Friday, December 03, 2004

Is God a Liberal?

5 "The vile person shall be no more called liberal, nor the churl said to be bountiful.6 For the vile person will speak villany, and his heart will work iniquity, to practise hypocrisy, and to utter error against the LORD, to make empty the soul of the hungry, and he will cause the drink of the thirsty to fail.7 The instruments also of the churl are evil: he deviseth wicked devices to destroy the poor with lying words, even when the needy speaketh right.8 But the liberal deviseth liberal things; and by liberal things shall he stand."

I spent a good part of the morning having breakfast with Curtis McCauley at the Commercial Street Diner. I just call him “Doc.” He’s a retired veterinarian, entrepreneur, raconteur, and man about town. He retired quite a few years before I did, so he has a great deal of experience at this sort of life. I use most of my time with him soaking things up, figuring out just what I’m going to be like a few years now.

We spent a few minutes of our time this morning working out some logistical details on his blog, Doc’s Reminisence. Once we got that taken care of Hal Smith, the Emporia Gazette’s ace photo-journalist stopped by and asked us the Gazette’s “question of the week,” which appears in each Saturday’s edition. The question this week is, “Do you think that wind-turbines to generate electricity should be allowed on the Flint Hills?” My answer was an emphatic “No!” I also added, “Can you imagine what the Flint Hills would look like with wind turbines and windmills dug into them?” Look at the link to the Flint Hills about two or three lines ago and I’m sure you’ll side with me. First of all, the Flint Hills are beautiful, stark but beautiful. Secondly, they serve a very important purpose. They constitute one of the cleanest ecosystems in the world; they take the excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere caused by cars and other emissions and use it to nourish the tall grass. It’s a wonderful exchange all around. These hills remove pollutants and nourish the grass that feeds the cattle that eventually wind up on dinner plates all across this country. It’s a great, symbiotic relationship.

But that’s all an aside. The real issue was the liberal/conservative thing. I don’t know how we got on that track, but we did. Maybe that sort of thing always happens in a conversation with a journalist. The after breakfast talk meandered for about forty five minutes or so, covering communism, the Emporia city commissioners, slum-lords, PETA, Patrick Kelley, Nikita Khrushchev, beaurocracy, liberalism, conservatism, and family secrets. It was an engaging conversation which I think ended with all agreeing to disagree.

Well I got home and decided to conduct a little experiment. I couldn’t do it from memory so I used a resource, Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible. I first looked up the word “conservative,” etc. Check this link to see what I found. Interesting, isn’t it? The word “conservative” doesn’t appear in the Bible. Then I checked out the word “liberal” or its derivatives. Now check out this link. Once again, interesting and…..surprising. The word “liberal” does.

My next step was to proof text. The most obvious comes from the New Testament:

James 1

5 “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.”

What a shocking revelation! God gives “liberally.” And it even seems that He gives with few if any of the strings we attach to the recipients of our generosity.

I notice this liberal nature in the Almighty quite often in our garden. We plant what we believe to be enough tomatoes for two and the crop winds up being more than enough to support twenty or thirty. The same holds true for the broccoli, the asparagus, the strawberries, the beans, the peppers, and the lettuce.

I think of this and wonder how inclined we’d be in polite conversation to accuse God of being “one of them,” a liberal. I wonder how often we’re inclined to really think through the principle that God uses to sustain the universe. I call it “flow.” He gives liberally and we receive. Now if we’re given too much what do you suppose we should do with the excess? The answer, in principle, is easy. We should give in the same manner we have received. That is, most of what we are given is more than likely intended for someone else.

Yet, much of the Christian community today is focused either on the issues to the political left and right or a transactional theology that puts “self” on the throne of need. We complain about the politics of the age while we transact business in the sanctuary, getting what we “need.” We do this while ignoring the real issues at hand for the Church. And what are they? First, and foremost, there are “multitudes” watching what’s going on within the Christian community. They’re watching, considering, and waiting to decide. The prophet Joel put it this way:

Joel 3

13 “Swing the sickle, for the harvest is ripe. Come, trample the grapes, for the winepress is full and the vats overflow- so great is their wickedness!" 14 Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision! For the day of the LORD is near in the valley of decision.”

