"I went to Jerusalem to become acquainted (Gk. istoria) with Cephas" - Paul's words from Galatians 1:18.

Oppression Olympics and Victimization as a Virtue

During my freshman year in high school, I took a Civic's Class. The energetic teachers of the class, a young man in his first year of teaching and an older woman,  nurtured a seedling love for politics within me.

One day they asked the question, "Define what it means to be a liberal."

Forty years later, I still remember the discussion that ensued. Maybe my memory is clear because I could tell they had a fondness for my scholastic aptitude, and they called on me to answer their question. 

But I was stumped.

It was in the days of President Jimmy Carter, and my poor answer revolved around picking and choosing some things President Carter did that I heard people call "liberal politics" in the late 1970's. I gave a weak description of what I thought liberalism was.  I couldn't give a definition of what liberalism is.

The rebuttal my teachers gave me went like this: "You chose to define a liberal by his actions. You've not given us a definition of the word "liberal." The Patriots of the American Revolution were called "liberals" by the English Parliament in 1776, but today Americans deem 1776 American Patriots as "conservatives." One generation's liberal is another generation's conservative. Give us a definition."

After a flurry of back-and-forth, we eventually came to a definition of a liberal. 
"A liberal is one who believes in freedom." 
The root word of liberal is liberty. So a liberal is one who cherishes human freedom. The freedom to speak, the freedom to worship, the freedom to think, the freedom to live, and the freedom to pursue happiness as the individual pleases, as long as the pursuit of that personal freedom does not impinge on the freedom of others. 

Freedom is the key.

There seems to be a loss of true liberalism in America.

The political left is not liberal anymore. It is regressive in its pursuit of freedom. The regressive left is actually desiring to remove individual freedoms.

The regressive left categorizes people based upon victimization. They class groups of people into classifications of victimhood, and then remove personal liberties for people not in that class. The regressive left has created a modern Olympics of Oppression.

Victimization has become the highest virtue in American leftist culture. 

If you are a minority woman who believes in abortion, then you can march in the Women's March on Washington, D.C. But if you are a pro-life woman, you're barred from the freedom of marching and expressing your views, regardless of your color.

If you are a Muslim refugee from Syria whose been victimized by radicals, then you are given American freedom without restriction. But if you are an American Muslim who speaks out against radical Islamic terrorism, then you are called a bigot, and your freedom to speak out against radical Islamic terror is removed.

If you are a minority transgender person, then you are exalted onto the platform of freedom of expression and given your own bathroom, but if you are a straight person with children, then the regressive left seeks to repress you from expressing your views in public and wishes to force you to take your children into a transgendered bathroom. 

If you think like the regressive left on university campuses, you are bestowed individual freedom to speak, protest and lead. But even if you are a black woman (minority), and you think like an evangelical Christian, your freedom to speak, protest and lead on a university campus is removed.

Freedom is given to only the virtuous in the regressive left, and the greatest virtue in their way of thinking is victimization. 

At some point, America will wake up and see that a true, classical liberal believes in freedom for every individual, regardless of whether or not that individual is in a category of victimization.

One should never be given freedom of worship if one's intention is to hide guns, bombs, and terrorists in a house of worship. Your freedom of worship cannot impinge on the freedoms of others. 

Ironically, even some true classical liberals in America are waking up to the fact that their individual freedoms are being removed by the regressive left.  

For one of the few times in my life, I find myself agreeing with the New York Times
CLASSIC liberalism exalted tolerance, reflected in a line often attributed to Voltaire: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”"On university campuses, that is sometimes updated to: 'I disapprove of what you say, so shut up.' Universities risk becoming liberal echo chambers and hostile environments for conservatives, and especially for evangelical Christians. As I see it, we (on university campuses) are hypocritical: We welcome people who don’t look like us, as long as they think like us."
The regressive left has left liberalism. They've embraced a form of intolerance that is eroding the freedoms of individual Americans who do not think like them. I will fight for my regressive left friends to express their views freely, but when they plug their ears to hearing a value system different from their own, I will freely point out they've left liberalism and become intolerant.

Oppression olympics are games we Americans should never play.

Avoid at All Costs the Soul Virus Called "Stiff-Neck"

At the heart of the gospel message is transformation. God is in the business of changing lives, taking what is broken and fractured due to our self-destructive habits and hang-ups, and transforming us to look more like Jesus (see Romans 8:29). 

