Category Archives: Religion in the Culture

Why Must Christians Suffer?

Why do I share Christ in my writing and in conversations with people who claim that God does not exist? I do it “to complete what is lacking in the affliction of Christ” (Colossians1:24). Christ’s suffering is completely sufficient to rescue every person from sin and death, but it is an incomplete sacrifice until every person has heard the good news. When I share the good news, I enter into the completion of Christ’s suffering by assuring that it is made available to everyone. I may suffer, because I do this work, and to suffer for sharing the faith is normal. I do not seek to suffer, but the suffering that befalls me because I am sharing the good news of Christ is as normal as the working of the law of gravity. My suffering is not redemptive, but when I suffer because I share Christ, I am join the church around the world in bringing the redemptive suffering of Christ for all people to its completion, its natural ultimate purpose.

We American Christians truly believe that Christ suffered for us in order for us to be comfortable. The most common thread in Christian devotional writing is that real Christians feel good about thems elves and fulfill all their dreams. We believe that suffering is an occasional intrusion in our lives designed to make us stronger, a spiritual workout plan that will make us look better to God and man. This attitude is an outrageous perversion of God’s truth. In the words of John Piper, “God intends for the afflictions of Christ to be presented to the world through the afflictions of his people.” God never meant for us to think that being a Christian meant improved self-esteem.

Many American Christians feel that Christians are threatened by the Obama administration in many different ways. Some Christians interpret Donald Trump’s victory as an answer to prayer, and they predict that Christians will be more free to act like Christians under his administration. This prediction may even come true.

If so, wise Christians will not take it as the end of Christian suffering for the faith in the USA. That would not be God’s purpose for us. We may have been granted a reprieve, a temporary truce in the battle for the kingdom of God that will allow us to catch our breath. We may wish one another “Merry Christmas” without looking around to see who is taking offense. Nevertheless, our suffering is not complete until “the world [is] filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters that cover the sea” (Habakkuk 2:14 KJV).

I am glad that Hillary Clinton did not win the presidency. I truly believe that it will not be as difficult to speak and act our faith under the Trump administration as it would have been under a Clinton administration. Nevertheless, I do not think Christians should assume that every barrier to Christian faith and life has now disappeared. The cultural forces which gave Clinton more popular votes than Trump received are not going anywhere. The culture classifies many behaviors that are integral elements of the Christian life as ”extreme,” and powerful groups in both government and culture will continue to attempt to suppress behaviors such as public prayer, evangelism, and display of Christian symbols, to name a few. While the Constitutional design of our government may have “saved the day,” the forces of opposition to Christ and his followers are not diminished by a Trump victory. Like any foe who feels cornered, the forces that resist Christ and his message will only become more aggressive under what they perceive to be adversity. It remains to be seen what the attitude of government under Donald Trump will be toward Christians, but his election will not reduce the cultural pressure to suppress Christianity.

When we experience that cultural pressure, we must respond as Jesus did. When confronted by the choice between suffering and testimony, we must not allow ourselves to believe that a loving God would not permit his beloved children to suffer. Such a notion is promoted by secular thinkers as an argument against the existence of God. God does not promise to spare us from suffering. He only promises to go with us though our suffering. Christ suffered abandonment on the cross, but we will not be abandoned. His grace sustains us, as it sustained the apostle Paul. Paul asked for relief, and God answered, “My grace is sufficient for you” (2 Corinthians 12:9).

Suffering is not fun. It does not make us feel good about ourselves. However, when we suffer as Christ did, and when we experience his grace in the midst of our suffering,  Paul says that we participate in the completion of Christ’s suffering. We must recognize that our suffering is in the plan of God for the salvation and blessing of all people, because “God intends for the afflictions of Christ to be presented to the world through the afflictions of his people.”

Pray for America, that Christ’s redemptive suffering may bring her people to salvation. Pray for Christ’s body on earth to be made ready to complete the afflictions of Christ as we share the good news in word and deed.

When do you Pray for America?

Due to lack of response to a weekly noon call for shared prayer, the scheduled call is being discontinued. Please respond to the poll if you feel comfortable doing so.

I am very concerned about the need for prayer for our nation. The USA is in serious crisis, and the frenzy surrounding the two strongest candidates is evidence of the crisis. I am asking my readers to answer this poll in order to help me understand how people respond to it. If the poll does not express your response, please feel welcome to comment about what you think America needs.

I also invite your comments about the efficacy of prayer. Do you believe that prayer has an effect on anything?

What is the Best Part of Going to Church?

There have been times in my life when I would have known exactly how to answer this question, but due to some troubling issues in my church, I have been faced with the necessity of deeper thinking on the subject. However, as with most problems, there is a real value in being compelled to think deeply instead of giving a flip answer on a deep subject.

During a visit with family this summer, I saw a headline in the local paper that asked the same question as the title of this post. I was somewhat unnerved by the answers the reporter chose to share. The article originated in the Kansas City Star, but I saw the reprint in Cedar Rapids in The Gazette on August 6, 2016. Two quick answers were featured in the article, and the two pastors who answered were allowed the opportunity to flesh out their answers as the body of the article.

