Charleston’s Testimony to the Power of the Gospel

What has occurred in the aftermath of the unconscionable murders in Charleston is a testament to the power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The attitude of forgiveness in the hearts of family members who lost loved ones is a remarkable witness to how God’s love can erase bitterness.

That’s on a personal level, of course. Justice still needs to be meted out to the murderer. One can forgive while simultaneously seeking a just punishment for what he has done. God is a God of both mercy and justice—both need to be seen in this situation.

The other tremendous positive message coming out of Charleston is how the community has bonded together to show that racial harmony is achievable. This is no Ferguson or Baltimore. Again, this is another glowing testimony to how God can bridge any divide.

Charleston Cross

As for the victims of this horrendous act, if they were committed Christians, as their attendance at a midweek Bible study would indicate, they have received exactly what Jesus has promised to all of His followers: eternal life.

Blessed

May none succeed in exploiting this tragedy for political purposes. Instead, let’s rejoice that, even in the midst of such a tragedy, God can be honored.

The Duggars, the Media, & Salvation

I’d really rather not write about this today. I’m concerned that what I write may be misunderstood. However, because I believe in the life-changing power of faith in Christ, I have to say this.

Duggar FamilyThe news media seems to have zeroed in on the latest example of hypocrisy in the Christian world—or what they deem to be hypocrisy—by focusing with laser-like aim on the Duggar family. Let me say from the outset that I have never watched their program and had little knowledge of them prior to the current frenzy over what one of their sons did to some of his sisters when he was a teenager. I was aware that some who hate the idea of a large family, and one that promotes Christian faith at that, were critical of them. I had no idea just how venomous that criticism would be now that some—I emphasize “some”—facts have come out.

What did this son do? It’s sketchy. Two of his sisters are going public to deny most of the allegations floating around. They certainly don’t seem to have been traumatized, and they appear to want to set the record straight. Are they victims who don’t really understand their victimhood? The professionals are already jumping on that bandwagon.

There’s another possibility. The son, in deep remorse for what he did, might have gotten his life straightened out through the transforming power of the Holy Spirit. From what I read, he has a fine marriage now. He even told his bride-to-be ahead of time what he had done as a teenager, but that he received forgiveness from God and has walked in His ways since then.

Now, I don’t know for sure if that’s true. But here’s what is most bothersome about the whole episode: the critics will never believe it is true, no matter how much proof can be brought forward to affirm it. They think “once a sex offender, always a sex offender.” There’s some validity to that view, since recidivism in that realm is high. Yet if we, as Christians, don’t believe God can turn a life around, perhaps we should stop saying He does.

I want to give the family time to make their case. I also want to know why those sealed juvenile records were released when it is against the law to do so. What agenda is at work here? Is this another attempt by the anti-Christian forces in the nation to undermine the faith?

Any type of sexual harassment or abuse is sin. Christians are clear on that. Let’s just be sure we have all the facts first, though, before we cast our stones. Jesus’ words to the woman caught in adultery still ring: Go and sin no more. If the Duggar son has taken Jesus’ words to heart and lived his life since then on that basis, we should be rejoicing in a transformed life, not digging up old dirt.

Jesus came to call sinners to repentance. He came to bring eternal life to those who don’t deserve it. That applies to all of us. When we come to repentance and receive His forgiveness and our hearts are changed, that’s called salvation.

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.

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.

Obama’s Moral Equivalence Ploy

The tradition of the National Prayer Breakfast started during the Eisenhower administration with the encouragement of Billy Graham, who spoke at most of them at that time. President Eisenhower sought, in those crucial years when atheistic communism seemed to be in the ascendancy, to call the nation back to its Christian roots. Those were also the years when “In God We Trust” was added to our coins and “under God” was inserted into the Pledge of Allegiance.

The Breakfast was meant to be an occasion for reaffirming our basic Biblical beliefs as a nation. It was never intended to become a lightning rod for undermining those beliefs or diminishing their inherent value to a people. Yes, a civic religion, as such, is not sufficient for salvation. That’s fine—government was never meant to be our savior; only Jesus can take that title legitimately. But I see nothing wrong with calling government officials together to acknowledge our dependence on God. It can lead to saving faith for some if the message is clear.

