Keep Out! Christianity in the Public Square

Keep OutRecently I’ve noticed a lot of attention given to the claim “Christians are being forced out of the public square.” Whether it is an evaluation of Tony Dungy’s remarks, opinions on the Israel/Gaza conflict, gay marriage, Hobby Lobby, or any other issue; the claim is loud and widespread, and so it seems, Christians are not welcome here.

I think this is absolutely true. However, my concern is we as Christians will see this more as a threat to be afraid of than an opportunity. Yes, Christianity is not as ubiquitous as it once was. Yes, overt Christianity is not as prevalent as it used to be. Yes, there are people who want to shut down the voice of anyone who disagrees with them all in the name of “tolerance.” At the same time, I don’t think this is either all bad or all true.

First, through “persecution” and suffering we are refined (for the record, I do not think Christians in America are experiencing persecution and to claim so, I think, is a slap in the face to our brothers who are being persecuted). Our true beliefs, our true faith is revealed when our idols are exposed. For many years, what was claimed to be Christianity was a version of the prosperity gospel mingled with Christian ideas. To become disillusioned from these falsities – even if it means exposing a deeper lack of faith is a good process; without a clear understanding of where we as a society are we will not be able to see the contrast between Truth and falsehood.

Second, church growth is often spurred in trials. Early Christians faced death for converting and yet we see numerous examples of thousands of people committing their lives to Christ in one day. In a fully depraved society, the light and hope of the Gospel shines that much brighter in contrast. Believers must be equipped, prepared, and courageous to speak the truth in a winsome way to anyone who questions. Then we can rest knowing it is the Holy Spirit who moves people, not our eloquent words.

Third, much of the hostility towards Christians is a result of an inability to communicate clearly and truthfully the “why” behind our beliefs. Why do we, as a society, have laws against murder? Because we believe murder is wrong–>Why is murder wrong? Because it harms another person–>Why do we protect against harming another person–>1. It is good for society, 2. People have value. Why is it good for society? Because God established us to live in community – we thrive together. Why do people have value? Because we are created in the image of God an derive our worth from Him.

As Christians, we must be prepared to reason and articulate our beliefs – by finding common ground “Murder is bad” we can begin a dialogue about ideas of significance: not “are corporations people?”, but instead, (why) do we believe people have value?

Fourth, when faced with hostility we must respond in recognition of our status as aliens and sojourners. Our hope is not in this world. Our eyes are set on a future when all wrongs will be righted and all injustice will be made true. As representatives of Christ, we can expect the same treatment Jesus faced as he walked this Earth; including mockery, hostility, betrayal, and death while learning from his response speaking the truth, righteous anger, self-sacrifice. In the midst of great agony, Jesus displays greater compassion both through empathy with his torturers, “Forgive them Father, they know not what they do.” and ultimately through his willing death for rebels, murderers, betrayers, and liars. Like me.

Lastly, though our freedoms may come to an end, though we may be forced out of the public square, though we may experience persecution one day our hope is not in our voice, our freedom, or our our likeability, but in God who created our voice, who gives ultimate freedom from sin and death in Him, and who sees us both as we truly are and as we will be fully redeemed and loves us through it all.

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He is No Fool

They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.

Benjamin FranklinLiberty. The foundation of the American Dream. Life. Liberty. And the Pursuit of Happiness. Through our figurative and literal blood courses the dreams and legacy of our forefathers. The legacy of these same daring men who challenged taxation without representation, who sacrificed their lives for a cause greater than themselves, is echoed in our lives today. Suggest to any American over the age of 10 that we should go back to having a king or to any tax payer we should give all our money to the government for them to distribute and you will be laughed at, mocked, and perhaps threatened.

The value of liberty is an essential part of who we are as a nation. Yet, we have changed. No longer to kids roam freely on the streets to find the next adventure. No longer do children learn to fail from a young age. No longer do we talk of duty, honor, and sacrifice. Instead, our lives are managed, controlled, and planned from the day we are born. Many of us shudder to think of our lives without the convenience (necessity?) of smart phones, Internet, house alarms, and more.

There exists a constant tension between liberty and safety. With our love of liberty comes rules of conduct – my liberty cannot infringe upon your safety. Ideas are dangerous and yet we hold fast to our liberty to express ideas – even dangerous ones.

