Just what is “The unforgivable sin”?

Perhaps far more of us are committing this unpardonable sin than anyone would have imagined.  I may not be the first to have some revelation on this question but all of a sudden about a week ago it was like the skies opened and it seemed all too clear as to what would be the most blasphemous thing one could do.

I’ll start with one of the more scandalous parables in scripture – the parable of the unforgiving servant.  Like most parables it starts out with “the kingdom of heaven is like THIS”.  I often wonder if we don’t take very seriously this line in parables.  But in this parable when the once forgiven man goes out and doesn’t forgive his fellow-man he is UNFORGIVEN the entire debt (of sin) he owed.  And unless you think this parable is actually about dollars and cents we have to be honest and recognize it is about forgiving sin and offenses.

I hope we can all agree the most costly, significant and sacrificial event in history was Jesus laying down His life for our sins on the cross of Calvary in which payment for all sin was made.  And I suggest the most blasphemous, horrible, offensive and unforgivable thing anybody could ever do would be to withhold that costly forgiveness from others.  Yes, I believe the unforgivable sin is unforgiveness itself because of the insult it shows to Jesus’ sacrificial work on the cross – basically you are mocking and spitting in the face of Jesus.  Unforgiveness is what caused the forgiveness granted to the servant in the parable to be canceled.  Please consider carefully the fact that the King (God) does what can only be described as rescinding the offer of canceled debt (sin) once the servant refused to “pay it forward” by forgiving others.

So in conclusion, unless the offense you hold is worth an eternity in hell (because that is where one goes whose sins are not covered by the blood of Jesus) it would seem prudent to be conduits of God’s love and forgiveness to all others least we condemn ourselves in the process.

Matthew 6:15 – But if you don’t forgive others, your Father will NOT forgive your failures.

Monumental Selfishness

I write my blogs as an outlet, sometime as an outlet for passion, sometimes for a prophetic word and sometimes in disgust and anger.  This is one of those disgust and anger times (with likely prophetic overtones).  I have to be careful as my much more mercy oriented wife exhorted me to be cautious about what I might say, but I am getting closer and closer to “taking numbers and naming names” when it comes to some of the bile I see “Christians” spewing.  This will be short but goes to the core of Jesus, the Gospel, the Love of the Father and asking “just where is YOUR home?”

This blog is simply posing the question “what are the really important things in your ‘Christian’ life”?  And yes, I put Christian in quotes a second time as I suspect there are many out there who are just playing church because it’s the cool thing to do but who have little willingness to actually embrace the heart of the Father. 2 Peter 3:9

Is prayer in school important to you?  What about tax deductions for donations to the church? Are the Ten Commandments carved in stone and place in your town square important to you?  Is the preservation of your earthly home and your earthly country your focus? Are Easter bunnies and Christmas lights on your list of top ten things you must have to enjoy “your” Christianity? Then it’s just that, “your Christianity”, and not the one that I read about in the Bible which places our citizenship in an eternal heaven and not some fading home on this earth to try and fight for and preserve for “just us Christians”.

I am not saying that those things are bad, not at all.  But I am saying that if devotion to things like the ones mentioned above take priority over opportunities to lovingly rub shoulders with those who don’t know Christ then you yourself have not experienced the fullness of the love of Christ in your own life.  And this is why I call it monumental selfishness because you are choosing temporal things over the call to share eternal joy with someone who isn’t “like you”!

christian-hypocrcy

I read it on the Internet so it must be true – right?

There are lots of places to get your news and information these days – CNN (leans left), FOX (leans right), NPR (leans intellectual), the Internet (leans – everywhere), gossip magazines (leans to the gullible & bored), the government (leans politically expedient) and then you own personal experiences which although definitely lean true, they might not be the whole truth.

Here are a couple of examples to illustrate my point.  In just the last couple of days Barbie has been told that Michelle Obama is really a man and that Barak is gay.  Follow that up with the “breaking news” there is a project in Alaska called HAARP which “they” are using to cause (among other things) the drought in California and the earthquakes in Oklahoma.  The sinister motive behind the infamous “they” is to cause everybody to move out of California and return the fertile valleys to Government lands and the earthquakes, which center around Cushing, are an effort to disrupt the oil industry and once and for all stop the Keystone Pipeline project.  It didn’t take much checking to find out that the HAARP project was scrapped in the last few years due to lack of success and funding and earlier this year the entire project was deeded over to the University of Alaska in Fairbanks.   And here is the really scary part, the people who told Barbie of these ridiculous conspiracy theories were “mature” adults (55 years+) one of whom works in education at a local university and another attends our church.  The internet was cited as the source of these stories when Barbie asked.  I did some checking (on the internet) and the Michelle/Barak story was originated by none other than the trusted investigative reporter Joan Rivers.

