30 POWER PLAY
by Patricia Thongs Smith / the peace that only jesus gives
How to Play The Conscience Card
I totally get it. Faithful and God-fearing means one has to stand up for the cause of God in the face of encroaching evil. Students of the Bible do more than wait as human conflicts increase and environmental breakdown intensifies. In the unseen clash between rulers of darkness and angels of light and right, we are participants.
Participant may be too lazy a word here. When it comes to the influence now being waged by some of America’s evangelical groups, they’re working with a vengeance to bring Christian values to the forefront of world morality. It is vengeance because, as one conservative author and commentator writes, when they helped elect Donald Trump as president, they vowed to “hit back twice as hard” because they believe they had to take a backseat in the era of Barack Obama.
Obama, a professed Christian, increasingly sought to uphold the Constitutional principle of the separation of church and state. The White House began to neutralize the language that traditionally recognized Christians. Federal agencies and funding recipients were expected to offer their services with neutral and thus inclusive treatment. Further, Obama created an atmosphere that was inclusive of a diversity of people, religious beliefs and practices. He included Muslims and members of LGBTQ+ communities into official White House ceremony and tradition.
With Trump’s election, largely credited to the support of Evangelical Christians, the power of the church, at the invitation of the state, is just warming up. From a cabinet with eight active and vocal Christians, to the quick and unobstructed appointment of pro-life judges on the federal bench, Make America Great Again, means Christians are back in style.
The Netflix documentary “The Family” traced the underground influence Christian leaders leveraged among elected leaders in the U.S. and globally. The National Prayer Breakfast, according to the film, has been more than a time for prayer, reflection, and direction. Rather, it is a chance for well-connected, yet religious activists to gain access to world leaders in order to influence their policy and governance. So much for the separation of church and state.
Evangelicals, so sure that they are on the right side of the Bible and history, claim Trump is the most “biblically friendly” president the U.S. has ever seen. They are so sure on this that when Trump surprised his own cabinet and intelligence personnel with an abrupt change in Syria, Evangelical pundit and pastor Pat Robertson said Trump was in danger of “losing the mandate of heaven.”
Whether you consider yourself Christian and care about the unborn or the incarcerated, the rule of law or police abuse, there has to be a balancing analysis and maybe synthesis. Matthew 25’s mandate to reach the poor, the oppressed, and the incarcerated in mercy for Christ is clear. It is clear, also, that the Bible invites each believer to cast his or her whole being squarely on the Lord’s side—believing and doing the work of the kingdom (Matthew 7:21; Matthew 10:32, 33; Matthew 12:50; James 2:17, as just some example texts). For Christians who cherish liberty of conscience, there is a critical question: how much of God’s kingdom comes to this world, when Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world”?
If there were a playbook, I would think some of these ideas would be central operating principles for the Christian seeking to affect her world:
The end does not justify the means. Consider the tragic story of Judas, who for 30 pieces of silver, sold away the Messiah to be crucified. This illustrates the idea that even though the plan of God to redeem the world meant His son would shed His blood and die, God didn’t endorse the betrayal, the conspiracy, the blood money. “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood” Judas cried, on his way to a guilt-ridden suicide.
Hollow participation to gain position and power likewise damages the unity, commitment and the witness of the body of Christ. The Spirit exposed the hypocrisy of Ananias and Sapphira, and their final, lying words condemned them.
Love covers a multitude of sins, but don’t use love as your cover-up. Maybe David, a man after God’s own heart, was too secure in his prosperity, power and poetry. He completely blanked when tempted to wield his power to get what he wanted, and again, to what end? The shedding of innocent blood.
Finally, we can never fool ourselves into thinking whatever fundamentalist mission and vision we’re on need not pass the test of the light of scripture, and wise counsel. God sees all. (Revisit the scenes in Ezekiel 8 in which spiritual leaders betrayed God’s trust behind closed doors.) Sure, there will come a time when the masses will not endure sound doctrine, and true believers will suffer. In the meantime, the prospect of public scrutiny should lead us to act with transparency and accountability before God and people.
