Sunday, September 24, 2017

Snoop Dogg’s Gospel Album; To Worry Or Not?

            When Snoop Dogg produces a music album, millions listen and adore. Such is his fame! So when Snoop Dogg announces his intent to produce a gospel album, millions will listen.

            The fact that Snoop Dogg is not a Christian music artist is an adequate reason to discuss this development, for there’s mixed response from churches. Some churches do not endorse this album, hence they advice their folks to not listen to this album. A few other churches plan to endorse and promote Snoop’s Christian music album. Then there are other churches that are uncertain about their response.

            What do we, as individual Christians, do? Our children may be attracted to Snoop Dogg’s music, so do we endorse Snoop’s Christian album or not?

            Before we decide for ourselves, let us examine the reasons cited by churches for their varied responses to this album. Why would certain churches reject Snoop’s Christian music album?

            An article from churchleaders.com articulates this predicament very well, “Herein lies the controversy that the church has stumbled over time and again: How do we react to celebrities who thank God for awards or name their children after Bible characters or claim their faith pulled them through a difficult time, and then turn around and live a “Hollywood lifestyle”?”1

            Snoop’s typical Hollywood lifestyle is arguably the greatest barrier between his album and the Christian community. His dubious morality (highly materialistic, profanity-laced, pot-smoking and what not!) is an adequate reason for some churches to reject him, and hence, they reject his album.

            On the other hand, certain churches endorse Snoop’s music album because they reckon this is a time to rejoice. The gospel message would reach millions around the globe through Snoop’s album, and the majority of his audience may not even be Christians! Moreover, this occasion could enable Snoop to become an ardent Christian. Snoop’s mother is an ordained evangelist. Her prayers for her son need not go in vain.



            Here’s the same article from churchleaders.com on this matter.2

Could it be that this man, who has walked a hard road and has produced some of the most questionable content our culture has seen these last couple decades, is seeking God? I think it’s entirely possible—perhaps even plausible considering he has a mother, active in the faith, who is praying for him and has likely been praying for him from the start. I think it matters how the church responds to the album. There are a few things I hope we can keep in mind as the album releases and people start talking about it. One of which being there are going to be Snoop fans who don’t know Jesus and will listen to the album. Let’s not turn them off to the church by criticizing the album or its producer. This album may also present an opportunity for the church. While other rappers like Lecrae or Kirk Franklin may have a more Christian audience, Snoop doesn’t necessarily. Which means people who have never heard gospel music may hear it for the first time. They may be moved to find out more about Jesus and his church through this music. They may even come to visit your church. The question is: What will they find when they come? Judgmental people who care more about what they were smoking in the car than they do about the state of a fellow human being’s soul? Or will they find the compassion of Christ in another person? I hope we can answer this question correctly, Church. I hope we can hope the best for Snoop and his family. I hope we can get over ourselves and the rules we sometimes care about more than the people who break them. Most of all, I hope Snoop finds the love of Christ in His people and in the words he is producing.
  
            We may have observed the negative side of Snoop Dogg’s life that is exposed in the social media – his highly materialistic, pot-smoking, profanity-laced life. But we have not seen the other side of his life – his spirituality, especially.

            Some Christian sportsmen, whom we adore, live a highly materialistic, pot-smoking, profanity-laced life. But we revere them so much so that they are welcome into any mainstream church.

            Why not extend the same courtesy to Snoop Dogg?  

            We do not possess any authority, whatsoever, to discourage another person from coming to the Lord Jesus Christ, even through dubious means (in our context, producing a contentious Christian music album).

            So this is my response to Snoop Dogg’s music album and I submit it for your consideration.  

            First, pray for Snoop that he does the will of God while producing this gospel album. Also pray that this production will reveal the Lord Jesus to Snoop Dogg that he becomes more sincere in his relationship to the Lord Jesus.

            Second, let’s pray that the gospel message is preached wholly through this music album. Let not Satan dilute the gospel message so that it corrupts the theology of Historic Christianity, and endorses the gory lifestyle of the worldly Hollywood celebrities.

            Third, let us pray that this album serves as a powerful evangelistic tool to bring more souls into Christ’s fold.

            Finally, let’s pray for ourselves. If this gospel album denies Christ in any manner whatsoever, may our disapproving response to this album be filled with gentleness and respect, as the word of God mandates (cf. 1 Peter 3:15).   

