Core Ideas of the Gospel of Jesus Christ

Posts tagged ‘apologetics’

Breaking News Hysteria

HYSTERIA

People have been asking about Kim Davis, the county clerk who was perp-walked to prison after refusing to sign marriage licenses for same-sex couples.  She’s been released now and has returned to work, but the questions linger: what should a Christian do?

In a sane world, an elected official like Mrs. Davis would have had time to work out her ethical dilemma with mayors and legislators and courts.  When the Supreme Court turned marriage on his head and ruled that most human beings through most of history have been bigots and homophobes, it should have surprised no one that there were many people in government jobs with traditional convictions about marriage. In fact, the dissenting Supreme Court justices predicted chaos would soon follow.  In a rational society, there would have been a period of transition when laws and regulations could be crafted to allow for the new vision of marriage while protecting people who cannot sanction such a radical departure.  Reasonable people could have applied for their marriage licenses in neighboring counties for a few weeks.

Unfortunately, in 2015 the United States is neither sane nor rational.  Thanks to 24/7 cable news and social media, we live in a society that thrives on hysteria. Today’s Outrage is the currency of every successful media career.  A stupid ruling by a high school principle in Texas or photos of a lion mistakenly shot in Zimbabwe can go blazing across the internet, often replete with misinformation, but always capable of sending one radical group or another into apoplexy and media mayhem!  Within hours, world capitals have villagers with torches and pitchforks marching off to slay the Monster.

In an hysterical society where political correctness has won the day, Christians still have clear choices when conscience and national mandates collide.

  1. As Kim Davis did, you can appeal for adjustments in regulations that allow you to delegate offensive new duties to people who do not have a conflict of interest. This will take more time than you are generally given in the press. In this case, a radical judge will very likely have you arrested.  You won’t be the first or the last.
  2. You can resign if you are not granted some sort of religious or ethical exception.
  3. You can clarify your convictions.  In the case of Kim Davis, one might wonder if her signature requires that she must approve every marriage she licenses. One suspects she probably disapproves of someone getting married for a fifth time, or a citizen remarrying within days of a divorce being final; yet she is able to sign those licenses. Perhaps a clerk is simply certifying that a couple meets the government’s minimal standards- not God’s.  Some might find they could continue to perform a government job without being compromised.

There’s more than enough outrage to go around these days, so I find it useful to pick my battles. Last week I read a news story about an office supplies store that refused to print pro-life flyers for a customer. The store manager labeled her prayer flyer unacceptable hate speech.

After confirming the facts of the matter, I looked up the website of the national chain and submitted a polite email.  I mentioned my concern that a local store has chosen to discriminate against the politics or religion of a paying client.  I explained my concern that this kind of behavior is discriminatory; that I would suggest the company apologize and correct the situation before many customers like me found it necessary to move our business to a competing chain. (I’m sure I was not alone in writing.) Within 24 hours, the management apologized to me and the pro-life woman in Illinois and to her attorneys, as well; they invited her back to print more flyers and expressed their regret.

Don’t explode or collapse when the pressure comes to bear on your faith. Stand firm.  And don’t leave other saints standing alone when the firing squad turns on them.  Let’s seek Christ-likeness and community wherever we can in these angry, divisive days.  And don’t get mad at the world just because some idiot with a computer gets a viral moment on Facebook.

Lift up the Cross!

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The Lies We Tell Ourselves

COUNSELING

We’re told that large numbers of Americans refuse to consider the claims of Christ because they believe churches are unloving or unscientific.  For a long time, I didn’t really challenge that idea.  There’s no doubt many Americans seem disinterested in the Christian Faith, and so I thought that reason might be as good as any.  But quite recently, my experience has convinced me that’s a lie.

As a pastor, I spend several hours every week counseling, mentoring and advising people who are dealing with problems. To stay current, I devote additional time reading about counseling and listening to the experiences of others in the field. One of the recurring themes from  all my experience and research is this: human beings naturally resist change- even when they are unhappy with their status quo.

