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Monday, April 22, 2013

EHK, Standing up for your Beliefs: Refusing to be religiously politically correct

Throughout this past week as the Boston Marathon Bombing events unfolded, a common theme running through the media was not only to "jump to conclusions" about the terrorists' motives or their associations (aka don't assume it was the work of yet another Muslim extremist), but to even stretch and reach to try to pin it on potential "right wing extremists".  And one Salon writer went on to say he hopes the bomber is white since, you know, our country is racist and the supposed "white privilege" would prevent us from being wary of Islamism and all the poor peace loving Muslims out there caught in the cross fire.

While I'm all for the not jumping to conclusions part, I was repulsed by our media's continual castigation of our country's natural reaction to foreign influenced terrorism occurring on our own soil.  For the most part, this is born out of a need to be politically correct.  See , it's ok to frown upon and even offend Americans and their straightforward (typically Christian God based) values, but it's not ok to point out how Islam is continually racking up an extremist high score that leaves all other extremist causes in the dust.  In other words, even though the cause is staring us right in the face, those adhering to political correctness not only will not touch it, they'll admonish those that do point out the obvious:  Islam breeds far more extremists the world over than any other religion, be it spiritual or secular.  The PC police are so afraid to confront this truth, they'll look everywhere they can, make far reaching assumptions and stretch already tenuous connections in their scramble to show that this is not the case.  

When it comes to Christians, this same type of political correctness regarding other religions needs to be avoided.  Let's get one thing straight before I continue.  I'm not for proselytizing.  And I'm not for condemning those that believe other religions.  That's not my way nor do I think it's Christ's way.  We're the light on the hill and by our works we attract those to follow.  Yet, being passive in the pursuit of Extending His Kingdom does not mean being passive in accepting that "different religions work for different people" doctrine that seems prevalent these days.  

There's a couple things wrong with this type of thinking.  First, a "whatever works" approach means that someone is choosing a religion based on how well it meshes with their own feelings, thus putting the religion's tenets as secondary to one's own personal feelings. In other words, this type of relative/subjective choice of religion based on feelings makes practicing said religion pointless as someone's true religion in this case is their own feelings.  They want to find a religion that adheres to their feelings rather than adhere themselves to their religion.  While it's quite possible that someone may actually become influenced enough such that the religion changes their feelings (which has happened alot in Christianity), believing that people will be naturally led to Christ by their own feelings is just lazy from an EHK perspective (not to mention it means that we're not actively attempting to fulfill His mandate).  It puts all the work on God to convert them through conviction of the Holy Spirit while we'd do pretty much nothing.  

Second, "whatever works" belies an under lying attitude that is undermines EHK.   If someone believes "whatever works", then they must not believe Christianity is the best and "correct" religion.  To truly Extend His Kingdom, we must fully embrace the idea that Christianity is for everyone.  Not just the people that feel good about it.  Furthermore, Jesus said it Himself, "...no one comes to the Father, but by me."  Meaning that the only path to salvation involves in believing and accepting Him as our Savior.  So any religion that does not recognize this simple fact will not work for anyone as it is not correct.  So again, if someone doesn't believe in the sovereignty of Christianity, then there's a good chance they don't really care to Extend His Kingdom, which seems pretty clearly as disobedient to God.  

Again, we don't need to proselytize.  This isn't justification for dropping a Bible on someone's head.  This is recognizing the distinction between actively letting our light shine and believing the relative nonsense that every other religion is just as valid as Christianity.  It's ok to believe Christianity is correct and right while not condemning or scorning non believers.  In fact, that's what I believe should be the proper course.

Case in point, I'll say it:  I don't recognize Islam's legitimacy.   I think it's a perversion of Christianity.  As I previously touched on the origins of Islam, there's several reasons to believe so.  However, the biggest one comes from the fact that Islam does not believe that Jesus is the Son of God and part of the Trinity.  He's just another prophet, which directly contradicts the above mentioned John 14:6.  Furthermore, Paul warned against "alternative gospels" to the Galatians:

6 I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; 7 which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you, and want to distort the gospel of Christ. 8 But even though we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we have preached to you, let him be accursed. 9 As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to that which you received, let him be accursed.   Galations 1:6 - 9

This wasn't in direct response to Islam itself since this epistle is about 500 years before the time of Muhammed, which I consider the "start" of Islam.  However, the message is quite clear:  You preach a gospel contrary to Paul's gospel, and you're cursed.  And what could be more contrary than believing Jesus was just another prophet instead of being the Son of God and our Savior?  It doesn't matter how much co-opting they do of the Old Testament, this one simple fact is enough for me to know its falsity.