Endnotes:

1https://churchleaders.com/news/culture/310721-snoop-dogg-releasing-gospel-album-local-church-care.html


2Ibid.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Do Not Pray This Prayer

            The “Covenant Prayer”1 is a powerful prayer of a Christian, who willingly and unconditionally surrenders his/her life to God. But please do not pray this prayer if you are uncertain of your dependency on God or if you are not sincere in your relationship with God or if you have not thought through your relationship with God.

The Covenant Prayer

            This is the contemporary version of the Wesleyan covenant prayer:2

I am no longer my own, but yours.

Put me to what you will, place me with whom you will.

Put me to doing, put me to suffering.

Let me be put to work for you or set aside for you,

Praised for you or criticized for you.

Let me be full, let me be empty.

Let me have all things, let me have nothing.

I freely and fully surrender all things to your glory and service.

And now, O wonderful and holy God,

Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer,

you are mine, and I am yours.

So be it.

And the covenant which I have made on earth,

Let it also be made in heaven.  Amen.


The Theology

            This is the theology that undergirds this prayer. Just as God’s love for us is unconditional, our response to God should also be unconditional. This basic tenet of committing or surrendering our lives to God, in an absolute sense, governs our relationship with God. If we are not keen on totally and unconditionally committing or surrendering our lives to God, then our relationship with God cannot be on the right path.

            The Lord Jesus taught that in order to follow HIM, we are to deny ourselves of any selfish, worldly or material pleasures, “Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.” (Matthew 16:24-25, NIV).

            Moreover, Christ taught that our love for God should be nothing less than absolute, “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’" (Matthew 22: 36-37, NIV). Similarly, the Apostle Paul taught that we are to be a living sacrifice to God (Romans 12:1; cf. Mark 10:28; 2 Corinthians 12:10; Galatians 2:20).

The Challenge

            The challenge inherent in committing ourselves to God totally or unconditionally is our allegiance to selfish gains and worldly pleasures. It is very difficult for a spiritually-young or spiritually-immature Christian to renounce his/her selfish gains and worldly pleasures for the sake of God.

            It is quite easy to read about Paul delighting in his weaknesses, insults, persecutions and difficulties, “That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:10, NIV). But it is excruciatingly difficult to live out a life that virtually delights in loss and weaknesses.

            Our immediate reaction when we are attacked by evil is to either ask God why HE delivered us to evil or we plead with HIM to deliver us from evil. Sometimes we even reject God (cf. Job 2:9b).

            But how often do we thank and praise God when evil plunders and renders us homeless, jobless, penniless or worthless (cf. Psalm 34: 1; 1 Thessalonians 5: 16-18)? This is the existential challenge!

            Then there is the theological challenge.

            A section of Christendom believes in being the head and not the tail (Deuteronomy 28: 13). This group of people (prosperity gospel or health & wealth gospel’s proponents) is always in search of victory, “One of our church members saw his sales performance hit rock bottom by the middle of the year. As a result, he was ranked 320 out of the 420 financial advisers in his company. Devastated and on the verge of giving up, he started listening to my messages and claiming God’s promises such as “the Lord will make you the head and not the tail; you shall be above only, and not be beneath” and “many who are first will be last, and the last first”. (Matthew 19:30) He committed everything to God because he believed that only God could turn things around for him. And God did just that.”3

            Those who subscribe to prosperity gospel believe that “…believers have a right to the blessings of health and wealth and that they can obtain these blessings through positive confessions of faith and the "sowing of seeds" through the faithful payments of tithes and offerings.”4

            Significantly, the proponents of prosperity gospel would theologically negate the core tenet of the covenant prayer, which is to surrender ourselves to God - lock, stock and barrel. This is the theological challenge!

The Reason (To Pray Or Not To)

            You may not belong to the prosperity gospel faction of Christianity. But you may believe that it is God’s bounden responsibility to bless us and not deprive us. If you subscribe to this thought process, then please do not pray this prayer thoughtlessly.

            Take time to study your Bible. Meditate upon God’s goodness and love. God, who is absolutely good and loving, allowed Joseph to be sold to the Ishmaelites by his own brothers (Genesis 37:12-36). God allowed Job to be tormented by the evil one. The Bible is replete with such instances.

