[STUDY] PROSPERITY GOSPEL [most recent]
I have hesitated to include a separate section on this because so much of our teaching deals with this issue. So to get all the stuff on this subject, you really need to read all the stuff on this site. For a quick read, go to my book House of Prayer or Den of Thieves on this blog, it’s in the 2-2010 posts. Also read 1st Timothy chapter 6- it gives a good balance on how Christians should view money- something that the prosperity ‘gospel’ has distorted in many ways.
1775- WHAT DID HE SAY?
Let’s do a little review today. I know the history posts go a little long sometimes- and many Christians do not see the value in studying church history.
But I have found over the years that a lot of independent type churches- good men- good people- but cut off from the broader church- well these churches have a tendency to get off in a rut- a particular doctrine or style of teaching- and after a while it becomes impossible to get these good church folk back on the balanced course.
A few examples. Many years ago- as a young Pastor- I had lots of good Pastor friends who too were doing their best to do what they felt God wanted.
At the time- I began having difficulty with many of the most popular interpretations of the bible that these good men were using.
After a while I realized that some of the stuff was so off course- that if they didn’t make some major course corrections at the time- that they were going to end up spending their entire Pastorate teaching stuff that is out right false.
I have talked a lot about this over the years- and the examples are too numerous to cover them all- but a good example is the ‘Camel going thru the eye of a Needle’ verse.
One time Jesus and his men were going thru town and a young rich guy asks Jesus what he must do to be saved.
A pretty straight forward question- right to the point.
Jesus tells the guy to keep the law- the guy asks which ones.
Ah- now you’re digging yourself in brother.
So Jesus says to love God and his neighbor- these are the top ones.
He asks ‘and who is my neighbor’?
Jesus goes on and gives an explanation- and he also tells the guy to go and sell all he has and give it to the poor- and follow him.
The guy goes away sad because he was rich.
Then Jesus says ‘it’s harder for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven than for a Camel to go thru the Eye of a Needle’.
The disciples [I think Peter?] say ‘then who can be saved’?
Jesus says with men it is impossible- but not with God- with God all things are possible.
[just a quick side note- I haven’t read all these stories in a while- trust me- they are all in the bible- but I might have mixed a few together- but the main point stays the same]
Okay- in context- what could Jesus be saying about the camel and the needle?
It sure seems like he’s using a figure of speech that would mean ‘look- the guy is too attached to his money to fully give himself over to being a follower of me- maybe down the road he will change- but he’s not ready yet’.
Seems reasonable to me- don’t you think?
But wait- in the group of pastors/teachers that were popular at the time- one of the main teachings was how to get rich- and they saw financial increase as the main thing- I mean that’s what they focused on all the time.
So what do you do with verses like these?
You simply change them- you make them say what you want.
So the ‘true’ explanation for the Camel and the Needle became ‘the Eye of the Needle is the name of a low passage way thru the wall into the city- and the merchants- if they have lots of stuff- well the Camel has to stoop low to get thru’.
Aha- so what seems to mean ‘rich folk will have a hard time making the kingdom’ really means something else- as a matter of fact- it means the opposite- because the Camels that have to ‘scooch’ belong to the owners who have a lot of goods- thus the Camel has to get low.
Okay- maybe as rank amateurs this stuff was not the unpardonable sin- but many of these men are still teaching this type of stuff- and this one example is the tip of the iceberg- I could go on for a long time quoting all them but that’s not the point for now.
The main point is- if Christians separate themselves from the broader church- not just talking about ‘going to church’ but talking about the broad understanding that the people of God have- the books and teachings of those who have gone before us- not just one small group- but the whole community- then we will avoid these kinds of pitfalls.
As we do a few more posts in the coming weeks on church history- we will see this was one of the things restored by the Protestants Reformers during the 16th century.
Luther restored what’s referred to as the Literal Sense- that when you read the bible- you should be able to take it at face value- as much as possible.
Sure- you also want to ‘hear God’ speak in a personal way- but if what your hearing is the exact opposite of what the text is saying- well then we do have a problem.
Note- Do me a favor, those who read/like the posts- re-post them on other sites as well as the site you read them on. Thanks- John
 Happy new years eve to all. Let’s do a brief Year in Review.
We did have quite a busy news year- last night I caught a CSPAN clip of Newt- yeah- he was crying like a baby!
Okay- not that bad- but he did break down for a few seconds on screen. Some of the pundits debated if it were ‘planned’ or real.
I think E.J. Dionne [a liberal news guy] got it right- he said he thought it was sincere- but how much it will help a man in a Repub primary fight- well that’s another story.
Boehner said he didn’t see anything wrong with it [lol for you non savvy political folk- who knows- maybe they will both run for office in North Korea? The crying capitol of the world].
The big story of the year? Well- there were a few [Tsunami- Arab Spring- E.U. crisis] but as a geopolitical event that was big- I guess I would say the shakeup we saw in the Arab world was pretty major.
It started with a street vender in Tunisia- he refused to pay ‘the tax’ to the cops for his street profit- it’s really a form of extortion like the mob uses. So in frustration he ‘self immolated’ [lit himself on fire!] and he died a few days later from his injuries.
This led to the overthrow of the long time leader in Tunisia [Ben Ammi]- and then the Egyptians followed suit by protesting in the historic Tahrir square.
Mubarak got toppled and then Libya gave it a shot. Of course we [the U.S. and NATO] basically bombed the hell out of the place and then let the rebel’s claim they won.
Last week in Nigeria- on Christmas day- Muslim radicals bombed a Christian church and killed many worshippers. Nigeria is much like the Sudan- the country is divided North and South by Muslims and Christians [Sudan’s south also has lots of Animists].
What do all these countries have in common? They are all in Africa. Yes- the African continent probably saw the most ‘action’ though the last part of the year we have focused on Europe.
Yes- Europe had her own Western style debt crisis. It can get a little confusing- I mean I was watching one news show- the title was the Euro Zone debt crisis- and they said there were 27 nations in the Euro Zone.
That’s a common mistake some have made. The Euro Zone is made up of 17 European nations- that have entered into a treaty that allows them to all use one common currency- the Euro.
But there are a total of 27 nations that make up the European Union- the biggest Economy out of all of them is Britain- they are not part of the Euro Zone- though they are part of the E.U. - got it?
By the way- Brazil just passed Britain as the world’s 6th [or 7th?] largest economy.
And Japan faced her devastating earthquake/Tsunami [I think it was this year?] anyway there economy has been in the doldrums for around 20 years. Japan had her own recession/depression many years ago- and they have still never fully recovered.
Which brings us to the end of the year in the U.S.
We end the year with some better than expected economic numbers- but don’t be fooled- the numbers are not great- they are actually not good- they are just better than expected.
Some now predict that the last quarter will see around 3 % growth [it takes a few weeks for the data to come out] and some are predicting that 2012 we’ll see around 3 % growth.
3 % is not good- it’s actually bad- but it’s not as bad as a recession.
What we need to keep in mind is our economy has gone through some major hits- and like Japan- you don’t just pop out of it in a few years.
Many of the companies are in better shape- because they scaled back- they cut people and downsized- some for good.
So- the DOW might look good because of stuff like this- but we have now had a few years of college grads who have been unable to find work- and they missed the ‘boost’ of getting a good job- buying a car- getting a place to stay- and this group of young unemployed kids- well they might never get the jump they need to do ‘better than their parents’.
So by no means have we as a country recovered from our debt/economic problems- and the E.U. still has a lot of risk in the coming year.
In the last few weeks the Federal Reserve and a few other central banks made money available to the E.U. banks at a cheap rate.
The theory is if you pour money into the banks- that might loosen up lending- and you avoid a real problem. Just like our own TARP thing we did in 2008.
But lo and behold- some of the E.U. nations sold [tried] to sell some bonds- and the banks did not buy as many as people expected. The banks took the cash [like the U.S. banks did in 2008] and basically sat on the money.
So all this means we still have a tough year ahead- globally- and just because some numbers are looking better at the end of the year for the U.S.- this does not mean all is well.
The scripture reading for this week is Isaiah 52. The prophet speaks about Gods people- he says ‘Wake up- rise up- shake the dust from your feet and move on’.
He also says that blessed are those who preach the Good News- the good news of salvation. Those who publish peace- those who declare Gods rule.
I have a habit- every week [just about] I watch the Catholic Mass on the tube- those are the bible chapters I cover during the week.
Of course this past week I watched the Popes Mass from Rome- the Pope spoke against the commercializing of Christmas- and he reminded us that the true message of Christmas is Emmanuel- God with Us.
As we end the year- I want to encourage all my readers/friends- the reality of God being with us is what’s important. Yes- I do think many are not seeing the ‘story behind the story’ in the above news events- many want to believe there is no way they might have lost money [401 k’s] and they might never see that money again.
But that’s okay- even if you didn’t lose it this past year- you were going to ‘lose it’ someday- we all have to leave some day- and we have a tendency to put that reality off.
One year I had a friend- another firefighter- who just started investing in Real Estate. And all the guys knew I was doing that for years. I used to have renters come by and drop off the rent checks and stuff like that.