By the way, I am not going to discuss either these issues here (or anywhere else for that matter), but I would like to discuss the fact that just because you read it on the internet doesn’t make it so.  I have read or listened to numerous reports or rants about the proposed acceptance of Syrian refugees in recent days. They have covered the gamete from “they are part of a well planned Trojan horse” to keep out at all cost to “God is love” and because of that fact it follows we should let them all in.  Most notably have been numerous reports that there is little to no risk in letting them in and especially the widows and orphans because the vetting process is almost foolproof in weeding out all (current) jihadists.  There are likely elements of truth in all these angles.

I would like to share a story directly related to this discussion from my own personal life experience – not off the internet.  When Barbie and I first lived in Israel in the late 70’s things were drastically different from today.  It was very common for the population to tramp (hitchhike) all over the country accepting rides from whoever stopped, whether Jew or Arab.  People didn’t think twice about shopping in East Jerusalem, the Arab quarter of the Old City, Bethlehem or Gaza.  If you rented a car you could drive wherever you wanted with no concern beyond a flat tire.  Yes there were occasionally terrorist attacks, but in most cases they were carried out by jihadists who had snuck across the border from Jordan or Syria in the hours before the attack.  In other words, the vast majority of the Arab population were living and loving life in a peaceful co-existence with their Israeli occupiers.  Fast forward to the early 90’s when we lived there for a couple of months as part of YWAM (Youth With a Mission).  Imams from the surrounding Arab countries began to garner greater and greater control over the Arab population in Israel to the point there were significant security concerns at many of the traditional tourist locations such as Bethlehem, Jericho & Hebron.  And a visit to Gaza was totally out of the question.  The team we led got a pretty good feel for the deteriorating situation as we spent a lot of our time in East Jerusalem and Bethlehem.  We were strongly cautioned about taking our rental van into predominantly Arab sections of the country as ambush attacks on cars with Israeli tags were on the rise.  Barbie and I have been able to visit Israel a couple more times in the last 20 years to include a spring trip last year.  Now there are walls, fences and checkpoints everywhere, you are forbidden from taking rental cars into many areas and a population that some 30 years earlier was not radicalized has been, in just one generation, transformed into what may well be a radicalized majority who are carrying out knife, car and gun attacks (some by women and young boys) almost on a daily basis from Arabs within the country.

You see, to truly understand Islam, you must understand the huge influence the main Imams have over their “flock”.  Not too unlike prominent Christian leaders such as the Pope, Billy Graham and Joel Osteen have over trends in Christianity – some good and some not so good.  In Islam, there are a significant majority of the Imams calling for jihad.  Take note that one thing that has been missing in response to the recent terrorist attacks has been any broad scale denouncing of them by the Imams of the Islamic world.  Yes, there have been some Arabs who have denounced these acts, but what has dominated the headlines are things like what happened a couple of days after the Paris attacks when Turkish fans booed and shouted Allahu akbar during a moment of silence to honor the Paris victims before a soccer match between Turkey and Greece.

So is there risk is bringing the refugees here?  Yes, there are absolutely great risks and anybody who dismisses the cautions claiming there is little to no risk either doesn’t understand Islam, has little interest in learning or they read something on the internet to the contrary.

Having said all that, as a Christian, I must try and view this situation through God’s eyes and a heavenly perspective.  The US is not my real home, I hopefully count my life on this earth as no value for the sake of the Gospel and what if all this is part of Gods grand plan to bring those in desperate need of the Gospel right to our door step?  As one who has been involved in mission work in the Middle East, I can tell you it is very difficult if not forbidden to do mission work over there.  And this refugee challenge might just be a golden opportunity for the Church to strategize together for the sake of the Gospel.  What if Churches across this country offered to sponsor refugee families on a grand scale?  Not to cram the Gospel down their throat, but to love on them, serve them and help them get jobs and housing in a strange new country.   What if?

