Thursday, October 17, 2013

The Real Individual Mandate

A phrase heard a lot today in the news is “individual mandate.”  This term refers to the law that states that all individuals have the responsibility to get health insurance.  I am not going to talk about that today, but I am going to talk about an individual mandate.  Many people believe that government has a responsibility to take care of the poor people of this nation.  If they believe that as part of a political ideology, then so-be-it.  I am not here today to talk about politics.  What I am here to talk about is the Bible and one thing that really infuriates me is the misuse of scripture to support some political ideology.  There is part of the church that subscribes to social justice being part of the Gospel.   They believe that government not only has the right, but also the responsibility, to take forcibly from those who have more to give to those who have less.  Those who subscribe to the social gospel believe that this is in line with the teachings of Jesus, but they are wrong.  The Bible is not about government social programs, but it is about personal responsibility and an individual mandate for each person to do their share, as led by God, to minister to those less fortunate.   I think this mandate is best told through the parable of the Good Samaritan. 
Then Jesus answered and said: “A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, who stripped him of his clothing, wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead.  Now by chance a certain priest came down that road. And when he saw him, he passed by on the other side.  Likewise a Levite, when he arrived at the place, came and looked, and passed by on the other side.  Luke 10:30-32 NKJV
This first part sets the scene.  An unfortunate man was mugged, beaten, and left for dead on the side of the road.  Considering he was robbed, I am sure he had nothing of value on his person.  Considering this was long before any kind of electronic communication or means of swift medical attention or even transportation, this man was completely at the mercy of anyone else who just might have wandered by.  I think it is telling that Jesus chose a priest and a Levite to be the first people to have wandered passed.  It is ironic because these people were religious leaders.  Being religious leaders, they were also civil leaders.  These men were responsible for telling others how to live according to God’s law.  They lived and breathed self-righteousness, but we see here that it was just all for show.  When no one was watching, they neglected the poor man they encountered.  I say that it is telling because things have not really changed much.  Studies have shown time and time again that those who like push an agenda to take from others to give to the poor give less to the poor themselves than those who believe that it is a matter of individual responsibility.   Of course there are always exceptions, but that is the general rule.  The bottom line is that those who are more prone to force others to take care of the poor by threat of force are less likely to take individual action to fill those needs on their own. 
But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was. And when he saw him, he had compassion.  So he went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine; and he set him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him.  On the next day, when he departed, he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said to him, ‘Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I come again, I will repay you.’  Luke 10:33-35 NKJV
This parable is the perfect illustration of our individual mandate to care for those in need.  Some love to throw “love your neighbor” around, but this is actually what it means.  In fact, Jesus used this story as an illustration when making the point as to whom one’s neighbor is and what it means to love him.  Loving your neighbor does not mean advocating taking from one to give to another, it means giving to another yourself, as the Lord leads.  It does not mean distributing the treasure of others, but distributing of your own treasure.   This illustration also raises the bar on our charity.  We are not called to give a token donation to someone and feel good about ourselves, but it means to really take care of the needs of another. 

I am not writing this post to argue against giving to the poor, I am only saying that the responsibility falls on us as individuals and not on government.   When we stand before Jesus, Jesus is not going to ask us if we voted for candidates who advocated for the taking of one to give to another, but He will ask what we did to care for those who needed it.  John the Baptist did not admonish those who had two to petition government to force those who have 3 to give to those who have none.  John the Baptist made it about personal responsibility.  I can go on, but I am sure you get the point.  If you do any kind of study, you will learn that God cares deeply about the poor, but the responsibility to care for them is between God and us as individuals.  Even in the Old Testament, when farmers were ordered to leave the leftovers of their crop in the field, those leftovers were to be collected directly by the poor.  The king was not to send armed agents to seize those leftovers and distributed to whom they deemed worthy.  It was about personal responsibility to God for the poor. 

Now I am going to take things a step further.  I not only believe that the idea of forcible wealth redistribution to be inconsistent with Scripture, but I believe it to be squarely against the Word of God.  This is so for several reasons that can be summed up in one Scripture:
So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver. 2 Corinthians 9:7 NKJV
There are three important principles about giving in this scripture.  First, we should give as we purpose in our hearts.  In other words, and we should follow the Lord’s leading on this, we are to decide what to give.  We should not give what someone else tells us to give.   Taxing one to give to another violates this premise as taxes are defined by the government.  Secondly, we are not to give grudgingly.  This also is violated by wealth redistribution because anything forced naturally leads to resentment.  There are very few people who look at their withheld tax and rejoice over it.  Finally, we are not to give out of necessity.  Perhaps a better translation is that we are not to give out of compulsion as that is what the world really implies in the original language.  This one principle cannot possibly be rectified with forced taxation or wealth redistribution.  As soon as you require someone to pay for something for someone else, they are doing it out of compulsion.  In other words, it is impossible to force someone to be charitable with their wealth in a scriptural way because once force is entered into the equation it is no longer scriptural.  

