Tag Archives: Jesus Christ

How to Avoid Seeing Christ

Barack_Obama_National_Prayer_Breakfast_20090205When the President of the United States of America recently spoke at a prayer breakfast and declared a number of wrongs done in the name of Christ, many Christians across the country were appalled. He pointed to the Crusades, the Inquisition, slavery, and Jim Crow laws as examples of wrongs justified as obedience to Christ. Whatever his personal agenda was that day, it can be stated with absolute certainty that it was never his purpose to praise or serve Christ in those words. Nothing about the Crusades, the Inquisition, slavery or Jim Crow laws has anything whatsoever to do with the teachings of Christ or the work of his church. What’s more, nothing about those events serves to justify some other occasion of wrongdoing in any historical era. The clear purpose of those words was to tamp down outrage over violence wrought by militant forces who claim to be serving Allah. The obvious intent was to make Christians ashamed of criticizing the violence of people who claim to be acting for Allah and for the advancement of Islam.

Christians need not be ashamed of abhorring the violence of ISIS, or that of Boko Haram, or that of Al Shabaab, or the violence of any other violent group that claims the name of Islam. People who follow Christ are justly ashamed that the Crusades were initiated as if they were the work of Christ, because people who follow Christ know that the Crusades were never part of Christ’s plan for the advancement of his kingdom. Anyone who studies history knows that fact. The Crusades were politically motivated, and the church was so deeply integrated with the state at the time that whatever the state did was labelled Christian. It defies logic to attempt to justify the violence of ISIS because the violence of the Crusades was not Christ-like.

Such utter disconnect with the truth of Christ taught our founding fathers that the administration of the state must not be confused with the administration of a religion. They did not reject the voice of Christians as citizens with the right to speak and act for what is right. They did reject the integration of church administration with political administration. The founders  protected people of all faiths with the assurance that government would never try to tell them what to believe or whom to worship or how to live out their faith. The men who founded the USA knew that evil loves to cloak itself in religious garments and governmental power. They also knew that the values of citizens are rooted in their faith, and the founders welcomed the expression of and advocacy for values based in faith. They did not reject the voice of people of faith out of some misguided notion that advocacy for the values taught by faith was synonymous with giving that faith executive power.

All sorts of people had agendas related to the Crusade, the Inquisition, slavery and the Jim Crow laws. The agendas that drove the wickedness did not derive from Christ or his teachings. The fact that many individuals and groups appropriated Christ’s name and claimed his support for their behavior does not make it so. Making Christ responsible for the Inquisition or slavery is like making cows responsible for the increase in size of the Sahara Desert. When all the available facts are examined, the evidence does not support the conclusion. Christ’s teachings do not incite to violence, torture, and oppression.

Christ told his disciples and the other people listening to his Sermon on the Mount to expect this sort of thing. When he spoke of heaven and those who will join him there, he said, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness’” (Matthew 7:21-23 ESV). We can safely conclude from that statement that people who somehow do a few good things by claiming the name of Christ will never be able to gloss over their evil by trying to hide behind a good show of good deeds.

The elected leaders in Congress who voted for the Affordable Care Act showed exactly this behavior. They have not, to this day, read the content of that law, yet they go around claiming that this law is good law, even though it is profoundly evil in its design and implementation. Any sane person who reads the text of the law will quickly see that the benefit of the law falls on those who are hired to administer it—the bureaucracies that create bureaucracies that monitor bureaucracies that eat up the federal budget by the billions of dollars at a bite. The President is the most visible and most vocal of the people who claim that this act is something good, when it is demonstrably a profound evil that is already harming the very populations it alleged to help. Numerous supporters, too, linked the ACA to Jesus, even though this is not at all what Jesus meant by helping the sick.

An agenda that steals the God-given freedom of people and enslaves them to government through secret taxes and oppressive bureaucracies is evil. Evil thrives on its success in turning people’s eyes away from Jesus. Many evil laws have been passed under the guise of feeding the hungry, curing the sick, housing the homeless or ending all wars. The proponents of such laws always allude to the teachings of Jesus. They are exactly right that Jesus taught us to help the downtrodden. However, Jesus taught us to do it with our own gifts. Jesus taught me to give my own coat to somebody who was shivering; Jesus did not teach me to grab your coat and your hat and your wallet so I could give the coat and hat to someone who is cold and keep the wallet for myself. This sort of behavior was behind the Crusades, the Inquisition, slavery and Jim Crow laws. This sort of behavior is embedded in the Affordable Care Act and in most government social programs. This sort of behavior has nothing to do with Jesus.

It is a great challenge in the US today to keep pointing to Jesus. Political leaders of all stripes busily accuse Christ of blessing their agendas. When we look intently at Jesus, we see that he has nothing to do with the many evils linked to his name and his mission. It is easy to see that Satan, the father of lies, is behind all of these things.