This article is part of our 2019 November / December Issue Subscribe –>
Give Hope on Giving Tuesday
Today is Black Friday and your shopping, if you did any, is likely done for the day. Or are you waiting to get some deals online on Cyber Monday? Either way, please plan on supporting Message magazine on Giving Tuesday December 2, 2019. In the midst of the holiday shopping season, Giving Tuesday is a day to shift ones’ focus to helping others. It’s an opportunity to give towards a specific organizations’ efforts that support your community.
Message is focused on reaching the urban community with the good news of God’s saving grace. Our Giving Tuesday efforts are focused on maxing out the campaign to send subscriptions to incarcerated citizens or their families. We are reaching the oft forgotten with the light of the gospel. Go to www.messagemagazine.com/donate to participate in Giving Tuesday or www.messagemagazine.com/subscribe to send a subscription.
Coming Soon: Maryland Message Power Weekend
Join Message for a weekend of Power! You will be inspired by the Word of God, and leave powered up to bless the world around you!
Dr. Jesse Wilson headlines this event with a Spirit-filed message. After a delicious vegan and vegetarian meal, your life will be enriched by fast-paced and transformative information:
Seven things you can do today to feel better tomorrow!
Five things you can do to ensure a meaningful financial legacy!
How to work through your doubt!
Good music, very nice prizes, and this power-packed day is free and open to you! Come and join me Saturday (Sabbath) November 2, 2019 at the Emmanuel Brinklow SDA Church, 18800 New Hampshire Avenue, Ashton, MD 20861, starting at 9:15 a.m.
Portland, Oregon based The Bible Project has posted more than 140 Bible videos and podcasts on platforms including YouTube that have been viewed more than 100 million times in the five years since its inception.
Storyteller and “architect of ideas” John Collins, who with a slim build, modest attire and long hair looks like a modern day disciple, is the engine behind the Bible Project. He spent several years producing industrial videos for the likes of multinational corporations with complicated logistics and distribution systems, such as Sysco. Recognizing his God-given ability to make complex topics approachable, Collins teamed up with his buddy from Multnomah College. Together with his friend, Tim Mackie now a theologian with a PhD., the duo hit upon a ministry for the millennium: explainer videos for the Bible.
The Bible Project is to the church school flannel graph, what the iPad is to textbooks. Instead of a flat, pretty picture, arranged by the teacher, the multi-dimensional storytelling explores life’s ugly questions and chaotic experiences using dynamic animations. And, it can be accessed from all over the globe.
Bible Project’s team includes 33 mostly young, mostly white, mostly introspective (if not religious) technicians—animators to artists, social media managers to non-profit executives. Crowdfunded by viewers, and seeking to be free from interpreter’s bias or institutional agendas, the Project freely releases each new season on YouTube.
Executive Director Steve Atkinson, a former marketing and non-profit executive himself, was sold the first time he heard the idea, because, hey, who doesn’t have questions? One podcast exchange between Collins and Mackie sticks in Atkinson’s mind because of its relatable skepticism toward the Bible’s story of the Garden of Eden and its tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
“If we weren’t supposed to eat from the tree,” asked Collins, “why did He put it right in the middle of the garden? Why didn’t he put it over in the corner of the garden and put some thorny bushes around it, put it under lock and key? Why did he put it there?”
It was the soft answer, the humble answer, from brainy Mackie that Atkinson says makes this kind of biblical experience meaningful. Atkinson admits that as a lifelong Christian, he didn’t always feel comfortable asking questions.
“Tim, just so softly says, ‘Oh yeah, that’s a great question.” Mackie then related how in the middle of what had to be one of the best dinners—ever—at home with his wife and two boys, one kid decided to spew rice from his cheeks all over the table. “That’s how it is,” Mackie summed it up. “The tree is right at the center of every one of our lives, we’re just one decision away from blowing things up.”
The real question is, knowing how close we have come or have even crossed over, where is the hope? Just as the prospect of failure is ever imminent, so is the hope and the solution of Jesus woven into every part of scripture said Atkinson.
“I truly believe the gospel is Genesis through Revelation,” said Atkinson, who says the company’s mission is to show the Bible as a unified story that leads to Jesus.
“[E]very story whispers His name, that you can see this thread throughout.”
This article is part of our 2019 September / October Issue Subscribe –>
It’s a Trap, I’m Telling You!
