Sunday, November 09, 2008

God is Uncomfortable

Today is the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church. We should all set aside some time to pray for those brothers and sisters in Christ who don't live in countries with the religious freedoms we enjoy here in the United States. I posted earlier about how we take our freedoms for granted and suffer a persecution complex and gave a couple of examples of real persecution. I want to add to that that the American Church (TM) is also lazy and comfortable. And our faith suffers for it.

Below is a controversial sermon brought to my attention a while back by another blog. If you don't have the patience to watch the whole hour of it, I posted an interview of this brother (that's right, I'm calling him 'brother') with Kirk Cameron that's only ten minutes. And if YouTube isn't your thing, check out his ministry.

And the interview that cuts right to the heart of it (check out Kirk Cameron's reaction at the end!)

And if your faith isn't challenged enough by all of that, check out what's really going on overseas, where it's not comfortable to be a Christian. Voice of the Martyrs catalogues persecution in the global church and HOPEworldwide gives inspirational stories of Christians serving where it's least comfortable to do so.

Today is a day to challenge our comfort level, to challenge our faith. Pray not only for the Persecuted Church, but also for our own faith, and for God to provide the opportunity to be uncomfortable for the cause of Christ. That's a hard prayer, and we might not like His answer, but that's the only way for the American Church (TM) to grow, Christ to be preached, and God to be glorified.

"Everything is possible for him who believes."

"I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!" (Mk 9:23-24)

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

The Fifth of November

Remember, remember the Fifth of November,
The Gunpowder Treason and Plot,
I can think of no reason
Why the Gunpowder Treason
Should ever be forgot.
Reaction to yesterday’s election are still being sorted out, and there will be countless analyses and debates over what worked and what didn’t and what role the infamous “value voter” played in the results. But there are two contradictory reactions to last night’s results. On the one hand, the passing of anti-gay measures in California, Arizona, Florida, and Arkansas signals continued intolerance by “Christian bigots, which is redundant” (quoted from a message board earlier today) towards the homosexual community. On the other hand, the divine providence expected by Governor Palin in her interview with Dr. James Dobson and again to reporters after she voted yesterday in Alaska didn’t come to pass, signaling to some the end of the influence of the Religious Right.

Which is it? Are we still teetering on the edge of a theocracy driven by intolerance and bigotry, or is this country literally going to Hell in a hand basket? This irony is highlighted in California where voters supported defining marriage as between a man and a woman for the second time while defeating a measure requiring parental consent for abortions, also for a second time.
If anything, it shows that no one can be pigeon-holed by a single issue. And whatever comes out of these results, hopefully the “value voter” will no longer be defined by a short list of wedge issues. I believe this is the dawn of not only post-partisan politics, as noted by President-elect Obama, but also post-partisan Christianity. That’s my prayer anyway.

So what does all this have to do with my invocation of Guy Fawkes above? That both sides of the culture war today feel slighted, disrespected, devalued, and defeated reflects the irony of the cultural versus historical Guy Fawkes.

If you’ve never heard of him (and I teased a friend on Halloween who was wearing a Guy Fawkes mask for no other reason than its use in V for Vandetta) these entries on wikipedia (Guy Fawkes, Gunpowder Plot ) are worth reading. The poem above, and the celebration of Guy Fawkes Night, are celebrated by anarchists, were used symbolically in V opposing fascism in Britain, and continue to inspire anti-government sentiment.

But the poem continues:

Guy Fawkes, Guy Fawkes, t'was his intent
To blow up the King and Parli'ment.
Three-score barrels of powder below
To prove old England's overthrow;
By God's providence he was catch'd
With a dark lantern and burning match.
Holloa boys, holloa boys, let the bells ring.
Holloa boys, holloa boys, God save the King!

You see, the poem wasn’t celebrating his treason, but was celebrating his getting caught. And it continues further:

A penny loaf to feed the Pope
A farthing o' cheese to choke him.
A pint of beer to rinse it down.
A fagot of sticks to burn him.
Burn him in a tub of tar.
Burn him like a blazing star.
Burn his body from his head.
Then we'll say ol' Pope is dead.
Hip hip hoorah!
Hip hip hoorah hoorah!

Why did he do it? His treason was in response to discrimination by the British Monarchy towards Catholics. That’s right, this treason was over religious freedom. Even more ironic was that the Monarchy was a borderline theocracy led by King James, the commissioner of that version of the Bible bearing his name.

As Christians of a different stripe, we should never hope for, pray for, or vote for a theocracy (despite what many Evangelical leaders may tell you). There’s too much opportunity for abuse, and too little opportunity to glorify God’s name.

As you burn your “guy” in effigy, launch a firecracker, or light a bonfire tonight to celebrate the new world order in American politics, remember that it was for religious freedom that this country was settled, for freedom from tyranny this country was founded, and opposition to theocracy that inspired the Gunpowder Plot. Remember, remember the 5th of November.

