Beliefnet
Prayer, Plain and Simple

Imprisoned Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize today. The announcement, blacked out across China has infuriated the Beijing government which condemned the selection as a “blasphemy” and described Liu as a “criminal.”

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54 year old Liu, an academic who has lectured abroad as well as in Chin,  is serving an 11-year prison sentence for non-violent political activities, which include being a member of Charter 08, a group advocating respect for human rights and the rule of law in China. Liu helped lead the pro-democracy movement of 1989 — which was brutally cut short by the Tiananmen Square massacre.  

Freedom of expression and association are guaranteed by Article 35 of China’s constitution, but are in fact routinely violated by authorities.  As the Norwegian Nobel Committee pointed out, China has made huge advances economically, lifting hundreds of millions of its people out of poverty. But that achievement has not been paralleled on human rights front because anyone pressing for real democracy gets quickly repressed.

In response, The Chinese Foreign Ministry issued a short, angry statement on its website declaring, “The Nobel Peace Prize is meant to award individuals who promote international harmony and friendship, peace and disarmament. Liu Xiaobo is a criminal who has been sentenced by Chinese judicial departments for violating Chinese law. Awarding the peace to Liu runs completely counter to the principle of the award and is also a blasphemy to the Peace Prize.”

The decision to grant the Peace Prize to Liu will certainly add to the international pressure for his release.

“God we pray for China. We pray not only for peace, but for freedom for the Chinese people. We thank you that economic advance has brought physical blessing to China. Most Chinese now have their basic needs met. But we humans need more than bread alone. We need freedom and most completely, we need YOU. God, we thank you for the amazing growth the Christian church in China, in spite of the repression they face. But that growth has cost them dearly. Leaders in the church and Christians in general face overt persecution. Shield them and protect them. And beyond that, Lord, we pray that the officials in China would change their policies and permit religious and moral and conscience centered freedom. God, we thank you for bold voices like Liu Xiaobo. Raise up others to stand with him. And may his voice of freedom be echoed across China and may that One voice bring about true liberty. You, after all, are a God of freedom, in Jesus!”

 

A Daily Mail photographer snapped this amazing picture at the Ryder Cup of Tiger Woods blowing a golf shot.

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The ball is headed directly at the camera and in fact, actually hit the lens, but not before the unflappable journalist caught the image midflight.

But Tiger’s shot is not the “shot” that’s captivating the Web universe. It’s the freakish look of a fan standing just to the right of Tiger’s shoulder.  This guy, chomping on a cigar, is sporting a turban and a thick, Groucho Marx-style mustache.  

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Like that, the “Cigar Guy” Internet phenom is born. The mystery-man has been inserted in pictures and shared around the Web. Yahoo! searches for the mustachioed golf fan shot up 675% in just one day.

The world is small and flat… How is it that one accidental event can catapult one accidental individual into instant notoriety? How this guy’s life has changed, and at no intent or expectation on his part. Suddenly, millions of people will recognize him and label his identity. He is now, “Cigar Guy.”

Yet he is not. He has a father and a mother, a history of employment, an education, a certain temperament, a favorite food, a pattern of voting, a habit of driving. His essence is not his image. Neither is mine. Neither is yours. Our identity is more. Our identity comes from our relationship, or lack of relationship with God. His name is “I AM,” and “WE ARE” relative to him…

“God, you have created us. The image we have of ourselves, the many images others have of us are only thin reflections of the depth wonder of your intent for us. You alone make us who and what we are. As we come to know you more and better, we come to see who we are. Our identity is found first and last in our association with you! In Jesus…”

Yesterday, October 4th was the feast day of St. Francis of Assisi. Christians around the world celebrated Francis’ amazing life and teachings on parish lawns, city parks and even at the altar of some daring churches by bringing their dogs and cats and birds and hamsters for a blessing. Francis was a great lover of animals. He believed that God gave us humans a role of priesthood between God and the creatures he has made on earth. Our role is to steward not only their physical existence but also their role in God’s great drama. We are to bless them on his behalf.

Francis is one of the most beloved saints in the world. He preached a gospel of kindness, love and respect for creation. Many stories are told of his amazing kinship with birds and even wild wolves. During his lifetime, St. Francis gathered followers and founded the Order of Mendicant Friars or Franciscans. His disciples take a vow of poverty, chastity, love and obedience.

Francis understood the great charge and mandate that we humans have received from God. We are to steward the earth and its inhabitants. We are God’s governors.

“God we thank you for the trust you have extended to us by giving us charge over the creatures of your world. You have blessed us to bless them. Forgive us for our misuse of this authority. We have in many ways abused the creation. We pray that the earth itself and the creatures of the earth would be blessed to praise and worship you. We are in fact the worship leaders of your creation. We bless them so that they in turn might live as you have planned and purposed. Your blessed best, in Jesus’ name!”

Protestants and Roman Catholics don’t understand as much about major religions as atheists, agnostics, Jews and Mormons. A new survey by Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life tested Americans’ knowledge of religion found that many respondents could not even correctly give the most basic tenets of their own faiths.

Examples: Forty-five percent of Roman Catholics didn’t know church teaching that the bread and wine in Holy Communion is not just a symbol, but becomes the body and blood of Christ. And over 50% of Protestants could not identify Martin Luther as the person who inspired the Protestant Reformation.  Of all groups participating in the survey, atheists and agnostics scored the highest number of correct answers.

America is one of the most religious countries in the developed world, yet evidently we know relatively little about the faiths we practice. In one sense this is deeply troubling. Faith, while not dependent on knowledge is rooted fundamentally in tenets and core beliefs about the world. Our inability to grasp the fundamental facts of faith makes it unlikely that we will be able to discriminate between one view of life and another.  As the Bible itself says, “People die for lack of knowledge.”

Yet while ignorance itself is dire sign, we must be careful to avoid flipping our logic the other way. Knowledge for knowledge sake is not faith. Theology means “knowledge of God” not “knowledge of the knowledge of God.” And the Biblical word for knowledge used in the Jewish scriptures means “experience” and it’s the same work expressing sexual intimacy. Meaning: It’s not enough to have head knowledge about God and faith. We must EXPERIENCE him!

That said, our experiences must be anchored in truth and understanding and right discrimination between what is and what is not. In our hunger for spiritual experience we dare not ignore spiritual truth!

“God, we want to know you, to experience your love and taste the wonders of the blessings you long to bring into our lives. But our experience-knowledge of you must be anchored in our understanding of who you are and what you have said and done in history. Teach us your truth at the same time you allow us to experience the goodness of your presence. Give us discipline and wisdom to rightly discriminate what is and isn’t true about you. Not every idea or every experience that claims to be from you is. We want to know and know about what we know. Give us both yourself and the right perspective on your ways. Teach us facts and a give us a desire to learn them. But may these facts never be an end but rather a door to a deeper, more complete encounter with you! In Jesus…”