The prospect of a sunny day at an Orlando water park to cap off summer vacation managed to raise an eyebrow among our emerging adult children. With one in college, one a senior in high school, and one in eighth grade, we were lucky they wanted to be with us at all.
We trailed our kids up at least 150 steps to the top of Volcano Bay’s Ko’okiri, anxious for the fun to begin. Breathless on the top deck I was stunned as my children each climbed into the door of a clear capsule then vanished down the chute.
I hadn’t researched the new Ko’okiri. I didn’t know it is reportedly the world’s tallest body slide, with the highest plunge, a fall at a 70 degree angle and 125 feet of sheer terror. I didn’t know about the trap door. If you think this is about quality experiences to cement relationships, you’re getting way
ahead of me. No, I’m using this as a metaphor for the dramatic and quick decline of the spiritual interests and practices of our millennials and the teens after them, the Generation Zers, or “screenagers.”
Have you seen the numbers in Gen Z The Culture Beliefs and Motivation Shaping The Next Generation? (Barna, 2018) More agnostics, atheists and “nones,” more ambivalence about the relevance of Christianity, and pillars of faith. As a Christian, this feels like a breathless ride into the abyss.
Without question, we believe the task to keep the legacy going falls to Christian parents: “And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up” Deuteronomy 6:4-7.
So, people of faith want their children to have a living faith, a faith that allows them to navigate a secular, if not hostile society (p. 80). But, if a vibrant Christian life is what we want for them, researchers studying this younger cohort wonder at the dichotomy in modeling and teaching in parents. Parents bubble-wrap their children’s lives to protect them, yet, leave them unprepared for spiritual challenge.
Parents wait in cars for the school bus with their children to avoid the stranger danger. Yet, the empty streets after school, hide the fact that there are plenty of children in the area; they’re just spending their time inside, isolated, and unsupervised with uncritical access to a hazardous universe of media at their fingertips.
“[I]n an age of social media, ubiquitous porn, self-harm, cyberbullying and sexting,” said James Emery White (Gen Z p. 35, Barna, 2018), “children need greater protection than ever before—not less. Thanks to their parents, however, Gen Z is growing up too fast, and childhood has slowly evaporated in the name of independence and freedom.”
I am convinced that relationships are the most powerful shaping influences during the teenage years.
Strangely also, the unintended message Gen Z catches from watching the professional pursuits of their parents is the idea that financial success is the highest goal. Parents are role models, alright, for what they supply. Gen Zers are missing the underlying source of drive: purpose and life-meaning. It is no wonder that as a group, they are not in a hurry to engage in the the lifework of an adult.
Similarly, we seem surprised at what appears to be ambivalence on the part of our young people when it comes to “lifestyle” choices. We have taught them love, tolerance, compassion, appreciation for differences, talents, and gifts, cultures, races and peoples. Now, in the face of exploding exposure to diversity in gender, race and culture, and religion, instead of being threatened, our young people seem non-committal. It is logical, and not as frightening as one may think, according to Fikre Prince, an Associate Pastor, Evangel Ministries.
“When we make it seem as though God is against youth or their friends, of course they want to find ways to rationalize or explain away that idea. A lot of what comes across as ambivalence is really kids trying to make sense of what they hear, what they see, what they know of truth and love” said Prince. (p.67) We can help them by giving them a way to understand and explain their own beliefs (1 Peter 3:15, 16), but have to respect the way their compassion and empathy, and capacity for inclusiveness get tested every day.
Fortunately, we can both teach and learn by coming alongside the twenty-somethings and “screenagers” among us. “Gen Z increasingly feels isolated and alone, but they hunger for real relationships,” writes Jonathan Morrow, Director of Cultural Engagement at Impact 360 Institute. “I am convinced that relationships are the most powerful shaping influence during the teenage years.”
The teenager operating Ko’orkiri wouldn’t even look me in the eye. I watched her chat with a co-worker while she worked her buttons when the sudden clang of the trap door at my feet let me know she pushed my button. Free-falling and drowning at the same time, I thought “This might really be the end.”
As my husband and I washed ashore the concrete beach at the bottom, nose and sinuses stinging, pulling swimsuits from the crevices in which they hide, I realized one kid’s thrill ride, is another woman’s near death experience.