And looking to today with the high levels of extremism running through Islam, you could chalk it up to mere coincidence.  I, on the other hand, see it as Paul's warning come to fruition.  By following an alternative gospel, they are cursed.

Now keep in mind, I'm not going to be running around condemning every Muslim I come across.  I'm not going to go out and trash them and their religion.   But I AM, if asked, going to state my opinion if someone asks me or if something is said that challenges my beliefs.  There is nothing wrong with standing up for the sovereignty of Christianity, especially when it's under attack.  If that makes me politically incorrect religiously, then so be it.

So while people are free to practice their own religions and I'll not condemn them as such, I'm also free to believe those religions to be false and pray that in my continuing efforts to Extend His Kingdom, they'll be Saved.  

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Maybe it's time for churches to forfeit their tax exempt status?

Growing up, particularly during my teenage years, my parents would use whatever leverage they had on me to get me to do what they wanted.  Granted these days I understand it was largely a necessity because in order to threaten discipline for doing, or not doing, something, you have to actually have control of something that person uses, likes, or believes they need.   At the time though, I hated it and found the practice loathsome.  And some times, the parents can get it wrong by being too heavy handed with "holding something over" their kids' heads.  But alas, I understand that parents are not perfect having been one for almost 15 years now and as such, having that leverage and wielding it effectively is part of being a parent.

The idea to take away from this is that when someone provides you something, usually if you do not pay for it in some fashion, they have a certain amount of leverage, or power, over you.  Should you do something they do not like or refuse to do something they want you to do, they can threaten to alter or cease whatever it is they're providing to you.   And depending on how valuable this thing is, it might force you to reconsider your position.  This is nothing profound or new and is an innate part of human nature when it comes to conflict resolution.  It's just always important to remember that though: if you're dependent on someone, they have leverage and power.  How they use it depends on the person, but the idea is pretty universal.

So lately, the left has been waging lawfare against Christian business owners that will not service homosexual weddings.  And even a state DA has sued a business for the owner's stance on not servicing a gay wedding. We've also seen the federal government try to compel Christian and Catholic employers to pay for their employees' birth control or morning after pills.  These are examples of "small ball".  They're intended to test the legal waters of an agenda they're pushing by going after smaller, potentially more vulnerable targets and areas of law. And if the results go as they want, then the small ball will eventually lead to bigger agenda pushes.  Remember, the left continually will build upon small victories to gain the momentum they need for their overall agenda push.  So the small ball you see today regarding Christians businesses refusing business based on principle can lead to bigger things such as forcing churches to marry and recognize homosexual unions.  And that's not even the end game.  Gay marriage is just a wedge issue.  The real goal is scrub the Church of professing any beliefs that the left does not agree with, essentially destroying the Church's foundation and marginalizing into irrelevance.  Hopefully I do not need to explain why doing so would be a very bad idea.  Not just for Christians, but for humanity in general.

And you don't think the government won't go there with gay marriage?  Think again. While we're allowed to practice religion freely in this country, it doesn't mean the government doesn't have any leverage to try.  Looping back to the beginning about the inherent leverage/power lending provision has, the government indeed has that leverage in place.  Most churches enjoy a 501(c)(3), or non profit organization, tax exempt status meaning they're exempt from most federal income taxes.  While churches being tax exempt has been around for centuries and that churches are 501(c)(3) by default without having to fill out an application, the fact of the matter is by nature of having this special privilege, the Church has given, involuntarily or not, the government some leverage over it.  So while the government isn't likely to walk in with gun toting soldiers to shut down a church, they do have their fingers in the pie by virtue of allowing them to operate as a 501(c)(3).

And even though there's no rule in the tax code now that says a church must marry anyone according to federal government's definition of marriage (should marriage becoming redefined), it doesn't mean there won't ever be.  Keep in mind, before 1954, 501(c)(3) organizations were allowed to participate in political discussion and endorsements.  It wasn't until then-Senator Lyndon Johnson, a Democrat, introduced legislation that would prohibit 501(c)(3)'s from participating in political activities and endorsement, thus severely limiting the Church's influence on elections. So it's not much of a stretch to imagine the government adjusting the requirements for a church to retain their tax exempt status to other things such as "respecting everyone's civil rights" (as the language would go), which would, of course, mean not refusing to marry a couple solely on the basis of them being gay.

