Friday, March 30, 2012

What Can be Worth More Than $500 Million?

If you answered $501 million or something along those lines, I concede. Yet I know of something with an even greater value, many things in fact.

I started putting my list together as I thought about the new record Mega Millions jackpot up for grabs today. Not that I plan on playing but it is fun to try to fathom having a half-billion dollars. It’s even more fun and satisfying to think of those things I already have which are priceless, contributing to my life in a way that money just could never buy.

Number one on my list is God. Did you really expect me to say something or someone different? Having a relationship with the Creator of all things is more valuable than I could have imagined back when I first became a Christian. Back then I was only concerned with avoiding condemnation and with finding a place to fit in. Over the years I have truly been enriched by the presence of God. I can no longer imagine life without Him. My cost for a lifetime of experiences with the Lord comes to a grand total of zero dollars.

Over the last couple of days a lot of people have paid a dollar or two for a chance at the record jackpot. What are the odds of any one individual winning? Let’s not go there. What are the odds of receiving something of value from an authentic relationship with God? The Gospel comes with a guarantee of life changing experiences and immeasurable value.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Should Trayvon Martin’s Background Matter?

New information has come to light about Trayvon Martin’s background. As often happens in stories like this there are those who seek to shift the focus, moving us away from an examination of the shooter and of the law protecting the shooter to a point where we are making excuses for what happened. Yet with each new report I honestly find myself saying, “Really?”

It seems Trayvon was serving suspension from school when he was shot and killed in a Florida town. The suspension allegedly came about after Martin was accused of defacing school property. Looking for evidence, school authorities searched his belongings and found a bag containing trace amounts of marijuana. So we now know Trayvon was not the perfect citizen or student. Does this somehow justify his shooting? Really?

Geraldo Rivera tells us that somehow Trayvon brought this on himself by wearing a hoodie. To be fare to Mr. Revera, he does say there should be a full investigation of this incident. We also have to honestly agree with Rivera on how a black man wearing a hoodie invokes an unpleasant image. But to say that the hoodie was as much responsible for the death as was the shooter? Really?

Mr. Rivera says he would bet money that had Trayvon not been wearing a hoodie he would not have been shot. Truth is we do not know. Yes the person who admits to shooting Trayvon mentioned the hoodie in his phone call to 911 but he also mentions some other things that might have caused him to pursue Trayvon. Bottom line: we say guns don’t kill, people do. Guess what hoodies don’t kill…

As a society we have a choice in how we approach this matter. We can push for a full investigation of both the shooting and of the law protecting the admitted shooter or we can continue to look for reasons to justify what happened by attacking the rights and personhood of the victim. This story is not about a school suspension nor is it about the choices people make in what they will wear. This was a deadly shooting. In cases like these it is not up to the public to convict nor is it the job of the public to defend.

For a text of Geraldo Rivera’s comments see FoxNews.com
See also “Trayvon Martin: Assessing Stand Your Ground”

Friday, March 23, 2012

Trayvon Martin: Assessing Stand Your Ground

It was a mugging that could have been prevented.

As a twenty something college student in Philadelphia the subway was my main mode of transportation. One night, as I stepped onto the platform I noticed two women waiting for the next train. They were seated on a bench having a conversation with each other: a conversation which stopped as I approached.

Each woman pulled her purse closer to her body as they watched me walk by. Clearly the presence of a young black male posed a danger to them and their belongings. I was tempted to say something, wanting to assure the two of my lack of interest in them or in their personal property, but decided to mind my own business as I walked to the other end of the platform. To be honest I understood being a bit cautious while out in public late at night. Besides, I was used to women holding their purses a little tighter or locking their car doors when they notice me nearby.

Not long after I passed I heard one of the women scream. I turned to see what had happened only to have a white man trip and fall at my feet. As they say, it all happened so fast. He quickly sprang up, dashing towards the exit before I could process what had just happened. Only after he hit the turnstile did I realize he was carrying a purse. I am not sure how or why but he had successfully robbed the two women who just moments ago were so concerned about my presence.

They say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. These women did just that, assuming they could tell a dangerous person by his skin color only to get robbed by one of their own. Not that I find amusement in the misfortune of others, but I find it hard not to chuckle when I remember the night I was mistaken for a possible thief.

Granted we do not know all of the details of the tragic story of Trayvon Martin nor should we try the alleged shooter in public. My problem is with the “stand your ground law,” variations of which are on the books in 23 states including the one in which I live. These laws allow people to defend themselves against threat, using deadly force if necessary. This kind of protection was generally seen as a right if one was attacked inside their home. The stand your ground law extends this protection to situations in public where a person believes there is a danger to life and limb.