This article is part of our 2019 September / October Issue Subscribe –>
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30 POWER PLAY
by Danielle Barnard / Hagar: The Woman Who “named” God
Legacy, Privilege, and the Wealth Gap
Jesus told a story of a rich man who wore beautiful clothes, one who lived and ate well (Luke 16:19-31). We have no insight as to the character of this man, not until he dies and ends up in hell! (Not a doctrinal statement, but a story mechanism Jesus is using to make a point.) We find clues regarding the rich man’s character as it is in relationship to the poor man, the beggar Lazarus.
“Poor man” in the original language was an onomatopoeia—that of a spitting sound—and a clever device Jesus used to highlight how marginalized and scorned of society this man truly was. But, in this story of the great reversal of fortune, when the poor man died, he found himself in paradise. When the rich man died, however, he went straight to his torment.
An interesting feature in this story, is that while in hell, the rich man could see Lazarus enjoying himself with Abraham. And, the rich man could see and communicate with Abraham.* When he gets his chance, the rich man asks a question across the dimensions of life and death, heaven and earth and hell. Surely, this moment reveals transformative introspection, right?
“Father Abraham,” the rich man said, “have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame,” (verse 24). But, gentle great-grandad Abraham simply told him, “Oh, son, when you were alive, you had good things. Lazarus had evil, so now he gets good things. Besides, not possible. Do you see this great gulf fixed between us?”
With this story, Jesus sticks a pin right in the sensitive spot of human want and desire. This is a story about meaning and legacy: whether what you did in your lifetime mattered, or whether you will one day wake up to find out your choices, your priorities, your beliefs and practices were all wrong. It would be too late to find that you were tied to the good things of this world, the things that satisfied in the here and now (1 John 2:16); that your biggest concern was how you could create more wealth, more security, more happiness for yourself (Luke 12:20); that you couldn’t see your way past the pressing details of life to capture that which is truly meaningful; that, as you played your role, you played the script, the one written for you by people, not by God (Luke 10:40-42).
They believed their claim to Father Abraham made them the chosen ones.
Then, this is a story about distance. Now is a good time to look into that chasm between these two characters, the “great gulf fixed.” The rich man created that black hole through his benign and daily neglect of the man lying at his gate. That man, his needs, and his helplessness might as well have been lightyears away because the few feet to get to him were just too far. The demand on his time and the social capital lost in bridging this gap was too much. Now, the gap between where he was and where he wanted proved insurmountable. Talk about a wealth gap.
Finally, this story is about privilege. We see the rich man appealing to his privileged lineage—Father Abraham, not Father God. Jesus threw that into the story because to His Jewish hearers, privilege came through Abraham. They believed their claim to Father Abraham made them the chosen ones.
“Send Lazarus who was made to be used, appropriated and controlled by me. Send him from his place in paradise, to me, so he can serve me.” Privilege sure does die hard, does it not?
“The sin of Dives [what tradition has named the rich man] was that he felt that the gulf which existed between him and Lazarus was a proper condition of life,” Martin Luther King, Jr. posited during a 1955 sermon in Montgomery. “Dives felt that this was the way things were to be. He took the “isness” of circumstantial accidents and transformed them into the “oughtness” of a universal structure. He adjusted himself to the patent inequalities of circumstance.”
King’s exposition applied the rich man’s dilemma to the segregationists, the capitalists, and the classists of his time. But, does it stretch the parabolic purpose for us to question the priorities of the religious and privileged today? Who set our priorities for care and concern, international policy, and justice? Through what—or whose—lens do we define these “hills to die on?” How can we claim the need for prayer in schools for children, all while withholding soap and toothpaste from children detained on our borders? How will decades of strategizing to protect the unborn factor on the balance sheet against the lives lost to police shootings, or drive bys, or wrongful convictions and incarcerations? Will we really garner the favor of God by seeking to support one prophetic pro-Israel interpretation, while neglecting the obvious humanitarian needs of, say, Rohingya Muslims in forced migration?
Can we question our priorities now? Can we check our practices now? I just don’t want to wake up wrong.
*(Again, an artistic device Jesus used to make His point. Compare: Ecclesiastes 9:5; Psalms 6:5; 88:10; 115;17 and 1 Thessalonians 4:14-17.)
This article is part of our 2019 July / August Issue Subscribe –>