What Is The Point?

Recently I read an article (Bishop Jakes counsels patience in economic ‘sorrows’) that concluded with one of my favorite passages of scripture; John 10:10, the one quoted in the title of this site. The article was an interview with “Bishop” T.D. Jakes. There were several issues discussed in this interview on which I would like to weigh in. In the interest of time and space, I will limit my comments to only one area: wealth.

I would like to take this opportunity to consider the following exchange from the article:
Q. So there’s no contradiction in being a rich Christian?
A. “You’re going to have Christians who are successful and Christians who are not. Just like you have Muslims who are successful and Muslims who are not. We’re not a monolith. There are so many factors besides whether someone is Christian. Are you educated? Are you entrepreneurial?”
It is unfortunate, almost to the point of being tragic, that the “Bishop”, with over 30,000 members, does not take the opportunity to emphasize that success for a Christian is totally different than success as the “world” (our society) sees it. This would be an opportunity for the Bishop to let it be known that the point and purpose of the gospel story so not about personal, property, prestige, or power; that being a Christian who is successful is not about your education, or being “entrepreneurial”.
Personal prosperity is not God’s primary concern. I know that might be uncomfortable for some, and it might sound like I am saying that God does not care. I am not saying that God does not care. What I am saying is that the God that informs my worldview is the same God that the “Bishop” quotes (loosely) when he says in the interview, “Christ came into the world that we might have life and that we might have it more abundantly.” That God is the God of whom I speak. The abundant life that He speaks of is not one of personal prosperity. God is not concerned with increasing the size of our wallets, our bank accounts, or the number of our material possessions. The abundant life is not about getting closer to the 1% of the population that controls 80% of the wealth. God is not interested in making you a successful part of a greedy and selfish society that seeks profit for profit’s sake.
Bishop T.D. Jakes is basically saying that this thing about God is personal. People have their own personal issues in their lives and the church’s role is to deal with those personal issues. The church should be a place where I can come and get hope and healing for my personal situation, where I can find relationship with God and he will fix me. I will be blessed and highly favored of the Lord.
When we approach our relationship with god in this way we miss what god is doing in the world. God has always been active in the history of the world. He has put himself on record as taking a stand against injustice, oppression, greed, and dishonesty among other things. When we come to God as the healer of our troubles and the fixer of our problems, we simply come asking what God can do for us. In so doing we miss the other side of the coin, what we can do for God.
To be sure, God does heal, and save; he brings us out of situations, and changes our lives. However, the real transformation is an inside job. The change is an internal one. Thus, Jesus can say, “You must be born again” something different, someone different, must be created in you. Hence, the apostle writes, “If anyone be in Christ he [she] is a new creature”. This internal change brings with it a challenge, the challenge of the announcement of Jesus, the law in a nutshell.
Now I know you are asking, “What the . . . .?”
Consider this: “So he tried to test Jesus by asking, ’Teacher, what is the most important commandment in the Law?’ Jesus answered: “’Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind. This is the first and most important commandment. The second most important commandment is like this one. And it is, ‘Love others as much as you love yourself.’ All the Law of Moses and the Books of the Prophets [c] are based on these two commandments.” (Matt. 22:35-40)

This is the Law in a nutshell. Love God with all you’ve got, AND love your neighbor as yourself. This is the Law that Jesus came “not to destroy, but to fulfill”. It is in living out this law to the best of our ability that we prove ourselves disciples of Christ. This is the law of the kingdom, that kingdom that we pray for “on earth, as in heaven”. When we become a part of this new family we are challenged; not to just take our blessings and squirrel them away, we are challenged to act, to move, to care, and to share.
Bishop Jakes may say that people “come to church to be uplifted, not enlisted.” I say that Jesus draws us to himself to be uplifted AND enlisted. He calls us to step up, reach out, join Him and . . . .

I Plead the Pledge

I attended a rally for healthcare last Thursday (Health-care rally hits Nashville rush hour). This was not the first of such rallies I have attended. What was different about this one for me was the presence of a small, but vocal, opposition. As both groups where side-by-side on the same side of the street it was easy for me to be standing right next to some from the opposition. For about 90 minutes, we held up signs, chanted slogans, and encouraged passing vehicles to honk their support for our opposing positions. What was most interesting, and encouraging to me was the fact that during that time those of us who where the closest to the opposite group engaged in conversation.

I was engaged in a dialogue with a young man named Eric, from Alabama. In the course of conversation, Eric came to agree that the status quo is not acceptable, and that government regulation is needed. I was excited and pleased that we could carry on civil engagement. One theme however, that continually ran through the conversation was the idea of personal responsibility to the community. Repeatedly this young man kept saying to me, “I don’t want to have to pay for someone else’s healthcare.”

