I Will Not Be Ashamed

I was at an early morning Bible study last Friday when a certain Scripture passage burned its way into my spirit. It’s not that it was a new passage to me, but the Lord has a way of taking a verse one has read hundreds of times and turning it into His Word of the Day. That’s what he did for me that morning.

It’s found in the gospel of Mark, chapter 8, verse 38:

For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will also be ashamed of him when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.

What stood out to me specifically was the “adulterous and sinful generation” phrase. That description was so apt. It’s what I see all around us, and the sinfulness of our society seems to be increasing. Sinful behavior has always been with us, but whenever a society begins to excuse sinful behavior and declares it to be somehow virtuous, it has turned a corner.

The personal application in the verse was whether I was shrinking back from God’s truths due to pressure from the world. In my heart, I don’t believe that is so, but the warning was like a light flashing in my eyes as I read the verse: Is there any way in which I am ashamed to stand up and say this is God’s truth regardless of what others may think of me?

I knew that a similar passage could be found in Matthew and Luke as well, so I then turned to those to see the shades of difference that might be discovered. While the Luke passage is very similar, the one in Matthew 10:32-33 adds another dimension:

Therefore everyone who confesses Me before men, I will also confess him before My Father who is in heaven. But whoever denies Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father who is in heaven.

Slightly different words, but with the same poignant meaning. In this passage, the word “deny” stood out. As I read it, I felt a deep sense of sadness and how devastated I would be if Jesus would publicly deny that I belong to Him. Again, I don’t believe I would ever deny Him, but the very hint that I could do so, and the resulting denial of me by Him, sent a shiver into my soul.

America in 2017 is in the process of dismissing Biblical truth at a rapid pace. Abortion is the law of the land. Homosexuality is considered just fine, even to the point of legalizing same-sex marriage—which is actually no marriage at all.

Some who have stood firm for Biblical morality, particularly on the issue of homosexuality, have been prosecuted in their businesses. Some have lost their businesses because they have kept the faith.

Christian organizations, including institutions of higher learning, are being pressured to bow to the new cultural norms or face the prospect of being shut down.

God seems to be asking me, “How will you respond to all of this?”

My answer will be, and must be, that I will continue to speak the truth in love.

I will be faithful to Him regardless of the threats.

I will seek His grace at all times to strengthen me in whatever trials I may face.

I will keep in mind that this world, ultimately, is not my final home. There is a new day coming in which every knee will finally have to bow and every tongue will be forced to confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.

And on that day, I don’t want my Lord to be ashamed of me and have to deny me before His Father and all the holy angels.

Thank you, Lord, for the challenge, and for the strength to meet it.

Chad Walsh’s Baptized Imagination

One of C. S. Lewis’s earliest American friendships was with Chad Walsh, a professor of English at Beloit College in Wisconsin. Like Lewis, Walsh traveled the road from atheism to Christianity, and Lewis helped him on that journey.

“In my case there was no childhood faith,” Walsh wrote in an account of how he eventually found the Christian path.

If I ever believed in God as a small child, no memory of the time remains with me. I regarded myself as an atheist from the moment I learned to read—and, indeed, pamphlet editions of Ingersoll, et cetera, were part of my earliest reading.

Why would a young boy be so attracted to a non-Christian worldview? Walsh, although ultimately placing the blame on his own stubbornness and pride, also pointed to a reaction he had to the community in which he was raised:

Undoubtedly my atheism was in part a revolt against the Fundamentalism of my home town—Marion, Virginia. . . . It was not a winsome faith, and I was in full agreement with H. L. Mencken about the superstitious backwardness of the ‘Bible Belt.’

He eventually escaped what he considered the confines of that small town and found the atmosphere of the University of Virginia more to his liking. There he didn’t have to worry about people shoving religion at him. He was free, he felt, but the freedom did not settle the bigger questions that began to crowd upon his mind. While he claimed to be a self-satisfied atheist, doubts crept in. “Is there such a thing as good or evil?” he often wondered. “Is there any meaning in life and the universe?” World events in the 1930s helped crystallize the answers.

The rise of Hitler in Germany, and the growing awareness of the actions of that regime, forced him to confront the problem of evil in the world. Walsh’s companions in atheism and/or agnosticism, when challenged by Walsh to come up with a response to what Hitler was doing, would provide excuses, albeit excuses that were actually consistent with their worldview.

