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Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The Dreadful 5 Steps of Social Revolution

Over the past week I've heard news of almost constant attacks against what I would call foundational beliefs in American society, ranging from religious teachings to political schools of thought, pushing always toward a more liberal, inclusive viewpoint. To be more specific, there is a constant push toward a perspective that does not make Christ the only way to Heaven, or the judge of sin, or the guide for our lifestyles. This is hardly shocking news.  What is shocking is how successful many of these campaigns have been, lately.

I find myself asking, over and over again, how a supposedly Christian nation can welcome in these changes and usher out the centrality of Christ.  Clearly some people call themselves by a name they don't believe in, but I think there are many others who do care about Christ, but they have become too wrapped up in the stress of their personal lives to watch what is going on around them.  One day, they will be rudely awakened to a landscape they didn't see coming, even though the signs were all there.

How does this happen?  What makes people miss the obvious, and what can bring about a massive directional shift in an entire nation's thinking? It certainly doesn't happen suddenly or by chance.

I've spent the last few months slowly re-reading the Old Testament, getting a feel for history and the rise and fall of ancient societies.  It seems the erosion of social values almost always happens through the same process: peer pressure, desensitization, compromise, division/marginalization, and intimidation.  These come in overlapping waves, intensifying until the conclusion of the matter.

Peer Pressure

Adult peer pressure (as opposed to the grade school variety), occurs when a respected or powerful person in society chooses to live a certain way and others copy this person in hopes of becoming prestigious as well.

August Landmesser, the Man in the Crowd
I call this the first step because not everyone wants to be like this celebrity or take his advice at the beginning of a social movement.  Some of the more resistant people will reject that lifestyle as odd, immoral, or nontraditional. That's okay for the one who started it; as long as more than one social leader adopts this new thinking, the movement will stand.
Example: "So all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah.  They said to him, 'You are old, and your sons do not follow your ways; now appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have.' 
But when they said, 'Give us a king to lead us,' this displeased Samuel; so he prayed to the Lord.  And the Lord told him: 'Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king.  They have done from the day I brought them up out of Egypt until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are doing to you. Listen to them; but warn them solemnly and let them know what the king who will reign over them will claim as his rights.'" (1 Samuel 8: 4-9 NIV)


In college I learned about desensitization techniques in psychology and science class.  You're probably familiar with booster vaccinations, for instance, but this has also been done to help animals overcome their fear of guns in a war zone or even to help people with peanut allergies overcome the serious reactions they are experiencing.  The principle is always the same, regardless of the application. Frequent, prolonged exposure to something lessens the response to that stimulus over time.
Pushing the Envelope. Image source here

News media, Hollywood, school curriculum, popular fiction, pedestrian traffic on a public street, and more can all work on the same principle to desensitize resistors to things that would normally upset them or move them to action.  It doesn't convert objectors as much as it silences their protests over time, draining their stamina until what was once a fringe idea has made quiet inroads into their thinking.
Example: "In the second year of Jehoash son of Jehoahaz king of Israel, Amaziah son of Joash king of Judah began to reign.  He was twenty-five years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem twenty-nine years. His mother’s name was Jehoaddan; she was from Jerusalem.  He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, but not as his father David had done. In everything he followed the example of his father Joash.  The high places, however, were not removed; the people continued to offer sacrifices and burn incense there." (2 Kings 14: 1-4 NIV)


Eventually, a growing movement will get enough traction to become a "counter culture," drawing in a sizable amount of the population, although still not a majority of people.  In order to keep that growth happening, it will have to put pressure on the old guard to get recognition as a legitimate sector of the society.  That takes a lot of "us versus them" rhetoric, especially phrased in such a way that the old guard's lifestyle now appears unreasonable, stodgy, or even hateful toward the new group.
Example: "Jeroboam thought to himself, 'The kingdom will now likely revert to the house of David.  If these people go up to offer sacrifices at the temple of the Lord in Jerusalem, they will again give their allegiance to their lord, Rehoboam king of Judah. They will kill me and return to King Rehoboam.'
After seeking advice, the king made two golden calves. He said to the people, 'It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem. Here are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.' One he set up in Bethel, and the other in Dan.  And this thing became a sin; the people came to worship the one at Bethel and went as far as Dan to worship the other." (1 Kings 12: 26-29 NIV)


As the new social movement actively gains traction as a legitimate alternate society, it engages the "resistors," convincing them that they have to negotiate because they cannot defeat the new thinking in open confrontation.

