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culture – Christianity All Over the Map

Tag: culture

Witnessing both to small and great (an Acts 26 Moment)

 When I was an 8th grader in St. Gertrude Catholic School I distinctly remember studying several saints who were martyred for their faith.  At the age of 14 I made a commitment to God that I would never deny Him, even if I had to die for Him.  And for the next several years, I fully expected to be called on to prove my faith in that way.  I may not have been “saved” at the time in a Romans 10:9-10 way; but I believe God nevertheless honored that commitment and kept lining up my life accordingly, drawing me closer to Him, and preparing me.

 Perhaps that’s why, after I actually began studying the Bible many years later, that I was drawn to the words of Jesus in Luke 12:11-12.  “Now when [not “if” but “when”] they bring you to the synagogues and magistrates and authorities, do not worry about how or what you should answer, or what you should say.  For the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say.

 This past couple of weeks has made me realize that I and other Christians in the western Church are closer than most believe to the moment of putting our very lives on the line for the defense of the Kingdom of God.  What was once a “comfort zone” is quickly drifting towards a “zone of persecution” akin to what the Church in Asia, Africa and the Middle East has been experiencing for some years.  This became evident as I engaged representatives of a local governing body in much the same way that the Apostle Paul engaged the Roman Governor Festus and King Agrippa, as he defended not only his own innocence, but, more importantly the Gospel of Christ.

 I felt like I was living an Acts 26 moment.  Paul declared, “… I stand, witnessing both to small and great, saying no other things than those which the prophets and Moses said would come— that the Christ would suffer, that He would be the first to rise from the dead, and would proclaim light to the Jewish people and to the Gentiles.”  My Festus/Agrippa stand-in was a Sterling Heights city council member who assaulted both the authenticity of the Holy Bible and its Supernatural Author.  To him, and anyone else who might read my words, I launched a defense of the Word of God, via a few emails.

 For a brief time, the Galilean leaders bantered back and forth with Paul.  In spite of, and maybe even because of Paul’s strong arguments, both the Governor and the King brought the discussion to an abrupt conclusion.  Now as he thus made his defense, [Governor] Festus said with a loud voice, “Paul, you are beside yourself! Much learning is driving you mad!”… Then [King] Agrippa [probably sarcastically] said to Paul, “You almost persuade me to become a Christian.”

 In my case, after lengthy debate all further discussion was turned off just as abruptly: “John, you truly do launch a strong defense of your beliefs.  But I could never support a God that would authorize the murder of innocent children.”  His latter comment most likely referencing the Almighty’s Old Testament command to Israel to cleanse the Promised Land of all idolaters and those who engaged in sexual immorality.   In earlier discussions this local leader had challenged the authority of the Creator and Maintainer of the Universe and declared he was not accountable to Him in any way.

 If and when you are put in this same position, just remember what Jesus told His disciples: “If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you.  If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.  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 keep yours also.  But all these things they will do to you for My name’s sake, because they do not know Him who sent Me.  If I had not come and spoken to them, they would have no sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin.  He who hates Me hates My Father also.  If I had not done among them the works which no one else did, they would have no sin; but now they have seen and also hated both Me and My Father.  But this happened that the word might be fulfilled which is written in their law, ‘They hated Me without a cause.’”  John 15:18-25

Man’s Justice defies God

I was tempted to title this week’s blog “The biggest loser;” for that was the conclusion of an 18 June 2014, meeting in the municipality that I frequent to shop, to bank and to worship.  For on that date Sterling Heights became the 36th municipality in Michigan to pass a law that “protects lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender residents and visitors from discrimination in housing, public accommodations, and employment,” under the guise of a nondiscrimination ordinance.   The trend is obvious, as across the country, nearly every week local leaders are bowing to the pressure of LGBT advocates to put a stamp of approval on their lifestyles, as evidenced by recent votes in Nashville, Bozeman, and Houston.

 I attended the Sterling Heights council meeting the night before the vote; but I already knew what to expect – as I’d engaged some of the members via email conversations over the weekend.  They had been well prepped by the LGBT alliance.  The expression of opinions, both in my email exchanges and at the council meeting, were for the most part respectful.  What I found most disconcerting though, was that the “pro” ordinance representatives didn’t seem to have any qualms using Almighty God to either justify their position and the lifestyle it endorsed, or to criticize those who disagreed with them.  But as I explained to the young man sitting next to me at the meeting, it’s disingenuous to claim God’s endorsement of their position, while denying the truth of God’s written Word.

