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August 16, 1997

Being a Friend to God.

by Jefferis Kent Peterson

Pastor of Living Word Church of Butler

Very few of us make room in our hearts for God. Even less of us provide Him with what He desires most from us - a place where He can rest. Martha was a woman like so many of us: she was so busy doing things FOR God that she did not take time just to appreciate Jesus for WHO he was. When Jesus came to dinner, she busied herself preparing so many dishes that she made herself frantic. Finally, she became angry and jealous of her sister, Mary, as she sat at Jesus' feet to hear him teach. Mary took time just to adore the wisdom and the beauty of the Lord, while Martha was focusing on her "service" for God. Yet when Martha asked Jesus to rebuke Mary for her "laziness," Jesus responded instead: "Martha, Martha you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her." (Luke 10:41-42, NIV). How many of us are like Martha, who believe our acceptance before God is based upon what we DO for Him, not upon who we ARE to Him? Our spirits are so restless that we cannot even enjoy His presence. We do not take the time simply to appreciate and love God; we are always on to our next project for Him.

Lazarus was the brother of Martha and Mary. He has a unique place in the New Testament. He is not called a disciple, apostle, prophet, pastor or teacher. He doesn't seem to have a "job" to do for the sake of the Kingdom, and he isn't in the ministry with Jesus. But he is called Jesus' friend {John 11:11}, the one whom Jesus "loved." Lazarus was such a special friend to Jesus that when Lazarus died, Jesus wept. And it is the only record of a miracle that Jesus did perhaps because of his own personal grief and sorrow [John 11:35-36]. What caused Jesus to have such an attachment to Lazarus? It wasn't because he was one of his disciples who served him in ministry; nor was it because he was one of the 12 apostles whom Jesus was training to take over for him. It seems that it was nothing more than the fact that Lazarus was a friend who gave Jesus a place where he could sit back, kick off his shoes, and rest a while. The scriptures tell us that Jesus grew weary at times [John 4:6] and that he got frustrated with his disciples for their thick-headedness [Matt. 17:17]. It also says that he suffered the same weaknesses that we do [Heb 5:2] but without sin. So it is any wonder that Jesus probably found times when he just wanted to get away from it all, relax and rest from his ministry? And where could he go when he wanted to just blow off some steam? He didn't have a home of us own... Well, he probably went over to his friend Lazarus' and hid in the comfort of such friendship that did not make incessant demands upon him, but which was just willing to be there for him.

You and I have the same opportunity to ascend to the same high calling as that of Lazarus, a higher calling than merely being either his disciple or his servant. God wants a place where He can simply rest in your heart and enjoy you. A place where you can simply rest and enjoy Him. There are indeed times when we must busy ourselves with service to the Master, but there are other times when there is no higher calling than simply resting in the presence of His love. If all you do is DO things for Him, perhaps you should cast off the accusing afflictions of guilt and condemnation, and just find time to make room for Jesus in your heart so that he can find a place of rest in your soul - a place where he will find all the comforts of home.

"If a man loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. (John 14:23, RSV).

Then, making a place where God can come to rest in your soul, you will have filled the highest calling of all: being a friend to God.

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Sat. Sept. 21,1996 p. B1

 

Laughter, Religion, and The Lord

by

Jefferis Kent Peterson

Pastor, Living Word Church of Butler

Why did Jesus have more acceptance from people who frequented bars and brothels than he did among people who were religious? Why did Jesus make religious people so mad? If you look at the type of people who were offended by Jesus, you might be surprised to find yourself among them. The people who were the angriest at Jesus were the people who paid their tithes, who didn't cheat on their wives, didn't have mistresses, didn't frequent bars or brothels, who went to worship services every Sabbath, and who were, for the most part, fine upstanding members of the community.

But it wasn't the drug dealers, the prostitutes, or the drunks who crucified Jesus... it was the religious community that did. As I said, Jesus found a home among those whom others called "outcasts." The outcasts accepted him, while the "church go-ers" did not. The church go-ers called for Jesus' death. Why were these upstanding citizens so angry with Jesus? Hmmm.... let's see...

