Tag Archives: Christ

Taxing Citizens to Feed the Poor is not Christ’s Way

Source: Joshua Sherurcij
Source: Joshua Sherurcij (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I promised to explain why taxing the nation heavily in order for the government to provide social services is not a good idea. I have already explained that it is not what Jesus taught. I observe that many churches and religious leaders try to edit Biblical teachings to make them say that God wants the government to do this sort of thing, but when I read the Bible and look for the plain meaning of the words, that is not the message I find.There is a very important reason that government is a poor choice to hand out social services. The reason is overhead. If people compared the accountability for good stewardship of government money to the way charitable foundations use their money, nobody would want to give the government any money at all. Every government project is top-heavy with administrative costs. I have always admired charities like the Heifer Project and Lutheran World Relief, because more than 90% of the money these charities receive actually goes to the services they provide. The people who run these charities do not receive lavish paychecks and benefits. They don’t spend fortunes on buildings and grounds. They believe that when somebody gives them a dollar, the donor wants to help feed the hungry and heal the sick. These charities demonstrate that it is possible to pay administrators and house the offices while still funneling the lion’s share of their revenues to people in need.

The government feels no such compunction. Civil service employees are paid on a scale most private citizens would envy, and their benefits are equally impressive. The pay and benefits are distributed according to paygrades that are consistent across the spectrum of all civil service work, which isn’t a bad thing by itself, but it does mean that the mantra that government work should pay better than private work is enforced even in charitable endeavors. It is not my purpose to argue about how much a government employee should be paid. My purpose is to point out that when you give a dollar to a private charity, people who need the charitable services receive a lot more of that dollar than they receive when you give a tax dollar to the government.

A need to regulate further complicates and hampers charitable work. If I give money to a homeless person who solicits me outside the grocery store, I risk my money on a bet that the person is genuinely homeless and in need. I do it because Jesus taught me to take that risk. However, the government cannot and must not do that, due to the nature of government. If the government simply gives money to every person who shows up to ask for it, then we all are rightly outraged, because there are too many people who will ask for that money when they don’t need it. If I lose twenty dollars by giving it to a charlatan at the grocery store, that is no tragedy, and God can sort that problem out at his own perfect time. If the government loses thousands by paying unemployment benefits to a lottery winner, we all think that both parties to that transaction need to be punished, and there ought to be a law to prevent this from ever happening again.

The solution is for Congress to pass a law. We all know that few laws are ever about just one thing, and this means weeks and months of wrangling and negotiations in order to word the law or attach the amendment to some other law or attach amendment to this perfect law, and so forth. Having passed the law, the government program administrators must then write regulations to define how the law will be administered. Every form used by the program must be reviewed in order to assure that they collect the information required in a manner compliant with a lot of other laws and regulations about confidential information. Every employee must be retrained to interview, evaluate, report and approve or deny clients based on the new regulations. The new law may even direct the program to appoint a new officer, who will need new staff, which must be housed in new offices which need new furniture, and so it goes.

To tell the truth, nothing government does is ever done efficiently by the standards of common sense. Most citizens claim to want the government to use some common sense, but if the government did not write voluminous regulations and create voluminous forms, the government would not begin to be as acccountable as we all wish it were. Sadly, even with all the laws and regulations and forms and audits, government is still a high maintenance entity.

The other big reason government is not a good administrator of social services is that government is not kind. Government operates according to the law. When we think about the fact that none of us can live up to God’s law, and when we think of what the Pharisees did in an attempt to make it possible for people to do it, then we begin to see why government cannot be charitable. Government is more like the Pharisees than it is like Jesus. Government laws used to give a “dole” to families in need. When it became apparent that many families included a healthy man who refused to work, government responded by saying no “dole” would be given if a husband/father lived in the home. The men targeted by this law were supposed to be motivated to get busy and get a job and take care of their families. The law, however, did nothing to provide that motivation. Laws do not motivate; laws regulate and irritate. No law can ever be a loving solution to problems inherent in human nature. The outcome of the law was not a rush to gainful employment by the targeted husbands and fathers. Instead, husbands/fathers abandoned families in order to make them eligible for a charitable “dole.” Federal Pharisees initiated the breakup of families, not the death of poverty. Poverty continued to thrive.

Government must have laws and regulations and policies, and it must administer in compliance with all those laws and regulations and policies. Government cannot operate on the standards of common sense, and it absolutely cannot be charitable. Every applicant for government services must be demonstrated to be eligible, and there can be no fudging over a penny too much or a man who can’t find work or any other little thing that charitable hearts could deal with.

