Tag Archives: government

I Might be an Idol Worshipper

And Samuel said to all the house of Israel, “If you are returning to the Lord with all your heart, then put away the foreign gods and the Ashtaroth from among you and direct your heart to the Lord and serve him only, and he will deliver you out of the hand of the Philistines.” So the people of Israel put away the Baals and the Ashtaroth, and they served the Lord only. 1 Samuel 7:3-4

In this story from 1 Samuel, it took the people of Israel 20 years of being back in the presence of God to finally turn back to Him. It was more or less their version of “just doing church”, without their hearts being in it. Samuel’s word to them at that point was, “if you are serious about your faith, you need to lose your idols.” So what about us? Are we willing to lose our idols?

I might be an idol worshipper if other people’s words on Social Media (i.e., Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. or any combination of them) take up more of my thought time each day than does God’s Word;

I might be an idol worshipper if I spend more of my money on my personal comfort than I do on the furtherance of God’s kingdom;

I might be an idol worshiper if it turns out my god’s heart aligns perfectly with one political party’s platform or the other;

I might be an idol worshipper if my greatest hope for our world’s social ills is the next election;

I might be an idol worshipper if my deepest regret for our world’s social ills is the last election;

I might be an idol worshipper if my ability to listen to you is intractably related to your politics;

I might be an idol …

Bracing for a 16-Month Season of Rants

Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed. Romans 13:5-7

political masksOne of the things that defines a culture is its communication patterns. And, by “culture”, I don’t just mean ethnicity. The legal profession is a culture. The world of healthcare is a culture. The businessworld is not only a culture unto itself, but consists of lots of subcultures as well. Being a distinct culture, each of these arenas has its own patterns of communicating. There is a way of talking that has evolved and that must be learned in order to fit in. Everyone knows this intuitively.

With the GOP debates this past week, we in the U.S. are entering into a season of politics (“season” means 16 grueling months of seemingly interminable mudslinging). Politics is a culture unto itself, with its own patterns of communicating. It is a culture which has become so pervasive here on social media, it almost defies having a “season” any longer. And the patterns of communication born out of our adversarial, two-ideology political culture have invaded (and superseded) virtually all other cultures, including the church. If I want to “fit” in this culture of Fox news versus MSNBC news, I must wear my agenda on my sleeve and lead out into every discourse wearing my colors proudly. I must learn pointed and outright mean-spirited ways of disparaging the other ideology, making it appear irrational and ridiculous. Of course, I may quote …

Apples of Gold

And Jesus said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.” Luke 20:8

He said to them,“Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”  Luke 20:25

apples of goldLuke 20 brings us two encounters between Jesus and his culture which centered around his authority.  By this time, of course (late in Jesus’ ministry on earth), the tension was mounting and the danger building…not unlike some of the “culture wars” in which the church finds itself today.  There are plenty of opportunities for us to speak into those divisions.  Of course we want to speak truth.  But we can speak truth with hearts at war or we can speak truth with hearts set on healing.

Our words can be “fitly spoken, like apples of gold…” or they can “curse people who are made in the likeness of God.”  The choice is ours.  And the model is Jesus.

In the first passage (Luke 20:1-8), the chief priests, scribes and elders questioned Jesus about the authority with which he was acting.  They were baiting him into what they presumed would be blasphemy, but Jesus would not bite.  He would not lower himself to engage in a war of words.  Oh, he could have…He knew the truth.  He could have justified hammering them with that truth.  He could have convinced himself that he was not afraid of the gospel and that it was time to take a stand for truth.  He could have used pretty much any of the excuses we use today to blast our culture with “the truth”.  But he sidestepped the entire engagement. He modeled restraint and held his tongue, even on a hot topic such as his spiritual authority in this world.  Sometimes, we are much better …

Who’s Stealing Christmas from Whom?

Tuesday Re-mix:

While Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were eating with him and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” On hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”  Mark 2:15-17

stealing christmasI guess I am not a big fan of the whole “stealing Christmas” notion.  You know, the news stories about how this city or that school has outlawed nativity scenes and has thus “stolen Christmas” from those of us who are religious and who want those things in the public square.  Or that neighbors or co-workers have a “Holiday Tree” instead of a Christmas tree, and thus have stolen Christmas from us.  Or that our secular society makes more noise about the commercial side of the season than about the spiritual side and, thus, has somehow stolen Christmas from those of us who are spiritual.  The whole idea of “stealing” is that someone to whom the thing did NOT belong removed it from someone to whom the thing DID belong.  But, to whom does Christmas belong?  If it is all about the coming Christ child, for whom did He come?

It is clear enough why Jesus came.  “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.”  This is clear not only because Jesus said this in such certain terms.  It is also clear by how he spent his time, and with whom he spent his time, and by how he taught, and by how he seemed …

Does Your Church Speak “Governmentese”?