I love and am challenged by the story of the Moravian missionaries Dober and Nitschmann who went so far as to sell themselves into slavery in order to bring the Gospel to the West Indies in 1732.  There was of course great risk for them to do that, and although there is risk in bringing Syrian refugees to American soil we too could echo the cry heard from Dober & Nitschmann from the bow of that ship as it pulled out of that German Harbor –

“May the Lamb that was slain receive the reward of His suffering!”

No easy answers – this is way above yours or my pay grade!

There is a legitimate debate going on right now in the US over Syrian refugees.  At least I am calling it legitimate.  I have been surprised at how many don’t see any legitimacy in the debate because the answer (to them) is so obvious and simple.  And I am not speaking about only one side, both sides “see” so clearly as to be dismissive, rude or accusatory to the “other” side.  Barbie and I even had someone unfriend us yesterday because we would not enter into the bombastic and inflammatory manner they were taking.  It wasn’t even that we disagreed with them but rather the rude and arrogant method of delivery.

So is this an Old Testament argument, a New Testament argument or somewhere in between.  Some have tried to reduce the debate points down to “God is always Love” or “If you don’t protect those in your own family, your are worse than and unbeliever”.  Both of those points are true but neither of them fully encompasses this debate.  Please do not reduce the compassion for refugees or the security of the US to a “one liner”.  Even between Barbie and I there are strong leanings to the different sides.  And all of this speaks to me of a few things, patience, learning, listening, respect and most of all the Holy Spirit.

I will tell you that I am not the type to quickly to cut out of my Bible those parts in the Old Testament where, because of the evil of their religious practices, God ordered entire peoples destroyed to include women and children.  But at the same time I will never discount the over arching theme in the New Testament that there is none beyond the reach of God’s love.  Some might see these themes to be in contradiction.  But because we also know that God never changes, we have to accept that in fact they are not in contradiction and we must wrestle with that reality and find the balance.  Were those people destroyed because their spiritual DNA was so far gone that it had to be wiped out so it couldn’t spread?  Could that then have been a loving thing to do to protect many future generations of God’s people from those evil influences in nearby villages.  If that same story was repeated after Jesus’ sacrifice was made would God have ordered a different outcome.  That may well be.  In the NT we see Jesus telling a woman, properly sentenced to death for adultery, to go and stop doing it after her executioners leave.  But later we witness God killing a husband and wife “just” for lying.  Are you duly confused by now as to how God does things? (Isaiah 55:8)

On accepting refugees, Republicans are leaning to a pause or a big no which challenges Christians which probably lean more towards yes.  Most Democrats along with Obama lean yes mocking Republicans as being afraid of widows and orphans.  Yet it was a woman who blew herself up this morning in France wounding 5 officers and a special on PBS last night highlighted how ISIS is training kids as young as 4 to become jihadist.  Then today in Turkey and Honduras there were 13 Syrians, with suspected ISIS ties, arrested while posing as refugees trying to get to Europe and North America.  And consider our cherished value of “’Give me your tiredyour poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free” boldly inscribed on the Statue of Liberty combined with exhortations in scripture to take care of the poor and homeless (paraphrased) and you have the makings of a real dilemma.

I am not a bigot if I choose the safety of my family first and my wife is not naive if she leans towards opening our borders.  But we both would show our shallowness if we were not able to listen to each other and with prayer and the wisdom of the Holy Spirit endeavor to flesh out God’s plan.

This is great risk either way.  There is great risk if some of the refugees follow the likes of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the Chechen refugee who came here as a little boy who was not radicalized and after his family began to follow the American dream he decided to bomb the Boston Marathon.  And what are the risks if we close our borders?  Perhaps that is a cost that will be felt in unknown ways other than terrorist attacks.

So if you are still determined to throw out your quippy one liners, then you really don’t understand or appreciate how complicated this discussion truly is.  And if you are given pause by this Blog then join me and countless others in praying that God will give our leaders and our military the wisdom from on high to deal mercy and justice for all concerned.

Starbucks & Christian foster parents – full disclosure!

Frankly I am sick and tired of sitting idly by and watching the brainless sharing of post which spew forth lies and hypocrisy by the un-churched liberal crowd towards Christians.  It is no secret all these attacks have little to do with fairness, equality, getting their cake baked, keeping abortion protected or even the separation of church & state. This has everything to do with the quandary they find themselves in.  One the one hand they do not want any semblance of a Holy God (i.e. Christians) staring them in the face on a daily basis whether on the street, at the office or in the press.  Why you ask?  It is actually very simple.  God placed in every person the inherent knowledge of right and wrong and to be confronted by it or reminded of that reality by the 10 commandments, missionary outreaches or those advocating adherence to biblical instruction or character proves to be very uncomfortable for those outside the church.  But on the other hand there are real problems out there that need to be addressed like alcoholism, feeding the homeless, taking care of foster children, adoption, etc. etc and they have far less interest in getting down in the dirt with these issues so they try and “shame” Christians into stepping up to these challenging social situations through artfully crafted “outrage”.

