sin


The Lord takes his place in court; he rises to judge the people.  The Lord enters into judgment against the elders and leaders of his people: ‘It is you who have ruined my vineyard; the plunder from the poor is in your houses” (Isaiah 3:13-15 NIV). ”

One commentary says, “[ruined, plunder] Normally refers to that taken by violence, but this is probably Isaiah’s way of condemning a social order which allowed the powerful to grow rich at the expense of the weak, even though this might be done by legal means…all the more appropriate that Yahweh is here depicted as bringing the powerful to trial”

I find it interesting that this passage is probably on the verge of the Assyrian invasion and exile of the Northern Kingdom.  More liberal scholars would place the date perhaps after the exile.  Either way it is apparent here that although it would seem that the Assyrians are in control of history and the fate of Israel and Judah—it is actually Yahweh who calls the shots and is at work.   For instance, in Jeremiah, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon is viewed as the Lord’s “servant.”  That is, Yahweh uses him to bring judgment upon his people.  Not a very comforting thought, huh? As a side note:  I don’t think God deals with his people like this anymore, even if he does have to chastise/discipline us at times.  I will not get into it here in this article but let me put it this way…EVERYTHING changes within the life, death, and resurrection, especially the way God deals with his people and all people of the world.

I suppose that the invasion and exile caused many to blame the evil of Assyria or perhaps Yahweh.  Yet this passage here paints a different picture.  It is because of the evil of the leaders of Israel and Judah that terror came upon the region as judgment.  Yahweh is envisioned as The Judge in the court room delivering the accusations and verdict.  It is intimidating and fearful.  He is the defender of the poor and an ever watchful protector of them.  When those leaders whose essential role was to provide for and defend the poor instead exploit and rape them economically, socially, and emotionally, Yahweh intervenes on their behalf.

Although I am discomforted by this image of a forceful god, I am comforted by the thought that he is on my side—or rather I hope I am on his.  He is a god who is involved, and even though there are times where it seems as though he is silent, he is fully aware, attentive, and watchful–especially for the vulnerable.  Leaders should serve with fear because it is apparent from this passage alone that they will be held accountable for the way they lead.  Are they ethical and honest?  Are they egocentric and self-serving?  Are they mindful of the people or are they more mindful of their wealth, power and careers?

This is an important thought not only for leaders to consider but for those of us who live in a quasi-democratic society that “chooses” our leaders.  Who will you vote for for president of this nation?  What is our accountability when we choose leaders?  Are we aware that some of them may be getting rich or making this nation rich at the expense of the poor or third-world countries?  Do we care? What about the abortion issue?  If we vote for a president who supports abortion, is the blood of millions of innocent children on our hands too (an issue for many Democrats)?  If we vote for a presidential candidate whose answer to most foreign conflicts is war, is the blood of all those young men and women who are fighting for oil or our “influence” around the world on our hands (not to mention foreigners blood)?  That’s a typical issue for Republicans.  Or ignoring the poor or making fun of those on food stamps or government assistance.

These are big issues with a lot of consequences.  We must vote prayerfully.  I may even suggest not voting if you don’t have a peace of mind about who you vote for.  Don’t fall for these comments that people make that you are irresponsible if you don’t vote and have no reason to complain then.  That is a lie!  We have every reason to complain when what we are offered for candidates I wouldn’t trust them with cutting the grass in my backyard nonetheless running the government.  And frankly, I am tired of voting for the lesser of two evils.  I vote for Christ because in the kingdom of God he is king and commander-in-chief and is such over this world if they recognize it or not.  My allegiance is the Christ first and foremost and the state is at best secondary.

Let’s also not vote for people just because they say they are a Christian.  I don’t want to hear they are a Christian, I want to see it.  I want to see the fruit of it.  And sadly enough, the Republican candidate who appears to be most Christian of the four stooges is a Mormon.  Then there is another who touts Christian values but has cheated on his wives more than my brother cheats in monopoly.  And that’s just the Republican field.  My point is, God is watching and is fully aware of their ploys and our votes.  Let’s not vote for who we want but for who God wants.  And if we don’t have a peace about anyone…vote for no one.  I believe that when it is our turn to give an account…God will understand that we trust in him and in good conscience could not vote for anyone.

