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Appropriate Expressions of Religious Zeal

3/4/2011 6:30 PM

The Westboro Baptist Church recently received a ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court shielding them from liability under the First Amendment for their congregation’s picketing at the funerals of U.S. military personnel.    Indeed the Westboro Baptist Church has grabbed a lot of national attention during the past year for their demonstrations at the funerals of military personnel.  News clips have shown Westboro church members shouting through megaphones and waving signs expressing their beliefs about abortion, homosexuality or their perception of God’s judgment on the nation in what I can only describe as insensitive to the rights and feelings of those mourning the death of their loved ones.

Regardless of what one thinks about the court ruling shielding the Westboro Baptist Church from liability or what one thinks regarding that congregation’s  actions, I must question their actions.

In scripture Jesus cautions religious folk about public demonstrations of prayer and faith saying: "And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full.  But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” (Matthew 6:5-6).

One member of the Westboro congregation said their efforts are intended to save souls from eternal doom.  But, how does disrupting funeral services saves souls?  It seems the activities of that church in the public forum are more a presentation of self-righteous judgment and self-promotion, than a concern for the souls of those in mourning or of the nation. People in mourning need comfort, not insensitive and arrogant intrusion by those serving their own ends.

If the Westboro Baptist congregation perceives itself as a prophetic voice, perhaps they would do well to heed another prophetic voice who wrote: “And what does the Lord require of you but to act justly and to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8).

If their concern is really about saving souls, perhaps a visit to the Jesus found in the Gospels whose love, grace and forgiveness transformed lives is in order.  The Jesus I know did not condemn but forgave as illustrated when the righteous sought the Lord’ blessing to condemn woman caught in adultery.  Jesus simply said, “Let the one without sin throw the first stone” (John 8:7). Indeed, who among us is so sinless?

Perhaps Westboro Baptists and other religious people might do well to pray behind closed doors.  Too often public expressions of judgmental beliefs, hatred, and self-righteousness create more reason to incite distain for religious faith by those who are already turned off to religion. I recall how impressed I was by the acts of grace and forgiveness demonstrated a few years ago by the Amish who lost their children when a gunman overtook one of their school houses killing several innocent children. The Amish went and showed great kindness to the parents of the one who had killed and wounded their children.  What our world needs to see from religious people is not more hatred and venom expressed in the name of God.  Rather what the world needs to see are more acts of loving kindness and mercy.



A Matter of Fitness

2/15/2011 3:16 PM

Many people are concerned with being physically fit. They watch what they eat, read the labels on food products in grocery stores, prefer eating fresh fruits and vegetables over processed foods.  They watch calorie intake, avoid saturated fats and avoid too much fast foods.

People concerned with fitness can be seen at the gym working out, outside riding bicycles, jogging or doing some other cardio-vascular exercise.  These are good things to do for maintaining physical health.

Physically active people often are concerned with staying mentally fit.  Such people realize that it is important to keep one’s mind active.  They engage in reading, working on cross word puzzles and taking classes to challenge their minds. 

Yet, many people often neglect the maintenance of their spiritual fitness.  They often do not read or study their Bibles on a daily bases or participate in Bible study groups at a house of worship.

Spiritual fitness often requires more than nominal religious exercise, or praying to the Lord only in times of personal crisis in life. Spiritually fit folk normally do not limit worship of our Creator to Christmas and Easter, to baptisms, confirmation services, weddings and funerals.

People I have observed with the greatest spiritual fitness observe certain common religious practices that enable them to live in healthy relationships with others, and gives them the strength to both cope with and overcome life’s challenges..

Spiritually fit people prayerfully read scripture on a daily basis. The practice brings familiarity to the biblical stories and the familiarity leads to discovering rich meaning and understanding.  They read not to validate preconceived notions, but to let the Bible instruct their lives.

Spiritual fit people spend time with other believers in worship, singing God’s praises, sharing in communal prayers, participating in the rites and sacraments of the faith.  Such people approach worship first as a way of honoring the Source of their lives.  From that approach they find the services taking on meaning and feeding their spirit in return.

Those who value spiritual fitness take time to be strengthened by daily devotions with booklets like These Days and Our Daily Bread or Guide Post to nurture the soul. They spend time in prayer seeking God’s will, God’s wisdom, and God’s guidance.

Spiritual fitness improves with an active prayer life that first seeks to glorify God and seeks God’s desires for one’s life.  My dad use to say that reading the Bible, spending time with devotional guides and quietly praying each morning gave him the strength to face each workday.  He said something was missing when he did not attend worship services.  Somehow these practices gave him strength for the pressures of the work week, and the challenges of raising a family.   Are you taking the time you need to be spiritually fit?