Let me use a metaphor.  Let’s say you have chosen to divorce yourself from your wife who happens to have a large, extended and wealthy family.  The reason you filed for divorce is because of irreconcilable differences, i.e. you do not agree with her more conservative lifestyle which you perceive to be restrictive and judgmental.  But now you are confronted with a new problem of seeing her family at various places around town on a daily basis.  Deep down you know your ex and her family are good people but in order to feel good about being the one who left the marriage your only option is to constantly attempt to throw her and her family under the bus.  That is until you or someone in your circle has a financial crisis they have little capacity to solve in which case you try and shame your ex’s family into helping out because deep down you know how “rich” they really are.

Such is the case recently with one of those “gotcha” sound bite post mocking Christians for the ONE Christian who posted the Starbucks cup video pointing out that we should be focusing on something of true importance instead like serving as foster parents.  Here are the facts, as if the facts matter, to those who have distanced themselves from the Christ.

Neither I nor any other Christian I know has the least problem with Starbucks holiday cup.  The “outrage” is totally fabricated in an attempt to mock Christians.

fake outrage

And when it comes to foster care and adoption here are the facts from a recent Barna Group Survey.

5 percent of practicing US Christians have adopted children compared to 2 percent of all US adults

3 percent of practicing US Christians are foster parents & 31 percent have seriously considered fostering a child compared to only 2 percent of the general US population and only 11 percent of those have considered it.

Although there are not specific stats for homeless shelters, I did find several reports to the effect that the vast majority of homeless shelters were started by, staffed by or owned by Churches or other non-profit Christian based organizations.

And I shouldn’t even need to point out that the Church totally dominates assistance for alcoholics with programs like AA and Celebrate Recovery neither of which charge for the program.

Organizations started and staffed by Christians also dominate feeding programs both domestic and abroad as well as sponsoring the majority of clean water and well digging projects in 3rd world countries.

So practicing Christians (representing only about 30% of Americans) are more than twice as likely to adopt or be foster parents.

Just in our immediate family on Barbie’s side there have been dozens of foster children cared for and 8 of Barbie’s 32 nieces and nephews are adopted – that’s 25 percent.

Am I perfect? Heck no!  Are Christians perfect? No, but only those who actually step up to the plate will have both the chance to hit a homer or on occasion even strike out.

So do the facts really matter?  They should!  I suggest “the proof is in the pudding” and we all should be judged by the exhortation to PUT UP or SHUT UP!

Killing the goose that lays the golden egg!

There have been rumblings in this direction for decades and the recent SCOTUS ruling will serve to highlight the increasing chasm between the declining standards of secular society and, at least the appearance of, more conservative (read narrow and hateful in the opinion of liberals) standards of the church.  The number of articles which have come out in recent days in support of eliminating the tax exempt status of churches and Christian NGOs (like Habitat for Humanity), has surged.  This includes one which showed up on our facebook thread this morning because someone “liked” it.  Seriously, you must “like” economic chaos!

Here are the facts.  If tax exempt status is removed, many (perhaps most) Christians will continue to give to the church as our motive is not the tax deduction, but rather another of those outdated and ridiculous practices promoted in the Bible (read sarcasm).  Where the real hurt will come is with the church’s and Christian NGO’s discretionary money to give, build or serve benevolently.  For example, our church gives away boxes of groceries to many in need every week and even has a Sunday each month where congregants can take a bag of groceries home to give to a neighbor in need.  This is just a portion of what our church does of a charitable nature and it adds up to 10s of thousands of dollars each year.  Remove tax exempt status and this is no longer an expense for the church and taxes will have to be paid on that money.  The same is true for the support of all missionaries both foreign and domestic along with the regular giving of money for utility bills, medications or other miscellaneous support for those in need.  It would likely cut the church’s ability to give by 30 – 50% even if giving remained at a constant level.

