“Courage is contagious. When a brave man takes a stand, the spines of others are often stiffened.”
This past weekend has been the most disappointing weekend of the NFL I have ever experienced. It's not because my team lost, they didn't. It is because POTUS, the players, owners, coaches, and many others got into a war of words and knees and decided to throw offensive lineman sized tantrums that spread all over my television screen. How should a Christian think about this debacle?
First, let's set the field, Christians hold citizenship in multiple locals. We are citizens of heaven first and foremost. We are also citizens in this world. Most who read this blog post will be citizens of the United States of America. That said, my citizenship of my country is a distant second in importance. The same was true of the apostle Paul who certainly used his Roman citizenship to his advantage, but was more concerned about the gospel of Jesus Christ and his citizenship in heaven then he was his Roman citizenship. At the time Rome was the greatest country in the world, or it would have been perceived as such. We really don't have clear records of what Paul did and did not participate in regarding his allegiance to Rome. What we do know is that he wasn't traveling from town to town preaching the gospel of Rome, he was preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ. We should do the same.
Second, I personally find the practice of kneeling during the national anthem as disrespectful of the flag and the country. I also find the rhetoric of POTUS, well, un-presidential and offensive. The president often sounds more like a playground bully than a president. The best way to take away the power of a bully isn't to get in a fight, that's what he wants. The best way to take away the power of a bully is to take away his voice, ignore him. I know that is too much to ask of a league of alpha-males who are accustom to being the bully or at least they are accustomed to having the power and strength that scares the bully.
Third, it should be noted that the NFL players don't actually have the right to kneel during the anthem. The NFL and the teams have the right to control the speech of the players while those players are representing them. This is not a constitutional issue. In fact, this is done on a regular and consistent basis. For instance when Dallas wanted to put a small sticker on the helmets commemorating 5 slain police officers the NFL said no. When a player wore a "Know Jesus, Know peace" shirt to a press conference the NFL threatened to fine him. On numerous other occasions the NFL has controlled the speech of its players, often on seemingly benign issues. Further, it is in the rule book that the players stand for the anthem. It is not in the rule book that Dallas can't put an extra sticker on their helmet commemorating 5 slain peace officers. The constitution guarantees that the government cannot control speech, it does not guarantee that employers cannot control the speech of their employees, especially while at work and representing the company.
Fourth, what is this protest about again, I forgot. I thought it was about police shooting black people, but that doesn't seem to be the case anymore. It looks a lot like an argument between two people that got heated and neither of them can even remember how it all started. Someone needs to take the high road and end the mindless bickering.
Last, no one is going to win. POTUS looks childish and the NFL is losing fans and support...they are close to losing me. I will stand with my hand over my heart when the national anthem is played, but I do not worship my country, that is reserved for the God of the Bible. There is that pesky commandment about not worshiping other gods. As a Christian I must obey that commandment.
Oh, I almost forgot to answer the question. Would Jesus stand or kneel? I don't know for sure, but my guess is that he would give to Cesar what is Cesar's and stand. Jesus would find a platform to call out all involved. POTUS for his bloviating and the NFL for their hypocrisy. Or, more likely, he would just call people to repent and enter the kingdom of God putting their faith and trust in Him.
Jeremiah is a difficult book of the Bible to read, but that is where God has had me for some time now. It's hard because at times it is depressing. Jeremiah is known as the weeping prophet for a reason. This morning I was in chapter 18. In this chapter Jeremiah uses a the potter's house as an illustration. The potter is the one who decides what the clay is turned into, not the clay and certainly not some bystander. The potter worked the clay into whatever "it seemed good to the potter to do."
This is a hard truth of people in the west who have been taught that they can become anything they want, that they have the right to pursue the desires of their hearts, that they are the author of their world. Jeremiah's message to Judah was that God is sovereign and that God did what He deemed appropriate to do. This isn't to say that Judah had nothing to say about the matter. They do, but only in a reactive sense. The choice that Judah could make was one of obedience or rebellion. It is the same choice that Adam and Eve had, the same choice that Saul had, and the same choice that the church of today has.
In chapter 18 Judah made the wrong choice, they said, "We will follow our own plans, and will every one act according to the stubbornness of his evil heart."
Judah didn't only reject God, they attacked Jeremiah (v. 18). Jeremiah prophesied according to what God had given him. The response was not anger at God, but attacking the prophet. In the form of cliche, they shot the messenger. Jeremiah's prayers turned to imprecatory prayers. Jeremiah even prays that God will not forgive his attackers (v. 23). On some level, pastors can understand Jeremiah's state of mind and many pastors may have prayed such things.
What are the principles in this text? First, God is sovereign over all things. The universe, the nations, and the church itself are but clay and God is the potter. Second, God's actions are impacted by the faithfulness or unfaithfulness of the people. Finally, truth, especially truth that speaks of God's judgment, is not always welcome.
The church isn't Judah, but this text was a stark reminder to me as I read it this morning that my church isn't my church. In a very loose sense I play the role of Jeremiah for my local congregation, but I do not own them! This isn't my church, I am God's messenger to them for this time. My job, in simplistic form, is to proclaim the word of God to the people.
I must pray that the church responds to God's message with faithfulness and not rebellion, but I can't force them to do that. I should note, none of this is a commentary about my church. I fear that portions of the larger church are rejecting the message of Scripture and God may very well respond with judgment. I have no special message from God, but historically God judges His people when they reject him. That is the principle here. The church (especially its pastors) must respond faithfully to God's word or risk being judged by God. That's not a very popular message in the West, but it seems to be a faithful reading of the prophets.
Pastors must be faithful in proclaiming the word of God, especially when it is unpopular. Furthermore, they should expect to face friendly fire; of course there is nothing friendly about this kind of fire. Faithfulness to God and His word is the measure of success. Perhaps before we ask how many people showed up last week, or what the offering was, or how many people have left, we should ask if we were faithful to God and His word. Don't hear me wrong, the numbers matter, but many who are unfaithful to God and His word gather large crowds and develop disciples based on false teaching.
The church does not belong to me, I am just God's messenger. That means I must work hard to be faithful to God's word first and foremost. God will do what He wills.
John Byrne is a pastor who has been spouting off his opinions his entire life (just ask his mom). This little blog is his venue for continuing in this tradition.