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Thursday, May 31, 2012

One Small Devotion - The Naked Truth

You've heard the expression "the naked truth."  Now hear the story.

Two men, Truth and Falsehood, went swimming.  Falsehood stole Truth's clothes, and Truth, rather than lower himself to wear Falsehood's clothes, chose to go without.  Falsehood, in the guise of Truth, goes about deceiving mankind to this day.*

Abortion, to name one big, giant example, goes about dressed as health care, freedom, choice, and right.  It comes to "help" in family planning and in reducing the number of unwanted children and poverty.  It appears almost saintly.

Paul, in dealing with the problem of false apostles, says that we should not be surprised, "for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light" (2 Cor. 11:14).

"Truth" is a key Biblical word and especially in the Gospel of John.  Jesus says on the eve of His crucifixion, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life" (John 14:6).  And then we learn that He hung on the cross without His garments and clothing (John 19:23-24).  The naked Truth.

Ask yourself whether your church and pastor teach the naked truth about sin and the punishment we deserve, as well as about Christ who came and took our sin and suffered the punishment in our place.

And become a voice of the naked truth, adorned only with love.

*story told by Richard Wurmbrand

Reposted from ""

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

CrossTalk: Human Freedom

Shin Dong-Hyuk was born in prison. Not just an ordinary prison, he was born in a North Korean political prison, a labor camp, a death camp. These places are designed for one purpose: to destroy human beings. An estimated 200,000 people live there in perpetual, gnawing hunger, squalid filth and numbing cold. They do hard labor 18 hours a day, 7 days a week until they die at an astonishingly young age.

But as horrible as these conditions are for the human body, the real design is to break the human spirit. Privileges and beatings are used to condition every mind and heart to see itself as totally alone. Fellow prisoners are viewed as competition for food and as snitches when you break the rules. You are trained from birth to take and hoard for yourself and earn favors by accusing fellow inmates, to view all, even your own parents, siblings and children, as enemies. It is this attitude, more than the filthy conditions, that turns human beings into animals.

Shin’s story is told in a newly published book by Blaine Harden: "Escape from Camp 14." It is difficult to read this story, but impossible to put down. For it is a profound lesson in the meaning of freedom and the meaning of humanity. It gave special meaning to my Memorial Day weekend and the Festival of Pentecost which we marked last Sunday.

On Memorial Day, we gathered with family and friends to remember the 1,343,812 American soldiers who gave their lives in defense of the inalienable rights endowed upon all by their Creator. In the exact opposite of selfishness, these brave human beings gave their very lives to spare you from the conditions that Shin and so many others in places like Korea, Germany, Japan and Russia experienced. I hope that this memory leads you to go out of your way and thank a soldier for his selflessness and willingness to pay the ultimate price not for himself but for you.

I also hope that thoughts of selflessness lead you to see more clearly than ever that human freedom is never a freedom to live for self. Rather, it is the freedom to live for others. To be a human being is to care for others. It is for this you were created, for this you were born. When God created Adam out of the dust of the ground, he remained a mere shell of a man until God breathed into him His life-giving Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit of the God who gives what makes you unique and different from an animal.

Examine your own actions and feelings honestly and you will find plenty of examples of the kind of selfishness that takes from others and accuses others for your own gain. These attitudes and actions reveal our own great need to be freed. Even as our bodies are free to be human, our minds still linger in that captivity which makes us like animals, living apart from and against the Spirit of the Living God.

Today the Church celebrates "Pentecost Tuesday." Today we rejoice that Christ has made His Spirit available to all the world through the voice of His Church. This voice of Christ calls us back to true humanity, the selflessness of God Himself. And this voice is more than a demand. Through it, Christ actually gives the freedom that His own death has bought us. It is the freedom to live as vessels of the Holy Spirit. As Jesus says to all who hear and receive Him, "I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly." (John 10:10).

Monday, May 28, 2012

Welfare State as Spiritual Temptation - James R. Rogers

One difference between liberal Christians and conservative Christians is how much weight each places on the violence inherent in government action. While authorized for “the good,” according to St. Paul in Romans 13, the magistrate nonetheless “bears the sword.” While God-ordained, Paul paints us a realist picture of the human basis for the magistrate’s power: It is violence or, more usually, the threat of violence.

As Christians think about social obligations—obligations to others—I think this distinction between the means by which the church operates and the means by which the magistrate operates matters. This doesn’t mean that the government should never transfer wealth. But it does mean that the conditions under which the government transfers wealth are different than the conditions under which the church transfers wealth.

I accept the preferential option for the poor (consistent with the biblical admonition not to be “partial to a poor man in his dispute”). But I worry about the church inviting a multiplication of state-sanctioned violence against others when it is the church’s failure to live up to her mission that prompts a good part of the need for that violence. Let me explain.

The New Testament instructs Christians to use our resources to take care of our pastors and to take care of the needy. But the average Protestant donates a paltry estimated 2.5 percent of after-tax income, and Catholics less than that.

Of this 2.5 percent for Protestants, I’d guess that the largest proportion of those funds go to support services provided to the congregation itself—to the meeting of the congregations’ own needs rather than the charitable assistance of those outside it. First, there is pastoral support. St. Paul, again always the realist, notes that pastors must make their living from the Gospel. Most pastors are undercompensated relative to the important responsibilities they bear. Then there are mortgages, building upkeep, and the like. (Not that I’m opposed to beautiful church buildings.) That leaves a small residual of the 2.5 percent to go to the needy.

