Category: Culture

Banned

No matter how kindly we frame it, the message of Jesus draws opposition.   Several years ago, Vanderbilt University derecognized various Christian groups because they required that to hold a leadership position in their group, you needed to believe that Jesus was resurrected from the dead after his crucifixion.

The Vanderbilt administration said that to forbid someone from being a group leader for not believing in the resurrection was intolerant! The Christian leaders showed a winsome attitude as they explained what they believed and why they believed it. But basically the administrators said, “We don’t care about your kind attitude; your beliefs are discriminatory and your groups are hereby banned from campus.”

I at least give the administrators credit for having an accurate grasp of the real core issue. You might think that they would evict Christian groups due to disputes about cultural issues such as abortion or gay rights.  But the administrators chose the key Christian distinctive that has not and will not ever change: we owe our lives to, and base our lives on, faith in a resurrected man.

The Vanderbilt fight, then, has a helpful lesson:  We don’t want to erect false obstacles by saying that being a Christian is defined by a list of positions that you must take in the culture wars. (Indeed, when fights about abortion and gay rights die down, they will only be replaced by a new set of culture war issues.)

I’m not saying that political issues are irrelevant or unimportant. But they are all less important than this claim:  Jesus is alive. And he wasn’t blowing smoke when he said he will return to rule as King. Neither Republican nor Democrat, and not a capitalist and not a socialist, he won’t allow any fights over culture war issues. We will laugh at the idea that we once thought that the right political solutions would bring heaven on earth.

Does all that sound too good to be true? It’s not. Check out this promise about Jesus’ return: He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Revelation 21:4)  

Piles of Penalty Revenue

 He upholds the cause of the oppressed
and gives food to the hungry.
The Lord sets prisoners free,
The Lord watches over the foreigner
and sustains the fatherless and the widow,
but he frustrates the ways of the wicked.
(Psalm 146:7,9)

Are conservative evangelicals good at personal piety but unconcerned about systemic wrongs? Based on today’s verses from Psalms, I contend that a policy that is deliberately designed to funnel money from the worse off to the better off is unbiblical and should concern us.

Recently Wells Fargo admitted that between 2002 and 2016, it “falsified bank records, harmed the credit ratings of customers, unlawfully misused their personal information and wrongfully collected millions of dollars in fees and interest.” 1

Wells Fargo sales representatives, egged on and threatened by their bosses, told customers taking out car loans with them that they were required to buy car loan insurance. This was a lie: there was no such requirement. When that happens, does God hold “the corporation” responsible or the individuals who, out of greed, set the bogus policy? And who should be punished? The bosses who set the policy? The sales reps?

The penalty so far: A fine of $3 billion. And that’s not the last case against Wells Fargo.

God opposes rip-offs of all kinds but the biblical prophets and Psalms have a special ire towards those who rip off the poor.

Consider astronomical late fees on credit cards — charges that far exceed what the delays cost the credit card company. Remember when every credit card, not just the exclusive ones, had an annual membership fee? The annual fees on regular cards have disappeared while the past due payment penalties skyrocketed. So now ironically, those living paycheck to paycheck who can least afford it are huge drivers of credit card company profits and those who can most afford it get a free ride.

(And don’t get me started on overdraft fees on checking accounts………..)

Many argue these issues can be solved with an increase in regulations. But isn’t the real problem here a culture of greed? Can we legislate greed away? Can a company squeezing out every last penny from its poorer customers be forced by law and regulation to behave with sense of “social responsibility”? I doubt it.

But let me recommend a program like Dave Ramsey’s Baby Steps, extremely helpful for those who are trapped in debt. They also have a great online community on Facebook, encouraging each other to follow the steps. Much harder for banks and credit cards to accumulate mass penalty revenue from struggling people if enough folks followed those steps!

  1. https://www.cnn.com/2020/02/21/business/wells-fargo-settlement-doj-sec/index.html

 

Turning From Worthless Things

Starting a recent study of the book of Romans, I saw how the Roman and Greek societies in New Testament times were quite modern compared to the Ancient Near East societies in the Old Testament. Both the Greeks and the Romans were more cosmopolitan, more advanced technologically, and had more developments in philosophy and political theory than the societies who lived in the times when the Hebrew Bible was written.

Yet what God told the Jews in their Bible has never been replaced by something “more modern”. This truth would not change: There is one God Yahweh who is ruler over all creation.

