This Is America

People walking in building

Not African-America

Not Hispanic-America

Not Asian-America

Not Norwegian-America

Nor any other ethnic prefix. America is the original Heinz 57, mutt, half-breed country, filled with people of all nationalities who’ve come to blend together, forming one nation, indivisible. This is a country filled with almost all nationalities . . . otherwise known as AMERICANS!

Are there injustices here? Are there prejudices here? Is there hypocrisy here? Of course there are. There are people here aren’t there?

The language of America is a version of British English, known as American, molded and fashioned over a few hundred years. But it is basically, English. We speak English in America. Do you wish to live in this country? Then I suggest you learn the language as all the immigrants who’ve landed on these shores legally have. If any American decides to live in Portugal, guess what language they had better learn?

I don’t have the answers to all our ethnic problems but I do know this: if America continues to fragment itself based on ethnic origin, we will eventually collapse as we divide and establish ethnic boundaries. Hate will fill our land. And violence will be the order of the day.

One more thing: America has one flag. The flag of the United States of America. The United States! Pools of blood have been shed to maintain our freedom in these United States. Blood from all manner of ethnic veins. The blood was shed first in 1776 just to form the United States. Not to form a shattered, broken, dis-unified bunch of groups unwilling to share the same language and goals. What about your rights? A better question asked of all of us by this country would be: What are your responsibilities?

Who Should Be President?

img_1050

THE LESSER OF TWO EVILS!

It’s finally happened. The high-flying Red, White and Blue is stained with the wretched colors of thousands of political exaggerations and lies poured out onto the airwaves as well as the internet. Once votes are cast and counted the lesser of two evils will wear the mantle of President of the United States (are we united?)

Trump? Clinton? Which one will gleefully claim victory in November? Will either one allow the solemness of such an incredible responsibility remake them into a servant of the 320,000,000 people living here? If history teaches us anything useful (and it always does), we’ve just witnessed nearly eight years of empty promises and egotism instead of well-honed governing.

Regardless of which “lesser of two evils” walks into the Oval Office in January, God is quietly behind the scenes setting up scenarios that will fit perfectly into His end times puzzle. And then one day Jesus Himself will come down from heaven with an earth-shattering shout, the voice of the archangel and the trumpet call of God!

On that day whoever lives in the White House will suddenly realize the insignificance of their power and authority in comparison to the majestic, almighty power of God.

Death

IMG_6221

People are destined to die once. . .Hebrews 9:27

After church a group of friends were sitting around the fellowship hall, finishing off the last of the desserts and coffee. The sermon had them all talking. . .about death!

The pastor challenged everyone to think about death. “What will it bring? Are you sure you are ushered into the presence of Christ just after your last breath? Is death on earth the end or could there be another life-experience that follows? There are some ‘religions’ that believe we experience something called reincarnation which means:

The religious or philosophical concept that the soul or spirit, after biological death can begin a new life in a new body.

“Although that may sound exciting and full of promise, how does it line up with what the Bible teaches? Does the Bible imply that Jesus died on the cross for our sins in more than one life? If that is true, and we were reincarnated, would our statement of faith follow us into the next life? Understanding the bible provides the key to these and any other life or death questions.”

Hebrews 9:27 Everyone must die once, and after that be judged by God.

This simple verse declares with authority that every person must die once. Just as Jesus himself died physically to offer the ultimate sacrifice for sins forever, we too will die once.

Genesis 3:19 All your life you will sweat to master it, until your dying day. Then you will return to the ground from which you came. For you were made from the ground, and to the ground you will return.

Romans 6:23  For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

1Thessalonians 4:15-16  I can tell you this directly from the Lord: that we who are still living when the Lord returns will not rise to meet him ahead of those who are in their graves. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven with a mighty shout and with the soul-stirring cry of the archangel and the great trumpet-call of God. And the believers who are dead will be the first to rise to meet the Lord.

Revelation 6:9-10  Then the Lamb broke open the fifth seal. I saw underneath the altar the souls of those who had been killed because they had proclaimed God’s word and had been faithful in their witnessing. They shouted in a loud voice, “Almighty Lord, holy and true! How long will it be until you judge the people on earth and punish them for killing us?”

Philippians 1:21-24  For to me, living means opportunities for Christ, and dying—well, that’s better yet! But if living will give me more opportunities to win people to Christ, then I really don’t know which is better, to live or die! Sometimes I want to live, and at other times I don’t, for I long to go and be with Christ. How much happier for me than being here! But the fact is that I can be of more help to you by staying!