Our conformity to Jesus isn't natural. Sin and selfishness are inherent to us all. Jesus is selfless and sacrificial, and we are not. That's why God is in the business of transforming lives. God, by His grace and for His glory, transforms us to conform us. Over time, we look more like His Son in character and lifestyle. That's God's purpose for us.

God forbid we resist.

God calls any resistance to His transformational work by the name stiff-neck.  For example:
  1. "I have seen these people," the Lord said to Moses, and they are a stiff-necked people." (Exodus 32:9). 
  2. "You are a stiff-necked people." (Deuteronomy 9:6). 
  3. "He became stiff-necked and hardened his heart and would not turn to the Lord." (II Chronicles 36:13).
  4. "Yet they did not listen or pay attention; they were stiff-necked and would not listen or respond to Me" (Jeremiah 17:23). 
  5. "You stiff-necked people! You always resist the Holy Spirit" (Acts 7:51). 
Stiff-necked is used as a description of God's people when they resist the Holy Spirit and refuse to do what they know God desires.  We don't use the compound word "stiff-neck" often today, so Christians have little understanding of its meaning. Let me see if I can help bring some clarity to this soul virus to help us avoid it.

This word is transliterated from the original Hebrew as qesheh `oreph. It literally means "hard of neck." We use the English phrase "bowed-up" to describe someone who gets angry or defensive. "Bowed-up" is similar to what the Bible calls "stiff-necked." It's becoming hard to the truth. It's obstinacy. It's defensiveness. It's a spiritual condition of hardness to the truth of God. 

I'm a lover of God's people. I'm also a vocational pastor. My role is to simply speak the truth in love. I am never the transformational Agent for God's people. That's the job of the Holy Spirit. I speak the truth in love, but it is between God and His people whether they receive it or not.  

In religious circles, pastors and people play God. They speak the truth and then they "goad" people to obey the truth. It's God's job to goad, not pastors.

Let me explain. 

The term "stiff-neck" (qesheh 'oreph) came from ancient farming when the Hebrews used oxen to plow their fields. The farmer tied the plow to a pair of oxen, and the oxen pulled the plow. Sometimes, an ox would move to slow so the farmer would use a goad to poke the oxen in the hind legs to pick up the speed. The goad was a long pole with a pointed end, and when an ox got poked on the rear end or hind legs, it became quite uncomfortable, even painful for the ox. Every now and then, a "stiff-necked' ox would "kick against the goad" and literally stop and fight the farmer. The farmer, with reins in one hand and the goad in the other, always won the battle. But the fight could sometimes be intense. 

When Jesus met Saul on the road to Damascus and transformed Saul's life, Jesus said something to Saul that is interesting: 
"Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads." (Acts 26:14). 
Three things I learn from Christ capturing Saul, things that are always helpful to me in pastoral ministry. 
  1. Christ is the one wrestling with Saul. Nobody else even heard Jesus speaking.
  2. Christ has more than one goad in His arsenal of change, for it's "goads" (plural).
  3. Christ moves in mercy toward Saul, revealing "it is hard for Saul" to fight Him. 
I'm reminded of the Scripture verse that should put every Christian at ease when it comes to other people and their relationship with God. "Being confident of this, He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion" (Philippians 1:6). God's got this; we don't. We should be confident He'll always win the fight in the end.

One of the ways I always know if I love my brother or sister in Christ unconditionally is by measuring my ability to tell people the truth without playing the role of the Holy Spirit in their lives. 

God's people are only truth-tellers. We are not the Holy Spirit. 

If we become stiff-necked and decide to go our own selfish way and do our own destructive thing, God will intervene. He sends people like prophets (eg. Jeremiah) and others to plead with His people "to change the way they are thinking."  God will sometimes take direct action, without any intermediary, like He did with Saul on the road to Damascus

God's got this.

When we stop playing Holy Spirit and simply love people where they are, loving them enough to always speak the truth, but accepting them whether they obey God or not, then we can relax and rest in the confidence that the God who began His transformational work will finish it. 

The goads of God are always effectual in their purposes. We'd be wise to avoid the painful soul virus called "stiff-neck" ourselves, but we should rest easy if others are infected. God knows how to cure.

Do you see the picture at the top of this post? It's an actual drawing of ancient Englishmen plowing with oxen. The prayer says this: 
"God speed ye plow; bring us corn now." 
The fruit of one's life (corn) is in the hands of the One who carries the goad (God), and when I wish someone God speed, I am asking God to "prod them along" the path of what is right, for the good of all.

