Human Effort

Everything Depends on God's Mercy


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Robot Preacher

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A church in Germany has created some international headlines with an experiment in robotic “blessings”. Below is a video of the creation and how it works. This robot has a touch screen set of buttons where you answer a series of questions like what language, male for female voice, and would you like a printed copy. Once the input is selected the robot raises robotic hands from which light shines forth and then the robot blesses those standing in front of it.

News articles focus on robots replacing the clergy or on how the church feels about using technology in the church. While this robot is not exactly cutting edge and it is just a little bit silly the idea is interesting in this technological world. What if instead of the Terminator and Skynet destroying mankind robots became apologist fuelled by big data to speak life with reasonable answers to a world with questions about Christ and the cross.

Gutenberg invented the printing press and revolutionized the world by allowing the written words of God to be placed into the hands of every person on earth. That technology strengthens the church. What if now an Azure platformed chat bot could provide theologically sound and consistent answers to anyone in the world at any time? Said bot could even direct the questioner to a local church where relationships might be found the way God intends.


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Gift’s are for God’s Glory

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I have taken many kinds of strength profiles, and career assessment tools over the years. There are two that stand out. The first is the one I took through the high school. What stood out in this skills assessment that was given to all of the students were the results. It provided job and career ideas related to the category one fit within. I remember this because one of the job suggestions was Mineralogist. I was the only person that got this recommendation. I did not even know how to get into this field or what it would involve. It is certainly not something that any high school person I knew wanted to grow up to be. The second profile test that I remember was in college. The pastor of my church was taking the smaller Wednesday night crowed through a biblically based spiritual gifts assessment and to my surprise “teacher” was on the top of the list. At that time teacher was the last job that made up my passions. I showed the results to the pastor and told him the test was broken. Every person is given skills and gifts. The science behind tests like these can be informative about our personality and what we might be good at and bad at in life. Both of those tests were not wrong in their suggestions even if I was unaware of my own self at that time. We all have gifts and skills the question is to what end will we use these gifts?

In some Church cultures, there is a powerful desire to speak in tongues or speak prophecy. These miraculous type gifts are elevated to a high standing and become a mark of someone who has attained significant favor from God. While these gifts are included in the Biblical narrative and may be true in contemporary society the real question I want to know is to what end are these gifts sought and used? Paul clearly states that the Holy Spirit gives gifts for the good of the Body of Christ so that the Church will be equipped to carry out God’s will.

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. 1 Corinthians 12:4-7 ESV

Whatever gifts the Spirit has given whoever God has created an individual to be then in turn Christians must not be proud about that strength and one should not seek visible gifts for status or control. Just a few lines later Paul gets specific to warn the Corinthians about the role of these gifts.

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 up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 ESV

Those who are saved and part of the body have a purpose in the Church. The Holy Spirit will gives a desire and skill to accomplish that roll. These gifts work together to accomplish God’s plans. When people attempt to use them in the strength of man or for a selfish purpose then how does God get the glory for what is accomplished? Lecrae in his song Chase That speaks of the worst type of sin and that is the sin of selfish ambition while claiming to do it for God.

[the Devil] lies to us all, told Adam he could ball
“why you following God when you can go get it all?”
I tell you what’s better, or better yet worse.
chasing your own glory while doing the Lord’s work,
so holla if it hurts, but we were made for greater
our greatest satisfaction is making His name famous

The mark of someone serving God is Love. They have a love for God and a love for their fellow man.

So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love 1 Corinthians 13:13 ESV

Love makes the gift useful. Service inside the body with Faith, Hope, and most importantly Love is used by God for His purpose. Do you love God? Are you broken to love others more than yourself? If so then go and obey what God has placed on your heart for His Glory.

* Revised and Edited. Originally published on Human Effort May 2014.


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What Kind of Christian are You?

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An interesting idea passed through my reading list this week. The comment was that each person, denomination, tradition, or opinion sees God and scripture in their own image. The challenge the person put forth is that everyone reads into the scripture their own “interpretation” and there is no actual single Christian view of things. While true that different Christian traditions might form church government and worship services differently. And some traditions may disagree on some minor aspects of what is most important. What is not true is that a right “interpretation” of scripture is impossible to know. The reality is that most misunderstandings are basically ignorance because so few people spend time reading with their heart open to hear from God. Other wrong “interpretations” are based on purposeful manipulation out of a desire for something other than God. Jesus assumed that his teachings would be remembered and understood by those that followed him and Jesus is never wrong so we can know exactly what is true.