Job 19:25-27  “But as for me, I know that my Redeemer lives, and that he will stand upon the earth at last. And I know that after this body has decayed, this body shall see God! Then he will be on my side! Yes, I shall see him, not as a stranger, but as a friend! What a glorious hope!”

1 Corinthians 15:51-53  But I am telling you this strange and wonderful secret: we shall not all die, but we shall all be given new bodies! It will all happen in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, when the last trumpet is blown. For there will be a trumpet blast from the sky, and all the Christians who have died will suddenly become alive, with new bodies that will never, never die; and then we who are still alive shall suddenly have new bodies too. For our earthly bodies, the ones we have now that can die, must be transformed into heavenly bodies that cannot perish but will live forever.

“As we can see,” the pastor continued, “God has created all humans and has established a process, a life-cycle that ends in our death…unless Jesus returns first. But this death is only the death of our bodies, not our soul. As Jesus was resurrected from his grave, so shall we who believe experience a resurrection into eternal life.

If God had planned for us to live again, as another person, he would have explained the process to us in the Bible. However, there is nothing in the Bible about dying and coming back as different people, over and over. When would that end? No, God’s plan is for us to understand who he is, how much he loves us, that he has given Jesus to die for our sins and that he has prepared a special place for us with him in eternity. Better than reincarnation here on earth, condemned to living difficult lives over and over, Christians have the promise of a sinless, perfect life, forever with God!

The Battle Is Not Yours

The Battle Is Not Yours

They were running wildly without purpose, screaming at the top of their lungs, “Run Chicken Little, the (financial) sky is falling! Save yourself. Sell all your stuff.”

And then, sure enough, fear and alarm crept into the hearts of the inhabitants of the land. “Oh what will become of us?” they wailed. “Our government has turned their backs on us. We are doomed for sure. Our investment portfolios (which they had been persuaded to accumulate by investment experts) are diminishing like water through a sieve; and now we’ve no retirement funds or hope for the future. We need to find a ledge or a gun to end all this madness.”

But wait. Just when it all seemed hopeless and lost, a voice of reason could be heard over the tumult.
“I can help. It is time for change and I bring that change with me. We shall all work together now, lifting up those who are weak, borrowing from those who have more than they need, lending to those who can repay, finding jobs for the jobless, providing succor to the homeless and starving, and establishing health care for all!”

“Hurrah,” the crowds burst forth. “We are not lost. There is hope. We have a new leader; a man of compassion, understanding, and brilliance.”

And so it was that the people of the land stopped fretting, fearing, and running anxiously and aimlessly. They settled in with giddy anticipation and excitement, awaiting the unfolding of this new plan of hope and restoration.
Surprisingly, no one seemed to notice that although they were facing huge unemployment statistics, reduction in wages, mortgage foreclosures, massive credit card debt and disappearing retirement funds—the new leader spoke from high atop his new residence, overlooking the land and its people.

Nor did anyone (except for some nasty revolutionaries) seem to mind that he and his staff lived in luxuriant surroundings, fed and clothed by the same people living in perilous financial times. When the subject did arise, which was more seldom each day, all the people reasoned that any leader must be safe, well-fed, fully staffed, and carted to and fro at no personal cost. After all, they mustn’t have to worry about their future. They had enough to do with planning the futures of their people.

And so began a new period in this land’s history. A period that began with fresh hope and dreams aplenty. Like all plans that do not include a dependence on Almighty God, slowly but surely they morph into layers of dissatisfaction, unhappiness, greed, self-serving leaders and corporations. Within a generation, the manifestations reappear. The temporary fixes have eroded and crumbled, exposing partial foundations, incapable of supporting the gigantic edifices that now demand more and more repairs, with more and more funding (time for the people to increase their tax obligations once again).

As the sad realization creeps into the hearts of all the residents across the land, a few stand above the mass of hopelessness, declaring a long forgotten and despised refrain…God is love! Look to Him for hope.
Most adamantly reject this idea and work harder at ostracizing these men and their foolish ideas. “Of course we’ve had hard times,” they snort, “But with positive attitudes, visualizing, calling into being what we need, the laws of the universe will positively respond in our favor.”

Gathering themselves together, they proceed into the distance, chanting and meditating for future success and mystical direction (tea leaves anyone?).