 But this too is a trend.  We saw it first with respect to out-of-wedlock sex, as society in general, including many “saved” Christians were brain-washed by pop culture to believe it’s no longer fashionable to make a formal commitment of life-long vows to the one with whom they live.  It didn’t take long for this digression from divine law to accelerate to acceptance of both same-sex unions and abortion as an alternative to life.

 These days, even the Church is becoming a target of this radical secularization.  Pastors of sports stars, politicians and entertainers who publicly violate Christian principles constantly defend their famous congregants for supporting ungodly causes and on-stage outrageous behavior, validating their actions.  And entire denominations (e.g.: Presbyterian and Episcopalian churches) seem more intimidated by the criticism of the world and the media, than they are fearful of their Creator.  Opening up morality to interpretation is none other than a straight forward denial that God is our Objective Moral Agent.  As the author of a recent Christian Post article so well stated: “God’s leaders are called to preach the Word, not hand out permission slips excusing people from it.  Is there grace and forgiveness?  Absolutely!  But only for a repentant heart!”

 Calling Evil Good

 Medicare now covers change of sex surgery, the President proclaimed June, LGBT month, and Time Magazine’s recent Cover Story was on Transgenders.  Planned Parenthood (America’s biggest abortion business) recently began using scripture to deceive, launching a “40 Days of Prayer for Choice,” then following it up with a “Pastoral Letter to Patients,” making the stunning suggestion that most faiths support the decision to kill an innocent unborn child.  “… clergy and people… from all denominations support women making this complex decision…. you’re not alone.  As religious leaders from a number of religious traditions, we’re here to support you in your decision… If you’d like to speak with a clergyperson, your local Planned Parenthood health center can refer you to someone who will be supportive of you and your decision.”

 A 25 year-old woman who works at the Cherry Hill Women’s Center in New Jersey was awarded a cash prize from a pro-abortion group for submitting a 3-minute video of herself allegedly having an abortion as an entry in the “Abortion Stigma Busting” contest.  She even has the audacity to call it “dangerous” to involve an adolescent’s parents in the decision.  The competition was co-organized by the Abortion Care Network and the 1 in 3 Campaign, a project of Advocates for Youth, which advocates for adolescents’ access to abortions without parental notification or consent.

 Jesus spoke about a time in the future when the world would be just as evil as it was before the world-wide flood and before the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.  Paul also warned his young pastor Timothy to expect to suffer persecution, because “evil men and impostors will grow worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived.”  Eight centuries earlier Isaiah warned: “Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; who put darkness for light, and light for darkness; who put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!”

 The Church: a time of persecution

 Persecution of Christians is occurring on a more massive scale than ever before in our 2000 year history.  The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life reported that Christians are targeted for harassment in 151 countries-three-quarters of the world’s states, more than any other religious group.  Similar findings are reported by the Vatican, Newsweek, the Economist, and the 60-year-old Christian support group Open Doors.

 Very few cases actually get press coverage; like Meriam Ibrahim, the Sudanese woman and mother who recently gave birth in prison. Raised a Christian, but after officials learned that her long-absent father was a Muslim, she was sentenced to death for apostasy-for leaving Islam. Her marriage to her American husband was declared void, and she was convicted of adultery and sentenced to 100 lashes to be administered before her execution.

 Another case receiving attention is North Korea’s sentencing of a South Korean missionary to life with hard labor.  He was convicted of espionage and trying to start a church.  The Chinese government’s demolishment of the 3,000-member Sanjiang church in Wenzhou on April only got in the news because it was an approved, government-registered church.  Another 20 official churches in the area have had all or parts of their buildings removed or demolished, and hundreds more are threatened with destruction.

 We’ve all read about the 250 Christian girls who were kidnapped in Nigeria and forced to convert to Islam.  But hundreds of other girls and women have been systematically kidnapped in Egypt from Coptic Christian families and forced to marry Moslem husbands and convert as well.

 This same persecution has come to the “friendly” shores of America

 Conservative and Christian web sites are systematically blocked at public elementary and high schools.  Public universities are taking nondiscrimination policies to illogical extremes to prevent Christian student groups from forming and/or functioning on campus.  Others are demanding that gays and atheists be allowed to join and hold leadership positions in these groups.  And students, high school and college, are put into uncomfortable positions to defy their teachers and administrators who seek to prohibit them from praying, reading the Bible, or thanking God for their talents and blessings.

 We all know about the Christian businesses that are fighting the rules imposed by the Affordable Care Act that would force them to violate their spiritual beliefs and consciences.  And we’ve read about the bakery and the photography studio that were each taken to court under nondiscrimination laws, because they believed that making a wedding cake and photographing the ceremony for gay marriages were violations of their Christian faith.  The baker was even ordered to attend “sensitivity training” to properly brain-wash he and his staff.  Even a so-called conservative state like Texas has municipalities that attempt to shut down home Bible studies using zoning ordinances.

