Friday, November 23, 2012

RBV: Matthew 6:24

"No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon."
Matthew 6:24

Most people who are familiar with the Bible are aware of this statement made by Jesus during His Sermon on the Mount. This teaching on the inadvisability of trying to serve two masters comes at the end of a line of comparisons between two major elements of life. Earlier, He had spoken about two different kinds of treasure, the earthly kind and the heavenly kind. Then He mentioned the good eye and the bad eye, or perhaps it would be clearer to call them the focused ("single," KJV) eye and the confused eye, which illustrate a person's outlook on his life. Obviously, Jesus is trying to help us see the dichotomy between God's way and the way of this world, man's way, or Satan's way, however we may wish to look at it.

In this verse, He moves on to the human will, telling us that it is impossible to give full allegiance to more than one entity, whether it be a family member, a boss, a cause, or even football teams!  As He says, one of them will always be slighted in some way. One's true loyalty will soon be revealed when circumstances conspire to force a choice between them. At the fish-or-cut-bait moment, we will choose to give our time and attention to the one that we really love, and the other we will "hate" by comparison.

As a native of the Steel City, I am a Pittsburgh Steeler fan and always have been. Yet, I have lived in Charlotte since 1992 and have been a fan of the Panthers since the team's first NFL game in 1995. I know a great deal about both clubs, watch most of their games, and avidly follow their player acquisitions and moves. It is good that the Steelers are an AFC team, while the Panthers are an NFC team, so they rarely play each other. But what happens when they do? There is no question: I root for the Steelers. My choice shows that I "love" the Steelers and "hate" the Panthers; I am "loyal" to the black and gold and "despise" the black, Panther blue, silver, and white. In such a situation, I cannot cheer for both.

In the last phrase, Jesus makes it clear that the choice often comes down to God on the one hand and "Mammon"a word that denotes wealth and possessionson the other. True, His audience, mostly Jews, had and still have a reputation for pursuing wealth overmuch, but His true audience is everyone. We all want more things, and we sometimes go to extreme measures to get them. When faced with the decision of following God or following the money, too many pick the latter, and in doing so, reveal our true loyalties.

He desires His disciples, therefore, to take note: The true Christian puts God first in everything. If a promotion at work means that a Christian will have to work on the Sabbath or blur some of his principles, he needs to choose God and turn down the promotion. If he can avoid a heavy tax assessment if he fudges the numbers a little on his 1040, he should choose God and submit an honest return. If he finds a wallet filled with cash, he must choose God and return it to its owner. In every case in which we must decide between obedience to God and gaining for the self, God must be our constant choice.

While this may seem somewhat onerous, this kind of total devotion and commitment is what God demands. Jesus is also the one who said,“No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God" (Luke 9:62), and “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple" (Luke 14:26). Even in the verse under discussion, Jesus speaks of “serving . . . masters," which is an allusion to slavery. But we can gladly choose to serve God, the most gracious and beneficent of masters.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Past the Tipping Point

Every four years here in the United States, we hold a national election that is billed by many as "the most important election in the history of this country." It is often framed in black-and-white terms: good versus evil, the end of our Republic, a vote for individual freedom, a titanic battle of worldviews, a triumphant return to Constitutional America, the death or salvation of "the land of the free," and so forth. In most cases, such descriptions are so much hyperbole, red-meat marketing phrases guaranteed to rev up each party's base of supporters. Usually, however, the election is not truly quite so epochal. The electorate's choice is typically between two fairly similar candidates, one politically slightly right of center and the other slightly left of center.

When previous campaign seasons have not gone their way, those who believe that America is special among the world's nations—the common usage speaks of "American exceptionalism"—have always consoled themselves with the belief that the country is still basically Christian and conservative. The pundits describe the country as still having a "silent majority" of God-fearing, fiscally cautious citizens who comprise the backbone of the nation. When the more conservative candidate stumbled, supporters could be heard to say, "He may not have won, but we are still a right-of-center country."

Not anymore.

