Monday, August 31, 2009

God Will Save Me

You've probably either heard the story or read it in an email. A woman lives in a house by the river (no, not Chris Farley) and the news warns of a big storm with a possible chance of flooding. Neighbors start sandbagging and buying supplies but she stays at home saying, "I trust God, he'll take care of me." The river starts to rise and this person's neighbors start to pack their things to leave, but she continues to say, "I trust God, he'll take care of me." The river reaches full flood stage and evacuations are ordered, but she still says, "I trust God, he'll take care of me." Everyone evacuates and the police now urge her to leave, but again she says, "I trust God, he'll take care of me." Finally, her house is submerged under water and she is sitting on the roof as boats and helicopters pass by urged her to board. By now it's no surprise she answers, "I trust God, he'll take care of me." Soon after, the woman drowns. Facing God when she enters heaven she asks, "I put all my faith and trust in you. Why didn't you save me?" And God replies, "I tried, I sent a weather bulletin, neighbors, evacuation orders, the police, and even a helicopter and a boat."

That's the funny story. What's not funny is right now there are five people caught in the Station Fire north of LA after failing to heed evacuation orders. The fire is too severe for them to be rescued. I pray for their safety and for the safety of the over 3,000 firefighters now battling the blaze.

Stand Firm

"Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be men of courage; be strong." (1 Corinthians 16:13)

There was an interview last week with former Jesus, Jim Caviezel regarding his views on abortion. Personally, I don't keep track of who believes what in Hollywood because it's a pretty safe assumption where most's politics lie. So this interview surprised me, especially because so many tried to dig deep into his convictions when he portrayed Jesus in The Passion of the Christ, but to no avail. He continued on in his career with a quiet humility, never lording over anyone with a holier-than-thou attitude.

I'm most impressed with his desire to speak out regardless of the consequences. Consider these quotes: "I don't love my career that much to say, 'I'm going to remain silent on this'." And, "when you go to church on Sunday, it's absolutely worthless unless you apply what you've learned to your everyday life." Even more remarkable is that he puts his convictions to action by adopting a special needs child from China.

I do hope his convictions do not hurt his career. But have you seen Patricia Heaton in anything lately other than on the Hallmark Channel? It's no question conservatives are a minority in Hollywood, likely more so conservative Christians. But it is possible to make a career with challenging ideologies. Consider Andrew Niccol, writer and director of one of my favorite movies, Gattaca. He doesn't have a long resume, but he hasn't necessarily been a flop either. If you're on the fence regarding abortion, watch this movie and then watch the special features with interviews with Niccol. Gattaca is one of my favorite movies without the political subtext, though the sanctity of life drives the overall plot.

What does the future hold for Mr. Caviezel? God only knows. But I hope he knows that he's not alone. I'm going to do a run of featurettes on some likely and unlikely defenders of the faith who aren't willing to hide their convictions for the sake of their paycheck. Stay tuned.

"Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ... I will know that you stand firm in one spirit, contending as one man for the faith of the gospel." (Philippians 1:27ff)

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Why it's a Bad Idea to Mix Policy with Religion

(more playing catch up)

First example, the recent release of the convicted Lockerbie bomber Abdelbeset Ali Mohmed al Megrahi. On the surface the decision for release sounds reasonable given the circumstance. And you could argue that it’s better to err on the side of compassion (you only need to point towards the debate over the world’s view of the US during the Bush administration to see how important “good will” is to many). However, the pomp and circumstance when he landed in Libya tells the rest of the story. I don’t know if there was a backroom deal or not. But by releasing al Megrahi, the UK gave Libya a bargaining chip and a boost to their own patriotic ego. In that context, I don’t think the cost was worth the price of being compassionate.

