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Does Donald Sterling Buy His Beef From Cliven Bundy?

LA Clippers/Flickr/by Ytoyoda

LA Clippers/Flickr/by Ytoyoda

Maybe you’ve heard of Cliven Bundy. He’s the 67-year-old Nevada cattle rancher who recently landed in the national news when the federal government started impounding his cattle in early April, following a 20-year legal battle over cattle-grazing on federal land. For many years Bundy refused to pay the grazing fees. The conflict came to a head in the Nevada desert when a showdown between armed federal agents and armed Bundy supporters escalated to the brink of a gun battle. Eventually, federal authorities backed down and bloodshed was averted.

Those on the political right viewed Bundy as a folk hero who stood bravely against the heavy hand of an overreaching federal government. Those on the political left viewed Bundy as a moocher (oh the irony) refusing to pay for grazing fees like all other ranchers using federal land. But just as things were beginning to settle down in the Nevada desert, Bundy, while answering questions at a news conference, launched into his personal views on the plight of African Americans on government assistance, likening their plight to idleness, government subsidy (ironic), jail, abortion, picking cotton, and slavery. I don’t know if there was a legitimate moral message somewhere in the midst of Bundy’s observations on race and government assistance, but the word’s chosen and his delivery were not politically correct or helpful. In other words, he indeed sounded like a racist. This left those on the political right scrambling to distance themselves from Bundy the person without distancing themselves from the issue of an overreaching federal government. Those on the left used the opportunity of Bundy’s words to discredit Bundy, his cause, and all who supported his cause.

Skip ahead a couple weeks to April 29, 2014, and the saga of Donald Sterling, owner (or possibly a soon to be former owner) of the LA Clippers. The NBA banned Sterling from all NBA activities for life because of news that he had expressed his desire to a lady friend that she not bring black friends to Clippers games. His comments, if accurately portrayed, reflected a racist mentality. Swift public outrage led some advertisers to drop the LA Clippers. Talk of a player’s strike was bandied about. Many players, former players, team owners, representatives, sports media personalities, and fans praised the NBA commissioner’s swift and stern decision to ban Sterling from basketball. Now Sterling can only watch basketball on television. Yet this writer (always the skeptic) wonders if NBA leadership acted for purely moral reasons or because this incident stood to cost the league substantial revenue. If you have the ability to take away a significant chunk of an organization’s money, that organization’s leadership will find a way to take action to staunch the financial bleeding. This is an example of market forces (and politics) at work on a moral issue. Of course the opposite can also happen: if you promise to infuse a lot of money (with strings attached) into an organization, the leadership of the organization might be enticed to take no action or take an immoral action.

As an aside, the response of the NBA in the Sterling case is the proverbial slippery slope. In the future, what is to stop an organization from firing someone or canceling their contract because they hold unpopular views on gay marriage, global warming, suffrage (just kidding) or whatever the moral issue du jour? In such an environment it becomes easy to slip across the line from opposing a legitimate immorality to persecution of people with legitimate beliefs of conscience. Go back and re-read 1984. I guess we all need to make sure our thinking is right.

The morally superior attitude of many who responded to the words of Bundy and Sterling made me uncomfortable. Why? Because they view those who engage in this loathsome sin as irredeemable, people who should be completely discarded. But the Bible tells us it is possible to renew our minds. People can change. With God’s help, a racist can eliminate racism from his heart. And yet many who decry Bundy and Sterling come off like these two men have no hope of mercy and forgiveness.

As for Bundy and Sterling, they have encountered a hard reality about modern society: “When you play the game of thrones you win or you die.”

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Revivals

It is common in the ecosystem of evangelical Christianity to hear pastors express a deep desire to experience revival in their churches. For instance, last Sunday I heard a youth pastor share her belief that revival will come through the youth. This made me curious about revival (church revival, not Creedence Clearwater Revival). I looked up the word “revival” in three common translations of the Bible, including the New International Version. I got zero (0) hits in each translation. Wow, the word “revival” is not mentioned in three common translations of the Bible. However, I did find a beautiful reference to the word “revive” in Psalm 85:5-6, which says:

 “Will you be angry with us forever?
 Will you prolong your anger through all generations?
 Will you not revive us again,
 that your people may rejoice in you?”

Of course revivals are real in the church. There are confirmed examples of revivals happening throughout church history. Some revivals are local, others impact entire nations.

Clergy and laity supplications for revival take different forms. Some ask for church revival directly from God. Some desire the Holy Spirit to inspire revival in the church through the manifestation of supernatural events. Some seek revival by prodding the congregation to get off their . . . pew and take action, usually in the form of repentance for sins, service to the poor and evangelism. I am sure there are other catalysts that I have overlooked.

If you look up the word revival in the dictionary you will see words and phrases like: rejuvenation, vigor, restoration, awakening, a new production of an old play, revitalization. Such words and phrases imply physical and mental action and energy. If you look at the calendars, schedules and programs of many modern Christian churches, they are already running at a frenetic pace. I wonder how the typical modern church would squeeze a revival into their weekly schedule. Are we capable of recognizing a revival if it happened in our midst? Are we so abuzz with ministry activities that God is not inclined to compete with us for glory? In other words, is the church too busy for revival to happen? On the other hand, would a God-inspired revival take over despite our busyness and accomplish God’s intentions in the church and surrounding community? I think so. But are we willing to let go of the reins to God?

We make a mistake if we think spiritual matters like revivals have jump-start formulas. I suspect that God likes to choose the time, place and manner of revival. It seems spiritually astute to also recognize that God may never choose to manifest an awe-inspiring revival in the place where we go to church. I know a pastor (we’ll call him Jim) who saw a miracle-producing revival happening in a large church in a nearby town. The effects of the revival spread throughout the community. People were experiencing miraculous healings for everything from colds to cancer. Jim had an intense desire for a revival to happen in his church so he set about making a lot of changes in the church, changes geared towards inspiring revival. Years passed with no revival. In the process, Jim nearly destroyed the church. Hundreds of people left and he had to step down from his position as senior pastor before the church was damaged beyond recovery.

John 3:8 says:

“The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”

This verse reminds me that we can’t pin the Holy Spirit down any more than we can pin down the wind. We simply don’t know when or how the Holy Spirit will alight in our midst in a supernatural way, including revival. I find this element of mystery in our faith to be cool. Besides, we don’t want a God we mortals can manipulate. We can pray for revival and prepare our hearts, but the final decision belongs to God.