Grace, Fear and Our “Rights” Guest Post by Brian Hirschy

September 10, 2010 by cloften  
Filed under Family and Parenting

Brian is a new friend of mine.  He is a cultural photographer that lives in Tibet and a Grover.

Rights, Rights, Rights
As Americans, we are seriously bent on “our rights.”  Having rights, and furthermore actually valuing those rights, has undoubtedly made America into a great nation of freedom.  I am very thankful for my constitutional rights. That being said, in America, does this Pastor have the right to burn the Koran – Absolutely. No doubt about it. As a Christian, however, he certainly does NOT. Christian requirements are different, are they not?
Furthermore, I consistently hear Christians (everywhere) talking about “security” and often even confusing Americana w/ the teachings of the Bible and how we have Government given rights. To this we need to ask the question – who is sovereign over America? Who protects it? Who decides if we as a nation prosper or not? Heck, who even decided to let us exist? Is it God or is it the constitutionally given rights we so value?
We are required to give up so many of our rights as followers of Christ. Our reaction to things like this should not be through the “I’m an American” lens, but rather through the “Im a disciple of Jesus” lens. He never guarantees safety, lack of trouble, or even that we wouldn’t have to interact with people who violently disagree with our faith. We think that because radical Islamic countries burn the Bible almost daily that we have the right to return the favor. We continue to think it’s not FAIR that we don’t ‘overreact’ like many Muslim nations when they do so. We think it’s unfair that because they will overreact, our constitutional rights as American’s have been trampled on.  It’s not fair that they can burn the Bible but we can’t burn the Koran.  Fair sucks – it’s not fair that Jesus had to die for all of us idiots. Our rights, even the ones defended by the Constitution, went out the window when we were redeemed and now we are slaves to righteousness.
Fear is a tricky thing.  Fear comes when we aren’t confident in the Lords promises or our true identity in Him – when we aren’t focused on him. Fear is what is happening in New York right now, sparked by what we believe our ‘rights’ to be. Fear is what is happening in Florida right now. The belief that we must to strike back at radical muslims is only derivative of a lack of understanding of God’s sovereignty and a denial that His promises are true. Everyone in the world paint themselves as tolerant people, but how many of us get on an airplane and see an arabic looking person and the thought runs through our mind, ‘Oh crap! It’s a terrorist” or at least watch the person carefully.
Let me give you another example. Where I live I’m fully allowed to enter the mosque and DEBATE the tenants of Islam, PEACEFULLY and in a civilized manner. No one has tried to cut my face off at a mosque that has more than 300,000 members. I’ve even been able to talk regularly to the imam of the mosques in a Godly manner and he fully realizes that we follow Jesus. Most of us don’t realize that the Koran ACTUALLY teaches that true believers are those who seek the truth and are willing to be peaceful in all things – Muslims, according to the Koran, are supposed to, before anything else, be described as people of peace. Furthermore, the Koran speaks very highly of followers of Jesus and that they are to NOT be persecuted in several different passages.  Yes, their are verses that speak severely towards those who wage war against Islam and that everyone should become a Muslim.  These passages are what cause splits among the Muslim religion, but my point is that we in general are acting out of fear and true ignorance of these verses.
Yet, our churches get really uncomfortable when someone of another faith is among our congregation or even someone who is different that then general makeup of the congregation joins us. We are fearful of this Muslim Community Center – whose written agenda is to promote inter-faith conversation and cultural understanding. We are fearful that, “What if it’s just a safe haven for Muslim extremists?!”   We are fearful that to enter into a conversation about who God is and then who Jesus is with a Muslim, Buddhist, or atheist will only challenge our faith in ways we don’t want to be challenged really – we in effect deny the power of the Holy Spirit in their lives and our own.  We so often refuse to even know what the Koran says because we are fearful and not confident that Jesus is who He said He is. Please, please don’t hear a universalist message here – God says that there is NO gospel but the gospel and that those outside of it are outside of Him. However, He also said to love those different than you – even those who make you fearful, persecute you, and are dead set against you.  Love those who blew up the Twin Towers.  Love those who would even want to kill your children. How does this NOT describe how we are to react even to Muslim Extremists.
It’s easy to strip the humanity from a group of people we have never met. Heck, it’s easy to strip humanity from those you even LOVE.  For example, I know their are eskimos somewhere in Alaska, but until I mean one, they will remain what I saw in a book in the 3rd grade. Like I’ve mentioned on my blog, my neighbors are muslim, I have many friends who are Muslim, the guy whose giving me a ride to the airport on Wednesday is a Muslim who knows I’m a Christian and gosh darn it, he still likes me!
We forget the message of Christ was not one of earthly power or where we are on the religious/spiritual food chain. We must remember that these are people that GOD sovereignly choice to create and put on this earth, without asking you, and we are called to love them the best we can with how God only enables us to do. The Word is clear that ANYTHING we do outside of that is sin.
What the dude said
This Pastor has stated, verbally, that he is standing up against the ‘radical sect of Islam’ stating that we will no longer bow our knees to them and no longer live in fear.  What?!  Where’s THAT in the Bible?? How easy is it to insert “We will NO LONGER turn the other cheek! We will no longer bow one on knee!” Seriously, what does the Word say about this? In NO uncertain terms it says this: love them, pray for them, turn the other cheek, give them your tunic (Luke 6). If this pastor hears God’s voice, like Luke says true believers do, he is a SLAVE to these things.  Slave = no rights. As an America, I deeply defend his right to do such a thing, as a Christian I strongly state that the Word says he does not.
Like has mentioned several times before, we by now means can expect people to react Godly who are not redeemed – this includes Americans and Muslim nations alike. We cannot expect non-believers to react with grace because it ONLY comes from the Father. Whether the burning happens or not, grace MUST abound and we must ask God to give us the ability to show that grace to both Radical Muslims as well as a man that is set on burning something he fears.
As you might have gathered, my perspective on living in a largely Muslim community in a communist nation vastly impacts my opinion on these things. But please hear this – the Muslims I know are people that are literally trying to get by in life yet.  Trying to make ends meet.  Are worried about there children… yet we more often than not, in our hearts, tend to group them together (I speak of myself in these things).