This is always a dangerous time in a society, because it has finally come to a crossroads in terms of culture and even religion, where society must choose who to follow and what to believe.  Fearful of the strident rhetoric of then new counter-culture, frequently the old guard give way, first to things they didn't think were so important, and then gradually concerning the things closest to their hearts.  It is a waiting game, really, as long as the older culture continues to back away from its core beliefs, until the new culture can overtake it completely.  At the root of it, once compromise begins, the revolution has already begun in earnest.
Example: "Before they had gone to bed, all the men from every part of the city of Sodom—both young and old—surrounded the house.  They called to Lot, 'Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us so that we can have sex with them.' 
Lot went outside to meet them and shut the door behind him and said, “No, my friends. Don’t do this wicked thing.  Look, I have two daughters who have never slept with a man. Let me bring them out to you, and you can do what you like with them. But don’t do anything to these men, for they have come under the protection of my roof.' 
'Get out of our way,' they replied. 'This fellow came here as a foreigner, and now he wants to play the judge! We’ll treat you worse than them.' They kept bringing pressure on Lot and moved forward to break down the door. 
But the men inside reached out and pulled Lot back into the house and shut the door." (Genesis 19: 4-10 NIV)


"Tank Man," Tianamen Square, 1989
 Once the counter-culture has gained the upper-hand in terms of numbers or voice in a society, it moves from negotiation to outright intimidation of the old culture, marginalizing what used to be mainstream. Oh, the dreadful awakening, for those who were silent until this point! There is not much left to do but resist or flee, and to resist is to lose.  Many retreat into themselves, holding onto their beliefs in their hearts but mostly not expressing them in public, for fear of repression.

Example:  The messenger who had gone to summon Micaiah said to him, “Look, the other prophets without exception are predicting success for the king. Let your word agree with theirs, and speak favorably.” 
But Micaiah said, “As surely as the Lord lives, I can tell him only what the Lord tells me.”
When he arrived, the king asked him, “Micaiah, shall we go to war against Ramoth Gilead, or not?”
“Attack and be victorious,” he answered, “for the Lord will give it into the king’s hand.”
The king said to him, “How many times must I make you swear to tell me nothing but the truth in the name of the Lord?” 
Then Micaiah answered, “I saw all Israel scattered on the hills like sheep without a shepherd, and the Lord said, ‘These people have no master. Let each one go home in peace.’” 
The king of Israel said to Jehoshaphat, “Didn’t I tell you that he never prophesies anything good about me, but only bad?” ...
The king of Israel then ordered, “Take Micaiah and send him back to Amon the ruler of the city and to Joash the king’s son and say, ‘This is what the king says: Put this fellow in prison and give him nothing but bread and water until I return safely.’” 
Micaiah declared, "If you ever return safely, the Lord has not spoken through me.” Then he added, “Mark my words, all you people!"(1 Kings 22: 13-18; 26-28 NIV)

In Conclusion

Sometimes the counter-culture brings something positive to a culture asleep in its old bad habits. For instance, the anti-slavery movement and the Protestant Reformation brought increased freedom the old culture had denied.  It isn't movements like this one that I'm really concerned about.  What they brought was an increased awareness of the justice and truth the Lord had originally taught.

I am seeing that we are at the last crossroads in Western culture on a number of issues, particularly this year, perhaps even this week.  Christianity as we know it has lost ground through peer pressure, desensitization, division, and compromise, and unless something changes radically, we are facing the last stage of this social revolution--and it won't be going anywhere good.  Can you see the signs?

Is there still time to come back from the brink? Of course, there always is, but there is only one way to heal what is wrong with society in a way that brings justice and mercy and sweeps away the destruction of sin.  It is the message of Jesus Christ spoken to a broken heart.  Unless that message is spoken, unless someone hears, and unless someone listens, things will continue as they have until the time of their completion.

This is a call to all Christians, whether they are part of the United States or praying in a house church under one of the most oppressive regimes on earth: Let us not sleep, but rather, let us stand with Jesus.  We should be praying, not worrying.  We should be teaching our children what is right when they are home with us.  We should recall the power of the God we serve, instead of trembling at the power of the crowd.  We should be speaking what we believe, openly but not maliciously, when called upon to speak.  And most importantly, we should be seeking God and knowing Him, so that He can help us to live according to His teaching and use us to minister to the world.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Centering In

My thoughts today feel rather scattered as I settle down to write this post.  I find it easy today to get bogged down in what I "feel like" and lose sight of what I am, and who God is.  I don't want to be ruled by feelings today.

So, let me guide my thoughts back to basics.

First, who is God?