I love adrenaline. I love the gut-dropping feeling when you first jump off a cliff into water. I love the rush of competition when I feel my heart beating faster and my muscles twitching in anticipation of the next play. I will risk the safety of my physical body to make a play. Why? Because the glory of success is greater than a bruise or broken bone. If this is true in sports, how much more so in life?

In this same vein, there are ideas, causes, truths worth risking our lives; to stand for freedom against oppression like Malala Yousafzai, to die for an unknown people like Jim Elliot. In our quest for safety, equality, and sameness we have sacrificed liberty, danger, uniqueness. We forget the legacy of the men and women who gave their lives for a cause greater than they could even comprehend.

If we are to thrive as individuals and a nation we must remember their legacy and we must fight for liberty – even at the expense of safety. We must be willing to give ourselves for something bigger than ourselves and to sacrifice our lives, figuratively and literally, for people we do not know.

When I read biographies of the men and women who sacrificed their lives for an idea there is a common thread throughout each of their lives. This thread is the overwhelming greatness of an idea, a movement larger than life. An idea, a truth so wonderful it is worth everything. What is your idea? What truth do you follow, without which, life would be devoid of purpose? Are you willing to risk your life, figuratively or literally, for this truth?

He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.

January Goals: A Review

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My view half way up Table Rock Mountain 

If you’re new here, I confirmed I am, in fact, crazy posted my goals for the year. As someone whose strengths are Achiever and Discipline, I really like goals. Goals keep me focused, motivated, and constantly improving. Of course, there’s also the downside which I wrote about recently.

My goal for January was to pray daily for women living in Muslim contexts in the Middle East, North Africa, and South East Asia. I would say I was about 70% successful in praying daily. More than the task itself, this goal refocused my attention and broadened my daily awareness of God’s blessings. I found myself appreciating my freedoms and privilege more regularly, like having enough food in the refrigerator or working heat in the winter.

When I began to pray, I wasn’t really sure where to start. I don’t know any women from these contexts, I’ve never been to the Middle East, Africa, or Asia, nor do I know much beyond my reading of fiction and non-fiction, including news sources. I felt very disconnected initially, my prayers seemed more like a recitation – what I was supposed to pray instead of my heart’s desire.

However, this all changed in week 2. I was challenged to pray the attributes of God in my “regular prayers” and I began to pray these for the women too. All of a sudden, God’s all-powerful, all-good nature became much more meaningful. My prayers gained weight and substance previously lacking. If I could trust God to act powerfully in their life – why should I doubt his power in mine? If God is merciful enough to redeem me, a broken and selfish person, then He is also merciful to ransom their lives too. Instead of feeling distant, contrived, and separated from my own life, my prayers merged into one prayer.

My compassion, concern, and prayers for the women were neither singularly spiritual, nor singularly physical – just like my own life. I do not pray only for my heart or the hearts of my friends and family, but for our physical needs as well. So, too it came to be with these women.

I don’t know what will come from this month. I know I have no power to change the living circumstances, the hearts, or the minds of the women in these areas. I do know, incredibly, God is not only powerful enough, but is already working! My own weakness, in yet another area of life, is an opportunity to showcase God’s power.

My one regret is I did not pray daily. Too often, my prayers centered around myself and immediate needs. I would get distracted in tasks and to-do’s or hyper-focused on my small desires. I crave the strength gleaned from uniting my heart with God’s heart beyond my own microcosm of the Universe.

As far as my other goals for the year are going, I already broke my “only books by dead people rule.” I mistakenly believed Harper Lee had already died and I read To Kill a Mockingbird. I do not regret it at all. This is perhaps one of the most poignant books written and was even more touching because I live in the South and was challenged on my own prejudices and bias in praying for the women in MENA, SEA. If you haven’t read TKAM since high school or within the last 5 year, I would highly recommend it. I’m also reading Plato so I feel like that makes up for it too 😉

In January, I also had my first day of solitude and it was worthwhile. I learned I must tire my body out first, before my mind, heart, soul will be still. Fortunately I went hiking and was able to do both! It was a great way to start the month and I felt a lingering “refreshment hangover” for several days. That’s right. I just compared a spiritual solitude to a hangover.

