Numbers, Dollars, and Sense

As I am writing this, our country; the United States of America and the world is in the midst of the Coronavirus COVID – 19 pandemic. However, the thing that is troubling me, even more than the pandemic itself is the diverse reactions and responses to it!

Even after all this time and the untold numbers of those who have fallen ill and died, there are many who are still claiming that it’s not that bad and that it is more important to get back to work to save the economy! In the state of Georgia, where I live, the governor has lifted restrictions and allowed businesses, such as hair salons, tattoo parlors, barber shops and other business where it is impossible to maintain social distancing to re-open! This is being done at a time when the rates of infection and deaths are still going up and the state is nowhere near bringing testing up to point to adequately gauge the virus spread! (One of the suggested federal guidelines stipulated that no state should attempt to reopen until there has been at least a 14-day decline in the infection rate!) The governor states that he has been listening to the medical and scientific experts, but one wonders who they are when the data suggest otherwise.

But at any rate, the thing that is so disturbing to me is that our country; the United States, is any and everything but ‘united!’ In the midst of this pandemic, which is the greatest crises this nation has faced since 911, many members of Congress and the President are obsessed with petty politics and political power! Instead of working together for the good of the country, many of our government leaders are focused on what’s good for their own political party and power base!

For the last several years, even before this present crisis, the American public and even the world has been subjected to an unbelievable display of petty, immature, and narcissistic behavior that is unmatched in the history of American politics! If someone had suggested twenty years ago that this would have been the ‘norm’ of American politics, they would have been deemed as crazy, because such levels of incompetence and the absence of human decency were beyond anyone’s imagination!

Who would have thought back then, that there ever would come a day in America when there would be a debate about which is really more valuable; the economy or human lives? Who would have thought that there would come a day in our country when people would have to actually decide, on a personal level, whether to go to work to pay their bills or stay home to save their lives?

The government leaders are saying that the economy should open when there are acceptable rates of infections and deaths. But what about the people who are actually being infected and the people who are actually dying? Is the sacrifice really worth it to them? In a country where there is already systemic discrimination in health care and benefits, is it reasonable to sacrifice the health and lives of people who were already being sacrificed and think there is some moral justification in it?

There is an effort by some to show appreciation for the health-care workers and other people who are hourly and daily sacrificing their health and lives for the sake of others, and that is good. But, would those who advocate opening up the country for the sake of the economy in spite of the overwhelming good-sense recommendations that it is too soon, be willing to make sure those and the families of those who get sick and die as a result of this premature action be compensated in some way? I think not! For those who are pushing such actions have already, by their actions, prove they value dollars over human lives!

I am not an economist, neither am I a business owner, but I do have bills to pay! Therefore, I have enough sense to know that we cannot indefinitely pause the economy! I know we cannot keep our present course indefinitely! But in the meantime, we should be willing to be patient and make some sacrifices if that means we are saving human lives! For we must all remember, the numbers we see and hear about in the discussions about infections and deaths, are not just numbers; they are people! They are husbands, wives, daughters, sons, grandparents and grandchildren! Their sickness and their deaths have an immediate impact upon the lives of countless other people!

And so, I appeal to you, no matter where you stand on the issue, this is much bigger than petty politics! It’s more important than the label of Democrat or Republican, liberal or moderate, right-wing or left-wing! When a person is sick or dead, none of that matters! This virus does not care about ethnicity, race, political persuasion, or social status! The real issue is not about numbers, because even just one is one too many! It’s not about dollars because how can anyone put a dollar-value on a human life? No! It’s not about the numbers or the dollars, it’s about sense! A sense of decency! A sense of mutual respect! A sense of what is right and what is wrong! As far as the dollars are concern, I hear a carpenter from Nazareth of Galilee, asking questions that have echoed down throughout the centuries: “What good will it do someone if he gains the whole world but forfeits his life? Or, what can a person give in exchange for his life?” (Matt. 16:26 CJB) My modern-day Miller Translation is this: “What good is it to restart the economy at the expense of human life? What profit is it to the economy if people are too sick or too dead to benefit from it?” Some one might say that it will benefit those who are left! But how cold and callous can you be to sacrifice the life of someone else for your own? Such an attitude of one of privilege and superiority, which just might be the root-cause of this debate in the first place!

