Monday, November 5, 2012

A Word to Christians on Voting

I sent this email out to our congregation. If you are not on our email list, here it is:

As you know, tomorrow, November 6 is Election Day. For those of us who have the right to vote, it is both a tremendous privilege and responsibility. As this historic event approaches, let me ask you to do two things:

1. Pray. Ultimately, God is King and all rulers serve at his pleasure. He will determine the outcome of this election (Proverbs 16:33). Our prayer should not be merely for our comfort, but for the prospering of the gospel and Christ’s church. Ultimately, all of our prayers should fall under the heading of “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

2. If you are eligible and have not done so already, vote. As you vote, think biblically. The Christian faith affects how we think about everything. You cannot divorce your faith from who you are. As Christians, we are not merely to be concerned about ourselves, but to think of the interest of others (Philippians 2). That means our approach to the voting booth should not be, which candidate will benefit me? But which candidate will promote true justice. Voting is not our attempt to impose our power on others, but to promote justice and defend the rights of those who cannot defend themselves (Proverbs 31:1-9). For more on this, check out my earlier blog post.

Make no mistake—we will not bring about the kingdom of God through political means. We will not “Christianize” America through political force. The state cannot and should not do that. Sunday, we sang the 200 year old hymn, “Lead On, O King Eternal.” It sums it up well: “For not with swords loud clashing, nor roll of stirring drums; with deeds of love and mercy the heavenly kingdom comes.” The hope of the world (and America) is not political force, but the reign of Christ. It is through our love and evangelism that we invite people into this reign. At the same time, we are called by God to seek the welfare of the place where we live (Jeremiah 29:7). Voting responsibly is one of the ways we do that.

For His glory,

Mark Bates
Senior Pastor

Thursday, November 1, 2012

The Christian and Politics #1

Religion and Politics
What’s a Christian To Do?

This is an edited version of the sermon I preached before the 2008 election. Since many people have asked me to address this issue, I thought I would post it for the 2012 election.
Proverbs 31:1-9 (NIV)
1The sayings of King Lemuel—an oracle his mother taught him: 2“O my son, O son of my womb, O son of my vows, 3do not spend your strength on women, your vigor on those who ruin kings. 4It is not for kings, O Lemuel—not for kings to drink wine, not for rulers to crave beer, 5lest they drink and forget what the law decrees, and deprive all the oppressed of their rights. 6Give beer to those who are perishing, wine to those who are in anguish; 7let them drink and forget their poverty and remember their misery no more. 8Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. 9Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.”

1. You have a responsibility to be diligent
These instructions come to us from King Lemuel and were given to him by his mother. No one knows who Lemuel was, but most scholars believe that he was not an Israelite. Yet, here we have in Holy Scripture some advice he received from his mom. At first glance, it is just some simple homespun wisdom from a mother to a son about what it means to be king, about what it means to have power.

The reason we are reading these verses is because, in a democracy or a republic, “We, the people” have power. In our governmental structure, we have been given a great measure of power. So, the instructions to the kings of old would have direct application to those of us who live in a democracy. The question is, how are we going to use the power that has been given to us?

What we see in Lemuel’s mother’s instructions is a contrast between the worldly use of power and the redemptive use of power.

In verse 4, she tells her son not to drink wine and crave beer. Now, this is not a prohibition against drinking. If you were to read it as that, then you would have to read verse 6 as an encouragement for the poor and oppressed to drown their sorrows in drunkenness. Certainly, the Bible does not encourage that.

Instead, what these verses say is that rather than using your power to create your own life of luxury, to be concerned about your own comfort, your own personal peace and affluence, you are to use your power redemptively. God has given you power and with this power comes responsibility. So, take your responsibility to govern seriously. Think soberly about your responsibility. You need to be diligent in dispensing justice.

Specifically, you need to work hard to see that rights are protected. You cannot be passive about this. You need to speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves and defend the rights of the poor and needy.

What does this mean for us? This is a democracy. That means that “We the people” sit in the place of the king. God has given you power in the governing process. With that power, comes responsibility.