Well, Jesus went to so many parties and banquets and drank wine so often that the religious community called him a degenerate (Matthew 11:19), yet Jesus was not embarrassed or ashamed by his behavior. He made no outward show of being either holy or religious. He had a good time. He enjoyed himself. He enjoyed the life the Father had given him. He was happy. He called drunks and prostitutes his friends....

(Are you mad yet?)

He hung out with the wrong crowd and he let himself be seen with all the wrong people... In fact, even when he did go to worship, the members usually wanted to kick him out for his irreverent behavior (Matthew 12: 2 & 10 -15). Jesus definitely did not fit the portrait of a devout person.

But probably what mad people the angriest is that, except for a few times, Jesus acted like he was at a wedding feast. Jesus was often on his way to a party! He laughed out loud and enjoyed himself, and there is no record that he ever turned down an invitation to a banquet. He even turned about 120 gallons of water into wine to help out at a friend's wedding (John 2:6). For the size of the community, that was about enough wine to lay out the whole town for about a week. That was some party! Hmmm... are you angry yet?

Jesus made people mad because he did not walk around with a sour, pinched and concerned expression on his face. He did not walk around, serious all the time, clucking his tongue at sin and all the evil in the world. He walked around with laughter and in joy, celebrating like he was getting married! (Mark 2:18-19) And it made the religious people furious! The religious people were clucking their tongues at Jesus, thinking that he ought to know better!

It was a religious spirit that made people angry with Jesus. Jesus hated the spirit of religion. Religious people think they are better than others, and they look down their noses at people who lives are a mess. The spirit of religion will do that to you. In fact, the more outwardly upstanding the religious people were in Jesus' day, the greater their anger with this Jesus, who just didn't behave like they expected him to.

But among the fallen, the outcasts, the people rejected by the religious... with them Jesus found a home of acceptance. Why? What was the difference between these two groups? The outcasts knew they were evil and needed forgiveness. And as "sinners," they were not ashamed to ask for Jesus it. They knew they did not deserve such a good friend as Jesus. So, when he came to them, they clung to him.

The religious people, however, were deceived into thinking they were good and didn't need mercy. They pushed Jesus away after hearing what he had to say. They thought they had merited God's favor, and were furious when Jesus said did not. And the gap between Jesus and the religious widened. They didn't know their need, and so they rejected God in the flesh. And Jesus' compassion for the troublemakers only made the "good" citizens madder! They wondered, "How can he show mercy to all these people who are degenerate and are causing the community all this trouble?" Yet he did show mercy. And his mercy separated the religious from him.

Some things never change. People are mad today because they hear that some people are laughing in church, falling down, and acting like they have had too much wine. Sounds to me like they might have been in the presence of Jesus. If the religious people crucified Jesus for acting like that, it is no wonder they want to crucify those who act like him today. We had better be careful about what spirit we are of, else we might find ourselves among the religious rather than the drunks. And remember, it was not the drunks who crucified Jesus.

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March 1997

 

Taxes, Tithing, & Liberty.

1997 Jefferis Kent Peterson

Pastor: Living Word Church of Butler

You have sown much, and harvested little; you eat, but you never have enough; you drink, but you never have your fill; you clothe yourselves, but no one is warm; and he who earns wages earns wages to put them into a bag with holes... You have looked for much, and, lo, it came to little; and when you brought it home, I blew it away. Why? says the LORD of hosts. Because of my house that lies in ruins, while you busy yourselves each with his own house. (Haggai 1:6 &9, RSV).

Taxation in the United States has become oppressive. It is estimated that our current tax rate is 45% of income, based upon a total of federal, state, local, sales and usage taxes that we pay. No government in history has been able to sustain such a high rate of taxation and maintain its freedom. Merrill Lynch has said that by the year 2040, it will take a tax rate of 82% just to pay for existing, unfunded, entitlement programs. In our attempts to save the whole society, we are making it impossible for the individual to survive on his own income. No government that takes 80% of its citizens' earnings will survive for very long. Revolution, economic collapse, or dictatorship will soon follow.

