Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Standing Up For Jesus

Written by: Conrade Yap
Date: 21 Dec 2011
SCRIPTURE: Luke 1:74

"He promised to rescue us from our enemies' power so that we could serve Him without fear by being holy and honorable as long as we live." (Luke 1:74, GW)

MAIN POINT: Fear not. Do not be afraid to stand up for your faith, even when society frowns on your worship of Jesus during this festive period. If believers do not stand up for their own faith, how will others take any interest?

Credit: Blackshear Place Baptist Church
It is this time of the year where spiritual and secular battle lines are drawn once again. Santa Claus vs the Son of God; 'Happy Holidays' vs 'Merry Christmas;' or commercialization of the Christ's event vs concentrating on Christ. Last year, I wrote about what Christians ought to do with 'Santa Claus.' I had argued that instead of confronting others about the use of Santa Claus, and become killjoys of people's happy occasions, Christians could use the relatively happy mood to point people to Christ. By our very presence, we can be living reminders of God's grace.

A) Banned from Wearing the Cross

It is no secret that many countries in the West are increasingly secular. Even Europe which has had a long and colourful history of Christian roots have swung to a secularism that tends more toward anti-Christ. In 2006, a British Airways employee by the name of Nadia Eweida was banned from the workplace because she was wearing a small cross around her neck. According to a spokesperson from BA, the official policy is that no religious symbols are allowed to be worn in the workplace. Since the wearing of the cross around Eweida's neck is a religious symbol, it has to be removed every time she goes to work for BA. Eweida refuses to back down, and opts to stay home rather than to compromise on her right to display her affection for Jesus. The main BA contention is that they are not saying Eweida cannot wear her cross. The only condition is that she has to keep it hidden away from customers, colleagues, or anyone in the workplace.

Eweida refuses to comply and accuses her employer of religious discrimination. It is her freedom to practice what she believes in. This sparks one of the biggest uproar in the United Kingdom, as both camps trade angry arguments. While the secularists and the atheists are cheering the BA decision, church leaders in England are not pleased. They protest their public displeasure. The archbishop of Canterbury threatens to boycott the airline and initiate the sale of all of the Church of England's share in the national airline. That will have created havoc to the share price of British Airways. The archbishop, Rowan Williams finds the lack of tolerance of people wearing a cross to work, 'offensive.' The archbishop fearlessly fights for the right of Eweida to practice her faith. Thankfully, BA finally backs down. If they have been allowed to ban the wearing of the crucifix, then BA will have to ban turbans for religious Sikhs, or veils from Muslim women.

B) 'Happy Holidays' or 'Merry Christmas'

This saga repeats itself every year. Somehow, while many countries in Asia do not see it a problem to use 'Christmas' as an open reference to commemorate the birth of Christ, not so in the West. It seems like the West is beginning to banish symbols of Christianity not only on normal days, but on the Christmastide as well! What is happening? Even the humble Christmas tree has been banned from one Ontario courthouse, based on the judge's logic that the courtroom must remain secular. People are replacing Christmas greetings with 'holiday' greetings. Crosses are removed if it offends the secular eye. If that is so, maybe churches in future will not be allowed to ring the church bells if they sound overly religious to the secular ear.

Personally, I do not have a problem with 'Happy holidays.' The problem comes when people tries to shove secular ideals down the throats of religious people. Tolerance must happen both ways. For instance, just because Canada is a secular society does not mean Christians have to toe the line to refrain from verbalizing 'Merry Christmas.' Hey! You are free to say 'Happy Holidays.' Don't tell us that we cannot wish people, 'Merry Christmas.'

Recently, at the commemoration of 400 years of the King James Bible translation, the British Prime Minister boldly calls the UK a 'Christian nation.' Lots of displeasure and bemusement begins to circulate all over the Internet, that David Cameron has lost touch with the fact that modern Britain is more secular than Christian. In his speech at Oxford, he emphasizes the need for Christians to stand up for what they believe, instead of bowing down to pressures by secularists to quieten down their practice of faith. Being a Christian does not mean dumbing down others. It simply means being bold to testify of one's Christian heritage.

