Tag Archives: false gods

Humans Are Vengeful Gods

The venom of cultural restriction is startling to anyone who has seen the venom of diatribes against God’s recorded actions in the Old Testament. Atheists are outraged at the God who ordered the Israelites to separate themselves from ungodly people or ordered the execution of all unbelievers in besieged communities, right down to the babes in arms. They contend that such a God is evil and vicious and not to be tolerated. They say that he should apologize to the heathen he condemned. Yet these are the same people who contend that an unborn baby is a nonviable mass, or that a 100-year-old woman should not have surgery to make her life more comfortable. God Almighty, in their view, has no right to decide when someone’s life ends, but these very people believe that they have the right to end millions of lives every year.

In light of that attitude, it is hard to accept the behavior of secular celebrity voices such as Chris Matthews and Whoopi Goldberg who condemn anyone who disagrees with them to fates worse than death. How do people who instigate a campaign to destroy the Washington Redskins football team have the temerity to accuse God of wrongdoing? Humans who have arrogated to themselves the role that Christians leave to God’s judgment are callous in the extreme, far beyond what the God they reject has ever done to anyone.

As a follower of Christ, I will say quickly that God does not need me to defend him. I bring this subject up only to compare the actions of people who believe that they are their own gods. People who say God does not exist must somehow deal with all the problems of the universe, and the evidence demonstrates that they are arrogant far beyond anything they criticize in God Almighty. People who deny God declare that they know what other people should have and what other people should do. People who are removed from the class of aborted fetuses only by the event of having been born alive declare that nothing is too huge, too important, or too complicated for them to control.

Among other things, secular thinkers believe that they have the right and the obligation to interfere in the operations of businesses. They believe that they should tell businesses what products to sell, or what to wage to pay employees, or whom the businesses should hire, or what health insurance to offer employees. When the owners of businesses reject the pressure, the secular thinkers believe that they should destroy the businesses. Secularists have tried boycotts of retail businesses and Twitter wars against global enterprises. They have even tried to threaten the advertising sponsors of media personalities they disagree with.

Secular thinkers believe that nobody has a right to question the morality of what they do, because they determine the morality of their actions according to whether it makes them feel good. Apparently, it makes them feel good when they eliminate a baby or an old person or a business that is preventing one of them from feeling good.

Some Christians have lost their connection with Christ’s teachings and have engaged in reprisals that mirror the cultural strategies. When secularists launched an attack on Chick Fil-A over the issue of same-sex marriage, Christians launched an attack on Starbucks over the same issue. This is a huge error on the part of the Christians. It is at complete odds with Christ’s teaching. Christ said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matthew 5:43-45 ESV). Christians cannot engage in destructive, petulant reprisal over differences of political opinion. Christians may not be their own gods and still claim to belong to Christ.

When Christians embark on destructive campaigns to destroy businesses because of the expressed political or even social views of the owners, the first thing wrong with the campaign is that Christ taught us to love, bless and pray for everyone. The second thing wrong is that many, many innocent people get hurt. The employees of companies have no control over the political views of their employers, yet if the destructive campaign succeeds, then Christians have destroyed the livelihoods of those employees. The third thing wrong is that it becomes impossible to distinguish Christians from secular thinkers. Jesus said, “Whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God” (John 3:21 ESV). Jesus expects the actions of Christians to be a testimony to their faith. That is why refusing to participate in a same-sex wedding is the right thing for a Christian to do, while boycotting a business over a political argument is wrong. Refusal to participate in a same-sex wedding is a testimony to God’s plan for marriage and families. A campaign to destroy Starbucks over the opinion expressed by its owner is no testimony to God; it is a testimony to the power of a mob, the same message expressed by a secular mob action against Mozilla.

The words and deeds of secular thinkers express their rejection of God’s authority and his very existence. The words and deeds of Christians must express their testimony to God’s authority and their conviction of his existence. When Christians reject a cultural movement that conflicts with God’s authority, their expression of that rejection must not compromise their obedience to the law of love. A Christian can and must refuse to facilitate disobedience to God. A polite refusal to participate in wrongdoing need not include a curse on the people involved. In fact, if they are enemies, then the Christian response is to love them and pray for them to see the light.

The culture increasingly insists on words and deeds to state support for things that Christians must, on principle, refuse to do. Where that pressure will lead is still unclear. Christians in countries like Saudi Arabia and Laos wind up in jail when they reject the cultural norms. Christians in the US must be prepared for the culture to push the government to enforce its will. It is time for all Christians to pray for wisdom and courage, and to pray for the election of leaders who will pull governments at all levels back inside the Constitutional boundaries that protect First Amendment rights.