So when one of the other guys got into it- they would ask me for advice. One day I had a friend- around 50 years old- and he bought a few homes.
As he was talking- he was telling me that he would pay off these 2- sell this one- rent the other- I mean he had all the plans first time buyers/investors get into. I simply tried to give him some sound advice- and I also had to stop him at one point.
He was telling me the plans he had for the 3 homes that were on a 30 year mortgage- and I had to say ‘Mike- I know your excited about the houses- but you’re talking about paying off these homes- you do realize you might be dead before the mortgage is paid off’.
I wasn’t being funny- I actually was telling him something that many investors do not calculate in when they do the numbers- they very rarely calculate in their own mortality.
So yes- we will all do our best- we will watch the numbers this year- and well will try and publish the good news- the good news of God being with men- that God became a man- was crucified- died- and buried. He rose again the 3rd day- according to the scriptures- he will come again to judge the living and the dead. Amen and Amen.
Happy New Year to all.
Note- Do me a favor, those who read/like the posts- re-post them on other sites as well as the site you read them on. Thanks- John
 JESUS FOR PRESIDENT?
Let’s try and cover a few current events. Obviously the media lost a major ‘player’ [source] of ‘news’ when Cain left the stage. And it only took them a few days before they attached on to Gingrich.
Christianne Amanpour [CNN] asked ‘do you think a twice divorced person can get the support he needs to be president’. This is not the first time I have heard this.
I think Newt is a smart guy- I’m not a big defender of any of these guys- but the hypocrisy of the media to keep asking this- as a major campaign question- is nuts.
Sure- he’s been divorced- we got that. Yet Edwards [John] actually fathered a child with a woman- while his wife was suffering from cancer [the same thing that Newt did] and the media did not think that story was relevant- they indeed knew about the thing.
It was only after the Enquirer actually got pictures of Edwards holding the kid- then the story broke.
So this obsession with Newt’s divorce- please.
Okay- the headline read ‘Woman in prison for being raped is pardoned’. Wow. Yes- this headline ran in a couple of my papers- right next to the name Afghanistan.
So- if you didn’t read the story- you would think that some woman got raped in the country- under those bad Taliban folk- and because we ‘liberated’ them- she's free.
Actually- that’s not the story. The woman was raped during the present regime- our guys [Karzai] and the courts made her a deal ‘if you marry the rapist- you go free’. She refused. She has been raising her daughter in jail- and Karzai made her the offer a 2nd time [how noble of him] and she married the rapist and she’s out.
The title should have been ‘Woman who was raped is forced to marry the S.O.B.’
Biden goes to the ancient city of Constantinople the other day [Modern day Istanbul- Turkey]. He’s having a meeting with a group of business people and young entrepreneurs that the president had launched a few years back.
In the meeting Biden stands up and gives this Joe Paterno like speech ‘way to go boys- we [Turkey and the U.S.] have come far in this liberating project of business- our success and democratic spirit have been a lynchpin for the Arab Spring….’ you know- Biden likes to talk a lot.
Right after he gave the sermon- one of the Turkish guys got up and slammed the West [us and Europe] for being a bunch of inept leaders- nations who spend more than they have like spoiled brats- and have no political courage to change course. Yeah Joe- you sure told them!
As we approach the end of the year- there are so many very serious world events taking place- events that will play a major role in our lives here in the U.S.
For the life of me- I can’t see how investors can be up on the market- even though some numbers are good- these other things are hanging right on the edge.
The Euro Zone is nowhere near being fixed- and the options are terrible. They will either have to jump in 100 % behind the Euro [which Germany and others will never do] or they split up.
The break up looks like it might happen- the odds are higher now than ever. Okay- if that happens- it will affect world markets- and many analysts fear it will cause us to go into another recession.
So- if these scenarios are possible [probable] then how can you have an optimistic overall outlook- economically speaking? Sure- you can hedge your bets and do well- I’m not saying we are all gonna die- but to be acting like we are on some boom market- that’s nuts.
During the time of Jesus you had a divided people. In 1st century Palestine the Jewish people split into 4 basic sects. 2 of them are pretty well known- the Pharisees and Sadducees- they are mentioned often in scripture.
The other 2 are less well known- the Zealots and the Essenes. The Zealots are named in the bible- but only in passing. We have no references to the Essenes.
The Pharisees were sticklers for the Torah [Jewish bible] and the Sadducees centered their life around the Temple- they were more of a political/religious type group.
They stuck to the Torah alone. That is they only received the actual first 5 books of the Old Testament- which is the Torah [also the term is used to speak of the entire Old Testament] and that’s why the Sadducees rejected miracles and angels and stuff. Most of those stories are found in the other O.T. books.
The Zealots were a group of people who hated compromise- they were actually a 1st century ‘terrorist’ group- who carried out assassinations. Not on Rome- but on their own people!
The zealots hated those who compromised with Rome- and if they felt a leader was too chummy- they killed him.
The Essenes were a separatist group who lived in ‘the hills’ [Qumran community] they simply gave up completely on any political solutions for the day- and went and lived in the hills. These are the ones responsible for hiding the Dead Sea scrolls [old bible books found in the last century] in a cave.
It’s interesting to note that Jesus had both a Zealot on his team [Simon- not Peter who also went by that name] and Matthew- a Tax collector. Tax collectors were considered the biggest sell outs of all- they actually worked for Rome and scammed their own people- it must have been hard for Jesus to lead this group [the 12 disciples] who came from such opposite ends of the political spectrum.
Yet Jesus did lead them- he was even offered earthly rule a few times [once from satan- and once from the people who heard him] he rejected it both times. His kingdom was not ‘of this world’.
In the New Testament book of Philippians- the bible says that though Jesus was in the form of God [deity] yet he became a man and humbled himself to the death of the Cross- a shameful way to die.
We have one letter written in the N.T. by a ‘family’ member of Jesus- that’s the epistle of James.
Protestants believe that Mary had other kids after Jesus was born- our Catholic friends teach that she remained a Virgin her whole life. My purpose right now is not to get into that.
James was considered the ‘half brother’ of Jesus [Mary was the mom of both boys- Joseph was the dad of James- Jesus’ father was God]. Okay- James was slow to believe in his brother- but over time as Jesus was declaring himself to be the Messiah- I’m sure James had to wonder- you know- think back ‘gee- come to think of it- I can’t’ remember a time where my brother got in trouble’.
Wait- now I remember- yeah- that time when Jesus was 12- we all went to Jerusalem for the big feast- and Jesus stayed behind while we started the trip home. Yeah- we went 3 days before we realized he was gone. Boy was mom mad that day.
So we went all the way back to get him- and when we found him- he was sitting in the temple- asking these questions- I mean questions that only theologians knew- Jesus was still a kid.
Mom said to him ‘son- why did you stay behind- we were worried’! Yeah- she was mad- if there was ever a time my brother came close to getting in trouble- this was it. But Jesus said ‘why were you worried- didn’t you know I would be doing my Fathers business’ yeah- he sure seemed different- but the Messiah- come on.
So as the ministry years of Jesus role by- there are all these reports of miracles and healings- blind people seeing- dead people coming back from the grave.
Yeah- James has got to be wondering now- but no- he could not accept that his own brother was the promised Son of God- no- too much.
Then the day came- that terrible day where mom had to watch Jesus die on that rugged Cross- on Golgotha- man the hill looked like a skull.
Yeah- it was a strange site- I mean the sky got dark- an earthquake shook the place- and even the Roman soldier who witnessed my brother die said ‘surely this was the son of God’. Wow- too much- my bother has carried this thing too far- even in his death he won’t let this obsession go.
Then James hears some disturbing reports- his friends are saying that Jesus has come back- that he pulled it off- the greatest miracle ever- the one Houdini himself couldn’t do.
But are the reports true? I mean if anyone could tell if this guy walking around is really Jesus- James would know.
We don’t read of the account- but all we know is James became a believer- a believer that his brother was indeed the Messiah- the Son of God.
I guess it went something like this- Jesus sitting there with his men- James shows up and sees his brother- the perfect one- not a spot on his record. Maybe Jesus looked up- maybe he said ‘brother- do you now see’ and yeah- he saw.
James would go on to be one of the leaders/Pastors of the church at Jerusalem- we read about him in Acts chapter 15. Most scholars believe this was the same James who penned the short letter we find in the N.T. that bears his name.
One thing James hits on a lot in his letter- is he defends the poor- the downtrodden- and he rips into the rich- the elite of the day. He warns us not to be biased- not to use ‘uneven scales’ when dealing with people.
James hit on social justice issues- he picked them up from his brother.
We need to be concerned about the world- if a raped woman is forced to marry her rapist- then we ought not say ‘she was pardoned’. When we critique one person for past failures- then we must do that to all.
But at the end of the day- Jesus never took the earthly crown- he did not see the solution to be a political one- he brought Simon and Matthew together on the same team- and he showed them what it means to lay your life down for others- to live without the praise of men- the earthly standard of success- he chose another way- and he left that path for us.
 Where’s the oil?
