“Jesus Christ was a Progressive Because He Advocated Income Redistribution to Help the Poor”

#42 – “Jesus Christ Was a Progressive Because He Advocated Income Redistribution to Help the Poor”

 

The Foundation for Economic Education (FEE) is proud to partner with Young America’s Foundation (YAF) to produce “Clichés of Progressivism,” a series of insightful commentaries covering topics of free enterprise, income inequality, and limited government. See the index of the published chapters here.

#42 – “Jesus Christ Was a Progressive Because He Advocated Income Redistribution to Help the Poor”

(Editor’s Note: As an organization unaffiliated with any particular faith, FEE encourages other perspectives on such matters. Mr. Reed wishes readers to understand that his personal perspective is not intended to proselytize for any particular faith or church but to illuminate his interpretation of the moral and economic dimension of Christ.) An expanded version of this essay is now available as an e-book, pdf, and audio book here.

You don’t have to be a Christian to appreciate the deceit in this canard. You can be a person of any faith or no faith at all. You just have to appreciate facts.

I first heard something similar to this cliché some 40 years ago. As a Christian, I was puzzled. In Christ’s view, the most important decision a person would make in his earthly lifetime was to accept or reject Him for whom He claimed to be—God in the flesh and the savior of mankind. That decision was clearly to be a very personal one—an individual and voluntary choice. He constantly stressed inner, spiritual renewal as far more critical to well-being than material things. I wondered, “How could the same Christ advocate the use of force to take stuff from some and give it to others?” I just couldn’t imagine Him supporting a fine or a jail sentence for people who don’t want to fork over their money for food stamp programs.

“Wait a minute,” you say. “Didn’t He answer, ‘Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s’ when the Pharisees tried to trick Him into denouncing a Roman-imposed tax?” Yes indeed, He did say that. It’s found first in the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 22, verses 15-22 and later in the Gospel of Mark, chapter 12, verses 13-17. But notice that everything depends on just what did truly belong to Caesar and what didn’t, which is actually a rather powerful endorsement of property rights. Christ said nothing like “It belongs to Caesar if Caesar simply says it does, no matter how much he wants, how he gets it, or how he chooses to spend it.”

The fact is, one can scour the Scriptures with a fine-tooth comb and find nary a word from Christ that endorses the forcible redistribution of wealth by political authorities. None, period.

“But didn’t Christ say he came to uphold the law?” you ask. Yes, in Matthew 5: 17-20, he declares, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” In Luke 24: 44, He clarifies this when he says “…[A]ll things must be fulfilled which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me.” He was not saying, “Whatever laws the government passes, I’m all for.” He was speaking specifically of the Mosaic Law (primarily the Ten Commandments) and the prophecies of His own coming.

Consider the 8th of the Ten Commandments: “You shall not steal.” Note the period after the word “steal.” This admonition does not read, “You shall not steal unless the other guy has more than you do” or “You shall not steal unless you’re absolutely positive you can spend it better than the guy who earned it.” Nor does it say, “You shall not steal but it’s OK to hire someone else, like a politician, to do it for you.”

In case people were still tempted to steal, the 10th Commandment is aimed at nipping in the bud one of the principal motives for stealing (and for redistribution): “You shall not covet.” In other words, if it’s not yours, keep your fingers off of it.

In Luke 12: 13-15, Christ is confronted with a redistribution request. A man with a grievance approaches him and demands, “Master, speak to my brother and make him divide the inheritance with me.” The Son of God, the same man who wrought miraculous healings and calmed the waves, replies thusly: “Man, who made me a judge or divider over you? Take heed and beware of covetousness, for a man’s wealth does not consist of the material abundance he possesses.” Wow! He could have equalized the wealth between two men with a wave of His hand but he chose to denounce envy instead.

“What about the story of the Good Samaritan? Doesn’t that make a case for government welfare programs, if not outright redistribution?” you inquire. The answer is an emphatic NO!” Consider the details of the story, as recorded in Luke 10: 29-37: A traveler comes upon a man at the side of a road. The man had been beaten and robbed and left half-dead. What did the traveler do? He helped the man himself, on the spot, with his own resources. He did not say, “Write a letter to the emperor” or “Go see your social worker” and walk on. If he had done that, he would more likely be known today as the “Good-for-nothing Samaritan,” if he was remembered at all.

What about the reference, in the Book of Acts, to the early Christians selling their worldly goods and sharing communally in the proceeds? That sounds like a progressive utopia. On closer inspection, however, it turns out that those early Christians did not sell everything they had and were not commanded or expected to do so. They continued to meet in their own private homes, for example. In his contributing chapter to the 2014 book, “For the Least of These: A Biblical Answer to Poverty,” Art Lindsley of the Institute for Faith, Work and Economics writes,

Again, in this passage from Acts, there is no mention of the state at all. These early believers contributed their goods freely, without coercion, voluntarily. Elsewhere in Scripture we see that Christians are even instructed to give in just this manner, freely, for “God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7). There is plenty of indication that private property rights were still in effect….