Millions of people will be impacted by how you engage or fail to engage in the political process. What you do or don’t do will determine who will make decisions about healthcare, social security, the economy, the war on terror, energy, the Supreme Court, and on and on. That means your involvement in the political process will indirectly affect who lives, who dies, who gets financial help, who does not. It is a big deal and you must accept it as a big deal.

You might say, “I don’t care for any of the candidates. So, I don’t want to vote for someone who does not share all of my views. John Piper says this:

“There is no escape from responsibility by pointing out the imperfections of leaders. That is the only kind of leaders there will ever be. Our calling in this world is not to wait for the arrival of the perfect, but to pick our way through the thicket of flaws. We would be arrogant to put ourselves above this fray and say, "A curse on both your houses."”

If you have the right to vote, then you cannot lay aside the responsibility because you don’t like the options. That would be a neglect of your power and dereliction of duty.

2. You have a responsibility to act justly

We live in a pluralistic society. That is, in our country, there no longer is a shared consensus of morals, ethics, and values. So, the question is, is it proper for Christians to bring their biblical teaching to bear on public life? Does religion have any place in the public square?

This issue came up a few years ago in regards to embryonic stem cell research. President Bush said the following:

“…scientists believe further research using stem cells offers great promise that could help improve the lives of those who suffer from many terrible diseases -- from juvenile diabetes to Alzheimer's, from Parkinson's to spinal cord injuries. And while scientists admit they are not yet certain, they believe stem cells derived from embryos have unique potential.”

He goes on to say that while stem cells can be derived from sources other than embryos, “most scientists, at least today, believe that research on embryonic stem cells offer the most promise because these cells have the potential to develop in all of the tissues in the body.”[i]

Yet, even though embryonic stem cell research seems to hold such great promise, President Bush was opposed to it. Why? He opposes it, not on scientific grounds, but on moral grounds. In order to harvest stem cells from embryos, you must kill the embryo. If you believe that an embryo is a human being, then to destroy that human life—even for something as noble as finding a cure for terrible diseases—is still morally wrong. It is morally wrong to kill human beings for the purpose of scientific research.

The President’s policy sparked a firestorm. At the center of this firestorm was Christopher Reeve. Christopher Reeve is the actor most famous for playing Superman, who died due to complications from a spinal injury. Reeve, along with many others, had hoped that embryonic stem cell research might hold the cure to his injury. In commenting on the President’s policy, Reeve said: "It is my belief that when matters of public policy are being debated, no religion should have a seat at the table,"[ii]

However, it is impossible to separate one’s religious beliefs from one’s beliefs about public policy because all of us have values and those values must come from someplace. Everyone believes that we should have values and be governed by those values. But the question is, how do we arrive at values?

For example, without referring to God, why should we find a cure for spinal injuries or Parkinson’s disease as Christopher Reeve and Michael J. Fox suggest? One might say that we  should do so because human life is valuable. But, how do you know it is valuable? Science does not tell you that human life is valuable. If you want to go with a pure Darwinian view of life, then it is survival of the fittest. There is no place in such a worldview for compassion and mercy and caring for the weak.

If there is no God, how do you determine values? How do you know what is good and what is evil?  Most people take the Jiminy Cricket view of ethics. That is, they say, “Let your conscience be your guide.” But whose conscience? Hitler’s or Mother Teresa’s?

Some ethicists today say that society agrees upon its values. That raises the question, whose society? When societies disagree about values, who is to say which is right? Was the North right to impose its values on the South during the Civil War? In some cultures, it is acceptable to have Aunt Betty over for dinner in other cultures it is acceptable to have Aunt Betty for dinner. Are those two cultures equal?[iii] In Afghanistan, the Taliban refused to educate women, forced them to wear Burka’s that covered them from head to toe and denied them the basic rights that every man had. Who are we to say that culture was wrong?

If you take God out of the equation, then values are merely social constructs, which means, values are the means by which one group imposes its will on another. Values and morals then become nothing more than power plays. If you think I am carrying this to the extreme, I assure you that I am not. This is the view of many contemporary philosophers and ethicists who deny God. They believe and are teaching our children that morals are social constructs that those in power impose on those who are without power as a means of oppression.

