Campbell’s Soup Cans,” by Andy Warhol, 1962

Happy New Year's Day!  Can anyone think of a better way to start the new year than with an academic (sort of) essay on labels?

I’m good with labels.  In fact, I see no liability with labels.  I have progressed through all three stages of change of attitude—tolerate, accept & embrace—with regards to labels.

Labels are perhaps the most utilitarian thing on the planet.  Imagine buying a can of green pea soup (yuck!) when you intended to get a can of chicken broth (great for making arroz con pollo!) simply because it was mislabeled.  Yes, labels are a most useful thing.

So why do some otherwise good Christians take issue with labels as they pertain to our faith?  The argument I hear most often is that labels (other than just plain “Christian”) are divisive.  But is this really the case?  For instance, most Christians I know are big proponents of the Second Amendment, the right to bear arms.  The opposition claims that “guns kill people,” but gun enthusiasts respond that “guns don’t kill people, people kill people.”  So, wouldn’t it then follow that “labels don’t divide people, people divide people”? 

But of greater relevance to me is that labels are inevitable even if no words are used.  It’s a fact of human nature that we label folks at first site by race, sex, age, beauty, weight, clothing, and so on.  And once we get to know the person we pile on—silent and not so silent—labels with regards faith, work, politics, education, etc.  Therefore, since labels are inevitable, it appears to me that it would make more sense to manage labels rather than to avoid labels, that is to say, to creatively and civilly use them with an end to promoting unity rather than settling for a default cause for divisiveness.

Take the doctrinal issue of Calvinism vs. Arminianism with regards to soteriology in particular (i.e., how a sinner is justified before God).  There are significant differences between Calvinist and Arminian doctrines in this respect.  Calvinism teaches monergism, that is, the redeemed were unconditionally and sovereignly chosen/elected by God for salvation and for reasons of His own.  Conversely, Arminians teach that justification is synergistic, that is, God sees through the tunnel of time and elects those who will choose Him.  These issues were divisive over a thousand years before John Calvin and Jacobus Arminius and remain so to this day.

But to simply say, “can’t we just call ourselves ‘Christian’ and let it go at that” is insufficient to bring about unity, not to mention, being a bit Pollyannaish.  Instead to “maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4.3) we will need to heed the previous verse, “with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love” and to “have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind.” (1 Peter 3.8).  Let’s break this verse down into its five components:

  • Unity of mind” I understand this to mean that we will need to unanimously agree to the non-negotiable, indisputable or essential elements of our faith.  The Nicene Creed is a good summary of this.  Furthermore, Protestants can also agree to the five solas of the Reformation, that is justification is by grace alone through faith alone, in Christ alone, that Scripture alone is authoritative, and that all we do is for the glory of God alone.  Even if it’s just the Nicene Creed, that alone (pardon the pun) will grant us sufficient “unity of mind” to consider one another “Christian.”
  • Sympathy” Older translations such as the 1599 Geneva Bible reads, “one suffer with another,” and the King James Bible reads, “having compassion one of another.”  I like that better than just plain “sympathy.”  With respect to unity what this means to me is that we have to put up with one another because we are sinners alongside being saints.  Couple that with different personalities, likes and dislikes and you could end up with a toxic mix.
  • Brotherly Love” I see “brotherly love” as a matter of treating one another as though we were members of a family (which we are, of course).  Family members disagree on numerous issues and often irritate one another to the point of disdain, ridicule, and even contempt.  But at some point they will need to put their differences aside and accept one another because they are family.  Paul wrote about this in Colossians 3.14, “And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.
  • Tender Heart” Here again I like the older translations.  Both the 1599 Geneva Bible and the King James Bible read, “be pitiful.” I take this to mean that we are to take pity on another as fellow saint-sinners.  Such pity leads us to agree with and live according to Paul’s admonition in Colossians 3.12-13, “Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.
  • Humble Mind” Four words best describe a “humble mind.”  Are you ready?  Here they are: “I could be wrong.”  Now, I cannot be wrong about the existence of God or of the Holy Trinity, the deity of Christ, the Incarnation, the Resurrection of Christ, the forgiveness of sins by Christ’s atoning work on the cross, and other essential matters of the Christian faith.  In effect, to deny the veracity of any of these doctrines is tantamount to apostasy and heresy; we must accept these things or we cannot call ourselves “Christian.”  With regards to other matters of the faith, however, I could be wrong.  These include (in lessening order of importance):
    • The five solas of the Reformation I mentioned earlier are not “Nicene Creed grade” (I’ll try not to drop too many metaphors on you), but are at a high enough octane (sorry) to be deemed essential for local church fellowship, especially someone in leadership (i.e., it would be difficult to locally fellowship with someone who believes or teaches that we are justified both by faith and works, or that Scripture is not the final word on matters of the faith). 
    • Drop down a notch and you arrive at issues such as the doctrines of grace (Calvinism), which at one was a major divisive point (or five points, to be exact) amongst Protestants but which need not be as I have learned from being a GCC pastor, which accepts pastors on both camps and those in between (the majority, please refer to my “A Question of Balance” post from March 27, 2013). 
    • But when it comes to matters lower than these, such as doctrines of eschatology or determining the will of God, or practices such as which movies are OK to watch, proper attire, and so on, we must ask for wisdom (James 1.5-8) and apply it wisely (James 3.13-18).  And we must grant freedom (Romans 14.22).  And no, I do not think I am wrong about that.