The bible states that the expected and just rate of taxation for a government is a tithe (a tithe means "one tenth," or 10%), but beyond that rate, the government exceeds its legitimate authority and taxes more than God has permitted it, (1 Sam. 8:15-17). When a government, through excess taxation, begins to oppress and take advantage of God's people, the government makes itself a god; ruling the people according to its own desires and powers, and not according to God's will.

Even in times of crisis, as in a time of famine or war, a just government collected only 20% in taxes (Gen 47:24), and that only during the period of the crisis. Extra-ordinary taxes are understandable during such times of great need. But what happens when this crisis mentality becomes perpetual? The government exists to serve itself and not to serve the needs of the people. It becomes an oppressor of the people, and it loses its legitimacy as God's instrument of governance in the world.

So, we have in our country an illegitimate government, by biblical standards; illegitimate at least in terms of its tax policies. However, the remedy for this situation, I am sure very few of you will appreciate: start paying your tithes to God! God expects us to give Him a tenth of our income. Our government can oppress us with God's permission because we fail to pay our tithes! Studies show that only about 3% of church members actually pay tithes. There is a lack in God's house because of the unfaithfulness of His people. God said that if we did not reverence his sanctuary, and if we refused to follow his ordinances, that he would appoint "those who hate (us) to rule over" us and we would not eat the fruit of our own labors (Lev. 26: 2, 14-20; see also Mal. 3:8-10). God will allow His people to be oppressed if they refuse to give Him the honor due His Name. A pittance in the offering plate and $30 a month for satellite TV won't cut it. It reveals your gods: entertainment, pleasure, and self indulgence. How can you claim to reverence God and His sanctuary when you spend your money on yourselves but do not give him the best of your labors and your substance? Whatever you spend yourselves on, that is your god. If you say "tithing is an Old Testament law," no! It is a matter of faith. Jesus implied that tithing is a continuing expectation for God's people (Matt. 23:23), not just legalism. If you don't trust God enough to give Him what he asks of you, how can you say you are living in faith? You are ruled instead by fear and greed.

So if you continue to be an unfaithful steward with the finances of the Church, how can you ask God to deliver you from the oppressive taxation of the world? When will you do with your money what He requires and desires? Our greed and our selfishness as a people has led us to this oppression. If we would be free, let us obey! God will then turn our captivity. But don't blame the government for our disobedience. The curse of taxation is self appointed.

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Jan 17, 1998.

 

A Famine of the Word

by

Jefferis Kent Peterson, Pres.

The Scholar's Corner

"Behold, the days are coming," says the Lord GOD, "when I will send a famine on the land; not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the LORD. They shall wander from sea to sea, and from north to east; they shall run to and fro, to seek the word of the LORD, but they shall not find it" &endash; Amos 8: 11-12.

As strange as it may seem &endash; in an age when television preachers and evangelists, radio Christianity, and churches populate the land&endash; we could be having a famine of the Word of the Lord. The prophet Amos tells of a time when all the people would experience just such a famine. This type of famine would occur not in a time of economic desperation, but in a time of prosperity. There would not be a famine of food or of drink, but of hearing the Word of the Lord. Having worked as a pastor for over twelve years, I am convinced that what I am seeing in the United States today is just such a famine.

"How can this be?" you might ask. "How can there be a famine with all these churches and all these books and teaching tapes?"

My answer is: it is the abundance that is making you poor.

Most of my time in pastoral counseling is spent in the spiritual emergency room, picking up the pieces of peoples' disordered and damaged lives. I do my best to help them get back on track, but as often as not, if the remedy requires any responsibility for change on their part, they are soon flying away to another church, looking for someone who will give them sympathy and attention, without requiring them to do anything in return. I am not alone in my observation. I talk with pastor after pastor with the same report. They are grieved by people fleeing from their care. As soon as the mantle of discipline and discipleship is felt, an exodus occurs. People look for an escape so that they do not have to deal with the sin that is causing the destruction in their own lives. They want a "feel good" only religion, and if the truth causes them any pain, they are out the door. They will find another church or pastor who will keep them happy. The odd thing is, they are running from the very painful but necessary surgery that will heal them of the cancer in their souls. They are running for pain killers, but won't come under the knife of God's corrective Word.