In the second example, a family is denied adoption because they are atheists. There’s nothing about this case that makes sense to me, from the family waiting 17 years after their first adoption to adopt again (I’m sorry, but for personal reasons I take adoption very seriously), to the legal statute being used to deny this second adoption. It is an interesting statement in the state Constitution, but if applied broadly would give child-welfare agencies the right to remove children from non-believing households. Where do you draw the line? If a family misses church two Sundays in a row, can the state take custody of their children? That’s as ridiculous as that right being applied in this case. You could even go so far as to call this judge an “activist judge”, but that rhetoric only comes from one side of the spectrum. So it’s unlikely you’ll see this decision derided by those who rail against judicial activism.

In both cases, the prevailing religious motive has some merit, but the application is not thought about broadly or long term. Religion has no place guiding policy. There, I said it. However, religion informs morality which can, does, and should guide policy. Yet the application needs to be weighed against the broader context of a democratic, pluralistic society. The problem with either the Religious Right or Religious Left is that this thought process is in the wrong order. For the religious politician, politics informs religion which then guides policy. Note how this is circular. The Christ-like way should look like this instead: morality informs religion (see the change in order) which guides action. The notion that morality defines religion, not vice-versa, is foreign to American Christianity ™ and thus confuses the religion-in-politics debate.

"Endure hardship with us like a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No one serving as a soldier gets involved in civilian affairs..." (2 Timothy 2:3-4a)

Monday, August 24, 2009

Walking in Another's Shoes

I hate the first post after a lengthy (lazy) hiatus. There's always so much to cover since my last post, but at the same time I want to be timely. While these articles may be dated (at least relative to the 24-hour news cycle), I believe they are too relevant to not be read.

One of my goals with this blog is to be even-handed in my analysis and commentary, though I do have obvious religious and political beliefs. That doesn't mean I'm not open to taking a different point of view. Walking in another's shoes, so to speak, and these two articles do just that. They both highlight how one’s worldview impacts their decisions. By reading these articles, I gained a great deal of respect for both men because they are consistent in applying their worldview, something I seldom see in the present culture-war.

The first is about Ted Olson, a conservative lawyer who is fighting to overturn Proposition 8 in California. His defense of gay-marriage is based on his conservative principles to keep the government out of our personal lives. You can’t argue that he’s not consistent with his conservative view of government, in contrast to a conservative view of social moors taken by many politicians and activists. Now, I’m not about to change my opinion on gay-marriage. However, given the background in this article I will concede the point of “fundamental right” though I still worry about the “slippery slope” and disapprove the means by which homosexuals are trying to gain this right. (Specifically, not responding to Prop 8 with a proposition of their own and instead throwing a legal hissy fit)

The second article is about the “abortion evangelist” (gotta love the sensationalist headlines) LeRoy Carhart. I don’t approve of his practice, but I understand his motivation for providing it. I also admire that he does stick to his guns. In one example, "Carhart asked her what she would do if she had to carry the baby to term. 'She didn't say she was going to kill herself,' he says. 'She said she would put it up [for adoption].' He turned her away.." I do regret that he feels the way he does about his own safety. I hope he realizes that not everyone who is opposed to abortion wants him dead. But given the slant of the article, I don’t expect that perspective to be conveyed. What is also important to glean from this article is how tragic abortion really is and that criminalizing it only marginalizes those who “need” (I hesitate using that word, but I think it’s appropriate here) the service. The real war against abortion needs to be against this need (“abortion should be available, but rare”). Think simple supply-demand economics. Legal restrictions to abortion reduce the supply which only increases the cost (emotional and physical in addition to financial) to women. Instead, the demand needs to be brought down. And no, I believe showing pictures of fetuses to women entering a clinic is too late to have any measurable effect. Instead the preciousness of life (scripture) needs to be emphasized alongside the value of reserving sex for marriage. There is a moral case for family planning.

