Tag Archives: Christianity

Stop and Think About a Hymn

hymnalAm I a Soldier of the Cross?

Am I a soldier of the cross,
a follower of the Lamb,
and shall I fear to own his cause,
or blush to speak his name?

Must I be carried to the skies
on flowery beds of ease,
while others fought to win the prize,
and sailed through bloody seas?

Are there no foes for me to face?
Must I not stem the flood?
Is this vile world a friend to grace,
to help me on to God?

Sure I must fight, if I would reign;
increase my courage, Lord.
I’ll bear the toil, endure the pain,
supported by thy word.

Thy saints in all this glorious war
shall conquer though they die;
they see the triumph from afar,
by faith they bring it nigh.

When that illustrious day shall rise,
and all thy armies shine
in robes of victory through the skies,
the glory shall be thine.

Text: Isaac Watts
License: Public Domain
Source: http://www.hymnsite.com/lyrics/umh511.sht

Isaac Watts lived in the 17th century in England, yet the words of this hymn strike a resonant chord with any Christian in the 21st century in the USA. The very first verse, for example, asks if I am willing to pay the price of standing firm in my faith and speaking or writing or singing the name of Jesus in the face of cultural pressure to be silent. Think of three instances in the past week when one or more Christians in the USA were asked to stop acting like Christians or ridiculed for refusing to stop.

Secular thinkers scorn the whole idea of heaven, because they scorn anything that is not part of the time/space continuum. They accuse Christians of doing worthless things in order to earn a heavenly reward. What two things are wrong with that accusation? Why do secular thinkers accuse Christians of things that are not part of Christian faith? Where do they get those ideas?

“Blending in” or “fitting in” are important principles of behavior for secular thinkers. On the one hand, each person is to find his own truth, but on the other hand, no person should, by his difference from others, appear to be judging the truth chosen by others. What does the hymn writer ask that expresses the dilemma of the Christian in a secular world?

How does the hymn writer expect to become strong enough and wise enough to stand firm?

What does he expect will be the outcome of his determination?

Stop and Think about the Bible

Torah ScrollIf I say, “I will not mention him, or speak any more in his name,” there is in my heart as it were a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot. Jeremiah 20:9

Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! 1 Corinthians 9:16

  • The speaker in the first verse is the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah. The second verse comes from a letter written by the apostle Paul. Both of these men encountered aggressive, even violent opposition when they did what God wanted them to do. Why did they not shut up and go be safe?
  • Do you know anyone who makes you feel that it would be prudent not to mention your faith? What do you do when people actually suggest that you should avoid that subject?
  • Both Jeremiah and Paul had very vivid experiences when God called them to do his work. Not everyone gets that kind of a vivid call. Sometimes the call is simply the recognition that God has led you to a crossroads where you must choose whom you serve, Rahab, a prostitute in Jericho who is named in Christ’s ancestry in the gospel of Matthew simply did the right thing when God’s spies came to her for help. What is the moment, or the several moments, when you began to understand that God has something for you to say? To write? To do? Could you sum up your sense of God’s call on your life in a paragraph? A page? In a comment at the bottom of this post?
  • Many charities and charitable projects apply for grants from government at all levels. When this process first surfaced, the government was grateful for the value Christian charities brought to people in need. Now the government wants to restrict the charities from mentioning Christ, offering prayer or explaining who Christ is to clients when engaged in any activity funded by the grant. Since it is quite common for government rules to change midstream, is it feasible for any Christian charity to accept government money for any purpose? Do you believe God provides for all his purposes? Do you trust that God will not permit his own work to fail?
  • Secular thinkers believe that religion is an element of social life comparable to membership in a country club. They believe that nothing is lost if people restrict speech about faith to people who concur in the faith principles. Further, many secular thinkers consider that inviting a nonbeliever to church is tantamount to an attempt to force that person to believe. How would you explain yourself if someone challenged you for making an invitation to attend a service or a church activity?

How Does God’s Kingdom Grow?