It may disappoint progressives to learn that Christ’s words and deeds repeatedly upheld such critically-important, capitalist virtues as contract, profit and private property. For example, consider His “Parable of the Talents” (see one of the recommended readings below). Of several men in the story, the one who takes his money and buries it is reprimanded while the one who invests and generates the largest return is applauded and rewarded.

Though not central to the story, good lessons in supply-and-demand as well as the sanctity of contract are apparent in Christ’s “Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard.” A landowner offers a wage to attract workers for a day of urgent work picking grapes. Near the end of the day, he realizes he has to quickly hire more and to get them, he offers for an hour of work what he previously had offered to pay the first workers for the whole day. When one of those who worked all day complained, the landowner answered, “I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius?  Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?”

The well-known “Golden Rule” comes from the lips of Christ Himself, in Matthew 7:12. “So in everything, do unto others what you would have them do unto you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” In Matthew 19:18, Christ says, “…love your neighbor as yourself.” Nowhere does He even remotely suggest that we should dislike a neighbor because of his wealth or seek to take that wealth from him. If you don’t want your property confiscated (and most people don’t, and wouldn’t need a thief in order to part with it anyway), then clearly you’re not supposed to confiscate somebody else’s.

Christian doctrine cautions against greed. So does present-day economist Thomas Sowell: “I have never understood why it is ‘greed’ to want to keep the money you have earned but not greed to want to take somebody else’s money.” Using the power of government to grab another person’s property isn’t exactly altruistic. Christ never even implied that accumulating wealth through peaceful commerce was in any way wrong; He simply implored people to not allow wealth to rule them or corrupt their character. That’s why His greatest apostle, Paul, didn’t say money was evil in the famous reference in 1 Timothy 6:10. Here’s what Paul actually said: “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.” Indeed, progressives themselves have not selflessly abandoned money, for it is other people’s money, especially that of “the rich,” that they’re always clamoring for.

In Matthew 19:23, Christ says, “Truly I tell you, it will be hard for a rich person to get into the kingdom of heaven.” A progressive might say, “Eureka! There it is! He doesn’t like rich people” and then stretch the remark beyond recognition to justify just about any rob-Peter-to-pay-Paul scheme that comes down the pike. But this admonition is entirely consistent with everything else Christ says. It’s not a call to envy the rich, to take from the rich or to give “free” cell phones to the poor. It’s a call to character. It’s an observation that some people let their wealth rule them, rather than the other way around. It’s a warning about temptations (which come in many forms, not just material wealth). Haven’t we all noticed that among the rich, as is equally true among the poor, you have both good and bad people? Haven’t we all seen some rich celebrities corrupted by their fame and fortune, while others among the rich live perfectly upstanding lives? Haven’t we all seen some poor people who allow their poverty to demoralize and enervate them, while others among the poor view it as an incentive to improve?

In Christ’s teachings and in many other parts of the New Testament, Christians—indeed, all people—are advised to be of “generous spirit,” to care for one’s family, to help the poor, to assist widows and orphans, to exhibit kindness and to maintain the highest character. How all that gets translated into the dirty business of coercive, vote-buying, politically-driven redistribution schemes is a problem for prevaricators with agendas. It’s not a problem for scholars of what the Bible actually says and doesn’t say.

Search your conscience. Consider the evidence. Be mindful of facts. And ask yourself: “When it comes to helping the poor, would Christ prefer that you give your money freely to the Salvation Army or at gunpoint to the welfare department?

Christ was no dummy. He was not interested in the public professions of charitableness in which the legalistic and hypocritical Pharisees were fond of engaging. He dismissed their self-serving, cheap talk. He knew it was often insincere, rarely indicative of how they conducted their personal affairs, and always a dead-end with plenty of snares and delusions along the way. It would hardly make sense for him to champion the poor by supporting policies that undermine the process of wealth creation necessary to help them. In the final analysis, He would never endorse a scheme that doesn’t work and is rooted in envy or theft. In spite of the attempts of many modern-day progressives to make Him into a political redistributionist, He was nothing of the sort.

Summary

  • Free will, not coercion, is a central and consistent element in the teachings of Christ.
  • It is not recorded anywhere that Christ called for the state to use its power to redistribute wealth.
  • Christ endorsed things like choice, charity, generosity, kindness, personal responsibility, and voluntary association—things that are irreconcilable with coercively-financed redistribution schemes.
  • For further information, see:

“For the Least of These: A Biblical Answer to Poverty,” Anne Bradley and Art Lindsley, editors:  http://tinyurl.com/kez32e3

“Socialism: Spiritual or Secular?” by Francis Mahaffey: http://tinyurl.com/njpd2kx

“The Parable of the Talents: The Bible and Entrepreneurs” by Robert Sirico: http://tinyurl.com/p4gr8yl

“Lawrence Reed on The Platform” – a short video interview on income redistribution, the welfare state and Christianity: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=reo0p9N1p4A

“Beyond Good Intentions: A Biblical View of Economics” by Doug Bandow: http://tinyurl.com/n9sjth9

Cliché #20: “Government Can Be a Compassionate Alternative to the Harshness of the Marketplace” by Lawrence W. Reed: http://tinyurl.com/nnt3qty

“Christian Charity and the Welfare State” by Mark W. Hendrickson:  http://tinyurl.com/ks2xdxn

If you wish to republish this article, please write editor@fee.org.