Walsh recounts,

They agreed with me that the world was a senseless jungle. Very well, they reasoned, if the world is a jungle, it’s absurd to speak of right and wrong. Everything is relative. Hitler thinks he’s doing right to invade Poland and murder the Jews. Very well, it is right for him. It’s all in the way you look at it.

That response shook him. He knew he had to come to grips with the reality of evil.

Walsh’s second question, about the meaning of life and the universe, intruded more on his thoughts once he was forced to recognize that real goodness and real evil existed, and that there was a decided difference between the two. If everything was some kind of cosmic accident, what did that say about his personhood? Was he living an illusion?

His atheism was crumbling. He lived in a transition from atheist to Christian for a few years, trying to figure out what he should believe. It all came down to the person of Jesus Christ.

Walsh began reading the New Testament. What he found surprised him. He had preconceived ideas of Jesus as some weak character—the words “meek and mild” were stuck in his mind from childhood. What he saw in the pages of the Gospels was something different:

The man I encountered in the Gospels was a towering figure of strength; even his death was that of a man strong enough to accept death voluntarily. So I was up against the final question: What or who was Jesus?

Eventually, reason led to faith.

As I recount in my book, America Discovers C. S. Lewis, along the way, Walsh had begun to read some Lewis, and that helped him see the reality. But then he had an experience with one of Lewis’s books that absolutely transformed him.

A friend enthusiastically lent him a book she had just finished reading; she just knew he would love it. That book was Perelandra, the second in Lewis’s Space Trilogy in which the protagonist, Elwin Ransom, is transported to Venus to save an innocent world from falling into sin. Walsh was transported as well:

I quickly consumed it from cover to cover. I was struck first of all by the sheer beauty of the book. It transported me into a kind of Elysian Fields—or better yet, an unspoiled Eden, inhabited by the innocent and unfallen.

A second revelation was that, even though he had always been a science fiction fan, he had never read any science fiction like this, where it could be used as a “vehicle of great philosophic and psychological myth.” The third revelation, though, was the greatest of all:

Finally, and most importantly, in Perelandra I found my imagination being baptized. At the time I was slowly thinking, feeling, and fumbling my way towards the Christian faith and had reached the point where I was more than half convinced that it was true. This conviction, however, was a thing more of the mind than of the imagination and heart.

In Perelandra I got the taste and smell of Christian truth. My senses as well as my soul were baptized. It was as though an intellectual abstraction or speculation had become flesh and dwelt in its solid bodily glory among us.

Walsh then became the first person to write a book about Lewis. To do so properly, he knew he had to visit Oxford and interview him. That’s the tale I’ll tell in a Lewis post next Saturday. Please come back.

Who’s Responsible?

A man goes to a baseball field and shoots up the place where congressmen and their staffers are practicing for a charity baseball game. First, he asks one of the congressmen who is leaving whether the ones practicing are Democrats or Republicans. Glad to hear they are Republicans, whom he has castigated on social media and seeks to wipe off the face of America, he opens fire, spraying the field and wounding four; one congressman remains in critical condition.

The man who perpetrated the crime finally is taken down by police and dies shortly after at the hospital. Then the blame game begins.

Who is responsible for what this man did? Since he was a socialist and a follower of Bernie Sanders, is Sanders to blame? After all, Sanders has said some pretty harsh things about Republicans. Since the man hated Trump so much, perhaps Trump is the one who should be responsible because he “triggered” the man with his policies?

What’s the Biblical position?

Personal responsibility is an overwhelming theme in Scripture. We are responsible for the choices we make in life. No one forces us to make those choices. There can be influences upon us, things that push us in a certain direction, but when it comes down to choosing, that’s all on us.

There were influences on the man who decided to target Republicans. Some of those influences were way over the top in bitterness and hatred. There are people who are saying Republicans want everyone to die because they want to take away their healthcare. That’s one of the middle-of-the-road accusations. I won’t repeat the worst ones.

Yet those were influences only; he had to decide whether to follow through on them with a terrible deed. He died in his own sins; he’s responsible for what he did, regardless of what others said that might have egged him on.

However, there remains some culpability whenever anyone descends into hateful diatribes. God holds them accountable for that.

There is a difference, though, between vicious, hateful speech and truth-telling. As Christians, we are to speak the truth in love and we are called, as far as it depends on us, to be at peace with all men.

What’s the difference between truth-telling and hateful speech? Are we never, in our truth-telling, allowed to point out the real nature of certain philosophies and/or individuals who promote those philosophies?