26 But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. John 14:26 ESV

And this is where the church comes in. If the leadership and those teaching are following Christ (not their own selfish ambitions) then they can guide parishioners on how to read and understand what Jesus taught.

Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. James 3:1 ESV

Christianity also uniquely has the source text in Greek and Hebrew that any lay person can learn to read if they are so inclined. Even that is not necessary because of access to modern translations of nearly original letters. The apostles encouraged the churches to search these texts to confirm what they taught was true.

10 The brothers immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea, and when they arrived they went into the Jewish synagogue. 11 Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so. Acts 17:10-11 ESV

God is true and so all his words, actions, and calls in our life must be consistent with Himself. The Bible is that consistency given to humankind. God will never ask something of someone that a) he was has not already done himself and b) is contrary to his very nature. Scripture then is a baseline that even the greatest Christian teacher must work from. One well known Bible teacher once wrote that followers of Christ must teach and believe what the Bible states as true not what we want the Bible to say is true. I may not like or understand everything but that does not diminish God that only proves my lack of understanding in all things. God has the entire picture and he has proven himself trustworthy.

The last Chapter of Hebrews is the closing of the letter and the author runs through a liturgy of sorts that when lived out mark a Christian in this world. What kind of Christian are you? If you can’t say yes to everything in this list then you may want to reevaluate what kind of Christian you have been.

Let brotherly love continue. 2 Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. 3 Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body. Hebrews 13:1-3 ESV

I agree in the Affirmative: Christians must not be self-seeking but be servants to those in need. Do you love your brothers and sisters in Christ? Are you ready to show hospitality to strangers in need? Do you remember and pray for Christians in prison or those mistreated because they are Christian? This is the type of person that Jesus has called you to be.

4 Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous. Hebrews 13:4 ESV

I agree in the Affirmative: God did not create man and woman to be sexually promiscuous. He created man and woman to love each other and to honor the marriage bed. If you are living with someone outside of marriage, if you are having an affair, if you are a consumer of porn or lustful images of any kind, or you believe that whatever your preferences are regarding sex are more important than God’s perfect standards then you are not living the life that Jesus has called you to live. Make this right with God there is no other way.

5 Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” 6 So we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?” 16 Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God. Hebrews 13:5-6; 16 ESV

I agree in the Affirmative: God never promises to make men rich. God does however promise that he will provide our daily bread. Do not fear living with limited money. The Lord is our helper and His resources are endless. If you do have anything be ready to share sacrificially because this pleases God. The type of person that Jesus called you to be is the person who is not in love with money and stuff.

7 Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. 8 Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. 9 Do not be led away by diverse and strange teachings, for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by foods, which have not benefited those devoted to them. 17 Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you. Hebrews 13:7-9; 17 ESV

I agree in the Affirmative: God has called each Christian to serve and live within a Church that honors His word. Submit to the leaders of this church and look to their example to imitate. Confirm their example by finding it written about in the Bible. The leadership in your church has been given to you by God and they are accountable to God if they teach what is not true. Do not complain about the Church leadership but make their job a joy (remember they are only men and women like yourself). If you are not in a church or if you are not attending a physical church with real relationships then you are not following the desires of Christ. Jesus is a relational Creator and he never desires for his followers to operate in isolation.

18 Pray for us, for we are sure that we have a clear conscience, desiring to act honorably in all things. Hebrews 13:18 ESV

I agree in the Affirmative: Followers of Christ act honorably in ALL things. These standards of God are not negotiable. He has saved us and he has died in our stead so we can live. Do you love Jesus, then in obedience set your dead self aside and find life that can only come from Christ.

What kind of Christian are you? If you are not answering affirmatively to the above with a desire to live it out real time then the answer to the question of what kind of Christian are you is either not at all or not much of one. Harsh I know. Sometimes the truth hurts but God has plainly laid out his standards even the parts we may not like.