On Wednesday morning, after surveying President Obama's electoral victory over challenger Mitt Romney, conservative author and political commentator Jedediah Bila tweeted to her followers: "I always hear ‘We are a center-right country.' No. A center-right country does not elect Barack Obama twice. Time to re-evaluate." On her blog, she expanded the thought:
Would a center-right country re-elect the man who ushered in massive government overreach into the health care system? Would a center-right country welcome an Obama Doctrine that reeks of weakness on the international stage? Would a center-right country embrace class warfare rhetoric and redistribution of wealth? Not in my book.
We can look at the famous Red-Blue County Map of the nation's voting preferences and see that, except for a seeming handful of blue (Democrat-majority) counties, the country appears mostly Republican red. This seems convincing and reassuring until the map is overlaid with population density statistics, and then the truth becomes clear: Many of the blue areas are urban centers, and others are concentrations of minorities that traditionally vote Democrat. As one blogger put it, the Red-Blue Map "fails to allow for the fact that the population of the red states is on average significantly lower than that of the blue ones. The blue may be small in area, but they represent a large number of voters, which is what matters in an election." (The Electoral Vote Cartogram also shows this.) When looked at this way, America appears to be a majority left-of-center country.

What does "left-of-center" mean? The simple Left-Right political spectrum is a gauge of several attitudes toward government. Historically, Rightists have supported traditional governmental structures (thus the conservative moniker), while Leftists have felt free to try new ways of governing (thus, the progressive label). The most common American view is that those on the Left—liberals—favor big government and more governmental control and largess, while those on the Right—conservatives—prefer smaller government in all areas of life. More important to Christians is the fact that most traditional Christians and their denominations have aligned themselves with conservative principles, whereas secularists, evolutionists, and atheists mostly support liberal views.

Since true Christians do not involve themselves in the politics of this world, one might think that the ascendance of American liberalism should matter little to us, that we can continue to practice our beliefs just as well in a left-of-center nation as in a right-of-center one. But that would be na├»ve. Such a view ignores the lessons of history—both recent and biblical. When a nation goes past the tipping point of morality and upholding Christian principles, the angle of decent quickly steepens and recovery becomes nearly impossible.

Why? The answer appears in the selfish disposition of base human nature combined with the law of inertia, which simply put is that "an object in motion will remain in motion unless acted upon by an unbalanced force." Human nature, desirous of self-satisfaction, will do everything it can to keep the "unbalanced force" from correcting its course. People who reject God and His Word consider themselves to have thrown off the chains of His demanding way of life and think of themselves as "free" (see Romans 8:7). God observes in Jeremiah 5:31 that people do not want to be corrected but love deceit so they can continue in their sins, and Jesus agrees, saying in John 3:19 that "men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil."

In other words, human nature, influenced by Satan the Devil and his hatred of God and of good, has an inbuilt resistance to repentance. People tend not to like to reform. The repentance of Nineveh was a rare and marvelous exception, as Jonah's astonished reaction attests. God speaks of this reluctance to return to righteousness in Jeremiah 8:4-6:
Thus says the LORD: "Will they fall and not rise? Will one turn away and not return? Why has this people slidden back, Jerusalem, in a perpetual backsliding? They hold fast to deceit, they refuse to return. I listened and heard, but they do not speak aright. No man repented of his wickedness, saying, ‘What have I done?' Everyone turned to his own course, as the horse rushes into the battle."
Thus, America's lurch to the political Left is tangible evidence of her moral and religious decline. She no longer teeters on the fulcrum, indecisive, faltering between two opinions (I Kings 18:21), but she has chosen to follow her own counsel and continue to ease God and traditional morality from the culture. In the coming years, Christians can expect to find themselves increasingly marginalized and ridiculed for holding "antiquated beliefs." Religious exemptions may well begin to disappear. If the United States follows Europe's lead, among other consequences, churches will empty, religious voices will be ignored, fewer will marry, abortions will rise and even wanted children will be scarce, euthanasia will be seen as a practical option, and ultimately, life will cheapen. The decline of Western civilization, built on the foundation of Christian values, will have successfully leaped the Atlantic.

To those who have been watching it closely, the nation's trend toward liberalism has been evident for many years, but the recent election may have confirmed it as permanent and irreversible. If that is the case, the promised curses will not be long in coming (see Leviticus 26; Deuteronomy 28). It is time to make sure that God finds us faithful.