  As Pastor Rick Warren argued recently in a Christian Post interview, the day will come, and may be near when pastors and other Christian leaders will have to go to jail for defending the faith.   He cited college groups, zoning laws and Hobby Lobby in pointing out that religious freedom in America is being attacked on all kinds of fronts.

 And where are our Church leaders when we most need them?

 It’s sad that some of the greatest wisdom on this issue has come from good, though secular leaders – both past and present.

 In his day, Winston Churchill saw the Nazis as a threat to “Christian civilization.”  Later, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher remembered an era when there was greater comprehension of the broad consensus around Judeo-Christian values. “I think back to many discussions in my early life when we all agreed that if you try to take the fruits of Christianity without its roots, the fruits will wither.  And they will not come again unless you nurture the roots.”

 Current British Prime Minister David Cameron wants an even larger role for religion in the UK, and desires his nation to be regarded as a Christian country. “People who advocate some sort of secular neutrality fail to grasp the consequences of that neutrality,” he said last Easter.

 “If we ever forget that we’re one nation under God, then we will be one nation gone under,” said American President Ronald Reagan.

 Even former KGB officer and now Russian chief of state Vladimir Putin understands the “interrelated” connection of religion and government.  “First and foremost we should be governed by common sense” based primarily on “moral principles,… however, it is not possible to have morality separated from religious values,”  Putin said in a 2007 Time interview.

 Fortunately, we have a few strong Christian Davids like John Piper, willing to take on the media and the culture changers of our time.  When a transgender advocate argued in a national magazine:  “People need to be willing to let go of what they think they know about what it means to be a man and what it means to be a woman. Because that doesn’t necessarily mean anything inherently;” Piper responded firmly and unequivocally, that this reasoning is compelling only without God.  He quoted William Ernest Henley, “I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.”  Then he expanded, “God, the wise, loving, purposeful creator and designer of human life is the One who connects biological nature and sexual identity.”  God’s divine nature is revealed in the physical, material universe.  So much so that Paul says in Romans, “So they are without excuse” when they “exchange the glory of God for the glory of the creature,” or when they “exchange the truth about God for a lie and worship and serve the creature rather than the Creator.”

 Piper adds that Paul then draws the parallel with human sexuality.  “Just as physical nature reveals the truth about God, so physical nature reveals truth about sexual identity.  Whom we should worship is not left to our preferences, and who we are sexually is not left to our preferences.  Both are dictated by God’s revelation in nature.”  So if a human looks at the world and chooses to worship a creature rather than the Creator, he is without excuse. “And if a man looks at his own body and chooses to play the part of a woman, or a woman looks at her own body and chooses to play the part of a man, they are without excuse … Genitalia is a revelation of God’s design.”

 Were there more Church leaders willing to be more forthright and clear in their language and more willing to risk their personal lives and reputations for the defense of the Word of God, there would be less confusion in the ranks of their congregations, or on our city councils.

Imperfect Christians should stop complaining about imperfect movies that at least try

I don’t see a lot of movies – at least not until they come out on DVD/BR.  I have a couple of reasons: first, I prefer the comfort of my home to the cold, unsanitary, and uncomfortable quarters of a cinema; second, there aren’t many decent and intellectually honest films worth two hours of my time coming out of Hollywood, or wherever they make films these days.  Waiting until a film comes out on DVD/BR gives me the opportunity to read various critiques and hear other people’s opinions, before I commit to watching it myself.

 Still, there are three films that have been released this Lent/Easter season that I’d like to see over the next few weeks: Son of God, God’s not Dead and the Russell Crowe movie Noah.  I find it interesting that the Christian community is universally behind the first two films; while a significantly large majority of Christian leaders seem to be literally frozen with fear of the spiritual damage forthcoming from the Noah movie, should their congregations view it.

 On the one hand, Christian leaders complain that Hollywood makes so many godless films – then when they undertake a Biblical blockbuster, these same leaders complain that the non-believing producers and directors don’t constrain themselves to the word-for-word storyline of the Bible.  I think it’s a sad commentary on the unsatisfactory job these leaders must have done in educating their members on the Word of God, that they worry that they’ll be so easily led astray by the artistic license a director takes to fill gaps in a Biblical event, not addressed by the scriptures itself.