Ultimately, that means that no one can say that one person’s values are better than anyone else’s. There is no basis for making any important decisions because there is no compass. Was invading Iraq right or wrong? That is a values statement. Is protecting the environment important or unimportant? Should rich people be obligated to pay for poor people’s healthcare? You can go through every issue of this election and it comes down to values. But, the question is, where do those values come from? What is their foundation?

Everyone—without exception—brings their values into the voting booth. No one derives his values from neutral, scientific observation. The difference is, the Christian seeks to anchor his values—not in his own personal preference—but in the character of God the Creator.

However, even here, we must be careful as Christians. We must use our political influence for the sake of justice, but we should not be confused into thinking that we can bring about revival through political power. We do not live in a Christian culture. Rather, we are living in a post-Christian culture. There no longer is a shared consensus. We are living in an age that is very similar to the Jews who lived in exile in Babylon and the Christians living in the pagan Roman Empire of the early church.

I do not see any model in the New Testament where Christians were called to reform the moral character of the Roman Empire by grabbing the levers of power. Christians did not march in protest against the Emperor Cult or the temple prostitutes of Corinth. Instead, they lived moral lives and engaged in acts of mercy and compassion.

Leslie Newbigin, a missionary to India summed it up this way. In answering the question of how the kingdom of this world is displace with the kingdom of God, he writes, “How is the throne itself to be shaken? Only by the power of the gospel itself--announced in word, embodied in deed [and in the Christian community] ... The victory of the Church over the demonic Power of the Roman imperial system did not begin when Christians seized the levers of power: it was won when the victims knelt down in the Coliseum and prayed in the name of Jesus for the Emperor. The martyrs did not displace the emperor with swords, but rather through them the entire mystique of the Empire, its spiritual power, was unmasked, disarmed, made powerless.”

Jesus ushers in His kingdom, not on a warrior’s horse, but on an executioner’s cross. The reason is, it is only through His suffering, only through His death, that He can bring about the kingdom of God.

As a church, our mission is not to promote any political agenda. Our mission is to make disciples. In making disciples, we want to encourage our people to live out their faith in every area of life including the home, work, leisure, school, money, and politics. At the same time, the Session, which is the governing body of the church, has made it very clear, that it will not permit the distribution of campaign literature. Only in very rare cases, will the church endorse any particular legislation.

In fact, as Presbyterians, our Confession of Faith—which all of our elders and deacons have taken a vow to uphold—states very clearly that the church is not to “intermeddle with civil affairs which concern the commonwealth, unless by way of humble petition in cases extraordinary; or, by way of advice, for satisfaction of conscience, if they be thereunto required by the civil magistrate.” [WCF. 31-4].

So, there is a difference between what Christians as responsible citizens should do and what the church as an institution should do.

3. You have a responsibility to care for the weak

8Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. 9Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.”

It is natural for those who have power to see it as a means to increase their own comfort, to use it for their own personal gain. Because of that, it would be easy to go into an election and think, what will I get out this? Which candidate would be better for me and for my family? Who will give me the best tax cut or the most government benefits? But, those are not the right questions. Here, in the climax of her instructions to her son, the queen mother reminds Lemuel that he is to use his power to give justice to the poor.

God’s Word is clear that those who are in positions of power must use their power to defend the powerless. We are to be the defenders of those who cannot speak for themselves. Certainly, this would include the unborn. They literally have no voice. They are completely powerless. If we do not stand up for them, who will? It is our royal duty to protect the weak and powerless. A failure to come to the aid of these—the most powerless people in our culture—is clearly negligence.

Yet, the unborn are not the only ones. Minorities—simply because they are in the minority—do not have the same access to power as those in the majority. If we are only looking out for our personal interests, then democracy devolves into a tyranny of the majority.

In this passage, the people that God mentions explicitly are the poor and needy. We see this same emphasis in the giving of the law in the Exodus, Leviticus and Deuteronomy, as well as in the Old Testament prophets. This should not be a side issue for Christians, but should be front and center. The reason is, it is front and center with God. Here, God commands the king specifically to defend the poor and needy, which is a clear sign that this is a critical role of government.

