Found-Lacking Faith

hundredfoldI taught today on the Parable of the Sower, and the minister of Journey Christian Church where I was at, Troy Reynolds, also preached on this parable. Although neither one of us addressed this aspect of the parable, I was reminded that the parable has been used by the prosperity gospel preachers as one of the central Scriptures to justify their teaching. I’m sure there are many variations on this (and I will probably hear from some of you who think I am misrepresenting), but the idea is that if we “sow” correctly, we will receive a “hundred-fold blessing.” At its crassest, this is used to say that if a person sends an offering to the ministry of such preachers, he or she will receive back 100x what is given. If I send an offering of $50, I will receive back $5,000. This is accompanied by the seemingly biblical assurance that “God wants to bless you,” and what better way to bless than money?

As I have encountered this teaching over the years, there is always a caveat. These offerings must be given in faith to receive the hundred-fold blessing. This creates a foolproof scenario for those who promote the teaching. If the giver does indeed receive an unexpected windfall of money, the teaching is validated. If not, the fault lies not with the teaching, but with the lack of faith in the giver.

This encourages a rather strange view of faith (in my opinion). Faith is not so much an unconditional trust in God, but a way to please God and thereby be rewarded. This view of faith can be extended to many aspects of life including health situations, relationships, employment, house purchases, etc. When we fail to realize our hopes, it is not because they are unrealistic or ill-conceived. It is because we lack faith.

To be sure, those who want to show this view is Scriptural can proof-text endlessly, piling up verses to make their case. I am not interested in refuting these texts individually, but I want to call into question the nature of faith they seek to portray.

Our faith may be tested, but I don’t think faith is a test that we must pass. It is especially not a test that we personally engineer. Faith, at its core, is a relationship of trust. We either trust God for everything or we don’t. If we trust him, we obey him. This is why we would give to a worthy cause or to our church. It is not because we are seeking to pass a test and win a prize. And it is not because we think it proper to put ourselves in the position of testing the faithfulness of God. Who are we to put God to the test?

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in his time of greatest distress, finally understood this. He wrote, “wirft man sich Gott ganz in die Arme” [one must cast oneself totally in the arms of God]. That is faith. It is trusting God no matter what. It is like the wedding vow, “for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, ’til death do us part.” That is the faith I seek, that I desire.

Mark Krause
Nebraska Christian College

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Justice and Judging

As we approach Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday on Monday, I would like to offer excerpts from the sermon I preached for chapel at Nebraska Christian College yesterday, January 16, 2014. It concerns “Justice,” and much of what I know of this subject was formed many years ago by reading Dr. King. This post is much longer than my usual ones. Hope you enjoy it.

Pope FrancisSituation 1: Year-end always generates “top ten” stories. In one of these the author gave the top quotes from the past year, and opined about the five most important words to be spoken in 2013. These came from the lips of the new leader of the Roman Catholic Church, Pope Francis: Who am I to judge?

love justiceSituation 2: Last week I was at Journey Christian Church in Wayne, NE. Great church. I had this message on my mind, and was struck after church by a girl, maybe 7 years old, carrying a big pink plastic tote bag that had this message on the side: love justice. I stopped her and asked her where she got it, and was told it was from the Westroads Mall in Omaha. So I stopped there on my way home. It is a store called “Justice” that has clothes and accessories for girls. I wanted to buy a bag like hers, but they didn’t have one. But I did understand, the “Love Justice” on her bag had a double meaning.For her: I love this cool store called “Justice.” For someone in the “Justice” company: I want to plant a seed with young girls, that they should love justice.

Judging and Justice. How do they go together?

Generational Shifts:

Boom Generation: passion for evangelism, developing many evangelistic methodologies. This culminated with the “seeker sensitive” church model, which at its core operated on the assumption that the lost were more important than the saved.

Generation X: alienated from the church and the corporate image it projected yearned for “authenticity.” This fueled the worship renewal movement. The result is that the worship service has become a worship experience that walks the line between participation and performance.

Millennials: They ask these questions, “Why doesn’t the church do anything? Is it all about buildings and budgets? There are people in our world who need help. Can’t we help them? There are people in our community who need help. Can’t we help them?”

Confusion

Similar ideas in the Bible: Judging, Justice, and Righteousness

Judging is wisely applying God’s standards for human behavior.

Justice and Righteousness are quite different in our understanding, yet the same word in Bible languages. We think Righteousness is the removal of the guilt caused by sin. We think we are righteous if we have no sin. And this, we believe, comes by believing in Jesus. He has come to save us from our sins, and we think that this is to be saved from our unrighteousness, our guilt. This is a very Pauline view, and is something of a confusion between righteousness and holiness.