            As much as the Bible speaks about the faithful being blessed, it also speaks about the faithful not being blessed in worldly terms, “There were others who were tortured, refusing to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated—the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and in holes in the ground. These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.” (Hebrews 11: 35b-40, NIV, Emphasis Mine).

The Conclusion

            The covenant prayer is a powerful prayer, designed to bring us closer to God. We cannot be close to God if we equate God with our selfish gains and material blessings. So pray this prayer, if you sincerely desire to grow in your love for God, by laying aside your desire for selfish gains and material blessings.

            Our joy is to be found in Christ alone (Colossians 1: 27), not anything else, certainly not the material blessings, “a fixation on material prosperity as the measure of their faith makes Christians weak when hardship strikes because their unrealistic, unbiblical expectations are not met and they feel let down. Worse still, their appreciation of the core blessings of Christianity (eternity in the presence of God, salvation from sin and judgment, complete renewal, etc.) is dulled by finding their primary joy in peripheral blessing. Most seriously, the teaching of blessing in exchange for sowing a “seed” or some other work undermines the fundamental teaching of grace: the unmerited favour of God towards sinful man. The supreme irony about this thing called the prosperity gospel is that it actually leads to spiritual poverty in the life of a Christian. We need to stamp it out to restore the joy of the Christian’s salvation, so that in all circumstances of life they can find their meaning, their purpose, and their joy in Christ alone.”5

Endnotes:

1This prayer was written by John Wesley. Covenant is an agreement between two entities. In our context, the covenant prayer is an agreement between man and God.

Covenant Prayer (Traditional Version)
I am no longer my own, but thine.
Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt.
Put me to doing, put me to suffering.
Let me be employed by thee or laid aside by thee.
Exalted for thee or brought low for thee.
Let me be full, let me be empty.
Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and heartily yield all things to thy pleasure and disposal.
And now, O glorious and blessed God,
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
thou art mine, and I am thine.
So be it.
And the covenant which I have made on earth,
Let it be ratified in heaven. Amen.

2https://thewell.cor.org/wesley-covenant-prayer-card-traditionalcontemporary-package-25

3https://www.josephprince.org/blog/daily-grace-inspirations/the-head-and-not-the-tail

4http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2009/decemberweb-only/gc-prosperitystatement.html


5http://far-above-rubies-and-pearls.blogspot.in/2010/08/be-my-guest-poverty-of-prosperity.html

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Could Christians Participate In Non-Christian Religious Rituals?

            Christians actively participating in non-Christian religious rituals is a common sight. Even the Pope prayed in a mosque, “In a gesture designed to highlight his commitment to inter-faith dialogue, Pope Francis conducted a silent prayer alongside a senior Islamic cleric in Istanbul’s Blue Mosque on Saturday. Facing Mecca, Francis bowed his head in prayer for several minutes while standing next to Istanbul’s Grand Mufti Rahmi Yaran.”1

            There was a time when I neither read nor studied the Bible. Hence, my love for the Triune God was very cold and immature. At that point in time, I [passively] participated in non-Christian religious rituals (acts of worship, such as Hindu pooja & eating prasada - religious offering, usually consumed by worshipers after pooja). Some of my Christian friends had even undertaken pilgrimages to sacred non-Christian religious sites.

            However, when my knowledge and my love for the Triune God and HIS Word increased, I concluded that Christians should not participate in non-Christian religious rituals. Here’s why:

The Bible Says So

            There is only one God, HE is the Triune God (Isaiah 43:10, 45:5; Psalm 18:31). There are no other gods than the Triune God.

            Actively participating in non-Christian religious rituals is synonymous to worshipping that nonexistent god, which is an active rejection of the Triune God. Praying to that god or diligently and devotionally reading their sacred texts or undertaking pilgrimages are some instances of actively participating in non-Christian religious rituals.

            The living God has firmly emphasized that there should be no other gods in our life (Exodus 20: 3-6, 34:17; Deuteronomy 6: 14 etc.). In fact, God commands us to “not even mention the names of other gods—do not let them be heard on your lips.” (Exodus 23: 13, NET). The Bible also categorically states that the Lord Jesus Christ is THE only way to heaven (John 10:9; Acts 4:11-12).

