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.