Here’s a reason I’m not part of the “Religious Right”

The article from the above link talks about a bill passed in Arizona’s legislature that “would allow business owners to cite religious beliefs as a legal justification for denying service to same-sex couples.”  As you see from the title of the article, the “Religious Right” in Arizona is cheering this bill.  The question is about how a person’s religious rights relate to being involved in the marketplace, namely, having religious rights used as means to refuse doing business with a customer.  Now before I get into the two reasons why I oppose this type of legislation, let me state the following: in Iowa, same-sex marriage is legal, but, because I am a pastor and Iowa is concerned about the separation of church and state, and since I work in an “industry” that has at its core for existing religion, by law, I cannot be required to perform same-sex weddings/ceremonies if I choose to decline.  And, I have chosen to decline performing such weddings or ceremonies.

Now, let me comment about this bill on the practical level first.  This bill legalizes discrimination based upon religious views and beliefs.  Under this bill, business owners, based upon their religious belief that homosexuality is a sin, would be allowed to refuse to do business with LGBT individuals because of this.  Here’s my question: why is this the only sin that would cause, say, the owner of a flower shop or photography studio or bakery to refuse to give service?  I would like to know if this owner has provided services to a couple who, before marriage, was living together, which should also be viewed as “living in sin” if this owner were being consistent.  I would like to know if these business owners ask each and every client, before providing service, if they are living in some “type of sin.”  Or, as I surmise, do they separate out homosexuality as the only sin which would cause them, due to religious beliefs, to refuse to offer service?

On the principle level, this type of bill chills me to the bone because it was this very type of reasoning, religious belief, that was used to support slavery and then segregation.  I did a little bit of research and came across articles (here’s one: https://libertyeducationforum.org/issues/12-religion/47-the-bible-tells-me-so.html) that demonstrated that many opponents (they probably would have placed themselves on the “religious right” for they deemed desegregation as a plot to bring in socialism into this country) used the Bible as a support for segregation.  They believed that it was God’s desire that races be separate.  Therefore, segregation was what God wanted.  Therefore, it was perfectly legit for a business owner, due to religious belief concerning the separation of the races, to refuse to offer service or do business with a person of a different race.  This is where this Arizona bill is headed.  And, for that reason, it concerns me greatly.

As a business owner, whose primary reason for being in business is to make a profit, I would think that having as many paying customers as possible would be what they want.  And, to me, providing photographic services or a wedding cake or flowers isn’t an endorsement of same-sex marriage; it’s an endorsement of wanting customers.  Any entity which is in the marketplace and has as its primary reason for existence to make money and not religion or religious reason, should not be allowed to use “religious beliefs” as grounds to discriminate against potential customers, just like, since the passage of the Civil Rights Act, a place of business is not allow to refuse service to a person of a different race, based solely on that person’s race.

Therefore, as the “Religious Right” of Arizona is cheering, I am weeping.  

http://www.wcnc.com/news/iteam/How-Elevation-Church-Pastor-Furtick-produce-spontaneous-baptism-246072001.html

In the article linked above, this reporter reports some of the practices Elevation Church and Pastor Steve Furtick uses to have very high annual baptism numbers.

Now, I am not in any position to determine the veracity of the resources this reporter used in writing his article.  The one thing I do want to say has to do with some of the comments made as to why, if these indeed are the practices used to get people to come forward to be baptized, these practices are used.

What I gleaned from the comments is that these “volunteer plants” make it easier for others, who are unsure or see some other social obstacle that would deter them from being baptized, to come forward to be baptized.  They say this practice helps remove these obstacles and barriers.  So that’s a good thing because the higher the number, the better.

What I wonder is this: how does this mesh with how Jesus did things?  Did Jesus go about trying to remove obstacles for people in order that it would be easier for them to come and follow Him?  From how I read the Gospels, I see the exact opposite from Jesus.

Even though I have to believe Jesus wanted many to come to Him, He was more interested in them truly wanting to follow Him.  In other words, He was more interested in those coming to Him having total commitment.  To and for Him, having 11 (there were 12 in the group, but I’m leaving out Judas in that number of 11) totally sold-out, committed to the death followers was much, much better than having 100 lukewarm, only-committed-to-a-point followers.

For that reason, Jesus constantly put up obstacles that those who would follow needed to get past.  He made outrageous statements that caused people to fall away, statements like, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me,” and “If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple.”  Those are hard statements to hear.

I believe it is far too common in the American evangelical culture that numbers for the sake of having the highest number possible has caused leaders and churches to not focus on the two numbers about which I truly believe our Lord cares.  The first number is the number of people drawn into the kingdom as fully committed (meaning willing to die if called to do so for our Lord) and dedicated citizens of it.  The second number is directly tied to it – the number of people who are becoming disciples who reproduce disciples.

Consider what Jesus did with such a small group of His type of committed followers.

And that is where I choose to direct my focus, on the numbers about which my Lord truly cares.