In both of these cases, it can be seen how their careers are guided by their respective worldviews. But neither worldview is Biblical. Get Religion points out that the profile of Ted Olson only mentions that Olson is "not a regular churchgoer", and Newsweek fails to mention any religious affiliation of Carhart. Yet, while we may not agree with them, we should take the lesson that our lives should be guided by some particular worldview. As Christians, our worldview should be built on being Christ-like and “what would Jesus do?” I also think it is important to be open-minded and respectful of others’ worldviews. I linked these two articles above despite my being against both cases. It is always important to see the other side of an argument. That may sound wishy-washy, but I’m not saying “we can both be right” or “truth is relative”. Instead I’m saying that I disagree with, but respect your opinion, just as you are free to disagree with mine.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Where There's Smoke...

I try to give other churches and other Christians the benefit of the doubt. Only God knows the heart and I'm in no position to judge anyone. However, I will challenge anyone who will listen to "live a life worth of the calling you have received." (Ephesians 4:1) And I will also call out what I believe to be blatant cases of false doctrine (on this blog these are generally related to politics). But this is just fishy to me.

When I first saw the headline it read, "teen fears parents will kill her after conversion." I was all ready to whip out a post on "perfect love drives out fear" (1 John 4:8) thinking it was the parents who converted. This is the common argument against parental notification for abortions by minors. It's a sad world we live in when children are so fearful of their parents that they'd rather kill an unborn life than face them. Even more sad that so many have twisted their own religion to completely remove grace so that some children are right to be afraid.

But this is different. In this case, the girl converted from her Muslim upbringing. She fears her parents will kill her for the sake of their "honor". Tragically, this is a reality in may parts of the world, but seems out of place in the United States where we can freely exercise our religion.

However, it's not this case that I want to write about. Rather her church is what caught my attention. I recognized the name (only reported by AOL that I could find) from this lengthy discussion at theophiles. Both cases are similar- minor converts against the will of his and her parents, parents label church a cult, and "a man [is turned] against his father, a daughter against her mother..." (Matthew 10:35ff)

It's a cycle my fellowship of churches recognizes all too well. In fact when the first story broke I thought it was a sister church. Even the church's description (small groups, discipleship, evangelistic) made me think so. But there is one (doctrinally a couple) significant difference- we would never convert a minor against the will of their parents. (I'm not meaning to sound prideful, but I've spent most of my Christian life in the teen ministry and that is rule #1, even for teens whose parents are members of the church. If the parents say no, that's the end of the story.)

While we enjoy religious freedom in this country, and the above scripture does tell us that the Gospel will divide our families, we still have to abide by the law of the land: "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." (Romans 13:1) And in this country, parents have the legal authority over their children while they are minors.

The runaway girl is an interesting case since she believes her life is in danger. If her church is trying to score "persecution" points in the media, shame on them. But they should have never pursued converting this girl until she was legally out of her home. Even if it was initiated by her, she still needs to follow the Bible and obey her parents (Ephesians 6:1-3, Colossians 3:20, Exodus 20:12). Her small group/discipleship partner/whatever should have been quick to point this out.

I pray for the safety of this girl and I pray for compassion from her parents. Most of all, I pray for her church, that it is a light to the world- who is an abassador of Christ that is spreading a true Gospel that unites believers.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Out of the Mouths of Babes

The other night when getting my kids down for bed, I was praying with my son. He copied my prayer almost word for word but then added his own flair. "Thank you for Transformers... Thank you for killing the bad guys... I pray I can sleep all day..." It was hard for me to not completely crack up. Transformers I get, but killing the bad guys? Where did that come from? Thankfully the Spirit speaks for us in prayer.

"We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express." (Romans 8:26)

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Where the Rubber Meets the Road

'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.' (Matthew 25:34-36)

There was a recent article in my local paper describing the need for volunteers to help the Chaplain of our local hospital. The idea of chaplaining has intrigued me for some time- it's an opportunity to directly engage the community while actively living the Gospel. From prisons to hospitals to the military I've been brainstorming pursuing such an opportunity as a means of expanding my public ministry. (I was sick and you looked after me)

"In his heart a man plans his course, but the LORD determines his steps." (Proverbs 16:9)

Of course I was thinking God might be telling me something when on one of my flights last week an Army Chaplain sat in the row in front of me right after I saw an ad to be a Chaplain in the Air Force Reserves in the most recent issue of Relevant. (At this point, I hadn't yet seen the article in my local paper.) So I shared this with a friend and he pointed out the hospital article and challenged me to do something about it. What? You mean actually acting out on these random thoughts in my head instead of crediting my own self-righteousness for at least thinking about it?