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The Hard Work of Discipline

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Discipline is a word that brings up the concept of short term pain for long term gain. No pain; no gain the adage goes. Discipline also brings up the idea of how to correct unruly behavior in children. To spank or not to spank? Spare the rod spoil the child. While these two views of discipline are similar they are not the same. And in our relationship with Christ both have implications. The Bible speaks of discipline a great deal. In modern translations like NIV or ESV one can find the word from 40 to 50 times. But in an older translation like the King James version it is only used once. The King James translation liked the word “chasten”. Whatever changes have occurred to the English language over time the idea of discipline has not become any less important.

Discipline #1: The engagement of the believer in Christ to organize life in such a way that the relationship and service to God is more effective.

Living a life that puts Christ and His priorities first is not easy. There are varying degrees of success in this endeavor. Some people have lived amazing miraculous lives that are examples to us all. Some have been called saints and some have died unknown and forgotten to all but God. But others seem to barely understand the Christ that saved them. Their lives seem undistinguished from the rest of the world. What separates these two extremes is discipline in Christ. Those who show Christ have lives marked by life of discipline that maximizes praying, reading, loving, serving, and sharing God with the world. They became intentional as some level and through discipline bent their desires to be subject to Christ. The power of this relationship becomes accelerated through the discipline and self-denial of one who is seeking Christ first.

11 For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. Hebrews 12:11 ESV

The author of Hebrews states that in the moment discipline seems painful. The King James translation uses the word “chasten” which means a moderating and restraining effect. This kind of discipline is talking about how adults correct mistakes in their life and how they learn to curb the passions of life. Fasting is not fun. Serving others is a chore. Denying a life of hedonism does not seem all that wonderful to those who are young. But later on, from the other side of chasing Christ is a peace and comfort of a life lived as God intended.

Discipline #2: The act of a perfect Father correcting a child and training a child for the future.

God is no passive Creator that is only now watching his creation evolve. God became a man and died on a cross to reconcile people to Himself. God is actively involved in the life of every single person. For those whom God calls son or daughter he will correct and discipline. God has not left his children without a way or without his love.

19 Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent. Revelation 3:19 ESV

The loving correction of a Father may produce tears in the child but this kind of correction sets a child on a path to a life well lived. God’s correction will set one to life eternal. God’s correction will draw one closer and will allow one to respect Him and His plans for life more. It is no accident that listed along with the types of sin that will destroy a man are those that are disobedient to their parents.

29 They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, 31 foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. 32 Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them. Romans 1:29-32 ESV

If honoring parents made it into the 10 Commandments how much more so is the obedience of submitting to a heavenly father’s correction and discipline.

These two forms of discipline are vital. First is the loving correction of God to remove and cutout sinful behavior and second the effort and restraint where we choose to organize our lives around prayer, church, fasting, and serving to know him better. Together these disciplines done through Christ will draw us nearer to the prize of life in eternity.

24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. 25 Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. 1 Corinthians 9:24-25 ESV


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And now for the Payoff

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I watched a military leader of some stripe promoting a new book he had written called Make Your Bed and he had written it as a wisdom book about being successful in life. His wisdom being that making the bed first thing starts the day in the right direction. This act establishes discipline and therefore allows more accomplishment as the day moves on. Very sound wisdom… Maybe my life could be more successful if I become more disciplined? Success and being successful is a huge motivator for most people and that raises some questions for me on what it is we expect from this life.

A large percentage of people might agree with the following statement… “When I grow up and am done with this life I want all my arduous work and effort to payoff.” This is the heart of much advertising especially around sports. The problem is how many people start a work and never see it realized? How many have died before seeing their children grow? How many have been taken advantage of and lost everything they ever saved? How many refugees are forced to move because of war leaving behind everything including family? A wise man once complained of how evil it is that a stranger might enjoy the work of someone else’s toil and savvy.

There is an evil that I have seen under the sun, and it lies heavy on mankind: 2 a man to whom God gives wealth, possessions, and honor, so that he lacks nothing of all that he desires, yet God does not give him power to enjoy them, but a stranger enjoys them. This is vanity; it is a grievous evil. Ecclesiastes 6:1-2 ESV

What are you committed to right now? A sport? A way to become famous? What if you fail? What if all the work does not pay off? Is the work still worth it? If all that you have is taken by a government or lost in war is the life still worth living? These are questions that many people the world over have had to not only ponder but live out.

