Render Unto Caesar

MP900316868We frequently hear sermons in churches around this date reminding us of Christ’s admonition to give the things of this world to the rulers of this world and the things that are  God’s to our Lord (Mark 12:17). These are reminders for us to keep an eternal perspective.

In the secular realm, we are often cautioned in mid-April that taxes, like death, are unavoidable. Christians should feel less trepidation when hearing that old saw. But, while Christians don’t need to fear death, we are subject to the same forms of taxation as everyone else in this life. It is how we carry our tax burdens that defines us.

A tax is not only a monetary levy placed on citizens by their government. A tax can be any sort of burdensome charge, obligation, duty, or demand. How we respond to these taxes depends largely on the source of the demand.

Our children, although demanding, are a source of joy and we usually try to meet their demands with wisdom and compassion, rather than resentment. We assume that particular burden or tax, gladly, even lovingly.

Obligations placed upon us by anonymous officials and laws, however, may be resented, or even avoided, if we think we can get away with it. How we feel about our taxes, or  our duties, is influenced by the relationship we have with the entity to which the duty is owed.

Today I am thinking about the obligations I have to Christ.  He taxes me with the duty of loving and caring for others, and with obedience to Him in all things.

If I don’t want to feel a burden from this duty, I need to have a closer relationship to the One who makes these demands.

Willing cooperation with this particular tax can only enrich me.

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The Season of our discontent

One day, after a particularly whiny session of pleading with the Lord, I was inspired to ask forgiveness for my discontent. I was reminded of Paul’s words in Philippians 4,  that he had found “the secret of being content in any and every situation,” and also his advice to the Thessalonians to give thanks in all circumstances.

Since I believe God hears and answers prayer, that He is a loving God who wants what is eternally best for me, that everything He allows in my life is for my good and His glory, how can I be discontented?  Like Paul, I can and should choose to be contented in every situation.

Paul found the strength of will to find contentment in the harshest circumstances by accepting that it was God’s will and by being grateful for whatever God allowed in his life.

Gratitude and discontentment cannot coexist for long. One will dominate and eventually extinguish the other. The one we feed and nurture will grow strong, while the other shrivels through neglect.  What begins as merely a transient season of emotion can become a fixed attitude.

Paul chose to nourish gratitude, looking always for the eternal perspective in his life, rather than dwelling on the various thorns and afflictions which can beset us all.

Our culture seems to be driven by discontent. The Blame Game has become our national pastime as we are on constant alert for offenses to share on social media.  While a little discomfort with the status quo can be the impetus for improvement and growth, it is necessary to stop focusing on the problems and begin taking stock of the good that exists before we can imagine how to make it better. We can focus on the irritants and disappointments in life or we can look for the blessings in our very existence.

Paul was an exceptional man and an example to us all, but he lived his life to point us to the ultimate example of the life well-lived, Jesus Christ.

As a Christian who believes the incredible, wonderful, amazing things God’s word tells us, how can I not choose to be grateful?

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Surely Goodness and Mercy Shall Follow Me

The beloved Twenty-third Psalm has been set to various tunes since Bible times, but my favorite version is “The Lord Is My Shepherd” by Jimmy Owens.  I learned this arrangement at a choir conference many years ago and, even today, I cannot read or recite that Psalm without hearing the music in my mind. One evening, while reading my Bible and humming along, I realized I might be missing or misinterpreting, some of the words.

I have always felt comforted by this Psalm and reassured by God’s promises, without ever noticing the commitment being made by David. King David praises God for His protection and His blessing, but when he writes “goodness and mercy shall follow me” might he not be speaking of David’s own actions?

If he’d written, “surely goodness and mercy shall greet me” or “surely I shall find goodness and mercy” we would know he was speaking of receiving God’s goodness and mercy. However, while some translations do say, “goodness and mercy shall pursue me” or “shall be with me”, most of the translations use the familiar “shall follow me.” To me, that opens up the possibility that this phrase is the commitment of David, in response to all the providence of God, to leave only goodness and mercy in his wake throughout his life.

Theologians and Bible scholars will probably scoff at this interpretation, but I like it.  It feels right to me to return something for God’s wonderful comfort and blessing, to promise God to pass on this same goodness and mercy to those I encounter.

rose petals

I delight in the mental image of leaving the pathways I walk strewn with goodness and mercy like rose petals, as I become a veritable litter bug of blessings.

All the days of my life.

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No foolin’!

History is under attack these days as a mere social construct subject to political manipulation. However, there still exist physical artifacts and historically proven writings to which those seeking the truth of the past may refer. Until all the museums and libraries are destroyed, there will remain a few eminently provable historical facts.