Money is a spiritual matter

http://www.foxnews.com/world/2014/02/17/kim-jong-un-bigger-luxury-spender-than-his-father-un-report-finds/

http://www.ethicsdaily.com/the-one-pervasive-addiction-almost-all-of-us-have-cms-21532

Over the past 10 years or so, I have seen a shift in my attitude towards money.  Granted, I’m not perfect in this area and have had in that 10 years ups and downs concerning finances, but, over the past 16 months or so, I have been coming to a better place in relation to money.  

The two articles linked above talk about money.  The first one, I believe, is easier to read because it is being critical of someone who is far away from us.  It’s not very close to home for us.  It is easy to be critical about the North Korean ruler.  We read of the millions he is spending on things that truly are frivolous while people in his country are starving.  We read this story and get righteously indignant, and appropriately so, I think.

But, the second article hits closer to home for many.  In this country there truly is a common addiction to stuff, money, and possessions.  There are many who use shopping (spending money) as a form of self-medicating, just like someone uses food in the same way.  It is easy to tell someone else, like telling Kim Jong Un, how to spend his/her money, but when it comes to how we spend our own dollars, it gets harder.  Why?  Because it’s now personal.  It’s now hitting, not close to home, but directly home.  My Dad said something to me once that is so true.  He said, “Jim, it’s more fun to spend someone else’s money.”  It’s also easier to tell someone else how s/he should be spending his/her money than me/you following our own advice.

I have said many times that, for the most part, I could tell what a person truly believes if I were given access to two personal items: his/her calendar and checkbook.  How we spend time and money reveals a lot about what we truly believe.  One of God’s characteristics is generosity.  I believe that’s why the tithe isn’t found in the New Testament.  God instituted the tithe with Israel in the Mosaic Law because He knew that in their natural sinful state, humans are not truly generous.  So, God had to institutionalize giving.  

But, with the coming of Christ and those who believe His message having His nature as their own, generosity no longer needs to be institutionalized for it is now our nature.  So, the institution of the tithe is no longer necessary because our generosity should mirror God’s which goes way beyond the concept of the tithe.  And that speaks directly to how we view and spend our money.

I remember something that occurred to me in November of 2012.  On one Thursday, I performed a funeral for a friend who was not part of the church I pastor.  From the honorarium and the extra gift I was given by the family, I received $150 more than expected.  (There was a certain amount I expected and that amount was already added to the family budget; this was above and beyond that amount.  Also, as an ordained member of the America Baptist clergy, I signed an ethics statement which states that any honorarium received for doing funerals for members and supporters of the ministry is turned over to the church, which I follow.)

Well, by the time the funeral was over, it was later in the afternoon, so I thought I’d go see if I could spend that $150 on myself.  I had no idea what I should buy, so I went from store to store.  I probably spent 2 hours and visited multiple stores looking for something to buy, but I just couldn’t spend that money!  There wasn’t anything I truly needed.  Everything I looked at would be the fulfilling of a want, not a need.  When I arrived home with the money still in my pocket, I parked the car, got out, and as I was getting my suit coat out of the back seat, the Holy Spirit drew my attention to a house that is close to mine.  A new family, which I had already met, had just moved into the previous week.  With three young children, this was a family that didn’t have a whole lot of extra funds.  I know what it is like to be a young family struggling financially.

As clear as a bell, I heard this direction from the Holy Spirit: “Go over there, knock on the door, and see if they have any needs.”  So, since I have learned to follow His leading, I walked over to the house and knocked on the back door.  The mom answered the door, and after being invited in and a couple minutes of chit-chat, I asked the question I was supposed to ask.  The response?  The twin girls (the older 2 of the 3) were starting preschool on the following Monday and there was a need to have an adequate supply of “pull-ups” at the preschool which needed to be purchased and that was going to be a financial strain.  I gave them $100 of the $150 so they could by a lot of “pull-ups.”

So, I now understood why I could not spend that money.  It wasn’t meant for me.  God designed that money to be used in a different way to bless someone.  Besides, there wasn’t anything I really needed.  Now, as full disclosure, with the other $50, I did take the family out for dinner to a fast-food place, but the majority of the money was used to bless this new-to-town family.

For me, that was a pivotal point in God’s continued development of me.  With my wife starting a permanent (not long-term sub) teaching job last month, the first thing that was increased, by a significant percentage, was the amount we give to our church.  Additionally, in the past few weeks, I have also had multiple opportunities to bless people who were in need.  It feels good to be generous with God’s provision.

How about each one of you?  When was the last time you examined your financial situation, specifically how much is spent on maintaining a certain lifestyle and how much is given to bless others, whether how much you give to a church or to others around you?  It is not my goal to be critical, because as I said above, it is easier to tell someone else how to spend his/her money, but in this case, I am following my own advice and counsel first before sharing it with you.

So, I desire this to be an encouragement and a challenge.  Examine and seek what God would have you do.  I pray that His characteristic of generosity in you is strong and He gives you opportunities in the coming days for it to become even stronger.

Pastor Jim