The Way Is Still Narrow

FaithA flurry of news reports of late are touting polls that show fewer Americans identify as Christians. Good. We’re finally being honest. I mean, let’s get serious—more than 70% of Americans are really Christians?

Don’t misunderstand me. I’m just as concerned about the decline in public profession of Christian faith as anyone, but there’s a clear difference between some type of acknowledgement of a vague definition of Christianity and the real thing.

In the past, it always helped to call oneself a Christian because the culture embraced the general tenets of the faith. Now that is changing, and those who are on the outer fringes of what they think is Christianity are more willing to distance themselves from it.

Why is that? Because they were never genuine Christians to begin with. Of those 70%-plus of Americans who have said they are Christian, one finds a large segment of “God-believers” who have either a deistic view of God or just some notion of “the Man upstairs.” That’s not Christianity. Another segment consists of those who have more knowledge of the truth but whose lives don’t measure up because they have never surrendered their wills to God and made Jesus Lord.

Cross & FlagThere’s also a segment that mistakes “God and Country” for the real deal. I’m as patriotic as anyone when it comes to the original intent of America’s mission under God, but that also is not Christianity if one simply uses God as a prop for love of country.

Here’s the good side of this shift: those who are on the fringes and not actually Christians are slowly (and in some cases rapidly) disowning the faith they never had in the first place, leaving those who have committed themselves to the Lordship of Christ to stand out as the beacons of life and hope God intends for them to be.

Perhaps one of the silver linings in this “falling away” is the clarity with which one can see the difference between real Christians and those who are fake. Real Christians believe (and act upon) the following:

  • Sin is a disruption of the entire order and intent of God for the universe;
  • Our willful sinfulness has caused a break in the relationship between God and man;
  • The only remedy is God’s love revealed through His Son as a sacrifice to wipe away our sin;
  • We receive His forgiveness and new life through repentance and faith in what He has done for us;
  • We now strive to obey His every command out of gratitude for lifting us from the pit of selfishness and despair;
  • The only enduring improvements in this world of darkness come through faith in Jesus Christ, and those improvements start within us, then spread to the culture around us.

TruthJesus taught His disciples that the way to life was narrow, and few would find it. The way to destruction is broad, and most will take that path. If anything, the latest polls are still skewed—there are far fewer Christians than they indicate. But if you are one of the redeemed, your task remains: shine the light of Christ wherever you are. The culture may be careening toward self-destruction, but we still can impact it for the Truth, and that Truth still sets people free.

Baltimore’s Real Problems & the Solution

Baltimore is now outwardly calmed, although reports from the ground say that there remains a simmering anger. Some of that has been assuaged by the news that charges are being brought against the six police who were somehow involved with the arrest of Freddie Gray. It’s interesting to note, though, that three of those six are African American, one an African American woman whose last name is White. Irony of ironies.

Let’s be honest here. None of what occurred with Freddie Gray was racial. What the news reports don’t say is that Gray had been arrested something like eighteen times, mostly for dealing drugs. He had served a two-year prison sentence for those activities. He was not exactly a model citizen.

The investigation was cut short by the announcement of the upcoming charges against the police. Those doing the investigating were caught off guard by it, as what appears to be an overzealous prosecutor (who is married to a city councilman who was behind the “stand down” order to police). Many are saying these charges will be dismissed because they are over the top. Many are also saying the only reason these charges were brought so quickly, before the official investigation could be concluded, was to stem the violence, a violence that has no real basis in what happened to Gray, but was merely the opportunity to run wild.

Tell Me Again

I will say again what I said a week ago. What we see in Baltimore is the Great Society in operation. Baltimore has not been neglected by the government; money has flowed into the city. The real question is where has it gone? It seems to disappear, as it goes primarily to politicians and their supporters. It enriches those who are already at the top at the expense of those who are at the bottom. They are kept at the bottom by the handouts they do receive, and the promises of more.

This is the perfect welfare state that keeps people in poverty. I will also mention again, as I did last week, that this city has been run, and is currently run, by those with a “progressive” vision. The last Republican mayor stepped down in the 1960s. You can’t blame them.

Neither can anyone legitimately blame some kind of “white power structure.” The mayor is black, the police commissioner is black, the city council has a majority black representation, and the police force is approximately 50/50 racially (as indicated by the police who have been charged). Baltimore is a corrupt city run by corrupt politicians who have had their way for decades. It’s way past time to be honest about the source of oppression in the city.

