Wood, Hay, & Straw

Jim Wallis, one of the leaders of what might be termed the Christian Left, has now come out in favor of same-sex marriage. Ever since his days as a member of the 1960s radical group Students for a Democratic Society, which was grounded in socialist/communist philosophy, Wallis has tried to walk a fine line in an attempt to marry [pun intended] Biblical principles with a humanistic, atheistic worldview. It has been as spectacularly unsuccessful as the same-sex unions he now supports.

Wallis is the proverbial tip of the iceberg. He’s only the most obvious spokesperson for a phenomenon that threatens to split evangelicalism while it simultaneously destroys our Biblical basis for morality, law, and government. Can such views really coexist with what C. S. Lewis has called “mere Christianity”?

Genuine Christians can disagree on doctrine. They can disagree on how the Christian faith is demonstrated in society. There certainly is room for liberty of conscience. Yet when does liberty become licentiousness?

I disagree with Christians who espouse pacifism, but I don’t count them out of the kingdom; I merely consider them incorrect in their understanding of Scripture. I profoundly dissent from those who believe the government should follow policies of redistribution of wealth to achieve “fairness.” Many who promote this do so out of concern for the poor, yet they don’t realize how this vision of “helping” violates a number of Biblical principles and ultimately fails in its goal. They haven’t learned the lessons of history. Their hearts may be right in their desire to help, but all they accomplish is to spread the misery around.

It gets dicier when those who claim the name of Christ begin to advocate for positions that are directly contradictory to basic Biblical morality. Can someone really be a genuine Christian and promote abortion, or at least not be concerned about it? Is it simply a mistake when a professed Christian finds reasons to excuse homosexual behavior or is it rather a manifestation of a deeper rebellion against God’s call for holiness? I have my opinions on that, but, thankfully, God will be the final judge.

Thinking about this led me to a particular passage of Scripture, found in 1 Corinthians 3: 11-15. Here the apostle Paul speaks of how the Lord will judge the actions of His disciples:

For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if any man builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each man’s work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work. If any man’s work which he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward. If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.

The clear teaching is that in order to be a Christian, our foundation must be nothing else than absolute faith in Christ as Lord and Savior. As long as we have repented of sin, received His forgiveness, and are now motivated by His love, we are part of His kingdom. However, not all our works for Him have the same value. Some are described as especially fruitful—gold, silver, precious stones—while others are virtually useless for building the kingdom—wood, hay, and straw.

I submit that when those who seek to build God’s kingdom with ideas that undermine the very kingdom they seek to build, their works will be shown to have been nothing more than wood, hay, and straw. They will have done more damage than good. We should all examine our motives and our actions continually. I know I don’t want to feel shame when that “day” comes.

Salt, Light, & Truth

I’ve spent the past two days writing about the drift of our culture into acceptance of a type of sex God forbade. For many people, this whole issue is simply a matter of “democracy”—let the people decide what they want. When you introduce the moral element, they tell you that’s irrelevant. All that matters is that we are devoted to popular sovereignty. As a historian, I know that term well. The last time it was front and center in the political debate was prior to the Civil War. Popular sovereignty was supposed to solve the quandary of slavery. Let the people of the new territories decide for themselves if they want slavery or not. Stephen Douglas, the Illinois senator who championed this approach, infamously said slavery was not a moral issue.

Well, I can’t help but frame it morally. At its foundation, the push for same-sex marriage is a clear indication of our rebellion against the righteousness of God and His law. It is a perversion—and I use that word advisedly and with forethought—of the gift of sex. Only a people firmly rooted in Biblical truth can prevail against this headwind. Are we no longer that people?

Liberals/progressives, whose outlook is primarily secular, think opposition to homosexuality is foolish. Unfortunately, they are joined in this view by a growing number of those who continue to call themselves Christians. They adopt most of the progressive political agenda and attempt to stamp it with God’s favor. They are doing a disservice to the gospel, and the God, they claim to represent.

