Archive for the ‘Radical Christianity’ Category

The tough work of prayer

Prayer is like a battle. The enemy is constantly placing barriers in your way to keep you from reaching your final objective.

Life is a series of continual distractions that make it difficult to find time to commune with God. Even if one manages to slip away to a quiet place for a few minutes, odds are they will find themselves distracted by thoughts about what lies ahead in their day or week. I’ve heard so many people complain, “My days are so busy I just can’t find time to pray.”  In reality, if you have a busy day ahead you can’t afford not to pray. Paul’s epistle to the Church at Philippi says:

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. –Philippians 4:6-7

This is tough advice!  Who, after all, is not anxious about something, especially in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic?  And how difficult is it to present your prayers to God with thanksgiving in every situation? “Dear God, I thank you for allowing me to crash my car into that tree yesterday.”  Prayer is tough work indeed.

The nation has just gone through a painful, extraordinarily divisive presidential election process. The political rhetoric is still turned up to near the boiling point. Political disagreements have resulted in many friendships ending and have even caused divorces. Sometime it feels like the entire world has gone mad amidst the name calling, threats, riots, burning and looting. Many politicians will tell you that they have the answers to all our problems, but they don’t. Only God can fix this mess!

I lift up my eyes to the mountains—where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.  —Psalm 121:1-2

More than any time in recent history, America’s Christians need to join together in praying for our nation and those whom have been elected to serve. So, what about that politician from the “other” party?  Should you pray for him or her?  “God, please help this idiot to see how wrong he is.”  Well, not exactly.  You can certainly pray that the Holy Spirit would convict the individual politician to make decisions that honor God, especially politicians who profess to be Christ followers.   

If you have a beef with a particular politician—get over it.  I don’t mean this in the traditional fashion that contemporary culture says “get over it.”  I mean that, as Christians, we are obliged to forgive those who have trespassed against us, just as we pray to God to forgive us our own sins.      

“In Jesus, we experience freedom not only from sin and its hold on us but also from guilt, shame, worry, Satan’s lies, superstitions, false teaching, and eternal death. No longer hostages, we have freedom to show love to enemies, walk in kindness, live with hope, and love our neighbors. As we follow the Holy Spirit’s leading, we can forgive as we’ve been forgiven” —Patricia Raybon, Our Daily Bread

Now here’s where it really gets difficult.  Not only are we told to “forgive as we’ve been forgiven,” but in Matthew 5, Jesus tells us to love our enemies:

You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. —Matthew 5:43-45

Is there a politician or other leader whose behavior absolutely disgusts you?  If so, think of that person, then pray for him or her. Really!  Pray that God will soften their heart.  It they profess to be a Christian, ask God to fill them with the Holy Spirit.

Since 2001, The Presidential Prayer Team has been the source thousands of Americans have turned to for encouragement and inspiration to pray for America’s leaders. It is a non-partisan organization.  I encourage you click the “About Us” link below to visit their website and sign up for the daily prayer alerts.

A Prayer for Good Leaders

Father God, good leaders, come from you. Lord, this nation needs leaders with discerning hearts and wise minds. I beseech you today asking you today to give us wise leaders that will lead this nation in the right direction. Remove wrong people that are corrupt and living against your word from influential positions. Let our leaders be people who honor your holy name for it is only from you that they will get true wisdom. It is in the mighty name of Jesus that we believe and pray, Amen. —Anonymous

A Heart of Stone

Heart of Stone

Political discourse in America today has become vitriolic — constant lying, name-calling, bickering, accusations and spewing pent up anger. Indeed it has gotten so bad that even the president has joined the fray.  Social media outlets like Twitter, Instagram and Facebook only serve to exacerbate the situation, as they have become bully pulpits for angry politicians and journalists.  It’s gotten to the point where I dread looking at social media or reading/listening to the news, as there is a paucity of objective discussion and reporting everywhere. Personal civility and decorum in America is rapidly declining, particularly in the political realm.  