Charity in the name of Jesus is certainly admonished to be wise as a serpent, but charity in the name of Jesus can also be harmless and actually charitable. Common sense, grace and love drive charity in the name of Jesus, not regulations, policies, and a hierarchy of administration from here to next year. We who claim the name of Christ commit to follow him and be like him. Christ is the one who healed ten lepers without asking them any questions or filling out any forms. Only one ever thanked him. Over and over as Christ healed crowds of people, he showed us that we are to serve and love our neighbors without creating administrative barriers that demean them. We are called by Christ to serve and love our neighbors and to build up our neighbors. Government simply cannot do that. If we are serious about helping people in poverty, we must be willing to risk helping a charlatan now and then. Never forget that Jesus loves people who are behaving badly just as much as he loves the innocent victims of poverty. In the name of Christ we can and must accept the risk of helping an unworthy person as an act of love and service. The government cannot do that, because that is not the mission of government. The government will never be the visible kingdom of God on earth.

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What is so Wrong About Being Rich?

The latest brouhaha in the world of taxation is a big push called the “Buffet Rule.” It is only one of many assaults on people who have been successful in building wealth. It is part of a mindset that I find extremely offensive. I am not a wealthy person myself, and I have never been wealthy, but I have never been able to dredge up the pseudo-moral outrage that is expressed publicly against people who have become wealthy.

This kind of attitude is in direct opposition to the teachings of Jesus. Jesus never said that it was okay to hate rich people or steal their wealth. If you think I am wrong about this, please point me to the teaching you have in mind. I can think of two times Jesus spoke about the difficulty rich people have with spiritual growth, but I am not aware of even one place where Jesus said that anybody should steal from the rich and give to the poor.

 (1-A rich man came to him to ask how to have eternal life. Jesus told him to be perfect ((keep the Law)) but the man said he was already perfect. Jesus told him to sell everything and give it to the poor. Notice that he said nothing about the man’s riches until the man alleged to be perfect. It was the man’s failure to put God first, not his possession of wealth, that was the problem. 2-Jesus said it was as hard for a rich man to get into heaven as for a camel to go through a needle’s eye. This doesn’t mean that Jesus thought wealthy people were wickeder than others. He simply observed that it was hard for them to put God first. Notice that he doesn’t say poor people get in easily. He just says that riches can make it hard for people to put God first.)

When I was a child I really liked the Robin Hood story, because I thought of Robin Hood in the same way I thought of Superman and Mighty Mouse. These were magical and mythical characters who fixed what was broken at the snap of a finger. They thumbed their noses at those who doubted them. I still like a good story that smacks of David’s victory over Goliath. We all do. However, in the real world, the idea of anything or anyone forcibly appropriating things that do not belong to them is repugnant.

The envy, anger and outright hatred directed against “the rich” in current political rhetoric, however, is not David versus Goliath. It is not the sheep against the goats in the final judgment. It is simple jealousy fueling gang warfare. It is mob violence. It is beneath contempt for anyone who claims the name of Christ to join in.

The rhetoric goes something like this. Look at that evil rich person. He doesn’t need all that money. He should be glad to give it away to help poor people. If he doesn’t voluntarily give it all away, we should take it away from him by force. We won’t personally steal it from him. We’ll go get our big brother, the federal government to do it for us.

As I listen to speakers, starting with our president and moving through his entire administration, all spokespersons for Democrats, some spokespersons for Republicans, numerous religious leaders, most of the media, and assorted private individuals I have encountered, I am appalled at the number who actually believe that this attitude is something Jesus would be proud of. I am also appalled at the number who believe they can define ‘the rich’ according to their annual taxable income. I am appalled at the number who seem to believe they have the right and the obligation to say what is “enough” for someone else. Even jurnalists, who of all people ought to be even-handed in their quest for truth, join in the assault. They freely label and classify everyone according to income, and they all feel qualified and authorized to cast aspersions on anyone who does not fit their approved model for income and lifestyle. They have appointed themselves to run other people’s lives. One wonders, who tells these critics what they can keep out of their personal income.

None of this is consistent with Jesus’ teaching that we are not to judge others. Jesus said, “Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgment you make you will be judged,”[1] Imagine that the CBS News anchor says of a hypothetical Mr. Brown that he “doesn’t need three cars and he has no right to jet off to Las Vegas every year. Why does he need two houses? One is enough for anybody.” According to Jesus, that kind of attitude calls down a similar judgment on the speaker. Such statements imply that God has authorized some people to judge what other people deserve to possess. This is not Jesus’ way.