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. (Deuteronomy 6:4)

In the more advanced Greek and Roman societies there remained pantheons of gods to worship. Only the Jews proclaimed worshiping the one true God.

And the apostle Paul, born a Jew,  loved showing how Jesus was the Messiah that  God had long ago promised in that very Bible, a Messiah not only to the Jews but also to the Greeks, Romans and all the peoples and tribes yet to come.

Here’s a good mind game:  Imagine what it would be like if the Apostle Paul were first writing now, in the 2020’s. He would not change the core of the gospel message of salvation through faith in the crucified and risen Christ that he presented 2000 years ago.

But, as he did in his own time, he would contextualize by explaining the unchanging message of following the one true God in a way that would persuade and convince 21st century people. Indeed, successful pastors today knows how to do that. Men like Tim Keller or my local pastor Dave Gustavsen do that well today.

When Barnabas and Paul visited Lystra the Lystrans wanted to worship them because they thought that they were the gods Zeus and Hermes come down to earth in human form.

But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of this, they tore their clothes and rushed out into the crowd, shouting: “Friends, why are you doing this? We too are only human, like you. We are bringing you good news, telling you to turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made the heavens and the earth and the sea and everything in them. (Acts 14:14-15)

Nowadays we don’t have Zeus worship, but there are still plenty of worthless things that we “worship” today! Look at American greed and commercialism.

I had to laugh sadly as I read about a recent controversy in France. Businesses there usually shut down early on Sunday to allow people to rest. But one chain, Casino Group, attracted ire by wanting to keep their supermarkets open past the normal 1PM Sunday closing hour. And the criticism was that this chain wanted to turn France into a greedy commercial place like the US! Oh, the irony! The “Christian” country is greedy and the highly secular country has a more “Christian” view of Sunday!

But of course the real question, whether you live in France or the US or anywhere else, is not whether you close your shops on Sundays or not.  It’s this:  Do you want to follow the real God whose son is the resurrected Jesus?

“A pox on both your houses”

A friend asked why I don’t write any posts about politics. My goal is to present the way of Jesus and not to write propaganda for a party or candidate. But with that in mind there are some things I can say. For starters, there’s a growing trend in this country to have the attitude “My party is the embodiment of total good and yours is totally evil.”

Since I viewed both presidential candidates in 2016 as deeply flawed, my attitude was: “A pox on both your houses”.  That’s a paraphrase of Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet. Is using Mercutio’s quote too harsh? I know there were millions of people who voted for a third party in 2016 instead of either Trump or Clinton. (Full disclosure: I was one of them).

Here’s a polarization check: Regardless of which party you are in, do you have a charitable heart when your party doesn’t get its own way? Or are you furious that those ______ of ______ in the other party have gotten their own way?

And when a politician from your party is defeated, can he or she cheerfully move back to having a real job? Every four years you hear “This is the most momentous election in history —- our democracy will probably end if the other party wins.”  Look at the way the opponent is portrayed in attack ads. I get the impression that the devil is a sweetheart compared to the target of the attack ad!

Much has changed over the last 60 years. Think of the generous way Richard Nixon reacted in 1960—yes, Richard Nixon. He accepted his disputed loss in the 1960 election with good grace. He knew that he would be the new president but for the election fraud in Illinois and Texas. But Nixon knew that somehow, the US would continue and survive even under a Kennedy presidency.

Nowadays someone in Nixon’s shoes would scream “The whole thing was rigged — I have been cheated out of the presidency—the country is doomed.”

Back in Nixon’s time there was a generalized cultural belief that God was the absolute. God was in charge. We were one nation under God whether the “R” or the “D” won. Those were the days of BOMFOG, the acronym for the Brotherhood of Man under the Fatherhood of God. This wasn’t tied to any one denomination —- BOMFOG was simply a generic belief that a higher power was in charge and not us. Indeed, President Eisenhower said, “Our form of government has no sense unless it is founded in a deeply felt religious faith, and I don’t care what it is.”

Now, though, what a momentous change: The civility of BOMFOG patriotism has ended. Loyalty to any religious denomination has eroded. Often, fealty to one’s party has replaced loyalty to God.   Instead of joining a church or synagogue or civic organization, we get a sense of belonging by joining like-minded ranters and screamers on the internet.

Does this sound too pessimistic? Can it change? Going forward I will take a stab at some answers.