Thursday, May 26, 2011

What If the Lunatics are Right?

Harold Camping is just the latest in a long list of doomsday prophets who have fallen flat on their faces.  As I watched the aftermath of his failed prediction I was struck by the sincerity of some of his followers.  Sure, they were gullible and easily led astray.  And yes, it's easy to look at them with total bewilderment as we see all that  they sacrificed for a false prophet.  ABC news profiled one guy who spent his entire life savings (nearly $150,000!) on billboards, pamphlets and posters.  When asked why, his answer was something along the lines of "I wanted to do everything I could to save as many as I could."  Was he misguided?  Absolutely.  Is there something we can learn from his example of total sacrifice?  Absolutely.

A Long Line of Lunatics
Have you paid attention to just how many 'lunatics' there are on the pages of Scripture?  What I mean by this is, just look at how many characters were willing to do crazy things to get the message of God out to the masses.  These guys, if they existed in our culture, would be mocked by the media, estranged by mainstream Christianity, and thought of in the same vein as the sidewalk preacher who hands out the 'You're Going to Hell' tracts.  Here's a list of just a few:
  • John the Baptist-  Yeah, he attracted a huge crowd, but I wonder how many were just curious bystanders who wanted to look at the quack country preacher with long hair, itchy clothes and who ate bugs.  Let's admit it, he would be the preacher that everybody says is just too 'out of touch' with modern culture, especially with that whole repentance message he had.
  • Hosea-  This guy married a whore!  No, really, he did.  Can't you read the headlines now, "Preacher Marries Prostitute: 'God told me to do it!'"  Never mind the laughability, now he's got no credibility among the religious right.  And things are just going to get worse when he starts explaining that his marriage is a picture of God's people selling out to lesser idols rather than remaining true to God.
  • Jeremiah-  As far as lunatics, this guy owns the franchise.  During one series of sermons he walks around town with an ox-yoke on his shoulders (that will garner some unwanted attention).  But that's nothing compared to his let's-preach-naked stunt.  He would be on all the cable news shows for being locked up for indecent exposure, not to mention being sued by the naked-cowboy guy in New York for trying to steal his unique performance gimmick.
Our faith has been handed down to us by some radically different characters.  Men and women who were absolutely unyielding in their devotion to God and unwavering in their commitment to Him.  Unfortunately, such commitment and devotion is not only rare today, it is looked down upon by many within the Church.  And the sad thing is, I am just as guilty of looking down my nose at those who are willing to do whatever it takes to share the gospel.

A Confession
Earlier this week, NBC news did a story on a woman who was taking a year off of work to do something different.  She was going to walk from her home in Utah to Washington DC.  What made her unique however, was that she was going to carry a ten-foot tall wooden cross the entire way.  I'll be honest, my first reaction was religious snobbery.  'That's not going to be effective,' I mused pridefully to myself.  'She's just going to be a joke to 90% of the people she meets.'  My snobbery was reflected in the faces of the news anchor who had that raised eyebrow smirk on his face.  But then the Holy Spirit started to do it's work of convicting me.  I began to ask myself all sorts of questions, 'What if she is called by God to do this?  Who am I to question such a calling?  How many conversations is she going to start on this 2,000 mile journey?  Would I be willing to take a year off of work to do something radical for God?  Am I as devoted to Jesus as she is?'  Needless to say, I spent the rest of the night repenting, and being challenged by a woman I never met, that I don't know what her religious background is and that I initially thought of as a loon.  I guess her walk wasn't in vain.

What About You?
Are you as dedicated to Jesus as Mr. Camping's followers were to his false teachings?  Are you willing to give up everything you have to see others come to Christ?  Would you take a year off of work to do something radical if God called you to do it?  The 'lunatics' may be misguided at times, but their devotion should serve as an example of what Christ expects of His disciples.
For those of us who are leaders, are we leading by example?  What are we doing to cultivate an absolute devotion to Jesus Christ in our followers?  Are we, as C.S. Lewis pointed out in The Weight of Glory, "half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us..."?  As Lewis concludes, I sometimes wonder if, "we are far too easily pleased."  Let's get radical with our message.  Let's go to people no one else will go to, preach the truth that no one else will preach, and love those that no one else will love.  We may be branded as lunatics, but at least the message of Christ will be spread.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Rejoicing and Mourning- My feelings on the death of a Terrorist

It is tempting to cheer, and at first I did.  Hands went in the air triumphantly at the news that one of America's greatest foes had fallen.  Justice was served.  The innocent blood of thousands was avenged, and I rejoiced.

But in my heart something broke.  Beneath the jubilation was a great sadness, a mourning of sorts.  Yes an enemy was defeated.  A murderer had his own blood shed.  But the Spirit within me would not let me cheer with the others who chanted 'U-S-A' outside the gates of the White House.  My heart was too heavy to share the jubilation of those who gathered in Times Square in the early morning hours of May 2, 2011.

Osama Bin Laden was dead.  Terrorist.  Murderer.  Hate-filled propagator of evil.  Image-bearer of God.  It's the last one I struggle with.  How can one filled with so much hate, who has killed and wounded so many, bear the image of God?  Yet, I cannot deny that this is what the Bible teaches, and my spirit wrestles with the fact that one made in God's image appears to have died outside of His grace.  So I attempt to answer two questions that many Christians are wrestling with today.

Is it Wrong for me to feel a certain amount of Joy at this News?
In short, no.  Now before I get any 'Amens' from those who have rejoiced all day, and before my fellow believers who feel saddened that another soul has crossed the threshold of Hell cast any stones, let me explain.  The Bible is full of examples of those who rejoiced when God's justice fell.  Ranging from Psalm 58 to Revelation 19 we see examples of the righteous rejoicing when God's justice falls upon the unrighteous.  We serve a God whose justice will not be denied.  The Psalmist says that God is known by His justice (9:16), that He loves justice (11:7; 33:5) and that His justice is as deep as the oceans (36:6).  We can rejoice that God is vindicated in this matter.  We can rejoice that His justice has been meted out.  We can rejoice that good has triumphed evil, that a murderer was brought to justice and that God can and will be glorified in this.  We can rejoice that thousands of families will be brought closure by today's news.  We can rejoice that New York City has taken a giant step towards healing today.  So yes, it is okay to feel a certain amount of joy at this news.

Should I feel Sorrow that Another Soul has Died Outside of Christ?
Yes, but no more than you should for any other soul that has perished outside of God's grace.  Why should Bin Laden deserve more grief than your neighbor?  Should we not be sorrowed by every death of every unbeliever?  If anything, this has reminded me that I do not grieve the lost enough.  Many 'good' people die outside of Christ everyday.  Why do I not mourn for them the same way so many are saying we should mourn for Bin Laden?  It is to my shame that I do not shed tears for every soul in my community that perishes without a saving knowledge of Jesus.  My heart should feel this weight every day, and I should feel more compelled than ever to share the good news as effectively as I can with as many as I can.   I dare not mourn this man any more than any other lost soul, and I fear I do not mourn the lost as I ought.  It is my prayer that the Holy Spirit makes me more aware than ever before of those who need the Gospel of Jesus Christ proclaimed in a real and tangible way.

I pray that this historical event does more than stir feelings of patriotism.  I also pray that it does more than cause us to be saddened by the death of an evil man.  I pray that it raises our awareness of two things, (1) God's justice is sometimes slow, but it always comes and (2) Because of God's justice, we need to share the Gospel with all who will listen.

I end by echoing the words of Paul in Romans 12:15, 21: 'Rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn... Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.'