Who is Christ? He is the one who came to save the people of the world from being enslaved by the lies of Satan. He is the one who pitied the downtrodden and lifted them up. He touched lepers, fed the hungry, held children on his lap, and suffered under Pontius Pilate. He suffered under cruelty perpetrated by an agenda that originated in the unholy union of religious and political leadership. Jesus died at the hands of the same variety of unholy alliance that produced the Crusades, the Inquisition, slavery and Jim Crow. He did it, because his purpose was to save people from being lured into such evil.

When Nicodemus came to Christ one night, curious about him because he seemed so unlike the religious leaders among the Pharisees and the priests, Jesus gave Nicodemus the answers he needed: “God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16 ESV). Such a mission is completely opposite to the purposes of the Roman government, the Pharisees, the Crusades, the Inquisition, slavery, Jim Crow laws, or even the Affordable Care Act. If people actually look at Christ, it will be easy for them to see that his love and grace do not produce such evil. In order to see the origin of evil, they must look away from Christ.

By Katherine Harms, author of Oceans of Love available for Kindle at Amazon.com.

Image: Barack Obama at Prayer Breakfast
By Pete Souza, White House photographer (http://www.whitehouse.gov/) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

A Hymn for Meditation

hymnalI Know that My Redeemer Lives
By: Samuel Medley

I know that my Redeemer lives!
What comfort this sweet sentence gives!
He lives, he lives, who once was dead;
He lives, my ever living head!

He lives triumphant from the grave;
He lives eternally to save;
He lives exalted, throned above;
He lives to rule his Church in love.

He lives to silence all my fears;
He lives to wipe away my tears;
He lives to calm my troubled heart;
He lives all blessings to impart.

He lives, all glory to his name;
He live, my Savior
 still the same;
What joy this blest assurance gives:
I know that my Redeemer lives!

  • Who is the Redeemer who is central to this hymn? Why is it so comforting to know the Christ lives?
  • We know very well that Christ is not visible in time and space as Jesus was. How do we know that Christ lives?
  • What does Christ do for us, because he is alive?
  • What is our natural response to the Redeemer who changes our lives now and saves us forever?
  • New Christians in countries where Christians are heavily persecuted cling to Christ in faith under the most dire conditions. What does this song say that explains their behavior?
  • Every statement in this hymn is based on teachings from the Bible. Do you know how to find all those teachings?

A Verse for Meditation

Torah ScrollDo not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.  Luke 12:32

This verse falls in the midst of a long discourse about the kingdom of God. Read the preceding verses along with this verse.

Luke 12:29-32
Do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them. But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well. Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom.

  • After reading the full development of Jesus’ thought, what comforting message do you see in Luke 12:32?
  • Many people believe that God will not love them if they are imperfect. The disciples certainly were not perfect. What will you do differently if you believe that the words of Jesus are true?
  • What do you think the kingdom is?
  • In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.” Luke 6:20 How does that message shape your understanding of what Jesus means when he tells the disciples not to worry about food or clothing, because God wants them to have the kingdom?

Now read the further development of Jesus’ thoughts.

Luke 12:32-34
Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

  • According to these verses, people who have received the kingdom behave differently than other people. Where is the treasure that sustains the life of someone in the kingdom of God? What will you do differently if you believe that these words are true?
  • Where do you find the kingdom of God? How do you know it when you see it?

Arianna Huffington Got Something Right

Ariana Huffington delivered the commencement address at Smith College this year. A successful, powerful woman spoke to this year’s crop of young women wannabe’s, and she gave them a powerful message. She fudged on the real power, because she kept everything quite interfaith neutral, but as I read the speech, I was impressed by the fact that she had hit on some important truth that everyone needs, no matter the age.

The president and editor-in-chief of Huffington Post gave the assembled graduates a memorable message. They should each have a copy of it packed in their bags as they leave college. If I remember college graduation at all, my memory does not include the content of the graduation address. I don’t even remember who spoke. These ladies need a take-home copy of the speech which they promise to read and absorb after the graduation glow has subsided. Ariana Huffington recommend that Smith graduates think of success in terms beyond the traditional notion that success is money and power. She advocated that they add some new dimensions to their concept of success:  well-being, wonder, wisdom and service. (Ms. Huffington used the term “give back,” but since I like to avoid liberal/political rhetoric, I choose the cognate term “service” which is more compatible with a Christian perspective.) Ms. Huffington explained all these terms in eclectic, interfaith imagery, but I immediately recognized some basic teachings and truths of Christianity. The uniqueness of Christianity is the person and work of Christ; the moral teachings of Christianity often intersect, if not outright overlap, the moral teachings of other religions. Ms. Huffington’s speech seemed to me to be only half of the story, because people who live in relationship with Christ certainly would applaud her ideas, but they would take them farther.

The first element of the Huffington/Smith College component of success is “well-being.” Ms. Huffington talked about ways to achieve “well-being,” but her suggestions are quite half-baked compared to the teachings of Christ. He wrote a whole sermon on what it means to achieve well-being and what a person needs to do and be in order to experience that well-being. Listen to this:

Blessed are the poor in spirit …

Blessed are the meek ….