We think Justice is when the law is applied evenly, fairly, without corruption, without prejudice. No celebrity justice.

But how could justice and righteousness be so different?

Suggestion #1: Righteousness is doing the right thing. It is doing the right thing for others. And so is justice. The one who loves justice is the person who wants to see the right thing done for others. That is the connection.

Suggestion #2: Sin is not simply about breaking rules; it is not caring about justice. This is what invokes the wrath of God. Is God angry when we break some rules, even intentionally? Or is God angry when we see others suffer and don’t care? Jesus did not get angry when he was around sinners, he got angry when his critics used a man who needed healing to trick him. He got angry when he saw unscrupulous merchants in the temple taking advantage of people who had come to worship.

I’m afraid we have let Paul’s doctrine of righteousness/holiness overshadow the OT’s call for justice.

The church doesn’t need any more judges. It needs people who love justice. The core of justice is caring about others more than we care about our own comfort.

Deuteronomy 16:20 (NIV): 20 Follow justice and justice alone, so that you may live and possess the land the Lord your God is giving you.

  • Moses, giving his final sermons to the people of Israel as they prepare to enter the Promised Land, includes advice and a veiled threat: Seek justice, Moses says. If you do, you will live and the land will be yours to possess. But the threat is there: if you ignore justice, if you pervert justice, if you don’t care about justice, you will lose the land.

Micah 6:8 (NIV)
He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.

  • Micah 6:8 is sometimes called the key to the prophets, maybe the most important verse in the Old Testament. The prophet lifts up three things, and none of them has to do with keeping rules. Number 1 on the list: acting justly. But they all go together: Justice/Mercy/Humility.

2 Samuel 23:1-3 KJV: Now these be the last words of David. David the son of Jesse said, and the man who was raised up on high, the anointed of the God of Jacob, and the sweet psalmist of Israel, said,  2 The Spirit of the LORD spake by me, and his word was in my tongue.  3 The God of Israel said, the Rock of Israel spake to me, He that ruleth over men must be just, ruling in the fear of God.

  • Aside from the political aspects of this, the expectation of God that we would have a just society that begins with our leaders, notice the link here: Being just motivated by the fear of God (not the fear of a re-election challenge). Why? Because David knew that hating justice moved God to anger.

Habakkuk 2:1-4 (KJV): 2 1I will stand upon my watch, and set me upon the tower, and will watch to see what he will say unto me, and what I shall answer when I am reproved. And the Lord answered me, and said, Write the vision, and make it plain upon tables, that he may run that readeth it. For the vision is yet for an appointed time, but at the end it shall speak, and not lie: though it tarry, wait for it; because it will surely come, it will not tarry. Behold, his soul which is lifted up is not upright in him: but the just shall live by his faith.

  • Paul’s favorite verse, and he insightfully applies this to the matter of Christian faith in Romans and in Galatians. But Habakkuk is not about personal righteousness. The crisis in Habakkuk is a lack of justice in his land. So, if we put this in perspective with what Moses said, they are called to trust God fully, even to the point of seeking justice. They are called to care about other people: the widows, the orphans, the homeless. This is living by faith.

Amos 5:14-15, 21-24

14 Seek good, not evil,
that you may live.
Then the Lord God Almighty will be with you,
just as you say he is.
15 Hate evil, love good;
maintain justice in the courts.
Perhaps the Lord God Almighty will have mercy
on the remnant of Joseph.
21 “I hate, I despise your religious festivals;
your assemblies are a stench to me.
22 Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings,
I will not accept them.
Though you bring choice fellowship offerings,
I will have no regard for them.
23 Away with the noise of your [worship] songs!
I will not listen to the music of your harps [your vintage pre-CBS Fender Stratocaster guitars or your personally customized Taylor acoustic/electrics].
24 But let justice roll on like a river,
righteousness like a never-failing stream!

  • I added a couple of words, but here’s a shock: God cares more about our justice than about our worship!

Careful: If we make everything about social justice in the church, we have missed the point. Justice is wanting to do the right thing for other people. Justice is wanting to have the right thing done for others. Justice is caring about others more than ourselves. Justice is living in the fear of God, and remembering that nothing provokes God’s wrath more than when we lose a passion for justice. And if we really love justice, we will care about those in our family, in our community, in our city, and in our world who are lost and need a Savior. And if we are ready to go to Thailand to help stop sex trafficking, but don’t care about our neighbors, we don’t really care about justice.

And “Where Is Justice?” I hope it has a home in your heart and ministry.