Then there are some conservatives who are abandoning the field of battle. Most often, that’s because they are little different than their erstwhile foes at the other end of the political spectrum. How can that be? They are basically secular also; their conservatism is not based on solid Biblical principles. So when the culture shifts, they have no anchor to hold them to their position. They attempt to mix political conservatism with moral relativism. It’s not a good mixture.

One particular strand in the conservative movement is more libertarian than conservative. That group has never been wedded to Biblical morality anyway. They don’t want the government telling anyone what to do in the moral realm. Many of them support the mislabeled pro-choice position on abortion and have no problem at all with homosexuality. Their presence in the conservative coalition waters down its moral foundations.

The only saving grace in modern American conservatism, and in our politics in general, is the part of our populace that brings its Christianity to bear on our culture and government. They are the ones Jesus was referring to when He said,

You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men.

You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house.

Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.

Salt preserves; light shows the way. Those in the church who have succumbed to the spirit of the age are the tasteless salt; they are no good for anything in this struggle. The responsibility therefore falls on those who still understand that truth is truth in all ages, and that it never changes. We need to preserve whatever remains of goodness in this land, and we need to be the ones who shine a light on the right path to take. Are we up to the challenge?

Anything Goes

Yesterday I wrote about the casual acceptance our society is showing toward homosexual rights, all the way to same-sex marriage. In less than a generation, our moral fabric has been ripped apart on this issue, making us an altogether different people than we were when I was younger. The change has been so drastic that it almost takes one’s breath away at times. This is largely a cultural phenomenon—that’s where the changes began—but it has been aided by government. As Ronald Reagan used to say, the nine scariest words in the English language are “I’m from the government, and I’m here to help.” The government “helped” with abortion; now it wants to do so with the homosexual agenda, and it seeks to follow the same path through the Supreme Court:

If this agenda wins, the concept of marriage will be in tatters; there won’t be any reason to hold the line even with same-sex marriage. Think of the possibilities: polygamy, incest, men with boys, bestiality. Whenever a Christian warns about these perversions, we are told we’re being alarmist, that nothing like that could ever happen. Yet wasn’t that what we were told about same-sex marriage? Those warnings are now about to be proven true. Once a society loses its moral grounding, anything goes.

I’ve been saying for some time that Christians have to wake up to the reality that we are no longer the majority. It’s actually worse than that, potentially. If we continue to stand firm on our Biblical conviction that homosexuality is a sinful behavior, we may find ourselves the target of legislation calling us “haters” and “bigots.” Penalties will be assessed on individuals, churches, and other Christian organizations that refuse to bow down to the new immorality. Christian universities, such as the one where I teach, will have to decide whether they have the bedrock beliefs they have mouthed for so long; many, I fear, will fall in line with the new order.

Those who “stubbornly”—that’s one of the words that will be used to describe us—resist the emerging consensus may find that the agents of tolerance will suddenly transform into the agents of intolerance, all the while attacking us in the name of tolerance. The only thing toleration cannot abide are people who refuse to tolerate depravity. We will be the new enemies of society.

In other words, we need to prepare our hearts and minds now for the real possibility of persecution. It will start slowly, but just like the mad rush to same-sex marriage that we’ve witnessed the past few weeks, full-fledged persecution will be upon us before we have time to consider our options.

Now, I still hold out hope that this will not be inevitable, but it will take a rather significant reformation of hearts and renewal of minds to forestall it. Nothing less than a fresh outpouring of the Spirit of God is needed. That, I believe, is how we should pray.

God is a God of great compassion and mercy; He wants to continue to show mercy to this nation. Maybe it comes down to how many of His people He finds who are standing firm for the truth. I’m reminded of the scripture in Luke 18 when Jesus ponders, “When the Son of Man comes [back], will He find faith on the earth?”

Only we can answer that question.