I know that many are greedy and stingy with their money and they have no issue being so while others are starving around them.  I know it seems like the right thing to do to force them to be generous.  Unfortunately, we must remember that whether you consider them to be your neighbor or your enemy, we are called in Christ to love them just the same.  It is never loving to steal from someone, no matter the motivation.   What I am saying is that your expression of love for the poor cannot be an expression of hatred towards another.  Your love for the poor person needs to be expressed as it was by the Good Samaritan.  The Good Samaritan did not give go out and rob another to give back to the man who was robbed, but he gave of his own treasure. 

Before I close, I want to give a warning to those who feel no need to help the poor.  Perhaps you read this and think that it is great that no one should make you help because you do not really want to help.  Perhaps also you take comfort in the fact that if you did give, it would be grudgingly and therefore God does not want you to give.  If that is your heart and you have any kind of claim of being a Christian, I need to share with you a grave warning from the Word of God:
But whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him? 1 John 3:17 NKJV
If you have, and have no desire to share, there is a serious problem with your heart.  You should never take comfort in a heart that has grown cold or indifferent towards the poor.   That is a real danger sign that your faith and love are more in your riches than in the Lord you claim to follow.  John even questions how the love of God can reside in your heart if that is the case.  That is not a question one should take lightly.  In fact that question goes to the very core of your salvation.   Our salvation is not predicated on how we care for the poor or any other work for that matter, but once saved and filled with the Holy Spirit, our hearts should be for taking care of those less fortunate.  Our ministry to the poor is not a cause of our salvation, but it is an effect and if our lives do not show the effects of salvation, we really do need to examine our hearts. 

There will come a time when we will all stand before God and give an account for what we have done with what God has given us.  God is not going to ask you what you petitioned government to make other people do, God is not going to ask you what you told other people they should do, and God is not going to ask you what you felt like doing at any given time.  Actually, God is not going to ask you anything, God is merely going to show us all that we did and all that we didn’t do and it will be up to us to give an account to God.  For those of us in Christ, our works will be judged but we will be saved by the blood of Jesus into everlasting glory.  If that is your belief, than that is an awesome thing.  If that is not your belief, than any amount of charity is not going to overcome the debt of sin that you owe to God and you will enter everlasting judgment.  If you claim to believe, however, and you have no desire to help those less fortunate than you, then you had better check your heart to make sure that claim is not merely a lie.  Can you say that the love of God is in you?  The proof is in your actions. 
All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats.  And He will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left.  Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:  for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in;  I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’  Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink?  When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You?  Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’  And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’  Then He will also say to those on the left hand, ‘Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels:  ‘for I was hungry and you gave Me no food; I was thirsty and you gave Me no drink;  I was a stranger and you did not take Me in, naked and you did not clothe Me, sick and in prison and you did not visit Me.’  Then they also will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to You?’  Then He will answer them, saying, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’  Matthew 25:32-45 NKJV

Thursday, October 10, 2013

The Life and Times of Wallace Sukovich

It really has been too long since I have written.  A lot has happened in my life since my last post, so I will reenter the world of blogging with a personal update of sorts.   Basically, since last December, my wife and I sold our condo, lived with her parents for about 5-6 months, and finally purchased a new home.  God has blessed us with a great place that not only meets our needs, but answers our prayer in that we have plenty of room to host parties for our family, church family, friends, and even all of them all at once!  God took us through a very difficult time in seeking a home, but in the end, He had the perfect house at a bargain price in mind for us.   Not only that, but we closed just before interest rates left their bottom and began increasing again.  Robin and I also love our new church family, and we are excited to be part of whatever works God is going to do through that church.  I still have my crazy commute and that is a huge prayer right now because I have one other big announcement to make.  Robin and I are expecting a child this coming January.  I do not want to be a dad who is too tired or busy to be a dad to his son.  Yes, that child God is blessing us with is a boy.  We are very excited to meet him, so please keep that in prayer as well. 