This tragic behavior is ironic. For the scriptures tell us that the Word of God will heal us of our sicknesses and our diseases: "He sent forth his word, and healed them, and delivered them from destruction," [Psalm 107:20]. The book of Proverbs is all about how the wisdom of God brings a well ordered life that produces healing to flesh and bones, wealth, riches, honor, and a long life [Prov. 3:8 -26]. Yet people are running from this Word in droves. There is a famine in the land for the Word of God: it is a famine of abundance. The Word of God is available everywhere, but there is a famine of putting it into practice. People will not take the time needed to apply it to their own lives. Instead, they run from its corrective power. They run from its razor sharp exposure of disorder and sin. And they run to the abundance of distractions that will enable them to safely ignore its challenges to their behavior.

What is this abundance that causes a famine of the Word? Let me ask you this: "How much time do you spend watching television or movies, playing or going to sporting events, playing video games, going out on the town, visiting friends, going for drives? And how much time do you spend reading God's Word?" If you are an average American, you spend probably at least 28 hours a week in front of the idiot box and less than 5 minutes a week in the presence of the Word of God. There is a famine of distractions in the land. So many things absorb our time, but the Word of God is ignored. It is no wonder that our lives as individuals, families, and as a nation are in disorder. We have not given first place to God's Word, and we will not! We want a quick-fix religious experience that will make everything better &endash;like a revival service&endash; but we refuse to practice the everyday discipline of obeying the Word so that our lives will truly be made whole.

Unfortunately, even the abundance of churches in the land provides a cover for the famine of God's Word. For when a pastor brings an uncomfortable but corrective Word into the lives of the rebellious, soon they find a million excuses to leave "his" church and go to another that has "more" of something. Usually it is "more music, more youth, more day care, better music, more teens, better preaching," or more programs of one sort or another. The abundance of church activities provides a disguise and a distraction for these rebellious souls. This cover of darkness in the midst of a house of light is the religious way of avoiding the painful issues of repentance that God demands of our souls. And the availability and abundance of churches only give these people plenty of places to run and hide so that the famine in their souls may continue. They will complain when they leave because they feel compelled to justify their sin. So they will criticize the pastor because he has failed to provide them with the "convenience store" religion they so desperately desire. He has demanded something of them. He has committed the high crime of actually confronting them face to face with their sin and their need to change. God forbid!

This day has been foretold, and if we do not repent as a nation, we will certainly be destroyed, for the disorder will only increase as we abandon the Word of God. "For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own likings, and will turn away from listening to the truth…," 2 Timothy 4:3-4. This refusal to come under the corrective power of God's Word is creating a famine in the land. There is an abundance of distraction. An abundance of running from shepherds who bring the rod as well as the staff. An abundance of entertainment for the soul in movies and television. But there is a famine of common sense, a famine of simple integrity and honesty, a famine of living by God's Word… and we wonder why pastors waste so much of their time trying to help people who refuse to accept the discipline and counsel that will actually bring healing and order into their lives. Pastors cannot work magic. Like doctors, they can write a prescription straight from heaven's pharmacy, but they cannot make you take it.

That is the reason so much time is spent in pastoral care, because people will not take advantage of the ONE thing that would heal and deliver them: a commitment to know and apply God's Word to their lives.

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The Fire Next Time

 

by 6/13/1998 Jefferis Kent Peterson, I Pres. The Scholar's Corner Pastor, Living Word Church of Butler

"God gave Noah the rainbow sign, No more water, the fire next time..." --from an old Negro Spiritual

Events are heating up. India, feeling threatened by China, detonates warning nukes. Pakistan, not wanting to appear weak, talks with China and does the same. This remote region of the world now looks like two kids, in a locked room, playing with a hand grenade. The pin has been pulled out. No matter who drops it, it is bad news for both of them. N. Korea wants the bomb. China is passing nuclear and missile technology to its Islamic allies, destabilizing the region, and we are selling the technology to China for campaign contributions!

God will not need to destroy the earth for its sins, we will!