For the few who recall the faith of their fathers, it is time to dig into attics, basements and dusty shelves for their Bibles to kick start their dormant faith in God and His resurrected Son, Jesus Christ.

In those Bibles is an important verse which focuses on the real enemy, the actual battle foe: “We are not fighting against humans. We are fighting against forces and authorities and against rulers of darkness and powers in the spiritual world. 13 So put on all the armor that God gives. Then when that evil day comes, you will be able to defend yourself. And when the battle is over, you will still be standing firm.” Ephesians 6:12-13

Searching out the forgotten buildings formerly attended with joy, lines of people enter a sanctuary with writing above the door—Yet those who wait for the Lord will gain new strength; they will mount up with wings like eagles, they will run and not get tired, they will walk and not become weary. Isaiah 40:31

Capitalism and Democracy

Weekly Bible Study

Capitalism and Democracy

“…But she, out of her poverty, put in everything…” Mark 12:44

            Do the words capitalism and democracy have any relationship to Christianity? Do any of the Christian tenets align themselves with these words? No. Jesus Christ did not take his last breath on Calvary’s cross so we in this country could demand our individual rights and live in materialism. For true followers of Jesus, capitalism and democracy are polar opposites of how we should live.

When we say something like, “God has really blessed us (our church, family, business)”, what do we usually mean? Most often we are referring to numbers in attendance, material possessions, and money .

Until we realize capitalism and democracy have nothing to do with God’s Word, our understanding will be off center, warped. We must stop viewing the Scriptures through the filter that sees success as monetary gain or employment recognition (raise, promotion).

As long as we continue viewing the Bible through capitalistic/democratic glasses, our spiritual vision will be skewed in favor of what’s best for us. Remember that the Bible was not written in America. Continue reading “Capitalism and Democracy”

Weekly Photo Challenge: Foreign

Romanian Demonstration
Romanian Demonstration

Romanian Demonstration. About sixteen months after the downfall of dictatorial leadership for 40-some-years, I accompanied an American pastor to capture photographic images for him. This was in Bucharest on my first day. I wasn’t sure if I could take pictures but decided to chance it.

NO TITHE? NO WORRY!

Image

Leaning against his newly constructed Tuscany marble marquee, Reverend Stillman flashed a million dollar smile at the workers atop the magnificent 150 foot electronic steeple/belfry, as they attached the copper clad peak.
Beautiful. Simply beautiful,” he reverently effused to Bob Jenkins, head elder at the Stunning Revelation of Enlightened Saints church.
Amen reverend. Amen,” brother Jenkins affirmed, flashing his own glistening smile. “You know, at the beginning of this marketing campaign…”
Whoa, brother Jenkins. Let’s rephrase that statement, please. What we are seeing here is the culmination, the fruit if you will, of our successful, four-year Tithing Big Because You Can’t Outgive God campaign. This is also a reminder of God’s hidden promise to increase our storehouses to show how much He loves us.”
Right on, rev. Right on. I slipped up on that one for sure. So, did you ever dream the final tally on our opulent palace of God’s promises would add up to $12 million? Heh, heh, heh. It sure surprised me, I’ll tell you.”
Oh ye of little faith, Bob. I’ve always wanted to say that to someone. Well that’s just one more example of why I am the Reverend in charge of this great work of the Lord and you are just the head elder who can be replaced at any time. Heh, heh, heh. 
As a matter of fact, I had no idea how much it would finally cost but I did know that the good and generous folks here at Stunning Revelation would cough up the cash…er, so to speak. Brother Bob, it takes money to represent the Lord in a building. What would we be saying to the world if we put up some two-bit, $200,000 chapel?”
Oh, well, I think…”
Rhetorical Bob. Simply rhetorical.”
I can tell you what we would be saying to the world. God is cheap and He doesn’t care about our amazingly beautiful building. Now we know that isn’t true don’t we. Uh. Save it Bob. God told Solomon to build a great temple, adorned with gold and silver and precious jewels. And He’s passed that assignment on to us. No matter what the cost.”
Well, I’m sure you are right, Rev. At least it always seems that way. By the way, I’ve been meaning to give you the ol’ thumbs up for such creative preaching and teaching on the principle of tithing. After a while, I simply gave up on trying to find all those verses. And then making the ones I did find line up with your teaching. Just one more classic example of why you’re the reverend and I’m not.”
Amen brother. Amen. God has given me the spirit of divination and wisdom and discernment, and…well, that’s enough about me. I need you to arrange a meeting with the building committee next week to reveal my plans for our missionary outreach chalet in Switzerland.
Was that thunder I heard? Sounds pretty close!”