One of the things that has upset younger evangelicals is the way we who are older have cherry-picked the issues of social justice that concern us. We preach with great passion against the sins of our culture, but give very little priority in our thinking to this issue. Yet, there are far more commands and instructions in Scripture in regard to justice for the poor than there are on issues of sexual morality.

God is concerned about the poor and the powerless. Here, the king is commanded to ensure he provides justice for them. Because God is concerned about this issue, it should be front and center for us as well.

Proverbs 29:7  7 The righteous care about justice for the poor, but the wicked have no such concern.

In Ezekiel, we read why God destroyed the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, and it isn’t what you think. He says:

Ezekiel 16:49   49 "'Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy.

Now, we might reasonably differ on what is the best way to defend the rights of the poor and to see that they are cared for. You can have two people who care about the poor and yet have radically different views on which program cares for them best. Government handouts and socialized medicine are not always the best thing in caring for the poor and oppressed. Just look at Communism. It did not work very well. On the other hand, a totally free market economy doesn’t exactly have the best track record, either. To see that, all one has to do is look at the oppression of the worker during the Industrial Revolution or visit some of the emerging economies around the globe today. Yet, even though we might reasonably differ on how we should approach this issue, we should agree that this is a priority for the Christian. It is not a secondary issue.

[Note: There are a  number of good books that can help Christians think about how best to care for the poor. One is Marvin Olasky’s The Tragedy of American Compassion. Another is Brian Fikkert’s When Helping Hurts. I would argue that promoting charity does far more to care for the poor than does taxation and government programs, but that is the topic for another post].

The point is, we must see our power as voters, not merely as a means to make our own lives better, or even to improve the lot of people like us, but to promote a just and equitable society, with particular concern for those who have no voice or power themselves.

Many of you have heard of William Wilberforce. He was the subject of a movie a couple of years ago called “Amazing Grace.” Wilberforce was a member of Parliament. He spent forty years in Parliament fighting against both the slave trade and slavery in England. In 1833, three days before he died, England passed the Slavery Abolition Act. In order to get the bill passed, the English people were willing to compensate the slave owners for their financial loss. So, the people of England agreed to pay 20 million sterling, which was an astronomical amount in those days. 20 million sterling in 1833 is the equivalent of $42 billion dollars today. That would have been the equivalent of $3000 for every man, woman and child in England and Wales. The citizens of England were willing to sacrifice to end the horror of slavery. They were more concerned about human dignity than they were about their own pocketbooks.

So, as you step into the voting booth, the Christian should not be thinking about which candidate or amendment will simply give you lower taxes or greater government benefits. Rather, which candidate or policy will promote justice? If you are speaking for those who cannot speak for themselves, what should you say? What should you do?

No king in Israel ever lived up to the instructions we find here in Proverbs 31. David abused his power to commit adultery with Bathsheba. Solomon taxed the people heavily so that he could live in luxury. His son was even worse. He taxed the people so much that it caused a civil war. Almost every king saw power as a means to increase his own comfort.

However, hundreds of years later, a King was born who would sit upon David’s throne. Isaiah prophesied of his birth saying,

Isaiah 11:3-5   3 and he will delight in the fear of the LORD. He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes, or decide by what he hears with his ears;  4 but with righteousness he will judge the needy, with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth. He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth; with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked.  5 Righteousness will be his belt and faithfulness the sash around his waist.

Isaiah, of course, is writing about Jesus. Jesus did not use His power and position for his own comfort. Rather, He sacrificed His comfort for us. As Paul writes in Philippians

Philippians 2:6-8  6 Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,  7 but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.  8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death-- even death on a cross!

Then, in 2 Corinthians, we read:

2 Corinthians 8:9 For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.

Jesus did not do this just for the deserving poor. Rather,

Romans 5:8   8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Throughout history, kings have called upon their people to die for them. Jesus is different. Jesus is the King who died for His people. It is through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus that we have forgiveness of sins—including the sin of abusing our power and failing to care for the weak. It is also through Jesus death that we have been redeemed out of our former way of life—a life of selfishness—and brought into the kingdom of His light.

