I was reminded of something important today. It’s a simple truth, but one that can sometimes be hard to grasp—God loves me. He loves me just the way I am, no matter what I’m doing right now, and no matter what I’m not doing. God just loves me.
I’ve always been a procrastinator. I commit myself to do something, but it’s often hard to follow through and complete the task. Sometimes I get angry with myself because I’m not accomplishing everything I think I should. I picture God looking over my shoulder, shaking his head impatiently because I’m not getting enough done. I even start my prayers at night saying, “This was a good day, Lord” because of what I accomplished, or “This was a bad day, Lord” because I fell behind in my work.
What a sad way to live!
I’m sure I’m not the only person who gets caught up in the idea of working for the Lord. We read about the unfaithful servant in Matthew 25 who was reprimanded for not making good use of the talents he was given. In the same chapter we see people being judged for not feeding the poor, being gracious to strangers, or visiting prisoners. In the Bible we’re given list after list of things we should do and things we shouldn’t do. It’s very easy to think we somehow have to earn God’s love and acceptance.
We know that salvation comes from faith, not works. “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God, not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:9). But what about after we’re saved? Does God have a list of things we have to accomplish to be good children? Is he angry when we don’t work hard enough, or accomplish enough, or do some specific thing he wants us to do?
After many years of wrestling with these questions, I’ve come to a conclusion. God does want us to obey his commands and do good works, but not because of what he wants us to accomplish. Rather, it’s what he wants to accomplish in us. Ephesians 2:10 says, “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Ephesians 3:20 adds, “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us.” You see, God is doing a good work, creating something of eternal value, and you are that work!
As it says in Isaiah 64:8: “Yet you, Lord, are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand.”
I love to watch hand-thrown pottery being made. What starts out as a lump of hard clay is warmed and softened in the potter’s hand as it spins on a plate. The clay has to stay warm and pliable, and it has to keep moving, to become the finished product the potter has in mind. The finished pot might be used to hold food or water, or fresh flowers, or maybe even gold and silver, but the potter will always have a special place in his heart for the pot itself. It’s the work of his hands, and it has great value to him apart from the work the pot does.
So today, if you’re stressed out about having too much to do, or you’re trying to do something that seems too big or too difficult, or perhaps you’re wondering if God even has a purpose for you, take a deep breath. Thank God for working in your life. Then loosen up, relax your shoulders, and be the warm, moldable piece of clay God wants you to be. Whatever good work you’re trying to do today isn’t as important as the good work God is doing in you. He isn’t waiting up in heaven to yell at you for missed opportunities or undone work, he’s anxious to show you off as the special, unique, and much loved work of art you are.
I read an article this week about the divide among evangelical Christians over Donald Trump. Apparently, one thing many supporters of Trump have in common is a belief in a “prosperity gospel.”
According to the prosperity gospel, God materially blesses those who are in his favor. The point of Christianity, then, is to gain the health and wealth God wants us to have. In the political realm, if wealth and economic success equal God’s approval, then Donald Trump is obviously God’s man – despite his personal arrogance, failed marriages, or any stance he takes on moral issues.
An interesting point in the article is that proponents of the prosperity gospel “represent a narrow and often controversial segment of the faith,” and yet “fully half of white evangelicals believe Trump would make a good or great president.” That suggests a lot of Christians believe in a prosperity gospel without even realizing (or admitting) that they do. That’s not surprising when you consider how many people agree with the ideas of some of the Founding Fathers of the United States that were very similar to the prosperity gospel we talk about today.
The Puritans of Massachusetts Bay Colony looked to the promises of the Old Testament and expected God to bless them in the New World if they obeyed God’s commands. They wanted their new colony to be “a city upon a hill,” and they looked to God for their prosperity.
This Puritan ideal of a blessed people influenced many who fought for the freedom of the colonies a century and half later. A number of our Founding Fathers believed God's obvious favor of the colonists in battle proved to them God agreed with their cause. They equated military success with divine approval and a divine mission in the world.
John Adams wrote, “I always consider the settlement of America with reverence and wonder, as the opening of a grand scene and design in Providence for the illumination of the ignorant, and the emancipation of the slavish part of mankind all over the earth.” George Washington spoke of God as “the Great Author of every public and private good,” and exclaimed that “every step by which [we] have advanced … seems to have been distinguished by some token of providential agency.”
So when Donald Trump says he wants to make America “great” again, it’s easy for some to equate that with the ideas of the Founders that God intended America to be great. It’s an attractive proposition to say that God favors us as Americans and wants to bless us with peace and prosperity. To think of those things as our birthright means we don’t have to earn them or do anything to deserve them. We just have to take them – “name it to claim it” in the words of prosperity gospel preachers.
The problem, of course, is this is not good Christian theology.
To be Christian is to be like Christ, to be conformed to his image (Romans 8:29). We are told to “have the same mindset as Christ Jesus” who “made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant” (Philippians 2:5,7). Jesus said, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23).
When we compare the prosperity and popularity of someone like Donald Trump with the humility and personal sacrifice of Jesus Christ, we might yearn for the former. But we are called to imitate the latter.
To learn more about the problems with the Founding Fathers theology, I hope you will read my book One Nation Under God: A Christian Argument in Favor of Separation of Church and State.
Referenced article: Elizabeth Dias, “Donald Trump’s Prosperity Preachers,” Time, April 17, 2016, http://time.com/donald-trump-prosperity-preachers/
Whenever I talk to someone about the issue of separation of Church and State in America, I am sure to hear the argument that our Founding Fathers were Christians and wanted the United States to be a Christian nation. That’s an easy generalization to make, but it ignores the fact that there were many men involved in the founding of our nation with many different religious backgrounds and beliefs.