           Gracious words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.                                           –Proverbs 16:24*

 Words are like bullets—once they’re let fly there’s no taking them back. The Epistle of James calls the tongue “a restless evil, full of deadly poison” (James 3:8).  By using this  strong comparison, James emphasizes that Christians must be mindful of the colossal power of what proceeds from their mouths.  The epistle goes on to note the inconsistency of praising God with one breath and cursing people made in God’s image with the next (vv. 9–10). Words can demean and destroy.

When you have learned to walk in the light of the Lord, bitterness and contention are impossible.”  —Oswald Chambers

This leads me to ask the question, “How radically would America change if suddenly all the politicians who profess to be Christians started behaving like Christ followers, becoming beacons of light in the dark political landscape?”

In January 2017, the New York Times reported that 91 percent of the new Congress identified as Christian.1 The Times went on to say that this figure was only slightly less than the 95 percent reported in 1961. Allmost all US presidents, including President Trump, have been Christians according to Pew Research.2

Christianity isn’t a label or tag; it’s a life, guided by the Holy Spirit, where an individual endeavors to be Christ-like in thoughts, words and deeds.  Inevitably, all Christians transgress and fall short of the glory of God along the way, but striving towards the ultimate goal of Christ-likeness remains a constant.

Restoration and transformation are two recurring themes in the Book of Ezekiel. Restoration is displayed in God saving the people of Israel from bad shepherds, giving them societal safety, reuniting tribes, and God’s children being restored to a right relationship with Him.  God’s ultimate restoration of his people is exemplified by Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. 

On the other hand, Ezekiel describes transformation as a personal, spiritual experience. To the ancient Hebrews, the heart was the locus of a person’s being, their mental processes, emotions and personal will. The Miriam Webster Dictionary defines hard-hearted as, “having or showing no kindness or sympathy for other people.”  In the passage from Ezekiel 36 below, evidence of spiritual transformation in God’s children is the softening of their hearts. 

I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.  —Ezekiel 36:26-27

One of those laws referred to in the Ezekiel passage is, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. (Deuteronomy 6:5). Jesus quotes this verse in Mark 30:5, after being asked, “What is the greatest commandment?” In the next verse, Mark 30:6, Jesus adds to this, “Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these.”   

This brings me back to politics.  Christians who also happen to be politicians don’t get a free pass when it comes to loving their neighbors.  Christian politicians contributing to the Capitol Hill vitriol need to take a long look in the mirror and ask themselves whether their actions glorify God. Are they being patient, humble, pure and obedient to God?

In Colossians 3:8, Paul tells us to put away anger, wrath, and malice; instead, he says in verse 12, we must, “…put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering.”  This is the model Christ gave his followers through many examples in his own life; it’s the model all Christians should strive to adhere to in their actions towards believers and nonbelievers alike.

Christian politicians should display a Christ-like heart—Ezekiel’s “heart of flesh.”  Christians behaving like Christ can bring real healing transformation. Around 312 A.D, during the reign of Emperor Constantine, Rome recognized Christianity as a legal religion.   This remarkable feat, going from persecuted underground church to a legal religion, recognized by the Empire, was accomplished not by violent revolution, but through years of adhering to the tenets of the faith while suffering terrible persecution.

It was not political or military power that ultimately convinced Rome to accept Christianity, but the perseverance and faithfulness to Christ’s teachings by the early Christians. The tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, and longsuffering displayed by Christians prevailed over Roman cruelty and oppression. American politicians could achieve a lot by following their example.

 Most merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone. We have not loved you with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We are truly sorry and we humbly repent. For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ, have mercy on us and forgive us; that we may delight in your will, and walk in your ways, to the glory of your Name. Amen.  —from an Anglican Prayer of Confession

 1 https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/03/us/politics/congress-religion-christians.html

2 https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/01/20/almost-all-presidents-have-been-christians/

* All Bible quotes are taken from the NIV Bible.

 

God In a Box

Hubbel The Carina Nebula as photographed by the Hubble Space Telescope (Photo: NASA)

 I recently watched a video of the late NASA astronaut Edgar Mitchell discussing alien life.  Mitchell, who passed away in 2016, was the sixth man to walk on the moon during America’s Apollo space program. In the video, Mitchell explained his belief in intelligent alien life and encouraged the United States Government to declassify all of its UFO data. Mitchell contended that aliens are already among us and have been in contact with humans for centuries.

