Obama’s take on the pope, gospel, and children of God

Well the moment that we’ve all been waiting for: we have a new Pope. Of course I should say “we” because I believe the head of the church is Jesus. However, I’m much aware of the need for accountability structure and thankful for the biblical standard of Presbyterianism which places the final human authority at a General Assembly level (a la Acts 15). That way there isn’t one dude who can stop the buck, or a panel of several dudes like some denominations nowadays have. But I mean no disrespect to other church polity, nor do I desire to debate it now. Simply an ADD moment!

And when I say “we,” I should admit that I’m glad that if there must be a Pope, that he is a Jesuit. I’m the product, for better or worse, of Jesuit High School education. Yet Jesuits in my experience in my Tampa high school seemed more concerned about education than Jesus, so maybe this is not such a good thing?

And when we say “we,” we should also realize that many American Catholics consider the pope to have the same authority as the King or Queen of England. So who knows what this even means for Catholics?

But Obama chimed in with his take on the selection of a new Pope. His concern was not so much the country of origin but the origin of his actions. Sounds good so far. In an interview, he offers his take:

My hope is based on what I know about the Catholic Church–and the terrific work that they’ve done around the world and certainly around this country helping those who are less fortunate–is that you have a pope who sustains and maintains what I consider the central message of the Gospel. We treat everybody as children of God. We love them the way Jesus Christ taught us to love them.

Forget whether or not the Catholic church in general (I’ve come across Catholics who can articulate justification through faith in Christ better than Protestants) has strayed from the central message of the gospel. Just consider what Obama posits as the central message of the gospel: “We treat everybody as children of God. We love them the way Jesus Christ taught us to love them.” 

Hmmm……I guess I can understand why Obama’s faith has led him to approve what he does. If everyone is a child of God, and Jesus taught everyone to love each other as though they are children of God, then I can see how his hermeneutic lands him where he ends up. But I see at least two problems with such a hermeneutic (principle of interpretation).

1.) Not everyone is a child of God. Entrance into the family of God depends upon faith in Jesus. 

He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God-John 1:11-12

You have to be adopted into God’s family. This is not something you are born into. Jews (“his own”) rejected Jesus and are therefore not God’s children. Jews and Gentiles who receive Jesus, have been granted the right to become God’s children.

….the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. Ephesians 2:2-3

Notice that we are naturally children of wrath. Such is what the Ephesians were. Such is what all Christians at one time were. Getting together and singing “we are the world, we are the children” brings out the warm fuzzies in all of us. But it just doesn’t really change our status. But the good news is there is a supernatural work of God wherein he doesn’t leave Christians as children of wrath.

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us,  even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved-Ephesians 4-5

You see that to treat everyone as a child of God is not Jesus wants us to, primarily because not everyone is a child of God.  

2.) How does Jesus tell us to love children of God? How does Jesus tell us to love those who aren’t?

Well to quote one poet, “let me count the ways.” Or you could probably go as simple as Jesus’ words in reciting the 2nd greatest commandment: love your neighbor as yourself. We don’t love everyone as children of God. We can’t. I tell my wife who is a Christian that everything will work out for the good of those who love God (Romans 8:28). You’ve probably heard that a zillion times. But it would not be very loving to tell my neighbor who isn’t a Christian, who hasn’t yet been called (he/may certainly be at one point, and to that end I pray!), that everything is working out for his good. That’s tantamount to offering a deceptively acidic band-aid that will hurt the wound and not heal it. And if my friend who is a Christian is willfully ignoring Jesus’ commands, the loving thing to do is to rebuke him. But I will never rebuke my friends who aren’t Christians. Again, what good does that do? So we can’t love everyone as children of God, for if we try to do that, we really won’t be loving them very well.

But Jesus reminds us in this commandment to love your neighbor as yourself. Now that applies to everyone, Christian and non-Christian. I owe them love. The same kind of love I naturally give to myself. So the specific way I demonstrate love for my neighbor will be determined by his/her relationship to God, and of course numbers of other factors like how well we know each other, his/her needs, his/her maturity, etc….

God showed mercy on me when I wasn’t a child of God, so am I not compelled to show mercy on those who aren’t children of God? Of course! Just because I don’t see them as children of God doesn’t mean that I withhold love. On the contrary, I’m motivated to give more!

I think the Catholic church, which Obama seems to be referencing here, does some good things when it comes to loving neighbors and assisting the poor. Yet it is important to distinguish between children of God and children of wrath. Not because you don’t love the latter, but because you do. You can’t love the same way or you will do harm. Instead, love unbelievers like you would want to be loved. Not agreeing with every issue, but respecting them as people along with their right to disagree.