Let’s cover a parable of Jesus. In Matthew 25 Jesus tells the story of the 10 virgins who went to meet the bridegroom. 5 were wise- 5 were foolish. The wise ones took containers of oil with their lamps. The foolish ones took lamps- but no oil.
All the virgins were waiting for the bridegroom to return [Jesus] and as the wait went long- they all fell asleep.
Then at midnight the bridegroom came back- and they all awoke. The virgins who took no oil asked the ones who had oil ‘can you give us some’ they were told ‘no- but you go buy some too- like we did’ and as they went to buy- the bridegroom took the ones who were ready- they went into the feast and the door was shut.
The ‘no oil’ crowd missed out.
Okay- what does this mean? Well- if you have lamps at the house you need to…- Well maybe there’s a little more to it than that.
When we read the parables of Jesus- the most important thing [in my view] needed to understand them is the context. I have heard many good teachings over the years- on all the parables- and lot of times the preachers/Christians ‘place’ them in the context of ‘current church’.
Maybe the parable of the sower- they’ll struggle with ‘okay- is this group ‘saved’ or what about these who endure to the end’. While of course it is true that we can apply the parables to modern life- most of the times when we approach them with the mindset that Jesus is speaking specifically about ‘your church’ or church group- well then I think we miss the main meaning.
Having said all that- I think I will ‘apply’ this one to some current events of the day. But first- Jesus is basically telling his audience- the Jewish nation- that many people will think they are ready for his return and they will find out- too late- that they were not really ready- no oil.
As a ‘teacher’ who likes to teach all Christians- Catholic, Protestant- etc. What I try to do is present both sides of the issue. I also strive to teach from ‘a storehouse’ of oil- I make an attempt to be familiar with the current trends in Theology- hear/read what the scholars are saying- and to also have a background on the history of the various churches.
Then- when doing the teaching- I try to be honest- and fair. If I have a particular point of view- or a way I think the text should be taught- or what the ‘right’ doctrine is- I will share it from that point of view.
But it would also be unfair to use the years of study- and then ‘blast’ another denominations adherents- fully realizing that the average church attendee probably does not have the same background info that I’m familiar with.
So it’s important to teach from ‘a storehouse’ while at the same time not using the storehouse to simply prove your point.
Okay- Over the years I have bought tons of books- and as time went by- I had to eventually make room for this collection. Though I have a huge wall in my study just for books- yet I still ran out of room. So one day I packed up all the ‘less valuable’ books- and off they went to the half price book store.
I kind of reminisced as I went thru the process of ‘should I dump this one’ or should I hold on to it. A lot of the titles were silly- things like ‘when your money system fails’ or stuff like the mark of the beast- or more practical titles like ‘flying higher’ or ‘improve your serve’.
All well meaning books/authors- who for whatever reason woke up one day- had a ‘thought’ and off to the printing press they went.
Okay- storehouse? No. Well meaning? Yes. But a storehouse [operating out of years of good learning] no.
Now- I don’t want to be too mean here- there are times where a book- or teaching that is simple can speak to people. Jesus parables were indeed short stories that were simple- people could remember them- not like a long theological treatise from the great apostle Paul [Romans] where you learn from hard study- but Jesus style was indeed short- and sweet.
Plus- it’s easy to remember the moral of the story- without banging your head up against some heavy doctrine.
Yet- heavy doctrine plays its role as well.
Now- most contemporary teaching- like going to church on Sunday-most of it today springs from this ‘I’ll take my lamp and I will see what we got for this week’. You know- you wake up on Monday- kind of go thru the week [talking pastors here- which I did myself for a few years] and you ‘come up’ with something for Sunday.
Sometimes you come up with something good- sometimes not so good. Often times you’re simply going from week to week- sort of like my bookshelf- listening/reading stuff- well meaning stuff- but just stuff.
I mean an entire book on ‘flying higher’. Yeah- I still remember it. A well meaning pastor- but the whole book was based on how one day a friend told him about how pilots use a certain technique when they fly- and Walla- a book!
Or another title form a very famous preacher of the day- ‘how I lost 30 pounds’ [I think it was 30? But who really cares!]
Say if you went to college- and as you arrived at the class- your professor said ‘okay- this week we will cover [math- or whatever subject]’ and he went on and taught an entire lesson from some sign he saw while driving to the school [you know- a literal sign that said ‘2 plus 2 is 4’].
You would think to yourself ‘geez- at this rate- I will never really get an education’ and you would be right.
So why do believers think its okay to learn the faith like this?
The bible commands us to be childlike in faith- that is to be like a child when approaching God- as our Father. But the bible also says to be mature when it comes to our understanding ‘in understanding be men’ [Apostle Paul].
Wherever you are at today on your journey- I want to encourage you to ‘clean out the book shelf’ don’t live with a ‘lamp only’ mentality- that is you show up at the party with a lamp [some gift/tool that might be a good tool- like writing a book- or preaching a sermon] but a lamp is only effective if it comes with a container- a container that has some oil to ‘back it up’.
I fear that too many of us are showing up at the party- we have waited a long time for the groom to come back- and we realize too late that we spent a whole lot of time perfecting our ‘lamp skills’ and the important stuff [oil] is missing.
 FOR A PAIR OF SHOES? CMON!
Yesterday I saw a few clips from a talk Joe Biden gave- he was at some municipal type function [Cops- Firemen] and he was basically defending the presidents ‘jobs bill’. I mean the guy really impressed me with his mastery of the numbers.
He rattled off ‘in 2007- you had this many cops on the street- this many rapes- this many killings’. He then went on to the following years- you know- showing us that as the force went down in numbers- that the violent crimes went up.
I mean- it was so smooth- you would think he was just pulling the numbers out of the air.
As he left the hall- some reporter got him on whether or not it was right to associate voting no on the ‘jobs bill’ with being for an increase in rapes [Biden was saying if you vote no- then the number of cops being let go will go up- and the rapes will go up too- according to his numbers].
Biden kind of got into a little scuffle ‘hey buddy- don’t you misquote me on this- this is what I said’ you know- Biden has never had trouble with talking off the cuff like that.
Then sure enough- the Repubs got the actual numbers from the FBI on the rapes and stuff from that city [I think he was in Boston?].
And the actual numbers were the opposite of what Biden said- the rapes went down over the years he said they went up.
I like old Joe- he lives his life for the moment. You know- having a few shots of J.D. with the guys at the Fire Dept. Hanging out with the cops and all my fellow union bro’s [still am a member with the fire fighters union] and then going to the union hall and hitting one out of the park- just giving this soul stirring defense of the president’s policy- rattling off those numbers like one of the local lotto ‘quick 6’ guys does at the corner store.
Then of course the thrill is short lived- sure it made you feel great as you hung out with the boys for the rest of the day ‘Biden sure defended us today- way to go Joe- way to go’. Then he gets back home and sees all the clips of how he screwed up the whole thing.
You know- his wife saying ‘hey honey- look your on CNN again- they’re making fun of you’. And Biden probably just fluffs the thing off ‘Heck- this aint the first time baby- and won’t be the last’. Oh- and by the way- Obama’s trying to get a hold of you- ‘just tell him I’m’ busy hon- talk to him another day’.
Ah- the more I watch these guys- the more I keep thinking of the Don Knott’s movie ‘the gang that can’t shoot straight’ it’s sad- but at least you can laugh as the country goes to Hades in a hand basket.
Okay- to my liberal friends- this next one is for you.
I do think very seriously that our country- and the world- has very serious problems facing us these next few years. I do not see the answer to these problems as being conservative or liberal- I think that both sides really need to be able to come to the table and talk as adults- that has not happened yet.
I’m going to defend Obama right now- just a warning to both sides.
These past few months the U.S. has been trying to negotiate a deal with Iraq- we originally signed an agreement with the new govt. that we would stay in their country till the end of this year.
As the months rolled by the leadership of Iraq has had some very shaky people join their ranks. Iraq is now considered [by many insiders] as being part of a group of 3 nations [Iraq- Syria- Iran] that are strengthening their ties- as sort of a buffer against the other nations in the region.
One of the leaders in Iraq- on the official payroll- is Muqtada Al Sadr [I’m guessing on the spelling?] Do you remember him?
This guy led his own militia during our war in Iraq. At times we went back and forth on whether or not we should target his little enclave and take out his personal army.
Eventually we decided to let the guy live and he finally got on the actual team of leaders that make up the new Iraqi leadership.
This guy has killed our guys- we have killed his.
Now- a while back he agreed to putting a stop to the killing of American soldiers in Iraq [gee thanks a lot!]. He is a religious leader with a following- and at one time he justified [Fatwa] the killing of American soldiers as being part of fighting the ‘infidel’ invaders from the west.
After he got in office- he agreed to tell this people ‘stop killing them’- for good? No- just until the official agreement of our forces staying until this year ends- but after that- he has said its open shooting once again.
Okay- this guy is part of the Iraqi govt.- he’s telling us he will take his guys and kill American soldiers if we stay past the deadline.
Obama has been trying to extend the deadline [at the secret request of the Iraqi leaders- they want us to stay longer- but because of political posturing won’t say it openly]. But in order for them to look tough to the outsiders- they are refusing to sign an agreement that would give our guys legal immunity if we stay.