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness …

Blessed are the merciful …

And so forth.

There is a way to live that automatically leads to well-being – peace and blessing and fulfillment – and Jesus explained exactly how to live that way. The Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) is not the whole story, but it is a good place to start learning how to live with a sense of well-being.

                The second element of Ms. Huffington’s path to success is “wonder.” She is correct that the ability to experience wonder is crucial to anyone’s quality of life, and it has kept a great many projects going while those who lacked a sense of wonder saw only a persistent slog to the end. Wonder does more than animate creativity, however. The ability to experience wonder is a crucial element of worship. In the book of Revelation, myriads and myriads of worshipers gather in reverent wonder before the throne of God and sing, “Holy, holy, holy, the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come.” (Revelation 4:8) Many people are so blasé about the whole idea of religion that they ignore the greatest possible source of well-being, because they feel too smart and too mature to believe in God. Yet it is God who dwells within Christians so intimately that they can live their whole lives in an attitude of worship, which is real wonder. The apostle Paul wrote, “Do you not know that your body is the temple (the very sanctuary) of the Holy Spirit Who lives within you?” (1 Corinthians 6:19) That statement certainly should have inspired wonder on the part of early Christians, and it inspires wonder today, as Christians try to live the worship evoked by wonder at the majesty of God who miraculously dwells within us even as he inhabits the throne room in eternity. It is the wonder of worship that pushes back the chaos and destruction that forces of evil attempt to impose on our lives daily.

                The third item in Ms. Huffington’s expanded definition of success is wisdom. Anyone who reads the daily news is treated to story after story where human beings display a profound lack of wisdom. When subterfuge, deceit and fraud are uncovered, it doesn’t matter if a person is a Hollywood celebrity or a powerful political official or a rich businessman. It takes a complete lack of wisdom to believe that lies will never be discovered. Reputations, business ventures, even entire countries collapse when a lack of wisdom bears fruit in someone’s life. In the book of Proverbs, Wisdom cries out, shouts and screams, to no avail:

20 Wisdom cries aloud in the street,     in the markets she raises her voice; 21 at the head of the noisy streets she cries out;     at the entrance of the city gates she speaks: 22 “How long, O simple ones, will you love being simple?

                                                                (Proverbs 1:20-22a)

As long as there have been people, Wisdom has been ignored by people to their very great shame and loss. Jesus told his follower that they would need wisdom in order to have good lives when he said, “Be wise as serpents and harmless as doves.”(Matthew 10:16) Wisdom often means making choices that are personally costly, choices that don’t build toward the accepted definition of success as money and power. Sometimes wisdom requires the willingness to do what is not profitable, because wisdom and truth go hand in hand.

                Ms. Huffington’s final element of her amplified definition of success is “service.” She calls it giving back, because Ms. Huffington thinks in line with progressive political mantras. She is convinced that the young women at Smith College owe the state and the community for their current level of success, and they must pay the state and the community back for the contributions that have brought them this far. This is what was in the back of her mind when she used the term “give back.” However, Jesus had a much bigger view of the dimension that makes life rich and good. Jesus said that the most important thing anyone could ever do is to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:37-39) In short, love God and serve your neighbor. You could even say that if God is first in your life, you will automatically serve your neighbor, because your neighbor will be as important to you as yourself. People like Mother Teresa who exemplify this teaching show us what real success looks like.

                Ariana Huffington gave a great speech to the graduates of Smith College. But if they want great lives, they need to get the details from a relationship with Christ. It is in relationship with Christ that human beings find real fulfillment and success.


A Hymn For Meditation


Isaac Watts, by unknown artist. See source web...
Isaac Watts, by unknown artist. See source website for additional information. This set of images was gathered by User:Dcoetzee from the National Portrait Gallery, London website using a special tool. All images in this batch are listed as “unknown author” by the NPG, who is diligent in researching authors, and was donated to the NPG before 1939 according to their website. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Jesus Shall Reign Where’er the Sun

Jesus shall reign where’er the sun
Does his successive journeys run;
His kingdom stretch from shore to shore, 
Till moons shall wax and wane no more.

To Him shall endless prayer be made,
And praises throng to crown His head;

His Name like sweet perfume shall rise

With every morning sacrifice.

Blessings abound wherever He reigns;
The prisoner leaps to lose his chains;

The weary find eternal rest,

And all the sons of want are blessed.

 Let every creature rise and bring
Peculiar honors to our King;

Angels descend with songs again,
And earth repeat the loud amen!

                          Isaac Watts

  •  What are the benefits of Jesus’ reign in the heart of a believer?
  • This hymn ranges over images both temporal and eternal. What are examples of each?
  • Where can you find biblical images similar to the imagery in this hymn?
  • Can you think of psalms that include similar thoughts?
  • What comforting thoughts come to mind when you read or sing this hymn?