Lawrence W. Reed


Lawrence W. Reed

Lawrence W. Reed is president of the Foundation for Economic Education and author of Real Heroes: Incredible True Stories of Courage, Character, and Conviction and Excuse Me, Professor: Challenging the Myths of Progressivism. Follow on Twitter and Like on Facebook.

This article was originally published on FEE.org. Read the original article.

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Arguments Why God (Very Probably) Exists

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Does God exist?
Michael Peligro, CC BY-ND

Robert H. Nelson, University of Maryland

Note from Editor of The Conversation US: This is a revised version of the original piece. We have done so to make explicit the author’s expertise with regard to the subject of this article. We have also incorporated important context that was missing in the original version.

The question of whether a god exists is heating up in the 21st century. According to a Pew survey, the percent of Americans having no religious affiliation reached 23 percent in 2014. Among such “nones,” 33 percent said that they do not believe in God – an 11 percent increase since only 2007.

Such trends have ironically been taking place even as, I would argue, the probability for the existence of a supernatural god have been rising. In my 2015 book, “God? Very Probably: Five Rational Ways to Think about the Question of a God,” I look at physics, the philosophy of human consciousness, evolutionary biology, mathematics, the history of religion and theology to explore whether such a god exists. I should say that I am trained originally as an economist, but have been working at the intersection of economics, environmentalism and theology since the 1990s.

Laws of math

In 1960 the Princeton physicist – and subsequent Nobel Prize winner – Eugene Wigner raised a fundamental question: Why did the natural world always – so far as we know – obey laws of mathematics?

As argued by scholars such as Philip Davis and Reuben Hersh, mathematics exists independent of physical reality. It is the job of mathematicians to discover the realities of this separate world of mathematical laws and concepts. Physicists then put the mathematics to use according to the rules of prediction and confirmed observation of the scientific method.

But modern mathematics generally is formulated before any natural observations are made, and many mathematical laws today have no known existing physical analogues.

Einstein Memorial, National Academy of Sciences, Washington, D.C.
Wally Gobetz, CC BY-ND

Einstein’s 1915 general theory of relativity, for example, was based on theoretical mathematics developed 50 years earlier by the great German mathematician Bernhard Riemann that did not have any known practical applications at the time of its intellectual creation.

In some cases the physicist also discovers the mathematics. Isaac Newton was considered among the greatest mathematicians as well as physicists of the 17th century. Other physicists sought his help in finding a mathematics that would predict the workings of the solar system. He found it in the mathematical law of gravity, based in part on his discovery of calculus.

At the time, however, many people initially resisted Newton’s conclusions because they seemed to be “occult.” How could two distant objects in the solar system be drawn toward one another, acting according to a precise mathematical law? Indeed, Newton made strenuous efforts over his lifetime to find a natural explanation, but in the end he could say only that it is the will of God.

Despite the many other enormous advances of modern physics, little has changed in this regard. As Wigner wrote, “the enormous usefulness of mathematics in the natural sciences is something bordering on the mysterious and there is no rational explanation for it.”

In other words, as I argue in my book, it takes the existence of some kind of a god to make the mathematical underpinnings of the universe comprehensible.

Math and other worlds

In 2004 the great British physicist Roger Penrose put forward a vision of a universe composed of three independently existing worlds – mathematics, the material world and human consciousness. As Penrose acknowledged, it was a complete puzzle to him how the three interacted with one another outside the ability of any scientific or other conventionally rational model.

How can physical atoms and molecules, for example, create something that exists in a separate domain that has no physical existence: human consciousness?

It is a mystery that lies beyond science.

Plato.
Elizabethe, CC BY-NC-ND

This mystery is the same one that existed in the Greek worldview of Plato, who believed that abstract ideas (above all mathematical) first existed outside any physical reality. The material world that we experience as part of our human existence is an imperfect reflection of these prior formal ideals. As the scholar of ancient Greek philosophy, Ian Mueller, writes in “Mathematics And The Divine,” the realm of such ideals is that of God.

Indeed, in 2014 the MIT physicist Max Tegmark argues in “Our Mathematical Universe” that mathematics is the fundamental world reality that drives the universe. As I would say, mathematics is operating in a god-like fashion.

The mystery of human consciousness

The workings of human consciousness are similarly miraculous. Like the laws of mathematics, consciousness has no physical presence in the world; the images and thoughts in our consciousness have no measurable dimensions.

Yet, our nonphysical thoughts somehow mysteriously guide the actions of our physical human bodies. This is no more scientifically explicable than the mysterious ability of nonphysical mathematical constructions to determine the workings of a separate physical world.

Until recently, the scientifically unfathomable quality of human consciousness inhibited the very scholarly discussion of the subject. Since the 1970s, however, it has become a leading area of inquiry among philosophers.