While I can't speak for what the impact of losing tax exempt status would have on a church, I find the fact that it gives government the potential to dictate what a church can or can't do in order to retain that status odious.  With the leftist controlled government revving up their small ball game, it may be time for churches to consider trading in their tax exempt status for freedom from that leverage the government could wield against them.  Having to pay taxes, while no small matter, is at least is a broader scale such that attempting to adjust the tax code to punish "rogue" churches would be more difficult to do and would hopefully raise more resistance since it'd be seen as an aggressive move to restrict 1st Amendment rights.

You could argue that adjusting 501(c)(3) requirements would be seen as such as well, but I think it's a tougher sell.  Tax exempt status isn't a constitutional right, so the government can pretty much offer it to whomever they want with just about any requirements they wish.  However, actively creating tax law that would attempt to punish, via increase in taxation, churches that went "rogue" is a more clear example of violating freedom of religion.  In other words, I think that a government can get away with forcing a church to pay taxes like everyone else by revoking tax exempt status, but would not be able to get away with making them pay more just because of the have conflicting beliefs.

But, mark my words, if the left's small ball plays out as it's looking to play out, you can bet the federal government over these next few years will attempt to strong arm churches into doing things against their beliefs by holding their 501(c)(3) status over their head.  I say let's just opt out now and send a message that "No, we don't need your tax benefits to Extend His Kingdom and we will never compromise our beliefs for anything, especially money."

Monday, April 8, 2013

Looking back at Easter: An opportunity for EHK

It may seem a bit odd to write a post about Easter a week or so after it's gone by, right?  Perhaps.  Honestly, the inspiration didn't hit me until late Easter Sunday afternoon, after most of it was done that I was able to look back and see the immense value Easter weekend has.  So consider it my musings on Easter after the fact.

Let's get the obvious stuff out first.  Easter, Resurrection Sunday, is, by far, the most important event in human history.  Some may say the creation of man should be and I'd agree it's important.  I mean, if God didn't create us, we wouldn't be here right?  Pretty important, true.  But what would be even more important than being created?  It'd be given a way to come face to face and meet your creator, God.  To be able to meet the one who lovingly made you.  Some may say that Jesus' birth is the most important.  True, if he was never born, he couldn't have done what he did.  It IS important.  But I look at it from a football angle:  What's more important to a fan:  Their team signing the best quarterback in the league or that quarterback leading them to a Super Bowl win?  Any fan will say the latter.  Signing the quarterback is the potential for great things.  Winning, on the other hand, is achieving those great things.  So Jesus' birth gave the potential for great things.  But, it wasn't until Resurrection Sunday that he had completed all of them.  This is why I believe Easter is the most important day of all.

And it's because of that profound importance that this day, nearly 2,000 years later still has monumental impact on the world.  And as Christians, we'd be amiss to let this day slip by with just a ho-hum Standard Easter Service and heaping platefuls of food (and candy, of course).  Not that the latter two are bad (particularly the platefuls of food), but I just believe it's not utilizing the day to its full potential, because this is a day like none other where we can advance EHK (Extending His Kingdom), the one mandate God gave to us.

As I had discussed recently about the dangers of intellectualism, particularly intellectual pride, it seems all too easy for regular, devout church going Christians to adopt a pharisaical attitude toward those people that only go to church on Easter.  It'd be all too easy to regard these people with scorn with remarks like "they think going to church once a year on Easter makes them a Christian?" or "Why even bother to show up if they don't take being a Christian seriously anyway?"  And while yes, while there may be people like that who go only go to church on Easter and/or Christmas, it's this type of attitude that contributes to those people continuing to only come once or twice a year or not at all.

There's two big mistakes born out of this type of pride.  First, we're assuming these people are completely ignorant of what it takes to walk in Christ.  That they really believe just going once a year is "enough".  I'd venture to say that most adults who attend church annually are at least somewhat aware that their token appearance at church isn't what Christ had in mind for walking with Him.  That, or they're simply aware that their token appearance is just a token appearance and nothing more.