So you have these guys playing ‘hard ball’ with our guys- we are not asking them to pay the 800 billion dollar bill we have racked up over these past 10 years- they have officials in their govt. who are openly saying ‘you stay past the deadline- your dead’ and the other leaders will not grant our guys immunity.
I would have done the same thing Obama did- you know what- we shed blood here- your govt. has turned into a major supporter of some of our biggest enemies in the region- and your own officials are calling for the killing of our men- after the deadline.
Your damn right we’re not staying- no way in hell.
But we are so divided- the Repub candidates have used this as a tool to criticize Obama- and the left has done the same dirty deeds [Biden’s numbers game?]
This week the DOW went up to around 11,800. I’ll admit- I did not think we would see those numbers this year- nor do I think it’s smart for us to ‘see’ those numbers.
Why? I have said a bunch of times over this last year that the global economy is not in good shape.
Some economists think we [the U.S. and Europe] are going through a De- Leveraging cycle. They feel that nations/economies can only go so long through a borrowing/spending cycle- and then they have to ‘bottom out’ and go through a long season of deleveraging.
Many think that the west is in this phase right now- and will be in it for a number of years.
That’s why Greece- once again- is having open rioting on the streets. They have over borrowed- over promised- and now are doing what’s called Austerity measures- they have to cut.
Now- in our country- we too have these same problems looming over the horizon- we are not technically as bad as Greece [yet] but we are in trouble.
The only way to really deal with this problem- is for both sides to actually make some serious cuts/changes in what we call entitlement programs [Medicare being the biggest] and yes- some type of income on the ‘revenue side’.
Not raising taxes across the board [maybe?] but doing what many on both sides have called for- closing a lot of the loopholes that are in the tax code and making real ‘adjustments’ to entitlements- if we don’t seriously do this- then we will be in big trouble.
Okay- why do I think the DOW is way too high? Investors have been looking for a sign- any sign- that they can use to hang some hope on- that we will not go into another recession.
Sure enough- some good news did come out- and some not so good.
Then once again- the European debt yoyo- it went up again- the investors thought ‘o- maybe the Euro Zone will fix its debt crisis’. Look- no matter what deal they do- they will still have a very long way to go to get out of their problems- and their banks and economies are going to still suffer- no matter what.
And why was Biden doing the speech? Because he was trying to get support for Obama’s plan to send more federal money back to the states. The states have been propped up by the stimulus package and fed. aid- and that moneys gone.
So yes- the states are going to lay off this year- more than any previous year- the moneys gone.
All of these things are huge problems- on a Macro level- that are going to effect the global markets for many years to come- even if the actual figures for business look better [many financial guys have been saying ‘the fundamentals are much better’- true- in a way].
But no business functions in a vacuum. No matter how good the bottom line looks- if people are out of work- and banks are not lending- and if we are really in a de leveraging cycle- then no matter how good the ‘fundamentals’ are- the ‘customers’ are broke- or can’t get a loan to buy the good/service- see?
Okay- lets end with some bible stuff- before I lose all my Christian readers.
A while back we were doing an over view of the entire bible- and I probably should have done at least one last post or 2 before we stopped [maybe will get to that in the next few weeks?]
We stopped at the O.T. prophets- and under that category- you have what we call the Major and Minor Prophets. That’s simply a distinction in the size of their books [Isaiah is long- major- Amos short- minor].
I did hit on Isaiah some- and for a minor prophet- if I could only do one- it would be Amos.
Amos was a very strong defender of the poor- the weak ones in society. He railed against the rich- and the powerful- ‘you sell the poor for a pair of shoes- there is no justice in the land’.
In a way- you could fit him in at one of the Occupy Wall Street rallies.
Amos also condemned the ‘church folk’ he said [like the other prophets too] that the religious people were having great meetings- they were rejoicing in their religious life- they had a great time ‘practicing’ their religion [every day a Friday?] Yet there were many injustices in the land- things that God was not happy with.
And these things were the uneven balances that existed in their day.
When he said ‘you sold the poor for a pair of shoes’ yes- the ‘market’ was that bad- that you could ‘buy a slave’- that cheap. Was it ‘just’ simply because that was the market value?
Hell no- people have more value than a damn pair of shoes! What about his injustice ‘rant’?
That spoke specifically about ‘justice in the courts’ the rich were able to ‘buy’ a better outcome in the courts- than the poor.
Man- if these things are not signs of our times- then I have no idea what is.
Okay- I’m glad the President did what he did on the troop thing- if your country can’t guarantee immunity to our guys- yeah-were gonna get the hell out.
Oh- one last thing- I think I hear a phone ringing- all the way from Delaware- yes Joe- someone wants to talk to you- and soon.
 PLEASE DON’T EAT THE DAISIES [OR THE SEAL].
I heard a news story the other day- some kids in a Massachusetts school district found a stranded baby seal on the beach one day. So like most environmentally minded young folk- they rescued the seal and brought him back to their town.
As the news got out- the town decided to adopt this helpless thing- and they went all out- the school district put out lots of money [they spent about 80 thousand overall] and after a couple of years- little ‘flipper’ was ready to launch.
So they all went down to the ocean one morning- and it was truly a tearful moment [maybe a little too tearful?]. As they launched their beloved child- you know- sending him [her] off to brave new worlds- places ‘no seal has gone before’- as soon as the lad was released- an Orca [killer whale] came up from the water- and swallowed him whole.
Now- you have the kids and all standing at the shore- asking their elders ‘mommy- daddy- what happened’. And of course that began a long week of mourning for the whole town. Whose fault was this? Was it anybody’s fault? Would it be right to make this someone’s fault?
As we enter this last year of the president’s term- for whatever reason- he has made a conscious decision to ‘blame the rich’. Now- those of you know me- and have read my posts for a while- will realize that I am no defender of ‘the rich’.
I have worked with poor people for most of my life- and I refuse offerings or help- because I have always felt that the influence of money [like ministries always begging for it] has been a blight on the church.
Yet at the same time- there are lots of very hard working people- who are being categorized as ‘the rich’ who don’t pay their ‘fair share’.
In the current Obama plan- couples making over 250 thousand a year [and singles making 200] are considered ‘the rich’.
Now- depending on where you live- this might be rich- or maybe not.
Where I grew up in N.J. - if you’re a cop- or firefighter- maybe the wife is a teacher- you might fall into this rich group.
And if you are paying the very high North East mortgage payment- then to hit a family like that with a huge tax increase- well that’s gonna hurt.
The example the president keeps using- well he’s making it sound like most of the rich are really paying less. The truth is we do have a graduated income tax rate in this country- that goes up as you make more.
I think the bottom is at around 5 %- the top around 29 % [plus you have around 40-50 % who pay no federal income taxes at all]. So why is the president saying the rich pay less than their secretaries? [Buffett’s famous line]. Because Buffett- like a few other billionaires- pays only capital gains tax- taxes on investment income and dividends from stocks.
Yes- for those few fortunate billionaires- they have managed to live off of the interest- and the tax on that kind of income is around 15 %.
How many of ‘the rich’ are not paying ‘their fair share’ by doing this. I don’t have the exact number off hand- but it’s close to around 1 % of all those who file who make around a million a year or more.
The point is- the people who are ‘not paying their fair share’ are not the people the president is branding as ‘those who are not paying their fair share’.
So- it’s just dow right unfair to the working cop and teacher- who might be getting hit with the new ‘fair rate’ and to brand them as not pulling their weight in society- when the truth is- these are the people who are really paying close to 80% of all the taxes in the country.
Now- I do think we should get rid of corporate loopholes- and yes- if we do a ‘billionaires’ tax type thing- to deal with the few Buffett’s of the world- than I really don’t care much.
But the reality is most of those being accused of not paying their fair share- well- they are paying the lions share right now.
It’s easy to get people on your side- if you find a noble cause [saving the baby seal- or helping the poor working folk] and if you can put the blame for this injustice on someone else- then you almost always win [the argument- though you might still lose the seal].
I’m sure the kids at the beach that day would have liked to have blamed ‘that darn Orca- taking more than he should- probably eats more than the other species of fish- who are struggling in life- but no- this bully had to have the very last bite-‘ and on and on.
When we feel like an injustice has happened- like the scales are not tipping right- we want to find a scapegoat- to find the real culprit’s behind the injustice. Sometimes things happen- sometimes societies [Greece- Italy this week] overpromise too much to people- and if these societies are spending money they don’t have- well it’s easy to blame it on the Orca- the ‘big bully’ who seems to get his full- while we baby seals are left here on the shore struggling to survive.
I know it’s hard to take this position and defend the ‘Orcas of the world’ and the whole reason some people blame the Orcas- well- it’s because they know they are an easy target- you don’t get many people to stand up for the right of the Orca to eat the baby seal.
But this is such a dangerous game- and it’s unfair to the majority of people who are in this ‘rich’ category [not the Buffett’s] who are really paying their fair share- and more.
I think the president should make this clear- and not divide the country over this- sure- you might be on the side that will naturally garner the most sympathy- but that still doesn’t make it right.
 DO THE HUSTLE?