Oppressed

Real help for the people of Baltimore will never come from its government. Real help will come from those inspired by their Christian faith to minister to those in need. You know, like the Baptist church that had just completed building a senior citizens’ assisted living center. Only one problem: the rioters burned it to the ground.

Let’s look at the real problems in Baltimore and other cities like it. Let’s look at the real solutions, not the empty promises offered by liberal/progressives who are more adept at lining their own pockets than offering real aid.

I forgot to mention something else at the root of the problem: all these government programs that started in the 1960s have decimated the black family in America. That’s why there are few fathers available to hold the rioting teenagers accountable. The mess we have created can only be solved through a bedrock Christian faith operating through our churches and within families. Without that spiritual rebuilding, there will be more of what we saw in Baltimore. This may be only the beginning of a long hot summer . . . and beyond.

Atrocities Against Christians (cont.)

Have you heard of another atrocity committed by Muslims against Christians, this time on a boat of refugees fleeing Africa for Italy? Here are the details:

Christians Thrown OverboardItalian police say that Muslim migrants from Libya threw 12 Christians overboard after they refused to pray to Allah as the group’s dinghy began to sink. In total, 15 African Muslims were detained on charges of suspected assault and homicide.

The Obama administration responded with a call to end “senseless” violence. As always, the administration shows its unwillingness to say what this really is, a logical outgrowth of Islamic belief that seeks to kill all who don’t bow down to their concept of God. There’s nothing “senseless” about it; it makes perfect sense if those are your beliefs.

This is just another in a long series of statements (or lack of statements) by Obama and his acolytes, who consistently refuse to acknowledge that Christians are being targeted and that Muslims are responsible for those murders.

WH Response

But what should one expect from a president who continually calls himself a Christian while advocating for unbiblical positions in public policy?

Backlash Continues

We haven’t reached the level of persecution yet in America that leads to mass murders, but how long will it take before we get to that point? The culture is shifting rapidly in favor of denouncing all Christian morality and any claims that Christ is the only Way, Truth, and Life. We need to be prepared spiritually for that possibility, while simultaneously working to reverse this awful trend.

The Biblical Perspective on Persecution

ISIS & Ethiopian ChristiansISIS has released another video, this time showing the execution of Ethiopian Christians. The locale seems to be identical to the earlier video of the beheading of Egyptian Coptic Christians.

Thousands of Christians in Nigeria have been massacred by the Islamist terror group Boko Haram.

Christian pastor Saeed Abedini continues to languish in an Iranian prison. He is told he must convert to Islam if he wishes to be released. Abedini’s plight is not part of the crumbling Iranian deal being negotiated by the Obama administration.

France Gay Marriage FairIn America, no one has been killed for being a Christian—yet. But the rising tide of antagonism toward Christianity has been well documented. All one has to do is think of the death threats to businesses run by Christians if they don’t participate in homosexual “weddings.”

A pastor recently set out to see if a double standard exists. He requested a bakery run by homosexuals to bake a cake for him with a message on it promoting traditional marriage. He is now being threatened with criminal charges.

Burn Down

Obamacare continues to try to force Christian organizations to violate their religious tenets by offering types of birth control they believe are wrong and by covering abortions.

There are a number of Christian legal organizations that are being kept busier than ever defending Christians’ right to religious liberty. David French, a lawyer with the American Center for Law and Justice, says many of the new cases come from colleges and universities. He notes,