Coronavirus: Revelations and Lessons

Unless you have been living under the proverbial rock or on some remote island in the middle of sea, you have been, in some way or another, impacted by the spread of the Coronavirus. The economy and social structure of the entire world has been impacted. In the annuals of history, the Coronavirus Pandemic will rate on the scale of such catastrophic events as the World Wars, the assassination of JFK, the Space Shuttle catastrophe, and 911! And, just as it was in the aftermath of those red-letter-calendar events, things will not return to the way they were before the event occurred!

But, there are some lessons we can learn from this recent world-wide event that will be beneficial to all, if we would just learn them and adapt. First of all, Corona reminds us that we are indeed a global community and that our commonalities really are more than our differences. It didn’t matter what ideology, religion, political persuasion, ethnic or racial identity; all were and are impacted by the virus! The lesson to be learned? Since all are equally impacted, then it seems to reason that all are equally human! Therefore, the Coronavirus is just another, of a long, unending list of proofs that the artificial barriers and claims of ethnic and racial superiority that some promote are just plain nonsense! All are equally susceptible, but the proof of our humanity or the lack thereof, will be shown in how all are treated in response!

Although, I use email, social media, and other means of technology to communicate, I am somewhat of a ‘dinosaur’ in some other things. The lesson that this crisis is teaching me is the importance of being flexible and willing to adapt new ways of doing old things! Because of restrictions put in place in an effort to curb the spread of the virus, the congregation I lead is temporarily unable to meet as we normally would on Sunday mornings, Wednesday evenings, or on various other days for ministry activities. Consequently, I am being forced to experiment with making Facebook Live presentations and conducting virtual Bible Class and preaching to a camera instead of a live audience! Funny thing about it is that I am discovering that I am more nervous talking to a camera than I am addressing a live audience! Now, all of this is not necessarily a bad thing! The church has always been traditionally lagging behind in adapting new technology. But the adaption of new technology is needed in order to reach the current culture. I just pray that when this is over, people don’t prefer to remain socially distant!

And speaking of ‘social distance,’ the practice of maintaining social distance has forced us to re-establish the practice of family togetherness, which is really a good thing! Hopefully, being forced to remain in close proximity to the wife, the husband, the children, and the pets will force families to get reacquainted with one another and strengthen the family bond!

I realize we are in the midst of stressful times! We are having to do and endure some things that are unpleasant and undesirable, but as the Bible says in KJV English, “It shall come to pass!” I have talked with pastors and other church leaders who insist closing the church doors for this crises is giving in to fear and/or government control. But the bottom line is this: This is not a matter of faith, this is a matter of public safety and concern for one’s fellowman! Along that same line of reasoning, I just read of a beach in Florida, packed with people, in blatant disregard for the restrictive measures the CDC and the government are suggesting. Yes! People may have the freedom and the right to do something, but that doesn’t mean it’s right to do it!

We are all in this together! We should all do what we can to get through this with a minimum amount of sickness and death. So, if that means giving up some of my rights for the sake of the health and benefit of all, in my mind, that is the only loving and humane thing to do!

In the meantime, stay safe: Wash your hands, take care of yourself and your neighbor!

A Mess of the Message

I recently watched a documentary on Christianity in America. The focus of this documentary was how Christianity has been and is being used by various groups in America to foster their own agendas! The producers interviewed various people, from scholars, preachers, and church leaders, to people on the street, to get an idea of how they defined the Christian faith. As I watched, I was saddened to realize how much we have made a mess of the message!

It seems that the message of the Bible, more often than not, has been traditionally and historically manipulated to serve self-serving purposes! For example, ‘Christian’ slave-owners and segregationist abused the Bible in order to give a sense of divine sanction to slavery, segregation, White privilege, and White supremacy. I said ‘abused,’ but sadly even today, many of the same attitudes and beliefs that were prevalent back then, are still strong today! In fact, it seems that not only are they strong, but as of late they are experiencing a revival!

