Tuesday, September 30, 2003

The Ten Commandments Controversy
[This is my most recent column, written for the Community Press newspapers of suburban Cincinnati]

Recently, news outlets have been full of controversy over the removal of a monument commemorating the Ten Commandments at an Alabama court house. Some Christians, exercised over this event, went to Alabama to protest. They seem to have thought that in doing so, they were being witnesses for their faith in Christ, helping others to know and follow Him. If that was their aim, I believe that they missed their target completely.

In fact, I believe that by their protest, they gave more harm to the cause of Jesus than help.

Those of us who follow Jesus Christ believe that He was not simply a man; Jesus was also God, the same God Who gave the Ten Commandments. And nowhere in the New Testament, which records Jesus' life, death, and resurrection, can you find a place where Jesus demanded that the government under which He lived erect a monument to His particular religious beliefs.

Jesus never used the levers of governmental power to gain followers. Coercing others into acquiescence to Him just wasn't His way. Once, Jesus and His closest followers came upon a town whose residents refused to let them in. They didn't like Jesus at all. Jesus' followers had just returned from successful mission trips in which the power of God had worked in their favor. The times after such successes can be spiritually dangerous periods for Christians. That's because we're often prone to thinking that the good we accomplish comes from us rather than from God. That was apparently the problem of two of Jesus' followers, James and John, who had an idea. They asked Jesus, "How'd you like us to call fire down from heaven on this town?" Jesus rejected their offer.

Jesus was too busy loving, preaching, teaching, praying, giving, worshiping, healing, and serving to get caught up in needless controversies or to force Himself on others. He knew that you can't win people's allegiances or their hearts by forcing them to acknowledge your religion. He knew that people can only be truly won to His cause through the power of God's tough and tender love.

Jesus has given all His followers a simple mission. We're to help others come to trust Him with their lives so that through faith in Jesus, they can live forever with God. If a Christian's aim is to fulfill that mission, then forcing our fellow citizens to erect and maintain monuments to our faith is not the way to go.

We only win others to Christ in the same way Jesus won us over. Confident in God's powerful love, we rely on God to use our collective loving, preaching, teaching, praying, giving, worshiping, healing, and serving to work the miracle of faith in people's hearts. Such gentle strategies may not be as flashy as carrying placards or spouting self-righteous slogans that put us on the nightly news.

But in the end, it's those strategies that change hearts, change minds, change lives, and change where people spend eternity.

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