The events that are happening in America right now truly truly tear my heart to pieces. I’ve watched hateful things be spewed all over the place, and more often than not come out of the mouths of Christians. We are allowed to understand what peoples believes are we should not be fearful of them as well.

Even if EVERY SINGLE muslim was an extremist, the Word of God is clear that we are to still not retaliate, still love them, still bless them.

It’s Not Against the Law to Be Stupid. Should It Be?

September 9, 2010 by cloften  
Filed under Family and Parenting

I’ve discovered something.  If I put the word stupid in the title of a blog post, it gets more hits, especially if the implications are that Christians are doing something stupid.  People like that.  I will let you decide for yourself why that it is.  Nonirregardless, I like to give the people what they want.

I was blogging earlier in the week about the 1st Church of the Doofus in Florida that is planning a Quran burning on Saturday.  Read that rant here.  The rant was mostly about the undue, overhyped media attention to this group (which apparently I am not helping by blogging about it twice.  I’m literally inciting dozens) and hate as a evangelistic strategy.

However, talking about this quickly turns to the question of religious liberty.  Is what this group doing protected free speech and the free exercise of the freedom of religion?  As with most political and/or spiritual matters, this is not as easy a point as we would like to make it.  If you think about it (”Wait! What? Think about it.  I’m more inclined to have emotive knee-jerk reactions to things.  If you are going to ask me to think deeply, I’m out.”  No problem, I’m sure there are plenty of cable news shows on right now where at least 3 people are shouting at each other.), there is a slippery slope but it slopes both directions.

Clearly not all religious acts are protected.  The attacks on 9/11 that Pastor Mustachio are “commemorating”  are an example of that.  To them that was a deeply religious act that they committed.  So at least one principle that restricts freedom is if it does someone else physical harm.  Well, it is not hard to imagine that the net result of this act in Florida will result in great physical harm to many people.  Is the threat of a violent retaliation to soldiers, missionaries and relief workers around the world enough? Is their “right” to burn these books worth the deaths of some soldiers that signed up to serve in order to protect those rights?