Second, regarding these people with scorn is just about the exact opposite of what we should be doing.  Sure, perhaps you're nice to them, but if you hold scorn in your heart then are you honestly welcoming them into the church?  On top of that, visitors are already aware of their visitor/outsider status, so they're most likely hyper sensitive to how regular members of the church act toward them which includes picking up on the people throwing out the shallow "just being nice" responses.

One of the best ways to forward EHK is getting people into church.  Let them see.  Let the Holy Spirit work in them.  Have a seed planted.  Most churches continually work on bringing in more people.  And while some can be successful at this, the Lord has already provided a day (or two) that draws in more people than any of our own efforts could.  But, if we hold scorn in our hears toward the newcomers or just go through some go-through-the-motions uinspired service, we're wasting the golden opportunity to Extend His Kingdom that he's given us.  We should be glad these people came and be praising Him for having an opportunity to Extend His Kingdom through these visitors.

Think about it:  It's been about 2,000 years since Christ rose.  And still to this day flocks of people who don't normally go to church will go (even if it's only to make a token appearance).   That's an amazing impact .  Something we shouldn't ignore.

Resurrection Sunday should be like an Open House for a church.  A "come on in, see what we're about" where we're at our best.  If there was ever a day to give our best for our Father, it'd be the day where the chains of death were broken from our souls.  Let's even go farther than that.  Resurrection Sunday should be the end cap of a weekend where we're celebrating the most important event in human history.

If we're wanting to Extend His Kingdom, let's make the most out of the gift God has given us that day:  throngs of visitors.  And true, we might not see immediate results.  But if we're doing what God wants, we can rest assured that His will is moving forward in their lives.

Friday, April 5, 2013

The dangers of placing too much value in intellectualism

Have you ever had an opinion you're completely confident in it being correct (and I use the term correct loosely.  It's just to illustrate a belief in "being right") that when anyone presented a counter opinion to it, you immediately scoffed, dismissed, didn't really listen to nor bothered to form counter points of your own in reply?  I'm pretty sure we all have at one point and probably still have a few of those that we keep with us.

And while it's quite plain that doing so is really poor communication practice, how many realize that it's actually wrong to do since it's born out of intellectual pride?  You see, whenever you react in this manner, you're believing that your conclusion is the only valid or correct conclusion to the point where you're above "wasting your time" with someone's "inferior arguments".   It's condescending and arrogant, two symptoms of a prideful person.

As humans born into sin, this kind of intellectual pride is something that comes natural to us.  In our effort to bring ourselves up, we bring others down.   It's our natural inclination to puff ourselves up (aka swell with pride) when we first learn  some piece of knowledge, particularly when we learn it before others have "caught up".  And the above situation is a result of our tendency to puff up.

On a small person to person scale, such as the situation mentioned above, this can be an annoyance, but can also be mitigated by other, less arrogant and perhaps more level headed persons.  The point where it becomes dangerous is when a culture starts placing intellectualism and itellectual prowess above everything else, including God.  Now this is the part where someone might go "ah ha!" and begin to label me as anti-science, backward thinking, religious fanatic, etc. etc.  But hopefully they would, in part due to their supreme intellect, hear me out.

It's good to recognize and value those people of high intellectual caliber. Their potential for contribution is pretty high as they could possibly figure something out that many people could not.  Intellectualism is about the mind, one of a human being's most valuable asset, thus utilizing it to accomplish greater things is obviously a noble pursuit.  It's when we start automatically assuming other qualities about an intellectual, such as they're both smart and wise, while also reducing the relative value of other qualities not immediately associated with intellectualism, such as common sense, morality, decency, and integrity that we get ourselves into trouble.

For starters, being intellectual does not make one smart.  There are plenty of smart people who are not intellectual just as there's plenty of intellectual people that aren't that smart (despite them thinking themselves such).  Same thing with wisdom.  Increased knowledge and a sharp intellect does not equate to wisdom.  In fact, I'd go so far as to say that a large number of intellectuals are not wise at all because, given their culturally inflated sense of self worth, they foolishly replace wisdom with their own intellect.  Paul even touches on this in the New Testament when talking about the Roman and Greek philosophers in Romans 1:22:  "Professing themselves to be wise, they were utter fools".   Wisdom is gained through the discernment of experience, not through the extrapolation of intellect.  Thus when not only does an intellectual believe himself to be wise because of his intellect, but also society does as well for the same reasons, we end up placing our faith in someone that may be neither smart nor wise which in and of itself is quite dangerous.  As Obi Wan Kenobi said, "Who's more foolish? The fool or the fool that follows him?"

