Tom with kids in Kuwait

Tom with kids in Kuwait
Tom with kids in Kuwait

Thursday, March 8, 2018

About that Jimmy Carter quote...

About once a quarter I see the picture of President Jimmy Carter circulating with a quote attributed to him abut using tax dollars to help the poor if we want to call ourselves a Christian nation.  It has a certain ring to it.  I respect the good works that President Carter has done since he left office.  His grace and service and a wonderful model, but there are a couple of problems with the quote.

First, Jimmy Carter didn’t say this.  It sounds like something that he would have said but he didn’t.  Next, the principle being put forth is from the world not from God.

Hold your holy horses, Tom; how can you say that.  It’s about helping the poor.  C’mon that’s got to be directly from God. 

God’s directions and the teachings of Jesus are given to us.  We are to speak the truth, love our neighbor, help the poor, and bring people into the family of faith so that they know abundance.   Abundant life is for all and the Lord’s directions are to his people.  The problem with this quote is that it delegates loving our neighbor to our government. 

When people are overlooked, we can blame the government.  When people abuse the system, we can blame the government.  We can wash our hands of this whole love your neighbor business and turn it over to the government. 

That sounds like a plan and it is.  It is just not God’s plan.  We have conformed to the patterns of the world long enough.  It’s time to get back to God’s way of helping the poor.

Do you realize that if every Christian tithed, yes tithe means 10% and you don’t have to tithe to receive your salvation, but if everyone Christian tithed, God’s storehouse would be full?  What does that mean?  The church could help the poor as it was designed to do.   

Government programs would be next to irrelevant and God’s people who tithed would be blessed beyond measure.  That’s God’s model.

If we want to be a Christian nation, we must first be a nation of Christians.  A Christian by definition is one belongs to and who follows Jesus.  Jesus is our Lord and Master.  We obey his commands and they are not burdensome to us. 

Christians don’t look to government for how to love our neighbor.  We look to the commands of our Lord.  If we truly follow Jesus, we will give far beyond the tithe and the poor need not be poor anymore.  And let’s not forget, we won’t just give out food and money.  We will bring people into the body of Christ where they will know true abundance that we know through inclusion. 

President Jimmy Carter has been a wonderful model of Christian service over these past three decades.  Let’s not discredit his good works by attaching faulty thinking to his picture.  Let’s be a nation of Christians first.  Being known as a Christian nation will follow.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Jesus always met the physical need before the spiritual need?

Here’s one that you hear a lot, even from longtime Christians. 

“Jesus always met the physical need before attending to the spiritual need.” 

It’s just not so.  Read your Bibles.  Jesus always took care of what was most important.  That most often involved the truth or forgiveness or some manner of teaching and instruction.  Where there was seemingly unprompted healing, Jesus noted that it was faith that was first present.   He came to earth on a mission to take care of the most important thing—being the Lamb of God who took away the sin of the world.

Does that mean that we don’t take care of physical needs?  Of course not.  We are to help people who are hungry, need clothing, and even in prison; but this idea that has permeated the last several decades of church thinking has been destructive.  Why?

Because too often we meet the physical need—food, help with a bill, gas money, etc.—and forget to share the gospel.  We never get around to inviting people to come and know the Lord and enjoy the fellowship of believers.  Sure, we throw in a “God loves you” with every basket of food and a couple of invitations to a church service, but we bury the lead.

We are people who belong to the Lord, share his good news, and are doing our best to have God’s heart and desire—that none perish.  We are being made into love as he is Love.  How can we relegate the good news that we carry to an afterthought?

Why does this matter?  We must conform to the pattern of the world no more.  The Lord, not the world, must define our ministries.  The good news can never be reduced to an afterthought or be of secondary importance.

Let’s reach out with the gospel, connect the disconnected, and bring all of God’s children into the fellowship of believers where they know true abundance.  This is love.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Dear America

Dear America,

My heart is warmed that we still have freedom of speech.  I pray that we acquire the wisdom to use it well.

My eyes brighten when I see the children who will soon take charge of our future.  My we bring them up in the way they should go now with respect for authority, discipline, and love for each other.

My pulse quickens whenever the National Anthem is played and Old Glory is honored; yet I see so many who are ignorant that of all the nations in the world, this one is built to work for the people.  They protest the symbol of the Grand Experient.  I pray that they study history and see what a blessing we have.  I pray that we learn to wisely use the liberties that symbol affords.

My heart is troubled when we say hateful things against our president because we don’t like him; yet we are livid when someone talks that way to our children at school.

My heart aches when all I hear is clamor about the senseless loss of life in a school shooting; yet the voices that speak for the murdered unborn are given no venue.  Can we not value all life?

I am slow to anger as I am counseled to be, but I am angry when those elected to do good seek to do nothing, or worse, to do harm to our nation.

I do not know despair because of the blood of Christ Jesus.  My future is secure, but I hurt to know that this country is growing farther and farther away from God and his goodness.  I want America to be a wholesome place for my grandchildren and their children.