One time Jesus was engaging with the religious folk- and he said they were like kids/people in the market place. They said ‘we piped and you did not dance- we mourned and you didn’t respond how we wanted you to respond’ [my paraphrase].
A few years back a lot of things changed with me [us- ministry]. As a ‘ministry’ I never took money for personal use- no salary- nada. And eventually I ‘forsook’ all money. That is in the first few years as a home church- we did take offerings- and it was used to meet the needs of people.
When we did rent a place to meet- we used some for the expenses. But as I progressed [some say digressed!] I just cut the whole offering thing off. On the radio- we [I] was the only person who actually paid out of pocket for the air time. Though you had others who never asked for money- yet these shows were underwritten by their church.
So I just said ‘from now on- I will not take money- for anything’. I also quit claiming my giving [which was a lot- considering the radio alone] for tax purposes. I simply wanted to give the example that being ‘in ministry’ is not some type of business that you have to constantly be prodding people to ‘give to God’. I realized that much of what we call ‘ministry’ is simply well meaning people- setting up Christian non profit organizations- and then developing a mechanism to get others to ‘support the work’.
Some churches teach ‘church membership’ but many times what they mean is- after you come for a while- we want you to commit to giving 10 % of your salary to the church.
Other ministries take various approaches.
After I retired from the Fire Dept. I got into a bind- I lost my health insurance- it was too expensive to keep- so I dumped the thing. This left me in a curios spot- I was still helping lots of the people out [homeless- church friends] and sometimes I would pay a bill or 2 for them- maybe 100- 150 dollar type thing- and I would be out that month. Yes- I live off of a retirement check- just a little over what some of these friends were getting- if you add in the Medicare/Medicaid- and some had disability/s.s. checks.
I guess they didn’t realize that paying a bill or 2- actually- really left me broke. Now- I didn’t complain [unless you count this post as a complaint!] but at times- after doing the ministry this way- I always found it strange that people still questioned me [and others in general] about the ‘money motives’ of ministry.
I had a relative call me and straight out question me on why I was not financially supporting another family member [kind of a bold thing to ask- out of the blue] I knew this relative was quite rich- multimillionaire? At least in the category of a millionaire. They said ‘if your spending all this money on your homeless friends- why don’t you use some of the funds for so and so’ I said ‘what funds are you talking about’?
They then realized I was basically doing the stuff from my measly check- yes- as bad as that sounds- that’s the deal.
Then they were upset that I was ‘wasting money’ on helping people.
Like Jesus said ‘we made music for you- and you didn’t dance’ that is people see ‘ministry/church’ as ‘we expect you to respond in a certain way’ and sad to say- because of this very subject- money- many preachers/churches do ‘adjust’ their messages based on how well the giving went in the previous month.
Needless to say- the whole thing at times seems to be a vast wasteland- coming up with all types of ‘bible verses’ and telling people ‘if you don’t give- your testing- robbing God’ geez- we better make sure were using that verse in context [Malachi] because in most of these scenarios we are not- and then to falsely charge people with ‘robbing God’ that’s pretty darn bad.
I don’t blame my friends for not realizing that at times- me helping them out- well- it did put me in a bind. And sometimes- they don’t realize that because I don’t have health care benefits- that if you actually added everything up- many of these friends are actually making the same [or more] than me.
I just feel like we all need to do our best to help others- don’t assume that people have money- or that they are in it for the money. Many times people are just doing what they feel they are required to do.
And of course- you’ll always have the friend/relative who wants you to do a dance for them- to justify- for them- why you do what you do- never mind that they are worth a hundred times more than you- and they are in much better shape to help the relative- no- that’s none of my business. But when they Pipe [make music] they just want you to dance- geez- I never was a good dancer- why start now?
 WHAT MATTERS?
The other day I mentioned how believers have a habit of getting caught up in certain ‘religious’ views [tithing was the example I gave] and over time these views develop to a point where they take precedence over the things Jesus actually placed real value on.
In the 1st century when Jesus showed up on the scene- the religious practices of Gods people were centered around religious meetings [holy days] prayer, fasting and tithing- mainly to be seen of men- that is religion digressed to a point where what seemed to be the most important thing- was actually not important.
So how did Jesus respond? He spends the 3 very public years of ministry- healing the sick, telling the poor they are the blessed ones who will inherit Gods kingdom- and blasting the rich- and those in power- by telling them that their day was coming too.
In essence Jesus was the ultimate prophet- he followed the long line of Jewish prophets who took these same positions. The prophet Isaiah told the people ‘God is tired of all your religious activities- your church meetings- your special ‘sacrificial’ offerings- these things are a stench in his nose!’ then he would go on and say that God wanted justice for the poor and widow.
Amos also rebuked the rich and defended the poor- Ezekiel said the shepherds [religious leaders] were fleecing the sheep- they were leaders who were making a financial killing off of the people.
All of these things- in today’s world of ‘ministry’ are making a comeback- it’s just we don’t see it because they are dressed in a different way. But at the end of the day- for the most part- American style Christianity is usually measured by how much money you give [or take in] how faithful your are to attend religious meetings- and how famous your ministry is- are you a really gifted speaker? Or do you give a great ‘stage’ performance.
And in the mind of the average Christian- if you ask them ‘when was the last time you gave of your goods to your neighbor- reached out to the poor- showed your Christianity thru charity’? Often times they will answer that that is not ‘their ministry’ or that their giving to some Christian organization/church is their role- and it’s up to ‘the church’ to actually help the poor.
But these responses miss the main point- Jesus [and the prophets] were saying that’s the mistake- thinking that ‘religion’ consists in these outward religious acts- which are really for show- while the true acts of mercy and love are all too often neglected. People today have made the same mistake as the religious observers of Jesus day.
The letter of James- written by the brother [half] of Jesus- tells us that Pure religion- is to keep yourself unspotted form the world- and to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction. That’s it. No mention of religious holy days? No. No mention of special tithes/offerings? No. But what does he have to say about the modern religious view of the accumulation of wealth? Let’s not even go there [believe me- it’s pretty bad- go read the letter- its short].
This week in Somalia the estimates are 11 million people are on the verge of starvation- 2 to 3 million are kids. The world at large has had a hard time getting the food/resources in- because the country [like many other African nations] is in a sort of civil war.
The militant Islamic group fighting the govt. [Al Shabbab- I think that’s the name?] are made up of children. Yes- the kids have taken up an armed resistance against the leaders- and they are killing each other. I saw a news report on Mosaic world news- and the kids were in the streets- sort of like any kids on a block- but they had guns.
One young kid [10?] was pulling on the rifle of an older boy [15?] and the older boy got mad- like some school yard thing. The older boy just pulled away- and pointed the gun at the ‘opposing kids’- at the same time- they were playing in the street- throwing rocks and waving sticks- and pointing loaded guns at each other- it was like it was a game- they were used to shooting each other if they had to.
There are many things happening in our world today- things that matter to God. Many Christians- though they mean well- seem to leave these other things up to others. They feel that if they can just make it through another week- attend religious meeting on Sunday- put in the tithe- that if they live up to these outward religious standards- that they have done well.
Jesus taught a different way- the apostles tried to follow in his way. The apostle John said ‘if you see your fellow man in need- and don’t actually help him- do what needs to be done to defend them- then how can you say Gods love is in you’ [my paraphrase].
The apostle Paul wrote the Colossians- he said ‘I’m worried about you- you are observing days and times and other outward religious rites- I’m afraid you are falling away from the true faith’.
There was always a danger that Christians would fall into this rut- this thing where they unconsciously make the least important things- the most important. When the religious leaders of Jesus day were conspiring to kill Jesus- they had a problem- if they killed him on the wrong day- it would mess up their religious festival going on at the time. If they had to deal with the dead body- on the wrong day- they would be technically unclean according to Jewish law- and it would throw off their game.
So they worked it out where they would kill Jesus- and leave the body alone on the Sabbath- and they had it all worked out. One problem- they were violating the most important commandment of all- given to them by their most important law giver [Moses] that said ‘thou shalt not kill’ but somehow- over a period of time- they saw these things as the most important- their special observances of holy days- keeping themselves ceremonially clean- not ‘unspotted from the world’ as James said- but religiously clean- so they could put on a good public show.
I just finished praying for a bunch of stuff- of course I prayed for the kids in Somalia- those dying and those killing. Yes- I also send money every month to the starving kids- but these things are not enough. I [we] need to also engage those around us- those hurting and dying and struggling in real ways. We need to make the most important things- important again.
 TO EVERYTHING THERE IS A SEASON-
Yesterday was the end of an era for me- after 23 years of doing broadcast radio- I thru in the towel. I have been on radio right from the early days of ministry. I started recording my messages even earlier. In those days everything was done on cassette tape. I watched the times change over the years as I would go to the local [regional] radio station to ‘drop off tapes’- geez- thousands of times.
I would notice how most of the other ministries were converting to C.D. [also now a dinosaur] and I was still using cassettes. I would often say to myself ‘John- don’t let the devil make you feel bad- you’re not behind the times’ and I would pop in my Styx 8 track on the ride back home [okay- fudged a little on this].