In summary, the central message of the gospel is that God is reconciling a sinful alienated people and world to Himself through the Savior Jesus Christ. But if you want to get on that train, you must repent from sin and self-trust and place your hope in Jesus. Jesus is calling out, in the words of the 1990’s rap song, “Come on ride that train. And ride it.”

Your words about and prayers for politicians matter

I had some professors at Furman University I liked. I had some that I did not like. I had one, while on foreign study in Italy, that I actually hated. He made fun of Christians. If we asked a question that had anything to do with Christianity and the Romans (our class was cultural diversity in ancient Italy-a pressing issue of our day…), we were ridiculed. Of course there were other reasons we hated him, that were more academic, literally. He was harder and more strict than the other professor on the trip. So what did we do with that hatred, which we presumed to be justified; after all, he hated Christians and made fun of us? He told us that the reasons the Romans persecuted Christians was because Christians were intolerant. Makes a lot of sense, doesn’t it?

So we got together in a small group and blasted him verbally. It was a small group of Christians dominated not the gospel of grace, but by a common hatred for a fellow lawbreaker. Not too long after we got together and vented against this tyrant, the Holy Spirit began to convict us individually. We eventually stopped and pursued more sanctified means of protest and complaint within the proper channels when we arrived stateside: the dean of the school. 

Today I read this passage in Titus 3:1-2

Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people.

I wonder if our little “bash sessions” on foreign study were all that unique. I think the general gist of them probably continues with most long after we graduate college. On to bosses. And eventually on to presidents. As Tom Hanks in Saving Private Ryan reminded us, “gripes go up.”

Isn’t it amazing how easy it is to get together to bash people who promote or perpetuate what we deem is evil? And sometimes we are right. Sometimes what we bash really is evil, so we feel the right to bash, trash, gossip, slander, make fun of the person behind the evil policy. I don’t think we have the right to run our own “smear campaign” behind the scenes.

But how often does this command to “show courtesy to all people” and “to speak evil of no one” really enter into our politically charged impromptu “bash sessions?” This would probably be easier if we actually took seriously Paul’s instruction to Timothy in the 2nd chapter of his first letter to him.

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, 2 for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.

I stink at this prayer. I sadly confess I rarely ever pray for the president. And its not because who I want isn’t in the white house. I’ve just not figured it was very important. But as I’ve gotten a bit older, who is in the white house has become quite important to me. I will not be happy if Obama is elected, and this is one of the first elections where I genuinely care. Because I care, and most people do, these two passages become highly important.

One reminds me that my words about our president are important. My prayers for him are just as important. Thanks to my nifty Prayer Notebook App, I now have a category and will be regularly praying for our president, whoever that may be. I trust that my prayers for our presidents and leaders will then lead me to speak less evil of them personally. Pray despite evil in order to speak less evil.

Love of money is bi-partisan

I will be glad when this election is done. Though I do love the “smear” ads on TV where a campaign pays for a supposedly neutral common man to blast the opponent, and then ends with, “I approve this message,” I think I’ll be ready for one man to win. But my personal favorite is the unbridled optimistic “buy in” from “party homers” reminiscent of the promises made by Pedro from Napoleon Dynamite, guaranteeing the celebration of the “holy santos” and more tater tots.

Several years ago someone asked me, “Did you see Obama’s speech?” I replied that I had not. “Well you should.” Yes, because every politicians pep rally speech becomes reality soon after he’s elected to office. That’s how it works, right?

Anyhow, sorry for the rant.

I’ve been reading I Timothy in the morning these days and came across the well known, but probably often misquoted passage about money found in 6:10-11: 

“But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation…For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils….”

It wouldn’t hurt for both political parties, or rather for all of us, to consider how we display a “love of money.”

Democrat: I don’t want to work, or rather can’t work (that’s what doctors have said, can’t you read this report?), so give me my money. You owe me.

Republicans: I worked hard for my money, so I want to give as little as possible. I built this. I’m voting for someone who will tax me as little as possible so I have more money. And this will fix the economy too.

While one side seems to be painted as the side who wants to hoard money, and the other side as the one who wants to give it away, I think both parties really do love money.

Maybe this is an overly simplistic caricature? But in the midst of mudslinging, disgust, frustration, sadness, over either sides’ recent convention (and you have every right to partake in the latter three), it would do us all well to consider how we-not simply the other side-loves money just as much. Perhaps just in different ways.