Monday, November 03, 2008

"I am the LORD your God...

You shall have no other gods before me." (Ex 20:2-3)

For fun, Google "Obama worship" or "Obama Messiah". Over four million hits for the former, over three million for the latter. In fact, some of the Obama worship is downright scary (see the "Obama children" for example).

But this shouldn't come as any surprise. The quarterback picked in the first round of the draft is usually hailed as the Messiah for their team. And America is full of false idols, from money and fame, to celebrities, to gadgets.

So I take "Obama worship" as more of a figure of speech. But is it? I've already said much about our over reliance on our politicians to fix everything that's wrong with this country and how we expect legislation to define our morals. While we may not be worshipping our politics, we are putting our faith in them. We may not be praying to a political candidate, but I'd be willing to bet that there are many who have given more to campaigns than they've given to their church.

It's the eve of the election, and there's nothing I can post here to change anyone's mind. But I will continue to warn against turning politics into an idol, be it the celebrity of a candidate as in the case of Obama, or the platform held as in the case of the Religious Right.

A couple of images to give you chills before you head out to vote.

After looking at these, ask yourself if you've put any other gods before the LORD. If you can honestly say that you have not, praise God! But look around, and pray for the many who have.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Sovereign God

Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. For he is God's servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God's servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience. This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God's servants, who give their full time to governing. Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor. (Romans 13:1-7)

It's tempting to rely on our government to fix all of our social ills, be they education, poverty, health care, etc. And even moreso as Christians when considering issues such as abortion or gay-marriage. But is that really the government's role?

The scripture above was written to Christians living in Rome. Not exactly a culture that allowed them to exercise their religious freedom. But here Paul is instructing persecuted Christians that even the worst rulers are put there by God. How can that be? Because the purpose of government is to enforce the rule of law, and as Christians we are to obey those laws.

We expect too much from our politicians. God warned Israel against being ruled by a king, and there are six books in the Old Testement that describe how well that went when Israel insisted upon one anyway. Their first king, Saul, was haughty and disregarded the commands of God. Their second, David, was a man after God's own heart, but he committed aldultery and murdered one of his soldiers to cover it up. Their third, Solomon, was blessed with wisdom, but he was blinded by lust. And it was all down hill from there.

Ultimately God is sovereign. He uses rulers and authorities as he wills. Habakkuk asked God how long he would allow the wickedness in Jerusalem to continue. God replied that Habakkuk needn't worry because the Babylonians would come and conquer them to work out God's justice. That answer confused Habakkuk, and he called God on it. Again, God said not to worry because the Babylonians too, would eventually fall. (Hab 1:2,6,12-13, 2:4,8-9)

God uses kingdoms, governments, and authorities to carry out his justice, not to define morality. God's Word does that. Yet we continually rely on our political leaders to fix everything, and pass bonds, initiatives and propositions to try and fix ourselves that where our politicians fail. This is wrong. You don't need a loaded Supreme Court to bring an end to abortion, you only need to obey God's Word and not commit sexual immorality or aldultery. You don't need gun control, you only need to obey the Ten Commandments and not murder.

Easier said than done. Especially in a pluralistic culture where not everyone shares the same standards of morality. But keep in mind, the Christians Paul was writing to above were in the minority. Jews under Babylonian rule were in the minority. And their culture was most depraved when they ruled over themselves. Be careful what you wish for.

A Matter of Perspective

No matter how Tuesday's election turns out, we need to keep things in perspective. One of the fear-mongering tactics frequently used to rally the "christian conservative" base is that liberals want to curtail our rights as Christians to practice our faith. Issues like limited prayer in schools, removal of displays of the Ten Commandments, and (gasp) even gay-marriage are used as evidence that we, as Christians, are on the verge of persecution not seen since Nero. Puh-lease. It's often noted by political commentators and atheist antagonists that the Religious Right has a persecution complex, and I couldn't agree more.

I don't really think that if Sen Obama is elected president on Tuesday that I'll have to start worshiping in secret for fear of being arrested or killed. To use such hyperbole disrespects Christians across the globe who do face such persecution.

For example, take the current situation in India. What situation, you ask? Exactly. While our media is focused on the political campaigns and the war in Iraq, there are other things going on in the world. And while our religious leaders are urging votes in one direction or another and topics such as gay-marriage and abortion take center stage, few talk about what's going on in the real persecuted church. In fact, this poll from Voice of Martyrs shows how oblivious we are.

It's similar to the crisis in Sudan, which didn't really come to the western world's attention until celebrities started to speak out about it. Nice that they noticed a couple years after the crisis began when the Muslim government from the north region started singling out and killing Christians in the south.

Of course Christian-aid workers are always at risk, recently making headline when a British aid worker was killed in Afghanistan.

So the next time you're tempted to think that you're being persecuted in this country that still holds to the First Amendment, think again. And say a prayer for the persecuted church.