Saturday, May 28, 2011

Picking the Right Battle

These are a few notes that I've written in preparation for preaching tomorrow at Crossroads.

One of the most interesting and sometimes controversial pastors I know goes by the name of David Housholder.   He graduated from the same school for pastors that I did and is now at a church in California.  He wrote a short book about spiritual gifts called Light Your Church On Fire Without Burning It Down.  He travels a lot, speaks to small and large crowds, and is an unashamed sold-out follower of Jesus Christ.

Here are a few lines from a piece he wrote recently called "Come Home, America."
"Come home, America.
Now would be the time.
Al Qaeda has been decapitated. The seven dwarves of wannabe Bin Ladens are hopeless.
The Cold War is over in Europe. As over as leisure suits.
We get most of our oil from the Western Hemisphere. No real reason to import it from the psycho-political Middle East.
Libya is not our problem. The chaos in Mexico is.
Time to come home, America.
We are a New World [western hemisphere] nation.
We started dabbling in Old World politics in McKinley’s administration with the “White Man’s Burden” and the Philippines. It was a slippery slope. 110 years of adventure with a ton of heartache.
Now is the time to realize the great promise of the New World.
The founding fathers warned us against “entangling alliances” in the Old World.
We ignored them.
And we have paid.
And paid.
And paid.
In gold and blood..."
It's Memorial Day Weekend.  Memorial Day began just after the civil war.  It honors those who have died in military service.  Special events will be held tomorrow so we will not forget their sacrifice--early in the morning there will be ceremonies at cemeteries--then will be parades and programs.  The Dassel parade is at 8:45 and the Cokato parade at 10:15.  After each parade there will be a program at both elementary schools--first in Dassel, then in Cokato. I'll be in town tomorrow and I'm planning to go. 

It's good for us, as Christians, to honor those who serve our nation.  Jeremiah 29 says this: "Seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper."  Romans 13 says: "Everyone must submit himself or herself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God."  And from First Timothy 1: "I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone—for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth."

Honestly, I'm thankful for those who do their best to keep this sin-filled, violent and unfair world from falling into total chaos.  I am thankful for all who serve in the military.  I'm thankful for our representative system of government.  I am thankful for the freedom we have to express thoughts and opinions without fear.  I'm thankful that there is still a general sense in this country that things should be fair and honest, even if we fail at those virtues often.  The United States is a very good place to live and we have a lot going for us!  Our nation is based on many good Christian principles, and, even though some of those are under attack, it's still a blessed land.
God bless America!  Land that I love!  Stand beside her, and guide her, through the night with the light from above!  From the mountains, to the prairies, to the ocean, bright with foam, God bless America, my home sweet home.
Well... sort of...  You know this, but America is NOT really my home.  It's the place we live for now.  It's a place we can be thankful for and do our best to improve.  But it's not home.  A few minutes ago (above) I used Bible verses from Jeremiah and Romans and First Timothy to talk about why we should honor our country.  I use Bible verses because you and I are not Americans first.  Because of what Jesus did on the cross for us, we belong to him!  First Corinthians 6 (19-20) says "Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body."  We honor God first, and, because God wants to honor our country, we do that too.

The truth is that no country on this earth will ever be God's Country.  There are people who belong to God, just as much as you and I do, in every country on this earth.  And even when a country like ours uses at least some of God's commandments as the basis of its laws, even when a country like ours has leaders who say that they are Christian and even when those Christian leaders pray and follow Jesus in every way, you still won't have God's country here.  That's one of the things we learn from God's Word.  Just before he died on the cross to buy us for himself, he said: "My Kingdom is NOT from this world.  If it were, my followers would be fighting..." (John 18:36)  This is not God's country.  We've been put here to do God's business, but we will never be able to put an equal sign between any particular country on this earth and the will of God.  It's too full of sin--your sin, my sin, and the works or forces darkness, the devil and his demons that are constantly hounding us.

So, speaking as a Christian, I'd like to do something even more radical than Pastor Housholder.  He said it's time to bring our service men and women home from the Eastern Hemisphere.

