Monday, September 26, 2011

Whos Says I Can't Be Political In The Pulpit---The IRS

I am sure you’ve heard this statement when the issue of morality comes up.  “You can’t legislate morality”.   The truth is every law, regulation or ordinance that is proposed, passed, and enforced has in it some idea of the good that it seeks to promote or preserve making it moral in its character. There is no governing authority morally neutral. Anyone who thinks you can’t legislate morality is wrong. All laws which regulate the conduct of individuals are based on moral action.  

The very foundation of the law is based on the premise of what is good for the community, the individual or the government.  Anytime there is something so wrong that it demands the governing authority to establish a law-- morality has been legislated.  Anytime the government legislates a law that takes away freedom it is based on the morality of the governing body.

We should be aware that ambivalence toward an action that is truly morally wrong is still based on one’s morality.  Our acceptance or rejection does not mean there is no right or wrong without morality being part of the decision.  The very foundation of our law is-- we believe authority has the right to punish perpetrators of wrong.   So, to legislate, then, is to legislate morality. It is impossible to avoid legislating morality. We cannot separate morality from the law. The real question is not whether the political community will legislate morality; the question is whose morality will be enforced and by what sort of government.

Thirty years ago, a pastor could preach a sermon from Scripture that marriage was between one man and one woman and no one would have been concerned or would have even thought to complain to the IRS that the Church was violating the law.  Issues that are political cannot be addressed from the pulpit.  If a pastor were to stand in the pulpit and preach a sermon that says marriage is between one man and one woman, that sermon would be instantly deemed “political,” and somehow church-goers, and the culture at large, would assume that the Church was wrong and should stay out of “politics.” 

Moral issues are being discussed politically outside the church but are being silenced in church.  The church is fighting a war over fundamental issues such as the definition of marriage, the sanctity of human life, and religious freedom.  As these issues are fought in the public square, they frequently become politicized by a culture that increasingly turns to government to demand answers to these most fundamental of questions.  Yet a pervasively darker consequence of these fundamental moral conflicts is that the Church is frequently told that when culture deems an issue “political,” it somehow becomes off-limits for the Church to address.

It seems to me that today’s pastors have a moral choice to make?  To preach faithfully the counsel of God’s Word on all issues addressed by Scripture, or to self-censor and remain silent simply because some issues have been deemed “political” and therefore off limits as a sermon topic.   

“Preach the Word!” the Bible exhorts us. “Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching.” (2 Timothy 4:2) The Bible is clear in its call to pastors to boldly preach the Gospel.  As a minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ I must be faithful to the call of God.  Look at the moral responsibility placed upon the spiritual watchmen. 

2 Chronicles 19:10 In every case that comes before you from your fellow countrymen who live in the cities--whether bloodshed or other concerns of the law, commands, decrees or ordinances--you are to warn them not to sin against the LORD; otherwise his wrath will come on you and your brothers. Do this, and you will not sin.

I have an obligation to the LORD to address the laws, commands, or ordinances of our government.  There are reasons why minister must obey this command of the LORD.   “… Son of man, speak to the children of your people, and say to them: 'When I bring the sword upon a land, and the people of a land take a man from their territory and make him a watchman, when he sees the sword coming upon the land, if he blows the trumpet and warns the people, then whoever hears the sound of the trumpet and does not take warning, if the sword comes and takes him away, his blood shall be on his own head. He heard the sound of the trumpet but did not take warning; his blood shall be upon himself. But he who takes warning will save his life. But if the watchman sees the sword coming and does not blow the trumpet, and the people are not warned, and the sword comes and takes any person from among them, he is taken away in his iniquity; but his blood I will require at the watchman's hand.' "So you, son of man: I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel; therefore, you shall hear a word from My mouth and warn them for Me." (Ezekiel 33:1-7)

This brings me to the moral responsibility of a minister to be obedient to God. Ministers must be alert and awake to give a distinct warning when we see individuals who would deceive the church into accepting false teaching.  Minister should not be afraid to identify those who would damage the message of Jesus Christ or speak out against issues that are morally wrong.  Someone once said: "The only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing." So true, yet large portions of God's church have fallen asleep at their guard posts or even failed to see the need for a faithful ministry and have paid a heavy price.  Christians believe that civil government owes its existence to God and is therefore accountable to him to behave righteously in serving the common good. The role of the pastor is and always has been to declare the good news that "our God reigns" (Isa. 52:7).

Currently, the Internal Revenue Service has placed itself in the role of evaluating the content of a pastor's sermon to determine if the message is "political." We need to ask: Where did this authority come from? And more importantly, why should Americans be willing to submit to this unconstitutional power grab without even a whimper? Why is that pastors are the only people who have allowed the IRS to censor their First Amendment rights to a tax exemption they have enjoyed since the founding of our nation?

