, which is fraught with the danger of coming off as non-biblical, if not outright prejudicial or hateful. The second is a way for an infinite, all-knowing God to instruct us to act in ways that follow his will on topics that God doesn’t see as complex at all. Which way seems right to you?

For me, the only right way is God’s way. He, alone, can use absolutes without fear of being “wrong.” He, alone, can tell us not to oppress any and all foreigners, no matter who they are or what they’ve done, and we, his creation, have no good argument for why we should disobey.

And this, of course, points us to the Bible, because that’s where He’s written it all down. Like all things, even the most complex matters can be solved by simply looking to the Bible for God’s answer. And in this case, that answer is clear. God wants us to use mercy, compassion, and empathy for the foreigner, and so I believe that there must be a humane and reasonable solution to the southern border immigration issue. Just like there is a more compassionate and humane way to speak of foreigners living abroad. We simply have to resist the worldly urge to use our own mostly negative absolutes simply because they make us feel a bit more in control.

With prayer, and with our leaders working together as humans (versus crass politicians), a solution can be found that glorifies God and his creation at the same time. I believe that God created all of us in equality. In his masterful, all-knowing way, he created us to be different, to look different, and to have different cultures. Apparently, this is the best possible way to create his vision of the Kingdom, and so I’m not going to complain about it. Instead, I’m going to embrace it.

Would you want to live in a world where the only color was green?  I wouldn’t, and I relish the ability to learn from others with different cultures, life experiences, ideas, creativity, and God given gifts. I love the texture, color, and fabric of our differences that make up the masterpiece of God’s creation.  

So that’s it on foreigners. Don’t get me started on the widows, the fatherless, and the poor – that’s for another day.

Complicity of the Church Today

There is complicity among large parts of the Christian Church (not my particular church, the church as a whole) in the events of January 6th insurgency at the Capitol of the United States. To illustrate this, I want to focus both on the fact that Jeremiah Johnson, a Christian leader and self-proclaimed “prophet,” recently decided to apologize for his role in making people think that their Christian ideals should be sacrificed for a political candidate as well as on the Christian “response” to that apology.  

As you may know, when Donald Trump won the Presidency, he was embraced (to an almost unnatural level) by mostly white, evangelical, Christian churches. Leaders from those churches solemnly yet gleefully stood with hands on the President, saying he was chosen by God to lead America to a revival of holiness. Slowly, the gospel of Trump was preached in church buildings across our country, and it was fully embraced as some sort of divine will – like an addendum to the Bible – by the Republican Party. One prominent Republican actually told Trump that he was “the chosen one,” apparently meaning at least that God had picked him to lead America into revival, and that no earthly event could reverse that decision.  

Throughout the term, these churches became more obvious in their idolatry of a political candidate over the person they claimed to worship, Jesus. On many occasions, I tried to point out how they were showing both bad theology and a hypocrisy that was actually deterring people from seeking God. As 2020 neared, though, they became only more brazen.

Indeed, as 2020 neared, many of these leaders “prophesied,” saying that they were told by God that Trump would win again to finish the job. Some were very specific, providing exact dates and saying that he would win by a landslide. I’ve seen lists of as many as 50 of them. Jeremiah Johnson was one of them.

Accordingly, after Trump lost, people (including me) were hoping these so-called prophets would repent and apologize for being wrong. I mean, that’s what you’re supposed to do – even the prophets know that. But only one did, and even he withdrew his apology due to political pressure from his own congregation.

All of the others kept saying, “Just you wait,” “It isn’t over yet,” and “You need to keep praying so that God will show his mighty hand against these evildoers (meaning, I suppose, people who didn’t believe the election was stolen).” Some prophets began to backpedal, saying that maybe God didn’t mean Trump would win this time – maybe he would win next time, in 2024. Others began to re-define their terms, like saying that the “landslide” they mentioned was a landslide of evidence that would eventually show fraud in the election. All of this was being broadcast, announced, and otherwise posted to Christians across America right up until January 6.

After the January 6 insurrection (and it was an insurrection by any definition, but especially as it is used in the federal criminal code), Jeremiah Johnson decided to repent, apologize, and warn Christians to repent of their own idolatry of Trump. Sure, it would have been nice if he had done it earlier, but I chalk that up to him not completely understanding how the political process and the law work. Nevertheless, he wrote: “I would like to repent for inaccurately prophesying that Donald Trump would win a second term as the President of the United States. I refuse to blame the saints and say, ‘It didn’t come to pass because they did not pray enough.’ Nor will I proclaim, ‘Donald Trump actually won, so I was right, but now it has been stolen from him.’”  