Our knowledge of incidents is only as good as the reporting. However, it’s clear that—particularly on college and university campuses—we have seen a significant rise in attempts to silence Christian organizations by the misapplication of nondiscrimination laws.
As I’ve said before, the next steps will be to force Christian colleges to change their statements of faith regarding sexuality or lose participation in the government-run student loan program. Churches will be threatened with the loss of tax-exempt status if their pastors refuse to conduct same-sex weddings. A report released jointly by the Family Research Council and the Texas-based Liberty Institute highlights some of the most recent attacks:
  • A federal judge threatened “incarceration” to a high school valedictorian unless she removed references to Jesus from her graduation speech.
  • City officials prohibited senior citizens from praying over their meals, listening to religious messages or singing gospel songs at a senior activities center.
  • A public school official physically lifted an elementary school student from his seat and reprimanded him in front of his classmates for praying over his lunch.
  • Following U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ policies, a federal government official sought to censor a pastor’s prayer, eliminating references to Jesus, during a Memorial Day ceremony honoring veterans at a national cemetery.
  • Public school officials prohibited students from handing out gifts because they contained religious messages.
  • A public school official prevented a student from handing out flyers inviting her classmates to an event at her church.
  • A public university’s law school banned a Christian organization because it required its officers to adhere to a statement of faith that the university disagreed with.
  • The U.S. Department of Justice argued before the Supreme Court that the federal government can tell churches and synagogues which pastors and rabbis it can hire and fire.
  • The State of Texas sought to approve and regulate what religious seminaries can teach.
  • The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs banned the mention of God from veterans’ funerals, overriding the wishes of the deceased’s families.
  • A federal judge held that prayers before a state House of Representatives could be to Allah but not to Jesus.

While we should continue to fight back against these attempts to marginalize Christians, we also should not be surprised that this is occurring. We have been warned in the Scriptures. The Apostle Paul told Timothy, “All who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” That’s not one of those promises Christians are eager to claim. Jesus, though, reminds us,

Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great.

We need to keep that perspective and live for Christ and His kingdom, regardless of what the so-called powers of the earth try to do.

Persecution

Judge Not?

Obama at National Prayer BreakfastPresident Obama uses the occasion of Easter, at a White House prayer breakfast, to insinuate that he’s very concerned about Christians who use “less than loving expressions.” Mr. President, I’m concerned about that, too. I always have been. But it all depends on what one’s definition of “loving” may be.

For Barack Obama, not endorsing same-sex marriage is unloving. For Barack Obama, not allowing abortion on demand is unloving. For Barack Obama, giving medical attention to a child born alive during an abortion is unloving. For Barack Obama, not letting Iran into the circle of the “civilized” nations by denying them access to nuclear capability is unloving. For Barack Obama, seeking to guarantee the survival of Israel apparently is unloving. I could go on.

He’s done this kind of thing before, most recently at another prayer breakfast where he downplayed Muslim atrocities and tried to paint a picture of moral equivalence by pointing to the Crusades.

When Muslims killed journalists in Paris and then turned to killing people in a Jewish grocery store, he refused to say Muslims were responsible and that Jews were targeted. Last week, in Kenya, when nearly 150 Christian college students were massacred by an Islamist terror group, the official White House response was to ignore both the religion of the attackers and those who were massacred.

Mr. President, my problem is that I know your background. You claim to be a Christian, but whatever Christianity you make a claim to is nothing more than a radicalized Marxist theology that makes Jesus into nothing more than a model to follow for “social justice.” I read the interview you did for a Chicago newspaper prior to your presidency in which you made it clear that 1) all religions lead to God; 2) you’re not sure there is an afterlife; 3) being a good father is what you depend on for a right relationship with God; 4) it is wrong to try to convince others to become Christians.

Judging OthersSo I am judging, based on your own statements, your radical history, and your actions, inactions, and outright string of lies you have uttered as president, that you, sir, are no Christian.

Yes, I can hear the outraged voices: who are you to judge? Doesn’t the Bible say “judge not, lest you be judged?” Anyone who says that discloses a superficial knowledge of that passage of Scripture.

Read it carefully and you will see that, from the context, Jesus is telling us not to be hypocrites. He says that before you judge, be sure you are not doing the same things for which you judge others. Take the log out of your own eye first, then take the splinter out of another’s eye.

Throughout the Bible, judgment occurs, and we are told often to be a discerning people. We are to look at the fruit of others’ lives and determine whether or not they are genuine. Otherwise, we will often be fooled and follow those who will lead us astray. Yes, we examine our own hearts first, but then we are to examine the actions and the words of others as well.

Some people have the idea that being a Christian means you just let things happen without standing up for truth publicly. They say that is true humility. I disagree. Humility is knowing the One who is really in charge and submitting our lives to Him. It means to boldly proclaim His truths so that others will be led away from destruction. To be silent is to connive with falsehood. We are to be watchmen on the walls, sounding the alarm when an enemy approaches.