Did I sin in numerous blogs when I disagreed with virtually everything Barack Obama stands for and how he conducted himself? Am I sinning now when I take Donald Trump to task for his character?

Have you ever looked carefully at Matthew 23? It’s a fascinating chapter wherein Jesus takes on the Pharisees in no uncertain terms. As you peruse that chapter, you find Him saying the following about them:

Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.

Was Jesus over the top when He referred to them as hypocrites? Notice that He even said they were not entering into heaven. Was that an unjust judgment?

Further down in the chapter, He calls them “a child of hell,” “blind guides,” “blind fools,” and “a brood of vipers.”

My particular favorite is his characterization of them as “whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean.” They appear to be righteous but are really “full of hypocrisy and wickedness.”

I gather from Jesus’s own example that we don’t have to pull our punches when pointing out sin. But here’s the catch: we can’t be hypocrites when we do so and we have to honestly seek to redeem those who are erring (check out chapter 7 of Matthew on proper judging). If we ever take satisfaction in merely telling people off and get a smug attitude about being right, then we’ve violated the spirit in which we are allowed to point out sin.

We all need to be willing to be truth-tellers, yet, at the same time, we must continually guard our hearts so that we carry it out in the proper spirit.

Each person is responsible for his/her own actions, whether in carrying out an evil deed or in using extreme language that might influence a person toward that deed.

Today Is For Remembering the Sacrifice

Death. We don’t like the word, and for good reason. Death was never supposed to be a fact of life. It was nowhere in God’s original purpose for His creation. It came about through rebellion against His love.

Jesus wept at the tomb of Lazarus even though He knew He was going to bring him back to life. Why? Because death is unnatural, a disruption of the good God intended.

On Good Friday, Jesus took the first step in reversing the curse brought about by sin, but He had to do it through death—His own.

Anyone who studies the mechanics of crucifixion can’t help but shudder at the horribleness of it.

Yet Jesus voluntarily subjected Himself to that horror. And He did it for me and for you.

Today is for remembering the sacrifice. It’s for grasping the enormity of what He had to do to offer us redemption. It’s for being grateful.

Grateful is really too mild a word for how we should feel. “O, the Deep, Deep Love of Jesus” are the words of a solemn hymn. That deep love should awaken in us a deep love in response.

In all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

The Quest for Christian Unity

Christian unity. What does it mean? Is it even possible? What can we learn about it historically? Nothing is so potentially wonderful yet so often downright disturbing as the quest for this elusive goal.

Even back in New Testament times, we don’t see complete unity. The apostle Paul had some choice words for the Corinthian church as it broke into factions, each of which claimed to be following the true spiritual guide. He even chastised the faction that said it was the real one following Christ.

Yet Paul and the other New Testament writers, and Jesus in the Gospels, spoke often of the unity that should exist among those who have been brought out of the darkness of sin and into His marvelous light.

What’s wrong with us?

Martin Luther broke with the Catholic Church, thereby starting the Protestant Reformation. He pointed to how the church had introduced man-made practices and how, in his opinion, it had altered the message of salvation. Thus began a century and a half of battle, both theological and on literal battlefields, between Catholic and Protestant, both claiming to have the correct interpretation of Scripture.

Among the Protestants, unity was often strained or broken completely. Luther couldn’t agree with Zwingli on the nature of Communion/The Lord’s Supper/The Eucharist (take your pick of terminology) and their fellowship was severed.

Groups like the Anabaptists were persecuted by both Catholics and other Protestants simply because they believed baptism should wait until the person understood the Gospel and made a decision to be a Christian. Their insistence that the only true baptism was by immersion outraged those who should have been their Christian brothers; many Anabaptists were executed for that belief.

Anglicans and Puritans fought a civil war in England in the 1640s. Both were Protestant but with different emphases in belief. Most early Americans were Protestant and maintained grave suspicions of the intent of Catholic immigrants. The first Catholic presidential candidate didn’t appear until 1928; the first and only Catholic elected president occurred in 1960.

In my own experience during my lifetime, I’ve witnessed some Christian denominations consign Pentecostal/Charismatic believers to a special region of hell because they believe the gifts of the Holy Spirit were not discontinued after the apostles died.

What’s wrong with us?

Here’s the truth: heaven is going to be populated with vast numbers of individuals who once called themselves Catholic, Lutheran, Reformed, Presbyterian, Congregational, Baptist, Methodist, Nazarene, Wesleyan, Pentecostal, non-denominational, etc., etc., etc.