Okay, I can get behind that. And you’d think a healthy Christian church would understand the need to apologize and repent.

Yet, a mere three days after his apology, he had to write, “Over the last 72 hours, I have received multiple death threats and thousands upon thousands of emails from Christians saying the nastiest and most vulgar things I have ever heard toward my family and ministry.”

To his credit, Johnson wrote: “If I helped to prop up this ideology concerning [Trump], I will need to repent again and stir up even more hell.”

Start repenting again, Jeremiah, because you did.

But you so-called Christians who threatened Johnson and said all those vulgar things to him need to repent as well. Maybe you were misled by people like Johnson, but that’s no excuse.

The reason that the “Christian” church of which I am a member is fully complicit in causing a treasonous insurrection against our Constitutional system is because it’s allowed politics to become dangerously intertwined with its theology. You can tell it’s true by merely looking at the pictures of the riot, which seemingly has equal numbers of Trump and Jesus or God flags flying above the chaos. It’s clear now that in many places in America, the church’s teachings are flawed, its theology is wrong, and its use of the term “evangelical” is laughable due to its actions, which are actually driving people away from God and the Bible. And we’re able to point to a clear culprit, which is politics.

The church is obviously split, because I (and others) railed against it for the last four years.  It’s time for the church (the body of Christians) to repent for sin and idolatry and come back into healthy and theologically correct teaching.  And it’s time for church members to kindly guide their church leaders toward a more biblical view of life and the world. If your pastor or church leader is preaching a primarily political message – subtly or overtly – without teaching our role as followers of Jesus as aliens in the natural world, then confront him or her for their own good. If they refuse to respond, then leave and find a church leader preaching/teaching the True Word of God and worshipping Jesus alone.

Note: After I drafted this, Sid Roth (It’s Supernatural) also “apologized,” but it was actually more of a justification than an apology. Moreover, despite seemingly understanding his error, he still couldn’t help himself from making overt political statements. There are good and true prophets out there, but you’ve got to use your discernment to find them.

Illumination and Separation

Our pastor started off this year by announcing that it would be a year of “shaking.” Man, he was right. It’s also been a year of illumination and separation, especially in the church. Some of it hasn’t been pretty.

I imagine some churches are acting exactly like a church Denise and I know about here in Denver. We had gone to this church a couple of times, but we stopped when people began inserting gratuitous political messages into the services. No big deal; we’ve always belonged to Colorado Christian Fellowship, and even though we visit other places, we always have a home there, where the Truth of God is always foremost in the message. Our pastor has been pretty clear that as Christians we are aliens in the world and will undoubtedly find fault with any political party if we look hard enough.

Nevertheless, we had occasionally kept up on this other church to see what it was up to. Well, we noticed in October the church had suddenly stopped doing in-person services, opting to stream online instead. If you scan the various messages in October, you find out that the reason was because several of the staff and congregation had tested positive for COVID-19. At the time, the pastor there said the closure was due to his desire to keep everyone safe. Okay, so far so good. There is absolutely no reason that “church” has to be held in a building. Our pastor has been live-streaming since the whole thing began, and we’ve only grown larger as a congregation.

Then – quite suddenly after the election – everything in that other church changed. Despite having closed due to the virus in the church, the pastor now blamed the Governor and county officials for creating rules requiring his church to be shut down (in point of fact, the counties really do these things on their own, and it would actually likely be better to have the Governor issue some sort of a statewide rule). He spoke of being “at war” with those who want to keep people from meeting in person. He spoke of “draining the swamp.” He spoke of the “horrible” and “dark time” caused by the “discouraging” and “disappointing” election. He equated not tithing with “looting,” a word thrown around quite frequently in certain political circles and perhaps hinting at a major reason why churches like his balk at closing their doors. Instead of talking about God’s will, he spoke about meetings with his attorneys, the First Amendment, and civil disobedience. The previous justification of “member safety” was lost as blamed others for their situation. I actually saw him laugh while pondering whether his congregation would ever wear a mask, even if they were asked. This had nothing to do with safety. In short, this church went full-on-political.  

