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Chaplain Norris Burkes: Don’t let your rights eclipse the Good News

Chaplain Norris Burkes
Columnist

I’ve written this column for twenty years in dozens of papers, so writer’s block can be a problem, especially around the holidays. Fortunately, it’s rarely my problem on Independence Day.

That’s because this weekend suggests scores of viewpoints. This is the time we applaud our rights and, man oh man, we’ve got a ton of rights.

We celebrate our right to privacy, free speech, assembly – and my favorite, a right to practice one’s religion – and more. New rights seem to be proclaimed at an increasing pace.



The problem is we don’t always agree on what those rights mean.

For instance, some may applaud the right to bear arms, but others feel threatened by those who openly carry their firearm.



Some virulently declare their right to refuse an injection into their body but protest the right of another to control their pregnancy.

Some may defend a high school coach who appropriates his gridiron for public prayer, while that same group may refuse Wiccans the right to assemble on school grounds.

While many enjoy their right to vote, other groups feel oppressed by laws that complicate and even impair their voting rights.

(Warning: Don’t take this column to your holiday barbecue lest it prematurely ignite the fireworks.)

Hey, I’m not trying to spoil the party, but I am asking, “Has your faith community become so preoccupied securing our rights that we are ignoring the spiritual mandate to serve the needs of others?”

For instance, when I look at both Hebrew and Christian scriptures, I find the emphasis is never on what anyone – the government or whomever – owes me, but rather, my ministry toward those in need.

And if that observation holds up, then perhaps there are some significant adjustments to make. In the great “Love Chapter” of 1 Corinthians 13, Paul said the following in verse 5: Love (God’s love in us) does not insist on its own rights or its own way, for it is not self-seeking…” (Amplified).

Whether Christian or not, most spiritual walks guide us to treat each other as we would want to be treated, regarding the rights of others over our own rights.

Hey, I’m not saying you should just turn the other cheek while someone stomps on your rights, but I am saying your attention might need to be refocused.

For instance, instead of screaming about your right to own a gun, consider helping those who are victims of gun violence.

Instead of raising your voice over the rights of the mother or the rights of the unborn, turn your ministry toward those who have no choices.

Instead of defending the right to pray in public, exercise your responsibility to pray for our leaders. (1 Tim. 2:1-2)

The great Apostle Paul relinquished many of his rights as he describes them in 1 Corinthians 9.

As an itinerate preacher of the new religion, he had the right to impose his needs on the burgeoning Christian community. In this passage he recites a list of his rights. He tells the people he has a right to live in their homes and eat their food. He has the right to their financial support. His approach is brutal. Basically, he’s saying, “You owe me!”

“BUT,” he says, “we would rather put up with anything than be an obstacle to the Good News about Christ” (vs 12 NLT).

Those last words give me pause. The implication here is that if you are insisting on your rights, you aren’t an instrument of God. Instead, you’ve likely become an “obstacle to the Good News.”

Finally, while this columnist has enjoyed his right of a free press for twenty years, a few of you occasionally exercise your free speech and tell me to shut the “H-E-double-toothpicks” up.

And, as I have told a few of my critics, “If you’ll honor my freedom to write, celebrate your freedom not to read.”

But I do hope most of you continue to read, lest my editors exercise their right not to publish.

Send comments to comment@thechaplain.net or 10556 Combie Rd. Suite 6643 Auburn, CA 95602 or via voicemail 843-608-9715

MORE INFO

Chaplain Norris will be the guest speaker on Sunday, July 10 at 10:30 a.m. at First Baptist Church in Nevada City. All are welcome to attend.


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