Recognizing that he could not reconcile his own scientific materialism with the existence of a nonphysical world of human consciousness, a leading atheist, Daniel Dennett, in 1991 took the radical step of denying that consciousness even exists.

Finding this altogether implausible, as most people do, another leading philosopher, Thomas Nagel, wrote in 2012 that, given the scientifically inexplicable – the “intractable” – character of human consciousness, “we will have to leave [scientific] materialism behind” as a complete basis for understanding the world of human existence.

As an atheist, Nagel does not offer religious belief as an alternative, but I would argue that the supernatural character of the workings of human consciousness adds grounds for raising the probability of the existence of a supernatural god.

Evolution and faith

Evolution is a contentious subject in American public life. According to Pew, 98 percent of scientists connected to the American Association for the Advancement of Science “believe humans evolved over time” while only a minority of Americans “fully accept evolution through natural selection.”

As I say in my book, I should emphasize that I am not questioning the reality of natural biological evolution. What is interesting to me, however, are the fierce arguments that have taken place between professional evolutionary biologists. A number of developments in evolutionary theory have challenged traditional Darwinist – and later neo-Darwinist – views that emphasize random genetic mutations and gradual evolutionary selection by the process of survival of the fittest.

From the 1970s onwards, the Harvard evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould created controversy by positing a different view, “punctuated equilibrium,” to the slow and gradual evolution of species as theorized by Darwin.

In 2011, the University of Chicago evolutionary biologist James Shapiro argued that, remarkably enough, many micro-evolutionary processes worked as though guided by a purposeful “sentience” of the evolving plant and animal organisms themselves. “The capacity of living organisms to alter their own heredity is undeniable,” he wrote. “Our current ideas about evolution have to incorporate this basic fact of life.”

A number of scientists, such as Francis Collins, director of the U.S. National Institutes of Health, “see no conflict between believing in God and accepting the contemporary theory of evolution,” as the American Association for the Advancement of Science points out.

For my part, the most recent developments in evolutionary biology have increased the probability of a god.

Miraculous ideas at the same time?

For the past 10,000 years at a minimum, the most important changes in human existence have been driven by cultural developments occurring in the realm of human ideas.

In the Axial Age (commonly dated from 800 to 200 B.C.), world-transforming ideas such as Buddhism, Confucianism, the philosophies of Plato and Aristotle, and the Hebrew Old Testament almost miraculously appeared at about the same time in India, China, ancient Greece and among the Jews in the Middle East, groups having little interaction with one another.

Many world-transforming ideas, such as Buddhism, appeared in the world around the same time.
Karyn Christner, CC BY

The development of the scientific method in the 17th century in Europe and its modern further advances have had at least as great a set of world-transforming consequences. There have been many historical theories, but none capable, I would argue, of explaining as fundamentally transformational a set of events as the rise of the modern world. It was a revolution in human thought, operating outside any explanations grounded in scientific materialism, that drove the process.

That all these astonishing things happened within the conscious workings of human minds, functioning outside physical reality, offers further rational evidence, in my view, for the conclusion that human beings may well be made “in the image of [a] God.”

Different forms of worship

In his commencement address to Kenyon College in 2005, the American novelist and essayist David Foster Wallace said that: “Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship.”

Even though Karl Marx, for example, condemned the illusion of religion, his followers, ironically, worshiped Marxism. The American philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre thus wrote that for much of the 20th century, Marxism was the “historical successor of Christianity,” claiming to show the faithful the one correct path to a new heaven on Earth.

In several of my books, I have explored how Marxism and other such “economic religions” were characteristic of much of the modern age. So Christianity, I would argue, did not disappear as much as it reappeared in many such disguised forms of “secular religion.”

The ConversationThat the Christian essence, as arose out of Judaism, showed such great staying power amidst the extraordinary political, economic, intellectual and other radical changes of the modern age is another reason I offer for thinking that the existence of a god is very probable.

Robert H. Nelson, Professor of Public Policy, University of Maryland

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Are Most Christians Today Really Christians?

Thomas Jefferson was a deist that believed the ultimate value of Christianity was in its ethical teachings.

So he famously created his own Bible by literally cutting and pasting passages from the Gospels that agreed with his doctrine and omitting those passages (such as the miracles and mentions of the supernatural) that conflicted with it.

The creation of Jefferson’s Bible has become something of an archetype of a perennial tendency for Christians to project their own images on to their professed religious faith; to interpret the Christian message as remarkably aligned with their own personal preferences and lifestyle choices.

This point was recently brought home to David Bentley Hart—regarded as one of the greatest religious scholars and English prose stylists today—as he was working on a translation of the New Testament for Yale University Press

The work forced him to read the original Greek text of the New Testament more carefully than even most professional theologians tend to do. As he did so, he came to an uncomfortable realization, which he put down in an essay for Commonweal titled “Christ’s Rabble”:

“What did surprise me, however, was the degree to which the whole experience left me with a deeply melancholy, almost Kierkegaardian sense that most of us who go by the name of ‘Christians’ ought to give up the pretense of wanting to be Christian… I mean that most of us would find Christians truly cast in the New Testament mold fairly obnoxious: civically reprobate, ideologically unsound, economically destructive, politically irresponsible, socially discreditable, and really just a bit indecent.”