There has been much speculation about the possible consequences for humanity if we should suddenly find out Earth is not the only place in the universe inhabited by intelligent beings. Some of the discussions focus on mass panic, loss in faith of political systems and global conflict.  One discussions suggests that the discovery would either enrich our religious beliefs or completely destroy them.  I tend to believe Christianity might ultimately be enriched once the initial shock subsided.

English clergyman and Bible scholar J.B. Phillips is probably best known for his epic book, “Your God is Too Small.” Published in 1952, it might have just as easily been titled, “Your Mind is Too Small.”  Phillips encourages us to set aside the limits human reason places on God and instead embrace Him as the omnipotent, omnipresent creator of the universe. Rather than having God conform to our understanding of the universe, we should conform to His reality—the Creator who is unconstrained by our linear concepts of time, speed, distance and space.  The publisher’s book review says:

“Phillips explains that the trouble facing many of us today is that we have not found a God big enough for our modern needs. In a world where our experience of life has grown in myriad directions and our mental horizons have been expanded to the point of bewilderment by world events and scientific discoveries, our ideas of God have remained largely static.”   

One of the book’s chapters is titled “God-In-a-Box.” It discusses the absurdity of the narrow-minded belief that God favors certain churches and denominations. Scottish Theologian Oswald Chambers also cautioned against focusing on creeds instead of on Christ and the atonement.  St. Paul discusses this in 1 Corinthians 2:1-5, saying:

“And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.”

The respected American clergyman and theologian Ray Stedman said, “When religion becomes complex, it is a sign that it is departing from Christ.”  I would like to think that the discovery of intelligent life elsewhere in the universe might end the squabbling between Christian churches and denominations, making us focus instead on the power and majesty of our Creator.

Who is to stay that Christ’s story of atonement has not already been played out on billions of planets in the universe?  To think otherwise truly puts God in a box.

“Can you find out the deep things of God?   Can you find out the limit of the Almighty? It is higher  than heaven—what can you do? Deeper than Sheol—what can you  know? Its measure is longer than the earth and broader than the sea.”     Job 11:7-9 (NIV)

 

Sin: the Uncomfortable Condition of Man

Praying

“Prayer is not asking. It is a longing of the soul. It is daily admission of one’s weakness. It is better in prayer to have a heart without words than words without a heart.”  –Mahatma Gandhi

Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz has received a lot of flak in the media recently over his public displays of Christian faith. A video showing members of the clergy laying hands on him and praying was particularly troubling for some. Many people get uneasy when they see politicians displaying their religious convictions in public. For that matter, any public display of religious faith downright scares some people.

Cruz isn’t the only American politician to receive criticism for displaying his faith in public.  Presidents Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush were criticized at one time or another over openly displaying and discussing their faith.

I’m not here to support or reject Cruz. The American voters will take care of that. I’m just fascinated by the way religion scares so many people in our society. I understand there is reason to be concerned about politicians who become overzealous about their religion. But why should seeing a politician pray, hear them speak about the role of faith in their live or discuss sin cause concern?

Remember how many people mocked President George W. Bush for referring to terrorists as “evildoers?” Bush didn’t coin that term. It appears more than two dozen times in the Old and New Testaments. Psalm 92:9 (ESV) says, “For behold, your enemies, O Lord, for behold, your enemies shall perish; all evildoers shall be scattered.

I believe that somewhere deep inside every person, as a sentient being, holds the knowledge that we owe our existence to an omnipotent, omniscient creator. For many this knowledge resides at an unconscious level, but it has to be there nonetheless.

We were created in God’s image to glorify him and dwell in his presence. Acknowledging God requires one to admit that he/she is not in charge. This flies in the face of the concept of individuality and personal freedom that so permeates the American psyche. For those who refuse to acknowledge God, the deep seeded realization of God must be an unconscious source of conflict and discomfort—a deep down sense of one’s personal inadequacy and, dare I say, sense of personal sin.