Secular thinkers believe that everything they do is guided and bounded by reason, an impersonal concept, but in fact, they themselves testify that they know what is right by observing what makes them happy. Clearly, it is self-gratification, not reason, that guides their actions. Christians must commit to Christ’s truth as their guide and watch carefully to assure that they do not delude themselves that they are serving Christ when they are actually serving self. It is self-serving in the extreme to attempt to stand in the place of God and shut down a business whose owner holds an undesirable political view. Secular thinkers are extremely vengeful when they try to stand in the place of God. Christians must be alert to avoid being lured into such behavior by their own willingness to serve self instead of Christ.

 

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Choices

Readings:  Joshua 24:1-2a, 14-18     Psalm 34:15-22     Ephesians 6:10-20     John 6:56-59

 

In an election year, we are bombarded daily with our need to make choices. Election years are really not that different from our everyday life, although the stridency of those promoting our choices is considerably higher in the political realm. Sometimes we feel overwhelemed with all the decisions we need to make.

In today’s reading, Joshua, with a mere foothold in the Promised Land, told the people he had led across Jordan that they needed to make a choice. Likewise, Jesus, having fed five thousand people with a pitiful little lunch of 5 loaves and 2 fish asked people to make a choice, too.  

According to the book that bears his name, Joshua gathered “all the tribes of Israel, and summoned the elders, the heads, the judges, and the officers of Israel” to Schechem.  Joshua took them all the way back in their history to Abraham, and reminded them of all that God had done for them. He particularly pointed out that they had always waffled in their loyalties. No matter how faithful some ancestors like Isaac and Jacob had been, some of them always worshiped other gods.  Then Joshua reminded them what God Most High had done after they crossed the Jordan River: “I gave you a land on which you had not labored, and towns that you had not built, and you live in them; you eat the fruit of vineyards and olive yards that you did not plant.” (Joshua 24:13) Despite the fact that some did not serve God, God had blessed them, but Joshua said that it was time to get real. It was time to choose whom they would serve. Would they serve the gods of Abraham’s ancient home, gods Abraham himself had discarded? Would they serve the gods of Egypt whom God had humiliated as Moses led the Israelites away? Would they serve the gods of this new land, gods who had been defeated time and again as the Israelites began to take possession of what God had promised? The people had a choice. They could serve gods that were no gods, or they could serve God Most High, who had brought them through the wilderness. 

Jesus offered people the same kind of choice. The people wanted bread on the table every day. They had observed as thousands in a crowd around Jesus went away with bread. It was a miracle they could get their arms around. They knew what daily bread was. Unfortunately, like the ancient Israelites at Schechem, they could not see the eternal God at work in that miracle. They simply saw food for that day.

When the people chased Jesus down afterwards, they asked him to do the miracle again. Jesus loved them, and Jesus wanted them to understand that the bread they had eaten the day before was a sign, not a plan or a political promise. He reminded them that people who ate that bread, just like the people who ate miraculous manna in the wilderness, would eventually die despite having bread to eat. Jesus told them that they really needed to eat eternal bread. They needed his body and blood, the food of eternal life. The people who thought they wanted something that would stave off hunger till tomorrow needed something that would satisfy them eternally. It was a hard choice, and like those people in Capernaum, we, too, have trouble with it.

 The choice in the coming election is about the same sort of things. Some campaign promises are shaped by secular standards which assume that this world is all there is. They do that, because the election won’t put anyone in office for eternity, but only for some finite period. However, as the Bible makes very clear when describing the kings that ancient Israelites dealt with, finite leaders can impact some things that touch eternity. One king in ancient Israel put up idols in Bethel under the guise of making it easier for people to worship. They didn’t need to go to Jerusalem any more. The leader pretended to power and authority he did not have, and people who knew better let him have it, because it made their lives easier. They thought God should not have made it so hard to serve him, anyway.

The same thing can happen in a democratic election. If people vote for someone based on his allegations that he will give them what they want, they may for a time be very happy that their wishes came true. Christian organizations rejoice when the government grants come through with much more money than their donors provide. It is awfully scary to rely on God to call donors to support the work. It is easier to write grants and be assured of funds for the coming year. The grant is like bread for today, but God’s provision comes whenever it comes, not so predictable. To be sure the grants continue, they vote for the person most likely to give them more bread for the day. Yet their decision to vote for the person who supports grants to do the social services that serve a political agenda may come back to bite them if the grants arrive with regulations that require behavior they consider to be sinful or with regulations that forbid them to act in missional ways. As soon as Christians buy into the idea that there can be some elements of their mission where it is okay to shut God out, it gets a lot easier for the culture and the government to shut God out of more and more places.  If Christians choose a culture that squeezes God out of daily life in the US, it is very likely that the day will come when they will wish that once again there were churches on every corner. The fortress that used to be the USSR crumbled under the weight of a godless society, and it could happen to the USA as well. 

We make choices every day. We choose every day if we will live for Christ, or not. Every decision we make is part of our testimony to those who reject Christ. Every time we collaborate in the rejection, we shrink our freedom to serve him. Choices matter. Elections matter. Pray. Vote. Serve the Lord with your whole life. It’s your choice.