Hart was particularly struck by the New Testament teachings against wealth. For most of Christian history, the majority interpretation has been that wealth in and of itself is not bad, but rather an unhealthy desire or attachment to it, or the abuse of it. Such, undoubtedly, is a comfortable interpretation for us who happen to live in a wealthy country like America. But according to Hart, this is not what the New Testament actually says:

“Perhaps, to avoid trying to serve both God and Mammon, one need only have the right attitude toward riches. But if this were all the New Testament had to say on the matter, then one would expect those texts to be balanced out by others affirming the essential benignity of riches honestly procured and well-used. Yet this is precisely what we do not find. Instead, they are balanced out by still more uncompromising comminations [Hart’s always good for a vocabulary lesson] of wealth in and of itself. Certainly Christ condemned not only an unhealthy preoccupation with riches, but the getting and keeping of riches as such.”

Hart then proceeds to examine a number of the New Testament texts dealing with wealth in order to show just how radical and uncompromising they are, and then finishes with the following reflection:

“Throughout the history of the church, Christians have keenly desired to believe that the New Testament affirms the kind of people we are, rather than—as is actually the case—the kind of people we are not, and really would not want to be. The first, perhaps most crucial thing to understand about the earliest generations of Christians is that they were a company of extremists, radical in their rejection of the values and priorities of society not only at its most degenerate, but often at its most reasonable and decent. They were rabble. They lightly cast off all their prior loyalties and attachments: religion, empire, nation, tribe, even family. In fact, far from teaching ‘family values,’ Christ was remarkably dismissive of the family. And decent civic order, like social respectability, was apparently of no importance to him. Not only did he not promise his followers worldly success (even success in making things better for others); he told them to hope for a Kingdom not of this world, and promised them that in this world they would win only rejection, persecution, tribulation, and failure. Yet he instructed them also to take no thought for the morrow.

This was the pattern of life the early Christians believed had been given them by Christ. As I say, I doubt we would think highly of their kind if we met them today. Fortunately for us, those who have tried to be like them have always been few. Clement of Alexandria may have been making an honest attempt to accommodate the gospel to the realities of a Christian empire, but it was those other Egyptians, the Desert Fathers, who took the Gospel at its word. But how many of us can live like that? Who can imitate that obstinacy and perversity? To live as the New Testament requires, we should have to become strangers and sojourners on the earth, to have here no enduring city, to belong to a Kingdom truly not of this world.

And we surely cannot do that, can we?”

I don’t wish to here post any firm conclusions on Hart’s interpretation of the New Testament on wealth, simply because I haven’t arrived at any firm conclusions about it. But I will say that I broadly agree with his point that Christianity, as it’s commonly lived out today in the Western world, doesn’t seem all that radical. In fact, it seems to fit nicely in with the pattern of modern, secular life. And I’ve made the same point that Christians should be cautious about interpreting a lot of what’s in the New Testament as mere hyperbole.

Personally, the way most people interpret Christianity today, I don’t really see what the need for it was. If Jesus Christ principally came to institute a new “religion” whose essence is a number of laws, moral injunctions, and regular worship, then I say that the world already had it in Judaism minus some superadditions, of course (e.g., the doctrines of the Trinity and the divinity of Christ, the practice of the Eucharist, those confusing beatitudes, etc.).

If, on the other hand, Christianity essentially calls one to completely turn away from the cares, concerns, anxieties, and logic of the world—which seem false and wholly unsatisfying for all but a minority—to turn toward God through a way of life that appears strange and other to most, then maybe that would be something radical… then maybe that would be “good news”.
This post Are Most Christians Today Not Really Christians? was originally published on Intellectual Takeout by Daniel Lattier.

 

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Fruit of the Spirit: Peace

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.

Galatians 5:22-23 offers us a common sense approach to life as believers. The list of spiritual fruits helps us to identify who walks in the spirit and not in the flesh, and helps us to realize that there is no reason not to pursue the Holy Spirit, because there is no law anywhere that prohibits these things.

Have you struggled with having peaceful relationships with other believers?

This post is about peace. In previous posts, I talked about Love and joy, and why love is probably the most important of these fruits, and why joy is an evidence of the Holy Spirit that doesn’t go unnoticed. Peace is a means of exchange between believers that Christ points out when talking to His disciples before sending them out into the nations.

Luke 10:5-6

Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace be to this house.’ If a [c]man of peace is there, your peace will rest on him; but if not, it will return to you.

Do you feel like you can’t have peaceful relationships with other believers?

Here Jesus says to His disciples that when they go out into the world making disciples, that they may encounter other believers and may stay with them in order to carry out this work. “Shalom” is the first thing they were commanded to say. Why? Jesus goes on to tell them to “eat whatever is set before you”.  And they were to stay in that house, rather than move from house to house. “Peace” is an indicator that that house is worthy of the healing and the fellowship that the disciples would bring with them. Paul lists peace as a fruit of the spirit as though only the Holy Spirit can empower the believer to possess this true peace, and there should only be peace among believers.