God is the creator of everything, the all-powerful ruler of the whole universe and everything in it.  He is real, whether we "feel" Him or not.  He is in control, whether we see that in a sunset or in a hospital room.  More than that, He is good, and kind.  He isn't some sightless force or fearsome dictator. If we look long enough at the world around us, at the sunshine and the birds singing, at the rain and even the rise and fall of a baby's chest while sleeping, we can see the great goodness and kindness of God in the things He has made. He is not like any Creator we could make up. His goodness is beyond our imagination and ability. We can even see that great, unmerited kindness shining through the cracks in the dark pall mankind has pulled over the world, if we keep looking.  I say this, lest my readers forget to look.

Who, then, is Christ?

Jesus Christ is the priceless gift of a kind God to an ungrateful world. He is the logical extension of that great love and kindness we see in all the good things we had already received before He came.  He is proof, in the flesh, that a God who could be so kind as to bless us with things like sunshine, singing birds, the rain, and little children, would care that we saw justice for our wrongs, and mercy for our wrongdoings.  We can't make something like this up, but if we've ever known heartache, then we've known how badly we need the gift that Jesus brings. "Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted," (Matthew 5: 4 NIV), Jesus said, and we can take that as a promise.  It is my prayer that all of my readers will come to know the goodness of that promise.

Who, then, are we?

We are God's creation, the work of His hand and the most important thing that He made--whether we feel it or not. We are important because He made us important, and because He gave us value in His heart, before the foundation of the world was set.  We are not important because of the importance we give ourselves, or that which others give to us.  Some people willfully blind themselves to the kindnesses of God that He speaks through creation; some people deafen themselves in an attempt to block out the message that God has spoken through Jesus Christ.  Unfortunately, in their desperate attempts to cast God out, they are only casting themselves out of His presence.  They starve to death needlessly, like a famished beggar who won't take food that is offered to him. Who are we, except the sheep of God's pasture, which He made to know, and to be known by Him?  How blessed are we, that we are given the opportunity to live by blessings we never had to earn! I pray that all of my readers truly know God, and if not, that they will turn now and seek Him out.

How, then, should we feel?

Satan distracts us with feelings, and he would rule us by them, if he could. Let us not forget the realities of God--His eternal kindness, the mercy that He proved through Jesus Christ, and the value that He gives to each one of us as He tries to draw us to Him.  If we remember these things, we don't have to hold on to those feelings of stress, worry, distraction, sadness, and boredom.  Certainly, those feelings can and will come, but when they do, those who know God can take a deep breath and say this about their own lives: "The path of the righteous is like the morning sun, shining ever brighter till the full light of day," (Proverbs 4:18 NIV).  Those feelings pass away like the morning dew, but the light of God never goes out.

Monday, March 11, 2013

The Silent Spread of the Gospel

I really like stories about spies who snuck the truth past barriers, utilizing a lot of creativity and braving danger at every turn. Last night, as I was reading yet another spy thriller type novel, I found myself thinking about how the Gospel has often come through the same methods to reach new ears.

Christianity rarely comes into a society through the front doors--that is, through the news media and government leaders--because these groups don't know what to do with it.  The people at the bottom of society do understand it and feel the need for it, because they have no other hope. 

They may find themselves at the bottom because they are female, or poor, of the "wrong" heritage, or some other superficial reason.  Though this "bottom rung" of society may never see their base social status change in their lifetimes, the Bible offers them something new.  It has a subversive, stronghold-shattering secret.  They are valued by God, loved by God, and can be redeemed by God, even if the powers-that-be decree that it cannot be so.  No political or even educational power has ever achieved full mastery of the human heart.  What the heart needs, only a real, loving God can fully provide.

Lately in the news I've been reading that many governments have been cracking down hard on foreign missionaries to their countries and Christian communities in their borders, especially since the "Arab Spring" and other events that have been happening worldwide.  Persecution has picked up a little in my part of the world, as well. Of course, it isn't nearly as bold or high-stakes as elsewhere, but it has intensified.  At the very least, prepare to be mocked and ostracized for beliefs once widely accepted.  Occasionally Christians in the "free world" are the victims of religiously-motivated serious crimes.

What can I say to all of this anti-Christian paranoia? Only that Christianity is truly a religion of hope, but also one of desperation.  People who are not desperate for God, who have all the answers, and who are confident in their own choices and secure in their own lifestyle do not feel a need for God.  They aren't going to be ready or open to the hard truths contained in the Bible. On the other hand, those who are brought low and are confronted with their own mortality are more likely to listen, and more likely to be impressed by those who stand by their faith despite the risks. This is why Christianity spreads more quickly during times of oppressive regimes and persecution (see Acts 8: 1-4).