"We are a Christian country and we should not be afraid to say so," he told the audience at Christ Church. . . . Let me be clear: I am not in any way saying that to have another faith - or no faith - is somehow wrong. . . .I know and fully respect that many people in this country do not have a religion. And I am also incredibly proud that Britain is home to many different faith communities, who do so much to make our country stronger.. . . But what I am saying is that the Bible has helped to give Britain a set of values and morals which make Britain what it is today." (BBC report, 16 Dec 2011)
Don't be afraid to stand up for Jesus. Those who insist on 'Happy Holidays' should not insist on Christians' right to call the season, Christmas. Christians have rights too. They have rights to worship Jesus the way that they want. If secularists insist upon Christian not to impose faith on them, the reverse is equally true. Secularists cannot insist that Christians stop worshipping or proclaiming their faith. They can do their shopping. Let Christians do their worshipping.

C) Fearless Faith

Zechariah the priest has seen the power of God. After his unbelief, he is struck dumb (Luke 1:20). Once the Word of the Lord has been fulfilled, his mouth opens and he proclaims the powerful works that his son, John the Baptist will be doing for God. Luke 1:67-79 is his prophecy. It is a prophecy of God working in the lives of his people. God rescues the people from their enemies, that they will serve God without fear. The gospel writer mentions two things that demonstrates bold and fearless faith: Be holy, and honorable all their lives. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in his wonderful book, the Cost of Discipleship reminds us,
"When God calls a man, he bids him come and die."

This is discipleship at its core: Proclaiming the Name of the Lord boldly. No fear. It is fearless faith. Several years ago, Nathan Chan, a student at the Stanford Graduate School makes this insighful comment about how multiculturalism is actually individualism in disguise.
"If you take multiculturalism to an extreme, it is very individualistic, you have your own bias, and you can think what you want in that box, so long as you don't affect others' boxes. When you say that Christianity is the only truth, you are imposing on someone's box." (quoted in Tim Stafford's article, 'Campus Christian and the New Thought Police' in Christianity Today, 10 Feb 1992, 19)
D) Heroes of the Faith

Only those who have been changed by the gospel will proclaim fearless faith. There is no halfway faith. It is either we believe in Jesus or we do NOT believe in Jesus. The tragedy in many Christians is that they shun away too easily from any debates with people who disagree with them. This is not necessary. Even if we are not able to command a wide range of theological points for debate, each of us has a story to tell. Our testimony. If we fail to tell the story of how Christ has changed our lives, we not only lose the opportunity to share Christ, we fail to live up to our own calling as disciples of Christ. There are other modern heroes that have boldly stood up for their faith. There is the Coptic priest called Zakaria Botros, who is currently heavily protected because of his fervent preaching of the gospel. He has become so influential that some Muslim radicals have promised to pay out $50 million to anyone who assassinates him. Yet, Botros speaks out fearlessly, preferring to fear God rather than man.

There is Charles Colson, the man who is one of the driving forces behind the Manhattan declaration that seeks to stand up for traditional values such as marriage being between a man and a woman, and other fundamentals of faith. He is constantly ridiculed by many, including some Christians for his stand. His conviction to Christ leads him to start many powerful ministries, of which the most well-known is the Prison Fellowship. Then there is Corrie Ten Boom, who boldly demonstrates the love of God through her forgiveness of her most bitter enemies. Apart from these people, there are many unsung heroes of the faith. One of them is the British Airways employee,  Nadia Eweida, who prefers to take a no-pay leave to fight for her right to stand up for her faith even in the workplace.

We do not have to be a Ten Boom, a Colson, or a Botros. All of us can be like Eweida. My fellow readers, do not be afraid to call the name of Jesus, especially during this Christmas and every Christmas season. Jesus after all, is still the reason for the season. Don't be afraid. Be fearless. Stand up for Jesus, ye soldier of the Cross. Joy to the world, the Lord has come. Let earth receive the King!
Thought: "The best argument for Christianity is Christians: their joy, their certainty, their completeness. But their strongest argument against Christianity is also Christians - when they are sombre and joyless, when they are self-righteous and smug in complacent consecration, when they are narrow and repressive, then Christianity dies a thousand deaths.." (Sheldon Vanauken, A Severe Mercy, New York, NY: Harper Collins, 1977, 85) 


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