And this is the illumination and separation happening in the churches. Some are focused on God, and some are focused on political ramblings. 

No time for any elaboration today, but we’ll soon have more to say about “political Christians” and churches, like the one above, which has decided to incorporate so much political rhetoric into its message. Moreover, in the future we’ll have plenty to say about so-called Christian “prophets,” who claim to speak for God but who focus mostly on politics and – whether right or wrong in their prophesies – drive people away from their search for God. But for now, just realize that church leaders who emphasize a mainly political message, implying, basically, that God somehow can’t do His will without we humans voting a particular way, have no business being church leaders because they have lost sight of an inclusive and supreme God who is at work with us, in us, and for us.   

“Evangelical Christians”

I recently saw a post on Facebook about “those Evangelical Christians in Washington, DC.”  I started to reply, but I ultimately erased it. Still, the whole thing bothered me. That’s because more and more I hear this phrase – “Evangelical Christians” – used liberally on all media, and it’s never used in any kind of a good way. The more I think about it, the more I’m disappointed and distressed by the current use of both the words “Evangelical” and “Christian.” So, I want to address each term separately, but then together to indicate how I feel.

I became disillusioned with the term “Christian” many years ago as I noticed how often people would utter it with disgust. At the time, I had to admit that this particular word came with a lot of baggage. Centuries of “Christian” elitism, laws crafted by Christians dictating the acceptable religions of the day, the Crusades, Manifest Destiny, and other atrocities or otherwise immoral acts perpetrated by groups claiming to be Christians tend to cause a repulsive reaction to a word that people think sums things up. My husband grew up in a neighborhood in which his famous neighbor – a self-proclaimed Christian – used to fly flags and banners saying, “God Hates Fags.” You’ve probably heard of him, and there wasn’t an ounce of love inside of him. Yet, everything he did was done in the name of Christianity.

By the way, the term “Christian” (from Christianos – followers of Christ) appears to have been coined fairly early on as a way to designate this new group and differentiate them from other Jews. It’s first seen in the Acts, and gradually replaced what the Christians themselves preferred to be called, which was “saints,” “brethren” or “disciples.” One researcher has noted that the infrequency of the term “Christian” in the New Testament indicates its non-use then, and has surmised that because the word “Christos” and its ties to anointing meant little to outsiders, those outsiders, instead, settled on calling these people descriptors based on the word “Chrestos,” which meant virtuous, good, or moral, and seemed to be an apt description for the people who so often showed a different sort of moralistic, sanctified behavior. His theory is that as the term Chrestos caught on, often with some scorn and perhaps even as a pun, the followers of Christ felt pressured to adopt and emphasize a more accurate word to reflect who they were and who they were following. This should not take away from the fact that Christians, as a group, have been vilified, often due to the message, but just as often through their own behavior. It also means that we aren’t necessarily wedded to the word.

And the baggage continues to pile up today. I’ve seen my share of “Christians” in the public eye not appearing to live according to the words of the Bible. Indeed, we seemed to have reached a fever pitch with this stuff in the last few decades with so many televangelists falling due to their immoral, hypocritical, and often criminal behavior. At its very basic level, a “Christian” should be one who allows the Holy Spirit to tell them when they’ve done something wrong, willingly asks for forgiveness, and then makes serious amends for his or her mistakes. But there have been so many “Christians” that don’t even appear to follow the general thrust or themes of the Bible that I have discarded the name altogether. In my heart, I know that most Christians are not immoral hypocrites, but even a small percentage of people can do a great deal of damage to a label over hundreds of years. Accordingly, while I’m not ashamed of being a Christian, I tell people outwardly that I’m a “follower of Jesus” or a “follower of Christ.”

And by doing so, I’m not doing anything that Jesus might not also have done. When Jesus was with us in the flesh, he continually denounced the hypocrisy of those in the church. Dr. Stanley D. Toussaint of the Dallas Theological Seminary often said that, “The Lord’s strongest words of invective were not against murderers or thieves or sexually immoral people. His strongest words of invective were against hypocrites.” To Dr. Toussaint, hypocrisy is a sin that affects every single person today, but also a sin that is “particularly loathsome to God.” And yet, despite the clear theme (see, e.g., Matt: 23) we see so much hypocrisy today that we take it for granted. In politics, we’ve grown to expect it.