One of these is the historically documented fact that a man from Nazareth, a carpenter named Jesus, existed, was first acclaimed as the Jewish messiah, and then was crucified on a hill outside Jerusalem approximately 2000 years ago. As columnist Erick Erickson lays out so succinctly in his Good Friday entry on Townhall.com, the proofs are there for anyone to see.  And yet, we often hear unbelievers refer to Jesus contemptuously as the Christians’ “made-up God” or “their imaginary friend”.

Even those who refuse to accept Christ’s resurrection and divinity cannot deny the impact of His life on humanity.

This year, Easter, when Christians celebrate Resurrection Sunday, falls on April 1. We are sure to be deluged with snarky comments of the day being a great April Fools joke on believers.

Having studied the Scriptures, especially those already supported by archeology, and experienced for myself the blessings of His sacrificial death, I feel confident saying to the mockers and scoffers, “The jokes on you.”

The fool says in his heart,
    “There is no God.”
Silhouettes of Three Crosses –Psalm 53 (NIV)

 

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Child sacrifice in modern times

Child sacrifice is the ritualistic killing of children in order to please or appease a god or supernatural beings in order to achieve a desired result. (emphasis mine)

In Old Testament times, it was a common, albeit heinous, practice for some pagans to offer the lives of their children to their idols in hopes of making their own lives easier. Pre-Columbian cultures, such as the Incas and Aztecs, are known to have sacrificed infants and children to their pagan idols, as well.

The definition of idolatry, according to Webster, is “the worship of idols or excessive devotion to, or reverence for some person or thing.” 

To Jews and Christians, an idol is anything that replaces the one, true God in a person’s life.

In modern times, there is a tendency to look upon all previous cultures as primitive, unsophisticated, and infinitely inferior to ourselves. These oddly dressed people with their incomprehensible practices are thought of as almost a separate species. We cannot ever imagine living their lives, or falling victim to their ignorance and superstition. The very thought of such an abomination as sacrificing a child’s life in order to improve our own is unthinkable. Right?

If we are such superior creatures, why are millions of precious unborn children currently being sacrificed to such false idols as image, life-style, career, convenience, expedience, and politics? When we value any aspect of our own comfort and pleasure above the life of an innocent child, we are making of our wants an idol. Regardless of our amazing scientific or technological advances, we are no better than the idol worshipers of the long-ago past.

31 When you offer your gifts—the sacrifice of your children in the fire—you continue to defile yourselves with all your idols to this day. – Ezekiel 20:31 (NIV)

idolworship

 

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Good intentions

You may have read the book or seen the popular movie, The Help, a story of women’s lives in Mississippi during the very beginnings of the Civil Rights Movement of the 60’s. This story is told through the eyes of two black women working as maids and one white woman who was raised by a black maid and whose friends all employ black maids; two very different perspectives.

the helpGrowing up in rural Northern California as I did, the civil rights struggle was something we saw on TV, but didn’t usually experience first hand. Reading this book, I felt that I was able to understand and empathize with the people who had been hurt by the horrible Jim Crow segregation laws and attitudes of that era. At the end of the book, the author, Kathryn Stockett, wrote about her own growing up years in Mississippi during that troubling time. She explained that, as a white woman, she’d felt trepidation about writing in the first person for the two black maids in her story, because, no matter how sympathetic and well-meaning we may be,  it is impossible for any of us to completely empathize with another.

In this world of instant reaction and over-reaction on social media, we frequently see someone attacked for attempting to express sympathy or support. Some people don’t feel anyone has the right to try to empathize with another identity group, so they reject these comments as condescending expressions of some sort of ‘privilege’.  If prayers are offered, they are flung back at the speaker as meaningless, empty words. Seemingly no one is ever given the benefit of the doubt regarding their intentions.

Every person’s life is unique, so no one can ever truly understand another’s viewpoint.  Even ‘walking in their shoes’ is experienced with one’s own feet. This is an important truth to remember, both when trying to understand another person’s sensitivities and when we are the ones feeling wounded.

I can’t expect anyone to fully understand my struggles, so I need to be forgiving when someone inadvertently makes things worse while trying to empathize with me.

Perhaps we wouldn’t need to walk on the eggshells of political correctness if we would all agree to stop demanding complete empathy and begin to appreciate the well-meaning sympathetic gestures, instead.

Jesus is the only one who can fully empathize with anyone. While we can aspire to emulate Him, we cannot hold others to His supernatural standard of compassion.

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—His good, pleasing, and perfect will. – Romans 12:2 (NIV)
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Judge not? Not even rotten apples?

Christians who criticize our current culture are frequently reminded of Jesus’ admonition to “judge not.” This snippet pulled from the Sermon on the Mount is the only Scripture many people know, but they wield it like a club in their attempt to silence “hypocritical” Christians.