Joel’s proclamation is usually interpreted as something that concerns the eternal question. But there’s also a second element to the proclamation, the here and now.

Knowing that, what should we focus on? Knowing that, what do we actually focus on? Is it the need? Or is it our need above all others? Look at the landscape today and tell me what you see.

A while ago Nancy gave me one of David Wilkerson’s latest pieces from his Times Square Pulpit Series. It’s titled “Guarding the Sheep – Beware of Wolves in the Church.” Like almost everything he does, Wilkerson bores in, giving the subject his all, with no holds barred. A sample follows:

“Oh, how blind the church has become. And how blind so many shepherds are. Churches that once believed in sacrifice, self-denial, and cross-bearing have become corrupted by flesh. Their focus is now totally on self, on material things, on the good life, not the holy life.”

Or how about this:

“It’s all a stench in God’s nostrils. And let me tell you where it ends: We serve a patient God who won’t destroy or judge anyone who’s drawn into snares ignorantly. He will warn and correct his sheep. But the day is coming when he’ll say to these wolves, “Enough! You’ll no longer rob widows. You won’t turn the blood of my Son into a credit card to satisfy your lusts. You’ll no longer be allowed to go into all the world and preach a materialistic Christ.”

Now we can turn someone like Wilkerson off as a cranky, off-center, wild and wooly prophet if we like. But there’s a problem with that. Wilkerson is right because God is right. And here’s just one thing God has to say about it all. You can relegate it to a time long since past, but you do so at your peril. What the prophet Amos said thousands of years ago is relevant today:

Amos 8

4 "Hear this, O ye that swallow up the needy, even to make the poor of the land to fail,5 Saying, When will the new moon be gone, that we may sell corn? and the sabbath, that we may set forth wheat, making the ephah small, and the shekel great, and falsifying the balances by deceit?6 That we may buy the poor for silver, and the needy for a pair of shoes; yea, and sell the refuse of the wheat?7 The LORD hath sworn by the excellency of Jacob, Surely I will never forget any of their works."

This all started at breakfast this morning, with talk about liberals and conservatives, about right and wrong thinking. After reading Wilkerson, talking to Nancy, and reading Holy Writ, I find myself far less inclined to bandy about terms and pick on the obvious targets while I all too often use my Christian faith as a mechanism to get what I want out of this life.

The message of the “liberal” God seems clear to me. Our focus should be on giving, giving from the well from which we have so graciously, and “liberally,” received. We can complain about the political realities of the day if we like. There’s plenty to complain about for sure. But if those realities are ever going to change, they will change because we have changed. We have a Role Model who seems to be liberal indeed. We need to be more like Him and less like the role models of greed and corruption all around us.

I wish, dear reader, that I could have said something more pleasant today. But this is where my heart is right now. Throw stones, grind your teeth, shake your fist at me if you like. But after you’ve done that I ask that you prayerfully consider what I’ve said.


violet said...

Phil, you are bang-on! As I read this, I couldn't help but recall a story I came across on another blog in the last few days. It illustrates in living color the principle you write about. Read it here:

Bob said...

Way to go, Phil. Thanks for that message. It's an important one for the church, which is to say, all of us Christians, to hear and be convicted by. Bob

Dianne said...

This is excellent. We should all be looking for truth that lies in God rather than agreement with our politics.

Anonymous said...

Wow, it is obvious that you put a lot of coherent and intelligent thought into this post. I found it quite insightful. I am not a Christian, but I feel that by whatever name we call him, he will answer. There is no all or nothing. There is no me versus them. We are all here to help each otehr, and to lose sight of that is the saddest thing that could ever happen.

Anonymous said...

Oh! I apologize, I forgot to leave my info.

Diane said...

Right On. I have noticed that many bloggers and pastors are on this "materialism among Christians" theme this month. I know I am on my blog this week. Perhaps God is trying to get through to us about something?

Ron said...

Of Course God is Liberal HE can afford to be. The big question is "can you"? Phil,you speak alot of truth, but you align yourself an odd lot.
Jackie Kennedy was not at all impressed with "Jacks" liberality with other women. President Kennedy should have been conservative.
Align yourself with what God thinks about that and you'll have to agree. If not, then your not aligned with HIM. You can't have it both ways.