A Note About Cherry-Picking Issues

In 2006, the General Assembly of the PCUSA (, not our denomination but the mainline Presbyterians), did two noteworthy things. 1) They voted to allow the ordination of openly homosexual men and women as pastors, and 2) they voted to allow for some redefinition of the Trinity. Here is a quote from a USA Today article on this: “The divine Trinity — "Father, Son and Holy Spirit" — could also be known as "Mother, Child and Womb" or "Rock, Redeemer, Friend" at some Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) services under an action Monday by the church's national assembly.”  What amazes me is that people seem to be more upset that there will now be gay pastors than they are that the doctrine of the Trinity was been distorted. Which is the more egregious error?

We even are selective in what sexual sins outrage us. I know that I personally would be more upset if my child had a gay teacher than I would be if she had a teacher who was living with her boyfriend. Why? Both are sins and, for most children in our churches, the likelihood of them falling prey to sexual temptation with a member of the opposite sex is far greater than them falling prey to sexual temptation with the same sex. Which is the more dangerous model, a gay teacher, or the teacher living in adultery? If that is the case, why do we choose to get more upset about homosexuality than we do other forms of sexual immorality?

If a kid goes off to school to study theatre, she will get dozens of warnings about the liberal agenda of those in the arts. If a kid goes to get her MBA so that she can work on Wall Street, no one says, “Watch out. Greed will kill you.” Yet, greed and covetousness are destroying exponentially more families than homosexuality. Yet, we do not get nearly as agitated about them because they are culturally acceptable sins.

[i], Remarks by the President on Stem Cell Research , The Bush Ranch, Crawford, Texas, August, 2001. it is important to note that President Bush is not against all stem cell research, but only embryonic stem cell research.
[ii], Yale Bulletin & Calendar, April 11, 2003.
[iii] I heard Ravi Zacharias make this point. I am not sure where.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

666: The Chick-Fil-A Controversy and the Mark of the Beast

He also forced everyone, small and great, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on his right hand or on his forehead, so that no one could buy or sell unless he had the mark, which is the name of the beast or the number of his name. This calls for wisdom. If anyone has insight, let him calculate the number of the beast, for it is man’s number. His number is 666. (Revelations 13:16-18, NIV)

Recently, Dan Cathy, President of Chick-Fil-A, ignited a firestorm by “admitting” that the owners of Chick-Fil-A support the traditional, biblical definition of marriage. As a result of his comments, Chick-Fil-A has been vilified in the press and political leaders in both Boston and Chicago are seeking to ban Chick-Fil-A from doing business. The controversy has raised serious questions for Christians in business. One of the questions is, “Can one hold Christian convictions and do business in the marketplace?”

This is not a new problem. Christians all over the world have faced this throughout history and even today. Furthermore, Revelation 13 addresses this very issue. I don’t have time to go into a full explanation of Revelation 13, but I do want to make a few observations. First, when the original readers first read this, the image of the Beast most likely caused them to think of the Roman Empire. While the beast was indeed the Roman Empire, he did not pass away with the fall of Rome.  The beast and his ten horns represent all the worldly rulers who persecute the Church.  They are the worldly governments throughout history who have blasphemed God and sought to destroy his people.

The mark of the beast has been grist for the rumor mill throughout the ages. In recent years, people have speculated that the mark would be a bar code imprinted on our hands, or a computer chip implanted under our skin that would be used to replace currency. Some groups are suspicious of Social Security numbers and cards, suspecting that they may be the mark of the beast.

People enjoy talking about the mark of the beast and offering up conspiracy theories in the same way that they enjoy a good ghost story. It is sort of fun to be spooked a little. However, if we focus on some sort of physical fulfillment of this prophecy instead of interpreting it in light of Scripture, we will miss the point. The result will be that we fear a false danger while the real danger goes undetected.

The idea of having a mark on one’s hand and head is not novel to the book of Revelation. In Bible days, slaves often bore the mark of their masters. We also find a similar symbol in the Old Testament in the book of Deuteronomy. The first person to command us to have a mark on our hands and our head was not the beast, but God through the prophet Moses.