Let us put aside, for a moment, the fact that we are already paying for other people’s healthcare, in the form of higher insurance premiums and insurance fraud on the part of doctors and hospitals. Put aside the argument, and a good one, that we pay for other peoples police protection, fire protection, we pay for the healthcare of police officers, firefighters, all government employees, as well as the military, all elected officials, and all the people currently in prison. Forget the fact that we currently pay for the healthcare of the elderly and those with incomes below the federal poverty level. All these are great arguments for a healthcare policy that ensures that every citizen has access to affordable quality care. Nevertheless, I don’t want to go there!

I want to go with my flag waving, patriotic, freedom loving, “give me liberty or give me death”, tea bagging, anti-healthcare reform, fellow citizens to the Pledge of Allegiance. “I pledge allegiance to the flag . . . and to the republic . . . one nation under God. I will argue that if this country claims to be a godly nation, indeed “one nation under God”, then it has an obligation to affirm the humanity and worth of every one of its citizens.

These words, “one nation”, are about community. They are about the “E Pluribus Unum“, (from many, one). Living out the true meaning of these words is the strength of our community, and our nation. One nation, not individual fiefdoms, one nation; not separate groups of Republicans and Democrats, one nation; not white, black, red, brown, and yellow, one nation; not liberal and conservative, gay and straight, one nation. “One nation under God”, if we really live it, not just say it, we will find our strength. We will find community. We will find the willingness to care, and to share.

When we actually live these words, “one nation under God”, we will begin to operate in God’s economy and not in “Trickle Down” economics. When we live these words, “one nation under God” we operate in an economy and indeed a value system that places people ahead of property. “One nation under God” means I AM my brother’s keeper, I am the Good Samaritan. One nation under God means when you hurt, I hurt. One nation under God means “I” can’t but “we” can. One nation under God means your health matters to me. It means we are in this together.

In the debate over healthcare reform in this country . . . I plead the pledge.

Make A difference . . . . For Life!!!

At Least He Told The Truth

I read a report online at Tennessean.com about a meeting at a church in Madison, TN last week. The report (entitled Alter Call Confronts Worries of Christian Conservatives) described the meeting as an “old-fashioned God and country revival”. The report goes on to note that there was an alter call at this meeting. “But”, the article says, “the 600 or so Christian conservatives gathered for “A Call to Arms,” organized by talk show host Ralph Bristol, weren’t asked to give their heart to Jesus. Instead, they were asked to sign up for conservative causes like the Tea Party Nation and the Eagle Forum, and to donate to charities like the Nashville Rescue Mission. The report quote’s one attendee as saying, “”Tonight we are doing a different kind of altar call,” he said. “Tonight’s altar call is not for God. It’s for country.”

Now, before we begin to wag our heads and recall the words of the old school hip-hop song, “things that make you say hmmm”, I would like to recognize that at least this man told the truth. For once someone from the fear mongering, exclusionary, radically reactionary, anti-Christ, right wing told the truth. It is not about God, it’s about country. The agenda of the organizers of this meeting where not at all concerned with the principles of justice, equality, and true peace. Their interests are in maintaining the status quo, and in today’s political climate that means continuing the regression toward a society as divided as it was before the Montgomery Bus Boycott, the Nashville sit-ins, and the march on Washington. Their agenda was not for the dismantling of unjust laws and sentencing guidelines that inequitably target poor and minority populations. No, that would be God saying, “Make sure that the poor receive equal justice in court” (Ex. 23:6, CEV). Their agenda is one of fear and antagonism towards non-citizens of this country using half truths and innuendo. God’s agenda on the other hand is, “Do not mistreat or abuse foreigners who live among you. Remember, you were foreigners . . ..” (Ex. 22:21, CEV). So when this person said it’s, “not for God. It’s for country.” If nothing else, the first part was true.

Unfortunately in all too many pulpits in the Bible Belt including here in Nashville not enough is being said to combat this erroneous teaching. Too many Christians are being fooled into believing that because someone throws out a word about “family values”, or ties someone or group with another religion that that person is on the side of right and righteousness. Just as “freedom is not free”, so too truly serving Jesus, and being yoked up with him is not simple. It is a challenge. If we are to be truly on the side of right and righteousness, then we cannot simply turn our backs on individuals or groups. Jesus challenges us to be proactive, “Treat others as you want them to treat you.” (Mt. 7:12, CEV) This present tense proactive, this is not a statement of reaction, but of action! The challenge for those who would be on the side of right and righteousness is to apply this ‘Golden Rule’ as it was given; without qualification.

The command to “treat others the way you want them to treat you” is not limited. It is not limited to just the people you like, or just the people who like you. It is not limited to the people who go to your church, or those in your denomination. Notice that Jesus just left it open like that. He gave us this very simple rule to live by yet we find it so hard to do. Before we throw our energy into any “cause”, or support any political position, maybe we should take a moment to hold it up to that measure, ‘does this reflect treating others the way I want to be treated?’

Honest answers to this question will enable us to move in a more Christ-centered direction and

Make A Difference . . . . . . . For Life