That is the grand summary of this personal update, now I want to take us back in time a little bit.  You see, it was just early last June that my wife and I were at dinner celebrating 3 years of marriage, 2 babies, and 1 new house.  Yes, I did say 2 babies.  You see, our son was not always alone.  There was once also a twin.  Sadly, on July 29, the day after my birthday, little Wallace Sukovich was born, just not into this world.  The story I want to share today is not my story, but the very short story of the life and times of Wallace Sukovich. 

This story begins the Saturday before Mother’s Day.  If you read this blog with any bit of regularity, you know Robin and I were praying for a child for quite some time.  In fact, it was only a few weeks before that Saturday when Robin was before the church in tears about our prayers to be blessed with a child and our new church family all laid hands on her and prayed.  This Saturday, though, it looked like we were heading for another disappointment.  I remember going outside that Saturday night and just taking some time to plead with God.  Not that this was not disappointing to me, but I could not bear to see my wife go through another round of disappointment.  I remember pleading that this was not what it looked like and that even if it was, what is it to God to change it.  Surely the One who created the heavens and earth and everyone and everything in it could do this one small thing. 

Surely, He did.  The next day was Mother’s Day and Robin and I went to church early to help set up some chairs before heading up to spend the day with my family.  We finished up at church and swung back by her parent’s house to get dressed and leave.  I went out to the car and she said she would be right there.  That “right there” was taking some time and I was honestly beginning to get a bit impatient.  Finally, she came out, quickly making her want to the car and into the car and, without a word, threw a white plastic stick into my lap.  I picked it up and realized it was a pregnancy test.  I asked what it meant and she showed me the box.  It was positive, Robin was pregnant. 

Over the next couple of weeks, we had several blood tests to check on how our precious newly created child was developing.  After about 2 weeks of this, it was time for an ultrasound.  I was at work while she went to the doctor and I received a phone call I would never forget.  The ultrasound did not show one gestational sac, it showed two.  There were two babies.  I remember just staring at my computer after the phone call not believing what I just heard.  The good news, though, was tempered with a little concern.  It seemed as through one of our little babies might have a problem as its sac was smaller than it should have been. 

Fast forward again to the following week, it was time for another ultrasound and this time it was not only to check if they were there, but to listen for a heartbeat.  I left work early to be there with her and I remember praying in the parking lot while waiting for her that I wanted to hear two heartbeats that day.  Praise God, we did!  We got to hear the tiny little hearts of our two babies beating for the first time.  It was such a beautiful sound.  We followed up the next week and, once again, both heartbeats were there and strong.  It was also around now that we began calling them Walter and Wallace.   We did not know if they were boys or girls and we did not want to call them Sac A and Sac B.  These were never meant to be permanent names, just what we called them during this time.  It was also at this time when we had our celebration of 3 years of marriage, 2 babies, and 1 new house. 

That was then, but just about a month later, in late June, things began to change.  One night, without warning, Robin has some very troubling symptoms.  We prayed and decided not to go to the hospital and eventually they subsided.  A couple of days later, we went for a doctor’s appointment.  We were then sent for a rush ultrasound and we saw a happy and healthy Walter and Wallace.  They even put on a little show for us as we got to see them swimming around in their sacs.  Then for two weeks everything was kind of quiet until the symptoms began again, though much more mild.  Again, we thought it was just a passing thing and we were not that concerned.  Then, one scary Monday night, some very scary symptoms began and subsided seemingly as quickly as they had begun.  We had an appointment the next day with the high risk doctor, so we decided not to go to the hospital.  We were hoping at that ultrasound to once again see a happy and healthy Walter and Wallace.  Walter looked great.  Wallace did not.  His sack had collapsed around him and it was diagnosed as an “imminent miscarriage.”  He still had a heartbeat, but the doctor said that he would not live for much longer.   We turned to prayer knowing that God could heal even this.  That was our prayer and our hope and we held onto that hope. 

God, however, had different plans for Wallace.  It was Monday, July 29 in the later afternoon when Wallace’s short journey in this world came to an end.  It was oddly peaceful when it happened.  There was no pain and no bleeding and I was able to be with Robin as we shared in the birth of our deceased baby Wallace.  I will never forget that day.  I will never forget hearing Robin say “It’s the baby.” 

