Sunday, September 20, 2009

Spiritual warfare

While talking with a couple who visited my church today -- they're both musicians I've worked with in the past -- we got to talking about the anti-Obama campaign waged right now across this country. She actually brought up something I had considered but not said publicly, and I think she's right.

This is not simply a political or ideological fight and, at bottom, not really about President Barack Obama. When you get right down to it, this is spiritual warfare due to a situation where people fear what they consider upcoming cataclysmic change that is completely out of their control because, basically, they have lost their trust in God. And when that happens, well ... people get irrational. When I see all these "tea parties" complaining about overreaching government, hear about Obama being denounced as a Communist or read about pastors praying for his death, I detect more than political posturing; I will even go out on a limb and say that this campaign is the work of the Enemy. If that sounds harsh or presumptuous, did you notice that they never give any alternatives to what they say is "bad government" or considered that the policies they actually subscribe to just didn't work? At this point they're just making accusations -- and keep in mind that the term "Satan" means "accuser."

I'm a student of the civil-rights movement, and similar phony charges were made against Martin Luther King Jr. In fact, much of the opposition to him was based on his use of the Federal government to overturn state and local laws that codified the racial discrimination he was trying to destroy. And in the same way, people became nutty, saying that he was making a mint through his civil-rights work, in league with Moscow or visiting white prostitutes, none of which were true, in order to de-legitimize him. (I wonder what Rush Limbaugh or Glenn Beck would say if they were on the air back then.)

And therein is the reason I believe this to be spiritual warfare: Before we can deal with sin it has to be exposed and recognized as such, and that's precisely what King did with his nonviolent demonstrations -- he correctly surmised that the racist power structure would act up and thus make a fool of itself. And since God is not the author of lies, hatred or conspiracy, only one other entity can come up with that.

In one section of the book Wild at Heart, John Eldredge mentions that his wife Stasi had been under spiritual oppression, specifically with daily dizzy spells. So, after a time of prayer, they commanded that oppressive spirit to leave her -- but it initially got worse before it finally did, permanently. Eldredge says that such a spirit will not usually leave willingly but, when discovered, put up a fight.

Of course you remember that Bill Clinton in the 1990s was accused of all kinds of things, to a point where there was a new "scandal" every few months. However, the machine that was making all those accusations was exposed right around the time of the impeachment -- it turned out that when Hillary made that complaint about the "vast right-wing conspiracy" she actually had the goods -- and the gossip stopped. Today Obama's enemies have no such cover; they just went right after him without pretense. And that to me is a sign that they're going down. Hard. And very soon, never to rise again.

And that is why, even though things may look crazy today, I'm actually rejoicing in seeing the LORD about to work; after this is over -- or even perhaps beforehand -- we may very well see a spiritual awakening in this country. The Sunday after last year's general election my senior pastor had all us African-Americans stand and the rest of the congregation lay hands on us, saying that "a spiritual stronghold has been broken."

You think for a second that the devil would take that lying down?

None of this is to say, of course, that Obama's actual policies are beyond scrutiny; I certainly don't agree with his stance on, say, legal abortion. And I will not say that the opposition to Obama is based primarily on his race, though it is a factor. But that's the point -- after the rancor ends we can certainly address those differences with clarity and honesty and not with this wild, mostly non-factual charges. I'm looking forward to that day.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Truth and reconciliation

Lately I've been rereading several sections of "A Testament of Hope," a collection of writings and speeches of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who as most of you know has been a major influence on my Christian life. And in the process, I was reminded of an important truth: There can be no reconciliation without truth.

During his day, King was often accused of divisiveness and creating problems that didn't exist -- comments like "Our Negroes were happy until those outsiders came in and started causing trouble!" Unfortunately for them, King's critics were so shut off from reality that they didn't realize that the unjust system that they were defending with their lives actually caused resentment towards them.

Any serious Christian should understand this. After all, before you can reconcile with God through Jesus Christ you have to recognize that you have made shipwreck of your life -- which can be can be hard to admit when you see things as going well. Consider your first reaction when you're confronted with your sin -- you probably defended yourself because, frankly, the idea that you were wrong is unpalatable.

One of the first worship songs I learned on the Georgia Tech campus 30 years ago was "Come, Let Us Reason Together," based on Isaiah 1:18. However, consider what he wrote before that:

10 Hear the word of the LORD,
you rulers of Sodom;
listen to the law of our God,
you people of Gomorrah!
11 "The multitude of your sacrifices —
what are they to me?" says the LORD.
"I have more than enough of burnt offerings,
of rams and the fat of fattened animals;
I have no pleasure
in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats.
12 When you come to appear before me,
who has asked this of you,
this trampling of my courts?
13 Stop bringing meaningless offerings!
Your incense is detestable to me.
New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations—
I cannot bear your evil assemblies.
14 Your New Moon festivals and your appointed feasts
my soul hates.
They have become a burden to me;
I am weary of bearing them.
15 When you spread out your hands in prayer,
I will hide my eyes from you;
even if you offer many prayers,
I will not listen.
Your hands are full of blood;
16 wash and make yourselves clean.
Take your evil deeds
out of my sight!
Stop doing wrong,
17 learn to do right!
Seek justice,
encourage the oppressed.
Defend the cause of the fatherless,
plead the case of the widow.
Now, is God being "divisive?" No, He's telling it like it is -- at the risk of offending his audience. And sometimes confrontation is necessary in the process.

Some years ago I made the following analogy to a friend of Armenian heritage. Now, the Armenian people have historically had issues with the Turks, and let's say that the Turks came to the Armenians and said, "We wish to reconcile with you, but we don't want to admit to anything we did wrong, nor will we change our attitudes about you." Ridiculous, right? Yet that's just what some people are proposing because admitting that they were at fault causes them discomfort.

One of the demonstrators protesting the integration of Central High School in Little Rock, Ark. in 1957 admitted a few years ago on "The Oprah Winfrey Show" to the black students who were trying to enter the school, "We were ignorant." A woman demonstrator said tearfully that she later taught her own children to act differently. Wonderful moments, to be sure -- but which could never happened without confrontation.