I was up at 4:00 a.m. this morning. Took a shower, brushed my teeth, turned in my rental car and hopped on a flight from Orlando to Hartford. On the heels of a great week visiting my son and his family in Georgia and visiting with one of my favorite churches in Jasper, Florida I sat in my seat enjoying a rare treat these days - an entire row of seats all to my self. Lacking anyone to chat with, I pulled out my phone and began reading some notes I had been jotting down all week. As the powerful engines on the plane droned on, these thoughts began to gel, and though writing a blog on my phone is something I try to avoid, I spent the two hour plus time between Florida and Connecticut composing the following thoughts into what I hope to be a reasonable representation of my week's musings.
On the heels of the departure of Pope Francis, President Barack Obama attended an LGBT rally where he clearly indicated that in his mind religious freedom is less important than gay rights. Of course, Christians were up in arms all over the place once again as it became increasingly clear that the President has little regard for personal faith and conscience, and even though he claims to be a Christian there is little evidence to support such a claim, especially given his long standing positions on abortion, homosexuality, and same-sex marriage.
Of course, Mr. Obama is not the only enemy of religious freedom in our country. There are many who have demonstrated a strong animosity toward religion and have mounted strong and concerted attacks on its "free exercise," as protected by the constitution of the United States.
I want to be clear here: It is not the exercise of RELIGION that is at issue. No my friend, it is the free exercise of CHRISTIANITY that is the target here. There are no efforts to oppose or curtail the expansion or free exercise of ISLAM or any other religion. I am not aware of any gay couples entering a mosque demanding that an IMAM must hear their wedding vows. There have been no law suits lodged in an effort to compel muslim bakeries to supply cupcakes or wedding cakes for homosexual weddings. Even the fact that a lesbian judge has steadfastly refused to perform straight weddings raises not a single eyebrow, let alone outrage.
So, we must conclude that it is not the free exercise of RELIGION that is under siege, but more correctly, it is the free exercise of CHRISTIANITY that is in jeopardy in America. It is precisely to this point that I speak today.
We have long enjoyed unfettered practice and expression of our Christian faith. Whether in the pulpit or on a soapbox on the street corner, we have enjoyed the privilege of proclaiming the Gospel of Christ without fear of reprisal, prosecution, or persecution. We have had access to the airways, even for the most peculiar of our numbers to transmit the message of the gospel. Our churches have enjoyed exemption from paying taxes on the considerable wealth that has passed through our offering plates, at times abusing that privilege by engaging in lucrative marketing activities without being burdened with all those pesky sales taxes and such. Some of our craftier "superstars" have quietly amassed great personal wealth inside the safety of tax protected funds given to the church for the "spreading of the gospel." Some have even been successful in convincing their very generous sacrificial sheep that multiple mansions, sparkling diamonds and sleek personal jets are critically necessary for the spread of the gospel. Jesus, the Head of the church, had no place to lay his head but his self-anointed prophets of prosperity require more luxurious digs.
The inconvenient truth in all of this is that as the church has enjoyed virtually unfettered access to the masses and unlimited freedom to expand the Kingdom of Heaven, our nation continues to plunge inexorably into the morass of wickedness, violence, and perversion. Our glittering PR declares that the church is making unprecedented progress in the spread of christianity, but a few minutes in front of the nightly news weaves a story of less stellar successes.
God has given us a window of opportunity through which we might have unhindered progress in the spread of the gospel providing atonement for the sins of so many. We have lived for more than two centuries with unchallenged opportunity and almost limitless financial resources with which to win the nations. It is an opportunity we have squandered upon ourselves. Now, as that window of opportunity is closing there is a great weeping and gnashing of teeth among the saints. I would ask that you ponder this: Is it possible that this window always had a time stamp on it? Could it be that from antiquity it was predestined to remain open for a season and then close as we move toward the culmination of God's plan for the ages?
Considering all of this, we are not without hope. In fact, as I consider these "inconvenient truths" I am more hopeful than I have been for a long time.
The apostles and the early church (you know, the one that was launched on the Day of Pentecost) had NO religious freedom. They were hated, hunted, and persecuted on every hand. Yet, there is no evidence of weeping or bemoaning their desperate plight. Instead, we see men emerging from the dungeons with bleeding backs and broken bodies "rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer for Christ." We hear their songs of praise filling the air— not from great concert halls, but from prisons. Their melodies were raised above the roar of the lions in the coliseum and in the midst of the flickering flames of their martyrdom. And yet, their faithful and selfless ministries ravaged the godlessness of the Roman empire and silenced the voices of their Caesars.
They were hunted like animals, burned at the stake, boiled in oil, crucified, sawn in half, drawn and quartered and denied even the most basic of human rights. From the dark cold prison cell where he awaited his execution Paul wrote of victory, of champions who could not be silenced, of men who were pressed on all sides but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; struck down but not destroyed. Even though the powers of darkness labored without rest to destroy the work of the Cross and its messengers, the force of it could not be contained, and it could not be silenced.
And then….. the radical became the norm. The revolutionary became institutionalized and the outsiders became the insiders; the opposed became the welcomed; the zealous became comfortable, the rejected were accepted. The sword was put away and the welcome mat was put out and for a while we lived inside that bubble of opportunity to expand the Kingdom unfettered and unopposed oblivious to the fact that the church victorious was becoming the church luxurious. No longer counter-cultural, the world got friendly with the church and the church became increasingly friendly with the world.
My point is simple. We might NEED to lose our religious freedom in order to become the church again. Like a mother eagle stirs up the comfortable nest and pushes her eaglets off the ledge so they will learn to fly, God is stirring up the nest and saying to the church, "FLY!"
Remember this: THE DEVIL CONSISTENTLY OVERPLAYS HIS HAND. The enemies of Christianity are unwittingly doing exactly what God has planned all along. If the current trends continue, several things will inevitably happen including the awakening of the church out of its culturally induced coma, a renewed dependence on the Holy Spirit as a means of survival instead of a week-end conference performer for the entertainment of silly saints, the desertion of the half-committed consumerists, and a revival of the early apostolic prayer: "And now Lord, behold their threatenings and grant unto your servants that with all boldness they may speak the Word of God, stretching forth your hand to heal perform signs and wonders in the Name of your holy child, Jesus." (Acts 4:28-30)
I don't welcome trouble. I do not relish persecution any more than the next person, but it will accomplish something that little, if anything else can. It will force us to quit playing church and to actually BE the church.
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