In Deuteronomy 6:6-9, we read,
These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates. (NIV)

When the Pharisees of Jesus day read this, they took it literally. So, they wrote the law of God on little scrolls and put them in boxes on their hands and heads called phylacteries. However, that was not God’s point at all. When God instructed his people to bind the law of God to their hands and foreheads, he was commanding them to have the law in all that the do (hands) and all that they think (heads).

If we interpret Scripture in light of Scripture, we see that the image in Revelation about the mark of the beast corresponds to the image in Deuteronomy about the law. So, when Revelation tells us that the beast will require us to have his mark on our hands and foreheads, it is not warning us against computer chips or barcodes. Rather, God is telling us that the beast will not allow us to buy or sell (do business) unless we act like the world and think like the world. This is precisely what we are seeing today.

Our culture will tolerate our Christianity as long as we keep it away from how we live and how we think. However, if you want to get ahead in the world, then the beast will do all that it can to force you to think the way he does and act the way he does. Thinking and acting Christianly is totally unacceptable.

So, how do we respond?

1)      With courage. In John 16:33, Jesus said, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” Our battle against the beast is temporary. Jesus has already won the war. So, do not give into fear.

2)      With prayer. Paul reminds us that the battle we are in is not against flesh and blood, “but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12). Therefore, we do not use the weapons of this world. There is a huge temptation for many in the Christian community to fight against the beast with the weapons of the beast. If you do that, you have already lost. You have taken his mark upon you. Think and act Christianly. Use the spiritual weapons of prayer and faith.

3)      With love. Remember, our fight is not against flesh and blood. So, do not demonize flesh and blood. The Beast is our enemy, not those who are his captives. Those who hold to biblical values must not think of themselves as superior to those who do not. Remember, the only reason anyone is a Christian is because of God’s grace. If that is true, then arrogance is impossible. That does not mean we are to be wishy-washy. It does mean we must be both humble and loving. We must love, truly love, those who oppose us. We must love those who engage in practices that the Bible says are morally wrong. After all, while we were still rebels without a clue, Christ died for us.

4)      With action. Responding in faith and love does not mean we are to be passive. In our country, we have been given power as citizens to affect those who rule. So, we must engage in the political process and elect those who will defend the rights of all people. We must fight for justice. Just as we do not want government to oppress us for our views, we must not use the same fascist techniques to oppress those who differ with us. Yet, if we do not engage in the political process, we have no one to blame when our rights are taken away. There is an election coming up and elections have consequences.

By the way, this does not mean that the church should engage in politics. The church as an entity has a different mission—to make disciples. However, those disciples do have a responsibility to engage in the world from a biblical worldview. This biblical worldview not only affects one’s religious convictions, but social, moral, political, and economic convictions as well.

Banned in Boston - Thoughts on Chick-Fil-A

On July 2, 2012, Dan Cathy, President of Chick-Fil-A was asked if he stood for traditional marriage. He responded by saying, ““Well, guilty as charged. We are very much supportive of the family – the biblical definition of the family unit. We are a family-owned business, a family-led business, and we are married to our first wives. We give God thanks for that. We operate as a family business ... our restaurants are typically led by families – some are single. We want to do anything we possibly can to strengthen families. We are very much committed to that ... We intend to stay the course. We know that it might not be popular with everyone, but thank the Lord, we live in a country where we can share our values and operate on biblical principles” (Atlanta Journal-Constitution, July 26, 2012)

A few years ago, Mr. Cathy would have been heralded as a model citizen for such comments. Nearly every study on economic, physical, emotional, and social well-being shows that the key factor is a stable family, including this one in The New York Times on July 14, 2012. For years, the Cathy family has put their money where their mouths are. Since the founding of the company, Chick-Fil-A has been closed on Sundays so that employees can go to church and spend time with families. They have started orphanages, supported family causes, and have engaged personally in helping others in numerous ways. Aren’t these the kind of good citizens we want? Apparently not.

Dan Cathy’s words have started a firestorm across the country. Mayor Tom Menino has vowed to block Chick-Fil-A from opening a restaurant in Boston because he doesn’t want a restaurant in the city “that discriminates against a population” (Never mind the fact that Chick-Fil-A does not discriminate in either its serving or hiring people of different views). Chicago city Alderman, Joe Moreno has now vowed to block the opening of a Chick-Fil-A restaurant in his ward because of his stance. Chicago mayor, Rahm Emanuel, supported him, saying, “Chick-fil-A values are not Chicago values. They disrespect our fellow neighbors and residents. This would be a bad investment, since it would be empty.”