The LBGT community, White supremist groups, prosperity advocates, Civil Rights groups, traditional family values groups, White evangelicals, advocates of Gay-marriage and countless more, ‘all’ claim scriptural authority and legitimacy for their causes! The Bible declares that God is one, but from the looks of the mess we have made of the message today, God is many!

The core of the issue is the tendency for man to always create idols! What is an idol? An idol is a god of our own making! The Apostle Paul wrote to the Romans in regard to his people; Israel: “For I bear them record that they have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge. For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God.” (Romans 10:2-3 KJV) Now, the problem with Israel was not that they were ‘ignorant’ of God’s righteousness (God’s standard or what God requires) because they did not have knowledge. No! They were ignorant of God’s righteousness because they rejected the knowledge they had been given! Why did they reject it? They rejected it because it did not fit their agenda or their idea of how they wanted to live! As a consequence, instead adapting to God, they sought to make God adapt to them!

Isn’t that the same thing we are doing today? Instead of submitting ourselves to the message of God, as God gave it, we seek to alter the message to fit our own agendas and lifestyles!

And what have we made? A mess! People who scoff at the idea of a Supreme God have gain some degree of credibility because those who claim to know God and be in relationship God, are speaking mixed and often contradictory messages about what God is like! And then, the people who are sincerely seeking God are also confused because Church A is preaching one message as ‘the truth,’ while Church B is preaching a diametrically opposite message, but is also claiming to be speaking the truth! Now, logic dictates that Church A and Church B cannot both be right! (However, Church A and Church B can both be wrong!)

We have certainly made a mess of things! But that’s just the nature of humans; to make the simple complicated! That’s just the nature of humans, whenever we are unable or refuse to rise to the bar; we lower the bar! Before we will let go and trust something or someone other than ourselves, we will seek to make that something or someone a reflection of ourselves!

What is the solution? Is there such a thing as absolute truth? Now, the predominate thinking of the current culture says that there is not, but there is! How do we find it? I think the first step, even before addressing the concept of religion or morality is to just stop and think: Man didn’t invent himself with all of his intelligence. Therefore logic dictates that a being even more intelligent had to create him! So it’s really a matter of faith! Faith, not just as a religious concept, but also as a practical concept! You see, from a practical standpoint, EVERYBODY has and uses faith every day! At this very moment, thousands of people are boarding aircrafts to fly to various destinations around the world. But, you would be hard-pressed to find anyone refusing to board a plane because they don’t believe the pilot can fly the plane! Of all those thousands of people, no one wants to see the pilot’s licenses or certification papers! In fact, most don’t even care to even ‘see’ the pilot! Why? Because they have ‘faith’ the airline would not allow an incapable person to fly the plane! They have ‘faith’ the mechanics are doing their jobs to ensure the plane is flight-worthy! Most have no clue how the aerodynamics of lift and thrust work! Every single day, we trust and have faith in people we don’t know and in concepts we don’t understand! EVERYBODY has faith! So the issue is not a matter of faith, the issue is the matter of the placement of faith!

We have faith in men, who often fail because of limitations. Why not have faith in a God who never fails? A God who is loving! A God who longs to have a relationship with each and every person! How can we discover and meet this God? We cannot truly meet this God through our tainted and prejudicial traditions and doctrines, we can only meet Him as we read and study His word and allow that word to reveal God as God is and not as we want God to be! How do we know when we are doing that? When the God we meet in the Scriptures does not look, act, or think like us, but confronts and challenges us to look, act and think like Him! We will meet the true God when we give up the fight to shape Him and allow Him to shape us! We will meet the true God when we recognize the fact that other people are not really just ‘other’ people, but other people are, in a sense; us! We all need and are looking for the same thing, from the same Source, that is able to abundantly provided for all!

Until then, we should all pray for God to reveal and do our part to work to find and proclaim the good news that has been lost in the mess that we have made of the message!

It’s In Your Hands!