Have you struggled with having peaceful relationships with other believers? Do you feel like you can’t have peaceful relationships with other believers? There is no harm in exploring this issue. It is something that we need to address daily in our hearts. Through prayer and meditation on the scripture, the Holy Spirit can mold our hearts into a heart in which He dwells, and peace can once again take a front seat in our daily lives.

My prayer is that we can mend riffs between us and put the gospel of salvation ahead of our own selfish intentions. We will need no small measure of the Fruits of the Spirit in order to do this. Peace among the brethren and sisters of the church must make a better showing than the chips on our shoulders, the hurt feelings we harbor, or the anger that we cling to with tightly clinched fists aimed at heaven.

Peace be to your house!

New American Standard Bible (NASB)Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation

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Fruit of the Spirit: Joy

“22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.”

In this installment of the Fruit of the Spirit study, we look at JOY. Joy is listed second, next to Love in this list of characteristics which are attributed to the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. What I would like to ask you is, as you read this, do you have joy in your heart? If not, do you know why? If not, would you be willing to find out why?

What is Joy?

Proverbs 12:20 ESV says this:

“Deceit is in the heart of those who devise evil, but those who plan peace have joy.”

Two words there jump out at me: Peace and Joy. More on peace later. According to Proverbs, joy is a product of the intentional approach to peace. I’ve spoken with many people who say they want peace….World Peace. But there seems to be a gap between where we want to be and where we are in terms of peace. So is this a ‘chicken or the egg’ argument? How can we have joy if there is no peace? How can we have peace?

“Why do so many Christians seem void of joy?”

 If peace is a fruit of the Holy Spirit, and joy comes to those who plan peace, it makes sense that joy is also a fruit of the Holy Spirit. Why do so many Christians seem void of joy? I have to ask another question…what are your goals for the universe? You may be thinking that I’ve gone off the deep end now, but I think it’s worth asking. A better way to put it, are your goals for the universe in line with God’s goals for the universe? Do you place your hopes in a sports franchise? A piece of legislation? What about self accomplishment? Or how about your kids’ accomplishments?
I think we have to ask ourselves what are God’s goals for this place we call home? His goals will come to fruition. If our goals aren’t His, we’re looking at eternal disappointment. If we’re working against His goals, we are an enemy of God. How can we find peace in that? We Can’t! So how do we reconcile our lack of joy with our claim to be filled with the Holy Spirit? I’ve long said that our proof to those around us that we have the Holy Spirit living in us, is just as Galatians 5 says. Those fruit are the proof. Our claim needs the support of evidence. I hope that we can look in the mirror and ask, “Does the Holy Spirit really live in me? Or am I just saying that it does?”

If we’re working against His goals, we are an enemy of God. How can we find peace in that?

We Can’t!

I pray that our goals will begin to line up with the Father’s so that we may find the peace that produces joy. And that we seek out those plans intentionally. God has given us free will to pursue joy, if we’d just find her tracks and follow her. I think we have to start with a genuine request that God fill us with His Spirit, and that He would prune the branches so that we may bear good fruit.

“Why then did God give us free will? Because free will, though it makes evil possible, is also the only thing that makes possible any love or goodness or joy worth having.”

– C.S. Lewis

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Do You Know God?

It takes an intimate knowledge of the Creator to understand why he gave the law as He did at Mt. Sinai. That law, includes the ten commandments and the law given to the Hebrews on how they would live as a nation.

Moses had an intimate relationship with God that none other since Adam and Eve had. Of all the prophets that carried the message to the Hebrews, whom God spoke to by representative or angel or a dream, God spoke to Moses directly. Moses saw God like no one else ever had. But because the people were so afraid when God spoke at the mountain, they asked not to be spoken to by God. It is for that reason that God gave them what they asked for. To be represented by prophets to the people instead of being spoken to by Him directly.

We now have an opportunity to know God intimately as Moses did. Through the saving work of Jesus Christ. To those who follow or obey God’s commands without this relationship with Him are doomed to feel the oppression that simply following laws brings. The purpose of the Law was and is to teach us that the only life we can live outside of it is disease, death, hatred, suffering and loneliness.

With the Holy Spirit living in us, we have an intimate knowledge of our Creator and his desires for us and the world. Jesus’ sacrifice was necessary for this: to sanctify us so that we could receive the Holy Spirit in us. When we choose to be baptized, we are choosing to be buried and resurrected again with Jesus, as a declaration that we will no longer live as we once did, which is in selfish pride and arrogance. Instead, we choose service to mankind, as Jesus showed us to live. Jesus once told the Pharisees that he desires mercy, not sacrifice.

We are daily implored to exercise forgiveness. 70 x 7 times. We are warned that those who do not forgive in this manner will not be forgiven their transgressions. This is the desire of our Creator. To forgive. To do so against our human instinct is to understand more about our Creator than ever.

