Posts Tagged ‘Faith’

CalvaryI have intentionally saved for last in this series on thankfulness that for which I am most eternally thankful. It’s hard to rank the objects of my thankfulness and some may think that valuing one over the others is unnecessary. However, I place those involving relationships higher than others, and there is no more important relationship any of us can have than one with the Creator of the universe.

For those who know me and for anyone who has explored this blog much, it should come as no surprise that my Christian faith is important to me. That’s why I choose to clearly post a page here about what I believe. But for anyone who claims to be a follower of Jesus Christ, faith is not just a set of beliefs – it is a relationship. It defines who we are, what values we hold, what priorities we ascribe to all of life’s concerns, how we live, and the worldview by which we see and interpret all that happens.

Christian faith is an affirmation of the truth of the Bible and all it teaches about God, humanity, sin, Christ, salvation, eternal life (or death) and much, much more. It is a reasoned and reasonable trust and confidence in the One who did for us what we cannot do for ourselves. It is a voluntary surrender of one’s will to the lordship of Christ.

It is impossible for me to imagine life without faith, nor would I want to do so. It is the core of who I am and why I exist, even though I fail miserably at living out that faith more often than I care to admit. Fortunately, my hope for the future and what comes after this life is not in myself or what I can do for God, but in what He has already done for me in Christ.

The Bible teaches that faith, itself, is a gift (see Ephesians 2:8-9). Thank you, God, for my faith and for being its source and focus.

DroneFriday night I watched the evening news broadcast from ABC. One of the stories was of the U. S. drone strike in Pakistan that killed a terrorist leader. In reporting the story, ABC’s Brian Ross quoted an unnamed government official as saying “Life is good” in response to the news that the terrorist was killed.

I despise what terrorists do. I despise the evil that justifies in their own minds their senseless killing of innocent lives. I wish there were no terrorists in our world. Yet, I winced a little at the reaction “Life is good” in response to the killing.

Here’s why…

As a Christian, I take seriously the final words of Jesus commanding his followers to go into all the world and make disciples of all the nations. Evil has existed since man first rebelled against God. The first-choice solution for changing this unfortunate reality has never been to knock off all those who would do us harm or carry out evil, but to make every effort to change the hearts of the lost. For those of us who believe in eternal life in heaven with Christ and in hell without him, we should take no pleasure in the prospect of any soul dying without knowing Him. Nothing is more tragic.

Don’t think for a minute that I’m some softy when it comes to justice. Physical death is a just punishment for heinous crimes – including terrorism – and in no way contradicts the biblical commandment “You shall not murder.” Premeditated murder of an innocent victim is not the same as a civil government’s right and responsibility to enforce laws and carry out punishment accordingly, even if that means killing the perpetrator. We live in a fallen world and one of the unfortunate consequences is that some people do horrendous things that require punishment in order for justice to be served and to ensure that societies have some semblance of order.

There is a difference, though, in being gleeful about executing such justice and mourning the fact that it is necessary. Any parent who has ever thought or said before punishing a child “This is going to hurt me more than it hurts you” has experienced the angst that sets in when punishment may be necessary but still a cause for sadness in the one executing it.

And that is my simple point in this post: We can and should execute justice and punish when appropriate, but let’s not do it with a smile and a flippant “Life is good” attitude because we enjoy it. Instead, mourn that the hearts of so many are wicked enough to cause the situation. Work and pray and do everything imaginable to change those hearts so that such last-resort punishment is no longer necessary.

I’m under no illusion that this is a problem that humankind has the ability to solve. I only know of One who has the real power to change a person from the inside out. He’s been doing it since He created humankind and He is still in the heart-changing business today for all who turn to Him in repentance and faith.

Is life good? Yes! But not because we got one of the bad guys. Life is good when we know the Author of life, are assured of our place in eternity with Him, and are being faithful servants doing what He has called us to do for all of our days this side of heaven.

