Archive for September, 2011

9/11 Thoughts – Call for Intercession

I don’t really feel like I want to reflect on this day for a couple of reasons. Primarily, I do not think that my thoughts can really add to what has and will be said by others nor can my words capture the value of the lives and innocence lost on that day. In addition, I knew no one directly affected by the attacks on 9/11/2001. That being said, just being an American and an Easterner, I felt those attacks and they seemed very close.

The day is still surreal 10 years later. I was born in Bayonne, NJ (across the river from NYC) and spent my first few years of life living in the NYC borough of Staten Island before the family moved sixty miles south to the Jersey Shore. It was there that we settled, but we always held NYC as the center of our “orbit”. Aunts, uncles and cousins lived and worked in NYC. On our annual trips back east it was not unusual to visit NYC and to visit family and to catch up with what was going on in “the City”, so it always seemed like extended home.

With that as background, when I reflect on that day and what those attacks meant, my mind runs to the judgment of God and the ongoing clash between good and evil, both on this earth and in the spiritual realms. As one who believes in the Bible it is quite apparent to me that God is good and that evil comes from rebellion against His perfectly ordered world. The evil begins with Satan and his angelic minions, but man has joined Satan in his rebellion against God and added human evil to the world.

It is also true that even though God is good, He sometimes plans calamity for individuals and nations that have been egregious in their rebellion against them (Ezekiel 5:14-16) AND particularly for those that might possibly receive that “discipline” with an attitude of repentance (Jeremiah 19). It is not as though God directly inflicts calamity, but that He either allows permission to Satan to inflict calamity (see Job or Nebuchadnezzar) for His own purposes or man has refused to recognize God’s authority over the nation and instead given Satan permission to reign and rule. Oppression always results.

That being said, it seems to me that as Americans and even as Christians we fall into two different extremes when thinking about these attacks, and the whole idea of good and evil and judgment. Either the attacks are God’s judgment for our wickedness, or these are totally unprovoked attacks by evil men following an evil doctrine taught by a violent religion. The latter thinking gives us carte blanche to do whatever it takes to avenge these attacks and to thwart any potential future attacks. The former way of thinking causes us to blame ourselves for what has happened and to apologize to those who attacked us so that they will not do it again. Since I don’t think either one of these responses are correct, what would a proper response be?

We are a great nation because we recognized God as sovereign from the very foundation of the Country, indeed as the raison d’être of our nation. (We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator…) On the night of the attacks the President of the United States reminded us of who we were (are) as a people:

“Tonight I ask for your prayers for all those who grieve, for the children whose worlds have been shattered, for all whose sense of safety and security has been threatened. And I pray they will be comforted by a power greater than any of us spoken through the ages in Psalm 23: “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil for you are with me.” This is a day when all Americans from every walk of life unite in our resolve for justice and peace. America has stood down enemies before, and we will do so this time. None of us will ever forget this day, yet we go forward to defend freedom and all that is good and just in our world.”

We are a people of prayer and faith in God who reigns and rules in the nations of the world. We have followed the words in Jeremiah 22:15-16 (“Did not your father eat and drink and do justice and righteousness? Then it was well with him. He pled the cause of the afflicted and needy; then it was well. Is not that what it means to know Me?” declares the LORD.), and have been blessed as a nation. President Bush was reminding us of that on 09/11/2001, but we have been selective in our obedience. I will say more about that later.

To respond solely based on vengeance would not be appropriate for a people who see God as their sovereign. “Vengeance is mine,” says that Lord. “I will repay.” Instead, we would understand that we are a people under God that would want to respond in a manner that protected justice and freedom and liberty; not for the pleasure of revenge, but because it is right.

The second response, to apologize to our attackers and seek their forgiveness, would be to mistake their evil for something that we deserve and they are justified in doing. This response does not recognize that it is God to whom we must apologize, or ask forgiveness of, because we have violated His commands. If we allow that our attackers are justified by virtue of our sin, than we validate our response in revenge. America has been great because, for the most part, we seek liberty, freedom and justice for the oppressed, not solely revenge. Revenge breeds more violence, but pursuit of liberty and freedom breeds peace and harmony among nations (Japan, Eastern Europe).

I think that we must respond in two ways to these attacks. The first response is to recognize that as a people of faith, of those who trust in God, we have not honored Him. We have not pled the cause of the afflicted and the needy. We are guilty of enslaving millions in the poverty of a welfare state and we are guilty of silence as nearly 60 million unborn babies have been killed in the womb in the past 40 years. We have kicked God out of the schools and increasingly out of the public square. Our entertainment is more and more anti-God and anti-morality. We have glorified promiscuity and we are reaping the judgment of dead children and diseased adults. Will we repent? Shortly after the attacks on 9/11 the churches were filled with people praying, but were they repenting? The fruit of our lives would say that we have not, and that we did not even recognize that the attacks were an indication that we were drifting far from the favor and protection of God.

We can not expect our political leaders to lead us in repentance; this is something that the church must do. Indeed, Mayor Bloomberg in NYC would not allow clergy to be part of the remembrance services, so to look to our political leaders for spiritual leadership is a mistake. We must take that lead. God is not deaf and He famously told us in 2 Samuel 7:14 “If My people who are called by My name humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” So our first response to these attacks must be for the church to lead the way in repenting for the sins of our nation. They are many, but they are not such that God will not forgive us and heal us.