Although the Stunning Revelation of Enlightened Saints Church is fictional, begging and cojoling congregants and parishoners for more and more money, using the Bible as leverage, is not. Quite the contrary. Church leaders have taken many liberties with the tithing principle to shore up dwindling coffers and shaky building programs. Pastors routinely prepare annual tithing/giving sermon reminders. And how often have heard that special giving must not interfere with your tithe? More than once probably.
Should we tithe? And if so, to whom? Does God command it? Let’s look at the New Testament as we ask God to reveal the truth to us.
Here is a section of Scripture where Jesus rips open all pretext and exposes our intentions, using a poor widow as an example. Luke 21: “And He looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the treasury. And He saw a certain poor widow oputting in two small copper coins. And He said, “Truly I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all of them; for they all out of their surplus put into the offering; but she out of her poverty put in all that she had to live on.”
I must confess that I am stunned by the implication of Jesus’ words, “…but she out of her poverty put in all that she had to live on.” All that she had to live on? Are we to take His words literally? That seems to fly in the face of our reasonable logic. What about the tithe? I tithe regularly…well, semi-regularly. Plus I help people here and there (keeping a mental tally to soothe my conscience). Although reeling from this apparent revelation, I think we should move on to either fortify what we’ve just read or, temper this dramatic expectation (sounds like my carnal self talking).
Because we have so many expenses in the American church, and because the IRS has agreed to lighten the tax burden on those who do contribute to those expenses, we see a financial light at the end of our annual income tax obligation. Not only may we deduct direct contributions, but we find that gifts-in-kind may also fall into that “lighten the tax burden” category. Of course there are limits as to what may qualify. And I am certain that we have always been completely honest regarding those guidelines. As a friend of mine used to say regarding our honest intentions, “Do you swear on your love for Jesus?”
Hold on to your seat because I have another one of those “throw-cold-water-in-your-face” scriptures regarding our giving habits. Look at Matthew 6 . . . “Be careful not to perform your religious duties in public so that people will see what you do. If you do these things publicly you will not have any reward from your Father in heaven. So when you give something to a needy person, do not make a big show of it, as the show-offs do in the synagogues and on the streets. They do it so that people will praise them. Remember this! They have already been paid in full. But when you help a needy person, do it in such a way that even your closest friend will not know about it, but it will be a private matter. And your Father, who sees what you do in private, will reward you.”
Is it cold in here? Because I feel as though someone just stripped me bare and I am standing naked before His eyes. How often do I subtly suggest or outright tell friends or associates about my giving or helping others? And what about income tax incentives? Am I willing to give anonymously, foregoing all tax credits?

Point of Reference

I had some time this morning, between organizing my piles, my digital images, and finishing an article on Faith in Rural America, so I watched an old Touched By An Angel episode. After wiping away the tears (it was the one with Wynona Judd and her son has a disease) and refreshing my coffee, I came into the living room to see president Bush beginning a speech at some global financial conference (now why would anyone ask George W. to speak here). Even though I voted for the man, and yes I am so, so sorry; I cannot stand to hear him speak. So I watched his expressions and read the synopsis phrases listed on the screen. I now think I will always “listen” to speeches this way. By muting the sound I could concentrate on his expressions which ranged from condescending, patronizing, smug, arrogant, to blank and deadpan. When I matched up the words, his appearance seemed even more ludicrous and meaningless.

Now this, I thought, is an opportunity for this man to confess his bad decisions, explain why they were made and leave us with bits of hope for the future. Forever the optimist, I was startled into seeing him deny all responsibility, casting blame all around. Well all around except for his administration. He did caution us that too much government control was a bad thing and our “difficulties” had nothing to do with the free market theology he always espoused.

After spending about twenty minutes looking into his eyes and reading the speech excerpts, I was hotter than my coffee. And then I remembered that there will never be a perfect world this side of eternity. We are all doing our best or worst, trying to slug our way through the challenges and difficulties, forgetting about or never knowing the Salvation offered by Jesus Christ. He offers peace and hope which is what began to wash over me once again.

Before I knew it, I was once again cooler than my coffee, basking in the supernatual peace freely given to me by Christ Himself. Now I can make it through another day, looking forward to His return.