The story is told of some young foolish boys who were always trying to fool a wise old man who lived in their village. It had become somewhat of an obsession with the young boys, because every time they went to the old man with what they thought was an enigma, the old man would come up with an answer!

So one day, one of the little boys came up with what he thought was the perfect plan to stump the old man! He told his friends that he would go to the old man with a live bird within his closed fists and ask the old man if the bird was alive or dead. If the old man said the bird was alive, he would close his fists tighter and kill the bird! If the old man said the bird was dead, he would open his fists and the bird would fly away!

Completely satisfied that the plan would work, the boys took off to go see the old man, almost unable to contain their excitement at the thought of finally fooling the wise old man. When they arrived at the wise old man’s house, they eagerly presented him with their fool-proof riddle. They said: “Old man, Johnny has a bird in his hands! Tell us, is it alive or dead?” The old man sat silent for a moment, intently looking at their mischievous little faces. Then, the old man simply said, “The answer is in your hands!”

Well, that’s the way life is! Although many think it is in the hands of the governments, family, friends, circumstances, or situations, the ultimate success or failure in your life is in your hands! You can live life with open hands to give and receive, or you can live life with closed fists, attempting to hold on to what you have, not realizing that while a closed-fist secures what you have, it also prevents you from receiving more!

But not only is it in your hands, it is also in your head! Much of life is not ‘what it is,’ it is ‘what you think it is!’ The Bible says: “As a man thinks in his heart, so is he!”  The poet, Walter D. Wintle wrote:

If you think you are beaten, you are;

If you think you dare not, you don’t;

If you’d like to win, but think you can’t,

It’s almost a cinch you won’t.

If you think you’ll lose, you’re lost,

For out in the word we find

Success begins with a fellow’s will,

It’s all in the state of mind.

If you think you’re outcasted, you are;

You’ve got to think high to rise.

You’ve got to be sure of yourself before

You can ever win a prize.

Life’s battles don’t always go

To the stronger or faster man;

But soon or late the man who wins

Is the man who thinks he can.

Several years ago, I read Zig Ziglar’s book: See You At The Top, Ziglar wrote: “How you think determines what you become. . . The mind is a dutiful servant and will follow the instructions we give it. . . I am convinced your business is never either good or bad – out there. Your business is either good of bad between your ears. . . . You are what you are and where you are because of what has gone into your mind. You can change what you are and where you are by changing what goes into your mind. . . Realistically, most locked doors are in your mind.” In his famed work: Psycho-Cybernetics, Maxwell Maltz writes: “A human being always acts and feels and performs in accordance with what he imagines to be true about himself and his environment. This is a basic and fundamental law of the mind. It is the way we are built. . . .You act, and feel, not according to what things are really like, but according to the image your mind holds of what they are like. You have certain mental images of yourself, your world, and the people around you, and you behave as though these images were the truth, the reality, rather than the things they represent.”

Yes! But not only is it in your hands and in your head, it is also in your feet! Some weeks ago, I rode a bike for the first time in many years and I found out that it’s true what they say; if you ever learn how to ride a bike, you will never forget! Riding a bicycle teaches several fundamental lessons of life: The only way to remain upright and balanced is to keep moving forward at certain rate of speed! As long as the bike is moving forward; you’re making progress toward a destination and you are balanced. It’s alright to stop peddling for a while and coast, but if you wait too long before you start peddling again, it will be almost as hard to regain your momentum as it was when you first started! And if you keep coasting and never start peddling again, you will eventually stop; progress will no longer occur, you will lose your balance and you will fall, if you don’t stick your leg out! Yes! In many ways, life is like riding a bike; to make progress, to reach your goals, to maintain balance, you must keep moving forward at a certain rate of speed!

My bike-riding experience also reminded me of another truth! I noticed as I was riding that I had to constantly adjust my direction! Nothing major, just constant minor shifts! The same thing happens in driving a car! Even on a straight road, you have to make slight and minute shifts and adjustments. That’s the way life is! It is never perfectly straight! But, to get to where you want to go, you must first of all, have somewhere to go! We are designed to have goals and to work progressively toward them! In Psycho-Cybernetics, Maltz talks about the fact that human have a built-in success mechanism that must have a goal or a target. It’s in your feet because you will only find fulfilment in life as you walk or peddle your way toward your goals, making slight adjustments and sometimes major turns along the way!