I am cheated out of abundance as I can no longer have a civil conversation with many of my friends and relatives.  Why can we no longer talk and respect each other in spite of our differences?  Why must hate or hatred of someone or something be a part of every discussion?  I miss conversation.

Dear Mr. President,

Were you a professional football coach or a war hardened soldier, people would probably not be upset at many of the things you say and do, but you are our president.  A big part of the reason that you were elected is that you did not and do not play by the rules of Washington and life-long politicians.  I understand that comes with some rough edges.  Some don’t understand and have become fixated on your imperfections.

I admire your resilience.  Millions attack you daily; yet you come back strong every time.  Most would have thrown in the towel by now and let America continue its downward spiral.  I commend you for your resilience and zeal towards making America great.  Press on towards the goal.

I charge you to balance your zeal for America with the best practices of professional conduct, while not becoming like those who live to obstruct goodness in the name of their self-gratifying desires.  I am glad that you are in Washington, but don’t go native.  Continue to be the outsider who represents most God-fearing, hardworking, and patriotic Americans.

Dear Congress,

Of all the eras of representation that our great nation has known, yours is the worst of them.  I speak to Republicans, Democrats, and Independents.  You were sent by good people to do good things.  You spend all your time fixing blame on someone or something; yet, you fail to fix anything that is in need of your action.  You call for investigations of miniscule matters yet have forgotten how to legislate workable solutions for what matters most.

When I heard the immigration, proposal offered by the President at the State of the Union address, I could not have discerned whether it was first drafted by Democrat or Republican; yet, the matter that has been ignored for half a century looks like it will be gridlocked by polarized interests that are put above American’s interest.

Every time you play the Brinkmanship game with the budget, you tell the American people that we sent the wrong people to represent us once again.

Republicans, you dropped the ball—big time—in harping on something better than Obamacare and then had no consensus to move forward.  Elsewhere in the world, you would have been fired on the spot.

Democrats, your mission is not to obstruct everything the President of the United States is seeking to do.  I love loyal opposition.  I cannot stand contempt.  You should all be fired for your contempt.

Our nation is divided enough as it is without the efforts of both parties to insist on their own way in everything.  If you are not going to work for the nation, please do the honorable thing and resign, go home, and be silent.  You are on the playing field now but you behave as if you are on the sidelines.  Lead, follow, or get out of the way. 

To every American,

We must step up to this business of self-government.  Our legislators are not doing a good job.  Fire them.  Find someone who will represent us balancing the needs of many and the best interest of our nation, casting aside everyone who would buy their interests and votes.

It’s time to put into office people who love America more than they love hearing their own voices.  It is time to elect some hard-working people who won’t stop working once they get to Washington.

And when we find these people and elect them, let’s reward them by not reelecting them.  That’s right.  Everyone should just serve one term.  Professional politician should be an oxymoron.  The reason that we have them is because it is easy to reelect someone.

We need to take back our government.  That means that we have to do some work every year, actually every month. 

To my own state government,

Pay our teachers!  This is not a matter of funding, but priorities.  Education should be at the top of our priorities.  Something near the bottom of what we say is important can take a hit.  This has gone to the point where you need to fix this or go home.

The rest you can squabble over as usual.  Fix teacher pay and do it now.

I am still proud to be an American.  I love Oklahoma.  I believe that we still have hope in this nation and I have not given up on Americans.  We are off the mark, but I believe that we can recover and be even better than we were in the past.  For those who have had their chance to serve the people but have only served themselves, hang it up.  We want statesmen not politicians.

Semper Fidelis,

Tom Spence

Friday, February 23, 2018

Passion without contempt

I have indulged myself over the past few days by venturing into social and political discussions that I usually skip on by doing my best to keep my eyes fixed on Jesus—the Author and Finisher of my faith, but sometimes you just have to jump into the fray, especially when all dignity has been cast aside.

I don’t know if I have contributed to the productive discourse of our great but sometimes ever so fragile republic, or just entertained myself in a unique way as if I were smoking a Cuban cigar and enjoying a glass of Sangria from south of the border (pre-wall vintage).

I pray that we incline ourselves to more civil discourse.  Passion is wonderful.  Zeal must abound.  Debate is fantastic.  The synergy of diverse ideas produces the best results, but condemnation of our brothers and sisters and contempt for our leaders are forces directly from Satan.  They are the darkest side of our human nature.  Do not be deceived, hate and contempt are not effective communication tools.  The one who tells you that they are has your destruction in mind and is celebrating with your every vile word.

For those who do not claim Jesus as Lord, this likely is a meaningless appeal.  The command not to judge (condemn) others, the command to love each other, and the direction to not only respect those in authority but pray for them are only words in a book.  But for those who do claim to follow Jesus, these are standing orders.  We are not relieved of them because we don’t like who got elected, do or don’t like guns, or think the Constitution to be antiquated or immutable. 

If we can’t post and comment without condemnation of others,  or if we cannot bring ourselves to love each other as Christ loved us in our words and deeds, or if we can’t express our point being respectful of those in authority; then we need to log off, pray, study our Bibles, pray some more, practice loving one another in person, and do some inspection to determine how much lumber we need to extract from our own eyes, before we even think about logging back on to this media that begs us to bring acrimony and vitriol.