C. S. Lewis: The Resurrection

On this Resurrection [Easter] Sunday, here is some insight from C. S. Lewis from his book Miracles:

The Resurrection is the central theme in every Christian sermon reported in the Acts. The Resurrection, and its consequences, were the “gospel” or good news which the Christians brought: what we call the “gospels,” the narratives of Our Lord’s life and death, were composed later for the benefit of those who had already accepted the gospel. They were in no sense the basis of Christianity: they were written for those already converted. The miracle of the Resurrection, and the theology of that miracle, comes first: the biography comes later as a comment on it. Nothing could be more unhistorical than to pick out selected sayings of Christ from the gospels and to regard those as the datum and the rest of the New Testament as a construction upon it. The first fact in the history of Christendom is a number of people who say they have seen the Resurrection.

What Kind of Love Is This?

On this Easter weekend, we think about why Jesus would subject Himself to the horrors of crucifixion. What kind of love is this, that God would decide to suffer such humiliation and pain, both physical and spiritual? And for whom? A race of people who thumb their noses at His love? A humankind that cares more about selfish interests than God and one another? Yes, those are the ones for whom He died. It’s hard to grasp. There must be something about our inherent value that led Him to do this. C. S. Lewis writes of this love that somehow looks beyond our selfishness and sees what we are supposed to be—a love that believes we are, for some reason, important:

If individuals live only seventy years, then a state, or a nation, or a civilisation, which may last for a thousand years, is more important than an individual. But if Christianity is true, then the individual is not only more important but incomparably more important, for he is everlasting and the life of a state or a civilisation, compared with his, is only a moment.

Why Was Jesus Forsaken on the Cross?

There are so many facets to the events of Good Friday, the atonement for sin through the death of Jesus on the cross. I want to comment today on just one: the moment when God the Father turned away, leading to Jesus’ cry, “My God, why have You forsaken Me?” Theological interpretations of what exactly occurred at that moment are many, but only one resonates with me.

Consider: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit had been in constant communion throughout eternity past all the way to this crucial moment on the cross. Perfect love existed in this triune relationship, and it never had been disrupted. When God the Father, in essence, abandons Jesus to go through the agony of the atonement all alone, that would have been the only time the Son would have experienced what it means to be utterly lost, cut off from the loving, sustaining presence of the Father and the Spirit. Can you imagine the sense of “lostness” he must have felt? Without the presence of God the Father and the aid of the Spirit, He was left hanging there, both literally and spiritually.

Why was this necessary? I believe that in order for Jesus to be the perfect substitute for sinful humanity, he had to go through everything we do. The book of Hebrews makes it clear that He suffered as we do, and that He was subject to all the same types of temptations. He truly came to this earth to experience what it is like to be human. Each one of us knows what it means to be lost, cut off from the life of God. We are desolate, miserable creatures until we finally find our life in Him. And if we die without coming to grips with our sin and without receiving the forgiveness so abundantly provided through the atonement, we will then face eternal despair and regret, severed from the One who loves us supremely. Of all the descriptions of hell, the one that strikes me the most is the picture of a soul eternally without hope, eternally separated from the comfort and grace that was offered so freely, along with the agonizing knowledge that it didn’t have to turn out this way. Eternal regret.

Jesus, I believe, had to experience that same kind of separation to identify fully with us. God the Father did not turn away in disgust because Jesus represented sin; the Father looks upon sinful people constantly and continues to reach out to them. The cross, instead, was a demonstration of just how far the Trinity was willing to go to heal the brokenness of man. The book of Hebrews makes it clear:

Therefore, He had to be made like his brethren in all things, so that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For since He Himself was tempted in that which He has suffered, He is able to come to the aid of those who are tempted. . . .

Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.

Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

May we indeed. That’s why this is called Good Friday.