The Jews of two thousand years ago thought that when the Messiah came, he would lead them in the overthrow of the Roman Empire. They were completely flummoxed by a person who claimed to be the Messiah while ignoring the tyrannical empire that oppressed Israel. That servant Jesus riding on a borrowed colt, the Jesus who claimed to have brought the kingdom near, confused them. Jesus did not march on Rome. Jesus marched on evil.

The existence and power of evil is a major biblical theme. Evil manifests itself in many places, including government. The Bible is about God’s war with evil and with Satan, who is the origin and power of evil. Ancient Jews were right to regard the Roman government as oppressive in the extreme, evil in many of its manifestations. They were wrong, however, to think that God’s kingdom was about earthly government. The real, and sad, truth was that they did not so much want Roman government gone, as they wanted to be in control of it. They wanted the power, and the crucifixion of Christ demonstrates that they had a good understanding of the way to appropriate that power for their own purposes. The ancient Jewish leadership was not looking for a Messiah who would rescue all people from the power of evil. They wanted a Messiah who would take the power away from Rome and give it to them. They thought that if they just had the power, instead of Rome, then all would be well. Read the books of 1 and 2 Kings or 1 and 2 Chronicles if you want to see how that would have worked out. The religious leaders wanted to march against government. Jesus marched against evil.

The work of Christ’s people may include being salt and light in government, but wherever a Christian exhibits salt and light, the purpose is not to obtain power; the purpose is to defeat evil. It would actually be counter-productive for Christians to seek the power of government since every Christian is a repository of the power of God. The outworking of God’s power in a human life has pushed back against government far more often than government power has ever blessed anyone.

Secular thinkers believe that government is the god-like power that will, by legislation and administration, bring about world peace. They might call it the defeat of evil if they recognized that evil is at the root of the absence of peace, but secularists believe that lack of government rather than the presence of evil is the reason that there is no peace. Christians know that evil will only be defeated by subversive living, by living in submission to the will and power of God. Christians pray, “Thy kingdom come,” knowing that the reality of the kingdom is God’s indwelling presence in the person of the Holy Spirit in each Christian. It is that reality that establishes citizenship in God’s kingdom, not the vote of the church or any other ritual that makes a person a member of a church.

Here is a tough truth: people can join a local church without becoming citizens of God’s kingdom. Such members do not really think of God as the supreme power and authority in their lives. They have not really let go of Satan’s agenda. They don’t really want to be different from the world around them. Let’s face it: something is terribly wrong if a person is a member of a church but retains his loyalty to Satan’s kingdom. What exactly does such a person mean when he prays, “Thy kingdom come?” How will God’s kingdom shape up on earth if all God’s subjects claim dual citizenship?

Secular thinkers scorn the Christian teaching that Christ’s commands and teachings take priority over government and culture. They say that Christians are asking for “privilege” to disobey laws of the state and that they are “discriminating” when they reject cultural mantras. Yet this is what Christ wants of his kingdom people: to do the Spirit-led, subversive things. God’s kingdom is not advanced by top-down agendas and programs. God’s kingdom moves forward in one person’s discovery that he can forgive his neighbor or one person’s willingness to spread his own warm coat over a shivering sleeper on the street.

God’s kingdom does not advance in a mass march forward in assault on Satan’s demons. God’s kingdom advances one simple kingdom act at a time. Each time one person receives Christ, Satan’s kingdom of evil takes a step backward. The kingdom of God has come near in Christ and in every Spirit-filled Christian. The march against evil is the way God’s kingdom moves forward. Believe it. Live it.

 

 

How to Pretend to be Spiritual

One of the high-profile mantras of contemporary culture is to be “spiritual but not religious.” This announcement is delivered with serious humility and meekness, assuring the hearer that there will be no invitation, not even a subtle suggestion, to join in the quest. The speaker righteously disavows any intent to proselytize, choosing to leave everyone else to his own search for meaning, deliberately explaining that there is no “right or wrong” in anyone’s choices. This speaker is not like those religious fanatics who love God and invite everyone else to love Him, too. This speaker is no threat to anyone’s status quo.

Christians are taken aback by such a concept. It is hard to argue with someone about an idea so malleable. The discussion is a lot like trying to nail Jell-O to the wall. There is no core belief to dispute, no fundamental truth to refute. There is no substance to such an avowal.