God speed.

Victims Don't Conquer So Christians Aren't Victims

"In all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us" (Romans 8:37).

Syrian Christians are being tortured, crucified and beheaded in Aleppo, Syria because these Christians are reaching out to their neighbors with the love of Jesus. This isn't a bible story. It is happening now. Radical Islamicists in Aleppo ordered Christians in their city to leave or face death. These followers of Jesus refused to leave their hometown, choosing to remain in the city to provide aid in the name of Christ to survivors of the carpet bombings.

When the deadline to leave Aleppo passed, these Christians were apprehended, and their torture began. One Syrian Christian father watched as his twelve-year-old son's fingers were cut off. When the father still refused to renounce Christ and convert to Islam, the radicals then beat both father and son, and crucified them with a sign above their heads that read "infidels." During their torture these Syrian Christians sang, prayed for their torturers and displayed super-human inner strength. One eyewitness said the way these Christians died astounded their persecutors. They died as conquerors, not victims.

Meanwhile, we American Christians sip our lattes and nibble our pastries, but find it impossible to overcome the "hurt and pain" we've experienced in life. Most of us can't even spell Aleppo, much less see the difference between the pain and suffering in their lives when compared to ours. We complain about the songs we sing in church,  the lack of Facebook likes we receive, and the various ways people disrespect us. We find it easier to point our finger at someone else as the cause of our pain than to look within ourselves to find the reasons for it.

We American Christians have become masters at playing the role of victims.

Jesus said,  "Things that come out of a person's mouth come from the heart" (Matthew 15:18).  To express "I'm a victim" in life is the ultimate sign of a void within my heart. When I see myself as a victim, I have little or no comprehension of God's love for me in Jesus Christ.

Oh, sure, I may say I understand God's love for me. Maybe I'll even sing about God's love. But the proof is in how I live. When crunch time comes, if I find my satisfaction and happiness in other people, or other things, or in my ability to control life, then I'll play the role of victim. I must play the victim because I am. That in which I trust for my happiness and security has been stolen from me.

Never find the source of your happiness today in what you may lose tomorrow. 

I can never lose the love of Christ.
 "For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels or demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any power, neither heights nor depths, nor anything else in this world, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 8:38-39). 
If I'm void of a comprehension of Christ's love for me, then when things get out of control - like a son's fingers being cut off by a radical Islamicists - I'll scream and fight, seek to control and manipulate, lie and steal, look back and payback, and ... well, you get the picture. But when "I know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, then I am filled up with all the fulness of God" (Ephesians 3:19).

And when filled with the love of Christ, then what comes out of me when squeezed by painful events is the love of Christ. So God will sometimes allow the heat to surround me to reveal the heart that is within me. 

Now for the Good News.

God is at work in all His people, turning us from a mindset of victimization to a mindset of being "more than conquerors."  The same passage in Romans 8 that points us to the love of Christ trumpets what it means for Christians to be "more than conquerors" in this life. Read it carefully:
"Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us." (Romans 8:35, 37). 
The little phrase "more than conquerors"  translates one Greek word - ὑπερνικ. I'll transliterate the root words of this compound Greek word in English - SUPER NIKE.

Super is the Greek preposition which means more than or superior.
Nike is the Greek word for victory. Nike is more than a logo; it's a state of mind.

Christ's love for me makes me "more than victorious" in my mind, no matter the troubling situation that comes my way in my life.

This is really Good News.

The gospel is not just about "going to heaven." It's about being able in this life to be "more than victorious" even when your son's fingers are cut off. It's about having the ability to pray for those who are in the process of actually crucifying you. It's about having the power to be kind to those who hate you and cause you affliction or distress (trouble),  famine or nakedness (loss), and danger or sword (harm).

By pointing my finger at someone else as the reason for the loss of my happiness, or the source of my pain, or the one I believe is responsible for my struggles in this life, I am playing the role of victim and am losing any sense of being more than victorious through Christ's love for me.

I must stop it.

For when I rest in the love of Christ - something that no one or no thing can ever take away - I will find that this life's troubles, losses, and painful events only give me an opportunity to show the world that I am more than victorious through Jesus Christ who loves me.

My New Year's resolution is to go through 2017 with a mindset that I am never a victim of my circumstances. I am always more than a conqueror through Him who loves me.