The Insanity of GodNik Ripken is not the actual name of the author of The Insanity of God. The author uses a pseudonym out of concerns for the safety of the many people he and his wife have met with through many years of Christian service and missionary activity. The book tells the remarkable story of a young Christian couple from Kentucky who follow their call to the mission field, through a number of years of hard work with few encouraging results, through a crisis of faith upon the sudden death of one of their teenage sons, and then back to a faith resurrected as Nik met with and interviewed over 700 individuals across 72 countries where Christians have been and/or are persecuted for their faith.

Through the journey, their purpose changed from going to a people group in order to spread the gospel and grow disciples to one of encountering the living Christ and learning how to follow him through the example and extraordinary stories of those who risk all every day in order to live out their faith. Reading the book is a humbling experience for those of us who sit in the comfort of a church pew whenever and wherever we want, praising God publicly without fear of more than a little inconvenience here and there.

I have long had a passion for the persecuted church. I remember as a newlywed in our first apartment in Kansas City in 1979 stuffing envelopes with portions of scripture and hand addressing them to individuals in persecuted countries. I have long been affiliated with organizations that minister to and provide Christian resources for believers in countries where they are not likely to have access or the funds to purchase Bibles or other Christian literature. It was the dream of a lifetime for me to spend some time in China in 2012 meeting with believers from several mostly rural churches, celebrating with them the distribution of Bibles and worshiping God together. It was a privilege to briefly speak at some of those services, but mostly a blessing for me to see their faith, their joy at being given a copy of the Bible in their language, and their exuberant worship of the same Lord I worship.

The Insanity of God is a very honest account by the Ripkens of the questions they faced, the lack of answers that sometimes haunted them, and the healing that has come over time following the devastating loss of their son. It is filled with account after account of miraculous ways that God is at work around the world just being God and doing what he has always done. It is a very different story than our typical western, American, Christian experience. There are stories in the book that will encourage you regarding the ability of God to accomplish his purposes in the darkest, most evil environments on earth. There are countless examples of followers who risk all because Jesus is worth it.

A number of comments jumped off the pages as challenging to me as I sit in the comfort of my home, writing this across from bookshelves filled with Bibles and Christian resources. Here are a few of them:

“Suffering is one of God’s ordained means for the growth of his church.”

Regarding American Christianity: “How in the world was it that these people managed to get so much more excited about what happened on a high school football field on Friday nights than they did about the resurrection of Jesus at church on Easter Sunday morning?”

“I saw no separation or distinction between accepting Christ and surrendering my whole life to Him to do what He wanted me to do.”

“How is it, I wondered, that so many people are willing to die for financial or humanitarian reasons while many Christian groups insist on waiting until it is safe to obey Jesus’ command to ‘Go’ into all the world?”

Regarding the paperwork and committee process they had to go through in order to be appointed as missionaries: “When they asked me the same question about when I had received my call, I looked around the meeting room and simply said, ‘I read Matthew 28.'”

“Their stories convinced me that it would never be enough to feed and shelter them. We do that much for animals.”

“The stronger the persecution, the more significant the spiritual vitality of the believers.”

From a Russian believer: “For us, persecution is like the sun coming up in the east. It happens all the time. It’s the way things are. There is nothing unusual or unexpected about it. Persecution for our faith has always been–and probably always will be–a normal part of life.”

Regarding obedience to the great commission: “You don’t have to come back. You just have to go.”

From a believer in Eastern Europe: “Don’t ever give up in freedom what we would never have given up in persecution!”

“God, evidently, was doing today everything that He had done in the Bible!”

“Believers who experienced and endured persecution found their faith strengthened, deepened, and matured. They were being changed.”

“Jesus was worth whatever his faith might cost him.”

“Rather than thinking that we are all alone and that we have to start from scratch in wolf country, a much better and more effective strategy for carrying out the great commission, especially in our world’s toughest and most discouraging places, would be to learn what God has already been doing and is doing there, join Him, and together figure out how we can build on that.”

“For decades now, many concerned western believers have sought to rescue their spiritual brothers and sisters around the world who suffer because they choose to follow Jesus. Yet our pilgrimage among house churches in persecution convinced us that God may actually want to use them to save us from the often debilitating, and sometimes spiritually fatal, effects of our watered-down, powerless western faith.”