Christians think that the person who takes this step might be on a quest for something meaningful, but to believe that “spiritual but not religious” is a quest for meaning would be a big mistake. To choose to be “spiritual but not religious” is to choose deliberately to avoid the complications of meaning or truth. This choice is, rather, a choice not to allow meaning or truth to interfere with self-worship. In other words, someone who is “spiritual but not religious” is engaged in a chiffon-like secularism. Its very softness confuses Christians who expect secularists to be hardened defenders of reason alone. This “spiritual” quest is the same thing as the secular search for truth; you know you have found it if it makes you feel good. It is Satan’s way of providing something for everyone.

Satan’s strategy is always to pander to the human ego. All the temptations to which human beings succumb are about choosing self over anything else. The temptations Christ is reported to have defused were all about self. I’m hungry—I’ll turn rocks into food. I want attention – I’ll jump off a tower without a parachute and float to the ground. I love power – I’ll do what it takes, even make a deal with the devil, to become the most powerful human being on earth. The temptation to become “spiritual but not religious” is no different.

How, you ask wonderingly, is it egotistical and self-serving to be “spiritual” when you are choosing not to be “religious” with all the ritual and hierarchy associated with religion?

The answer is that this choice is not about God or gods at all; it is entirely about personal gratification.

Those who choose “spirituality” alone most commonly reject Christianity. Often they are actually drawn to religions like Buddhism and Hinduism. (I know, I know. Buddhists claim it is a way of life, not a religion. Well, every religion either shapes a way of life or it is worthless. The rejection of Christianity is about rejecting the way a Christian is taught to live.)  They act as if to be vaguely “spiritual” is much more mature and sophisticated than to be soiled by participating in the life of the church. They cast aspersions on the whole idea that people who put their faith in Christ gather in groups, engage in shared worship, depend on the Bible, and organize in work and service. Most of all, they join in the secular outrage at Christians who believe that every moment of their lives is to be lived in submission to Christ. The idea of a relationship that permeates and transcends every moment of life is alien, and the idea of submission in that relationship is repugnant to those who want their own feelings to be more important than anything else. They cannot imagine deep happiness that is not about personal gratification.

Of course, the rejection of Christianity is justified by pointing to people who claim the name of Christ and live in complete denial of everything Christ taught. The rejection of Christ is excused because there are plenty of Christians who are not very Christ-like. Those who choose to be “spiritual but not religious” claim that they want purity, not hypocrisy, and they don’t want to associate with any hypocrites as part of their pure spiritual quest. The rejection of Christianity, or of any “religiousness” whatsoever is not rejection of anything that any religion actually stands for. It is rejection of people who don’t live up to their religious claims.

It sounds almost righteous to say, “I’m spiritual but not religious.”  The problem is that being “spiritual but not religious” is simply another way to be completely secular.  It sets up a life with “sacred” elements and “secular” elements. It makes for an interesting cultural phenomenon. A secularist completely scorns the idea of Christianity, because the secularist rejects anything not measurable in time and space. Which means, of course, that the secularist equally scorns the “spiritual but not religious.” He will, however, tolerate the “spiritual” ones more comfortably than the Christians, because the “spiritual but not religious” are completely willing to keep their spirituality in the spiritual part of their lives while keeping a high barrier between the sacred and the secular. Secular thinkers have no problem with someone who worships himself or herself, because the secular thinker understands that world view. The “spiritual but not religious” are more comfortable with secular thinkers than with Christians for the same reason. Both worship self, and both believe that spirituality is a private matter.

Christians are viewed like sand in the cultural cogs, because they bring their spirituality into everything. Why? A Christian is actually a little temple of the Holy Spirit, walking around carrying eternity and infinity wherever he goes. A Christian lives at the intersection of time and eternity, space and infinity. For the Christian, the notion of being “spiritual but not religious” has no meaning, because a Christian is the same in all settings. (Of course I know that we are all sinful saints as well as saintly sinners. So this statement must be understood as the teaching, not as a perfect reality. It is this teaching that drives Christians to assert that a business is only one of many ways the Christian serves Christ.) The standard for Christian behavior is set by eternal and infinite standards, not by how the Christian feels about something at some time. This is why a Christian engaged in commerce is not engaged in secular activity; such a thing is impossible for him. The Christian is a completely spiritual being.