Tuesday Re-mix –

How would you describe your church to your next-door neighbor?  How would you describe your church to that neighbor’s 6-year old daughter?  How would you describe your church to another pastor in your community?  How would you describe your church to the homeless person on the street?  HOPEFULLY, you answered each of these questions differently, because you cannot know how to describe your church appropriately unless you first know something about the person(s) to whom you are describing it.  Right?

The audience matters.  While the pastor down the street may want to know something about your church’s theology, your neighbor’s 6-year old daughter could not care less about that.  While your neighbor may want to know about your church’s location or your worship style or your ministries, the homeless person on the street just wants to know if there is a place there to get some food or to sleep for the night.  The point is, it is important to understand what the person wants to know before you start describing your church.

So what does the government want to know about your church?  What about the legal community?  Believe me, it is an entirely different set of questions from any of these, and probably different from anything you might imagine.  The government wants to know what kind of taxable entity you are, and if your are not taxable, the government wants to know why not.  The days when the IRS just “assumes” you are a church because of your name or just gives you the benefit of the doubt are long gone (if those days ever really existed in the first place).  The lawyers, on the other hand, want to know what kind of legal entity you are (that is a different question from what type …

Church Government: The Negative Space in God’s Word

Tuesday Re-mix –

In the world of visual art, the use of “negative space” is important.  In any sculpture or painting, the artwork sometimes says as much by areas is doesn’t cover as it does by actually covering.

You and I would call it the “blank space” on the canvass, i.e., the area where the artist chose not to paint.  That space becomes an integral part of the art itself.  In fact, some might claim that the negative space the artist creates in a particular work is what makes the work perfect.

I have come to believe that part of the perfection of scripture, i.e., the Word of God, is the “negative space” it creates within its pages…parts of the story intentionally not told or clarified, left out for reasons only God knows.

For example, wouldn’t you like more details from Jonah about exactly what happened inside that fish for three days?  If you were telling that story, wouldn’t you include that?  Or what about Paul’s fight with Barnabas, or his confrontation of Peter?  Don’t you think the details of those conflicts would be worth knowing?  Or what about a single instance of Matthew 18:15 (Jesus’ model for how to conduct church discipline) actually modeled for us somewhere?  Wouldn’t that be helpful?

For reasons only God understands, these and countless other “details” were omitted from the telling of His story.  But rest assured, He does have his reasons.  This “negative space” in scripture is a part of its perfection, it is critical in creating exactly the Word which God has preserved so perfectly throughout the centuries.  In any of these instances, a little more detail might seem harmless enough at first blush, but would ultimately take away from the Word God intended.

A perfect example is the New Testament’s lack …

Solving the Puzzle of God’s Will for Your Church (Introduction)

Tuesday Re-mix – This is a popular post from last year, updated and resubmitted for your consideration and comments.

“There are two kinds of people in the world: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, ‘Fine, have it your way.'” C.S. Lewis

I have often compared the process of finding consensus in a congregation to that of piecing together a jigsaw puzzle.  If every believer truly does have the Spirit of God living in him/her, then he/she has access to at least a part of what God is doing in that church.  I am one who believes that, in His time and in His ways, God desires to make known to His church what He is about.  In other words, I believe God wants us as a church to understand His assignment for us, and I believe He gives us that understanding through much more than just the pastor or elders or deacons…He reveals His will for our church through the entire church.

puzzleIn that sense, then, discerning our next step as a church is less about taking a vote (voting on God’s will is a little like voting on what time it is) and more about learning to hear God speak through everyone.  It is very much as if each of us has been given a piece to a large puzzle and we see the picture of that puzzle only as we each bring our one piece to the table and see how it fits with everyone else’s.  It is not so much a single event as it is a process.  Building consensus in the church is as simple…and as difficult…as learning to hear God speak through every Spirit-filled person among us, and then seeing the collective picture which begins to …

Tension Between Two Friends: Church and State

Tuesday Re-mix – This is a popular post from last year, updated and resubmitted for your consideration and comments.

As a practicing attorney and a practicing church mediator, I have an interest in issues pertaining to religious liberties.  In fact, it just may be that there is a series of posts coming in the future on this topic.  But with the  old debates in California over Proposition 8 and with the “experiment” by some conservative churches involved in political campaigning in the most recent presidential election, I noticed some pretty loose interpretations of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.  So, I thought I would chime in.

First, let me just say that, as a Christian lawyer (no, that is not an oxymoron) “the church” and “the state” are both good friends of mine.  I love them both and am loyal to them both.  So, I get a little miffed when either of them is misrepresented by “voices” in our culture who, frankly, haven’t studied either of them enough to be speaking on them in public forums.  Even  with 26 years of law practice and 30 years of Bible teaching under my belt, I don’t consider myself an expert on these issues.  But I think I can at least dialogue about them intelligently.  I cannot say the same for many of the voices I have seen and heard recently.  For the sake of the kingdom and the testimony of Christians everywhere, please do your homework before you sound off on issues of church and state.

Second, let me say that these issues involving church and state are dynamic issues, constantly morphing and shifting (even in the Supreme Court’s opinions over the last few decades) and are “blurry” to say the least.  So whenever you see or hear someone talking about …