Townhall.com columnist, Michael Brown, has an insightful column today reminding everyone of the rest of Christ’s words in that famous sermon. (Read here)  He makes an excellent point, not only about Christ’s instruction on judging others, but on Biblical interpretation, as well.

One of the most important teachings on how to interpret the Bible is to remember to read it in context. If a passage is still unclear, compare it to the rest of the Bible’s teachings until you find the meaning which is in sync with the whole of Scripture. Despite what some people claim, God’s Word does not contradict itself.

Like statistics, individual words or phrases pulled from a text at random may be twisted or combined to underscore whatever point a person wants to promote. This is true of any piece of writing, not only the Bible.

Christians are to be discerning, to watch for false prophets and the rotten fruit they produce. Only by studying the Bible, hiding the words in our hearts and minds, can we make right determinations of what is being fed to us and reject the bad fruit before swallowing it.

I am sending you like lambs into a pack of wolves. So be as wise as snakes and as innocent as doves.   – Matthew 10:16 (CEV)

rottenapple

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Forgiveness in a world of entitlement

A few years ago I was asked to speak at a women’s meeting: “Just seven to ten minutes on the topic of forgiveness.” Easy, right? There are possibly hundreds of books written on the subject of forgiveness and I was being asked to sum it up in ten minutes or less.

It wasn’t as difficult as it might have been, though, because I’d thought about it a lot and already had a definite viewpoint. I had reached a place in my faith journey where I no longer felt entitled to judge or withhold forgiveness from those who cause me pain.

I believe every experience God allows into my life is for my good and His glory. Whether joyful or pain-filled, God has decided to let me have the experience as a gift. He walks with me, if I let Him, in the good times and bad, gently pointing out the lessons and blessings in each day. When I remember to look for both the lessons and blessings in even the minutia of my life, I have no time to worry about who’s to blame.

We are taught in Scripture that we have all sinned against God and He forgives us freely. I asked the women at the meeting to stand if they had never caused anyone pain by their words or actions. No one stood up. These women realized we all have, either willfully or inadvertently, caused others pain. In that respect, we are no different from those who hurt us.

Sometimes we may feel God is the one who needs our forgiveness, because He has the power to prevent our distress. Especially when someone we love is suffering or dies, it is very difficult to look for God’s blessing. That’s when it is important to remember God’s perspective is different from ours. He suffers with us and yearns to comfort us, but He has an eternal viewpoint and He places the greatest importance on our spiritual growth and well-being.

When we let go of our sense of entitlement to judge and hold grudges, we are free to find a world of blessings and spiritual growth.

23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, – Romans 3:23 (NIV)

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Peace in the midst of chaos

Every day we are bombarded with news of some person or group expressing outrage. Everyone seems to be on the lookout for a reason to be offended. There are chips on enough shoulders to build that controversial wall.

The most minor slip of the tongue or keystroke is blown into a major incident and becomes the cause for marches and protests. Even when your home team wins the Super Bowl, it is an excuse to cause a celebratory riot. While there are all too many really serious incidents deserving of moral outrage, when we over-react to every petty offense, we are left with no appropriate, proportional response to actual crime or catastrophy.

Today’s constant diet of crisis being fed to us by the media has resulted in an epidemic of emotional indigestion.

So, what is the correct reaction to all the turmoil? How do we find peace of mind and heart amid the cries of outrage and dire warnings of doom? As always, the antidote to our toxic culture is found in God’s word:

Rx

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things. – Philippians 4:6-8 New King James Version (NKJV)

You may take this prescription daily, as needed. There are no known unhealthy side-effects.

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Sodom & Gomorrah redux

My heart goes out to the families and friends of the murder victims in Florida.

Whenever such a heinous act is committed, it’s natural to wonder why and what we can do to prevent a recurrence. In today’s posting, columnist,  Todd Starnes  answers our first question, “Why did this happen?” He believes, as do I, it happened because evil exists.

As usual, this latest tragedy is being treated as a political failure calling for more and stricter laws. Surely, if only we elect the right leaders and enact the right laws, nothing like this can ever happen again, right?

We live in a society where the long-ago citizens of those cities whose names are synonymous with decadence and evil, Sodom and Gomorrah, would feel completely at home. Were they to step into today’s culture they might ask themselves why God destroyed their towns (ref. Genesis 18 & 19) while allowing our nations to thrive.

sodom destroyed

In our rush to remove every Biblical admonition and moral precept from our lives as “old-fashioned values” we have placed a seal of approval on every vile act ever recorded in the Bible as being condemned by God. Bible believers are publicly mocked or called insane, truth is subjective, gender is a social construct, all moral teaching has been removed from education and the public square, and we wonder why evil is rampant. When right and wrong are out of fashion, what else should we expect?

The real question we should be asking is, “Why has God stayed His hand?”

 

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