Those who reject religion and claim to be “spiritual” without any real focus other than themselves are fooling only themselves. It is an empty enterprise to attempt to connect with something that is ultimately only oneself. To be spiritual without any spiritual identity is destructive, even if it does make someone feel good for a while. Incense, candles, and sacred rocks will be cold company when Satan unleashes evil in someone’s life. Long ago in a comic strip now defunct, a swamp possum named Pogo saw through the fakery of this kind of thinking. He said, “We have met the enemy, and it is us.”

Why Inviting Someone to Church is not the Same Thing as Evangelism

“If you think about church, there’s very little that’s bad. It’s singing awesome songs, hearing interesting talks, thinking about improving yourself and helping other people — and doing that in a community with wonderful relationships. What part of that is not to like?”

http://news.msn.com/us/atheist-mega-churches-take-root-across-us-world

These words were not spoken by a Christian pastor. They were, in fact, not spoken by a Christian. These are the words of Sanderson Jones, a British stand-up comic who happens to be an atheist. These words explain why he and his entertaining partner, Pippa Evans, are holding “church” for atheists in the US and Australia, taking up collections during the “fellowship” hour after “church,” in an effort to spark a movement for atheists that includes “church” every Sunday.

Sadly, the words very neatly define what many people believe church attendance means, and it is the reason that our secular culture and our secular government do not fear the existence of church buildings and church organizations that meet for worship. What the culture and the government fears is what happens when Christians burst out of the church building and start acting like Christians everywhere else.

The culture and the government are aghast when a Christian refuses to sell a wedding cake to a same-sex couple, because a Christian knows from biblical teaching that a same-sex couple engaging in sex is an abomination in God’s eyes and that God calls Christians to refrain from approving or participating in sin. When Christian employers refuse to buy insurance packages including as covered services procedures and medications the Christian understands to be sin, the culture and the government accuse the Christian of bad citizenship, rather like the accusation made against first century Christians who refused to worship the emperor of Rome. When Christians advocate starting public meetings and ceremonies with prayer, the culture and the government think the Christians are asking for special privileges.

The culture and the government don’t much like Christians who act like Christians outside the worship sanctuary.

The obverse of worship in the sanctuary is evangelism in the streets. In case you don’t have the definition of obverse on the tip of your tongue, obverse means “the side of a coin or medal that has the more important design on it.” Many Christians believe that “going to church” is synonymous with “being a Christian.” It is not. Going to church is important to Christians, but it is not the most important thing. The most important thing for a Christian is knowing Christ. Everything else grows out of that relationship. Therefore, sharing Christ anywhere and everywhere is the obverse design of Christianity, while worship in the sanctuary is the reverse side.

This is why inviting people to church is not the definition of evangelism. A non-Christian who visits a church worship service will be exposed to the gospel and meet a lot of happy Christians. He (or she) may even respond to the Holy Spirit and receive Christ in the course of a worship service, but that is not the definition of evangelism; it is a subset of evangelism for someone to meet Christ because he was invited to a worship service. If Christians want to bring many people to meet Christ, they will need to do things other than invite people to visit a worship service. In fact, the statement made at the head of this post was made by an atheist who had just visited a worship service. He did not take Christ into his heart while in the worship service. Rather, he heard the prodding of Satan saying, “Isn’t this fun! Wouldn’t it be even more fun if they didn’t keep harping on the God thing?”

I’m not a good evangelist. I want to be. I have always felt completely inadequate to be an evangelist, actually. I have tried in the past to make it be enough that I invited people to church. In the world I see changing around me, I know that such invitations have limited value, especially if atheists are now offering the option to “go to church” without being bothered to recognize that they are sinful, without being asked to submit to the sovereignty of God, without being called to dethrone Self and put Christ on the throne of their hearts.

I have a lot to learn about being an evangelist. I pray I am a fast learner. The world needs more churches, but it only needs more churches that meet God’s definition of a church, not the atheist definition of a church. The world needs more Christians to burst out of their churches and start acting like “little Christs” in the streets.