This controversy is interesting on a number of levels:

1)      A generation ago, a company that supported gay marriage would find it difficult to do business in most of America. Today, any company led by someone who opposes gay marriage finds it difficult to do business.

2)      A generation ago, homosexuality was considered immoral. Today, the belief that homosexuality is immoral is considered to be immoral.

3)      This raises a frightening question: are we becoming a country where the government can ban or punish companies for their religious views? Some politicians in Boston and Chicago think that it is their moral duty to punish those who hold to biblical values. Isn’t this a form of fascism? Shouldn’t both liberals and conservatives be outraged at such actions? It should be noted that there have been both supporters of traditional marriage and supporters of gay-marriage who have said that the response of these politicians violates the Constitution. What is frightening is how many people have expressed their support. If a company can be threatened because of the religious views of its owner, then exactly what does the First Amendment protect?

The controversy raises a larger issue for Christians: What does it mean for us to live out our faith in the world? It seems that our culture has no problem with Christians holding certain religious beliefs, as long as these beliefs do not intrude into the real world. Sadly, we are often far too happy to accommodate. We have privatized our faith.

Some of this has come from a false understanding of tolerance. As Christians, we are in favor of tolerance. Anyone familiar with history knows that Christians have suffered from intolerant political systems. Fox’s Book of Martyrs is just one place where one might read of this, or just read the news of what is happening to Christians in northern Africa. So, we believe that various religious views should be tolerated.

However, tolerance does not mean that all religious views are equally valid. Yet, our culture says that it is wrong to say that anyone’s religious views are wrong. It is immoral to declare another person’s views immoral. The result of this is that our Christian faith has become in the words of one historian, “socially irrelevant, even if privately engaging.” Os Guinness, in his interesting book, The Gravedigger Files, calls this the Private Zoo Factor. He explains it like this: Let’s say that we are aware that a particular species like the Florida Panther is going extinct. We think, "Something must be done to preserve this species." So someone develops a program to breed them in captivity. The problem is this; how wild is a Florida Panther that is born, lives and dies in captivity? Have we truly preserved it? Guinness points out that we have done the same thing to our faith. We have put it in the "religious" sector of our life, but it has no impact on how we live. We have put our faith in a zoo where it cannot confront the "real world."

Increasingly, we find that our culture will tolerate our Christianity as long as we keep it in our private zoo. We are allowed to talk about it on Sundays in the privacy of our own sanctuaries. However, it will not be tolerated to bring it out in public. Holding Christians convictions is tolerable. Practicing them or speaking of them is totally unacceptable.

We have seen this before and, if Jesus tarries, we will see this again. This opposition to Christian living by the culture and by governments is not new but has been true throughout the church age. While we have not faced this sort of government pressure in the United States before, this has been normal throughout history and around the world. Jesus told us that it would be this way.

Matthew 10:24-26  24 "A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. 25 It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household. 26 "So have no fear of them, for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known.

In my next post, I will explain the connection between the Chick-Fil-A Controversy and the Mark of the Beast.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Does Praying During a Firestorm Matter?

In the June 27, 2012 issue of the Colorado Springs Gazette, Dr. Barry Fagin suggested that those who are praying for help against the wildfire are wasting their time (Prayer Warriors Accomplish Little When Fighting Wildfires). Dr. Fagin is not mean-spirited nor is a disinterested party. He lives in Mountain Shadows, the neighborhood that has been affected the most by the fires. His contention is that science and reason are doing more to fight the fire and save lives than all of our prayers. He concludes his article by requesting, “Please keep everyone impacted by this random act of nature in your kind and extremely rational thoughts.” Certainly, Dr. Fagin would agree that this is not a very “rational” statement. How does keeping anyone in your "kind thoughts" help?It is nothing more than sentimentality, which seems to be the very charge he levels against those who hope in prayer. At least prayer is appealing to Someone to do something. If that Someone is there, then prayer is productive. Prayer, at least, has the potential of being productive.  Kind thoughts do nothing.