He says: "It is time to:
  1. Pull our troops out of Europe.
  2. Pull our troops out of Korea.
  3. Leave the Eastern Hemisphere, militarily. 100% withdrawal.
  4. Help Mexico fix Mexico.
  5. Establish a free trade zone in the Western Hemisphere, the New World.
  6. Stop worrying about trade with India and China. If they won’t play nice (which they won't), then transfer those jobs to North and Latin America.
  7. We won’t even start with the schizophrenic nation of Pakistan, our worst ally… ever.
  8. Build a world-class freight railroad system from Alaska to Chile.
  9. Re-align the military to protect the Western Hemisphere. Seamlessly. With big oceans on both sides and no natural enemies, we are easy, and cheap, to defend.
  10. Develop a joint Western Hemisphere Navy (like NATO was) to which we would supply 3, not 12, carrier groups.
  11. Thus save trillions in military expenditures and foreign aid, all the while enhancing our security. Oh, by the way, this would balance the budget.
  12. Be on good terms with the Old World, but stay out of their un-solvable feuds.
  13. Have every student in our hemisphere learn English and Spanish in addition to his/her native tongue. No exceptions.
  14. Create a national volunteer service throughout the hemisphere to build the infrastructure. Mandatory two years after high school. Get our young people out from in front of screens with video games and Simpsons reruns and out doing some good.
  15. Eliminate drug cartels.
Now those might be some good ideas. I'm no politician, and neither David nor I have the responsibility for the military or political strategies of the United States.  I think he's just trying to get the conversation going, and that's a good thing.  But I would like to use what David says as an analogy to think about where we are spending the time and energy and money God has given us.

I say it's time to bring our Christian soldiers home to the Kingdom of God, and to quit spending so much time and energy worrying and working to try to save the old world systems and to go out, not in the name of America, and not to save the United States, but to go out and to pray and pray to save the people God loves wherever and whoever they may be.  We spend a lot more time and energy than we should on things that really don't matter, things that are a part of the old world, the one we don't belong to anymore.  Yes, we want to honor our nation and its leaders and its servicemen and servicewomen, but we do that because God tells us to, not because somehow our country has a claim on us.  And I would even say this: since the world or the nation as a whole is not going to be saved for God, I think we ought to reconsider how much time and energy we put into arguments about politics and politicians, and, instead, come back to the Kingdom of God and work on things that will really make a difference in people's lives.

Do we really want to try to get the world out there to follow God's commands without first knowing God's grace and love?   The Bible passage we read from John 14 (see below) says that the world as whole cannot receive God the Holy Spirit and cannot see Jesus!  That's the battle I choose!  Let's pray and love and share the good news so many will know Jesus Christ and be saved--one by one.

So where should we be investing what God has given us?  How do we move our energy and time and resources from the old world to the new?  In the Spiritual Warfare class that we just finished on Monday nights, we learned about things that will really make a difference... preaching and sharing the good news in various ways with various groups of people--with the young, the old, those who come to church and those who don't, serving suffering people, giving our money--this breaks the hold our money has on us, reacting rightly--that is, reacting to adversity in God-honoring ways--not panicking or reacting with fear or hate--reacting with trust--knowing that God will eventually have the victory, fasting--setting aside what we think we need or what we want so we depend more fully on God, repenting of our sin and exercising faith, giving our money generously--giving money instead of hanging onto it breaks the power money has on us, persevering in doing God's will--not giving up when things get hard, worshiping and praising God--honest praise and heartfelt worship pushes the darkness back spiritually and psychologically, and, most of all, what we learned about from Bjorn Pedersen last week, praying, interceding, coming with our requests to God, putting our requests in words and praying consistently and specifically--grieving over those who are lost and praying that they might be found!

These may not seem to be as effective or as important as building up our military or making sure we have good and god-honoring laws, but the Bible teaches us that these are the most important things indeed because they flow out of a loving relationship with God, a relationship he initiates with us when we come to know that he gave his life for us on the cross.  But in order to do these things more effectively, it will be necessary for us to pick and choose our battles based on God's Word, and not based on what others may think.

A more complete version of this will be, God willing, shared tomorrow morning in worship.

Jesus is here speaking to his disciples in John 14:

  ... 12 I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. 13 And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. 14 You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.
15 “If you love me, you will obey what I command. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever— 17 the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. 18 I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. 19 Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. 20 On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. 21 Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him.”
22 Then Judas (not Judas Iscariot) said, “But, Lord, why do you intend to show yourself to us and not to the world?”
23 Jesus replied, “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. 24 He who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.
25 “All this I have spoken while still with you. 26 But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. 27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

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