On the negative, I have not prayed through any of my notecards nor have I really started learning the arabic alphabet. I have downloaded the sheets though, so that counts for something, right?!?!

My goal for the month of February is no personal social media-pretty much on the opposite end of the spectrum of importance from praying daily for Muslim women in MENA, SEA, but hey! it may actually be harder. Wish me luck!

As Common as the Sun Rising in the East

The Sun rising in the East is to humanity as suffering and persecution is to Christianity. Do you believe this statement?

I recently attended Secret Church: The Cross and Suffering at The Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, Alabama. I cannot even begin to unpack all that I learned and that I am continuing to learn from my time there. Suffice it to say, David Platt could be a professional auctioneer and we covered 220-something pages and 75 key texts in 1 night. Now, we all know that I am a Nerd (yes, that’s “nerd” with a capital “N”), but whoa Nelly! my mind was so moving so fast that night that I think a little bit of it is still spinning trying to comprehend everything that I learned. Perhaps that is why I took no less than 4 trips to the main office building today at work in 20 minutes because I kept forgetting something. Yes, that sounds like a good excuse.

Now, my last post was about my love of old hymns, more specifically I reposted a montage of old hymns and their lyrics as they display the Gospel message. The reason I love old hymns and the reason I love Secret Church are one in the same. They both speak concentrated truth that penetrates my mind and soul. There is something unique about the eloquence and unabashed lyrics in old hymns just as there is something unique about uniting with 50,000 people in 70 countries to learn together, pray for the persecuted Church, and worship God by devoting ourselves to His Word.

One of the highlights of Secret Church is the opportunity for believers around the world to learn about a specific region or country where believers face persecution. This time Nik Ripken enlightened us on the Horn of Africa and his 20+ year experience working there. I highly recommend reading some of Nik’s written work like here and here.

Previously, I would pray that persecuted believers would stop being persecuted. Dumb. They are persecuted because they are proclaiming Jesus’ name. Jesus never promises that we won’t be persecuted, he actually promises that the best we can hope for is to die on the cross like Him (John 15:20). The only way to prevent persecution and suffering is to stop talking about Jesus. I know this is already a long post, but please read this story below as I cannot tell it any better:

[…]After hearing story after gripping story, he was compelled to ask this group of pastors and lay leaders, “Why have you cheated us in the West? Why haven’t you written these stories down? Where are the books that chronicle your faith and persecution? These stories are worthy of a movie. These are Bible stories come to life! Why have you not shared these lessons learned?”

As Common as the Sun Rising in the East
His outburst was greeted with confused silence. The pastors and lay leaders were dumbfounded. Most of the people simply ignored the embarrassing questions and the harshness of the challenge. Finally, one brother stood up, took the interviewer by the arm, and drew him to the end of the large room by the eastern window of the dwelling. Looking out at the horizon, the man spoke calmly to the interviewer: “Sir, when your sons were growing up, how many mornings did you take them to the window of your house and say to them, ‘Look, boys, the sun is coming up in the east this morning?’”

The interviewer found the question silly. “Well, I never once did that,” he answered. “Had I done that, my sons would have thought I had lost my mind, because the sun always comes up in the east!” Gently, the wise brother made his point: “Sir, that is why we talk little of our persecution and suffering. That is why we have not written our stories down. And that is why we have not made a movie. Our persecution is always with us. It simply comes as we walk with Jesus. It is like the sun coming up in the east.

“Besides,” he continued, “when did you Christians in the West stop reading the Bible? Our stories have already been told. God has already told all of us what we need to know about persecution and suffering.”

To say the interviewer was deeply humbled belabors the obvious. But the truth found a way into his heart and he was changed that day.

What kind of person sees persecution as biblical, expected, and hardly worth mentioning? Clearly, a person steeped in the story of scripture and well-acquainted with God. We would be wise to listen and learn the lessons. Source/Full Article

Wow. Needless to say, my view and my approach of prayer with the persecuted church has been changed. My understanding of missions work in unreached and unengaged people groups has grown, but with that comes a weight to support them in their work in ways that I do not yet understand fully – How do I pray for someone to lead another person to Christ knowing full well that it means their death?

The simple, yet oh so very complicated answer is because He is worth it all.

What is Secret Church?

Pray for the Horn