But, what really makes placing intellectualism on such a high pedestal dangerous is its one-two punch in bringing down other human qualities around it.  Just like it's our human nature to bring ourselves up by bringing others down, the nature of intellectualism is to sneer at other qualities and aspects of life that are "lesser" according to one's intellectual standards.  Things like common sense are considered too subjective and undefinable, so aren't as important, or valuable, as one's intellect.  Morality, decency, and integrity?  Those are all relative so they have no applicable value in a universal setting.   People championing these qualities get the "stupid and backward" label slapped on them by the intellectual (to varying degrees of course).   So, not only are intellectuals believing themselves to be wise and smart, and perhaps just "better", they at the same time label those whose disagreements fall outside the purview of intellectualism, or even worse the intellectual individual's smaller sphere of intellectual focus, as ignorant fools who should be dismissed.  The irony.

So, does our society exalt intellectualism to this level?  The answer is unequivocably yes.   This type of intellectual veneration is so deep and ingrained that it's about as ubiquitously unnoticeable as water is to a fish.  Let's take a quick look at pop culture.   One of my favorite shows is Dr. Who, which chronicles the travels of the titular character "The Doctor" and his various companions through space and time.  It's quirky and interesting, feeding my (usually well fed) inner geek.  The Doctor, at least in his most recent incarnations, has a very modern "no guns, not ever" policy; something that makes me roll my eyes just a little at how overtly political it is, but it's not enough to keep me from watching.  Anyway, instead of guns, he always uses his unmatched wits, and isn't shy about touting his uneclipsed cleverness, to overcome seemingly impossible odds.  He is so effective at this, that whole enemy alien armies fear him and have labeled him the most dangerous and powerful being in the universe (heck he even takes on Satan in one episode) - all because of his massively superior intellect and wits (although having a near indestructable time travelling vessel certainly helps, it's pretty rare that it's used to save the day).   Now, if that's not celebrating the ultimate superiority of intellectualism, I'm not sure what is.  On a more common observation, the opinions coming from a more "intellectual" person are typically seen as "better" than those not so intellectually inclined.  I recall an atheist friend of mine pointing out how on average those that believe in God are on average less intellectual than those that do not.  My response was "so?" which baffled them since by worshipping at the intellectual altar, they were unable to understand how someone less intellectual could be as "good" (or better) than a more intellectual person.

Some of the most glaring examples of this type of hyper valued intellectualism is the attitudes those supporting various progressive causes  have toward any opposition to their cause.  Those that are opposed to changing the definition of marriage are, almost immediately, labeled bigots and haters and pretty much anything that equates to the lowest of the low.  Those that question the methods of climate change advocate research are put into an anti-science, backward thinking bucket.   This valuation is so profound that its grip on politics stifles honest reporting and mature political discussion.  For example, when senior White House Advise Dan Pfeiffer not only scoffs at any reporter that asks questions based on links seen on the Drudge Report, a popular conservative news aggregator, but laments how it 'damages what we're trying to do', you know for a fact that the Obama administration believes their opinions and solutions are beyond reproach from such a site that run by individuals that philosophically disagree with them.   In other words, they're not interested in considering other ideas or that they may be wrong, they know they're right.  And why wouldn't they think so?  As a result of inflating intellectualism's value, they see themselves as wise and most likely the smartest people in the room.

While this behavior is quite common among progressives, it's definitely not limited to them.  Any Christian that fails to consider a non believer's argument against Christianity is also guilty of this.  They, the Christian, already know the answer to the same old and tiring non believer critiques, right?  And any parent that isn't willing to hear their kids out on a contentious point (which is not the same thing as debate), propagates this type of pride that stifles real listening.

If I were to distill this down to a single point, it'd be that it's this replacing God with human intellectualism as the most valued aspect of a person is what's causing many of the problems we're experiencing in this country.    It's an arrogance saying "we don't need God, all we need is our  minds".  Yet, looking at the past few decades, our collective intellect's track record looks pretty terrible.  So if you want to see the danger of putting too much value in intellectualism, just look around you right now.  We're reaping the results of the cultural shift that started to take place 50 years ago...