The bottom line is that lots and lots of people have used (and still use) the term “Christian” to describe themselves, and yet they act in overtly non-biblical ways. This, in turn, causes people to stop even seeking God. And stopping someone from seeking God has got to be one of the worst possible things you can do to someone on this Earth.

In addition to “Christian,” the word “Evangelical” is rapidly evolving into a term having at least the same amount of baggage. And, similarly, I find I need to distance myself from what would ordinarily be – and used to be – a great descriptive word.

According to Websters, the definition of “evangelical” is “of, relating to, or being in agreement with the Christian gospel especially as it is presented in the four Gospels.” I once visited the National Association of Evangelical’s website and, in addition to other statements of belief, saw that it said evangelicals are “serious” about the Bible. Unfortunately, I increasingly see people who claim to be evangelicals who are decidedly not serious about the Bible. In fact, and quite unfortunately for me, I consider myself to be an evangelical and so I see lots of social media posts from other so-called evangelicals. And lots of times those posts really upset me. For example, how – and, I’m really serious about this – how in the world can an evangelical post something about God one minute and then turn around and post something showing hatred, judgment, or scorn on someone the next? I actually saw someone post a picture of Jesus and something about love, followed within minutes by a post wanting to kill all “liberal democrats.”

I suppose you can see where this is going. The term “Christian” is a goner for me. It’s got too much baggage and suffers from extreme hypocrisy. I choose the term “follower of Jesus,” because at least then it’s a more direct line toward holding up my behavior to the ultimate moral model. The word “evangelical,” on the other hand, doesn’t have centuries of problems, but it has become a gigantic problem today with so-called evangelicals – people proclaiming to be serious about the Bible – showing so much hypocrisy and politicization that the term itself is almost uniformly uttered with scorn. Again, like Christian hypocrites, evangelical hypocrites do more to harm the Kingdom of God than anything else of which I can think. How do you stop a child from wondering about God and perhaps beginning a search toward finding God? The best way (likely devised by Satan himself) is to show him or her various vocal “Christians” or “Evangelicals” who simply do not follow the Bible. Show the child an “evangelical Christian” who hates people. That’ll do it. I think God hates hypocrisy so much because it keeps people from even beginning the journey that might lead to his Kingdom.

Today, we unfortunately hear the two words together: “Evangelical Christian.” Two perfectly good words – indeed, words that used to fully describe me – ruined by hypocrisy and politics. Whenever you hear them together you can hear the scorn and disgust. And, you can almost assuredly envision some child somewhere saying, “Well, whoever they are, I’m not going to be like them when I grow up.”

Of course the world hates “Christians.” Of course it hates “evangelicals.” Who wouldn’t, given some of the things I’ve seen? But being scorned for hypocrisy is a whole lot different than being scorned for righteousness. Personally, I hate the fact that I can’t even use these two words anymore. Moreover, the world doesn’t hate these labels because all Christians and evangelicals are bad. Nope, the people of the world simply do what is entirely human to do, which is to watch those who identify with the labels most vocally as they behave in a decidedly un-Biblical manner, and then brush off the whole lot. And I don’t blame them. As a one-time evangelical Christian, I’m just sorry about the whole thing.

So, what do we do? Well, in my case I tell people I’m a follower of Jesus and that I have a Biblical worldview. But I do more than that. I now go out of my way to say, “Please realize that I am nothing like those people who claim to be evangelical Christians but who demonstrate hatred, judgment and immorality.  If my introduction to people were in the form of a document, it means that I’ve added a paragraph – an aside – to try to distance myself from a group that I call “political Christians,” a group that, sadly, keeps people from God because it has pushed a world agenda ahead of God. If it weren’t so sad, it would be ironically funny – evangelical Christians, the group who would tell you (these days quite vocally and with some amount of political fervor) that they’re only trying to bring more people to Christ – are actually driving people away from Christ. More and more each day.

Still, there’s always hope for the world and even hope for the most hypocritical and politicized members of our churches. But it means taking a hard look at how far we might have moved away from God. If we hear someone talk about God, and the first thing we think about is the Supreme Court, then we should realize that we need to get back to basics. God is real. Satan is real. God hates hypocrisy. Satan will try to turn you into a hypocrite. It’s a battle for good and evil that we’re losing, and in losing we’re actually dissuading other people from seeking God. And, by the way, if people hear this warning and don’t heed  it, then they shouldn’t be surprised when they’re called to account for willingly turning people away from God for some short-term, often political but always worldly, gain.