Jesus teaches us to love everyone – even the rich. Jesus teaches us to speak well of everyone. Jesus teaches us not to envy what others have, but rather, to be content with what we have.

In case you think this rule is relaxed as long as you don’t try to take the wealth of others for yourself, think again. God does not authorize people to define fiscal classes of people and steal from one class in order to pretend to benefit another. Keep in mind that God never gives out possessions evenly. You and I might think every person ought to have exactly the same as all the others, but that is not God’s way. Even if we pass a lot of laws to grab up wealth from some people and hand it over to others, you can be sure that all people in the world will not wind up with the same amount of money. Some of the inequity will be due to human venality, and some of the inequity will be a result of failure to show stewardship of God’s gifts.

The human campaign to make sure everyone has the same amount of possessions, including money, is exactly that: human. It has nothing to do with Jesus or his teaching. Jesus did not teach that any of us has the right or the scriptural obligation to tell others what they can or cannot possess. Jesus did confront people individually about the way they used their possessions, but he never said that some of us have the right to judge or steal from the rest of us.

In simple words: Do not envy people who happen to have more possessions or wealth or whatever other advantages you care to envy. Jesus taught us to love everyone and be grateful for what God has given us. Jesus is as disturbed by envy of the rich as he is disturbed by disdain for the poor.

There is a political agenda that is fueled by hatred and aggression toward “the rich.” In that political world, everyone who achieves great power in the administration of wealth redistribution becomes personally wealthy. Everybody else winds up with nothing. The national motto of that way of life was: “We pretend to work and they pretend to pay us.” The nation was the former USSR. The USSR was an atheistic socialistic heaven on earth that collapsed politically under the weight of its multitude of failures to serve its population. This nation is exactly what you get when you turn away from Christ and choose to follow the economic and political philosophy of socialism.

When you follow Christ, you are individually responsible for what you do with every gift God gives you. You help poor people personally and through private charities. You don’t empower government to steal from everyone. Jesus never said that we should worship and serve the state. Jesus said we should put God ahead of everything. Our two most important laws in obedience to Christ are first, love God above all else, and second, love your neighbor (even your wealthy neighbor) as yourself. That is what Jesus taught.

I repeat here my original comment. If you think Jesus taught us to judge and steal from the rich in the name of charity to the poor, please point me to that teaching in the Bible. I welcome your comments, and I love the conversation.


[1]The Holy Bible : New Revised Standard Version. 1989 (Mt 7:1–2). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

Spirited Singing

Spirited Singing

 

I see a lot of comments on church websites and in newsletters about the experience of community in churches. Often those statements are set in the context of concerns that not enough people are visiting, and too many visitors do not feel welcomed.

A traveling lifestyle has made me a frequent visitor in churches. Sometimes they are not only not my home church, but they are also not my home denomination. Nevertheless, most of them are more welcoming than their members think. I can only think of two churches I ever visited that made me feel like a stranger in a strange land.

Welcome is expressed in many different ways. Some are orchestrated to both welcome visitors and to assure that members are aware of the visitors. In one church, we were given pin in the form of a wooden lighthouse to wear. Every member knew that those pins were for visitors, and they made a point of approaching and introducing themselves to us because we wore those pins. Other welcoming experiences are due to the nature of a church. There are worship elements that help me feel welcome and at home, even when I am in a strange church far from home.

Hymns always make me feel welcome. It is always delightful to sit down in church and discover that a hymn for the day is one of my favorites. Anne Lamott speaks of singing hymns in her church in a blog post. She says, “The hymns are bigger than any mistakes; you fumble around with the hymnal and sing the wrong words — you’re on the wrong verse — but the hymn expands to make room for all these voices, even yours.”

The words ring true to my own experience in most churches. When we visited churches in the Bahamas, for example. Those churches are small (the congregations, not the buildings). Most struggle and would not even survive without a lot of outside help. Sometimes we had hymnals, sometimes not. Sometimes we could figure out what hymn was being sung, sometimes not. Sometimes the tune was familiar, sometimes not. It didn’t matter. The hymns expanded to include us just as the congregation opened its arms to us.

This experience is not about us, however, or Anne. It is about God with us. The welcome and grace we experience as we sing and when we visit is the evidence that the Holy Spirit is present and active in the lives of the people we meet. The beauty of this experience lies in its ever-fresh reminder that God is with us.