Churches are tax-exempt because they are churches, not because the government decided to bless them with a "subsidy." The church is not a profit-making business or individual. It is not getting a pass on taxes; it is simply outside the government's appropriate tax base.

It's time we exploded the false sacred/secular dichotomy that the secularists have conveniently created to silence our message. It's time we stop letting others tell us to keep Jesus inside of the church and out of the world he died to redeem. This is not about promoting political parties or agendas or establishing a "theocracy." It's about our right to bring scriptural principles and solutions to bear on contemporary social problems if we so choose. But it's our choice, not the choice of the IRS.

If we can’t discuss any and all topics, including those the IRS may deem "political," even within our communities of faith we are no more than a social club.   It's time to defend our first liberty, the freedom to preach the Good News of the whole gospel, without fear of IRS censorship or sanction, to a world desperately searching for answers. Simply put, it's time for the church to be the church. 

Thursday, September 15, 2011

America--The Divided House

It has become difficult for concerned American citizens to side with any political organization. There are over fifty various political parties in the political arena in America.  Republicans have those who are flip-floppers on important issues, Democrats have those who hate America and are bent on destroying our way of life, the third largest political party, the Libertarian Party would like to legalize drugs, prostitution, and allow open immigration into our country.  The fringe organized political parties range from labor; environment, socialism, communism, and anti-war are not concerned with the overall health of our Nation, only their established political goals.

The constant fighting between the Democrats and Republican over petty issues have reduced the confidence of the America voter to the point neither side has creditability.  Americans are tired of the political lies, the pretentiousness that government knows best, that party politics are more important than what is best for America and that politics has become a career path and not a path to serve the best interest of the people.  The end result is America is looking for someone who will speak for them and not a political party or platform.

In every organization there are those who claim to be members without accepting the purpose or goals of the organization and have their own agendas.  It is wrong to say that every Democrat is out to destroy America or to say every Republican wants to oppress to poor and push the elderly off a cliff.  It is deceitful for political leaders to say a segment of our society is racist or traitors just because they refused to accept political agenda being pushed.  It is also divisive and petty for the President of the United States to allow anyone to call Americans SOB’S.   Yet, this is the face of our political process.  

I have been a conservative all my life.  There have been policies and actions from those who consider themselves conservatives that I could not agree with.  Some of the policies of our past president in regards to economics and security did not seem to me the best fit for our county.  I have a hard time accepting the premise for a just war in Iraq and Afghanistan.  I am not happy with the freedoms we have lost to become a more “secure” nation.  I did not support the No Child Left Behind Act that has damaged our education system.  However, I have a greater respect for a president who accepts responsibility for his actions and actually performs the duties of the president then I have for one who blames others for his failure and allows others to take the lead on policy.

A major duty of the government is to establish a budget.  The president takes ownership of the spending in this country even though Congress has ownership as well.  The budget that Obama inherited in 2009 was Bush's Budget.  It was something established before Obama became president but we fail to remember he immediately added a $787 Billion stimulus package over the objections of Republicans in the Congress who were in the minority.  This made the budget in 2009 his budget not Bush’s.  He didn’t stop there in the 2010 Budget, Obama increased non-entitlement spending in federal agencies by as much as 24%.    

Obama would remind Republicans that he won the 2008 election.  Democrats would not permit Republicans to contribute ideas.  Enter the Tea Party.   They held rallies against the one sided legislation being pushed by the Democrats only to be vilified by the news media, the president and congressional leadership.  Democrats reported rude and uncivil behavior on the part of those in the Tea Party rallies but no one ever came forward with proof despite the hundreds of cameras focused on the rally and Pelosi's arrogant march through the middle of it.  

The economy of our country has been falling apart for several years.  Millions are unemployed, thousands are losing their homes each month, and poverty is on the rise and retired workers have lost hundreds of retirement dollars.  Both political parties are guilty for allowing these conditions to exist. 

When there is such a discrepancy in how we as American can earn and spend our money it is no wonder Congress is such a mess.  I feel the money I earn is mine and the government has the right to tax only as much as is needed to perform those limited functions, which are appropriate to it. But, when the government wants to redistribute what I have honestly earned to establish spending programs in times of budget surpluses, and to return to me only that portion of my money which will make me dependent upon  government services-- I have a problem with this.

I am not an expert in economics or business but I have an excellent record of helping young men starting successful businesses.  From my experience, I have learned that the free enterprise system is the most effective engine of economic progress.  History has proven time and time again that every time government regulation and federal control of the workplace tries controlling business so that they can better distribute wealth and services to the American people jobs are lost and businesses are closed.