Decide this day whom you will serve.  Is it the gods of hate, vitriol, acrimony, ambivalence that abound online?  As for me and my house and our posts, we serve the Lord!

Thursday, February 22, 2018

I Remember an America

I remember an America where we didn’t all agree,
But we stuck together, worked it out, and thanked God for liberty.

I remember there was once a nation that before it’s flag stood tall,
Not having to protest the whole of it when most was well with all.

I once knew a people of principle, who were not ashamed of God,
They were a light unto a darker world, where saints had not yet trod.

I once looked forward to the future desiring to leave a better world,
For our nation’s children and many others, who now burn the flag unfurled.

The days ahead once were brighter than they seem to be right now,
We have homes and food and water, but have lost the common law.

Not the law of politicians but the law which Christ commands,
That we love one another and not bring evil to our land.

Once we could disagree and be civil while we worked our problems out,
But now all comes with protest, hate, and all things good put into doubt.

Can we stop for just a moment, take a breath, and just behold,
The world of blessings in which we live, how can our hearts be so cold?

Because we disagree on methods or swing to the right or to the left,
Must we leave our once great nation so spiritually bereft?

We are not a godly nation when our own way must always prevail.
Until we seek the good of others, God’s law will not prevail.

We will continue on our present course though it leads us off the cliff,
Our children picking up the pieces of a nation now morally adrift.

We have outlasted most democracies, perhaps the republic is to thank,
But our days are so, so fleeting, we rode high before we sank.

It’s seems more important to be hateful and make our point,
When civility and love would be more productive, our ills they would anoint.

But the times have moved beyond what mortal man may cure,
I pray much more often now that our freedom will endure.

I remember an America where we didn’t all agree,
But we stuck together, worked it out, and thanked God for liberty.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

With all of the shooting and cries for gun control, what is the church doing?

I was reading some posts about guns and violence and protests and all manner of things that belong to this world.  One post asked, “What is the institutional church doing about this?”

That caught my attention as the term “institutional church” is an oxymoron.  The church is an organism not an institution.  It is a living thing.  It is composed of followers of Jesus Christ.  It’s people. 

While many may think that I should be institutionalized (there is mounting evidence in support of this); I am not entangled in an institution.  The church reaches out into the world with love.  The church proclaims the truth when the world desires to blind you to it.  The church connects with people and invites them to inclusion in the fellowship of believers.

The church is not an exclusive club but an inclusive fellowship.  Have some churches gravitated to the institutional mode?  Yes.  They are making their own funeral arrangements.  The church is made for mission.  It is not an institution. 

The problem in our nation, and in other places but acutely in our own country, is that people say Jesus is their Savior but don’t want him as Lord.  “I’ll take that salvation but don’t want to have a Lord in my life.  That’s so retro.”

Many have left the church that meets faithfully, serves responsively, and grows in God’s grace continually.  They declare that they are doing their own thing.  God has prescribed family but some desire to be on the sidelines or just commentators of what the remnant are doing. 

So, if we answer the initial question, eliminating the word “institutional” we find that the church is going into the world with love and hope and calling people into fellowship—at least part of the church is.  The other part is parked securely on the sidelines and has taken upon itself to be the umpires and critics of those on the playing field.

The church that receives the Lordship of Jesus Christ responds with love.  That church is not oblivious to the violence in the world but offers a solution that does not wait on government.  The church calls all to love one another.  That is our command from our Lord.

So many continue to thrive on vitriol, but the church still offers peace.

So many still promote condemnation of those who don’t see things their way, but the church invites all to fellowship.

So many choose hate, but the church is still about love.

What’s the church doing?  It is following the command of Jesus to love one another.  We do it without apology for not jumping on the bandwagon of the week.  God’s love is forever.  Our ministry is for all.  We desire to connect with the lost and those who have just lost their way.  We pray that they will come and be included in a family of faith.  We long so much for them to know the fellowship of believers.

That’s what the church is doing, at least in this small part of the world.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Lexicon Lifestyle choices--what if and if only...

What is the difference between what if and if only?  Why what only of course. 

That and, if only are two of the most disgusting words that I can think of, at least in the world of purpose.  They are excuses prepared in advance for the inevitable failure or just giving up.

What if are words of possibility.  They invite creativity.  They beckon the mind to see beyond what we did last year.  They have the aroma of potential.

Seldom will the same person keep both sets of words in his or her lexicon.  To the person of purpose, the words if only are toxic.  For the person running a good race, they can only cut in and distract and disrupt.

The words what if are for the person seeking life to the full.  Not every what if is realized but the thought of not contemplating the best and settling for whatever is repulsive. 

We make many choices in the course of a day, a year, or a life time.  One of the best choices that we can make is to choose carefully which words and phrases we keep at the ready.  Our lexicon influences our life. 

Discard if only and embrace what if.  It will make a world of difference.