At first glimpse this law sounds like a good idea. In real life application we must ask at what point does the law no longer apply? Had this law been in place at the time would those women have been justified had one pulled a weapon and shot me that night on a cold Philly subway platform? After all they felt threatened by the black man passing them as they sat vulnerable waiting for their train.

Was Trayvon Martin guilty of something more than walking while black? Left up to local authorities we would never know the answer, their application of the stand your ground law giving justification for not bringing the case to court. Self-defense was always an acceptable defense, the accused having the opportunity to stand before a jury of his/her peers who would decide based on the facts of the case if the use of force was justified. Now we know that in some states one can avoid a trial simply by saying they felt threatened. Does this allow for better protection of person and property or is it a declaration of open season on anyone we can say poses a threat?

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The Tithe: Malachi and the Curse

Judged and found guilty as charged, they were under a curse. As a result they suffered at the hands of the devourer, who was destroying their crops and ruining their lives. The prophet was sent to deliver the truth, to help them understand why things were as they were. Malachi was not sent to offer a get rich quick scheme. He was sent to help people understand God’s judgment and His offer of salvation.

The people were guilty because they did not trust God. Instead of appealing to the Lord they had declared obedience a waste of time, following their own way. Malachi used the tithe as an example of how far they had fallen from God’s requirements. John the Baptist came with a similar message, declaring the need for repentance. The Kingdom of God was at hand. Those who chose not to believe faced judgment and a fate much worse than having the devourer destroy the land. John’s teaching warned of something worse than a curse, something that could only be removed by the Chosen One of God.

In Malachi’s time obedience in things such as paying tithes was the path away from suffering under judgment. The prophet described the obedience of faith, manifested in actions such as paying tithe. Repentance involved changing what the people thought about God and demonstrating this change in thinking with obedience. What Malachi described foreshadowed the way established in Christ.

With His death and resurrection Christ established the path by which we satisfy the verdict pronounced over all people. The Bible tells us that all have sinned, falling short of God’s standard. As such we have been judged worthy of death and are in need of being saved. As Malachi described the path for avoiding the devourer, so the Gospel describes the path by which we avoid this curse of death. The Tithe was required as a demonstration of faith, by which a person moved into position to be blessed by God. Receiving the sacrifice of Christ as sufficient to pay for our sins is required under the New Testament.

Under the New Testament salvation comes only by faith in Christ, trusting God when He says He accepts Jesus’ death as payment for our sins. The curse of death was lifted by Jesus on the cross. In deciding if the tithe is required today we must assess its place in demonstrating our faith. We have to consider what Malachi describes as well as the descriptions of the tithe given in other Old Testament Books. Knowing the intent of the tithe as shown in the Old Testament does the Tithe we return to the question: Does the Tithe fit in the Christian Church?

See Also: “Does the Tithe Fit the Christian Church?”
“The Tithe: Its Early Structure”
“The Tithe: the Book of Malachi”

Monday, March 19, 2012

International Prayer: March 19th, 2012

To be effective in prayer we sometimes have to do a little work. We have to be engaged in our communities and in the lives of our neighbors in order to lift them up before the Lord. This allows us to lift up specific prayer requests as opposed to a generic sort of, “I pray for this person and please bless this person.” By getting out and being engaged in our community Christians are able to learn about real needs, those which we will never learn about if our walk is limited to a weekly hour or two on the pews.

In the past week or two I have heard from families whose children are in need of prayer, children dealing with major medical issues who need the support of praying Christians. Their families need believers to actively stand with them as well. So I want to do something a little different with today’s international prayer post. Today I call upon Christians around the world to set aside time for the families in our neighborhoods. Take time to get to know the parents and to find out what they are dealing with in trying to raise their children. Are there children with medical needs in your area? Perhaps there are special needs children nearby. What about the single parent down the street? Learn of the needs of the children in your neighborhood and spend time in prayer, lifting up their specific situations. As God moves on your heart act, become the light God has called you to become.

In praying for children let us remember the families whose lives were altered by the tragic shooting at a school in France. Three children were killed this morning along with a Rabbi when a man jumped off of a moped and opened fire. A teenager was among several others who were seriously injured. Pray for the children and families of this school community as they recover from this tragedy.

Monday, March 12, 2012

International Prayer: March 12, 2012

Monday is international prayer day here at Fire and Hammer. Today’s post will be a short one as the world marks the dark anniversary of the events of March 11th, 2011.