National Prayer BreakfastMuch has been written and said about President Obama’s remarks at this year’s Breakfast. I waited a couple of days before adding my own. First, let me say in what sense I might agree with him. Certainly, anyone in the world, both now and throughout history, can hijack a religious tradition and do things in the name of that tradition that are abhorrent. That’s called free will; God doesn’t always intervene directly to stop human beings from being foolish and/or downright evil.

From that premise, I have no problem acknowledging that many have “used” the name of Christ for their own selfish purposes, whether to gain ecclesiastical or political power or to get rid of those they consider their enemies. So far, so good.

Here are the problems with the President’s remarks.

First, he offered them as a way of deflecting attention from the atrocities currently being committed by Islamists. It’s a standard ploy when you want to minimize the terrible actions of people you seek to support. Draw attention elsewhere. Kind of like “Look! Squirrel!”

Second, he attempted to turn the whole conversation into a “moral equivalence” argument. This is what some historians have done with the Cold War. They have tried to point out America’s sins and thereby downplay the actions of the Soviet Union in the struggle. They have argued that there really is no essential difference between the sides, i.e., they are the same morally. That analysis—if that word really can apply here—ignores the actions that started the Cold War, that forced the United States to take the actions it did to defend itself, and the evil inherent in the communist system.

CrusadersThird, he twisted some history to make the moral equivalence argument. Why did the Crusades take place? Could it perhaps have had something to do with the fact that Muslims, by military might and methods of forced conversion, took over most of the the territory where Christianity began? Could it possibly have been an attempt to take back that territory that had been grabbed unjustly? Could these Crusades have been initiated to help the beleaguered Christians living in a hostile environment?

Then there’s the Inquisition. Do I agree with what happened in the Inquisition? Of course not. It was the instrument used by the Church at one period in history to try to make sure no one upset the status quo. Did some people die in the Inquisition? Yes. Was it unjust? Yes. Did the inquisitors wipe out entire populations, rape the women, and kill all the children? No.

Then there was Obama’s linkage of Christianity to the support of slavery and segregation. Some people will always use their religious beliefs to bolster other things they want to believe. One thing he left out, though, is the crucial role Christians have played throughout history to rectify those inequities. All he sees is complicity because it bolsters his theme. He ignores the other side of the story. He also says nothing about where slavery exists today, largely in the Muslim world.

What we are witnessing in our day is a large-scale attempted genocide of any people group that stands in the way of Sharia law being imposed on the entire world. It is not, as the President says, only .1% of the Muslim population that favors jihad; in some countries, according to a recent survey, almost half the population finds jihadist terrorism acceptable.

And we have a president who now seems oblivious to the inherent evil of that system of belief and who has done virtually nothing to stop it from spreading. It’s not just Al Qaeda and ISIS. Iran’s rapid development of nuclear weapons comes with its development of intercontinental ballistic missile capability. Israel is not Iran’s only target; the United States is on that list as well. Yet, what seems to be President Obama’s chief concern?

Overreact

By all means, let’s continue with the National Prayer Breakfast tradition. It has yielded some excellent speakers—Eric Metaxas, Ben Carson, Darrell Waltrip—who have boldly proclaimed Biblical truths. What we may need to do, though, for the remainder of this presidency, is to find the courage to decline the traditional invitation that allows the president to make remarks also. We would be better off as a nation if he didn’t say anything.

Snyderian Truism #13–Sincerely Wrong Beliefs

Well, at least he’s sincere. How many times have you heard that? It’s a cliché that’s supposed to cover all sins. The problem is that we equate sincerity with truth, or at least we say we “respect” someone who is trying to follow what he/she believes.

There is one thing we need to keep in mind, though:

A sincere belief can be sincerely wrong.