The underground, behind-the-scenes spread of Christianity is an example of God turning something bad into something good, although we can't forget that it is still bad to begin with. There may be lots of underground, secret revivals going on behind the scenes in the dark places of the world right now, but the fact that they have to hide only underscores the need for Christians everywhere to pray for those undergoing persecution.

We would happily praise the efforts of spies who quietly subvert evil political regimes and avert war, but we should support even more those people who face trouble of a more personal kind so that the message of hope can spread--the message about how Christ came to save us, and how He succeeded. Witnessing to one's own countrymen is a bigger job with higher stakes than any political spy job.

 We need to petition God on behalf of persecuted Christians for spiritual gifts they might have forgotten to ask for in their time of need, such as steadfastness, hope, and faith, so they can be blessed and strengthened to endure whatever they are facing today.  We need to ask God, like Abraham did, to spare those who are faithful to Him when He goes out to punish evil (Genesis 18: 20-33). We also need to ask that God frustrate and punish evil plans so that justice and peace can prosper in the land, instead of fear and cruelty, and people can come to know the Lord who brings peace (Proverbs 29: 2; Proverbs 11: 10, 11).  We have God's ear, but He is calling us to have His heart of compassion.  Will we pray, and if called, will we go?

Monday, March 4, 2013

Putting Work at the Feet of Jesus

When I sat down to write this blog, I was confronted with the realization that I've got a problem with overworking today.  Every time I started to concentrate on what I was going to write, I found myself thinking about other work I need to do today. I mean, of course I need to be dedicated to my job, because otherwise, I won't be able to cover my bills, and that just isn't good.  Still, why this compulsion to open five tabs in the browser or tweet when it's supposed to be a scheduled time for contemplation with God? Can't I take a break for five minutes? What's the matter with me?

Part of this, when I force myself to close those browser tabs and really think about it, is pure habit.  On the other hand, part of this, I think, is born of some of Satan's lies.  If I stop working, I might be "lazy," or perhaps "abandoning my duty," or "proving a failure who doesn't know when to work and when to quit." Satan would have me feeling guilty for sleeping or taking enough time for a meal.  He would make me feel unsatisfied with any reward I might have gotten out of a job well-done.  Ultimately, he'd like to see me broken down, worn out, depressed, and ineffective for the Lord.  He couldn't just cut to that ending, so he has to start with guilt.

I am a freelancer for a living. I know there may be a lot of freelancers out there reading this and nodding their heads.  However, freelancers aren't the only ones dealing with the "guilt of work." Whether you work a regular 9-5 office job, do physical labor outdoors, or corral toddlers all day, you have probably found yourself doing work out of guilt or some kind of compulsion, even when it's time to do something else (like maybe, sleep).  I might be describing you if:
  • You frequently interrupt bedtime prayer mid-sentence to add to a grocery or to-do list.
  • You can't seem to get into a conversation because you keep checking your phone for updates.
  • Watching movies in the movie theater with friends or family make you feel fidgety, because you have to turn off your phone and abandon your computer for a whole hour and a half to two hours.
  • When you are home watching television or doing something with your family, you feel nervous, as if you "should really be doing something."
  • It is hard to sit down and lose yourself in a fictional book or hobby. If it's not nonfiction, you feel that it should be. If it isn't "good for your career" or potentially going to make money, it isn't worth the time.
  • You suddenly solve the answer to a problem you've been having at work when the pastor is still preaching.
There are more situations like these, and I could go on listing them, but I think you get the idea. 

Other people value us by the money we earn or the tasks we complete, but it seems God measures our time by our spiritual development, according to His purposes. He would like us to see work as good for a few things, not our source of meaning.  He certainly doesn't want our "work guilt" from any source to keep us from coming to Him (Matthew 11: 28-29). He wants us to see our work for what it really is (important, but not spiritually essential), so we can come and rest at His feet (Luke 10: 38-42).

It comes down to a confrontation with those guilty feelings that keep egging us on without a rest.  We need to face the fact that we can't hold up the world on our shoulders, and purposefully, actively give it to God.  That might mean literally ceasing to work for a few minutes while we focus on God, like Martha's sister Mary did, just to prove to ourselves that the world won't end if we do.  Alternatively, if stopping is not an option at that moment, it might mean confessing those guilty feelings to God and asking Him to remind us of how He values us, so that we can keep working with a healthier attitude about it.

Here's a question for my readers out there.  How do you cope with "work guilt"?  Any tips you could share? Good ones will go into a follow-up blog on this subject.