I have been wondering if all our fascination with disaster films of late is a sign and a hidden sense in all of us that the hour is late. Titanic, Deep Impact, Armageddon! Something seems to be shaking us - a warning to wake us, perhaps. In spite of all our hopes of seeing a basic goodness in human beings, our darker nature is showing through. Violence and mayhem occupy not just the news, but also our imaginations. Our prime time viewings sate our souls with murder, rape, and vengeance. And still we want to watch more. Only now our fantasies and fears have the potential of becoming all too real. Is it a final penalty for our proud rebellion against God and God's ways?

God has not been ignorant about our destiny. Not that he wills it, for he does not. He gives us freedom, and we use it badly. He could see the consequence of our sins long ago. Once he destroyed the evil of humanity by flood, but now, it seems, he will let us punish ourselves:

First of all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. They will say, "Where is this `coming' he promised? Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation." But they deliberately forget that long ago by God's word the heavens existed and the earth was formed out of water and by water. By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed. By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men. (2 Peter 3:3-7, NIV).

But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare. Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. (2 Peter 3:10-12, NIV).

The end is coming. It may even be soon, and we the cause of it. The only question for you is: on whose side will you be? If you have not given your heart to Jesus Christ, to follow him in love as his servant, a terrible prospect of judgment awaits you. Now is the time to make peace with God. Even we who follow him will have to give an account for all our evil deeds, but we look forward in hope to his forgiveness and mercy. What awaits you? You may not have that long to decide. Don't wait. And remember, "No more water... the fire next time."

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November 14, 1998

 

Where is the God of Beauty?

1998 by Jefferis Kent Peterson, I

Sometimes we Christians are a boring lot. With intense and focused zeal we pound the drum, driving home the point of our latest cause with rhythmic fury. Whether that issue is politics or doctrine, we sometimes become, to all appearances, one dimensional creatures lacking depth both of thought and heart. Rather than the message of Jesus' love for all humanity, we carry with us the accusing finger of veiled anger.

That is not to say that the issues that face our culture are not life and death issues - they are. Injustice and the death of the innocent are the very real consequences of our selfishness, and a call to repentance needs to be heard in the land. But who will heed the call if the remedy is worse than the disease? I believe it was Rainer Rilke who said "The words of an unreformed reformer are seldom heeded." Why indeed should the world heed the message of God's love from those who have none to give?

St. Paul was a man who, in the fire of his conversion, saw the Risen Christ. He was by nature a zealous man. He had such hostility to his fellow Jews, who believed in Jesus as Messiah, that he traveled from town to town seeking to put the heretics to death. He was on his way to Damascus to further his cause when he was struck down by a blinding vision of Jesus [Acts 9]. After repenting of his former behavior, Paul began to preach the very Messiah Jesus he had formerly rejected. It says he was very successful in arguing and debating for the cause of Christ. He kept winning the arguments and so infuriated his opponents that they kept trying to kill him. Even though he won the debates, it doesn't say he won many converts. In fact, he baffled people. Finally, Paul had caused so much trouble in Jerusalem that the Apostles sent Paul away from the city, and it says, "Then the Church throughout Judea, Galilee, and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace," [v. 31]. Paul leaves, the city has peaceful relations, and Paul is not heard from again for about 9 years.

What had happened? Why did God send Paul, his future apostle to the Gentiles, into a type of exile? It was because Paul was full of zeal, but he lacked grace and love. He now had the truth, but he still had the same old personality. He was an arguer and a debater. He was more interested in proving Christ than in loving those Christ died to save. Twenty years later, Paul reflects on his zealous addiction that lacked affection:

"If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing," (1 Corinthians 13:1-3, RSV).

Like Paul, we often bang the cymbal of insistence with so little love for those who oppose us that the message we preach is our intolerant selves and not the love of Jesus Christ. Sometimes, for our own sakes and for the sake of the true Gospel, we need to take a break from our religious interests to appreciate and give thanks for the beauty of this life. Yes there is wickedness and evil in the land, but there is also the glory of sea and the sky and the field and the forest. There is music on which flows the melody of creation itself. There is fellowship and friendship and food for the table. There is this need within us to cultivate a thankful life and to know first hand the joy of the Lord. If we do not, then we fail to be God's true representatives. Can you imagine Jesus not having times of song and celebration and worship? Can you imagine Jesus without laughter? These are not the images of the same God enfleshed whose first miracle was to create wine for a wedding feast in order to keep the party going.