Lord, help me to defend the poor and out of my substance and ability serve them.  I pray for the leaders of our nation that tend to hide behind the rhetorical veil of “freedom” “liberty” and “democracy” and yet either do or are tempted to be drawn by the lust of wealth and power.  May they serve the people like Christ serves and loves his Church.  In Christ name, Amen.

Not too long ago I was driving home from work and all of a sudden my car was swallowed up by the shadow of a mammoth SUV/pick-up truck.  This thing was a gas guzzlin’ monster-beast of a truck.  We came to a red light where the beast-truck was in the right lane and I in the left.  As we sat at the light and I was diagonally behind him, I could hear him revin his engine…VROOM…VROOM!!! Then my eye caught a white bumper sticker on his truck that read in red and blue patriotic letters…”I can drive this truck because we can’t all be on welfare!!!” 

Suddenly the light turned green and rubber tires pealed-out leaving smoke everywhere.  As I coughed on this manly man’s dust I couldn’t help but think about Deuteronomy 15:7-11 and feel the heart of God aching.

 

7 If there is among you anyone in need, a member of your community in any of your towns within the land that the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hard-hearted or tight-fisted towards your needy neighbour. 8You should rather open your hand, willingly lending enough to meet the need, whatever it may be. 9Be careful that you do not entertain a mean thought, thinking, ‘The seventh year, the year of remission, is near’, and therefore view your needy neighbour with hostility and give nothing; your neighbour might cry to the Lord against you, and you would incur guilt. 10Give liberally and be ungrudging when you do so, for on this account the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in all that you undertake. 11Since there will never cease to be some in need on the earth, I therefore command you, ‘Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbour in your land.’

With this passage in mind I don’t understand the attitudes and prejudices that people who can obviously drive gas guzzlin’ trucks have.  Now one might say, “Well, you don’t know if he was a Christian or not so how can you hold him to that standard?”

Well first…I don’t know if he was a Christian but I have met MANY Christians with that same exact disgust for those in need or on welfare. These are Christians who have gotten caught up in the American dream and love affair with capitalism more than the economy of God and the ethics of the kingdom. 

Secondly, God does hold the unbeliever to ethical standards.  Unbelievers are not given a get out of jail free card and dismissed from a standard because they don’t believe in it.  There are several places in the Bible where unbelievers are held accountable to ethical standards of God.

But for the sake of this post, let’s explore our own feelings about those in our society who are in need.  How about the elderly, the orphan, the widow, the immigrant, the family stuck in the ghetto, the disabled, etc the list is unending?  It is so sad the bitter and horrible things I hear said about these people…from CHRISTIANS!!!  We can tolerate the widow and orphan as long as the orphan grows up and “get’s a damn job.”  We have little use for immigrants, especially “illegals” (as we title them) regardless of the circumstances they may be trying to escape. If they are “legal” we say “they can stay as long as they learn to speak our own damn language!”  And “there are NO families STUCK in the ghetto, this is capitalism they need to go to college and go out and get a job!”

WHAT CARELESS IGNORANCE!!!

I have heard all of these things, even from elderly church-going grandmas.  HOLY COW!!! What terrific attitudes we have toward the needy.  The Old Testament get’s a bad rap on a lot of things, but especially on this issue…it does not have the often affluent evangelical capitalistic American attitude toward these people.  On the contrary, the Old Testament goes to GREAT lengths to help and provide for these folks. 

Now do I think there are some people leaching off the system and taking advantage of it?  Absolutely.  But we are not called to be their judge of intentions on those issues.  We will be held accountable for what we do when we are met with those needs.  They will be accountable for their own intentions…but even God allows the rain to fall on the just and the unjust.  He provides for all…and a so are we called to do so. 

We all have certain types of people in our hearts that we have been conditioned to despise.  Who are they in your heart?  Are they black?  Are they white or asian?  Are they Muslim?  Are they drunk, poor, homeless, elderly, ghetto, white-trash, rich, catholic etc?  When those feelings and thoughts arise we need to repent of them and reject them.  We need to love those people and “Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbor in your land.”  God loves them and so should we.  We are called to love our neighbor…they are our neighbor!

We are not to be “hard-hearted or tight-fisted.”  We are not to “entertain a mean thought” against them.  But we are to “give liberally and be ungrudging.”  We are not supposed to drive around with stupid bumper stickers on our vehicles and join the culture in abhorring these people and treating them as lazy, invisible, and pests to society. 