Anyway I had a system going where I would record the tapes and make high speed copies- the copies would get dropped off- the originals [masters] would not. This was just in case the station lost the program- or a tape broke- you would still have the original. Well as the times changed you couldn’t even purchase [have serviced] these old tape duplicators. As an independent preacher- someone who takes no offerings or receives any financial support [because of principle- way too much money involved in today’s church] I took the risk of just dropping off the originals- and every so often they would ‘get lost’ [I think one of the employees might have enjoyed taking them home to listen to- which was alright with me- it’s just I needed them back].
So over these past few years I did my best to try and solve the problem- it never worked. The station manager- a good friend- told me he would copy the tapes to C.D.’s if I wanted- I said yeah! He never got around to doing it. He then told me he would save the programs in digital format [they put them on computer] and I would be able to copy them that way.
So the other day I finally had him make a copy to my flash drive- at least I would have them that way. I realized they weren’t even playing the right tapes [using the older- out of order stuff]. Then when I got home I realized they did indeed ‘lose’ another tape- part of a series that if you lose one [like a bible study] it ruins the whole set.
So I went and picked up the last batch of tapes and told them that I was sorry- but I had to finally cancel the show. They gave me a break on cost- but I literally spent thousands of dollars over the years doing these broadcasts- it was time to move on.
So hopefully I will soon have a link on the blog where you will be able to hear the programs [simply on line]. I found out it’s a real pain to convert the tapes to Mp3 format- then to get them on the blog. I spent the whole day yesterday messing with it- I ordered the convertor you need to do it. Then I had to start a Host site- the blog does not have space for this- and now I think I will have to get another computer- I do all my work from a laptop- I think the cord for the converter will only work on a desk top.
As someone who is computer illiterate- for the most part- it’s frustrating to have to deal with it. Geez- just getting the Host site up took me forever. So being I was already feeling bad about going off the air- it was something I loved to do- I figured I would just get a quick News fix- in the background- as I’m trying to figure all this out on my laptop. Of course all the channels were showing the Royal Wedding- enough said.
I hate it when the news fixates on a story- or presents something silly- and they do it all day long. One time at the fire house- I was sitting there with a good buddy- we had the news on [the guys used to get mad- for real- I had the news on all the time] and sure enough the actor Lloyd Bridges died. So as I’m sitting there glancing at the screen- I tell my buddy ‘Gee Joe- you think they could show a more ridiculous photo of the poor man’- I mean they had a picture of him from one of the spoof Airplane movies- he had a towel sticking out of both ears- with a goofy face- making it look like the towel went thru his head- ear to ear.
Joe started cracking up. I mean the poor man’s grandkids were probably saying ‘why does grandpa have a towel in his head mommy’. I mean the man had a long career- lots of serious movies- no, CNN liked the towel picture.
So for today I think I will work on the on line format some more- I do have some programs already on computer disk- trying to convert them to the host site and add the link to the blog. So for those of you who are interested you should be able to hear us on line soon- no more radio. Talk to you guys later- John
 LESSON FROM A MUSLIM-
I read a story in my local paper yesterday- there was an ecumenical dinner held this week between Christians, Jews and Muslims. The Christian staff writer who attended shared how it helped her to overcome previous prejudices that she had. She told what the various speakers discussed and I was particularly impressed with what the Muslim speaker said- she talked about how true religion is not performance, putting on a show- but is expressed in reaching out to those in need- the poor and hurting.
In fact she was basically quoting the New Testament book of James- James says ‘pure religion is to visit the fatherless and widows and to stay clean from the world’. A few weeks back one of my homeless buddies stopped by- he’s basically a genius when it comes to the bible- I mean it’s sort of an autistic thing to be honest- he knows- by memory- much more than the average preacher. As I visited with Henry I gave him the latest bible studies that were sent to me over the last few months. Years ago I heard a N.J. Jewish preacher- who pastors a Messianic congregation in Lodi, N.J.- he had a short radio show on the same station I’m on- and as a courtesy I sent him some of my books and told him hi and all- being I’m a former Jersey brother and all. Ever since he has sent me these really great bible studies every month.
The studies are really in depth- and he usually only sends them to partners [those who support his ministry with money]. But I guess he appreciated my sending him a nice note and he forever put me on the list. Now- I’m an avid reader- I’ve read just about everything you can get your hands on- but these past few years I’m trying to stick with scholarly stuff- not that I’m ‘too good’ for the basic stuff- It’s just I really don’t have the time to just read tons of stuff that’s in the category of ‘devotional’ material- stuff that just kind of talks about Christian things.
So I hate to throw the stuff out- I mean they’re great bible studies. I don’t want to write Jonathan [the pastor] and say ‘take me off your list’- so I save them up and give them to Henry- he devours them and even quotes them back to me the next time I see him. So anyway we had a good talk. Somehow we got into discussing the book of James [the verse I quoted above] and I told Henry how it’s funny that James [we believe this letter in the New Testament- called James- was written by the James who was Jesus’ brother- mentioned about in the bible. He was the same James mentioned as one of the leaders in the church at Jerusalem in the book of Acts, chapter 15. To my Catholic friends- it might sound strange ‘Jesus had a brother?’ these words are found in the New Testament. Catholic teachers don’t deny this- they just interpret it to mean ‘cousin’ or near relative- some say its speaking of ‘Christian brother’. Don’t want to debate it- just thought I should mention it].
Anyway- I told Henry how it’s strange that one of the key leaders in the early church- who was closer to Jesus than all the other disciples [he lived in the same house] that he would write such a scathing indictment against the rich- and he would defend the poor so strongly. James’ letter is one of the strongest rebukes against the rich that you will find in the bible. Anyway Henry agreed with me- of course Henry’s poor- homeless- but he knows his stuff. He said ‘you know John- as true as you are- you never hear this from the famous pulpits in America’. He was agreeing with what the Muslim lady said at the dinner- that true religion is not fame and glory- but serving those in need.
I liked the spirit of the article I read- It does not mean I will not continue to advocate for the exclusivity of the gospel of Jesus- that Jesus is truly the only way to God. Pope Benedict has also come under some heat for saying the Catholic Church teaches that Jesus is the only way of salvation- to which I agree.
Yet at the same time- as we make our case to our Muslim and Jewish friends- we can also sit down with them- live as citizens of the same community with them- and even learn something from them every now and then.
NOTE- To any of my friends who might be ‘rich’. The early church did have certain individuals who were rich- and it was oaky. The person who gave his grave spot to Jesus- Joseph of Arimathea- was rich. Also in the books of Acts there were believers who sold their real estate and dedicated the money to the church. So the bible doesn’t just outright condemn those who are rich- but there are many warnings against being rich in ‘this world’ while forgetting to build riches in the kingdom [works of love and charity]. That’s the main theme of James’ letter.
 3rd PILLAR- ZAKAT.
As I was debating whether or not to continue my study on Islam [today] the spot I stopped at last was the 3rd pillar. Sure enough yesterday [and the rerun at 1 a.m.] Beck did an interesting show on Zakat. He had on a few experts- who are known to not be sympathetic to Islam- and they covered the subject of non violent Jihad- those who advocate for an Islamic society thru non violent means. Now- I know some Beck supporters have been upset with me in the past because I criticize Beck- it’s not that I don’t think he actually brings up things that other networks don’t- sometimes he does reveal stuff that the other networks don’t because they are so ‘in the tank’ for the president. I never thought I’d see the day where a news host actually would describe his ‘feelings’ that come over him when he hears the president speak- he actually used sexual connotations to describe it [a tingle goes up my leg]. Now- I’m not saying this to be cute [okay- maybe a little] but to say I have never in my life seen the media- the so called 4th estate- so one sided. So Beck [Fox] does serve a purpose. Now- Beck covered the groups that raise money under the banner of ‘charity’ and yet they have ties to radical Islam, and they discussed the ancient Islamic practice of Zakat [or Tithe].
In the Muslim community Zakat is giving a portion [2.5%] of both goods and finances for the sole purpose of providing for the poor. In Muslim communities the Zakat is like social security. The word literally means purification. The word itself is not a terrorist term- nor the practice. It is important for Beck and others to cover stories about the use of Zakat given to charitable groups for radical purposes- yet most Americans have probably not heard of the term before- and their first introduction to it was seen thru an association to terror.
Years ago I had a chance meeting with a Muslim- I’m sure he didn’t realize he ran into some nut who studies just about everything a person can study [I was working at the fire house and on duty]. He was a devout Muslim- dressed in Muslim garb an all. As we talked I gave him the biblical history of Abraham and his 2 sons Isaac and Ishmael. I traced the lineage of Christians and Jews from Isaacs’s line, and the genealogy of Muslims [Arabs] thru Ishmael. I spoke about the coming of Jesus in the 1st century of the Common Era as the promised offspring that God originally told Abraham about. I explained the purpose of the Messiah [Jesus] as being the predestined one sent by God to unite all people and tribes under one new nation- the Kingdom of God. I explained to my friend that Christianity teaches that Jesus was not simply a prophet- but one who died for the sins of the world and rose again as the final sacrifice that would ever need to be made for the sins of men. I was surprised to see my Muslim friend hearing the whole story- for the 1st time. He told me he was not familiar at all with the history [even though it is both biblical history and Islamic- the part about Ishmael which is found in the book of Genesis]. He seemed so grateful to have heard it thru ‘this angle’ not from the angle of the Crusades- or of Western Colonialism- but from the angle of the grace of God that has come to all tribes and races thru Jesus Christ.
