What if you were talked into saying, “I don’t want to live.”
What if you were unable to say, “I want to live.”
I have lived in the midst of the Christian message of life and hope all my life. I can’t remember not knowing that Jesus suffered and died in order to give us life. God, who created the universe, created life, and when he created human beings, he gave us his own breath to be our life. Among my family and friends, life has always been something to treasure and protect. Clearly, God considers life to be his most precious gift, because he paid a very high price in order to give eternal life to us.
Lately it is becoming clear to me that a lot of people prefer death to life. If death is not precious,
- Why do so many black women abort so many black babies?
- Why do so many white women abort so many white babies?
- Why do so many people of every color kill so many of every color?
- Why is our culture tying itself in knots in order to find ways to approve of euthanasia and suicide?
- Why does our culture ignore the fact that when an addict/alcoholic dies it is always suicide, whether the individual chose it or simply took one too many doses of the drug of choice?
- Why is suicide the subject of a very popular movie?
- Why does any level of our government—national, state, county or city—give financial support to abortion providers?
- Why does any level of government think it is ever “acceptable” to engage in assisted suicide?”
The culture of death works very hard not to use the word death even when it is the main subject. Abortion is called a “reproductive right” that falls in the category of “preventive services” that ostensibly remove obstacles to “women’s health.” The word death appears in discussions of gunshot victims, however. Images of gunshot victims produce visceral reactions in media readers, and the word death has a powerful presence in discussions of those incideents. Yet, in the USA, people using guns kill less than 1/2 of 1% of the number of deaths due to abortion. In 2015, just last year, 7,166 people died by gunshot. Abortion kills 1.2 million people every year. That is a lot of human death. The outrage over guns is used as a clever diversion from a recognition that abortion is the leading cause of death in humans in the USA. Heart disease heads the list of officially recognized causes of death, and several thousand people died of heart disease every year. Yet heart disease is not even 25% of the number of human deaths due to abortion. Euthanasia and suicide are lumped into the discussion of “end of life options,” as if the mask of responsible fiscal control of scarce healthcare resources could actually cover up the face of death. There are no real statistics for the number of euthanasia deaths or assisted suicide in the medical world yet, and there may never be any. The culture of death is good at finding words to cover up the fact that someone died because he was either talked into it by a counselor or eliminated by simple therapeutic manipulations. The face of death looks much more like abortion than heart disease, and death looks much more like heart disease than like a gun. The culture of death carefully choreographs our attention away from the leading causes of death to a cause that barely makes a blip in the numbers. Why?
The culture of death wants people dead, but death has a bad name. That is why the culture focuses on anything that diverts attention from its malevolent intentions. Unplanned babies may interfere with the economic plans of the government; it achieves the goal of keeping women in the workforce by making them think that a baby is a barrier to their self-gratifying dreams. Unplanned longevity of the elderly overcrowds hospitals and stresses medical staff; carefully orchestrated “end of life” discussions can lead the very sick of any age and anyone who, in the eyes of the government (think Soylent Green) has lived long enough. Those facts should make anyone’s blood run cold. Yet the culture of death manages to keep us focused on the tiny fraction of all deaths attributable to criminal use of a legal firearm. I don’t say this out of some notion that crime with a gun should be legalized. I say it, because we have statutes that criminalize and punish murder. We really can’t expect that a person who is determined to commit the crime of murder will be deterred by the absence of an easily accessible gun. The culture of death is making sausage out of human beings while we worry about dust bunnies under the bed.
Murder, a death that meets a legal definition of a crime, is bad enough. Add to that problem the fact that the CDC reports that suicide rates increased between the turn of the century (2000) and 2014. People are not simply feeling more entitled to kill other people; people feel more entitled to kill themselves.
There is something terribly wrong in America. Guns are in the picture, but guns play a very small part in the big picture. The true picture is death itself, writ large in the culture. The real problem is disdain for the elevated status of humanity in the mix of all things. People who value life as God values it do not descend to a level where they ask if old people should be treated for disease when they could just die and get out of the way. People who value life as God sees it do not play games with words in order to avoid acknowledging that “the product of conception” is a baby.
Social analysts do not seem to grasp the immensity of the problem. They assiduously avoid talking about abortion, guns, and assisted suicide in the same breath. However, it is easy to see the common denominator of death wherever it appears. Discussions about killing babies are semantically distanced from discussions of social constructs that kill adults.
Scripture often uses metaphor to help us understand complicated issues. Scripture teaches that life and death are such serious opposites that the metaphor for life is light and the metaphor for death is darkness. Jesus often referred to himself as both light and life, and the apostle John said of Jesus, “In him was life, and the life was the light of men” (John 1:4). Light is a good metaphor for life. When Scripture talks about life, it is life as God knows it—eternal life.