I believe it is imperative today to re-affirm the traditional freedoms and values of America to preserve our great Republic. At the risk of offending special interest groups, America must stop being politically correct, stop trying to please every multi-culture group that denies the common American heritage and re-establish the set of values that are the foundation of the American culture.

I know that there can be differences of opinion and that such differences result in opponents, not enemies.  Please stop calling me a racist, terrorist, s.o.b., and hostage holder, and an enemy of the State.  Stop threatening my life and promising to send me to Hell. If you are going to accuse someone of being a name caller make sure you ask who they represent.  They may belong to the opposition.  After all, tares will grow among the wheat.   I know I want outrageous things such as a balanced budget, to be able to keep more of my own money.  I”m tired of seeing my hard earned money going to government programs that perpetuate problems they are supposed to solve. I want the immigration laws on the books enforced the same as other laws.  I want a strong national defense that protects the interests of the USA and not a security program that takes away my freedoms.   

Finally, I expect public servants, particularly those whom we elect to office, be held accountable to the highest standards of ethical conduct.  

"If a man cannot be trusted with the government of himself, can he be trusted with the government of others?" [Thomas Jefferson] 

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The Integrity of God's Word Is At Stake

This story takes place about one thousand four hundred and ninety years before Jesus Christ.  It could be based on a current events happening now.  It is all about the way we view the promise of God.

The setting takes place at Kadesh-barne-a a holy place. A place God had prepared for them to cross over into the Land of Canaan.  God had made a promise to Abraham that he would be the father of a great nation and there would be a Land of Promise for them to dwell in. They arrived at Kadesh Barnea in the first of the month of the third year or exactly 24 months after leaving Egypt. (Numbers 20:1).

It might help if we had a little information on the place Kadesh-barne-a.
  • Kadesh-Barnea" as a compound word, is used 10 times. However the place is never referred to as "Barnea" exclusively without Kadesh. The bible refers to the place as "Kadesh" 18 times alone, without "Barnea."         
  • Barnea" may mean "place of wandering in the desert". So Kadesh Barnea means: The Kadesh where they wandered in the wilderness. However, Smiths Dictionary in 1884 AD said: "Barnea means, desert of wandering". Eastons said this in 1897 AD: "Kadesh: holy, or Kadesh-Barnea, sacred desert of wandering" (Easton's Bible dictionary, 1897 AD.   No modern dictionaries suggest barnea = wilderness/desert wandering. 
  •  Kadesh means "holy" and is one of many words that are derived from the parent word that is most commonly translated "holy":"qades: be hallowed, holy, sanctified; to consecrate, sanctify, prepare, dedicate." "Kadesh = "holy"." (Strongs enhanced) 
  •  Why was the place called Kadesh and when. At the time of Abraham, Kadesh was known as "En-mishpat" Gen 14:7. Kadesh was known at the "Spring of Judgement" (En-mishpat).

So the place that God brought his people to enter into the Land of Canaan is a “holy place of wandering” and is also known as the “Spring of Judgment.”  Since our study is only on this one event we will not spend time on the full significance of this location.  Moses has brought the Children of Israel to edge of the Land of Canaan which the spies were to explore.

Here is where you must be on your toes with this study.  Going into the Land of Promise was first made to Abraham, then to Isaac and Jacob,  "God will surely come to your aid and take you up out of this land to the land He promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob" (Genesis 50:24).  Four hundred years later promise one is fulfilled. I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing.  I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all people on earth will be blessed through you (Gen.12:1-3). 

When Israel left Egypt they had 603,550 armed men for war if all of those men were living at the time (Numbers 1:46). This number included all able bodied men from the age of twenty (Numbers 1:45) to the age of retirement at year fifty (Numbers 4:3;John 8:57) or sometimes sixty (Leviticus 27:7). But if all the women, children and older people over fifty (or sixty) are included, the number of Israelites who left Egypt must have numbered about two and a half million. This is a vast amount of people going into a desolate desert area east of Egypt—a Great Nation.  God has fulfilled his promise to make them a great nation.

Next, "And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your descendants after you in their generations to be a God to you and your seed after you. And I will give to you and to your seed after you the land in which you are a stranger-all the land of Canaan for an everlasting possession" (Genesis 17: 7, 8).  The integrity of God's word is at stake in this question of the future of the Promised Land. When ten of the twelve spies told lies about the land, they were slandering what God had promised them. They did not believe that God would help them, and the people as a whole were persuaded that it was not possible to take the land. As a result, the entire nation was made to wander in the desert for 40 years, until almost the entire generation of men had died.