Many people are repulsed by being called a sinner.  Yet sin is a condition we all live in. Martin Luther described it eloquently in a letter to Philip Melanchthon on August 1, 1521:

 “Be a sinner, and let your sins be strong, but let your trust in Christ be stronger, and rejoice in Christ who is the victor over sin, death, and the world.  We will commit sins while we are here, for this life is not a place where justice resides.  We, however, says Peter (2 Peter 3:13) are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth where justice will reign.  It suffices that through God’s glory we have recognized the Lamb who takes away the sin of the world. No sin can separate us from Him, even if we were to kill or commit adultery thousands of times each day.  Do you think such an exalted Lamb paid merely a small price with a meager sacrifice for our sins?  Pray hard for you are quite a sinner.”

Only when a person acknowledges his sinful nature God can begin to fully work inside him.  What a pity so many fail to understand this. Christ’s church is full of sinners—and that’s exactly where sinners need to be!

 

 

Radical Christianity

Jesus Calms the Storm

And Jesus awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea,

“Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm.

                                                                           —Mark 4:39*

Today it is nearly impossible to read a newspaper or watch a TV newscast without hearing something about “radical Islam.” The images of beheadings, torture, human rights abuses of women and the ethnic cleansing of Christians and other religious minorities send chills down one’s spine.

Our political leaders can’t agree on a proper response to radical Islam, but they all seem to agree that doing nothing is not a viable option. Many push for military action—even all out war. Others see diplomacy as the answer.  I believe the only effective response to radical Islam is radical Christianity.

History has shown that nothing can be more effective than Christianity in its purest form. It was radical Christianity that survived by hiding in the catacombs beneath Rome and slowly emerged to peacefully convert it from a pagan empire to a nation united under the banner of Jesus Christ. It was radical Christianity that led a small group of religiously oppressed pilgrims to establish a colony near Plymouth Rock.

Today it is radical Christianity that leads missionaries to leave the comforts of life in America to spread the Gospel in places where they face persecution and even death. It drives some men and women to refuse to renounce their faith in Christ, even if it means being tortured or killed.

Radical Christianity can counter radical Islam. What could be more radical than a religion that professes God became incarnate in human flesh, born of a virgin for the sole purpose of suffering a hideous death to set mankind free from sin?

For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. —Romans 5: 7-8

What could be more radical than a religion that professes that there are no “good” people; that all men have sinned and fall short in the eyes of God; that it is impossible to earn one’s way into heaven?

…as it is written, “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” —Roman: 7-8

What could be more radical than a religion that professes that salvation and eternal life are given freely by God to those who accept Jesus as their personal savior, profess that He is the son of God, believe that he died for the forgiveness of their sins and rose from the dead, and ask him into their lives?

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. —Ephesians 2: 8-9  

A U.S. State Department spokesperson Marie Harf recently came under intense criticism when she suggested one way to counter Islamic terrorism was through helping terrorists find jobs. She went on to suggest that “We can’t kill our way out of a way.” Now perhaps this is a bit simplistic, but Jesus’ radicalism turns logic on its head when he says:

You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.   —Matthew 5:43-45

While our elected officials seek various solutions for curbing radical Islam, radical Christians can follow Christ’s example and pray for our enemies. Adopt a Terrorist for Prayer is a radical Christian approach to countering radical Islam (www.atfp.org) through prayer. The organization’s website explains the approach as follows:

The Christian Response: Where is the Christian response to terrorism? If the struggle against violence done in the name of Islam is primarily spiritual, then defeating it requires a spiritual response.

Overcoming Fear: Terrorism inspires fear. According to Jesus, the antidote to fear is love. When we hate, we are reactive victims. When we love we have the initiative.  Love for country helps soldiers to risk their lives. Love for children enables parents to discipline them without being intimidated. Love for us took Jesus to the cross. Love for enemies will give courage to face, overcome, and transform them and the environment that breeds them.

Historical Precedent: Historically, Stephen was the first fatality in terrorism directed against Jesus’ followers. As Stephen died from stoning, he prayed, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” Later, Paul, who had supervised Stephen’s stoning, met Jesus in a vision and repented. Can we pray today like Stephen prayed then? Would Paul have repented if Stephen hadn’t prayed?

Are you willing to get radical for Christ? Visit the ATFP website and adopt a terrorist for prayer.

*All Bible quotes are taken from the English Standard Version