You are the message God is sending into the world. You are his living letters. What people see in you is the Person you represent. Therefore, to be a true message from God, you are to live the love. Any less is a disservice to the One who sends you.

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For the Pulpit June 12th, 1999 —The Sharon Herald, page A-6

1999 Jefferis Peterso

A Message for Convicts.

"When all goes well with you, remember me and show me kindness; mention me to Pharaoh and get me out of this prison. For I was forcibly carried off from the land of the Hebrews, and even here I have done nothing to deserve being put in a dungeon." Genesis 40:14,15, NIV.

Convicted criminals have a hard time admitting guilt. "I'm innocent," is a common plea from those behind bars. Such words don't create much sympathy from guards, bailiffs, or the public at large. You may think you are innocent, but if a jury has convicted you and a judge has passed sentence, you have been found guilty.

There are a few genuinely innocent people behind bars, like Joseph in Pharaoh's prison. They are notable for their exceptions. But there are a lot more guilty people who ought to be in prison and Aaron't. They've had good lawyers.

If you're rich, and guilty, you have a better chance of getting off. A good lawyer can do wonders for you. Just look at O.J. —— or Bill Clinton. If you have a good lawyer and good PR, public opinion may just get you off. But most of you don't rate that kind of sympathy, much less afford that kind of lawyerly clout.

So you might just say, "I'm here because I had a bad lawyer," and it would be true. You could be guilty as sin, and go scot-free, if you just had the right kind of representation. You could have had Johnny Cochran, but you got Joe Schmoe. Them's the breaks. You were guilty, had poor representation, and you landed in the slammer. Poor you.

There is a court of higher appeal, and perhaps you could get a lawyer for that who could get you off. I know of one who has never lost a case. His clients have never been convicted. Every single one of them has been found innocent. People who have committed the most vile and heinous crimes have turned to him, and he's gotten them off. People who have done little things, like cheated on taxes, or stolen candy from a Quick Mart, have likewise been set free. People who have cheated on their wives, committed adultery, done drugs, or murdered have been declared "not guilty." This lawyer is so good that people would pay millions of dollars for him to take their case. But he doesn't work for money, so he can't be bought. Every case he takes he does pro bono — [for free]. You can't buy his services, but he will give them away freely to anyone who asks.

His name is Jesus, and he stands before the Supreme Court to defend you before the Judge of the Universe. What is really strange about this court is that he won't get you off by telling a lie about you. He won't deceive the jury. He will get you off by telling the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth… so help you, God! Every sin, every selfishness, every secret desire and misdeed will be fully exposed. In fact, everything you have ever done is already visible to this Judge. And you can't use the "race card" in this court. You can't make excuses and you can't blame it on your parents or on society. This Judge can see right through you and he knows every little thing about you. He knows even the lies you tell yourself, and He is not fooled!

But on the basis of one word from your attorney, Jesus, he will let you off. He will let you go free, and he will declare you "innocent of all the charges."

If you are going to go to this courtroom and face this Judge [and someday, I guarantee you — you will!], you are going to need the best attorney that money can't buy. You are going to need someone who will argue your case for you. You are going to need someone who has never lost a case. You are going to need this Jesus.

You can ask him to represent you now, or you can end up like every other bum on death row. Without proper representation, remember this —- you will get what you really deserve.

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Adversaries No More?

by Jefferis Kent Peterson

12/11/99

Must the State be an enemy of the Church? For our ancestors, the role of the State was to protect the church and the people's right to worship. The State was considered benevolent at best, neutral at worst. And the Constitution guaranteed that the government would not play favorites, establishing one denomination as the State Church. Our ancestors were well aware of the wars and persecutions caused by State sanctioned religion. So, the U.S. Constitution prohibited a State Church and guaranteed freedom in worship.