Japan – A year has passed since Japan suffered the nation’s worst earthquake, followed by a tsunami that destroyed a nuclear power plant. The disaster killed thousands of people, destroying a number of coastal towns. Yesterday Japan paused at 2:46pm in a moment of silence to mark the anniversary of the disaster. Pray for Japan as there is still a need for healing, with people dealing the empty feelings of losing a loved one. Japan is in the process of rebuilding and dealing with the nuclear contamination from the damaged Fukushima power plant. Pray for Japan’s future as they deal with recovery amidst economic problems stemming back a couple of years. Pray for the spiritual needs of the people, remembering those who are called to minister during these trying times.

Last year Japan held the world’s attention. Let us not forget our neighbors, taking this opportunity to lift them up before the Lord in prayer.

Friday, March 09, 2012

Being Daddy and Kids Say…

Remember the old television show “Kids Say the Darndest Things”? I suspect if you ask any parent they will tell you they live that show almost daily. I know I do. Often the things said by my kids give me my best laugh of the day, reminding me not to take myself too seriously. I might also add that being kept on my toes by what might come out of a child’s mouth is one of those things that make life fun.

Last weekend my family went to the Greater Philadelphia RV show. This was our first time attending, going out of curiosity about what is available. It was also an opportunity to dream about a future involving more travel opportunities. None of us knew what to expect, least of all my youngest who asked prior to the show, “What’s an RV?”

As a dad I have often fallen into the habit of giving the shortest possible answer. In this case I responded by telling my son that an RV was a camper. His response: “You mean someone who sleeps outside on the ground in a sleeping bag?” I guess it would be a bit odd for us to go watch people ‘camp.’ After confirming that indeed this is type of camper, I explained how this was not the type of camper I was talking about. Yet it seems my second explanation still did not do the topic justice, being much too complicated for even an adult to understand.

After the show my youngest informed me that a RV was in fact like a rolling hotel. His was a much better explanation as the modern RV is much different from what I experienced when I was a child. The RV show, which my family enjoyed, was both a glimpse into what I hope is our future and an opportunity to learn how children often have better (less complicated) definitions than do their parents.

Yes kids do say the darndest things and that’s just one more reason being a dad is well worth my time.

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

The Tithe: The Book of Malachi

“Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse…prove me now…if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing…” (Malachi 3:10)

It’s a waste of time to follow God’s laws and to give to His temple. This was one of the prevailing teachings confronted by Malachi. Even those who were tasked with teaching of God’s righteousness had grown slack, overlooking the people’s transgressions. They had stopped believing in the principles of God, and were teaching others of the vanity of the faith. In this context the issue addressed in Malachi 3:10 is not simply one of people not giving to God. Malachi dealt with an incorrect world view.

With a world view that said serving God was a waste of time (Malachi 3:14), the people had no reason to give to the temple. In their hearts they believed tithe giving would simply leave one with 10% less money. God as provider was no longer a part of every day life. They did not believe and thus did not give, justifying their actions with permission from religious leaders. Malachi challenged these beliefs, telling the people they were robbing God. He called them to return to the principles of God, using the tithe as an example of where they had gone wrong.

Malachi tells us to repent and follow God. Test His principles and see if they do not work. Bring the tithe and offering into the storehouse and see how the Lord responds. The command comes in the context of the tithe as a tool to help the nation of Israel learn to revere God. The cycle of blessing described in Malachi was a challenge to sinful man to repent, returning to this principle of giving which would allow them to learn how God operates. While blessings are mention, Malachi was not giving the world a new get rich quick scheme. He gave us all direction in how we can grow spiritually.

But spiritual growth is just part of the goal found in the words of Malachi. The prophet’s words also foreshadow the work done by Christ. How? Check back next week as we look at the parallel between Malachi 3 and the gift of salvation.

{This is part 3 of a series on tithing. See also part 1 and part 2.}

Friday, March 02, 2012

Uncle Tom’s Cabin and The Great Commission

I recently read Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Perhaps this is not the first book that comes to mind for Black History Month reading. To be honest it was just a coincidence that this book came up on my reading list during the month of February. I read it because of a comment someone made, reminding me of how the character ends up being the book’s hero. But before he gives his life to protect other slaves he sacrifices a chance at freedom in order to do what he thought right, placing great value on human life and on saving souls. It is this choice which led to the name Uncle Tom being on par with Benedict Arnold. (Of course, if you are British, Arnold might be considered a hero). After reading of this character’s sacrifice I found myself wondering what, as a Christian, I am willing to sacrifice in order to save a soul.

Am I willing to sacrifice all to save a soul? Are you?