“Ruth and I have seldom encountered a mature believer living in persecution who asked us to pray that their persecution would cease. We have never heard that request. Rather, believers in persecution ask us to pray that ‘they would be faithful and obedient through their persecution and suffering.'”

“The freedom to believe and witness has nothing to do with the government or political system… They (and you and I) are just as free to share Jesus today in Islamic, Hindu, Buddhist, Communist countries as you and I are in America. It isn’t a matter of political freedom. It is simply a matter of obedience.”

“If we spend our lives so afraid of suffering, so averse to sacrifice, that we avoid even the risk of persecution or crucifixion, then we might never discover the true wonder, joy and power of a resurrection faith.”

“We are often asked if we believe that persecution is coming to America. My response is often rather pointed. I say, quite sincerely, ‘Why would Satan want to wake us up when he has already shut us up?’ Why would Satan bother with us when we are already accomplishing his goal? He will likely conclude that it is better to let us sleep.”

“Perhaps the question should not be: ‘Why are others persecuted?’ Perhaps the better question is: ‘Why are we not?'”

Such statements are, indeed, challenging and they ring true to the gospel. Jesus promised his followers that they would be hated and persecuted just as he was. Those of us who claim the faith and yet fail to experience any persecution are either living in an oddity of history when for a short while in a limited geographical area Jesus’ words are not being fulfilled, or (far more likely) we simply aren’t living up to our calling in ways that bring about the persecution experienced by so many around the world for the past 2,000 years.

As I see lukewarm Christianity stagnating the lives and witness of tens of thousands of American churches, as I see pastors, leaders and church members turn aside from historical, biblical doctrine in order to be liked or non-controversial in a politically correct environment, I mourn at the loss of real, life-changing faith such accommodation brings.

I wonder about the possibility of such persecution of Christians ever becoming the norm in America. On one hand, I see the legal and cultural consequences growing for those who live and profess sound biblical faith and practice. On the other hand, though, Ripken’s comments above about us avoiding persecution because we are spiritually asleep may sadly describe our future instead.

None of us long for the physical, career, family, cultural impact of persecution in our lives. Yet it is simply true that throughout Christian history the church has thrived under persecution. The faithless get weeded out and the spiritually mature continue on as faithful, inspiring examples to others, even to death if need be. Maybe persecution would be the best thing that could happen to the church today.

As Ripken says in his concluding remarks, “I know this all sounds crazy. But I assure you that it’s not. It’s just… THE INSANITY OF GOD.”

Don't WorryWhat is your reaction when people tell you not to worry about something? Maybe you feel like saying, “That’s easy for you to say, but I can’t help worrying about it!”

All of us worry about things from time to time – some of us more than others. Some seem to not be “happy” unless they are worrying and stressing over a myriad of issues, most of which never come to pass.

That’s why a study note related to 1 Peter 5:7 from the ESV Study Bible jumped out at me recently. The full sentence of the biblical text includes verses 6-7: “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.” The study notes for verse 7 then include the following statement: “Worry is a form of pride because it involves taking concerns upon oneself instead of entrusting them to God. Believers can trust God because, as their Father, he cares for them.” I had to stop and chew on the thought that worry is a form of pride. I had never considered that before.

The words from the Apostle Peter coincide well with the words of Jesus in Luke 12:22-31:

And he said to his disciples, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat, nor about your body, what you will put on. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds! And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? If then you are not able to do as small a thing as that, why are you anxious about the rest? Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass, which is alive in the field today, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith! And do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be worried (emphasis mine). For all the nations of the world seek after these things, and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things will be added to you. (ESV)

Jesus does not command us to do that which is impossible. In the above passage, he clearly tells his children not to worry, but to trust our heavenly Father for what we need (not necessarily what we want). In light of this command, and in light of considering worry as evidence of pride that we are trying to handle what is rightly God’s to deal with, we can’t get away with excusing worry by saying “I can’t help worrying about it.” We can help it, because we can place those anxieties on the shoulders of the One who is far more capable of bearing them than we are. In a sense, we need to just stop it.

And because it wouldn’t be right to have a post called “Don’t Worry” without this, here is a video of Bobby McFerrin singing Don’t Worry, Be Happy. I’m not sure how theologically sound it is, but it’s closer to Jesus’ teaching than pridefully worrying about things he said not to worry about.