So I visited the hospital to check it out. As the position was being described to me I couldn't help but feel fear. The thought of standing beside someone as their loved one passes away or explaining to a child why her parent doesn't answer when he is in a coma caused my heart to sink. Could I really serve in this way, would I have what it takes to offer compassion and courage? Turns out, it won't work out with my schedule. I thought I dodged that bullet, but then the Chaplain told me I might still find myself "on call" for after hours needs. You know, tragic car accidents, gun-shot victims, complications delivering a baby. Um, yeah.

It's easy to point at Scripture and say what we should be doing, but it's much harder to commit to actually doing it. Who knows how God will use this opportunity in my life, but I pray he gives me the strength and selflessness necessary to glorify him and not myself. I also pray that God helps others to overcome whatever fears they may have that prevents them from pursuing their own dreams for God. I've long held that many of the social ills in our society would be alleviated if the 80%-or-so of Americans that call themselves Christians actually lived it out. I'm learning that's easier said than done.

Monday, August 03, 2009

What are you Willing to Forgive?

Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, "Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?"

Jesus answered, "I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times." (Matthew 18:21-22)

Last week I was travelling for business. Grabbing a paper to read on the flight, I noticed the headlines of Michael Vick being reinstated by the NFL. If you don't follow sports like I do you probably still heard of his story. He just finished a stint in prison for breeding dogs for fighting and was responsible for the deaths of many of said dogs. He was vilified all across the media spectrum, shunned by other athletes, and was rejected by most of society. Maybe rightfully so. When I saw those headlines it was easy to think of this topic to blog about.

But I didn't get around to it when I landed (and I was too lazy during the flight to write up a draft, darn you free TV on Delta flights!). And the next day the sports world was dominated by another headline, the release of two more names from the 2003 steroid "survey"- Manny Rameriz and David, Big Popi, Oritz. I've written about Manny before and his name wasn't much of a surprise, but Big Popi's was (at least until I saw his numbers broken down).

The difference between these two cases is staggering. Maybe it's the degree of offense- breeding, fighting, and killing dogs can easily be argued to be more immoral than cheating at a sport you're paid to excel in. But if you look at Ortiz and Rameriz more closely and unsurprisingly you find their fans supporting them and their rivals chiding them.

We're also in the "dog days" of summer before college football starts and online message boards are filled with "police blotter smack" where fans are focusing on the "speck of sawdust" in rivals' eyes while ignoring the "planks" in their own eye (referencing Mt 7:3 and Luke 6:41). We make a conscience decision what we're willing to tolerate as fans and spectators. Our rivals deserve no forgiveness while we turn a blind eye to any offenses by our own favorite players.

But the above scripture isn't about about who we forgive, but how often. Are we willing to forgive Michael Vick "seventy times seven times" as easily as we've forgiven Manny and Ortiz once?

The scripture continues,

Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt.

"The servant fell on his knees before him. 'Be patient with me,' he begged, 'and I will pay back everything.' The servant's master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go. "But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii. He grabbed him and began to choke him. 'Pay back what you owe me!' he demanded.

"His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, 'Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.'

"But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. When the other servants saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed and went and told their master everything that had happened.

"Then the master called the servant in. 'You wicked servant,' he said, 'I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn't you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?' In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.

"This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart." (Mt 18:25-35)

So it's not only about how often, but also who. Forgiveness cannot discriminate, it must be universal. Your heavenly father forgave you, what are you willing to forgive?