Impotent Words: “Our Thoughts Are With You”

In the aftermath of the bombings in Boston today I’ve seen a tremendous outpouring of concern and support for those affected by the horrific events. I’m encouraged by those Christians and others who have openly expressed their concern and support through prayer. But, I’ve been equally disgusted by those who have nothing better to offer than that their “thoughts,” which either “go out to” or “are with” those who are suffering. I’m sure many of these folks will offer more tangible support in the coming days; but how impotent does your worldview have to be that the best you can muster in the face of evil is that you will think about it?

What can your mere thoughts accomplish in the face of evil? Am I the only one who finds mere thought less than encouraging in the face of evil? Should we not, rather, avail ourselves of the One who has the power to bring evil to a final end? Should we not avail ourselves of prayer? Should we not offer humble intercession and supplication to the creator who holds all things together by the exercise of His great power? Should we not do much more than merely think about the victims of evil?

Philippians 4:8 commends us to think. But, it commends us to think of those good things which flow from God. And, 1 Corinthians 14:15 entreats us to pray with our minds. Our thoughts are to dwell on that which is good and to actively direct ourselves to those things in prayer. Dwelling on evil with our minds will not make things right. And how impotent our lives will be if we only think about the great evil and suffering around us. We must do more. We must pray. For it is God who has the power to bring an end to all evil.

I will pray for all those who suffer, because I know my mere thoughts can not blunt the sting of evil. But, my prayers go up to the one who will, one day, put all evil to an end and make right all that is wrong. Come, quickly, Lord Jesus!

Playing Pagan

This past weekend was an wonderful time for me. Friday evening I spent time in fellowship and study as part of the Secret Church simulcast at First Baptist Church of Provo. And, Sunday I celebrated Resurrection Sunday with family and friends in worship of our risen Lord. But, this weekend was also special to thousands of other people; people who ostensibly want to be known as followers of Jesus Christ. I’m referring to the participation by thousands of Mormons in the annual Holi Festival that takes place at the local Hari Krishna temple in Spanish Fork, Utah. While these members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints would swear to no end that they follow Jesus Christ and that they worship one and the same God as other Christians, their participation in an overtly pagan religious practice tells a very different story. The reaction of some of the event participant’s to First Baptist Church of Provo’s, and others’, evangelical efforts outside the festival also reveals that as much as Mormons want to call themselves Christians, many are little more than run-of-the-mill pagans putting on a shameful pretense. Just to cite an extreme example, one girl left a message on the church’s voicemail telling us, in the same breath, that “God loves everyone. And you can go to hell.” Apparently, God’s love didn’t inspire this girl to extend  love to those of us who proclaim that Jesus Christ is the ultimate expression of God’s love and the only means of salvation. We are, apparently, so wretched that we ought to be consigned to everlasting punishment by the very God whom she asserts loves everyone equally. Pardon me while I laugh at the utter foolishness of such a statement, as well as the attitude and inconsistent beliefs that underly it.

Now, I know I’m going to be labelled as hateful, bigoted and/or judgmental for this post; but, in light of the truly hateful response some members of my church received for their evangelical efforts, I’m willing to hazard the vain and hollow name calling. Besides, the people flinging those particular insults around probably should stop and do two things: 1) read the name of this blog; and 2) examine the tone and attitude of their own response. I encourage those two bits of reflection because, as a theologically conservative Baptist, no one should be surprised that I’m neither syncretistic nor pluralistic. And, I usually find that the ones calling others bigots, hateful or judgmental often are doing far more to project and expect outright acceptance of their own beliefs, opinions and attitudes by others than the one they are calling nasty names.

But, that is straying from the point I wanted to get at. Why are Mormons behaving like pagans when they go to the Holi Festival? The Holi Festival is an ancient tradition that is tied up in a lot of Hindu mythology. There are some good moral lessons to be gleaned from the mythology regarding the conquering of good over evil, but there are also some really troubling religious teachings wrapped in the good moral lessons. So, lets examine a bit of history about the Holi Festival:

“It is said that Holi existed several centuries before Christ. However, the meaning of the festival is believed to have changed over the years. Earlier it was a special rite performed by married women for the happiness and well-being of their families and the full moon (Raka) was worshiped.

Hiranyakashyap wanted everybody in his kingdom to worship only him but to his great disappointment, his son, Prahlad became an ardent devotee of Lord Naarayana. Hiaranyakashyap commanded his sister, Holika to enter a blazing fire with Prahlad in her lap. Holika had a boon whereby she could enter fire without any damage on herself. However, she was not aware that the boon worked only when she enters the fire alone. As a result she paid a price for her sinister desires, while Prahlad was saved by the grace of the god for his extreme devotion. The festival, therefore, celebrates the victory of good over evil and also the triumph of devotion.”

(“History of Holi”, Society for the Confluence of Festivals in India, http://www.holifestival.org/history-of-holi.html)

What is interesting to me, and should be interesting to anyone who claims to be a follower of Jesus Christ is that monotheism is implicitly portrayed as evil in this myth. The Bible is clear that God is both one, and to be worshipped alone (Deuteronomy 6:4; Exodus 20:3; Matthew 4:10; 1 Corinthians 6:9; Revelation 21:8). So, to celebrate a festival that has its mythological origins tied to the acceptance of polytheism should cause anyone who wants to claim they believe the Bible some pause. I know that most of the folks who went to the festival are about as ignorant of the religious underpinnings of the festival as they are the theological underpinnings of Hanukkah; and, who can blame them. There are probably just as many Jews in Utah as there are legitimate devotees within the Hari Krishna community, meaning a lot fewer than there are Christians (< 3%). Yet that doesn’t change the reality that thousands of supposedly good Mormon folks, who would claim to be followers of Christ, participated in a religious worship service. They just didn’t stop to think about what they were doing and why. In that way, at least, they are not so different from many others who would claim to be Christians, even people within my own faith community: Southern Baptists. But, ignorance will not excuse anyone on the day of judgement (Acts 17:30; Ephesians 4:8).

Because ignorance will not excuse them, I am proud of those who went out from First Baptist Church of Provo on Saturday to share the Gospel with those who willingly, yet probably ignorantly, participated in offering strange worship to false gods. Hopefully someone among the thousands of attendees of the Holi Festival will read the 2013 Holi Festival Tract that was distributed and ask the question of why they would worship false gods while claiming to be followers of a God who describes Himself as both jealous and wrathful regarding right worship of Himself (Exodus 20:5). In the end though I expect that thousands of Mormons will continue to participate in the Holi Festival, even knowing it is a pagan act of worship, and in so doing they will merely confirm that they are no more followers of Christ than the Krishna’s they worship with or the legions who worshipped Zeus centuries ago. In the end, pagans will behave like pagans and even knowledge won’t stop them. Only through being transformed by the Gospel of Jesus Christ can anyone hope to be saved and to rightly understand how to worship God in spirit and in truth.