As I watch the media day after day- seeing more unrest in the Middle East than I have ever witnessed in my lifetime. Seeing the growing strain between Christians and Muslims and Jews [the Fla. Pastor went and burned a Koran and Muslim demonstrators in Afghanistan attacked the U.N. building and killed and beheaded some workers]. As I see the lines being drawn in the sand- I come back to the story of my Muslim friend- who obviously was dedicated to his faith [wearing the robe and all] yet he never clearly heard the gospel- which actually means Good News. The bible commands us [Christians] to live in peace with ALL MEN- to love our neighbor as our self- to even love those who hate us- to pray for those who persecute us and to do good [a type of Zakat] to our fellow man. While I make no excuses for the killing and beheading of the U.N. people- yet to burn the holy book of another religion is also not living peaceably with all men.
I believe the Islamic practice of Zakat is closer to actual biblical teaching than what most Christians practice today. The majority of Christian giving- often wrongfully referred to as the Tithe- goes to the function of media ministry- church buildings- salaries- etc. under 10 percent goes to meeting the needs of the poor. Yet in the teachings of Jesus and in the New Testament the majority teaching on giving is in context of giving to meet the needs of the poor [go read my books under the Feb- 2010 posts- and also the study called ‘what in the world is the church’ under the Feb posts]. So in a very real way I do think the Islamic Zakat is closer to the biblical practice than what most 21st century Christians practice.
I will obviously have many things I will not embrace about Islam in future posts- I will try and cover those differences as respectfully as I possibly can- without being a biased defender of Islam [as my current instructor on the course seems to be]. And I will make the case for Christ as well. At the end of the day hopefully we can learn more about our various beliefs- try and have respect for those who differ- and root for the moderates among us. I reject the Koran burning pastor in Fla. And I hope most Muslims will also reject the radical elements within their ranks. The history of the 3rd Pillar of Islam is a good one- a practice that centers around the teachings of Christ- it’s a shame that some in the Muslim community have hijacked it for violent Jihad.
 MUSLIM IN AMERICA- THE PRESIDENTS SPEECH AND OTHER MUSINGS.
Last night the president finally spoke to the nation in defense of our military action in Libya. He made the case that there are times when the U.S. can/should act if we feel we can avert a humanitarian disaster- he also said we can’t always intervene in every conflict. I guess for the most part this makes some sense- it’s just the way he handled it [going on vacation- congress in recess]. There are still lots of questions to be asked/answered. Today the rebels are on the outskirts of a western city that is ‘pro Gadhafi’. The city is called Sirte and like other cities in the west they favor Gadhafi more so than the rebels. The question is; how do we justify the bombing of Gadhafi’s military- in order to protect civilians- while the rebels are getting ready to overthrow a civilian population- with force- against the majority of the will of the people? We have indeed enabled the rebels to advance this far west, and we are basically on the side of the rebels- in this case- against the populace.
The other night I watched a CNN special on Muslim discrimination in America- most of you who read my posts [blog] know I try and take the more moderate position of not branding all Muslims as radical. I do think there are times when Muslims are discriminated against wrongfully because of their faith. Yet at the same time the media often show their bias. The show did a good job at revealing how Muslims face discrimination in America- the host- Soledad O’Brien- kind of showed the ‘ignorant’ Christians versus the moderate Muslims. The town was Murphysboro Tenn. [yes- they picked a spot that would be a little more redneck than usual] and they interviewed a few American Muslim women whose sole experience of Islam comes from an American perspective. These women, as sympathetic as their causes are- do not even begin to breech the absolute discrimination and oppression that many Muslim women experience around the globe on a daily basis- it was just unfair for CNN to portray Muslim women as victims of Christian discrimination while overlooking the real problem- expressed by many women who have chosen to speak out- against the oppression women face when living in countries that have Sharia law as the law of the land.
As I continue to teach the study on Islam [so far have only done 1 post on it] I want to try and approach the strained relationship that exists between Western society and Islam- yet I don’t want to be an apologist for Islam. I’m currently going thru a course on Islam that is taught by the official govt. teacher on the subject. I believe he was sitting in the second row of the president’s speech last night. Over the years I have studied on lots of subjects- years of utilizing the public library system, buying university level books [not pop culture Christian stuff on how to ‘get what you want’] and I have also ordered courses [C.D. and book] from the top professors of the universities of the world. These course are not cheap- yet they are cheaper than actually getting credits for the courses [you can take the same courses as extension courses from the universities and get credit- but that’s way too expensive- especially if done thru the elite universities- Harvard, etc.] So instead I simply purchase the courses and do them on my own. Now- the reason I say this is to explain a ‘funny thing’ that happened on my study of Islam. When I first ordered the course I noticed the ratings were not that great. Most courses are rated in the 80-90 percentile- from others who have done the course- this one was in the 60’s. I hesitated to get it- but the other courses that dealt with Islam also dealt with other religions- and I didn’t want to do an entire comparative religion study at this time. So these courses are taught by the top tier professors in the world [these professors are peer reviewed and deemed to be in the top 10 %]. This one on Islam is taught by the person who teaches Islam to the incoming govt. employees under president Obama. As I’m going thru the course- there are times where I feel like the teacher is too defensive of Islam- sort of like the CNN special. At one point the professor defends Muhammad as a religious leader who freed women from oppression and instituted an open and liberal society for all people- especially women. Geez- stuff like this is very problematic- I know enough about the current world nations that have Islam as the official religion of the nation- these nations are without a doubt very oppressive to women.
Like many things in life- we all try and do our best to give people the benefit of the doubt- and as someone who has disagreed with the president and been openly critical of him- yet I try not to be so biased that I find fault with everything he does. The media has far left defenders- who never find anything wrong with the man- and far right critics who never find anything right. At this time- the revolts in North Africa and the Middle East are really getting out of hand- the Christians in Egypt- an ancient Christian church [Coptic] have lived there since the early days of Christianity- they have just voted in Egypt to recognize Sharia law as the official law of the land- this referendum was passed by 70 % of the population- and the Muslim Brotherhood showed their organizational abilities by gaining a majority of the vote for the things they wanted. So now the Christians in Egypt might face the same fate as those in Pakistan- being put to death for blaspheming Islam [which often means witnessing for Christ]. The rebels who we are fighting for in Libya are much more radical than Gadhafi- yes Gadhafi was/is a madman- yet the rebels have more Al Qaeda influence than Gadhafi- they have been enemies in Libya for years. Do we really want our people dying for the Rebels?
There are still lots of questions to be answered- I am uncomfortable that the course I’m going thru on Islam is so skewed to the point of defending Islam as a great liberator of women and their rights- I was even more troubled to have seen ‘my instructor’ sitting in the 2nd row at the president’s speech.
 EXODUS 33- The Lord tells his people that they must get up from the place they are at- Mount Sinai- and move on to the new place he has promised to them- Canaan [the Promised Land]. Okay- symbolically what does this mean? Sinai represents law, promised land= the Cross, the ‘new land’ of grace and freedom found in Christ. In the New testament- this is the way all the apostles dealt with these promises [Hebrews, Galatians, Peter’s sermons in Acts]. It is vital for Christians [especially T.V. preachers!] to get this right. The message to the Muslim/Arab world is not ‘God is taking sides in a land war in Israel/Palestine’ but the message is ‘in Jesus, all nations/ethnic groups are welcome- leave Sinai [the old law mentality of seeing God thru the lens of a strict judge who wants to get you] and come to the ‘new land’ this land of grace where Jesus took upon him the sins of the whole world and bore the punishment for us’ this is really the message of Christianity- many people see Christianity/Christendom thru a 2 thousand year history [okay to do- I too am a historian] but they look at the mistakes- the Crusades- the Christian hatred of Jews that existed- the Muslim/Christian battles- many people do not really see the true message of the Cross- the new land of grace and acceptance thru Jesus- they are stuck at Sinai [a mountain that we already saw was fearful, people trembled- were scared- strict judgment] and can’t seem to get to the next mountain.