            When Christians actively participate in non-Christian religious rituals, they invoke the wrath of the only living God (Cf. Exodus 34:14; Jeremiah 25:6). Hence, an active participation in the non-Christian religious ritual is to be avoided.

            But some Christians who actively participate in non-Christians religious rituals cite this passage from the Bible to claim that they have the necessary freedom.

With regard then to eating food sacrificed to idols, we know that “an idol in this world is nothing,” and that “there is no God but one.” If after all there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as there are many gods and many lords), yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we live, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we live. But this knowledge is not shared by all. And some, by being accustomed to idols in former times, eat this food as an idol sacrifice, and their conscience, because it is weak, is defiled. Now food will not bring us close to God. We are no worse if we do not eat and no better if we do. But be careful that this liberty of yours does not become a hindrance to the weak. For if someone weak sees you who possess knowledge dining in an idol’s temple, will not his conscience be “strengthened” to eat food offered to idols? So by your knowledge the weak brother or sister, for whom Christ died, is destroyed. If you sin against your brothers or sisters in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. For this reason, if food causes my brother or sister to sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I may not cause one of them to sin. (1 Corinthians 8, NET).  
        This passage, if studied in its original context, refers to some believers who felt there was nothing wrong with eating this meat that following the sacrifice, was sold in shops near the temple. These believers, who ate this meat, knew that the gods to whom this meat was sacrificed were nonexistent. However, these believers are called to relinquish their personal liberty for the good of their fellow believers with weaker consciences.

        But those Christians who actively participate in non-Christian religious rituals based on this passage should read the following passage, which firmly asserts that believers should not attend temples where sacrifices to other gods were made, since that would mean being in spiritual fellowship with demons.

Therefore, my dear friends, flee from idolatry. I speak to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say. Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all share the one loaf. Consider the people of Israel: Do not those who eat the sacrifices participate in the altar? Do I mean then that food sacrificed to an idol is anything, or that an idol is anything? No, but the sacrifices of pagans are offered to demons, not to God, and I do not want you to be participants with demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons too; you cannot have a part in both the Lord’s table and the table of demons. Are we trying to arouse the Lord’s jealousy? Are we stronger than he? (1 Corinthians 10: 14-22, NIV).  
Reasons Behind Participating In Non-Christian Religious Rituals

        Let us consider two reasons mentioned by Christians participating in non-Christian religious rituals.

        Political correctness is one reason why Christians actively participate in non-Christian religious rituals. Many Christian politicians actively participate in the sacred rituals of the non-Christians.

        This is votebank politics. The Christian politician believes that in order to secure the votes of non-Christians, he/she should participate in the sacred rituals of non-Christians. Christian celebrities too commit the same fallacy of participating in the sacred rituals of non-Christians in order to gain greater fandom. Other Christians who idolize these politicians and celebrities follow their idols in worshiping other gods.

        The problem with being politically correct is that by doing so, we run the risk of invoking the wrath of the living God. Politicians and celebrities should realize that it is God who blesses them to be a politician or a celebrity. Hence their allegiance and devotion should be to God and not man.  

        A notion that we would offend our non-Christian friend is another common reason that motivates a Christian to participate in the sacred rituals of non-Christians. Christians, in the workplace, often seek to gain favor from their authorities or clients. Hence they would participate in the sacred rituals of their non-Christian friends, so not to offend them.  

        In this instance, Christians ought to recognize that God is the one who blesses the work of their hands. It is God who enables people to favor us. Once again, our sole allegiance is to our God and HIM alone.

        Christians, who are totally committed to evangelism, invite their non-Christian friends to the worship services of their church. Hence, in order to return the favor, they, occasionally, visit the sacred places, and in some instances, also participate in the non-Christian religious rituals, so not to offend their non-Christian friend.

        Christians, who are committed to evangelism, should realize that their non-Christian friend visits the church in order to seek and find the truth of the living God. But, if the non-Christian friend demands that the Christian worship the other god, then it is probably the non-Christian friend who is evangelizing the Christian, not the other way around.

        Since there are no justifiable reasons for Christians to participate in the religious rituals of non-Christians, let us not sin against God by worshiping other gods, even though these gods are non-existent.

Endnotes:


1https://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/nov/29/pope-francis-turkey-pray-blue-mosque-islam-cooperation, last accessed on 7th September, 2017.