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Kingdom of God/Heaven

The ‘Kingdom of God’ is a much talked about place/thing/idea/realm. Without sounding cryptic with how I attempt to explain this for this devotion, let me just say that the ‘Kingdom of God’ is all those aforementioned things and maybe more. So how do we seek it? Jesus tells several parables in order to tell us what the “kingdom of heaven” is like. One that jumps out at me is found later in Matthew. In Chapter 13:45, Jesus tells His disciples this:

45 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, 46 who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it”

The image Jesus is painting for us is that the kingdom of heaven is more valuable than anything else we own. In this sense, it is an idea, certainly not a thing or place. And certainly, it is an idea worth exchanging everything for. The verse in Matthew 6:33 tells us, “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you”. Jesus is reinforcing the idea that the kingdom of God is more important than food or clothes. Why? Because even though those things are important to us, they, like us, will decay and die. Why would the merchant care to sell all those things he accumulated in order to possess one pearl? This seems to be the only way we can assign value to something, by viewing it in terms of monetary worth.

The merchant in the story is, in many ways, like the average person seeking the path to ultimate living. Jesus points out that when he finds the most valuable thing he’s ever seen (something he looks for regularly) he immediately knows it’s worth more than all the things he’s ever had. Jesus never attempts to tell us where the Kingdom of God is, but many times tells us how important it is that we devote ourselves to it.

Jesus also tells us, “Unless you (we) become like children” we aren’t going to be allowed admission into this kingdom. “Those who do the will of My Father” are going to be allowed into the kingdom, not simply those who say Lord, Lord. In this sense, the kingdom of Heaven has boundaries; boundaries that must be crossed. We must actively obey God in order to enter into it. And Jesus has intimated that that is more important than anything else we could ever obtain. But Jesus also preached this kingdom at hand during His time. This kingdom is eternal and it is in operation as we speak. The only way in it is to do God’s will, and that is more important than anything else.

I pray we choose not to exchange this pearl of great value for anything in this world, because we are destined for a better place, where there is no decay or corruption. I’m reminded of the journey of Christian in Pilgrims Progress who faces many temptations and dangers along the way, but fights through them all in order to get to his destination. We have to place the kingdom of Heaven in that column of priority in order to understand how important it is in our lives.

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Good Advice?

“Listen to advice and accept instruction, that you may gain wisdom in the future. Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand.”‭‭Proverbs‬ ‭19:20-21‬ ‭ESV‬‬

http://bible.com/59/pro.19.20-21.esv

It is definitely a foregone conclusion that “good advice” will lead to success…if we heed it. But how do we know which advice is good? How do we know whether or not the advice we are given is best?

As rhetorical as this might seem, advice that leads to a good outcome can be good advice. We can look at what the desired outcomes are in order to get an idea as to what advice will lead us to the desired outcome.

There is something that needs to be said though. There is a best way to approach anything, including life. If there is a best way, there’s a worst way. That’s just the way things are.

But there is good news walking side by side with the previous revelation. That is that the best way to approach life can be found in this passage:

“And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

‭‭Matthew‬ ‭22:37-39‬ ‭ESV‬‬

http://bible.com/59/mat.22.37-39.esv

Who would ever dispute that loving God with everything we are, and loving others as if they were us is good advice? Hardly anyone right? From this passage we get the saying: “Do to others what you would have them do to you”:

“”So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.”

‭‭Matthew‬ ‭7:12‬ ‭ESV‬‬

http://bible.com/59/mat.7.12.esv

Jesus is summarizing the purpose of Old Testament scripture for those of us who may have a difficult time wading through passages that don’t seem immediately applicable. The purpose is so that we treat others how we want to be treated. Good advice? Or no?

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Why We Teach. Why We Learn

bible-Sunlight

It is my belief that the best method of education, according to Scripture, is to build/learn it on the foundation of this advice from Proverbs: “The teaching of the wise is a fountain of life, to turn aside from the snares of death”[1] (Proverbs 13:14). The very good question of ‘why is it important to learn’ can be applied to anyone. According to Proverbs, the most basic answer is, so you don’t die. From the time we are born, we are subjected to potential dangers which are very obvious. Dangers like, cars, angry animals, fire, too much water, sharp things, not eating or being fed, to name a few. This is especially important in the early stages after birth, but still important for the rest of our life. It is safe to say that if we’ve reached a ripe old age, we’ve learned how to do some things for ourselves. But we don’t do many things outside of learning.

We may begin learning or teaching ourselves things from the very first day we are born. As mentioned above, some of those things we learn about are very obvious, and many things we learn from painful experience. But the author of the Proverb isn’t simply talking about the obvious things. The author is also talking about those things which are not obvious: Deception, hatred, greed, once again, just to name a few. These are things about which we must also learn a great deal in order to survive. We can be guilty of trusting the wrong person to our own demise. The world is no safe place for the uneducated.