Don’t worry.

Got FaithIn our 21st century American culture, much is said about tolerance.  In matters of religious faith, those who speak much about tolerance tend to imply (and occasionally explicitly request or demand) that people refrain from pushing their religious faith on others.  Their preferred state of faith in society would involve everyone following sentiments such as “live and let live,” “you do your thing and I’ll do mine,” etc.

I understand the sentiment, especially when coming from someone with no apparent interest in another’s faith.  Many are understandably quite content in their own faith or lack thereof.

So why can’t those of us for whom Christian faith is vital just mind our own business and leave others alone on the matter?  Two lines of thought emerge for me in response to the question.  The first deals with the legal right to practice one’s faith, and the second deals with the weightier fact of the explicit teaching of the Christian faith to spread the message.

As for the legal perspective, we allow people in America to practice their personal religious faith.  That’s what freedom of religion is all about.  The first amendment in our Bill of Rights states:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

This rightly prohibits the government from establishing religion and from prohibiting its free exercise.  We are guaranteed freedom of  religion, not freedom from religion.

Clearly, not everyone is paying attention to the Constitution and Bill of Rights in multiple areas these days, this being one of them.  There is an undeniable trend in our country to silence those who attempt to promote their faith – especially those of traditional Christian beliefs.  It’s trendy to be very tolerant of non-Christian faiths, but you won’t find those advocating religious tolerance very eager to allow conservative Christians the right to practice their faith unhindered.  You do not have to listen to too many newscasts or read many news articles to find repeated attempts to silence those who espouse traditional, conservative Christian beliefs consistent with two thousand years of Christian practice and biblical interpretation.

That’s a problem.  Why?  Because of the second line of thought.  The author or our faith – Jesus Christ – and his faithful followers in the New Testament consistently and unequivocally make it clear that sharing the gospel with all the world is at the core of what His followers are called to do with their lives.  That means that the general public sentiment against promoting one’s faith clashes head-on against a basic teaching, practice and personal spiritual discipline of biblical Christianity that calls the faithful to do that very thing.

Let’s take a look at some of the relevant Scripture passages.  Some of Jesus’ final words to his followers were:

  • “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” – Matthew 28:19-20.
  • “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation” – Mark 16:15.
  • “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” – Acts 1:8.

Many additional passages by inspired authors show the seriousness with which the early church took those words of Jesus, even if being faithful to the command resulted in their persecution and death.  Anyone claiming Jesus as Lord must do the same today.  To fail to do so is at best disobedience to Christ’s commands and at worst an indication that the person isn’t actually a regenerate believer.

To my non-Christian friends and visitors reading this, I share this with you in hopes that you will understand where I’m coming from in occasional blog posts about my faith, in posting the “This, I Believe” page detailing my core beliefs, in posting a list of Christian Resources I’ve created or recommend, and in the practice of my faith in other ways and places.  I also hope you will tolerate others who may approach you from time to time to discuss such matters.  Their heart is usually in the right place, even though their methods may sometimes leave much to be desired.

To my fellow Christians, I write this to remind us all of our obligation to be faithful to our Lord’s command if we, indeed, proclaim Christ as Lord.  I also want to remind us all that we are to do what we do from a motive of love and with an attitude of genuine compassion for others.  As Peter wrote in 1 Peter 3:15, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have, but do this with gentleness and respect” (italics mine).  Yelling, protesting, accusing, and generally being a hateful jerk isn’t representing our Lord very well.  Be sensible and sensitive in where and how you share your faith.  If we are genuinely concerned for others and we believe in eternal consequences of believing in or rejecting Christ, then that compassion should show in our words and deeds.  (And it does take words to share the gospel, by the way.  Deeds alone don’t tell the whole story.)

This issue isn’t going away.  Serious Christians will continue to share their faith because doing so is necessary in order to be faithful.  Some hearers will listen and respond positively, while others will ignore the message, and yet others will try to stop them from sharing.  To the extent that more of us know why Christians can’t (and shouldn’t) keep their faith to themselves, the greater the likelihood we can understand and accept each other.