Since the 1960's, the benign relationship between the churches and the State was disrupted by a new view of the Constitution. Overt hostility towards Christians has been displayed, even forbidding people from expressing their faith privately in schools [by praying or reading a bible in their free time] or in the public square [as if speaking about God in a public park could be considered State sponsorship of religion]. Happily, the Equal Access Act, and the Charitable Choice Act of 1996, have clarified the Supreme Court rulings and have created a climate for renewed cooperation between the Church and the State.

How is this so? The failure of the public welfare system and of the Great Society of the 1960's has left the government without credible options for resolving the problems of poverty and crime in the city. The Charitable Choice Act allows for the churches to receive government grants to provide services to the community. Faith based organizations can remain faithful to their religious convictions, AS LONG AS they are willing to give away their services to all without discrimination. In other words, a church organization could establish a job-training center in the community [or a day care center, a drug rehab center, or an elderly housing project, e.g.], and receive federal funds to run the program. The church would not have to remove all references to Christianity, but it could continue to be up front about its faith. The only thing it could not do is to force someone to accept Christianity as a condition of getting job training. In other words, you train all who come and who are willing to work, within the limits of your program's capacity, without regards to their faith. But this is as charity should be. God causes the rain to fall on the unjust and the just alike {Mt. 5:45}. Charity is like the rain; it is meant to fall upon all.

Since all governments have been ordained by God to repress evil and promote the general welfare [according to Romans 13], human governments are part of the general grace of God for all of society. When any government fulfills its proper function, the Church should be able to cooperate with that government to better the community as a whole. It is only when the government becomes hostile to the Church that this adversarial relationship develops. But this hostility is not necessary.

There are now Christian organizations cooperating with businesses, foundations, and with the State, creating Community Development Corporations [CDC's], with the express purpose of bringing social ministry to the needy. The Charitable Choice Act has made this new relationship a reality. The government will never be perfect in this imperfect world, but it doesn't have to be totally evil either.

For more information, check out the web site of the Center for Public Justice <www.cpjustice.org>. And then go help your community.

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The Gospel Cannot be Chained

2000 by Jefferis Kent Peterson — Pastor in the AIM Network of Churches
June 17th publication in Sharon Herald

 

"Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David. This is my gospel, for which I am suffering even to the point of being chained like a criminal. But God's word is not chained. Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they too may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory." 2 Timothy 2:8-10, NIV.The news has been reporting a massive slaughter of Christians in southern Sudan, by the Muslim led government of the north. There are reports of Muslim raiders taking young women from the south and selling them as slaves in the north. The UN has screamed over the chaos in Kosovo, but has been largely mute in the face of the violence in Africa. No cry of alarm is heard over the Christians being murdered in Indonesia. Violence against Christians is increasing around the world, and there have been more Christians killed for their faith in the last century than in all other centuries combined. You would think we were losing the world, rather than winning the world for Christ. But God’s strange plan of redemption seems to require that we win the world by losing. I just read an article in ReligionToday.Crosswalk.com {May 8, 2000}, that shows how the blood of the martyrs waters the soil of conversion in the most unlikely and most hostile of places:

"Approximately 735,000 people, mostly Muslims, attended Christian rallies in Khartoum, Sudan, April 24-29 …German evangelist Reinhard Bonnke preached at the gatherings...About 130,000 people turned in cards indicating they had made a decision to profess faith in Christ…"

Here, in the capital city of persecution, a rally is permitted, where 130,000 of Christ’s enemies suddenly become his servants. Such ironic success of the Gospel in the face of a storm of hatred does not mean we can turn a blind eye to our suffering brothers and sisters. It does not mean we should cease praying for their deliverance from harm, nor does it mean that we should give up efforts to remedy the situation through politics and the media, but it does mean that no matter what happens, the Gospel cannot be chained. Prayer is going up throughout the world to reach the Muslim world. God’s methods are more costly than we would wish. He puts his own children on the line for the sake of the lost. And he is willing to let us die in order to save one person from eternal torment. Are you willing to pay that price for the sake of another’s salvation? ""You have heard that it was said, `Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven." Matthew 5:43-45, NIV.We are God’s offering to a hostile world. Are you willing to lay down your life for others, as Jesus did for you?

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