I suppose, technically this is what is known as a miscarriage.  I do not want to use that word, though.  Little Wallace Sukovich was born that day only he was born into the presence of Jesus Christ.  He may not live in this world, but he has already entered eternal life in the next.  Wallace Sukovich lives and will live eternally.  Of course, Robin and I will miss watching him grow up and mature and we will miss getting to know our child, but we also know that he is now fully grown, fully mature, and that we will have all of eternity to get to know our child. 

You see, while it is painful to us that we will not get to meet Wallace until we meet him in eternity, we know this is for his best.  In other words, the loss is all ours.  Wallace suffered no loss at all.  In fact, he will never experience loss.  Not only that, he will never experience heartbreak, pain, sickness, fear, stress, or any of the other things that plague our lives here on earth.  He will never know sin or temptation.  He will never watch his parents or loved ones die, but merely wait for those he left behind on earth to come to him in eternity.  True, he will never experience some of the good things  we have in this world.  He may never have the chance to meet his mom and dad in this life, but he was born into the arms of his Father.   He will never see the wonders God created on earth, but they are all nothing compared to the wonders he is experience right now in the presence of our Lord.  He may never fall in love or get married, but he is living as the betrothed bride of Christ looking forward to the marriage supper of the lamb. 

The fact is that right now the hope we look forward to is his reality and he will never have to suffer this life to make it to the next.  Every good parent wants what is best for their child and what better for my child than to be eternally secure in the presence of our Lord.  In that, I can rejoice even through this. 

There are some things a parent should never have to see.  One of those things is the dead body of one of their own children.  I will never forget the little glimpse I got of tiny Wallace when I said my goodbye.  He was so tiny and so innocent.   For a moment, I wondered how God can relate to a parent seeing the lifeless body of my innocent child.  Then I remembered Jesus and how God saw His only begotten Son, pure and innocent, dead on a cross.  God knows exactly how it feels and God knows how to comfort.  For me, it is about where little Wallace is now as he reaps the reward purchased by the blood of Jesus and His death on the cross.  It is by that same blood that I know I will meet Wallace someday. 

Some may wonder why this even had to have happened.  For any Christian parent, their greatest prayer is that their children get saved.   For Wallace, perhaps this was the only way.  Perhaps, God saw what choices Wallace would make and by His mercy, He took him early before those choices could be made.  Of course, that is just conjecture, and the “why” is a question that will probably not be answered until I am in eternity myself.  Then again, when I think about where he is right now, the "why" isn't all that important.  He won the greatest lottery of all.  God, for whatever reason, chose him for the next life without ever having to suffer this life.  God chose that for my child, and that is all that needs to matter. 

I hope that this story can be an encouragement to anyone else who may be going through the same thing.  For us, God is getting us through and we are still expecting a child in just a few short months.  This pregnancy has not been easy for me or my wife, but the end result will make everything worth it.  If you are a Christian and you lost a child, please know that your child now awaits you in eternity and someday you will meet him or her.  If you are not a Christian, then this message is especially important to you.  You see, perhaps my child had to die as the only way he could have been saved.  That may be true in your case as well, but even more importantly for you, it may be the only way that you can be saved.

That child you mourn is with his or her heavenly Father and the only way to reach him or her is through the blood of Jesus Christ.  The best thing you can do in this time is to seek after God.  If you want comfort, the only place to find it is in the God who also watched His own Son die a horrible death on the cross.  If you want to find understanding, God is the only One who can answer those hard questions.  If you want meaning or purpose from your tragedy, then let that meaning and purpose be your own salvation.   I can tell you with every bit confidence that if you seek after God, especially in these hard times, you will find peace and comfort of the likes you have never known.  

King David, a man after God's own heart once lost a child and I want to close with his reaction to that death.  The sad news is that if you lost a child, that child is not coming back.  It is a hard reality my wife and I and many others have had to face.  The good news, however, is that through the blood of Jesus you can go to him or her someday.  I know that there is a temptation to turn from God during times like this, but that is the worst mistake you can make.  It only adds anger on top of despair and keeps you from the only One who can comfort you during this time.  I urge you, even if you are angry, even if you are confused, even if you do not understand, turn to Jesus.  He wants to save you, not only into eternal life, but away from the sadness of your loss. 
And he said, “While the child was alive, I fasted and wept; for I said, ‘Who can tell whether the LORD will be gracious to me, that the child may live?’ But now he is dead; why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me.” 2 Samuel 12:22-23 NKJV