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Monday, January 18, 2010

January 18, 2010 "What to do about Pat" Isn't Even the Real Question

My initial column on this page included an intention to avoid politics, but sometimes, even the best of intentions must be laid aside.
Televangelist Pat Robertson is currently getting buried under heavy criticism regarding his speculation last week that the January 12 earthquake in Haiti was directly related to that nation’s long-ago pact with Satan. It’s not the first time Robertson has gotten into hot water by opening his mouth, but it will probably be the most-remembered, seeming so incredibly insensitive during a time of national loss and grief. At last count over 100,000 souls swept away…not a good time to be pointing fingers.

Having no great affection for televangelists in general, I nevertheless sense a hesitation in my spirit to jump on the anti-Pat bandwagon. Maybe it’s because both Old and New Testament scripture backs up the idea that God does judge sin on a national scale. Prophets, angels, even Balaam’s donkey (see Numbers 22), have brought harsh words and appeared harsh themselves, even a little on the crazy side.

(Not that Pat Robertson is a prophet—as my husband wisely pointed out, a prophet would have predicted the earthquake before it happened, not talk about the reasons for it after the fact. And it’s always struck me that when YOU go through a tough time, it must be God dealing with you, but when I’M the one in hot water, it’s an attack from the enemy!)

Robertson’s much-maligned comment was taken out of context, as such things usually are—he went on to talk about compassion, helping, etc. But did Haitian leaders make a pact with the devil? According to Wikipedia, there was a significant Vodou (voodoo) ceremony in 1791 in which the slaves gathered for the express purpose of getting help overthrowing French rule. During the ceremony, a demon-possessed priestess cut a pig’s throat and distributed the blood to those gathered. The ceremony marked the beginning of the Haitian revolution, part of their history.

Did a ceremony in 1791 cause an earthquake over 300 years later? No, shifting tectonic plates did that. Were spiritual forces at work in the shifting? That’s a deeper question.

We could compare Haiti and the Dominican Republican—both nations share the same island of Hispaniola, but they differ greatly. For example, Haiti ranks 135th on one Gross Domestic Product chart, while the Dominican Republic is one of, if not the, wealthiest Central American and Caribbean nations. Half of all Haitians practice vodou, regardless of other religious affiliation. Over 95% in the DR claim to be Christian. Haiti has had a string of corrupt leaders; the DR, apparently not. Has one enjoyed God’s blessing while the other has incurred his wrath? It does give one pause—especially as we see our own nation moving further and further away from its Christian heritage.

Robertson’s comments weren’t politically correct, but then, Jesus was rarely PC. Jewish patriarchs, kings, prophets, Christian disciples, apostles, ministers, missionaries—a multitude of people who, with the perspective of history, are credited with wonderful examples of obedience to God—have often been criticized at the time of their obedience. Was Robertson speaking from God’s perspective, or his own? If he was giving his personal opinion, was there any truth in it?

Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that he was wrong—poor timing, personal agenda, prejudice and arrogance, whatever the reason. What then, is to be our response? Robertson is a Christian, certainly one with faults and weaknesses as the rest of us, but he and his many ministries do lift up the name of Jesus (and do a tremendous amount of good—Operation Blessing alone has spent over a billion dollars helping those in need). His insensitivity hasn’t made any friends for evangelicals or the Church, but perhaps we would do best to view this as a cautionary tale rather than heating up the tar and gathering feathers for one of our own. Like the relative we’re a little uncomfortable around because of the constant drama, he still gets invited to the reunion.

As for our response to the far greater question…Haiti itself…that one’s easy. We pray – for help to reach those in need, for lives and souls to be saved, for workers to be protected, for finances to be released. Beyond prayer, some of us will be asked to give. Some of us will be asked to go.

Of one thing, I’m certain: not one of us will be asked to make Pat Robertson’s remarks or Haiti’s history an excuse for apathy.

Permission to reprint with acknowledgement of source.

Monday, January 4, 2010

January 4, 2010 A Sabbath Rest

We have just celebrated the end not only of the year 2009, but of a decade. There’s a sense of excitement in the voices of commentators as they speculate what the New Year will bring. 2010—it even sounds significant.

According to the Jewish calendar, however, which follows lunar changes rather than the civil calendar we’re more familiar with, the New Year began September 18 with the feast of Rosh Hashanah, not just a few days ago on January 1. And reckoning the generations from creation, the year is not 2010, but 5770.

Whether or not it all began exactly 5770 years ago is not the point, at least not for our purpose at the moment. After the work of creation, God rested (Genesis 2:3). He had finished doing what he wanted to do—there were lights, waters, animals, plants, a couple to reign over it all and to walk with God. Things took, instead, a tragic turn that we’re still experiencing. Whatever else is going on all around us, the one thing that is often lacking is…rest.

The Bible speaks in several places of God’s will that we, his children, enter into his rest, but what does it mean? The writer of Hebrews tells us that “Anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from us. Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will fall by following their example of disobedience” (Hebrews 4:10-11).

It’s a paradox, isn’t it? We are to “make every effort” (which sounds a lot like work) to enter into spiritual rest (i.e. the end of work). The key is in seeing the difference between God’s work and our “own.” God’s work encompasses all the things he tells us to do and points especially to the work of the cross—Jesus said “It is finished” (John 19:30). We are made righteous not through anything we could ever do, but through faith in what Jesus did on our behalf.

Our work refers to the things we think are good ideas, or the things people have told us are good ideas. The world is full of “good” people doing “good” things who live completely apart from faith in God, either ignorant of or opposed to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. A moral life can be achieved through adhering to qualities such as honesty and decency, but it will not make a person worthy of eternal life. Good intentions and noble deeds, while beneficial and benevolent, are powerless against the sin nature with which all of us are born.

We can look abstractly at the concepts of God-ordained vs. man-made and be tempted to think it’s a no-brainer, but Christians aren’t immune to the subtle siren call of works. There is safety in following rules, in adopting rigid codes of behavior. It goes against “our” logic to think that good things may become actually counterproductive to our walks with God.

We know, for instance, that reading God’s word is a good idea. How much better to institute a system of reading the Bible. Ten minutes a day. A chapter. The Bible through in a year. None of those ideas are, in and of themselves, a bad thought, certainly not sinful…yet when we make even a potentially godly practice one of our “own works” we fail to rest in what God intended.

The same can be said of all the things we do because they draw us closer to God—church, study, volunteering, witnessing, disciplines, missions, fasting. When activities such as these flow out of our conversations with God, when they are extensions of our love and commitment, we are relaxed in the Spirit, aware of spiritual growth, free from any vestiges of pride. When we have confidence in such activities, or even worse—when we require them either directly or subconsciously of others—we tense up spiritually. The Holy Spirit cannot flow in or through us. We have failed to enter into God’s rest.

James speaks to the balance that is always, always needed. Those he wrote to were taking freedom to an extreme, becoming lazy and unmotivated, using their freedom as an opportunity to indulge their sinful natures (Galatians 5:13). “Show me your faith apart from works,” he challenged (James 2:18). You can have works without faith, but you cannot have truth faith without it being lived out through godly outward expressions.

Just as Christmas may be the only time of year some people even think about Jesus, New Year’s may be the only time many consider making changes. New Year’s resolutions may even do some good, if they motivate people to get healthier, more generous, or pursue God.

But I get the feeling that instead of looking at promising programs to initiate or thinking of the Top Ten Ways to Reach the Lost in 2010, God may well be saying to the Church…rest. Rest in me. I’ve done the work. Let’s see what happens together.

Happy New Year!

Permission to use with acknowledgement of source.