So, now that I’ve made my case I see myself as having the following labels pasted all over my body (using a can of Campbell's chicken broth soup as an anthropomorphism):

There!  I feel better now that I got that off my chest!

God bless

CalvinCuban

 

President Lyndon Johnson, State of the Union Address, January 8, 1964

Fifty years ago today (Wednesday, January 8, 2014) during his state of the union address on January 8, 1964, President Lyndon Johnson, who became President less than two months prior after the assassination of President John Kennedy on November 22, 1963, declared his War on Poverty.  So how's the war going?  Not so well, I hate to say.  Note the following chart on proverty rates from 1958 through 2012:

Here are some statistics on the War on Poverty which the chart does not indicate:

  • Total government spending on poverty since 1964 amounts to about $16 trillion.
  • The poverty rate has dropped from 19% in 1964 to 15% in 2012, a mere difference of 4%.
  • Nearly 22% of children live in poverty today; in 1964, it was 23%, a mere difference of 1%.
  • The proverty rate had already dropped by about 15% in the decade prior to 1964 (i.e., sans the War on Poverty) and was already sharply declining by 1964.

So it appears that rather than a resounding success, the War on Poverty has been or an abject failure.  But why?

Here's a question for you...  What is the single greatest cause of poverty in this country?  

a) Education

b) Culture

c) Crime

d) Unemployment

e) Single parenting

All of the above are causes of poverty, but the "cause behind the cause" is single parenting.  Consider the following chart:

Now consider this chart on income gaps ($15K annual) between married mothers who are the primary breadwinners and single mothers: 

I would assume that the gap would be even greater in families where the father is the primary provider.

My point is that instead of a War on Poverty perhaps we should declare a War on Missing Fathers.  Now, I am not advocating any legislation or government programs.  And I don't want to prescribe simplistic and ineffective solutions to what is a complex problem.  But single parenting, mostly the result of out-of-wedlock births, appears to be the primary cause of poverty in America

And behing every earthly problem there is a spiritual problem.  Therefore, I'm advocation for the propagation of the Gospel, the Gospel of the Cross, most definitely, but also the full Gospel of the Kingdom as the remedy.

I will have more to say on that in posts to come.  Stay tuned...

God bless

CalvinCuban

Christ and the Rich Young Ruler,” by Heinrich Hofmann, 1889

17 As He was setting out on a journey, a man ran up to Him and knelt before Him, and asked Him, “Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”18 And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone.19 You know the commandments, ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud,Honor your father and mother.’”20 And he said to Him, “Teacher, I have kept all these things from my youth up.”21 Looking at him, Jesus felt a love for him and said to him, “One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”22 But at these words he was saddened, and he went away grieving, for he was one who owned much property. (Mark 10.17-22)

The Rich Young Ruler asked Jesus for eternal life.  Jesus responded that he should keep the commandments.  “Teacher, I have kept all these things from my youth up,” he replied.  And then the story takes an interesting turn.  Jesus looked at him, felt love for him, and said to him, “One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”

And we know the rest of the story.  Jesus tells His disciples, “How hard it will be for those who are wealthy to enter the kingdom of God!”  Then He throws in a hyporbole by stating that It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”  The disciples are dismayed and say, “Then who can be saved?”  Then Jesus comforts them with these words, “With people it is impossible, but not with God; for all things are possible with God.”