Since churches and Christian NGOs account for almost 75% of the support, training, housing and feeding of the poor & needy, the government would never be able to fill the gap.  When you consider the top heavy “overhead” and waste, which is the US government, the additional tax dollars gained would be minimal and would be managed far less efficiently.  The Brooking Institute recently did a study in which looked at just one type of social program.  When the government’s efficiency was compared to the Archdiocese of NY in performing this service, the Catholic Church was able to serve a proportionate number of people with 1 church worker for every 50 government workers for the same equivalent service.  It has been regularly proven that government programs spend over 70% on administration cost compared to an average of less than 30% for private charities.

Am I saying that all churches and Christian NGOs operate with honor?  Absolutely not!  There are gross abuses by those who claim to serve Jesus (who had no place to lay His head) while arrogantly lavishing upon themselves six and seven figure incomes, mansions, luxury cars and more (was that a rant? – I digress!).  But even with those embarrassments to Jesus and the church, the vast majority of these organizations serve honorably and efficiently both in the US and around the world.

Here is just one example: Habitat for Humanity, founded in 1976 by a Christian couple Millard and Linda Fuller, and whose mission statement is “Seeking to put God’s love into action” and is self described as a “Christian housing ministry”.  They have recently passed the 1 million home mark representing housing for almost 2 percent of the entire population of the US.  The value of those homes is estimated to be over 125 billion.  The manner in which the housing is provided requires “sweat equity” work on the house (minimum of 500 hours) and the ability to make the reduced mortgage payments by the prospective residents.    Those payments normally represent about 50% of the norm for the area and when a certain portion of the mortgage is successfully repaid; there is a portion which is then forgiven.  Mortgage payments from existing Habitat houses pay for the raw materials for future houses which in turn increases their ability to build more houses.  I double dog dare you to find any government program which can make claims anywhere near the nature of this single example of Christian service to our nation.

Arthur C. Brooks point out in his book “Who Really Cares: The Surprising Truth About Compassionate Conservatism”, that the conservative Christian right is far more giving than the supposed “compassionate” liberal left.  And even amongst the liberal left, the ones who do give are predominantly those with religious motivations in spite of their left leaning views.

When all of these factors are taken into account, the simple fact is that America could never fill the gap or survive the devastating financial impact of removing tax exempt status from Church and para-church organizations.

So I ask, just how important is it to secular liberal society to discredit and destroy the church along with Christian based charitable organizations?  Trust me, they really do hate us that much and will likely not even consider what the fallout will be.  So get ready, it’s going to be a rough ride!

Love Wins – What does that even mean?

“Love wins” is trending today from the church, the media and social hoopla surrounding the recent marriage ruling by SCOTUS to the much loved book of that same title by Rob Bell dismissing any eternal hell type punishment to include a significant nod to universalism.

I also strongly believe that in fact Love will win, but Love with a capital L instead of a small l.  Let’s be crystal clear, love with a small l is what is trending today.  Small l love means I can do what I want, marry who or what I want, have sex when and where I want, make the choice I want (instead of for my unborn baby), pursue who or what I want, take what I want, change who I am or who I want to be, buy a cake where I want, get married where I want and of course sue or label as haters anybody who won’t let me do or be any of the things I want listed above.

Did anybody notice the one constant in all the small l things above?  For those with little power of observation “I” will give you a hint.  Get it now?  No coincidence here that a small l and I look the same.

“Humanism – an outlook or system of thought attaching prime importance to human rather than divine or supernatural matters”

It’s all about I, me and mine.  This is the dividing line and this is the distinction between the type of love dominating and trending today and God’s heart of Love.  My personal goal and pursuit in life is to embrace capital L Love (a little patience with me please) as exampled by Jesus who gave, served and sacrificed so that others could live, love and be liberated from the I monster.  And just so there is no misunderstanding, “I” is a monster that has destroyed societies across the globe who have bought into the self serving humanistic philosophy.  Really, almost every single society (if not everyone) which has abandoned a traditional Noahide moral code has eventually ended up tearing itself apart.

So as our society enacts new laws (actually abandoning old ones) they are, sadly, writing their own epitaph of death and destruction.  And it will go for true Christians today as it has in the past where we will be, as Jesus and the Bible promised, hated and persecuted.  I don’t have a lot more to say than get ready.  Be prepared with the Gospel for those who will hear and pray for the power and leading of the Spirit in these terrible times.  Love, God’s love, will win for those whose capital I is crucified with Christ and their little “i” is subjected to a life lived by the grace of the Son of God, who loved us and gave Himself up for us.