Yes! It’s in your hands, it’s in your head, it’s in your feet, and it is also in your mouth! In your mouth, there is either a miracle or a mess! We used to say as kids: “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me!” Well, I found out that is not necessarily true! Not only can words hurt; words can kill! Jesus said: “I tell you that on the day of judgment people will have to account for every careless word they speak. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.” (Matt. 12:36-37 CSB17) The bad words other people say to you ‘may’ or ‘may not’ hurt you, but the bad words you say to yourself ‘will’ hurt you! When I say ‘bad words,’ I don’t mean profanity, I mean the put-down-words, the negative conversations we sometimes have with our selves! If others say we can’t do it, we can use that as motivation to prove them wrong! But if we say to our selves that we can’t do it; we’re doom to fail, because who can successfully argue with themselves and win?

Lastly, not only is it in your hands, in your head, in your feet, and in your mouth; it is also in your heart! Your heart is your uttermost desire! Your heart is what you want most in life! The commercial asks: “What’s in your wallet?” But an even more important question is: “What’s in your heart?” Jesus said: “For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good things, and an evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth evil things.” (Matt. 12:34-35 NKJ) Your heart contains the will and the fortitude necessary to get and achieve what you really want in life! You heart contains the treasure or the trash that motivates everything you do!

Yes! It’s in your hands! It’s not up to the government! It’s not up to the economy! It’s not up to your spouse or your children! It’s not even up to God! Ultimately, you must accept full responsibility for your life and say: “If it is to be, it is up to me!” Whatever you make out of your life, it is in your hands!

What is the Kingdom of God?

Recently, a friend posted on his Facebook page the poster you see above. I replied to his post by saying: “Good admonition! The problem is that most modern Christians have no idea what the Kingdom of God is!” Now, the irony of that reality is that the main theme of the ministry and life of Jesus was the Kingdom of God! The Kingdom of God was the subject of every one of his sermons! The Kingdom of God was the object of every one of his teaching sessions! The demonstration of the power and presence of the Kingdom of God was purpose for every one of his miracles! Yet, those who claim to follow him today, know very little about the Kingdom of God as he presented it!

Now, I hope you noticed what I just said: I said, “Those who claim to follow him today know very little about the Kingdom of God ‘as he presented it!” Most of what we think we know about the Kingdom of God today was gathered from the writings of theologians (Early Church and modern) and from ideas in art and culture, but what did Jesus say about the Kingdom of God?

As I write this, I am reminded of the frustrations I experienced as a young teen, helping my father in his work. My father was a greens-keeper at a golf-course and in the course of his work, he repaired and worked on small engines and the equipment used to maintain the course. When I first started working with him, during the summer-breaks from school, my frustrations stemmed from the fact that I was a little slow in remembering the names of the tools he worked with. For example, when my father would have his hands full working on a machine, he would ask me to bring him a Phillips-head screwdriver or a crescent-wrench. More often than not, before I got the hang of it, I would bring him a flat-head screwdriver or a pair of vice-grips instead! It was really frustrating for me to be rifling through the tool box, not knowing exactly what I was looking for! Often, when I couldn’t figure it out, I wouldn’t bring him what he asked for, I would just bring him what I thought he asked for!

Well, that’s the way it is with many Christians today! They really don’t know what Jesus meant when he said: “But seek ye first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness. . .” And since they don’t really know what he meant, they just go by what they think he meant! Just like the difficulty I experienced when looking in my father’s toolbox, it’s difficult to look for or even find something, when you don’t exactly know what you’re looking for!

