Flag of France (1)This weekend has seen another outpouring of heart-wrenching sympathy for those who have been slammed by the hateful fist of terrorism. All the political disagreements have bubbled to the surface again, as they always do after senseless violence, with little headway toward true solutions. All it seems we can do is brace ourselves for the next attack, wondering when and where it will occur. Coping in this era of a globally-conscious, 24-hour stream of tragic information, uncertain of tomorrow’s headlines, proves to be a challenge. Yesterday it was France. We don’t know who will need peace and comfort when terror strikes next. Social media, though, has emerged as a way for many to respond to our violent world, and as I read posts from this weekend, I’m left wondering a few things.

  1. I wonder, when someone says something like, “My prayers are with ______ tonight”, exactly what that means. I am all for prayer. One of the main goals in the ministry I have is to encourage people to pray, so when I see so many offering their prayers for those in need, I know that’s a right response. It just seems possible that prayer can be a culturally acceptable activity (or claim of an activity) after senseless murder. It can make us feel better, but wouldn’t we want to make sure our prayers are actually effective when offered? The Scriptures make it plain that some prayers are effective and some are not.
  2. I wonder, for some of these responding to tragedy with prayer, where their desire for God is in the rest of their lives. God is the only right and true Judge of the heart and of the validity of these prayers, not me. But if one’s worldview and promotion of values is opposed to what is clearly revealed in the Bible, why pray at all (or say that you do?) I would hope that if we see the need to pray in times of loss and suffering, that the pressing need for prayer would be a regular soul-response. If God is worthy to be sought, He is worthy constantly, not only in time of need.

“pray without ceasing” 1 Thessalonians 5:17

 

Francois Hollande, President of France

Francois Hollande, President of France

3.  I wonder, as we pray for families who have suddenly lost loved ones to terrorism this week, if our prayers include the leaders of nations who must make crucial decisions to try to protect their people from future attacks? Since protecting citizens is a God-ordained purpose of government, do our prayers include wisdom for the right policies from our leaders?

“for he (the human authority) is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.” Romans 13:4

Our prayers should be with the people of France right now. And Syria. And other places that have been touched by terrorist acts in recent days. We should be praying for repentance from those doing the killing. But prayer is never meant to be exclusively a knee-jerk reaction to disaster. It is meant to be communion between people and God, done His way with His guidelines. We don’t get to make those guidelines. And if we reject the true path of prayer (taught at length all through the Scriptures) we do it at great peril to ourselves. No matter how therapeutic it might make us feel.

family mealMaryland has a ninety-day session every year. Even in that amount of time, the challenge of keeping the priority of family in balance with the tremendous workload of the busy session can be daunting. On the other hand, there are some over the years who have intentionally chosen to neglect family responsibilities in order to pour themselves completely into their political aspirations (a reminder to pray for elected leaders to have the right priorities in their personal lives). This Baltimore Sun article sheds some light on the dilemma legislators face and how some are coming up with creative ways to meet the demands of marriage and parenthood while serving their constituents.

How should we look at this challenge? 1) Be thankful for those leaders who think this issue through and take seriously their first responsibility of caring for their family first; 2) Pray for those leaders who let family fall by the wayside while pursuing political advancement and 3) Be mindful of other states in which the legislative session is longer than Maryland’s (some are even year-round) or the geographical size is larger (allowing for less chance to return home).

All the many needs of a family must come first. Only with strong families can a society be healthy. That goes for governmental leaders, too.

But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.  1 Timothy 5:8

pulpitLast week, five Houston area pastors were told by the courts to produce sermons and other communication that referenced HERO (the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance). This law protects, among other things, the right of any man or woman to use whatever public restroom they want, depending on which gender they identify with. The mayor of Houston, Annise Parker, a lesbian herself, tweeted “If the 5 pastors used pulpits for politics, their sermons are fair game…” This brings up several thoughts here at Rotunda Reflections, since this has caused such a firestorm of criticism by many in the religious community.

