September 7, 2010

Setting fires for God?

This is not what I had planned to write about today. But it caught my eye in the news and I just needed to comment. The whole concept of a church having an annual tradition of Koran burning is just unbelievable. The audacity of Pastor Terry Jones is even more mind-boggling. His statement here says it all to me "Once in awhile, you see that in the Bible, there are instances where enough is enough and you stand up." This is true of course. Well maybe it is better to say there is a half truth in this statement. I just wish Pastor Terry here went on to give an example of one of those times so I could better understand how he saw the actions of his church fitting into the redemption story.

There are a few examples that quickly flood my mind when I think about people standing up and taking a stand;

1. Moses- 'Let my people Go!' Now here is a stand. For hundreds of years the Hebrews where subjugated by Egypt. They once where honored and invited guests but over the course of time became the nation of slaves. Generations grew up and died knowing nothing accept slavery. They even had to witness 'population controls' if the Pharaohs felt there were too many Hebrews. Parents watch their children get tossed into the Nile River where they either drowned or become a meal for a crocodile. It was time to take a stand, and God took it displaying his power and authority until the Hebrews where set free.

2. Gideon- 'Forget Baal, follow God'. I don't think Gideon really said this but it is what he did. Gideon and his people where oppressed by Midian, and they started worshiping false gods like Baal. One of God's instructions to Gideon was to destroy the town's idol, earning him the name Jerub-baal, which means let Baal fight his own battles. The challenge being if Baal really was God wouldn't he stop Gideon was harming him. Gideon took a stand, he stood in front of his own people and said enough is enough, God saved us from Egypt let's turn back to him so he can save us from Midian.

3. Jeremiah- 'The Babylonians are coming, and God wants them too!" Again I'll give you that he never said these words exactly but you get the idea. The people had become corrupt, they chased after idols and they had all abandoned following God. God set messenger after messenger to try to give the people the opportunity to repent, and Jeremiah was the last. It was time to take a stand God was about to punish the wicked and everyone who wanted to avoid that better turn back to God now! Some did, most didn't and God displayed his power with the sword of Babylon.

4. Jesus-'You've turned my Father's house into a den of thieves!' This story is something else. Jesus flipping over tables, taking a whip to drive out animals, and shouting at people left right and center. Jesus arrived in Jerusalem the night before and he looked over the temple. What he saw angered him, he saw people who wanted to come to God and he saw people taking advantage of them. Jesus took a stand and told the religious establishment to get out of the way.

5. Jesus- 'It is finished.' Jesus' last words on the cross. It is finished. He died to defeat sin and death. Jesus saw every person separated from God and he took a stand. He showed us the way to God, faith in him. Jesus took a stand against sin.

These are only a few examples. There are others. Paul in Athens, Peter before the Sanhedrin, James before Herod and on and on they go. Pastor Terry is right the bible is just full of people that took stands. But he is dead wrong about the stand he is taking now.

If I had to guess I would say Pastor Terry and his church in some way see what they are doing in light of stories like Gideon's smashing the idol, or maybe Elijah's own face off with the prophets of Baal, or King Josiah's tearing down idols. He see's his church as taking a stand against a false god, and people who are worshiping a lie. He see's himself as standing up for what is right and just and holy. But what he is missing is that this type of stand went out of style by the end of the Old Testament*. Jesus ushered in a new way. He took the redemption story and moved in a new direction. God was not longer interested in one nation, but the whole world. The Kingdom of God could no longer was the same as the Kingdom of Israel. Being a member of the new Kingdom was not about nationality and national interests but it is about being a follower of Jesus. Living as he lived, and telling others about him.

The disciples that followed after Jesus took lots of stands, but none of them looked like they did in the Old Testament. Instead they took a quiet stand. They proclaimed Jesus as their risen Lord and than lived out the lessons he taught them. They took in the sick, the widow the orphan, the poor. They walked the extra mile. They forgave those who wronged them. They showed love to their enemies. They shared all they had. They refused to participate in idol worship. To paraphrase Peter they lived such good lives among the pagans, they (the pagans) gave glory to God.

Burning the Koran is not loving our enemy, it is not turning the other cheek, it is not caring for the poor and on and on we can go. This is not taking a stand for Jesus, for God or for truth. All it is is an out pouring of anger. It is saying you hurt us on 9/11 and we are going to hurt you back. This is not taking a stand, this is eye for an eye behavior. All this `stand` will do is further anger a people group who are by on large alienated from the Gospel. This will make it even harder to witness to the Muslim community. But it will also make it harder to talk with people who think Christians are hateful and judgmental. This action strengthens so many of the negative stereotypes about Christians.

All I can say is I for one will pray for rain.

* I do want to say that I do not think the Old Testament was replaced by the New Testament. There is a lot we can learn from the OT, and there is a lot of continuity between the two. But Jesus' life and death did change how we do things in a number of ways.