Also the Lord tells the people ‘take off your costume jewelry’ they wore the celebratory stuff- sort of like Mardi Gra stuff- when they sinned while worshipping their idols. God says ‘it’s not a performance- your service to me, your worship- take the fake stuff off’. In Matthews gospel- chapters 6-7, Jesus says ‘this thing is not theatre- how to perform and gain an audience’ I mean you can’t get stronger than that. Jesus also says ‘prayer is not mastering some type of formula to get what you want- create lots of wealth’ I mean he really takes to task the majority of American Christianity- a huge percentage of it is really performance- seeing ‘church’ as a place where we go once a week and actually watch a stage/theatre performance- ouch! God told the people ‘get rid of the costume jewelry- I have more important stuff for you’. Right now there is a lot of stuff happening in the world- the voice of the church needs to be a voice for justice in the earth. I watched an interview on Fox news this weekend- the host described our wars as just- and the Muslim/Arab side as terrorism. I had just read a news article describing the accidental killings of the 9 Afghan boys who were gathering fire wood while our attack helicopters killed them. The boys were between 5 and 11 years old. One boy- the only survivor, named Hamed- said as they were in the field they heard the chopper coming. Of course it’s a scary sight for little boys. Then as the chopper left- it came back again- like stalking them. They stood still- until the first boy was mowed down. They ran in all different directions- the chopper methodically hunted the boys down- one by one. This boy survived because a tree fell on him and hid him. I know our side thought the boys were enemy combatants- I know we did not intend for this to happen. But to excuse our actions- to say ‘we are just’ and the other side- some who are simply fighting for the Taliban because they need the job- to say they are immoral- and we are moral- seems like a joke after hearing about the deaths of these boys. May God have mercy on all of us.
 THE NARRATIVE- These last few days we have all been given a lesson in Narrative- that is we have been shaped by ‘the story’ that people tell. If you view a certain event thru a conservative lens- then you will see things in the story that confirm what you already believe- the same with a liberal bias. These past few weeks I have been reading the book of Proverbs- just a few hours ago I read the verse ‘labor not to be rich, cease from your own wisdom’ then it referenced the verse I quoted the other day in 1st Timothy chapter 6 ‘those that desire to be rich have fallen into a trap and have swerved from the true faith’. Now- I haven’t spoken on this topic for years- but whenever I bring it up- it usually seems to disturb the narrative [story line] of the contemporary evangelical church. Many well meaning believers have been given a story line that says ‘the old traditional churches have told us money was not good- that God loves the poor- but the bible teaches otherwise’ now- are there verses that do speak about God blessing people financially? Sure. But the other side of the coin [like the verses I just quoted] these are not ‘old church traditions’ these are also part of the biblical narrative- the whole story we find in the bible. So we are often given- or drawn to- the story line we like the most- and then we look for proof that our story is the only right one. Last night [actually the repeat of the 1 a.m. show] I saw Beck interview a moderate American Muslim- he is the president of some Muslim group who have vocally rejected militant extremism. Now- Beck introduced him in a well meaning way- as a friend he met around 5 years ago. But in his introduction he said something like ‘I have been looking for a Muslim who is willing to tell the truth- to reject radicalism- and I finally found one’. In Becks mind- moderate Muslims don’t seem to exist- except this lucky one he found. Yet the man shared how his organization is made up of the majority of Muslims who in fact reject radicalism- he was Becks friend- but his reality did not fit Becks story line. As time was running short- Beck just really wanted the man to admit ‘yes- we Muslims are all basically dangerous- and I’m the only brand that managed to get plucked out of the fire’ their story lines contradicted each other. I have a confession to make- a few years ago when working at the fire dept., yes, I used to pick up the N.Y. Times and read it along with our Texas papers. Now- these past few weeks I have been picking it up every so often. I actually read the whole paper- just about every article- you have to be a junkie to read the entire times [very long articles]. Why do I do this? Because even though the Times is at times biased [let's see- McCain runs for president- a few days before the primary vote- the Times runs a front page, top of the fold article about a rumor that he was ‘too friendly’ with a female staff person. John Edwards- known by the insiders to have actually fathered a child out of wed lock, how did the Times originally treat it? Nothing- you know- it’s the man’s personal life- got ya] yet I do find the articles real thorough, and you get to hear both sides of the narrative- something that you very rarely get from television media [especially cable]. So it’s important for all of us to try as hard as possible to be exposed to the different sides of the story. Now- Egypt. Some have said ‘do you really think that the Egyptians just woke up one day and wanted Democracy’ this narrative says it’s the radical Muslims behind the uprising. At the same time- many Egyptians themselves will say ‘you are disrespecting us- when other countries citizens rise up [Iran] you cheer for their independence- yet you treat us with disdain’. These protesters are saying we are getting the story wrong. And in the Arab world- yes- you have all sides realizing these things. So the pro Mubarak group- while being against militant Islam- at the same time realizes that if the world thinks the protests are being fanned by the militant Muslims- then Mubarak knows the world will turn against the protests and support him. So they attempt to tell ‘that story’. After reading all ‘the stories’ it seems to me that the initial protests were indeed the younger generation feeling like they had no real future- they seem to have really ‘woken up one day’ [being emboldened by the Tunisian protests] and yes- wanted Democracy. This is not to say that the radical Muslim groups are not trying to use it to their advantage- but in a way these protests actually work against ‘the narrative’ of the militant groups. How? The ‘story’ that the radicals try to tell is ‘the only way we can be free from these autocratic, western loving- Israel peacemaking leaders is thru violent revolution’ if the Arab street believes peaceful protests can do it- then they not only challenged Mubarak’s rule- but also the narrative of the violent radicals- see? So as we view these events from afar- be sure you’re not only being shaped by one sides view- even if the side you listen to seems sincere- heck- I think most of what Beck says he believes! But at the same time there is good journalism out there [I do think the Times still has tremendously valuable info. Despite the bias] try and listen to the more respectable news sources- for many years I did not subscribe to cable- I watched the networks and P.B.S.- yes- the news hour is an excellent source for news. And at the end of the day realize that there might be some truth to both sides of the argument- it is rare to find the whole truth resting with only one side.
 WILL WE SUFFER? I was going to do another post on the Jewish contribution to Modernity- the Jewish thinkers and their contribution to the Western Intellectual Tradition [an ongoing on-line study I’m doing] but instead let me share a few more practical thoughts. The other day I wrote a post on the persecuted Christians in Pakistan- and I had a few Pakistani Pastors email me- thanking me for the web site- telling me it’s been a blessing to them- and even inviting me to speak or start a ministry under our name/title in their country and they would work with me. I of course thanked them for the offer- and just encouraged them to freely use all our stuff- make copies of the books- hand them out- use all of our stuff as much as you wish. I have waved the copyright to all my stuff years ago. Then I caught a quick few minutes of Peirs Morgan- the guy who replaced Larry King- he was interviewing Joel Osteen. Peirs was asking him something about the abuse of money in the modern televangelist world- and Joel answered cautiously- rejecting the title of Prosperity Preacher- and shared the basic theme that God doesn’t want his people being poor and suffering and beat up all the time. I like Joel- I’m very familiar with his belief system- Joel's dad- John- was one of the pioneers of the Word of Faith movement in this part of Texas- and over the years I even had some ordained ministers who were ordained by Lakewood church [Joel’s church] who were members of the church I started back in the 80’s. So I basically am familiar with the scoop. Okay- the contrast of Joel’s simple remarks- given in a good spirit- just did not fit the lifestyle of the fine Pastors who I had just been in contact with over the past few weeks. Men who have been literally risking their lives- suffering- fellow believers being killed- all the descriptions that Joel felt were not what God wanted for his people. The book of Hebrews says ‘you suffered the loss of your material possessions willfully- knowing that in heaven you have eternal riches that will not fade away’. There is a verse [Proverbs?] that says ‘don’t make me rich- lest I forsake you- don’t make me poor- lest I curse you- just give me what I need’ or ‘those that desire to be rich [just the desire mind you!] have swerved from the true faith and have gone shipwreck’ [1st Timothy 6]. The point I want to make is we often hear snippets of things- things that seem innocent enough, and yet they violate the basic truth of scripture. I am not upset with Joel- Joel is a good man who has the gift of encouraging people- I do not see him as your typical ‘money preacher’ but I just wanted to give you the balance. The apostle Paul spent a few years living with the believers at Ephesus [I think you can read the account in Acts 20- I also wrote on the subject in my commentary on the book of Acts- in the 2-2010 posts] and as he was teaching them- he called the leaders of the church [called elders in the bible- what we would see as Pastors today] down to the shore- and he gave them a going away speech/warning- he told them after he leaves ‘wolves’ will come in- men who will take advantage of the believers- and he goes on and says ‘all the years I was with you- I refused to let you guys support me- I worked day and night- not only to support myself- but to pay the way for the workers I brought with me’ then he says ‘the reason I did this- was to give you preachers an example- so you too would work with your own hands to provide for yourselves’ now- the entire subject of supporting Christian teachers/preachers is a long one- and I’m not against supporting our Pastors/Priests in a moderate way- them having incomes commensurate with the people. But how many times have you ever heard the story I just shared with you? I mean does the average person even know that the apostle Paul taught stuff like this? You would think it was heresy if it weren’t right there in the bible. If you want to read more about this stuff- under the section ‘what is the church’ an ongoing series I’ve been doing for years- I share about this a little more- but today’s point is we need to be careful as preachers- when we view Christianity primarily thru an American lens- I’m sure Joel meant no harm- but there are indeed times when Gods people are persecuted- broken- afflicted- suffering- these are very real situations that many of our brothers and sisters face on a daily basis thru out the world. We don’t want to give them the false impression that they are suffering contrary to the will of God- there are just too many bible passages that say otherwise [ ‘it has not only been given to us to believe on Jesus- but to also suffer with him’ the Apostle Peter- etc. etc.].