Now, of course, hated of the followers of Christ has been foretold, and people will occasionally try to justify their unbiblical actions by claiming that the public’s scorn is just a part of the overall persecution of Christians predicted in the Bible. Even Jesus said, “Everyone will hate you because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved,” and “Blessed are you when people hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man.”  (Mark 13:13; Luke 6:22). But – and this is really big – Jesus did not mean, “They’ll hate you when say you follow me but act in a completely opposite, worldly manner.” No, he meant “they’ll hate you for doing exactly what I have told you to do, acting exactly as I have told you to act. And I told you to love God and love others as yourself.”

There will be some who, on their last day, will say, “But, Lord, I’ve been a Christian all of my life. In fact, I’m an Evangelical Christian.” And on that day, the words of Scripture will truly come true, and just has he said he would, Jesus will reply, “Why do you call me Lord, Lord, and do not do what I say?” (Luke 6:46).

“I never knew you.” (Matt 7:22-23).

Seek God. Follow Christ. Read the Word. Remember the commands. Focus on love for God and others.

Your Spiritual Footprint

Some time ago, I was studying the Word and I was distressed over our climate and how we seem to be gradually destroying our environment. In particular, I was thinking about those articles that talk about reducing your carbon footprint to help out the environment. Now, I try to be a good citizen and neighbor and I’m constantly trying out more energy-efficient and earth-preserving things, like fancy light bulbs (and solar power for the house, which we have), recycling, growing food, pesticide-free gardening to help the bees, but it all seems overwhelming. I mean, after all, who am I but just one person? Do I really make a difference?

Then I heard the Lord say, “Okay, I get what you’re thinking about your carbon footprint, but what about your spiritual footprint? What are you sowing for others in our kingdom? What are you doing to spread my love and my word?”

This got me thinking hard about the term “spiritual footprint”? If our actions, in this world, create a physical “carbon footprint,” doesn’t it make sense that our actions, thoughts, behaviors in the world also create a “spiritual footprint?” More importantly, our spiritual footprint affects not only the supernatural aspect of things, it can also definitely affect how you continue to participate in the natural world. Think about it, spirituality is largely invisible and so is the supernatural world, and so, of course, what we do spiritually is going to have some effect there. But we also see the manifestations in our physical world of things we do in and for the spiritual world. In fact, there’s a huge overlap. For instance, prayer is activated in the physical world and the spiritual world at the same time when we pray out loud or silently, but then the answer to prayer, which might be immediate in the supernatural, becomes part of our natural world manifestation of the whole act. Thus, our spiritual footprint is affected in both realms.

We create our spiritual footprint by everything we do in the world, — whom we touch, whom we are kind to, how we act toward all of God’s people (saved and unsaved), how we share the pearls of wisdom given to us by God, whether we act selflessly instead of selfishly. In fact, every seemingly insignificant thing can affect your spiritual footprint. Moreover, each of those things can have enormously good or devastatingly bad consequences. By the way, watch out for the bad stuff – it’s like throwing a tiny cigarette butt out of a car window that can’t even be seen from the road, but that leads to an enormous forest fire. Every tiny, seemingly insignificant action forms at least a part of our spiritual footprint. Because these actions can be positive or negative, it’s up to us to constantly see what we’re doing in the natural world and thinking about ramifications in the spiritual world.

And sometimes it’s not the action itself, but the motivation behind it. I might give to the homeless, but if my motivation is one of glorifying myself, then I’ve messed up my spiritual footprint even though I’ve done something that the world might say or think is good.

Lately I’ve been taking an inventory to write down what I’ve done for others or when I’ve shown or talked about God to others, along with my motivations. Also, I’ve been writing down the instances when I can remember being unbecoming of a follower of Jesus. I try to do it daily, and then I ask, “Which list is bigger?” When I have things on the negative side – the list messing up my spiritual footprint – I ask the Lord to forgive me and to bless anyone on that list whom I have harmed. Then I tear it up. That’s how I remind myself of God’s forgiveness, which is a reminder of God forgetting our sins as an act of grace.

One day we’ll meet the Father and we’ll become instantly aware of the entirety of our spiritual footprints. Let’s work together to make sure they’re the kinds of footprints that reflect our belief in God and our following of Jesus Christ.


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