I pray for you and for me that we can overcome this bitterness we have for different groups of individuals and see them not as  the world sees them but as Christ sees them in Matthew 25.  Jesus identified with the needy and said when we minister to them…we minister to him.  When we feed the hungry, we feed him.  When we clothe the naked, we clothe him.  When we allow the customer to shop freely without spying on their every  move because they might be stealing, we allow Christ to shop freely.  You get the point. 

May we see every human being as created in the image of God.  May we see them as Christ sees them.  May we see them as Christ.

Rob Bell, a 41 year old senior pastor at Mars Hill Bible Church in Grandville, Michigan is all over the media now…more so than he has been in the past.  Have you seen or heard him?  My experience with Rob Bell actually began some years ago in an adult Bible study class one Sunday afternoon.  Bell does a series of short films, theologically related, called Nooma videos.  These videos are usually quite charismatic, theatrical, dramatic, high-tech, and either moving or informative.  That Sunday during class we watched one of those films.  I can’t say I remember the topic but I remember the images.  To be honest–I liked it and it did have an effect on me at that moment. 

Then some years later, a friend I work with gave me a video of him preaching.  I can’t say that I loved it, but I remember thinking, “Boy this guy is going to reach a  lot of young people.”  I have seen his face and sermons pop up around the web here and there, but I never payed too much attention.  Yet I have to say, I think the name of his church is cool…but I am not sure the world get’s it’s meaning.  He does have a 7,000 member church however, so he has gotten someone’s attention.

Recently, it seems, that the attention he is getting has picked up a lot of steam.  A couple of days ago my sister asked me if I heard of Rob Bell.  She said that she heard that he is preaching that there is NO hell.  The name sounded familiar but I was more focused on what she said he was preaching.  I wasn’t surprised, it is not the first time I have heard such teaching.  An ex-charismatic preacher/singer named Carlton Pearson broke off some years ago and started preaching the same theology…NO HELL! 

Then my curiosity really peaked on Monday when I was walking down the magazine aisle at a local grocery store and saw TIME magazine with an image of hell that looked like a sketch done in the form of Albrecht Durer one of my favorite artists.  The title on the front said, “Rob Bell: Does Hell Really Exist?”  I picked it up, read the article, and could empathize with the points the journalist was trying to make for Bell.  Even though I didn’t agree with many points, I know it has been an issue for millenia in the Church.  I was also able to connect all of the dots going back almost a decade of who Rob Bell is and the church he pastors.

When I got home I went on the web and did some more research.  What I found was mostly very harsh reactions from the Church.  People were criticizing Bell saying things like, “He’s going to hell!” to “That’s what a theology degree from Fuller will get you.”  Then I came across some interviews he did.  One interview in particular stood out to me and that was Martin Bashir interviewing Bell.  It was obvious that Bashir was pretty heated over the topic.  Apparently, Bell just released his newest book, “Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived.”  Bashir gave Bell his perspective of the book and it was not pretty.  In fact, Bell barely got a word in to talk about his book. 

Then I went to my seminary class and it actually came up in conversation before class with the professor.  He said a student from one of his undergrad classes let him borrow it.  The professor did not seem pleased with the book and basically thought Bell is a heretic and perhaps even a pagan.  Apparently, the conversation arose agian during our break in the lounge.  I was downstairs however and missed it.  But one of the students in my class came down and told me that it had come up and she was arguiing with the professor about the book.  She said to me, “I could have really used you up there Jeremy to help me out.”  “Are you sure?”  I thought to myself.  “I believe in judgment, hell, and eternal punishment.  But I also believe in God’s unconditonal love, and I do think it will win in the end.  But what does that mean?”  I thought further.

Bell claims that the reason he wrote the book, the motivation behind it was, that someone basically told him that Ghandhi was in hell.  This claim sent Bell on a contemplative roller coaster trying to determine if God really would send someone like Ghandhi to hell.  What about the woman who was abused sexually, physically, and verbally by her evangelist father?  What kind of emotional damage would something like that do to cause a wall between her and Jesus? 

I asked my fellow seminarian if she actually read Bell’s book and she said she had.  She said that he actually states he believes in hell and that people will go there.  She added that Bell is just unsure if live is our last chance to decide our eternal destiny.  He wonders if God’s love will give people another chance to decide when they die and experience him.  He raises questions that the Church has pondered for years but has remedied with speculative answers that do not necessarily have answers in scripture.  Now this was a different perspective that was not coming out in what I had researched or watched on interviews.  Most interviews didn’t even give Bell a chance to make his case, they just labeled him a heretic.