This promise is so important that one of the names of Christ is Emmanuel, God with us. When we think of Christ by that name, we can be strong, because we are never alone. Christ, also known as the Great Physician, is with us always, and his presence is healing.

Most of us think of church visitors as good friends we haven’t met yet. Still, it is worthwhile to remember that they don’t go to the trouble of locating and visiting a church in order to remain alone. They may be motivated largely by the desire to sustain their relationship with God, but they expect, whether or not they would verbalize this feeling, to meet and be accepted by members.

Every time worship takes place in a church, visitors are welcome and should feel welcome, because worship is happening. By simply being present, they become part of it. They belong. However, members can enrich and enhance this experience by simply expressing a welcome. It need not be elaborate. Every member can greet visitors and make them welcome by simply saying, “We are glad you are here.” God says that to each of us as we enter a place of worship: “I’m glad you are here. God be with you.”

Free from Oppression

The lesson of the American Revolutionary War is that human beings want to be free and they will endure a great deal of suffering if suffering is the price of freedom.

The founding of Christianity also cost a great deal of suffering, and that suffering purchased freedom for all people. The American Revolution set British colonists free from oppression by a tyrannical king. The crucifixion and resurrection of Christ set all people free from the oppression of a tyrannical demon.

Peter, an eyewitness to the work of Jesus during his ministry, described Jesus’ work as ‘healing all who were oppressed by the devil.” (Acts 10:38). He lumped together the sick, the lame, the deaf and the demon-possessed in a single group – those who were oppressed by the devil. Peter saw the devil behind all human suffering, with good reason, because human suffering only began when humans were cast out of the Garden of Eden after Satan successfully lured them to reject God.

Suffering of any kind narrows people’s horizons. Anyone who has had any serious illness knows that it can be a major task simply to drink a sip of water. The same thing happens when people are overburdened with stress or fear. You might get up one morning and feel that anything is possible, only to discover that someone else was given the promotion you worked toward for three years, and suddenly your world closes in and feels very small and dark. This is the way people feel when evil imprisons and oppresses them.

The message of Easter is that Christ’s death and resurrection set people free from that imprisonment. In the parable of the wheat and the tares, Jesus told us that evil will always be part of the world, but in Christ, we can be set free from its oppressive power.

When Peter went to visit Cornelius he told the people gathered there what Christ had done. Peter told them about Christ’s death and resurrection, and as he was explaining that he and many others had shared meals with the risen Christ, the Holy Spirit fell on the whole group. Peter said simply, “everyone who believes in [Christ] receives forgiveness of sins through his name.´ (Acts 10:42) Forgiveness of sin is the experience of being set free from the oppression of the devil.

During Jesus’ earthly ministry, he could only heal those he could reach. He was God incarnate, and in that incarnation, he did not reach out to everyone. However, the resurrected Christ is available to all. The risen Christ is the promise to everyone that God wants us to be free. When we enter into a relationship with Christ through baptism, we are released from the prison of sin and our world becomes spacious. God created each person with gifts for service and fulfillment. When we belong to Christ we are set free from Satan’s constraints that suppress our achievements and our fulfillment. Free from Satan’s power, we can become all that God had in mind for us.

This is true freedom.

Getting Ready to Learn from the Bible

Titlepage of the New Testament section of a Ge...
Titlepage of the New Testament section of a German Luther Bible, printed in 1769. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There are many ways to study the Bible, as many ways as there are people to study. One way to enhance your understanding is to use helps. Bible study helps come in many forms – commentaries, dictionaries, maps, and so forth. You can find Bible study guides that encapsulate helps and thought questions that may make it easier for you to accomplish your study in less time.

I like to use an assortment of helps. When I study a particular text, I usually read several commentaries in order not to be confined to one person’s viewpoint on the text. If one or more specific words seem important, I use dictionaries to help me understand those words. If it seems important to get back to the original languages, I use an interlinear Bible that links to lexicons for that language.

Here is an example of using helps to understand the lectionary readings for Easter Sunday this year, 2012.

The texts are:

Acts 10:34-43

Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24

1 Corinthians 15:1-11

Mark 16:1-8

As I read through the texts for the first time, I took note of verses or sentences that seemed more important to me. You will find that any given verse or passage may spark different reactions each time you read it. I believe this is the work of the Holy Spirit leading us into truth.