I believe that it was precisely because Jesus loved him that He wanted to see Him in the kingdom, but tyhe kigdom can only be entered by faith in the King, and in this young man's case faith needed to be evidenced by trading worldy riches for heavenly riches.  But he was unwilling.

I find that the rich are often disparaged, especially today, and blamed for the plight of the poor, and I find that our government is complicit in this conspiracy.  But in this parable it says that Jesus loved the rich man and did not blame him for the plight of the poor.  He did, however, command him to give it all up, and in doing so he would benefit both the poor and himself.

I am writing this because of of an Op-Ed piece I read just a couple of hours ago in today's (Wednesday, January 8, 2014) Albuquerque Journal.  It's titled “The rich aren't causing poverty,” from the Los Angeles Times.  The editorial was written by Richard Riordan, former mayor of Los Angeles, who gives 50% of his salary to charities, and Eli Broad, who together with his wife, Edye, have invested billions of dollars to improve K-12 schools, advance scientific and medical research and increase public access to contemporary art.  You can access the entire article @ http://www.abqjournal.com/332734/opinion/the-rich-arent-causing-poverty.html.  Here are some highlights,

 

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Christ and the Rich Young Ruler,” by Heinrich Hofmann, 1889

17 As He was setting out on a journey, a man ran up to Him and knelt before Him, and asked Him, “Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”18 And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone.19 You know the commandments, ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud,Honor your father and mother.’”20 And he said to Him, “Teacher, I have kept all these things from my youth up.”21 Looking at him, Jesus felt a love for him and said to him, “One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”22 But at these words he was saddened, and he went away grieving, for he was one who owned much property. (Mark 10.17-22)

 

The Rich Young Ruler asked Jesus for eternal life.  Jesus responded that he should keep the commandments.  “Teacher, I have kept all these things from my youth up,” he replied.  And then the story takes an interesting turn.  Jesus looked at him, felt love for him, and said to him, “One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”

And we know the rest of the story.  Jesus tells His disciples, “How hard it will be for those who are wealthy to enter the kingdom of God!”  Then He throws in a hyporbole by stating that It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”  The disciples are dismayed and say, “Then who can be saved?”  Then Jesus comforts them with these words, “With people it is impossible, but not with God; for all things are possible with God.”

I believe that it was precisely because Jesus loved him that He wanted to see Him in the kingdom, but tyhe kigdom can only be entered by faith in the King, and in this young man's case faith needed to be evidenced by trading worldy riches for heavenly riches.  But he was unwilling.

I find that the rich are often disparaged, especially today, and blamed for the plight of the poor, and I find that our government is complicit in this conspiracy.  But in this parable it says that Jesus loved the rich man and did not blame him for the plight of the poor.  He did, however, command him to give it all up, and in doing so he would benefit both the poor and himself.

I am writing this because of an Op-Ed piece I read just a couple of hours ago in today's (Wednesday, January 8, 2014) Albuquerque Journal.  It's titled “The rich aren't causing poverty,” from the Los Angeles Times.  The editorial was written by Richard Riordan, former mayor of Los Angeles, who gives 50% of his salary to charities, and Eli Broad, who together with his wife, Edye, have invested billions of dollars to improve K-12 schools, advance scientific and medical research and increase public access to contemporary art.  You can access the entire article @ http://www.abqjournal.com/332734/opinion/the-rich-arent-causing-poverty.html.  Here are some highlights,

Is it a sin to be rich? Not if your resources are used to help others and create jobs. We also need wealthy Americans to create those jobs.

Start-ups in ventures that produce middle-class jobs require investments by those willing and able to take risks. Over the last five years, according to the Economist magazine, those start-ups have accounted for almost all of the net increase in new American jobs paying at least middle-class salaries. And before demonizing the rich, it’s important to consider the foundations and charities they have built and supported. Many of those with money take pride in using it to help others and to create jobs.