I’ve recently been reading through the Pentateuch with my wife, and have finished the book of the Law which has many kinds of Laws in it that address many obvious snares, and some not so obvious snares. It is interesting to learn that this Law was responsible for the prosperity of the Hebrews early in their existence as a nation in the world with land given them by God so they could live as His people there. The second to last chapter in Leviticus is full of verses about the blessings and curses that are associated with either following this Law or not following it. We learn similar things in our own country when we begin school. Laws regarding safety and social laws like: ‘Don’t talk to strangers’ and ‘look both ways before you cross the street’. To not follow these ‘laws’ of life will end up risking one’s own opportunity for life, and so we must be diligent to teach each other in order to survive the wild.

As I mentioned before, though, there are many not-so-obvious things we need to learn if we are going to eventually live together in this world in peace and harmony. Those lessons indeed come from Jesus himself in a popular sermon called the Beatitudes (see Matthew 5). I think we mistakenly think He’s talking to those people who possess those traits, but He’s actually addressing all of us, and imploring us to become those people, so that we may obtain the blessings associated with living that life. In the Biblical narrative, there is no one better at teaching than Jesus, as He used many parables, which are more like allegories that possess a lesson embedded in a familiar story. But we can attach the purpose for learning these things back to the Proverb which Jesus would have known well, that teaches us that to learn is to receive the true gift of abundant life.

Jesus’ use of the parable was mostly exclusively used to teach spiritual gems of wisdom and prophecy while using imagery that the people of the day could process in order to obtain the treasure locked within. But it’s clear that even then, Jesus’s disciples continually asked Him to explain what he meant by these parables. Today, we have the benefit of commentaries in the form of Epistles from the disciples to teach us what Jesus represented to us, and what he taught through his life, as well as writing about some things in hindsight. But His disciples didn’t have that revelation to draw from. So Jesus began to explain what he meant, and that is where the teaching process was completed. He painted the image they could draw from, and then told them what it meant so that they could “see” what he was trying to teach them. Using these mind tactile senses, Jesus imprinted His word upon their minds, and by proxy, in their hearts. They used the written word to teach us those same parables, and by that, we have learned what Jesus taught His followers long ago.

So we have a purpose for teaching, and a proven method for teaching. It is for the spiritual lessons that we really learn how to grow, and it is the physical lessons we learn in order to use the wisdom we obtain in order to achieve our growth over generations. We can’t limit our learning to physical lessons, even though they teach us to pay attention to obvious dangers and opportunities, we must also learn the spiritual lessons so that we may learn how to notice the less obvious pitfalls in life which can ultimately lead to our physical death. It is on this foundation that we sit to learn anything at all. Our curiosity may just be the thing God knew we would need in order to pursue knowledge and wisdom, so that we might live for our appointed time, rather than carelessly walk ourselves into our own demise.

In conclusion, our purpose for learning is to stay alive, both physically and spiritually so that we may live the life that God has designed for us to live, as well as obtain the promises that God has chosen to give us in order to live in relationship with Him. There are many methods people use to teach, but imagery which is easily understandable seems to be the method chosen by the one ancients called “Teacher”, and His lessons have lasted millennia in order to teach us still today.

[1] All scripture from the NASB, Copyright 1995, The Lockman Foundation

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Humility

Isaiah 66

When I read this passage, I’m immediately confronted with my own pride. Have I set aside myself to the point that I no longer stand in the way of the “house” that God is building? Do I continually make “sacrifice” to God just so that I may continually live in the sin which He calls me out of? I have to honestly say that I may yet still be a selfish person. Who then can I look to in order to accomplish humility? Isaiah paints a bleak picture for those who boast in the Lord, yet do not revere Him. But God promises that He will not begin something that He will not finish.

 

9 “Shall I bring to the point of birth and not bring forth?” Says the LORD; “shall I, who cause to bring forth, shut the womb?” Says your God.

 

We are then invited to be satisfied by this child, this nation which God brought out of the labor of Jerusalem. This One whom Isaiah points to is worthy to build a house for the LORD. I am so thankful that I have been blessed with the good news. That I have been given a choice to believe in the good news. So many still have not heard, and Isaiah warns that time is running out. We can look to God’s Son for the humility needed in order to continue this work. My prayer is that the pursuit of a dollar will give way to the willful pursuit of Jesus, and His humility, and that people like myself will someday realize that I can’t take that dollar with me into eternity, but the harvest brought about by the spreading of the gospel will be eternal.

 

Prayer:

 

God, I am so guilty of continuing to pursue my heart’s interests, rather than yours. Grant me the change of heart that no longer finds myself a roadblock in the way to the kingdom, but a brightly lit sign pointing to Jesus. I recognize that I am still clay in the Potter’s hands, and You may decide the project isn’t finished until my final breath. My soul cries out: “I submit to your hand, and ask that you shape me for your purpose until You decide it is finished”, but my actions may yet prove unrelenting. Thank you for your grace and loving kindness which gently leads me into a deeper relationship with you. A relationship that will make you known to me, and will burn away the selfish pride, and self interest that has yet to fall away. I ask that my talents would be used for Your purpose and not my own, that You would use them to expand Your kingdom and if I have to dig them up and relinquish them to You in order to be used by You, I pray I am willing. May my life and heart glorify You, In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

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