The short answer by Pastor Bob Hill of the Community Christian Church was, “Participants can delight in living in a caring community.” The short answer by Pastor Duke Tufty of Unity Temple on the Plaza was, “Church is an ideal place to keep happy, upright and balanced.” What do you think of these answers?

This post is my response to the question, and I think these answers miss the whole point of going to church. I should make sure that readers know that the phrase, “going to church,” has at least two discrete meanings: 1 – to attend the primary weekly worship service, and 2 – to participate in the life of a church. My immediate reaction to the title was to think of my answer based on the first meaning, but when I read the answers of the two pastors, I felt that they were responding to the second meaning. I don’t feel that they gave a good answer for either meaning.

If the question referred to the first meaning, then the question was about the “best part” of being in a worship service. Some worship services may celebrate a caring community, and some may be about personal happiness and mental health, but in my experience, that is not the focus of a worship service. A worship service is about our human obligation to love God, to praise him and to give thanks for his presence and power in our lives. Our worship obligation is a response to the fact that Christ has set us free from enslavement to Satan, cleansed us from the spiritual harm done by Satan in our lives, and called us to service to him and to every person we meet. Worship is in part our gratefulness for what God has done, but in very large part, worship is a celebration of who God is. It isn’t about making us feel good; it is more about making us into good people.

If the question referred to the second meaning, the answers may have some elements of truth, but something important was missing from both answers: our salvation through Christ and our grateful service to Christ. In regard to our overall participation in the life of a church, the best part is the way the life of the church constantly draws us closer to Christ and helps us to become more like Christ. If any part of church life fails to do those two things, it is irrelevant to the work of the church. Christ must be central to everything the church does. We don’t have therapy to offer to people; we can only offer Christ. We don’t have entertainment to offer; we can only offer Christ. We don’t have a good social life to offer. We don’t have mental challenges to offer. We can only offer Christ. If our church is doing something that is not about Christ, it is worthless.

A few years ago I visited an unfamiliar church. The people were very pleasant and friendly. In the bulletin were announcements of activities that looked like a caring community. There was an Al Anon meeting scheduled for one evening, and I assume that meeting might help people achieve balance in their lives. However, the sermon for the day was a commentary on a recent women’s rights convention, and there was not one mention of Christ or the Bible. The gathering would have qualified on every point as a meeting of women’s rights advocates, not a service to worship Christ.

I have never again visited the church that preached women’s rights, even though it would be much easier to attend than the church where I am now a member. I never will. I do not believe advocacy for women’s rights is “the best part” or even a legitimate part of going to church. Followers of Christ legitimately advocate for various human rights as part of the mission to be salt and light in the world, but the sermon in a worship service must never fail to be Christ-focused. The worship service itself must draw people nearer to Christ, rather than stir up a fever for one or more social or political agendas.

The rights of women and other basic human rights are important issues, and it is certainly legitimate for Christians to want the human world to treat women with the respect due them as God’s creation. To teach what Jesus modeled in his life as evidence of the value he placed on men and women is a proper sermon element, but no element of the sermon should transcend or blot out the presence of Christ.

The best part of going to church, whether you mean attending worship or serving in the life of the church, is the way the church, Christ’s own body, constantly points us to Christ, never permitting any issue or concept or agenda to transcend our call to deny self and follow him.

Everybody Should Rethink Trump

My dad was good at asking me to “think again.” When he said it, he meant that I had not thought enough about the answer to a question.

The question everyone is asking right now is, “Who should be the next president of the USA?” Given the rhetoric of election coverage, I am led to say, “Think again!” because I do not believe that people have given sufficient thought to the consequences of their votes. Yesterday, Erick Erickson said the same thing.

I have learned to respect Erick Erickson over the past two years. He has consistently taken the high ground in the battle over numerous decisions within the Republican party. No matter where he stands, he always tells his readers why he is standing there. When Trump took the Republican nomination, Erickson declared his position and the reasons for his position, and I felt sure that even if I did not agree with his conclusion, I surely could respect the process of decision-making that put him there.

Yesterday Erick wrote another chapter in his ongoing process of determining how he will vote on Election Day. Once again, I was compelled to ask myself the questions Erick asked, and I was compelled to answer them. There is no longer any justification for postponing a decision, because the election is upon us. Early voting will start in about a month. It is time for voters to choose their poison. It is time for everyone to rethink what a vote means, whether cast for Hillary or Donald. (I really can’t compare Hillary to Trump, even though those monikers have become the norm. Maybe it is part of my problem with contemporary culture. For me, it is either Hillary and Donald, or Clinton and Trump.)

As Erickson laid out his concerns for the outcome of the presidential election, he said, “Clinton as President will mean the insane have taken over the asylum.” To be perfectly honest, I thought this sad conclusion had already occurred. When I contemplate same-sex marriage, gender confusion, transgender training for the military, and a federal insistence on the immigration of Islamic terrorists, I truly find myself thinking I have already gone through the looking-glass. Is it even possible that things will get worse?