Government is not God

In ancient Israel, citizens were persecuted for failing to honor Baal, the patron god of the government. It was considered tantamount to treason, because the government relied on Baal for success. One of the classic confrontations between government/god and heavenly God took place on Mount Carmel when Elijah challenged the prophets of Baal to call down fire to burn their sacrifices to Baal. The fact that Elijah succeeded after they had failed did not change the government position in the matter. The government, and all its followers, continued to worship Baal and reject the God of all the earth. Serving God became a sure way to be chased into the wilderness where a person would likely starve or die of dehydration even if the government were unsuccessful in its pursuit.

 In the first century Roman empire, emperors began to claim status as deities, and that claim led to an expectation that citizens would worship the emperor. He claimed the authority and power to take care of citizens, and he expected thankful, respectful worship. Although merely an expectation or a politically correct act at first, it became a mandate and the excuse for persecution of those who did not worship the man claiming godhood. It was tantamount to treason to act as if the emperor were not a god.

 In twenty-first century USA, our government is increasingly taking on the role and expecting the worship of a god. It wants to deliver commandments, receive offerings and dole out blessings. Moreover, it wants worship, in the form of no criticism. So far, the expectation of compliance with government thinking has not progressed to the accusation of treason for those who disagree, but disagreeable speech is not well received. Historically, governments that began by suggesting that arguments against government are thoughtless progressed to actually censoring or forbidding free speech.

 There are Christian leaders, surprisingly, who seem to believe that government can, even should, be God’s agent to bring his kingdom to pass. They applaud a government role in social services for provision of food, clothing, shelter, healthcare, education and transportation. They believe that when the government guarantees to provide for all human needs, it is creating the kingdom of heaven on earth. They seem to believe that when we pray in the Lord’s Prayer, “thy kingdom come” that we are praying for the government to bring that kingdom to pass.

 The author of Revelation warns us in twenty-two riveting chapters of the futility of believing that government can replace God. John of Patmos was granted a vision that transported him into heaven where he could look back at the earth and the time/space continuum, and there he could see what becomes of a world in which people worship government instead of God. This world is full of ever-increasing chaos and destruction, all overseen by a bloated, besotted, whorish government that wants and needs the worship of the people who are being destroyed by the boulders that government oppression drags down upon them. The book of Revelation is completely relevant to our world today, not as a timeline for the end of the age, but as a real vision of what is happening right now.

 The big lesson of Revelation is that God does not call upon government to do his work on earth. He calls on his faithful followers to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, house the homeless and share his love with everyone. God rightly expects that his followers will worship him, and those who love him rejoice in the opportunity to do so. Their worship and testimony pushes back the evil that runs rampant over lives and property when government replaces God in people’s hearts.

 The sad part of it is that some Christians seem willing to pay exorbitant taxes to government under the impression that all that money will bring the kingdom of God to pass. They forget that money we give to government seldom comes back to bless anyone. All that money builds bureaucracies and builds buildings to house bureaucracies and buys computers and papers to process the rules and regulations of bureaucracies. Very little of it ever gets into the hand of poor, starving, homeless people. Those who do receive any benefit have been so thoroughly demeaned by the process that they can never do anything more than survive to apply for more aid.

 Contrast this outcome with the results of the World Hunger Project of Lutheran World Relief. People who participate in this project are the beneficiaries of giving motivated not by tax laws but by the love of God and people. Of every dollar that LWR puts into this project, 92 cents is placed in the hands of the people the project helps. That money funds deliveries of animals and plants to farmers along with water projects and training in agriculture skills that increase productivity of both plant and animal culture. Families are not simply fed three times a day; they receive livestock and training that set them on a path to self-sufficiency. The family does not become dependent on the program. Rather, the program leads them to become independent of the program. They take away skills and encouragement to help others as they themselves have been helped.

 For that matter, contrast government charity with the results achieved by the Heifer Project, a completely secular and private project that also provides livestock and training for hungry people. The people helped by Heifer Project also are led to independence and self-sufficiency, unlike the sad dependents of government charity in housing projects across the country.

 The people who are “helped” by government become defeated and dependent. The people who receive help from projects like the World Hunger Project retain their personal dignity and become independent, self-sufficient, and prosperous. It is not government that brings the kingdom of God to earth. It is God’s people following the Holy Spirit in love and service to others.

 Government has an important role on earth, a role ordained by God. It provides security and good order to allow free people to thrive and to serve God in safety. Government clears the playing field for free commerce, providing opportunity, not benefits. Government has no God-given right to supersede the work of bringing God’s kingdom to earth. When we try to make government an agent of charity we only beggar both the taxpayer and the recipient. As Christians, we all need to work very hard to reverse the trend of trying to replace God with government by means of social programs. We should not put our faith in government. We must  put our faith in God and serve him obediently and faithfully, doing the work he calls us to do, “love your neighbor as yourself.”