That should be encouraged rather than discouraged with punitive taxes. Last year, despite the halting economic recovery, individual charitable contributions increased 3.9 percent to $228.93 billion, and most of that comes from the top 10 percent, according to an annual report on giving by Indiana University’s Lilly Family School of Philanthropy. Equally important, because today’s philanthropists are applying the entrepreneurial lessons of their own careers to their giving, unprecedented results are being achieved in cutting-edge medical research, education reform and the fights against HIV and tropical and childhood diseases.

Americans are rightfully concerned about income inequality, but some of the “solutions” proposed wouldn’t help much or would be counterproductive. Measures such as raising the minimum wage would help only a small number of workers. And while raising taxes on the wealthy might sound fair, it is likely to be counterproductive. When taxes rise to onerous levels, the wealthy move on, taking their investments, tax payments and philanthropic contributions with them.

Rather than investing in hedge funds and other forms of financial speculation divorced from the real economy, more of the wealthy need to accept the responsibility of investing in job-creating enterprises. At the same time, they need to make educating the workers to fill those jobs a principal focus of their philanthropy.

If the government is in fact inept at winning the war on poverty and will only make matters worse by attempting to do so, then it follows that government, if it must be involved at all, should promote the sorts of things that Richard Riordan and Eli Broad are suggesting.

And my main concern is for the Church.  Here's Paul advice to the rich,

17 As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy.18 They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share,19 thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life. (1 Timothy 6.17-19)

Notice the similarities between Paul's statements that the rich are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share...storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future” with Jesus' statements to the young man that he should “go and sell all you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”

The point is not whether to give away 10%, 50% or 100% of our wealth to charity.  Rather, the point is that true riches, true discipleship, and true life, here and in the afterlife, is not about what we possess so much as how we give away what we possess for the sake of others.  

And yes, I am well aware that Christians are a giving bunch.  But imagine if we considered giving as way of proclaiming the Gospel of the Kingdom and in so doing paving the way for proclaiming the Gospel of the Cross (more on this at a later time).  Imagine if churches encouraged all of its members to live this way and if its leaders served as role models of such.  Imagine if Christians were known for their giving more than for pushing for the legislation of morality.  Now that would be something.  Why, we might just win the war on poverty--and make more disciples in the process.

God bless

CalvinCuban

 

 

 

That was Hugh Jackman singing Bring Him Home, from Les Miserables.  

Today while visiting Father Ernestos web site (http:www.orthocuban.com) I saw a blog on this number which reminded me of my son, Gabriel.  The words to Bring Him Home” are...

God on high
Hear my prayer
In my need
You have always been there

He is young
He’s afraid
Let him rest
Heaven blessed
Bring him home
Bring him home

He’s like the son I might have known
If God had granted me a son
The summers die
One by one
How soon they fly
On and on
And I am old
And will be gone

Bring him peace
Bring him joy
He is young
He is only a boy

You can take
You can give
Let him be
Let him live
If I die, let me die
Let him live
Bring him home
Bring him home
Bring him home

In paricular, it was the words He is young, He is only a boy, You can take, You can give, Let him be, Let him live, If I die, let me die, Let him livewhich reminded me of Gabriel.  Heres the story...

When Gabriel was an infant he was diagnosed as “failing to thrive,” a medical term for a child not developing as s/he ought to.  At the age of six months he barely weighed ten pounds.  One day as I was driving home from work I became angry with God and pulled over to the side of the road.  As I pounded on the steering wheel I yelled at Him, “Let him live, if you must take a life, then take mine!”  At the moment I considered God to be a Colossal Cosmic Bully.

I repented and Gabriel obviously went on to “thrive” quite well.  But I have not forgotten my struggle with God that day.  And reading Father Ernestos post today made my remembrance of this incident all the sweeter.

No, no partcular life application lesson here.  Just the story of a father who wrestled with God over the fate of his son.  God won, of course, He always does.  But for me it also means that I could not have lost even if Gabriel had failed to thrive, for as is the case with all His children, we win when He wins, and since He always wins, we always win.  And that is good news!

In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” (Romans 8.37)

God bless

CalvinCuban