Sadly, as Erick Erickson points out, the answer is, “We have only just begun.” He discusses the current state of social chaos in great depth. Then he looks closely at Trump, the choice who presumably stands for traditional values, and says,” Scripture tells me (and you) that believers should have nothing to do with any person who holds himself out as a Christian and is unrepentant.”

Whoa! That certainly is a problem. What exactly does Scripture say? “Purge the evil person from among you.” Apparently a person who said he never had anything to repent of would be an evil person, because Scripture says, “All have sinned.” It appears that Mr. Trump is guilty both of being a sinner and of lying about it. That is not good.

However, Erickson is not engaging in judgmental hypocrisy, the usual complaint leveled by secular thinkers against Christians. He is not interested in making Donald Trump look like a bad candidate. He says, “The whole purpose of shunning the unrepenant [sic] sinner is to drive him to God. Yet, Christians in America are cheering on this rebellious sinner providing him no reason at all to repent.” Erickson asks Christians to consider what it means for them to gather around Donald Trump and cheer for his success if it prevents him from repenting and receiving Christ.

Erick Erickson is asking Christians to put the kingdom of God ahead of everything else. He is holding up the words of Jesus “Seek first the kingdom of God,” and who among the Christian community can ignore this warning.

Erickson’s concern for Donald Trump’s soul does not lead him to conclude he should vote for Hillary Clinton. He says, “I think Hillary Clinton will do lasting damage to the country. I cannot vote for her.” Whether I think as a secular voter or as a devoted Christian, I concur with Erickson’s view of Hillary. She is a threat to everything most Americans value.

Yet Erickson says of Donald Trump, “I think Donald Trump will do lasting damage to the witness of the Church in America and I therefore cannot vote for him.” This is not a trivial self-serving judgment. It is the conclusion of a man who has looked into the truth revealed by God himself and tried to apply that truth wisely.

Clearly, Erick is not comforted by this conclusion. Clearly, his fears for the outcome in our nation if Hillary Clinton becomes president drove him to reconsider his #NeverTrump position. Clearly, this thought process was both analytical and prayerful.

It is this process that inspires my emulation. I consider myself a thoughtful, prayerful Christian. I want to be faithful and obedient to God’s truth as revealed in his holy Word. It may not be easy being green, but being green is easier than being an obedient Christian faced with a thorny moral choice.

Before I read this post, I had gone down that thorny path with great trepidation. I had concluded that the real choice for a Christian is, what becomes of our country? I comforted myself by saying, If I cannot ask what is best for our country, I can ask what is worst and do the other thing. However, Erick Erickson has brought me face to face with an important truth: God’s kingdom must come first.

It really is odd how the Holy Spirit works. On Sunday, the children’s sermon at church centered on the question: What comes first? After a number of object lessons about the consequences of putting the wrong thing first, the presenter held up a wooden cross and asked, “What does God want us to put first?” The answer was, “The cross.”

On Wednesday, I read this post and then went to a Bible study. As it turned out, the key verse in that Bible study was. “Seek first the kingdom of God.” It seems to me that God is hammering home a truth: he and his kingdom transcend whatever might happen to the country if either Hillary or Donald becomes president. We all know, or think we know, that one of them is sure to be the president after all the dust settles. We all know, or think we know, that third party candidates never win. Therefore, leaving God out of the equation, we analyze the political situation and then choose the candidate that will, we hope, do the least harm.

Erickson is warning us that this is a stupid way to vote if we are really Christians. The Bible is very clear that a lot of people claim the name without submitting to the Lordship of Christ—that is to say that they join the club, but they do not aspire to its goals; they just like the snacks and jokes after worship on Sunday. Erickson is reminding us that if Christ is Lord, and if we have put God’s kingdom first in our lives, we will not vote—or choose a job or get married or buy shoes or choose summer camp for the kids—without putting God’s kingdom ahead of whatever personal comfort might arise from any of those choices. Erickson is reminding us that all our choices, no matter how small, must be subject to the King of Kings and his kingdom. We are certainly not to choose our president based on whether we would like to be persecuted for our belief in Christ; we are to make our choice by asking, what advances God’s kingdom.

Jesus said that there is more joy in heaven when one sinner repents than over a thousand who do not need to repent. That statement suggests that for the church to suffer persecution, because Hillary becomes president is not sufficient justification for a Christian to vote for Donald Trump if we understand that vote to propel him into continued unwillingness to repent, because he feels he has nothing for which to repent. Erickson seems to believe that Trump’s pride keeps him from confessing and repenting his sin. On that basis he says, “ I will not harm my witness nor risk Trump’s soul to serve my political desires.”

If I reach the conclusion that a vote for Donald Trump harms my witness or risks the candidate’s soul, I will agree with Erickson. I am thinking again, and I am prayerfully considering every word Erick Erickson wrote. I recommend you do the same.

By Katherine Harms, author of Oceans of Love available for Kindle at Watch for the release of Thrive! Live Christian in a Hostile World, planned for release in the autumn of 2016.