As part of my shift (or forward movement) in my focus, I have several articles that I want to highlight in order to praise and critique the actions of fellow followers of Jesus. I’m not out to judge them as individuals (that’s God’s job and He does a much better job at it than I do), but rather to point out areas where I think Christians are moving in the right direction and where we have work to do.

Christians have been horrible when it comes to dealing with the issue of global AIDS. The good news, however, is that much of that is beginning to change – thanks in large part to Rick and Kay Warren. A speaker at their first AIDS conference, Rev. Martin Ssempa was recently published in a leading Ugandan newspaper pleading for the end of sexual violence that is part of the viruses’ spread.

This Christmas we need to pray and work for the victims of sexual violence that the peace of God will come to them. We also need to pray that the systems which entrench this evil will be broken. May the prince of peace bring a cessation of sexual violence in our land.

The Warrens have taken some heat and criticism from some Christians who believe their work with AIDS patients “condones sinful behavior.” The unChristlike thoughts ignores the children who have done nothing are infected, not to mention the fact that Jesus spent his time around and showing love to both the sick and sinful. Kay answered the critics succinctly: “It’s not a sin to be sick.”

AIDS is not the only crisis the church should be working with in Africa. Much of the government aid is not helping in Dafur, as child malnutrition rates have increased sharply. A mob set fire to a occupied church, killing as many as 30, who were seeking refuge from the violent aftermath of a disputed election. Thankfully, many are working to change that. Justin, a friend of mine that recently graduated from college, is working for an organization called Heart for Africa, which seeks to bring HOPE to be the issues facing the continent (Hunger, Orphans, Poverty, Education).

While the world and America faces hugely important issues, the Congress has decided that it should move the phrase “In God We Trust” off the edge of the coin to the face again reversing a decision made by…Congress.Maybe now that Congress has solved that, they can work on fixing immigration and social security and Christian activists can move on to those problems in Africa. (Just to be clear, I don’t have a problem with the phrase, but I think God is more glorified when we actually, you know, trust Him, instead of the thing the phrase is printed on. Also, He is probably more concerned about His place in our lives, than on the coin. I seem to remember a quote about coins and rendering.)

Many Americans, especially Christians, view the religion of Islam as inherently violent, pointing to recent terrorist acts by Muslims and numerous verses in the Koran which seem to condone violent behavior toward those outside the faith. What many Christians don’t know is that many Muslims view us the same way, for many of the same reasons. While the perception is flawed, perception is reality and we must do a better job of communicating the message of Christ to Muslims and others outside of our faith.

Case in point, recent violence between Hindus and Christians in India. Several have been killed and arrested on both sides. Honestly, I believe the majority Hindus to be the most at fault, but because of Jesus, Christians are held to higher standards, therefore the Christians who retaliated are just as much, if not more, to blame.

I’ve never been in a situation when the majority of the citizens in my country wanted to get rid of me and thought my faith should be illegal, so I can’t chastise the Christians too harshly. I may have reacted the same way – wanting to get revenge for the burning down of my church building and the murder of my friends and family – but Christ does not allow us that option.

The situation is not strictly about religion, as the link points out. India has it’s own built in issues with religion, politics, the caste system and various other things that lead to these type of reactions, however those that follow Christ cannot chose to respond in a vengeful manner. Not only is it morally wrong, it fuels the very fires that burn their houses.

Many Christians are using a clever connection between a major interstate and an Old Testament prophecy as a reason to pray for those around the road and in their community. So far, so good. Sounds great. Where can I sign up. But then it swings into the weird stage, not just normal Christian weird, but out there weird. The group sees I-35 as the “Highway to Holiness” mentioned in Isaiah 35.

From the story:

When Cindy Jacobs read Isaiah 35, she kept thinking Isaiah 35, Interstate 35, Isaiah 35.

And she wondered.

“We felt like I-35 could be the road they were talking about,” said Jacobs, a self-proclaimed prophet who with her husband co-founded Generals International, based in Red Oak, south of Dallas.

Where to begin, where to begin. Besides the fact that Isaiah specifically mentions places and countries in the Middle East during the verses leading up to the prophecy, there’s the little issue raised here: Isaiah would have spelled his name in its Hebrew form, causing it to start with a “Y” and the chapter and verse numbers were added long after Isaiah wrote his prophecy down.

And as if we needed to give outsiders and even more vivid picture of us as a bunch of kooks, it appears the website www.Rapture2007.com is no more, since the rapture did not occur as was predicted by yet another prophet. However, through the magic of a Google cached page, you can view both the original prophecy and the explanation/apology.

Honestly, these last two stories are why I could never join a charismatic church or one that had a leader who was a self-proclaimed prophet. I love my Charismatic brothers and sisters, but if any are reading this – how do you respond to the excesses in your vein of Christianity? How can you work to limit things like this when it seems to be a result of much of the theology taught in the churches? Again, I love Charismatics as fellow believers and appreciate the work they do for the Kingdom and see them as a correcting force to much of the underdeveloped attitude many denominations have toward the Holy Spirit, but is there an overemphasis where others underemphasize?

To make up for sort of going after another group of Christians, I’ll end by going after my own. Southern Baptist are losing young leaders on the national level at an alarming rate. I hope our denominational leaders that this seriously and do not fool themselves into believing that this is self-corrective or that yet another “initiative” is going to fix this. It is going to take hard work of reaching out and including others outside the current power players or mantle-carriers of former power players. It is going to take not only listening to the objections of those (us?) young leaders, but also actually coming up with actual solutions to the problems, not patronizing proclamations or programs. It will take (gasp!) actually acknowledging that we have denominational problems, which were not all solved by the conservative resurgence (as many problems as that did solve) – some were made worse.