While coming up short on some major desire or plan for life might be a “grievous evil” what about the person who abandon’s everything to follow God’s call and God’s promise but never sees it fulfilled? In Hebrews, the chapter on faith, the author points out this problem that many of the Old Testament believers experienced first hand.

13 These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. Hebrews 11:13 ESV

God called them to live an unusual life, many times not a pleasant life, and showed them a future promise that they would not live to experience. Dear Reader would you tolerate such a situation? These men and women not only tolerated such a seeming disappointment they are commended for their faith and trust in God’s bigger picture. Note what it says they came to understand. That they were strangers and exiles on this earth and this life. They understood that this is not their home. Strive, work, make your bed, and be successful. However take stock in why and for what reason one desires success. In the statement “When I grow up and am done with this life I want all my arduous work and effort to payoff.” The real question is what is the payoff at the end of all that work and success?

12 remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. Ephesians 2:12 ESV

If the payoff is not God’s grace and the fellowship as a son or daughter through Christ in eternity then that successful life lived will be dedicated to an earth that is not home and will not last.


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They Followed Jesus Anyway

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The Resurrection of Christ is real and we know it to be legitimate based on the reaction from His followers. Most of the disciples and many of the close associates of Christ died unnatural deaths proclaiming a risen Jesus. If a resurrected Jesus was simply a plot hatched by these disciples then what are the odds that they would give up worldly advancement only to most likely die for that lie? The reason conspiracies are untrue or fail to get off the ground if they might have been true is that the more people involved the more likely it is that someone will break and give up the lie. Now a resurrected Jesus alive and meeting with his followers was no isolated event. Jesus over many days and weeks appeared to hundreds of people.

3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 8 Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 ESV

With this many people involved in a conspiracy how could it last? There is no tradition that any of the disciples rejected the gospel, but there is tradition that they died for this gospel. In the Gospel of John there is an interesting exchange between Peter and Jesus relating to the future hardships and death that Peter would encounter for Christ. After Jesus told Peter that he would die, Peter asked Jesus about John. John the author of this narrative with some years between the conversation and the time of recording the history seems to interject an understanding that the disciples knew they were going to be martyred for the gospel and some most likely had already seen that end.

Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them, the one who also had leaned back against him during the supper and had said, “Lord, who is it that is going to betray you?” When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, “Lord, what about this man?” Jesus said to him, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!” So the saying spread abroad among the brothers that this disciple was not to die; yet Jesus did not say to him that he was not to die, but, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you?” John 21:20-23 ESV

Jesus also warned the disciples that by following him they would pay a price, that they would not be popular, and he even uses the word “hate” to describe how the world would feel about them. Even today Christians die for proclaiming a risen Jesus and celebrating Easter.

19 If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. 20 Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. John 15:19-20 ESV

Much of what is listed here is tradition, but with any tradition there is a foundation of truth even if the exact details have been lost. I believe it is safe to take away that many of the original followers of Christ died teaching and preaching about Easter.

Simon (Peter)

Church tradition holds that Peter was crucified upside down by the Romans around 65 AD. He requested to be crucified upside down because he felt unworthy to die the same way as Jesus.

[Jesus speaking to Peter] Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” John 21:18 ESV

Andrew (Peter’s Brother)

Church tradition holds that Andrew was crucified around 69 AD.

James (Son of Zebedee brother of John)

Luke in the book of Acts records how James was killed along with other followers by Herod around 44 AD.

About that time Herod the king laid violent hands on some who belonged to the church. He killed James the brother of John with the sword Acts 12:1-2 ESV

Saul (Paul)

Church tradition holds that Paul was imprisoned with Peter and then eventually beheaded around 65 AD.

James (The brother of Jesus)

James was one of the leaders of the church in Jerusalem (Galatians 1:19) and the church tradition holds that he was thrown from one of the higher walls of the temple. When his attackers realized he survived the fall they had him beaten to death with a club (gotquestions.org).

*Revised and Edited. Originally published on Human Effort in April 2014.


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What Government would Jesus Do?

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Palm Sunday is here leading up to the greatest holiday in all human history, Easter. Palm Sunday is the triumphant entry of the future King into Jerusalem just a week before he will die to provide salvation to those that would call up on his name.