We are so quick to declare someone else heretical just because of a difference of belief over issues like baptism, Communion, gifts of the Spirit, and countless other secondary matters.

Here’s another truth: all who have come to the recognition of their sinful state, who have grieved over their sin, and have come to the Cross of Christ seeking forgiveness have found that forgiveness and newness of life. They have been washed clean and are part of the family of God.

The apostle Paul stated it this way:

Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers not swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.

And that is what some of you were.

But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

Denominational ties ultimately mean nothing. I will never be a Catholic because I disagree with some Catholic teachings. Yet I acknowledge many Catholic brothers and sisters with whom I will spend eternity. I will never be of the Reformed persuasion because I disagree with some of the doctrines promulgated under that designation. Yet I know many of that persuasion who are genuine Christians with whom I will stand in the presence of God and rejoice forever.

Jesus, in His prayer before going to the Cross, said this:

My prayer is not for them alone [His disciples]. I pray also for those who will believe in Me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in Me and I am in You.

May they also be in us so that the world may believe that You have sent Me. I have given them the glory that You gave Me, that they may be one as we are one—I in them and You in Me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that You sent Me and have loved them even as You have loved Me.

Unity isn’t just for the Christians’ sake alone. It’s through that unity that the rest of the world will see the truth. We are called to be one in Christ. May His prayer be answered in our day.

My Biblical Foundation for This Blog

I began this blog in August 2008. I had no idea how long it would go, but I’m still here and haven’t yet been led by the Lord to stop, even though I’ve contemplated it many times.

The goal of Pondering Principles always has been to bring the light of a Biblical worldview to bear on all aspects of life. As we enter into this new year, I thought I would simply lay out once more where I’m coming from and why I write as I do.

A litany of Scripture passages will serve as the basis for this, beginning with Isaiah 59:2:

But your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden His face from you so that He does not hear.

That’s the state of the world overall. Mankind is in rebellion against the righteous rule of the Creator. The rebellion begins in individual hearts and then spreads into the various cultures.

In spite of this, God loves us. Jesus, the only begotten Son of God, was sent into this sin-soaked world for one supreme purpose, as explained in Matthew 1:21 when an angel informed Joseph,

She [Mary] will bear a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.

The Greek word that we translate “from” actually means, more precisely, “away from” or “out of.” The strong message is that through Jesus we no longer have to be a sin-soaked people, but we can be separated from our sins rather than be separated from God.

John 14:6 makes it abundantly clear that there is no other way to be reunited with our God when Jesus says to His disciples,

I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.

That’s why I write from the perspective that the Christian faith is the one and only true, genuine faith in the world. All others are attempts to find a different way back to God, but all fail.

What is God’s goal? It is found in II Peter 3:9:

The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.

Repentance is the key, yet it is so often minimized in the modern Christian message. It’s not enough merely to give a mental assent to some propositions about Jesus; rather, a change of life is essential—and it starts with repentance. Some see that word as harsh, but it isn’t. As the apostle Paul explains in Romans 2:4,

Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?

It’s the greatest kindness of all to be truthful with us about our sinfulness and to point to the way out of it. Once we make that initial turnabout, He then gives us the grace to live the kind of life He knows will bring real joy. One of my favorite verses is Romans 12:2, which says,

And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.

The word translated “transformed” is the same word used when Jesus went up on the mountain and was “transfigured” before His three closest disciples. They were allowed to see His true glory for a few minutes. In the same way, He wants our lives to be “transfigured” so we no longer walk as we used to walk.

As we live out this new life, we need to be a discerning people. We need to know the difference between truth and falsehood and how that affects our society all around us. That’s why I also use this Scripture, Colossians 2:8, quite often when I speak:

See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.

That’s why I spend so much time and effort trying to apply Biblical principles to what I see taking place in our nation and in the world. That’s why I comment often on politics and government and seek to show how the Christian faith should impact them. Government is not our savior, but it can help stem the tide of evil—and evil seems to be increasing to the point where this plaintive cry from Isaiah 5:20-21 describes the direction of this nation:

Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness; who substitute bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter.

Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes and clever in their own sight!

Never in the history of America have we elevated evil to such an extent as we are doing now—and call it “good.” We did it in the past with slavery and segregation, but now we are reversing good and evil in unprecedented ways.

This why I write, to do whatever I can, in my limited way, to shine a light on God’s path, in the hope that I can influence a few to look to Him.

The most well-known Scripture is John 3:16. When you couple it with the verse that follows, it offers the rationale for what God seeks to do among us:

For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.