Light is like eternal life in one very important trait. When any light shines into a dark place, the darkness recedes. Darkness cannot hold back the light. Likewise, eternal life pushes death back. Jesus refers to that quality when he says, “the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil” (John 3:19). [emphasis mine] His point is that people cannot stand still in his presence; they must seek a hiding place where his eternal life is not manifested in order to avoid him. They seek to hide behind some barrier that cannot be penetrated by Christ’s presence. That search is, of course, futile, but the need to get out of the light that is life is so deep-seated that people take extreme measures in order not to experience the presence of Christ.
Ask yourself these questions:
Can people escape the pressure of Christ’s presence by leaving the room when someone opens a Bible?
Can they escape by refusing to set foot in a church?
Can they escape by joining a group that denies God’s existence?
They cannot. The light of life penetrates into all the dark corners. The culture of death shrieks and howls and demands that Christians cover their crosses, stop praying aloud in public places, and keep their Bibles to themselves when not inside a church building. The presence of Christ in the culture, however, manifests itself when Christians take seriously their responsibility to be salt and light. That is why the culture considers Christians to be extreme if they read their Bibles at the gate while waiting for a flight to board, if they pray over the sandwich they eat on the airplane, if they refuse to have sex outside of marriage, if they tell their children that homosexuality is not normal, and if they invite someone to church when they don’t know that person’s religion. There are numerous other behaviors that the culture classifies as extreme, but all of these behaviors are simply the manifestation of Christ’s indwelling presence in Christians, and those who prefer death do not want the light of life, Christ himself, to shine on them.
While traveling last winter, I needed a haircut and went to an unfamiliar beauty shop. The stylist, as is normal, engaged in conversation while cutting my hair. She asked what I do, and I told her about my then-current writing project. I was writing about an NGO that provides solar powered audio players pre-loaded with the Bible in the local language of a remote tribe in Africa. I shared their news that new Christians in that tribe were eager for these audio Bibles. The happy recipients of those devices visited their friends and played the recorded readings from the Bible for friends who did not know Jesus. As a result, there were numerous new converts.
True to contemporary secular thinking, my stylist asked, “But don’t those people already have a religion? Why do they need to hear the Bible? They have gods, don’t they?” My stylist was of an opinion that all religions are equal, and all paths lead to the same god. This view is officially espoused by the US government in President Barack Obama’s Advisory Council on Faith-Based Neighborhood Partnerships. The stylist seemed shocked when I said, “When these people hear the truth about Jesus, they prefer it to the fake gods of their history.” I believe that she considered my statement to be an example of extremism. She immediately changed the subject and did not ask me any more questions. She hid from Christ’s light by making it clear that she did not want to hear any more about it.
The Bible speaks of this attitude. Jesus explained to Nicodemus why he had come, and then he said, “God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God” (John 3:17-18). These verses are not as popular as John 3:16, but they should be. In this statement, Jesus said that if he had not come, the world would have been doomed. Without him, there would be no salvation for anyone. That reality utterly refutes the notion that Christians ought not to introduce Christ to people who already worship some other god. Jesus says here that those people are not condemned by Jesus, because they are already condemned.
People who make fun of education make the same kind of mistake. They can choose to be educated, or they can choose to remain ignorant. Their ignorance is in play, whether or not they even consider getting an education. If they don’t choose education, then they remain ignorant.
Ignorant people don’t choose to be ignorant in the beginning; they are born that way. A choice is required if they want to learn something. Likewise, condemned sinners do not need to choose to be condemned. They are born condemned. They must make a choice in order for things to change. It is the light of Christ that could change things. If they see the light of Christ and receive him, thereby receiving eternal life, then the condemnation is removed.
My stylist saw the glimmer of the light of Christ when I referred to the Bible as truth, but she was uncomfortable with that idea. She closed the door to the light. Jesus is probably still knocking at her door, or maybe someone else has been able to persuade her to leave the door open. I pray it is so. Jesus wants to shine his light on everyone. Jesus wants to give life to everyone.
Do you know anyone who hides from Christ’s light? When was the last time you tried to share Christ with someone who is hiding from Him? Do you pray for people who shut you down or make hateful remarks about Christ and his church? This is where the difference between the culture of death and the culture of life become very evident. If you listen to conversations in which the culture of death is celebrated, their remarks about people who disagree with them are often vile. They may march peacefully, but the rhetoric of the marching songs is vicious. They love to slander people with labels that have become the bonding language of the culture—racist, homophobe, bigot, and so forth.