That’s Snyderian Truism #13 in my ever-expanding list of what I think ought to be undeniable truths.

One man sincerely believes Jesus is the only way to establish a relationship with God; another claims Allah is the one to obey; still another follows the Buddhist path, while yet another says there is no God.

All might be sincere. All cannot be correct. And there are eternal consequences if you are wrong.

I take my stand on the words of Jesus:

I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No man comes to the Father except by Me.

Being sincere is not enough. Hell is populated with sincere people. If that offends you, I can’t be sorry for saying it. I don’t respect any belief that sends people into an eternity separated from the presence of their Creator.

Heaven & Hell

Happy New Year? Real Christians Are the Key

Everyone always says “Happy New Year!” Is that what we really expect, or do we look ahead with more anxiety than anticipation? Is there much to be happy about in our world?

JeremiahIn this blog, I’ve tried hard to stay upbeat even while pointing out the follies, misfortunes, and outright sins in our society. I’ve never desired to be a Jeremiah. Maybe that’s because I don’t like suffering. No one wanted to hear his words; at one point, he was thrown in a well to die. I’m not fond of wells and other pits. Not everyone gets rescued as he did.

It’s a delicate balance to maintain, pointing out the problems while remaining upbeat. There are too many who spend all their time denouncing everything. They become boring after a while. Yet there is a lot to denounce. How can we do so in the right spirit?

When I look at the world and attempt to make sense of what’s happening, I look first to the church. How is its spiritual health? What impact is it having on day-to-day life? Is it being faithful to the Message delivered to the saints?

It’s always important to keep in mind that there are two “churches” out there: one that is visible and outward, and the other that is within the visible and outward manifestation. The true church is comprised of genuine believers who may worship in many types of outward church buildings and/or denominations.

Do I have to say this? I will anyway. The true church is only a minority within the number of those who show up for a worship service on any given Sunday. The old cliché never goes out of date: going to church doesn’t make anyone a Christian any more than entering a garage makes one a car.

What the world calls “the church” is slipping away from its Biblical moorings. It has watered down Biblical authority and allowed the tenor of the times to dictate what it believes to be true. Some have even gone the entire way and have claimed that truth itself is elusive, rather relative, and unattainable.

We can never look to that external church for real leadership; we must look instead to those who labor within it who have remained faithful to the Gospel—individual salvation only through Christ and societal reform only via the salvation message.

On balance, we have both good and bad occurring simultaneously within what is normally seen as Christendom. That’s to be expected. Jesus made it clear there would be tares [weeds] growing alongside the wheat. He also said it would remain that way throughout time, until God the Father decides that our time is up.

In former decades, America saw itself as a Christian nation, at least in the sense that we honored Christian faith publicly. Those days are nearly gone. Yet, although that may cause us grief, there is an up side to it. The lines are more clearly drawn now; we cannot just rely on a civic religion that gives lip service to Christianity. We are now forced to make a choice—what do we really believe?

Atheists have lately become more emboldened. They are using the courts and putting pressure on the society to toss religious beliefs aside. The society has accepted behaviors that we never thought would become normalized.

What will the genuine church do in response to these challenges in 2015? Will that church stand tall and strong? Will it hold to Biblical truth in spite of the pressures to conform to new societal standards? Will it speak the truth in love and accept whatever persecution may come from that stance?

Salt & LightI keep coming back to this point regularly in my blog: Jesus called us to be salt and light. Salt preserves. There is much in our society that has been based on Biblical truth; it needs to be preserved. We have a responsibility to try to maintain our Biblical roots. Light shows others the way, the proper path to follow. They need this light because they are walking in darkness. If we don’t shine the light, they will remain in their sins.

Love God above all else and love our neighbors as ourselves. Those are the two greatest commandments. But we don’t love either God or our neighbors if we don’t tell the truth about sin, judgment, and how to restore a right relationship with the One who gave us life in the first place.

Will it be a happy new year? Or at least happier? The church of devoted followers of Jesus Christ is the key; we are His hands, feet, and mouth. Will we be faithful this year?