For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.

The problem, however, has always been man’s response to God’s love. Jesus concludes the above statement with this:

This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil.

For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed.

My commitment is to partner with the Lord as much as I can in revealing the Light that is Jesus. Along the way, that means calling out the darkness; we have to see the stark contrast between the two.

I will do my best always to include the way out of the darkness, shining the Light of Jesus on it.

Modernity & the Church

Impossible PeopleI’m working my way through a new book by Os Guinness called Impossible People: Christian Courage and the Struggle for the Soul of Civilization. It diagnoses the problem of the church as it becomes co-opted by modernity.

Guinness says, quite correctly, I believe, that it’s not the frontal attacks of secularism and atheism that do the real damage; rather, it is the seduction and distortion of the faith through modernity that leads us astray and destroys the Christian witness to civilization.

Guinness says that predictions of the disappearance of religion in our culture are off-target. In fact, religion is flourishing, but the nature of the Christian faith has been subtly altered, thereby making it less genuine.

One major change in perception that has changed the faith is the undermining of the whole concept of submission to authority. We have shifted “from a stance under authority to one of preference. . . . All responses are merely a matter of preference.” This is at odds with basic Christianity. “Unique among the gods believed in throughout history, the Lord is transcendent, so what he says is truth, binding truth, because it addresses us as authority. To dilute this authority is to dismiss the Lord himself,” Guinness notes.

The statement “Jesus is Lord” is the essence of Biblical truth. There is no other name through which anyone can be saved.

Our modern world, though, informs us that there is no ultimate authority; we have unlimited choice in life.

From breakfast cereals to restaurants and cuisines to sexual identities and temptations to possible sexual arrangements of all types to self-help techniques and philosophies of life, we are offered an infinite array of choices, and the focus is always on choice as choosing rather than choice as the content of what is chosen. Simply choose. Experiment. Try it out for yourself.

Os GuinnessGuinness goes on: “Our freedom is the freedom to choose, regardless of whether our choice is right or wrong, wise or stupid. . . . Choosing is all that matters. Truth, goodness, and authority are irrelevant.”

In the world at large, this leads to the rejection of any absolute standard. Guinness explains,

Does it matter . . . whether your sister-in-law is straight or lesbian, or your boss is a heterosexual womanizer, a homosexual, or was once a woman? There are different strokes for different folks. We are all different, so who are we to judge? . . . This is my choice. That is yours. We are all free to choose differently, and our choices only amount to different preferences, so who is to say who is right? . . . And what business do any of us have to judge other people’s preferences?

It’s understandable that the world outside the Christian faith would fall for this, but when it shows up in the church, that’s when the faith is compromised and loses its witness of truth to the world.

As Guinness laments, “Christian advocates of homosexual and lesbian revisionism believe in themselves and in the sexual revolution rather than the gospel. They therefore twist the Scriptures to make reality fit their desires rather than making their desires fit the truths of the Scriptures.”

In our seeker-friendly church world, we often exchange the truth for a lie. Guinness quotes from a Christian marketing consultant who said, apparently without any sense of irony, “It is . . . critical that we keep in mind a fundamental principle of Christian communication: the audience, not the message, is sovereign.”

TruthGuinness expresses his shock over such a statement: “The audience is sovereign? No! Let it be repeated a thousand times, no! When reaching out as the church of Jesus, the message of the gospel and Jesus the Lord of the message is alone sovereign—and never, never, never the audience, however needy, however attractive, however prestigious or well-heeled an audience may be.”

While we are to be sensitive to those seeking the truth, we must have truth to offer them. While we are to be all things to all people, the purpose for that admonition is to bring them to the Truth Himself.

Here is the challenge, as Guinness so clearly lays it out:

All Evangelicals should search their hearts. For a generation now the air has been thick with talk of “changing the world,” but who is changing whom?

There is no question that the world would like to change the church. In area after area only the church stands between the world and its success over issues such as sexuality. Unquestionably the world would like to change the church, but does the church still want to change the world, or is its only concern to change the church in the light of the world?

Something is rotten in the state of Evangelicalism, and all too often it is impossible to tell who is changing whom.

I would add that as I survey the current political state of America and the evangelical rush to support, and even promote, a candidate whose worldview and lifestyle is contrary to the Gospel, that I see this rot infecting evangelicalism to its very core.

Who is changing whom?

I applaud Os Guinness’s clarion call that we be the church once more.