I will continue to sound the alarm whenever the enemies of God’s truth try to advance. I will not be silenced. And Mr. President, to speak out concerning the falsehoods being promoted by your worldview and your policies is not being unloving; rather, it is being discerning, with the goal of helping people see His truth.

Meanwhile, Mr. President, I would urge you—in the love of God and out of concern for your soul and in context—judge not, lest you be judged.

Righteous Judgment

Lewis & Humility

Sheldon VanaukenSheldon Vanauken was an American studying in Oxford in the early 1950s. He was supremely pagan in worldview and lifestyle. Then he started reading C. S. Lewis. As a student of literature, he immediately was drawn to Lewis’s Space Trilogy, then began digesting his apologetic works. He decided, since Lewis was at Oxford also, to contact him, and a correspondence between them developed.

Lewis dealt with all of Vanauken’s major questions: the uniqueness of Christianity with respect to all other religions; the need for humility and “bending the knee” to Christ as Lord of all things in one’s life. Vanauken, with Lewis’s help, bent his knee one day and became a convinced Christian. Vanauken’s wife also gave her life to Christ as a result of reading Lewis.

What’s interesting is to see Lewis’s perspective on the role he played in the Vanaukens’ conversion. It gives insight into Lewis’s own character, and the prominence of humility in someone who could easily have puffed up his role. Instead, here is how he explained his contribution:

C. S. Lewis 8I hope my interest in you both is something less blasphemous than that of a Creator in a creature (it wd. anyway be begetting not creating, see Philemon 10).

My feeling about people in whose conversion I have been allowed to play a part is always mixed with awe and even fear: such as a boy might feel on first being allowed to fire a rifle. The disproportion between his puny finger on the trigger and the thunder & lightning wh. follow is alarming.

And the seriousness with which the other party takes my words always raises the doubt whether I have taken them seriously enough myself. By writing the things I write, you see, one especially qualifies for being hereafter “condemned out of one’s mouth.” Think of me as a fellow-patient in the same hospital who, having been admitted a little earlier, cd. give some advice.

God will always use a person for His purposes who doesn’t think too highly of himself. I believe Lewis’s books and essays continue to bless readers today, in large part because of the quality of his personal character. It shines through in everything he wrote.

First Great Awakening: Results

Great AwakeningIn my ongoing American history series, I’ve completed three posts on the First Great Awakening. They have highlighted the people whom God used to bring an awakening to colonial America. William and Gilbert Tennant established the Log College to train ministers; Jonathan Edwards was the theologian of God’s love best known for his sermon Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God; George Whitefield, an itinerant evangelist from Britain, pulled it all together with a series of trips to America, and was as popular in his day as another George—Washington—was later.

Some, though, have pointed to what they call the bad effects of the Awakening. They single out some individuals who went too far in their enthusiasm and acted strangely. They also decry the split that occurred in some denominations over the Awakening.

To those criticisms I reply: first, there will always be some who go too far, and no movement should be judged solely by their actions; second, Jesus said He came to split families along lines of those who believed Him and those who rejected Him. The split that occurred in some of those churches was sometimes merely a difference of opinion in tactics for preaching the Gospel. Others who objected were beginning to edge toward Unitarianism, which is a denial of Jesus as divine. Therefore, I don’t put much stock in the negative results of churches splitting over the Awakening.

What did it accomplish? I see three definite, positive developments.

  • First, it re-emphasized the personal nature of salvation. Each person is responsible for his/her response to God’s offer of mercy. No one gets into His kingdom by going through all the external motions: baptism, communion, church attendance. Neither is salvation a “group” thing; each one of us must give an account of our lives individually.
  • Second, it started a round of college planting for the purpose of raising up even more ministers (and those who chose other professions) grounded in a Biblical way of thinking. Colleges started during that time included what we now call Princeton, Dartmouth, and Brown. Note that they all began as Christian colleges. How the great have fallen.
  • Third, this Awakening created a common experience for all colonial Americans from Georgia to Massachusetts. Prior to this event, each colony saw itself as a separate entity with more connection to London than to each other. The spiritual experience of the Awakening also awakened them to their common interests, thereby helping to create greater unity of thought and purpose—something they would need as the crisis of the American Revolution approached.

In my view, this First Great Awakening was a genuine move of God to shake the people from their spiritual lethargy and stupor. It accomplished its purpose.