I am typically conflicted internally about such things.  My default political position is pretty libertarian when it comes to such.  On the other hand, that is balanced by a desire that there really should be laws against stupidity (Did I ever tell you that my chemistry teacher my senior year called my friends and me “intellectual snobs?”).  I think such anti-stupid laws would help traffic flows and patterns tremendously.  However, other than me, whom would I trust to be the arbiter of such laws?  Whom would you trust?  Do you trust the government to make those determinations? Or are you more comfortable with unfettered freedom?

Let’s say it a different way, would you be willing to give up some of your freedom in order to potentially spare the lives of innocent people in Muslim countries around the world? Would you trade some of it in order for the name of Jesus to not receive the huge “black eye” that it is going to get?  Or do you believe that that would move the gov’t one step closer to banning the teaching what you believe if some panel declares what you say to be “intolerant” or “incendiary?” I would suggest that the path to the answer is not an easy one.  What say you?

(Read I Corinthians 6, Colossians 2, Galatians 2, I Corinthians 8, if you are interested in reading some passages that talk about our individual freedom and liberty that we have and how to be cautious with it)

Stupidity, Hate and Giving Church a Bad Rep

September 7, 2010 by cloften  
Filed under Family and Parenting

I’m back here at the old computer on a Tuesday morning (feels like a Monday) after a long weekend.  We made a whirlwind trip back to Cabot to pick up some stuff from the house.  Haven’t been on the computer all weekend, shocking I know.

So, I’m catching up on the old news cycle to see what I’ve missed.  Apparently, I have been way out of the loop on something.  There is a “church” that is planning on burning the Quran on Saturday to commemorate (?), honor (?), remember (?) 9/11.  This apparently was announced in July, but just made my radar screen because General Petraeus is warning that it is not a good idea (you think?) and could endanger the troops.

There are so many rants to be had here, I don’t know where to begin or how to get them all in effectively apart from a 3000 word post that only my mom would read.  How about we take some of them popcorn style?

NEWS: Church of 50 people plans to burn Quran.  IN OTHER NEWS: 4 teenagers from Southeast Arkansas plan to tip over cows after talking older brother into buying them cheap beer at convenience store.

This is not intended to be a knock at small churches.  More than half of the churches in America are less than 100 people.  Many people find and worship God there every week.  On the other hand, since when do the actions of 50 people become worldwide headlines?  Groups of 50 people do stupid things all the time.  Can we just agree that we give the lunatic fringe in our society way too much publicity?  I understand outrage.  I’m outraged by this.  But what do you think would happen if we just ignored publicity-starved, attention-hungry stupid people? (That wasn’t popcorn style. My bad.)

“The goal of these and other protests are to give Muslims an opportunity to convert, he (Pastor Terry Jones) said.”

Really?  Really? That’s the goal.  Imagine that committee meeting.  “Guys, what can we do to help Muslims see that they need Jesus?”  “Hmmmm…”  “How about we take the book they take to be most holy, collect a whole bunch of them, and burn them?”  “Yeah, then they’ll see that true forgiveness is found in Jesus.”  “Ok, is it going to be a potluck?”

Now this won’t come as a surprise to most of you, but I am neither a universalist or a pluralist.  (Universalist–believes that ultimately everyone is or will be in good standing before God.  Pluralist–believes that there are multiple paths to God.)  As such, I believe that everyone needs the forgiveness that is offered through Jesus and his sacrifice.  I understand that is controversial in many circles.  It is that belief combined with a love for people that compels me to be a pastor and to tell people about having a relationship with God.

What compels the burning of the Quran?  Does that Pastor’s heart break when he thinks of people separated from God?  Or does it make him angry that people follow another religion?  Why would it make him angry?  Does he think he is better than them?  If Ephesians 2:8-10 is true (hint: I believe it is), then there is nothing special about him that made him worthy of a relationship with God.  There is certainly nothing particularly great in the mind of God that he was born in America that makes him more worthy than another.

Regardless of whether or not you agree with the basic premise that all people need Jesus, I would like to think that we could all agree that the best way to communicate that message is with love, compassion and grace.  The same love, compassion, and grace that Jesus modeled when he was here and the same that he showed those that follow him today.

We certainly don’t want to show hatred and contempt to 1 billion Muslims because of the acts of violent extremism that some of their followers showed us any more than we want them to do the same because 50 people in Florida had a bad idea.

Thanks for indulging that.  I feel better now.  Anyone want to go cow tipping?