 They seem to quickly forget that no movie ever gets all of a biblical story exactly right. Even The Ten Commandments and Ben Hur, two of the most acclaimed Biblical epics of all time, didn’t get it all right.  Cecil B. DeMille and company took a great deal of license with their respective  Exodus and Crucifixion /Resurrection events.  Nevertheless, most Christian “old-timers” have seen both and appreciate the efforts put forth by the producers.  Expecting movies, many of which are working with scant source material, to stick strictly to the biblical storyline is preposterous.

Suppose Noah went literally by the book.  Would audiences spend $10 or more to listen to Noah preach for what represented 120 years, then watch Noah and his family sit around in the cabin of the ark, taking time out daily to feed and clean up after the animals, for the 40 days it rained, followed by months of floating until the water receded and a bird was released to provide evidence that the earth had started replenishing again?  I don’t think so!   Paramount, at the demand of Christians and Jews who viewed a first cut of the film, added an “explanatory message” to the advertising: “The film is inspired by the story of Noah. While artistic license has been taken, we believe that this film is true to the essence, values, and integrity of a story that is a cornerstone of faith for millions of people worldwide. The biblical story of Noah can be found in the book of Genesis.”

 I’ve even read several blogs where Christians focused on Russell Crowe’s sketchy religious background, as a reason to avoid the film.  The man is clearly not perfect; but neither was the woman brought to Jesus for stoning.  In a 2007 article in Men’s Journal, he revealed that, because of some religious ambivalence on his parents’ part, he and his brother grew up with very little spiritual influence in their lives.  But Crowe did have his two sons baptized in the chapel he built in Australia for his wedding. “My mom and dad decided to let my brother and me make our own decisions about God when we got to the right age. I started thinking recently, `If I believe it is important to baptize my kids, why not me?”

 He obviously lacks direction in his spiritual life, and he’s not following any specific doctrine, but he’s searching.   He even acknowledged he’s been doing a lot of thinking about the Bible’s Ten Commandments.  “I just have this thing where I look at the Ten Commandments and think to myself, that seems like it was written by somebody other than a human being… it just seems like if we adhered to those 10 really basic rules and applied them to everything—even traffic rules and parking fines-we could take thousands of laws off the books. There are some pretty fundamental things in there: respect your parents; don’t kill people; do to others what you’d like them to do to you. That, to me, sounds like a foundation on which to build a society.”

 Russell Crowe sounds like a lot of people that wander into our local church, seeking an answer to the problems they’re going through and the tugging on their heart-strings that they feel whenever someone mentions the name of Jesus.  Films like Noah give a Christian with boldness an opportunity to discuss these things with their buddy at work, an old class-mate they run into at the mall, or even with cousin Susie who’s living an alternate lifestyle and has no interest at the moment in going to church.

 I recently heard a useful quote: “The Gospel travels more easily over a bridge than over a chasm.”  Think of Biblically themed movies as cultural bridges for the Gospel.  Walk over the bridge; don’t blow it up like it was the Bridge on the River Kwai.  Affirm the good rather than criticize the erroneous.
 Be optimistic that our support will ultimately lead to a better product.

It doesn’t do any good to be angry about a Hollywood film that may or may not accurately depict who Noah talked to and argued with while he was building the ark, and who may or may not have helped him.  There are too many more important issues related to your friend’s, your family member’s and your acquaintances’ salvation.   Critical believers tend to alienate unbelievers, even those who are considering the claims of Scripture.  Peter says: “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect,” He doesn’t tell us we should berate everyone and everything we don’t find aligned perfectly with the Bible.

I admit, if this were a movie about the life of Jesus, and the producers had taken dishonest liberty with His lifestyle (such as The Last Temptation of Christ did several years ago), my response would be much different.  It is much better for Hollywood to explore themes surrounding characters of the Hebrew Bible and miss by a little.

I was recently reading a Christian news article which raised an interesting Pauline scenario, which is very apropos to this subject.  Imagine how different Mars Hill would have been had Paul been like many 21st century American Christians.  “As I look around I see you are very, very religious. This, of course, is a terrible thing. Look at all these altars. You people are blind and you don’t even know it! You have altars to cows, horses, and false gods of every ilk!  Look. Here’s an altar to an unknown god. What a waste! I cannot believe God has not smitten you all with boils and unimaginable plagues. You ungodly, pagan, unrighteous, rebellious, blind, deaf, dumb, false god worshiping bunch of liberals! You should tear down all these altars including the one to the god who will be named later! Just believe in Jesus.  Morons!”

We all know this is not how that conversation really went.  On the other hand, if you’re not sure, check out the 17th chapter of the book of Acts. 

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