Mark Krause
Nebraska Christian College

Top Religious Events of 2013

2013 in ReviewReligion continues to play a strong and often unrecognized role in world events. Middle-Eastern strife is often fueled by Shiite-Sunni distrust and animosity (as is the case between Saudi Arabia and Iran) or secular Muslims vs. strict Islamists (as in Turkey). A great deal of the political ideology battles in the United States are stoked by religious convictions.

When Constantine the Great and his sons acted for the church (first to make Christianity legal, then to make it the religion of the Roman state) something became possible that probably had not happened before. For the first time, Christians could kill other Christians in battle and believe they were doing a good and just thing. You could have sincere believers in two opposing armies fighting to the death. This was repeated endlessly in Europe, and reached a type of climax in the devastating American Civil War, where both sides believed God was on their side (e.g., the “Battle Hymn of the Republic”).

In 2013, religion and religious convictions had a strong presence in world events. Here are my top four religious events of the past year:

4. The Gay Marriage Battles. I think that 2013 will be seen as a watershed year in this controversy, which is almost entirely a religious debate. A Supreme Court decision seems to have thrown the issue back to the state level, and both courts and legislatures are moving to legalize gay marriage. My observation: this is not a reversible thing, and both sides know this. Once gay marriage becomes legal in any state, I don’t think it will ever be not legal again. Gay marriage advocates have been relentless and strategic in this debate, using their contacts in the entertainment industry, the media, and in politics to bring us where we are today.

3. The Birth of a New British Heir. To Americans, the British Royal Family has become another set of celebrities, something like the Kennedys or the Kardashians. Queen Elizabeth II has now been reigning for over 60 years, and it seems like little ever changes. Yet she cannot live or be queen forever, and I think that in the next few years, we may see some dramatic shifts. I would not be surprised at all if within five years, her grandson, William, was king and little Prince George, born on July 22, was the crown prince at an early age. I would also not be surprised to see him become king within thirty years, so his upbringing will include grooming to be king. We should remember that one of the titles of the British monarch is “Defender of the Faith,” and he or she is the official head of the Church of England. Anglicanism is strong and growing in some parts of the world (such as in Africa), and is undergoing a conservative resurgence and revival in many ways. How will a King William or a King George factor into this? We might be surprised, and those surprises may unfold quickly in the near future.

2. The Religious Politicization of the National Health Care Debate. What should be an economic and political matter has become a matter of religion for many people in this country. There is an assumption among many conservative evangelicals that all conservative evangelicals are opposed to the Affordable Healthcare Act (aka Obamacare) and that support for this legislation is a betrayal of Christian principles. There are others who are equally passionate on the other side of the issue, and believe that the only course open to true Christian believers is to support healthcare for all Americans one way or another. To me, there is a certain dismay to see politicians on both sides mobilizing religious networks to their advantage. But I think this is far from over, and 2014 will become very nasty if this spills into our church life even more than it already has. Can a person who is adamantly opposed to Obamacare and is engaged in demonizing it coexist with a family who just received healthcare through this program? I hope this doesn’t split churches.

1. Pope Francis. This was a year of rapid and startling change in the Roman Catholic church. Joesph Ratzinger, the German Vatican insider who became Pope Benedict XVI, resigned. This had never really happened before. Once a pope, always a pope until death had been the rule for many centuries. Ratzinger/Benedict came off looking gracious and humble in all of this, and that obscures how controversial and disliked he was by many Catholics. To everyone’s surprise, he was quickly replaced by an elderly Argentine, Jorge Bergoglio, who in now Pope Francis. Bergoglio was no stranger to the inside workings of the Vatican, but he has already given the Catholic church a different image and brought hope to many. His words about income inequality and warning against the excesses of laissez-faire capitalism have already allowed some to condemn him as a liberal or a socialist (even a communist). But his desire to refocus the church’s mission to the poor is a refreshing turn, and many applaud him. It is silly for Americans to attempt to locate him somewhere in our political debates. He doesn’t care and doesn’t fit. He is not a Republican or a Democrat and never will be. But I think he will have an influential voice and great world-wide credibility for many years, and this makes him the most important religious story of 2013 for me. Time magazine agreed.

Mark Krause
Nebraska Christian College

 

KrauseKorner 2013 in review

This is a robo-blog prepared by WordPress, but has some interesting stats. I especially like seeing the wide variety of countries represented in the blog’s readers. More especially, I like seeing many Muslim countries represented, nations traditionally closed to the Gospel. Thanks to all my faithful and loyal followers. I hope to give you more fresh content in 2014.

MK

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 20,000 times in 2013. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 7 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.