Dr, Fagin’s main point is that prayer is counterproductive because the effects of prayer cannot be proven. People would be better off spending their energy doing something that actually solves the problem (like thinking happy thoughts?). I would agree with Dr. Fagin that the effects of prayer are not usually empirically verifiable. One can usually find another explanation for the results of prayer. In fact, Romans 1:18 teaches us that those who do not have the Spirit of God will seek any other possible explanation of events.  Of course, the lack of empirical verification does not prove that prayer does not work. I am sure Dr. Fagin would concede this point. He also would say that it is irrelevant.
The main problem with Dr. Fagin's argument is that he seems to misunderstand the nature of prayer. Prayer is not an incantation or magic lever that we pull to force the Almighty to comply to our wills. God is not under our control when we pray. Rather, prayer is communication with our heavenly Father. The same rules that apply to a child’s communications with her earthly father apply to prayer.
My daughter often pleads with me for things. One might call this prayer. Sometimes I respond by giving her what she asks. Sometimes I respond by not giving her what she asks. If all an outside observer saw was her pleading and never saw me, this observer might conclude her “prayers” make no difference at all. After all, there would be no way to verify empirically that her pleadings made a difference. Since I do not always give her what she asks, does that “prove” that her pleas never “work?” When I do respond positively to her pleas, how would the outside observer know that I would not have given her, her request without her asking? After all, correlation does not prove causation. So, must we conclude that the pleas of a daughter with her father are a waste of time? I do not believe that is a reasonable conclusion.

God cannot be manipulated through prayers or incantations. He is a Father who hears the pleas of His children and always does what is best for them.
One might ask, "How could a good God ever allow something like the devastation of the Waldo Canyon fire?" It is very hard to conceive of anything good coming out of this fire that justifies the amount of destruction. At present, we cannot understand why God would not answer our prayers by sending rain and putting an end to the destruction.
Yet, if God is God, then we must approach Him with humilty. That is, we must assume that he knows more than we do, that He is wiser than we are, and that He actually knows what He is doing.
Children and parents often disagree on what is best. However, in most cases we would assume that the thirty-five year old parent has a better understanding of what is “best” than the five year old child. In the same way, Christians assume that the infinite God has a better understand of what is best than the finite child who is pleading with Him. So, when God does not do what we ask, we do not assume that prayer is ineffectual. Instead, we assume that we pray to a Father who knows more than we do.
Our confidence in God does not hinge on Him obeying our prayers. Our confidence in God hinges on the cross of Jesus Christ. It is the proof that God brings beauty out of the ugliest events. It is also the proof that God loves us. After all, as the Apostle Paul tells us in Romans 8:32, "He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?"
So, Dr. Fagin, you can keep your happy thoughts. In the meantime, I will keep praying for you.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Resources on Marriage, Divorce and Same Sex Marriage

In Sunday's sermon on marriage and divorce (based on Matthew 5:31-32), I covered a number of topics that may have stirred some to want to engage in further study. Here are some resources that I found helpful with the various topics that were covered.

Good Books on Marriage
What Did You Expect? by Paul Tripp
The Meaning of Marriage by Tim and Kathy Keller
The Marriage Builder by Larry Crabb
Intimate Allies by Dan Allender and Tremper Longman

Resources on Divorce and Remarriage
Divorce and Remarriage - Position Paper of the Presbyterian Church in America
Divorce Recovery: Growing and Healing God's Way by Winston T. Smith
Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage in the Bible by Jay E. Adams
Also, we offer Divorce Care at Village Seven. Classes will resume in September.

The Current Discussion on Same Sex Marriage
Why Christians Should Continue to Oppose Gay Marriage by Kevin DeYoung
President Obama and Same Sex Marriage by Ed Stetzer
Same Sex Marriage Makes a Lot of Sense by Michael Scott Horton
A Christian Reponse to Same Sex Marriage by Michael Scott Horton
Presidential Hermeneutics on Same Sex Marriage by Don Sweeting
The Official End of Christendom? by Peter Jones
What Is Marriage? Harvard Journal of Law and Social Policy