Annise Parker Mayor of Houston

Annise Parker
Mayor of Houston

1)  The first thought was, “When (not if) this happens in Maryland, what will be the response of pastors and churches?” The Maryland General Assembly passed a bill last March (the Fairness for All Marylanders Act of 2014) guaranteeing the same rights to transgenders. The governor signed it into law in May. California is the only other state with such a law on the books.

2)  Any fair-thinking person, liberal or conservative, should be able to see the unconstitutional nature of this subpoena of sermons. By the way, the original subpoenas were amended to demand the pastors produce speeches instead of sermons. This was surely due to the public outcry over the clear violation of the pastors’ first amendment rights of freedom of speech and religion. And isn’t a pastoral “speech” just a sermon anyway?

3)  Christians began immediately opining what they thought the pastors should do. It’s still early, but if Houston moves forward with the demand for these sermons (which are public anyway), those who follow Christ will have to come to terms at some point with what they believe – the dilemma of this issue may be in our backyard next. I’ve seen some believers say the pastors should comply and be grateful their sermons will be read. Others say defiance is the way to go. It’s not a cut-and-dried answer since the Scriptures give us both ideas relating to interfacing with government. Romans 13:1 and 1 Peter 2:13 speak of submission to governing authorities. Also, 1 Timothy 2:1, 2 point us toward an attitude of quietness and peacefulness regarding government relationships. But there are also examples of civil disobedience that clearly show there are times to refuse obeying government’s demands. The three Jewish youths disobeyed Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 3:12), Daniel prayed when it was forbidden by Darius’ decree (Daniel 6:7-10), and Peter and John kept preaching when they were commanded to stop (Acts 4:18, 19). So, which is it? Quietly submit or defy authority?

I would lean toward the latter, but not necessarily because of the examples above. Each of these examples were fairly extreme and don’t have a direct parallel to the Houston case. But for American Christians under the rights and privileges of the constitution, there seems to be a biblical precedent to stand up here. Paul, on several occasions, appealed to his status as a Roman citizen when his freedoms were threatened. And freedom of religion is such a basic right of those in our nation, it would be wrong to quietly let that right erode in small increments (because it won’t happen in one big reversal). Just as Paul reminded rulers of his rights and forced leaders to acknowledge them, we have a biblical and constitutional responsibility now and for generations to come to refuse our government’s inappropriate erasing of those rights.

The other part of this equation is that there may be consequences to pay for refusing the demands of government. Will we see the day that pastors are fined or jailed for preaching against homosexuality and same-sex marriage? I pray not. Even those who champion the homosexual agenda in America should fight against forcing anybody to think and act only as the government tells them to. Our core values and freedoms are at stake now. Let’s prayerfully move forward with a desire to submit, but be ready to challenge if that’s what we’re called to do.

So, if my sermons were subpoenaed, I would definitely pray hard, prepared to refuse Caesar’s overreaching and suffer whatever consequences might come.

But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men.” (Acts 5:29)  supreme court building

The normal stance of the believer toward his government in New Testament teaching is submission and obedience. There are times, though, when conscience overrides the dictates of human law. We saw that recently when the founders and owners of Hobby Lobby and some other businesses echoed the apostles’ words from Acts chapter five.

Anytime the Supreme Court passes down a 5-4 vote on any issue, the resulting voices are predictably divisive. Reading comments on social media or replies to blog entries and opinion pieces show the stark, sharp differences we have in America on certain social issues. When Monday’s decision came down in favor of Hobby Lobby’s rejection of supplying certain (but not all) forms of hobby lobbycontraception for employees, the differing worldviews of our culture came to a head once more. Here at Rotunda Reflections, the decision is considered a God-honoring victory for religious freedom, something dear to the hearts of many Americans. Without getting into the specifics of the abortion debate, which has been done many times before here and on other blog sites, let’s just say that when the court wisely upholds our right to live out our faith in good conscience, the principles of freedom (granted by God, not government) are also upheld.