So, what did Jesus mean when he said; “But seek ye first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness. . . ?” Well, I finally learned the tools my father needed by the process of elimination. In other words, even before I found out what vice-grips were; I found out what they weren’t! Therefore, let’s first look at what Jesus ‘did not mean’ when he talked about the Kingdom of God. Now, there were times when he did, but most of the time, when Jesus was talking about the Kingdom of God or the Kingdom of Heaven, he WAS NOT talking about the Heaven we most often talk about! I remember as a young Christian, when I first read Matthew 6:33, I just assumed that Jesus meant that our first priority should be; to seek to live a good life so that we might go to Heaven after we die! But that is not what he said and that is not what he meant!

Most often, when Jesus talked about the Kingdom of God, he was talking about the sovereign rule or the authority of God; the realm of God’s rule. In the preaching and teachings of Jesus, the terms; Kingdom of God and Kingdom of Heaven were not primarily referencing a place or location, but rather the act of ruling or the state of submission to God’s rule. Therefore, to ‘see’ and to ‘enter into’ the Kingdom of God in John 3:3 and John 3:5 are not references to seeing and walking through the pearly gates after death, but rather, to perceiving, understanding, and submitting to God’s sovereign rule in one’s life now! Note the tenses, Jesus did not say; ‘will not see’ or ‘will not enter’ (future tense), he said; ‘cannot see’ and ‘cannot enter’ (present tense). Now, there were times when he referenced the future aspect of the Kingdom of God. In the parables, he talked about the angels separating the wheat from the tares and separating the good fish from the bad fish. He talked about going away and preparing a place for us in John 14; that was future tense.

So in summary, here is what the Kingdom of God is from what we have discussed so far:

          The Kingdom of God is the sovereign rule of God.

          The Kingdom of God is a present reality.

          The Kingdom of God is a future hope.

Now, I don’t want this post to be too long, but I just want to focus on the aspect of the Kingdom of God as a present reality before I go. While traditional Christianity has done a good job of presenting the Kingdom of God as a future hope, it has done a very poor job of presenting the Kingdom of God as a present reality! The reason for that might be because it seems to be hard for people to wrap their heads around the reality that the Kingdom of God is not one or the other, but rather, the Kingdom of God is both! The Kingdom of God is indeed the culmination of history when God shall subdue all evil and sin, death and sickness will be no more and we will reign with God throughout eternity. Yes! That is the Kingdom of God! But the Kingdom of God is also, the sovereign rule, authority, and power of God working in and through the lives of His people for the purpose of His will being done presently on earth as it is done in Heaven! You see, the problem with traditional Christianity is that only one aspect of the Kingdom of God has been presented! We’ve done a great job in preparing people to die, but we have ignored the fact that there is one thing everybody must do before they die; they must live! We’ve done a great job in preparing people for life in the here-after, but we’ve done a dismal job in preparing people for life in the here-and-now! The Gospel that Jesus preached was like the candy I used to eat as a kid, called; Now-and-Later. But the gospel we preach makes the same mistake we made with the candy when we were kids! Although the actual name of the candy was and is: Now ‘and’ Later, we called it:  Now ‘or’ Later!  Jesus preached a ‘now and later’ message, but the message of most modern preaching is ‘now or later!’ And that message has no appeal to a person who is struggle to make ends meet and to survive in life! It’s really no real consolation to know that things will be better after they die; they need some relief now! The Gospel of the Kingdom of God that Jesus preached addresses that need! In Mark 10:28-30, we read: “Then Peter began to say unto him, Lo, we have left all, and have followed thee. And Jesus answered and said, Verily I say unto you, There is no man that hath left house, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my sake, and the gospel’s, But he shall receive an hundredfold now in this time, houses, and brethren, and sisters, and mothers, and children, and lands, with persecutions; and in the world to come eternal life.” (Mk. 10:28-30 KJV) Did you read what Jesus said? He said; ‘now in this time. . . and in the world to come. . .” The real Gospel, the Gospel of the Kingdom of God, the Gospel Jesus told us to actually preach is the now ‘and’ later Gospel!

 There is a lot more I could say about what the Kingdom of God is, but if I keep going, you will quit reading! But read Matthew 13 in your Bible. In that chapter, you will discover several examples of what the Kingdom of God is and what the Kingdom of God is like; now and later!