When the Israelites accepted the false report, they wept over the false belief that God was setting them up for defeat. The night that the people cried was the ninth of Av which became a day of weeping and misfortune for all time-- Kadesh the "Spring of Judgment". 

Here is their report: "But the men who had gone up with him said, 'We can't attack those people; they are stronger than we are." And they spread a bad report about the land they had explored. They said, "The land we explored devours those living in it. All the people we saw there were of great size. We saw the Nephilim there (the descendants of Anak come from the Nephilim). We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them.'"

Let me just wander in the wilderness for a moment.  They were afraid of the giants, who represent the carnal nature of man or the nature of sin.  Sin is the root; sins are the result of the root.  Look what the nature of sin will do- devours those living in it.  There are spied today who tell us you cannot have victory over sin.  They identify as being a sinner.  Nowhere in the Scripture is the redeemed identified with sin.  None of us who claim to be Christians with a saving faith should ever call ourselves a sinner. It is not appropriate to try to claim common ground with unbelievers or immature Christians by saying that you also are a sinner. Scripture says otherwise. Christians are not “sinners.” If you are a sinner –one who habitually sins, you are not a true believer. In that case you can properly call yourself a sinner. Please note the distinction: Christians do occasionally sin. A sinner habitually sins. The Christian (should) immediately repent and seek God’s forgiveness. The sinner does not.

The integrity of God's word is at stake in the promise of freedom from sin. “For I will take you from among the heathen, and gather you out of all countries, and will bring you into your own land. Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you. A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them.” (Ezekiel 36:24-27 KJV)

“Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin. For he that is dead is freed from sin.” (Romans 6:6-7 KJV)

“For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection: Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin. For he that is dead is freed from sin. Now if we be dead with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him: Knowing that Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more; death hath no more dominion over him.

For in that he died, he died unto sin once: but in that he liveth, he liveth unto God. Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord. Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof. Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin: but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God. For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace.” (Romans 6:1-14 KJV)

OK, back to the lesson.  The whole purpose of sending out the spies was to determine how to conquer Canaan and then settle 3 million men, women and children in the new land.  God shows them encouraging signs that the land is indeed plentiful and rich: They find a cluster of grapes so enormous that eight men are needed to carry it (Numbers 13:23). God also makes sure the spies encounter heavily fortified Canaanite cities ― which in fact is a sign of Canaanite weakness, since anyone who is truly powerful does not have to hide behind big walls. Everything was perfectly orchestrated; nothing could possibly go wrong.

Yet somehow, things do go wrong. After 40 days, the spies come back and 10 of them recommend against entering the land. They report: “We can’t succeed because everything is huge!” ― a reference to the gigantic fruits. “We can’t succeed because the land devours its inhabitants!” ― a reference to the funeral. “And we can’t succeed because it’s too strong!” ― a reference to the heavily fortified walls. (see Numbers 13:31-33)

The Israelite community accepts the report, and gives up their dream of going into Israel. The consequence of their unbelief? If you don’t want to enter the land, says God, then you won’t enter the land. All Israelites will die out over the next 40 years in the desert, and only their children will enter the land.

Numbers 14:1 tells us, “The people wept that night.” That night was Tisha B’Av, the ninth day of the Jewish month of Av. God declared: “They cried for no reason; in the future I’ll give them good reason to cry.”  I remember hearing that same expression while growing up- “If you don’t stop your crying, I will give you something to cry about.”  I didn’t know that was scriptural.

Here is how failing to deal with sin has serious consequences.  Several hundreds of years later, the destruction of the First Temple was to occur on Tisha B’Av and 500 years after that, the Second Temple was destroyed.

So what went wrong?  The spies lost the vision of the Promise. They got so wrapped up in self that they took God out of the equation ― and never put Him back in! The original question they’d been assigned to answer ― "How to conquer the land” ― suddenly became a question of "should we or shouldn't we." 

What caused this twist to occur?  God’s presence was self-evident in the desert: a rock provided a steady supply of water, Clouds of Glory kept enemies at bay, and a daily supply of manna fell from heaven. Yet these “open miracles” were to cease upon entry into Israel. Thus, the spies reasoned, God’s guidance and protection would cease as well.

From this skewed perspective, all the positive signs that God had shown them ― the fruits, the funeral and the city walls ― were turned into negatives. From a purely rational perspective, their conclusion was ― not surprisingly ― “This is not possible!”  The rational perspective is used by those who refuse to see the victory Jesus Christ has promised his people over the power and dominance of sin.  

But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life. Rom.6:22

By the way, after the Israelites had wandered in the wilderness for 40 years, God brings them right back to the same spot and gives them the same opportunity, to enter the Promise Land—they took it and the conquest was on.