Sometimes we love money because it brings security. Sometimes we love it because I can buy cool stuff like a new-or rather refurbished-Mac. I just did. Sometimes we like the power it gives. Sometimes we like the prestige and place in the community. But all of us love it for some reason. It’s not just money we’re after.

Yet Paul reminds Timothy, “But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content.”

Ouch. Yeah, that’s not me, at least not much of the time. But the good news for the Christian, or for those who will one day put their faith in Christ, that’s Jesus to a tee. And his record counts as mine. Fortunately. Not only that but he came poor that we might become rich. Not rich by simply having more money and indulging in our idolatry, but rich because we are lavished with grace and promised a future richness (mansions in a New Heaven and New Earth), that I imagine will one day be even more tangible than a big house.

Jesus is why we can be more content tomorrow than today. And he is why/how we can critique another political party without ignoring the fact that the love of money will always be bi-partisan. I’ll vote the Republican, and I’ll challenge that the other side loves money too, probably just as much. But only Jesus can/has done/will deal with our love of money.

Non-political reflections on "You didn’t build that"

The other day President Obama ruffled a few feathers with his statement on business, “You didn’t build that.” These words below have certainly rubbed Republicans the wrong way, and I would imagine perhaps Democrats-though I can’t confirm that. I’ve just seen facebook post after facebook post mock Obama’s infamous or in-famous (depending on your vote) speech.

“If you’ve been successful you didn’t get there on your own….I’m always struck by people who think ‘well, it must be because I was just so smart’. There are a lot of smart people out there!  ‘It must be because I worked harder than everybody else.’ Let me tell you something—there are a whole bunch of hardworking people out there!”

And you can imagine that within the same dialog, this probably didn’t endear him any further to many:

“If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.”

Now this blog is for the most part like myself, fairly a-political. So I won’t comment on the political or economic component, but instead the anti-individualistic undertone which comprised Obama’s speech. Mitt Romney and other Republicans have opposed this idea, as well want to remain consistent with their own ideology. But I want to say that I think Obama is actually on to something here, that would be quite beneficial to all Christians. Let me explain.

Obama’s driving force behind this comment is his own democratic ideology: successful businesses should pay a larger amount of taxes than those less successful because they have benefited from someone else’s hard work or government structure. At least I think that’s the gist. They didn’t do it entirely by themselves: they sprang up from good soil.
I think the Christian has to agree with this to a large degree. For instance, none of us could run a succesfull business in communist China, right? But consider the other factors of success. Yes some folks work harder than others; that’s hard to argue! Yet who gives man the intellectual and physical capability to do hard work? Clearly some folks just don’t have it; they were not born with the right tools.

Now think of environment. There are always rags-to-riches stories, but consider the fact that these are in fact “stories,” meaning they are not the norm.

Now none of this obliges you to pay higher taxes to the government. I get that and don’t necessarily see the tit-for-tat connection.

But don’t we (I’m saying those of a more Republican persuasion-which is my personal bias) carry the, “Yes I did build that with my hard work” sentiment into church? I worked hard and continue to work hard at this job, therefore it’s my money. It is my house, so I’m not accountable to use it for hospitality. These are my kids and this is my family so why should I bring someone else into the picture for Thanksgiving or Christmas?

On the contrary, we are dependent upon the Lord who ordains all things. Perhaps this passage may help remind us (I’m pretty forgetful) that ultimately we didn’t build our families, houses, or businesses independently. This is what God has to say on the matter in James 4:13-16

13 Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— 14 yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. 15 Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” 16 As it is, you boast in your arrogance.

God does ordain all things and has ordained your opportunity, experience, background, situation, environment, and even ability and drive to do hard work.

I think its hard at times to tithe-though I get that I’m a pastor and it would incredibly hypocritical not to-because we have to trust that God will take care of us when we give back 10% of our income. But I really don’t think fear is the primary driving force.

I think it is primarily an issue of ownership. Whose money is it? If it’s God’s money, God’s house, God’s business, God’s family, then it’s much easier to trust Him with continuing to provide the money, or provide for our houses, businesses, and families.

If you are one who has worked hard, regularly works hard, has taken great risks for a business venture, I personally applaud you. Any sort of work, particularly starting businesses, takes guts, vision, determination, risk, and perseverance. I just think that the hardest working among us are perhaps the most vulnerable to forget the truth found in James 4:13-16.

Distinctly Republican thinking (of which I lean) or distinctly American individualistic thinking (of which most people lean) can sometimes replace-albeit in a subtle way-distinctly gospel-centered thinking and living.