In such a case, how could anyone object to churches asking the state to step in and help the poor? What if the numbers of poor are so great that even a generous church could not take care of them all?

The problem is that when church officials petition the government for increased government assistance to the needy, the claim implicit in these petitions is that, because the Christian laity is, on average, so miserly, the government needs to step into to provide for the poor whom the church neglects. Rather than a lecture on social justice from church officials aimed at government officials, I’d prefer to hear a humble acknowledgement of sin and failure for the lamentable aggregate level of the church’s charitable work. We’re asking the civil government to increase its efforts because the church cannot or will not.

That said, I see few problems with church leaders going to a city council, or state legislature, or even Congress, and testifying that that the needs of the poor are so great that the government needs to do something to help. Yet it is at least an embarrassment for church leaders to petition political power—even in the name of “social justice”—when the Christian house is in such dismal shape.

While it is a shame, the move to soliciting political authority is understandable. Church leaders and concerned Christians face time and resource constraints as do the rest of us. “Rent seeking” is not limited to corporations seeking to make a profit through government largesse rather than through making a better product. For churches, it is easier and more effective to aid the poor by asking the government to coerce money out of one’s congregants (and non-Christians as well) than it is to inspire lay folk to embrace the new humanity that Jesus Christ has created in us.

But consider: Holding current church expenditures constant, increasing contributions from church members to eight percent or even ten percent of income would generate huge sums that could be devoted to the needy.

Ginning up donations, however, is the hard road. Given the imperative that the needy should be fed, how much easier it is to step around the church and the power of the Gospel, and instead to make a friend of violence. It’s all in service of a good cause, after all. With the magisterial sword, no need to change hearts and actions. We only need to threaten. What a temptation it is to call on magisterial violence to accomplish God’s work. I am not a pacifist, and therefore do not object to the sword in principle. But as with war, I think that use of the magisterial sword needs justification.

There is also the impact on the church. Once the move is made to the domain of the civil sword, it’s difficult for the church to go back. If the church has ceded responsibility for the needy to the state, then what’s the point of increasing contributions to the church? To be sure, there will always be interstices in government welfare, but filling in the cracks of the welfare state is hardly a stirring call.

There are other ventures—like international missions and other domestic ministries—to which a generous church in a welfare state could attend. But our practices shape our thinking. Once we get used to having civil authority take the lead in responsibility for an issue, then we start to think of it as the natural state of affairs. The cost for the church is that the ease with which civil authority gets results becomes a temptation, and so we look to the state’s coercion for the answers rather than to the Gospel. And that impoverishes the church, as well as society more generally.

I do not at all suggest no role for the civil authority. In noting that the magistrate carries the sword, Paul does not run away from its role in providing for “the good.” But understanding the role of the state to be filling in the interstices left by a generous church is quite different than what we have today. Even more so, because the civil authority necessarily uses violence, or its implicit threat, to implement its goals, I would suggest that there is a different threshold for state action relative to ecclesiastical action. In particular, the church needs to be concerned about her witness when she advocates coercing non-Christians to achieve her distinctively Christian vision of the good that can be reasonably obtained in this world.

James R. Rogers is department head and associate professor of political science at Texas A&M University. He leads the “New Man” prison ministry at the Hamilton Unit in Bryan, Texas, and serves on the Board of Directors for the Texas District of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Coming Struggle

“This commandment, that we should love our enemies and forgo revenge will grow even more urgent in the holy struggle which lies before us (in which we partly have already been engaged for years.) In it love and hate engage in mortal combat. It is the urgent duty of every Christian soul to prepare itself for it. The time is coming when the confession of the living God will incur not only the hatred and fury of the world, for on the whole it has come to that already, but complete ostracism from 'human society,' as they call it. The Christians will be hounded from place to place, subjected to physical assault, maltreatment and death of every kind.  We are approaching and age of widespread persecution. Therein lies the true significance of all the movements and conflicts of our age. Our adversaries seek to root out the Christian Church and the Christian faith because they cannot live side by side with us, because they see in every word we utter, and every deed we do, even when they are not specifically directed against them, a condemnation of their own words and deeds. And they are not far wrong. They suspect, too, that we are indifferent to their condemnation. Indeed, they must admit that it is utterly futile to condemn us. We do not reciprocate their hatred and contention, although they would like it better if we did, and so sink to their own level.

“And how is the batter to be fought? Soon the time will come when we shall pray not as isolated individuals, but as a corporate body, a congregation, a Church: we shall pray in multitudes (albeit relatively small multitudes) and among the thousands and thousands of apostates we shall loudly praise and confess the Lord who was crucified and is risen and shall come again. And what prayer, what confession, what hymn of praise shall it be? It will be the prayer of earnest love for these very sons of perdition who stand around and gaze at us with eyes aflame with hatred, and who perhaps have already raised their hands to kill us. It will be a prayer for the peace of these erring, devastated and bewildered souls, a prayer for the same love and peace that we enjoy, a prayer which will penetrate to the depth of their souls and rend their hearts more grievously than anything they can do to us. Yes, the Church which is really waiting for its Lord, and which discerns the signs of the times of decision, must fling itself with its utmost power and with the panoply of its holy life into this prayer of love.”
A. F. C. Vilmar, 1880