There certainly is culture of death, but we do not need to copy its attitudes or its practices. We need to go forward in love, to speak always in love, to be at peace with other people as long as they will allow it. (See Romans 12:1) I let my stylist end the conversation at her choice, but because I trust God to love her. I trust that I will not be her last chance to open that door. That is what we must always do in our interaction with the culture of death. There is no reason to engage in heated rhetoric over differences with that culture. We make our testimony, we lovingly seek to persuade, and we let the door close if somebody is pushing it. Then we trust God to use us in a different setting, at a different time, or to use someone else altogether. When we trust God, we are not desperate. We know that he is truly all-powerful. We are servants, trying to be faithful, but the outcome is not up to us.
Live as a servant of the Light. Hold the Light high. If the door closes, do not be the one to pull it shut.
If you think the world has turned upside down, Chris Skates agrees with you.
When the pastor of my church announced his retirement date, the call process for new pastor kicked in immediately. The process included a series of congregational discussions, and one of the items discussed was the congregation’s vision of the church in five years. It sounds like, and is exactly like, the discussions businesses use to shape marketing and branding. Everyone was encouraged to speak freely and imagine daringly.
Among the many thoughts expressed was one that startled me: one member thought we should do a study of the demographic balance in the neighborhoods near to the church and strive for our membership to match that demographic balance. According to him, doing so would make our church more inclusive and welcoming.
The Bible says that the good news of Jesus Christ—his death, his resurrection, the salvation he purchased on the cross and our daily forgiveness through Him—is for everyone. Every time a church opens its doors, everyone is invited, and everyone is welcome. If a church in a neighborhood where the dominant demographic is black fills up on Sunday with only white people, the problem is not a demographic imbalance, and it will not be solved by achieving a demographic balance. The problem is sinful human nature, and it will only be solved by allowing the Holy Spirit to transform people. If there are no black people inside a church building in a black neighborhood, the explanation lies in sinful human nature, and sinful human nature cannot be transformed by a better spreadsheet.
People are only transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit, just like the people on the Day of Pentecost. What happened when the Holy Spirit filled God’s people that day? The people exploded out of that locked room where they had timidly shut themselves up for protection. They boiled out into the streets and set fire to Jerusalem. They carried the flame of hope and love, and thousands responded. The book of Acts records that the demographic blend in Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost was quite “diverse” and the sermon was quite “inclusive.” But none of the action had anything to do with a goal of achieving demographic balance in the church. All the action grew out of the leading of the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit provided the power. The people simply spoke God’s truth, the good news about Jesus, to everyone, and the Holy Spirit gathered in the harvest.
The church on the Day of Pentecost is the most graphic example possible for every church to use as a model. Churches are not governments. Churches are not businesses. Churches are clusters of people who receive the good news of Jesus Christ and then pass it on to others. Churches do not target the disenfranchised or the immigrants or the poor or the marginalized. Churches target people. Members of the church meet many people each day, and the mission of the church is to touch each of those people with the good news about Jesus. A church should not pick a target demographic and try to reshape its membership accordingly. The church should be encouraging members to listen to the Holy Spirit for inspiration to reach outside their comfort zone, but listening to the Holy Spirit is a very different discipline than studying a statistical analysis. A church should constantly be inspiring the members to share Jesus wherever they are, and the church’s demographic balance will reflect the people the members meet.
Where do members meet people? In the grocery store. At the doctor’s office. At school. In the park. At a meeting of NAMI. At the country club. At the Farmer’s Market. In the Post Office. At work. In a restaurant. Where does God want people to share the good news about Jesus? Wherever God’s people meet other people.
The one thing a church should not need to “plan” is evangelism. I served for a while on an evangelism committee, and it was stultifying. Evangelism does not happen as a consequence of a committee meeting. Evangelism happens when the Holy Spirit nudges someone who loves Jesus, and the good news bubbles out in a conversation with someone who needs Jesus.
Churches will need to “plan,” however, if the members are, indeed, sharing Jesus. If members share Jesus, there will be visitors in worship and in Bible study. The church needs a plan to assure space, supplies and services are keeping pace with the numbers. The church needs a budget and good fiscal administration. But the church does not need a demographic goal. It needs to have the goal of serving the people brought into the church by members who are obeying the leadership of the Holy Spirit.
Churches do not need to “plan” to be inclusive if the members are heeding the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Nor do they need to feel judged by God if their demographic balance does not look the way the government wants private clubs to look. Churches are not private clubs. They are families of people who love Jesus and share his good news with everyone. If the members are sharing the good news, then the membership demographics will take care of themselves. The people who live near the church will know they are welcome, because the membership will be sharing with everyone they meet.
Churches do not need to strive to be more “diverse” and “inclusive.” Church members need to strive to listen intently to the Holy Spirit and to obey the guidance of the Holy Spirit and share Jesus with everyone.