So this is what I have concluded.  1. I prejudged the book and Bell before I actually read it and gave him a chance to speak for himself.  So before I say anything else I am going to read it and I will blog my thoughts; 2. I wonder how many of his accusers have actually read his book.  Did Bashir read it or did he have some of his assistants read it and then fill him in? 3. Why is the Church always on a heretic hunt looking for witches to burn at the stake?  4. One thing is for sure, Bell has gotten a lot of people to have this discussion again and revisited our views and believes…and there is never anything wrong with that.  In fact, when you think you have it all figured out, and your theology is in perfect order…you are in a bad spot!

In John 8:31-38 Jesus describes to the Jews who had believed in him what true discipleship is exactly.  He says, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”  There response however, always strikes me as being a bit ironic.  They say, “We are descendants of Abraham and have never been slaves to anyone.  What do you mean by saying, ‘You will be made free (NRSV)?”

Uhhh–what?  “Never been slaves to anyone”?  What about Egypt for starters?  What about all the times Israel and Judea were reduced to paying tribute to great empires?  What about the exiles?  What about being conquered by the Greeks and Romans?  Obviously Egypt is the strongest case but according to much of the extant literature of ancient times many Jewish leaders and rabbis thought exile was worse than slavery. 

Jesus doesn’t bring up the points that I just mentioned but perhaps he didn’t need to because he was making another point.  They were not free because they were bound in slavery by sin.  Sin is a horrible task master; the worst task master in fact.  Sin will drive you to do things that you don’t want to do.  It seduces you with lies and deceit.  It convinces you that its way is rewarding and fulfilling.  No matter how hard you try to resist its will…it fights against you and knows your weaknesses. 

Slavery has always been a part of our world.  Slavery plagued Africa and still does in some places far before Africans were enslaved by Americans and brought to labor for wealthy plantation owners.  Slavery existed among the Native Americans often a result of lost wars.  Slavery is an evil oppression.  But there will never be a more oppressive slavery than to that of sin. 

Thankfully, Jesus points to our emancipation from this slave master.  The solution is Jesus the Son.  Only Jesus can make us free.  And if he makes us free we are free “indeed.”  That is, absolutely free.  Yet there is a condition…we must continue in his word to truly be his disciples.  When Jesus says “in his word” what does he mean?  Does he mean the Bible?  Well yeah…sort of.  But I think it means to continue in his message, his teaching.  Obviously his teaching is recorded in the Gospels namely, and also in the rest of the NT.  But in addition, he is still teaching us through his Holy Spirit who leads us into ALL truth. 

“But what is truth?”  asked Pontius Pilatus.  We have to know what truth is to be free.  After all this is what Jesus says: “you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”  So if we are going to be free from the slave master SIN, then we have to know what truth is and know it intimately.  But to know the truth we have to continue in Jesus’ teachings. 

Well, a little later on John reveals what the truth is in 14:6.  Jesus says, “I am the way the truth and the light; no one will come to the Father except by me.”  This passage is pregnant with meaning but it reveals one element that we are focusing on now.  Jesus is truth.  So when Pontius Pilate asks Jesus, “what is truth?” sarcastically and arrogantly; he was looking right at it.  Jesus is truth and only Jesus can set us free from the power of the slave master. 

Once we are free however we have some responsibilities in staying free.  1. John 8:31 “continue in my word”; 2. John 15:1-17 “Remain/abide in Me/Jesus/truth”; 3. Gal. 5:1 “For freedom Christ/truth has set us free. Stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery [sin].”  What these passages communicate is an ongoing process of us committing our lives to continuing, remaining, and standing firm in Jesus and his teachings.  This daily process will keep us free.  

Therefore I encourage those of you who are struggling with sin to be persistent in pursuing Christ and his teachings.  Be tenacious about fleshing out the live of Christ and his teachings in your life.  This will strengthen you and purify those sinful desires from your life.  Those of you who feel pretty safe and comfortable in your freedom…do not take it for granted.   Be even more purposeful in your pursuit of Christ because the devil loves to trap us when we are feeling the best about ourselves and strong.   

Stand firm therefore like a Roman Legion!