Sixty-two . . . and Still Learning

Add another year to the total. As startling as it was to turn sixty two years ago, I’m just as amazed by the undeniable fact that today I’ve reached the sixty-two mark. I have a tendency to get reflective at times like this. I hope you’ll excuse me for it today because I was thinking about what I’ve learned over the years, through the good and not-so-good times. Where was I each time my age ended with a two? Here’s my review.

Age 2: I thought I might skip this one. After all, who really remembers anything from when they were two years old? Yet I have a vivid memory of seeing my grandfather sitting on the couch. He had lost one leg and used crutches. I must have been two, or no older than barely three, because he died when I was three. We never got to know each other. What does this mean to me today? Just this: I want to be around to get to know my grandchildren and be a positive influence on their lives. Whatever I can do to point them to serving God and loving Him, I want to do. Currently, I have four grandsons and one granddaughter. Two more are on the way this year—a fifth grandson and one of unknown gender at this time. Seven grandchildren by about October. May my life be a blessing to them.

Age 12: This was about the time I reluctantly realized I wasn’t going to be a Major League baseball player. An .032 average in Little League can lead one to that conclusion. It was disappointing. The Yankees were my life; Mickey Mantle was my hero. But I learned I had to move on to other goals, and it wasn’t too difficult once I put away my childish dreams. I entered junior high that year, and life was changing. It was time for a new perspective. God already had His hand on me. I know this because I was probably the only guy who actually looked forward to Saturday morning confirmation classes at my Lutheran church. Yes, life was changing.

Age 22: Married less than a year. Getting ready to graduate from college and take on my first fulltime position. Shortly after this birthday, I arrived in Portsmouth, Virginia, and began working at the Christian Broadcasting Network. I started in the television studio, but moved up shortly afterward to radio, where I became the all-night “personality.” It was a time of maturing, even though I don’t think I matured as quickly as I needed to. I had great zeal, learning Greek and beginning my study of theology. Two years later, I would be a father for the first time. A year after that, headmaster of a Christian school. All seemed right with the world.

Age 32: All was not right with the world. Well, let me rephrase that: all was not right with me. I was completing my doctoral studies at American University in Washington, D.C., not knowing it would require another six years before that dissertation would be finished. Spiritually, I was in rebellion, but God hadn’t given up on me. He was beginning to show me how void of meaning a life of study and learning can be without Him. I would begin to take those first steps back to Him, but the process would be much slower than it ought to have been, and true repentance still lay in the future.

Age 42: Spiritual restoration was now in the past, and I was a professor in a Christian university. The students voted me Professor of the Year, yet my tenure at the university was not assured. I had to learn a greater depth of trust in the Lord’s provision. The struggles of that year led, ultimately, to a call to another university, where I could teach at the graduate level. I began to believe more than ever that the Lord does open and close doors, and all I had to do was rest in His leading.

Age 52: At my third institution of Christian higher education. The students were a joy to teach, but I was again undergoing a test. Had I missed God’s calling? Why did it have to be so hard? How many ways can I be misunderstood by those in authority over me? Lord, what am I supposed to do? Those were the constant questions that plagued my thoughts. At age 52, things were looking a little bleak. Yet, as I learned soon after, God hadn’t deserted me, no matter how I felt at times. He was still the God who opens new doors.

Age 62: It’s been a rough couple of years as my wife has gone through cancer treatments and surgery after surgery. I’ve been there with her all the way, and the Lord is teaching me what it means to love—in ways I never thought I would have to learn. The cancer storm has subsided for now; my position at my fourth Christian university seems secure; the joy of teaching has not abated. There is purpose in life through Him, and even if circumstances change for the worse, I would be the most dense student ever if I began to doubt His care now. He has proven Himself over and over with each succeeding decade. The lesson: rest in God’s love and draw strength from His seemingly endless supply of grace.

That’s my review. Those are the things I’ve learned at these various stages of life. Whether I have another decade of learning is in His hands. If not, I can say with the apostle Paul, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.”