12 The next day the large crowd that had come to the feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. 13 So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, crying out, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!” John 12:12-13 ESV

The people tried to make Jesus a king on multiple occasions. But as quickly as they would have crowned him King they turned on him and had him killed. Did Jesus not want to be King? What kind of government would God want Christians to champion? I became aware of politics as a young boy when Ronald Regan was president. I learned that Capitalism is good and Communism is bad. I was patriotic in all the right ways understanding what it meant to fight the evil communist like Rocky avenging the death of Apollo. I felt America was the greatest country in world. It is interesting how times change, how my view of the world has changed, and what things I value have changed. Today I understand that the world is messy and even the “good” guys are still sinners that practice evil things. Don’t misunderstand there is no country in this world I would rather live than America. I believe it is the greatest country and power ever raised up in a world that is cursed and broken. But America and the people who make up this country like anything else in this fallen world have problems and an ugly history.

When I started studying God’s word a verse that stuck out and confounded me was a verse about the early church because the verse did not describe capitalism, in fact it came across as the exact opposite.

44 And all who believed were together and had all things in common. 45 And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved. Acts 2:44-47 ESV

This sounded an awful lot like socialism or redistributionism “as any had need”. Now going back to my roots of Capitalist America I am suspicious of Progressives who are desperate to redistribute and set things equal. “Equality” and “Fair Share” are mantras they live by. Progressives that I see on the news want to take from others and use the sword of government to enforce their view of equality. Yet here I see a distributive model before me in the early Church. Are Progressives right and is this early church and the ways of God a form of socialism? Is capitalism evil?

Progressives are quick to point out how much of a socialist Jesus seems to be. These arguments are always front and center condemning the unchristian behavior of anyone who might want to cut government spending in any way.

free health care

So what did Jesus think of Government? Look as one might there are no descriptions of Jesus standing at the court of Rome demanding government aid to those in need. In fact, what one will find is that Jesus avoided government as much as possible. Look here at this conversation between Peter and Jesus when it came time to pay taxes.

24 When they came to Capernaum, the collectors of the two-drachma tax went up to Peter and said, “Does your teacher not pay the tax?” 25 He said, “Yes.” And when he came into the house, Jesus spoke to him first, saying, “What do you think, Simon? From whom do kings of the earth take toll or tax? From their sons or from others?” 26 And when he said, “From others,” Jesus said to him, “Then the sons are free. 27 However, not to give offense to them, go to the sea and cast a hook and take the first fish that comes up, and when you open its mouth you will find a shekel. Take that and give it to them for me and for yourself.” Matthew 17:24-27 ESV

Jesus felt no obligation to pay taxes but “not to give offense” he wisely instructed Peter to take care of the bill. Who is the tax collected from? Not from those that run the government “the sons are free”. In all of his ministry Jesus does not care about the government outside of its role to provide structure and maintain order. Rome allowed Jesus to walk the streets to speak and carry on his ministry. He asked nothing of the government and he did not seek to reform it while on earth. Of course there is one major exception to his lack of interest in government… Jesus used the authority and sword of government to allow himself to be killed on a cross. This is the one function or area where government has a mandate from God. The one thing Government is permitted that is unique to government is killing people.

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. 2 Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. 3 For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval. Romans 13:1-3 ESV

Feeding the poor and providing safety nets are not an expectation Jesus had of government. He looked to the Disciples and asked them what they would do about the hungry.

15 Now when it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a desolate place, and the day is now over; send the crowds away to go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” 16 But Jesus said, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” Matthew 14:15-16 ESV

Jesus expected the church, his followers, to care for those in need and to help those who were broken. Jesus did not want his followers ask the Government to do it for them. Jesus wanted Christians to sell their own possessions and to work with their own hands in the community. His expectations are not that government feed the elderly. His expectations are that I leave the comfort of my own home and venture into the homes of those in need.

Jesus has no need for Government made by men because Jesus is King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Jesus is not a socialist or a capitalist because he already owns everything and he will not be a tool of any man’s government no matter the form. Jesus is a servant to those who are part of his kingdom and he freely gives to those in need. It is out of that abundance that Christians should follow his lead and also give to those in need because all that we have is a result of his great mercy.