Our second response as a church is that we must understand that God is interested in justice and freedom and he is concerned for the oppressed and we should not offer excuses for the evil that is emanating from the Middle East and that is empowering our enemies to rain down terror on the Western World. The same terror that is raining down terror is also oppressing millions upon millions of people in darkness and bondage. We should be advocates for the oppressed and intercede for and encourage those who are traveling thousands of miles from home and family to put their lives in the gap for those who are oppressed to try to set them free. Evil is real and must be opposed, not excused and not apologized to. Evil is real and God is not neutral.

As the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks comes and goes, my fervent hope and prayer for our country and for the church of Christ in this nation is that we would we become leaders in repentance, leaders in intercession and leaders in advocacy for the oppressed peoples of the world and those who are risking their lives to secure freedom for us and for those oppressed.

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Can Christians Embrace the American Dream? Should They?

We live in interesting times, and everywhere you turn there is bad news. This is as true today as it has ever been. Between the dismal employment numbers and the high and unbalanced tax rate, to wars against Islamic terrorists in Afghanistan,Pakistan, Iraq and Libya, and foreign policy challenges with China, Iran and North Korea, there is a lot of bad news. In addition, there is no shortage of pundits ready to point out the problems with the current administrations approach to each of these issues.

While it is fair to point out mistaken policy, and I have and will do that, sometimes it is helpful to dream of what could be, or should be, rather than rail against that which is. With that in mind, I’d like to come to the defense of the American Dream.

I think the American Dream gets a bad rap. It is often derided as a shallow dream for accumulating more stuff, rather than a dream for the loftier goal of caring for others. This is especially true in the Church where we have an eternal perspective and know that temporal things are fleeting and have limited eternal value. Is this a fair critique? Before I answer that, I think a better or fuller understanding of the American dream is necessary. James Truslow Adams defined the American dream in his 1931 book “The Epic of America”. He states:  

“It is not a dream of motor cars and high wages merely, but a dream of social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position.”

This definition, however, is only a restatement of the dreams of our founders who wanted there to be opportunities for every man, regardless of station in life. It was first and, probably, most clearly defined in the Declaration of Independence, which describes an attitude of hope. The Declaration of Independence states that “all men are created equal and that they are endowed with certain unalienable rights, among which are life, liberty and pursuit of happiness”.

This dream is also the dream of God for every man, (For I know the plans that I have for you,’ …., ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope) that he would reach the potential that God created him for. Rather than being something that the church would spurn, the American dream should be something that is embraced, not just for Americans, but for every man. With that being said, the dream of God for every man to realize his or her created purpose, presents a very positive contrast with the modern ethos that permeates the socialist worldview.

In Psalms 139, God tells us we are fearfully and wonderfully made. In I Corinthians 12, Christians are told that although we are all members of one body, we are all unique and needed. Timothy lauds hard work. Paul commends generosity, and Jesus speaks well of wealth creation. In III John 2, John prays that Gaius would be in good health and that he would prosper in all respects just as his soul prospers. What a great picture of what a civilized society should look like. Each person wonderfully created as a unique and valued person, working hard at what they love, contributing to the welfare of the greater community, prospering in body and soul as well as in all other respects, creating wealth and sharing generously with those around them.

That is my dream for America, a dream that I believe I share with our founding fathers as well as with God Himself. I do not believe that the original purpose for which God created us was so that we would go and make disciples of all peoples. I think He created us to enjoy Him and to worship Him and to fulfill our created purpose. Our first commission precedes the great commission and was not nullified by it, but is a necessary pre-requisite to fulfilling the great commission.

How better to fulfill the great commission than to be a praise to God by being who He made us to be. Psalm 148 is one of the more interesting Psalms in that it indicates all manner of “inanimate” things that are able to praise God. I wondered how the sun or a mountain or trees or snow could praise God, but it is obvious how they do this. He created them, they are fulfilling the purpose for which they were created, ergo, they are praising God. If these things can praise God by just being what they were created to be, then the kings of the earth and all peoples (who are also mentioned in that psalm) can praise God by being what we were created to be.    

Do you hear any echoes of the socialist credo in the American Dream, or do you, like me see these as incompatible opposites? It is fashionable to dress socialism in religious language; but it is not the language of hope that sets you free to accomplish your dreams, it is the language of guilt for what you have accomplished and obligation to allow others to share in the fruits of your labors regardless of their contributions or, more to the point, their lack thereof. With apologies to Gene Roddenberry of Star Trek fame, the American Dream and the dream of God for all men is to live long and prosper. These goals are best reached when each individual is empowered by those around him to strive to maximize his or her potential, rather than to be a ward of an oppressive nanny state.

There has been much written about the incompatibility of socialism and Christianity and I would recommend those pieces here and would add my voice. As Orthodox Christians, we should reject the socialist error as not just a political error, but a spiritual or doctrinal error as well. The voice of God, through Moses to the Pharaoh of Egypt, echoes down through the millennia: “Let My people go”! It is God’s cry, it is my cry and it is the cry of every human heart.

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