For example, as I read the Acts passage this time, I was drawn to pay attention to the verse that says that Jesus healed “all who were oppressed by the devil.” It reminded me that in our readings from the book of Mark this year, demon possession figures prominently, but the Acts passage doesn’t really refer to possession. It uses the word “oppressed.” I wondered if it would be appropriate to conclude that Peter felt that all the people Jesus healed – the sick, the lame, the deaf, the lepers, as well as the demon possessed – were oppressed by the devil. I wrote down that verse and took note of that question for further investigation. I will first look in several commentaries, and I may find that I needed a dictionary or even a Greek lexicon, depending on what I find in the commentaries.

The last verse of the Acts text says that “everyone who believes in [Jesus] receives forgiveness of sins.” If I think back to Peter’s original comment about those who were “oppressed by the devil,” this passage makes me ask if it is right to conclude that Peter believes sin is the expression of the truth that we are “oppressed by the devil?” It will be important to know how the term “sins” is understood specifically in this text and generally in similar texts. I may need to look at a book on theology, or maybe some of the early Christian writings will refer to this text.

When I read Psalm 118, I see a text I have seen as a quotation in the New Testament. “The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.” I don’t immediately remember where it is quoted, but I can look it up in some of my helps. I also see the word “salvation.” We commonly say that our salvation is the result of Christ’s death and resurrection, which had not taken place when Psalm 118 was written. That must mean that in this psalm, the word meant something different to the original writer and the original readers, yet this word may foreshadow or foretell something about the Messiah, especially since the “cornerstone” verse is quoted in the New Testament. I note the quotation and the word “salvation” for further research. I am also led to ask if there is a relationship between Peter’s use of the phrase “oppressed by the devil” and the Psalmist’s use of the word “salvation.” Most people say that salvation takes place when our sins are forgiven. I may want to look in some theology books for definitions of salvation and for better understanding of the theological view of sin. Theologians may have a broader definition of sin than the common idea that sin is something we should not do.

1 Corinthians 15 is famously about Christ’s resurrection. Verses 1-11 refer to it, reporting the evidence of those who witnessed Christ alive after his resurrection, and reporting Paul’s own experience with the risen Christ. I read and reread this passage trying to uncover any relationship with the other texts, and then I saw this verse (3) “Christ died for our sins … (vs. 4) he was buried and … he was raised on the third day.” If I am following the right thread of thought through these texts, this section will help me reach the understanding the Holy Spirit is trying to teach me in these readings. “For our sins” may be linked with Peter’s statement about people “oppressed by the devil.” In order to find any link, I probably need texts with the original language and references to lexicons or other resources that explain that either the same word is used, or the word used is related.

Finally I reach the gospel reading. Mark tells only that three women went to the tomb, where they found the stone rolled back. Inside, Jesus’ body was gone, and a young man in white spoke to them. He said, “Jesus of Nazareth … has been raised; he is not here.” This is an eyewitness account that underlies the passages in Acts and 1 Corinthians. The Corinthians passage nails down information that might result from investigation of the report of a resurrection. In Acts, Peter explains what it means for us that Jesus rose from the dead. It is becoming apparent that the term “oppressed by the devil” may really have a strong link to the meaning of resurrection and salvation. I wonder if I can find a book or commentary that will help me see the whole picture.

After prayerfully reading all four texts, I conclude that I will focus on Peter’s statement that during Jesus’ ministry he set individual people free from the devil’s oppression. I will examine the concept that sin is Satan’s tool to oppress us, and that Christ’s death and resurrection eternally set all people free from that oppression. I will use some commentaries, dictionaries, and perhaps some individual books that shed light on these passages and these concepts. Eventually I expect to reach a moment in which some truth just for me will emerge from this study. I will use the following strategies:

  • Ø  Research Bible Study – reading and taking notes from reference materials
  • Ø  Sustaining Bible Study – one or more meditations on themes that emerge from my research
  • Ø  Transformational Bible Study – time set aside to ask God what needs to be different in my life because of this study

Everybody needs to study the Bible in order to grow as a Christian. We all have different life schedules, different gifts, different callings, and different ways of learning. Some people do not learn best in the pages of a book or sitting still somewhere. Know yourself, and study using the means and opportunities God gives you. I share this information as a prompt for you to discover the method or style that opens your heart to the guidance and teaching of the Holy Spirit. I am deeply grateful not to be a cookie-cutter human, just like everybody else. You, too, are unique. Discover how special you are in relationship with Christ.

What learning method or style draws you so close to Christ that it is like walking together in conversation?