We will be celebrating America’s birthday this week and for me, at least, this will be a new reminder to be thankful to be in America. It’s a land with an amazing constitution which guarantees the right to worship as we choose, not just in cloisters hidden from the world around us, as some who oppose us would prefer, but to be lived out in our daily lives with “the free exercise thereof”. How long this freedom will be allowed is in some doubt. But for those who hold this freedom of faith dear, we should prepare to stand for it, keep praying for it, and resolve to fight for it. Paul himself appealed to the authorities for his freedom based on his rights as a Roman citizen. While we prioritize the gospel as our main message to the world, there is nothing unbiblical or inappropriate in firmly seeking to preserve our religious rights and freedoms.

frustrated guyA frustrated friend and I were speaking not long ago about influence. Specifically, his influence (or lack thereof). He tried to convey how impotent he feels in the current culture to bring about any real change to his world. It’s a world that is increasingly headed in direct opposition to his beliefs and he wondered out loud, “What can one person do? What platform do I really have?”

He’s not the first to feel this way or ask those same questions. Even the Psalmist said, “If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?” (Psalm 11:3)  For centuries well-meaning people have looked around themselves, despairing at the condition of society and their inability to change it.

I tried to encourage him the best I could but have taken a few days to think more about his statement. Then I came across these words from Solomon, no lightweight when it came to wisdom:

I have also seen this example of wisdom under the sun, and it seemed great to me. There was a little city with few men in it, and a great king came against it and besieged it, building great siegeworks against it. But there was found in it a poor, wise man, and he by his wisdom delivered the city. Yet no one remembered that poor man. But I say that wisdom is better than might, though the poor man’s wisdom is despised and his words are not heard. The words of the wise heard in quiet are better than the shouting of a ruler among fools. Wisdom is better than weapons of war, but one sinner destroys much good. Ecclesiastes 9:13-18

The “powerless” person in this tale had the true power and teaches us several key lessons:

1)  Wisdom is required – In a world devoid of true wisdom, the Word of God is still the source of answers for what plagues our culture or any other. The keys, then, are to know it, apply it, share it and spread it.

2)  We all have a platform – No one is entirely without influence regardless of our situation or how powerless one may feel. Size of the platform is irrelevant; seizing the available opportunities is what counts.

3)  The platform may seem insignificant – Wisdom, while never powerless, could appear like small weapon but still overshadows public boasting of a foolish ruler. This passage says the audience of wisdom “heard in quiet” is better off because of the content of the message, not the size of the crowd.

4)  Start with your sphere – What do you think this poor, wise man did? I doubt if he took to the local airwaves to get his wise message out. Did he organize a community to deliver the city? With his connections? I doubt it. He probably had a very small circle of listeners, but somehow his wisdom caught fire and the city was eventually saved from the siege.

Who is in your sphere of influence? Thousands or a handful? Friends? Children? Grandchildren? Your wisdom passed along by your life and words can take hold in them and inflame their hearts to do the same thing as they gain wisdom. You are not without a platform.

5) Prepare for obscurity – Maybe we’ve watched Braveheart once too often then bemoaned the fact we aren’t all clones of William Wallace. Our heroes are the william wallaceones who get things done in a major, sweeping way. They are hailed, revered, famous. When they die there are processions, ceremonies, monuments. We don’t naturally default to peaceful, patient wisdom as a solution to oppression, but Solomon says it carries the day against foolishness – and we live in a world awash in foolishness. If you have to be stroked or feel gratified about getting the credit, learn to embrace disappointment.

It’s past time to stop decrying the voluminous foolishness in our world and start addressing the dearth of God’s wisdom.

Huge, loud problems met with huge, quiet solutions. What would happen if followers of Jesus spread wisdom this way? The sooner we accept God’s (seemingly) backwards plan and act on it, the better we all will be.

So get wise, identify that platform and save the city.