It’s true that most of the men associated with the Declaration of Independence, the US Constitution, and the first Congress considered themselves to be Christian. However, then – as now – not everyone agreed on what it meant to be a Christian.
The same man who wrote the Declaration of Independence with such beautiful references to God and our Creator was vilified by religious conservatives as being anti-Christian when he ran for president at the beginning of the 19th century.
“Some clergyman warned their parishioners that they should hide their Bibles if Jefferson became President, and that such an electoral outcome might bring down God’s wrath on the new Republic…. A widely distributed pamphlet [proclaimed] that ‘the election of any man avowing the principles of Mr. Jefferson would … destroy religion, introduce immorality and loosen all the bonds of society’” (p.20).
Yet Jefferson called himself a Christian. “I am a Christian, in the only sense he [Jesus] wished anyone to be; sincerely attached to his doctrines, in preference to all others; ascribing to himself every human excellence, and believing he never claimed any other” (p. 25).
You see, Thomas Jefferson believed that Jesus lived and taught and had aspects of his life and teachings recorded by his followers. But on the basis of human reason and his own conscience – which he valued more than the teachings of the Bible – Jefferson could not accept the idea that Jesus was the Son of God who died and rose again to conquer sin and death. Jefferson went through the four gospel accounts of Jesus’ life and literally cut out the parts he agreed with and pasted them into his own book. He called that book “The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth,” and it later became known as “The Jefferson Bible.”
Today, there are many people who think it is enough to believe in the moral teachings of Jesus, to value him highly as a teacher and a role model. Add in the moral laws of the Old Testament and we have the foundations for a good, peaceful, “Christian” society, one likely to be blessed by our Creator who, after all, endowed us with the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
Unfortunately, it’s in the writings of Thomas Jefferson, and others like him, that we find this view of God and of Jesus. It isn’t in the Bible – not unless you take it apart line by line and discard all the parts you don’t like or that don’t fit with your view of how the world should be.
Today is Thomas Jefferson’s birthday. I applaud him as a masterful statesman and a strong leader for our infant nation. But, whatever he called himself, I cannot agree that Jefferson was a Christian or that anything he wrote spoke of Christian truths.
Christianity is about much more than acknowledging there is a God, accepting the truth of Jesus’ life on earth, or even being a fan of his teachings. To be a Christian is to acknowledge Jesus CHRIST as the Savior of your soul and the King of your life. Christians are, first and foremost, members of God’s Kingdom, and that Kingdom should never be confused with or entwined with any human nation on earth – no matter what our Founding Fathers thought.
Harry Rubenstein and Barbara Clark Smith, “History of the Jefferson Bible” in The Jefferson Bible, Smithsonian Edition, Smithsonian Institute, 2011.
Today is “Arizona Gives Day” – a day when nearly every non-profit in the state is sending emails and letters asking for donations. Many non-profits exist almost entirely on donations, so they have to make the most of this opportunity to reach out and touch your hearts – and wallets.
I came across an old blog post of mine from several years back that I am posting again today because of its relevance to “Arizona Gives Day.” I hope as you read it you will be encouraged to do some giving of your own. Perhaps you will even see how much God has blessed you as you look back on how things were just seven years ago.
April 1, 2009:
I’m depressed today. I have to admit it. All around me I see signs of an ailing economy. Businesses are closing, and people everywhere are strained, anxious, and barely holding on to a shred of hope that things will eventually get better.
This weekend, I’ll be participating in a golf-a-thon to raise money for a Christian food bank in my community. Each member of the board of directors (myself included) has been challenged to obtain pledges in the amount of $7500 for the event. I’ve been asking for pledges from friends and acquaintances. So far, I’ve gotten five pledges, totaling $500. “It’s the economy,” people say. “It’s not a good year for giving to others.”
Unfortunately, it’s been a very good year for the food bank, at least as far as their clients are concerned. The number of people needing help from the charity has doubled and is on the way to tripling. But where the food is going to come from, I just don’t know.
These are hard times, and it’s understandable for people to be cautious in how they spend their money. If someone doesn’t have a job, they might not know how they’re going to make their next house payment or pay for food. People who do have jobs are probably wondering how long that might last. Companies are cutting employees and tightening their budgets to stay afloat. State and local governments are cutting back services and raising fees to keep from drowning in red ink. Property values and investments have shrunk to almost nothing.
“This isn’t a good year,” people say. ‘“I’ll try to give next time.”
But I can’t help but ask, when has it ever been a bad year for God? When has he ever been stopped by circumstances beyond his control or had to scale back his mercy and love because the times were hard? Is it not in the darkest hours that his light can shine brightest?
Okay, I know that sounds trite and it might not be a great comfort to someone holding a pink slip in their hand. But before you climb into a hole of depression and hoard all your worldly wealth to sustain you for the future, just remember this: God rewards those who are faithful. He gives his love and mercy to those who give their love and mercy to others in his name.
Then the King will say to those on his right, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me…. Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” (Matthew 25:34-36, 40)
I don’t know about you, but I’m not going to let an unhealthy economy keep me from my eternal reward. God is faithful—always! I’m going to do my best to be faithful today, too.
What is my mission as an author? It's a tough question, but I believe the goal dearest to my heart is to help Christians think about what they really believe and then to act as if they really believe it. It all begins with understanding what it means to be a Christian. Then we have to learn to live like a Christian.