One of the most common questions that counselors face goes something like this: “How can I get him/her to change?”  The people who ask questions like this- and their number is legion– are usually inquiring about other troublesome adults.  For example, imagine a young woman in a live-in relationship with a man who has no interest in marrying her.  She loves him: he berates and humiliates her, and occasionally sleeps with other women.  So having tried every weapon in her emotional arsenal, she finally comes to you for help.  Tell her this man is obviously a tool; that she cannot change another adult; that she has no obligation to remain with him; that she should move on and look for a good man. Guess what she’ll say in reply?  “I’ve thought of that, but I love him.”

The roadblock here is not that she’s so happy in this relationship that she cannot imagine ever being happier.  To the contrary, she has come to you because she is very unhappy. The obstacle is that this painful situation has become familiar to her. She knows what to expect here and she’s fearful there’s nothing much better out there. She’d rather be an unhappy woman who has a guy at her side than roll the dice and aspire to a real man who has character and inner strength.

The same syndrome explains that majority of divorcees who jettison one marriage only to fall for someone with the same negative attitudes they just walked away from.  Why would anyone abandon one troubled spouse only to pair off with a second partner remarkably like the first?  The answer is simple: familiarity.  The new love interest has a certain familiarity that feels comfortable- negative energy bubbling just below the surface. 

I am convinced this is why so many secular men and women are unwilling to investigate the life of faith.  They may well be frustrated with life, hungry for hope, desperate for answers, but it is fairly well known that Jesus Christ is about life change- not just going to heaven! Eternal Life does not lock us into familiar habits and bad attitudes forever.  Rather, Christ comes to bring new values, new attitudes, along with a new heart.  The joy of faith follows the power to make important changes!

So human beings who are reluctant to change reach for PC reasons to remain in the pain.  It’s trendy to say “Churches are so mean,” even though I may never have experienced a ‘mean’ church- or any church at all.  It sounds intellectual to reply, “Christians are unscientific,” even though the most scientific thought I ever had was how to sink that five ball in the corner pocket. But either excuse sounds better than saying, “Nah!  I’m just too afraid to change.”  People in counseling almost never utter statements like that, but you hear it in their answers and see it in their eyes.

So I’m done trying to convince unbelieving friends that most churches are really nice or that many cutting edge scientists are also devout followers of Christ.  Their familiar but lame excuses are mostly convenient boilerplate.  My strategy will be more simple now: first, show them the positive difference Christ makes in a life.Then challenge them to be brave and risk something for a change.

Lift up the Cross!

The Christian Brain, Part 2

Occasionally, I’ll hear someone confess that it’s “hard” being a Christian.  The hard part usually boils down to the challenge of saying No to temptation, or the pain of being rejected by fashionable people.  Sure, stuff like that is tricky.  But I believe that the biggest difficulty of walking with Christ is the part about speaking the truth in love.  Sometimes, it’s hard to accept the truth when the world believes the it’s idiotic or even destructive.  And when I finally dare to utter it, the truth tends to come across as offensive and “in your face” because I have delivered it in anger or self-defense rather than love.

The Christian brain operates differently than an ordinary human brain.  For example:

  • A Christian brain is aware that it’s software has been corrupted by sin; warped by a short-timer’s perspective in an world that cycles in centuries; and confused by temptation.  Hence, pure reasoning is usually insufficient for effective problem solving.
  • The mind of a believer cries out for some objective truth to counter all the subjective emotionalism generated by the warp and woof of living in 21st Century America. Rather than simply enduring a diet of cultural sugar, my brain craves the nutrients and fiber that come from God’s Word.
  • In the face of a challenging situation, there are dividends I can reap when I refuse to respond instantly out of reflex.  Instead, I slow down, open up my mind to the Holy Spirit, and allow him to breathe some insight in the midst of my typical, hyper-active, do-something-even-if-it’s-wrong approach to life.

We’re all familiar with the mode of thinking you might call “secular humanism.”  In this viewpoint, God may or may not be real, but either way, he’s not a factor.  Then there’s another mental construct you might call “theistic humanism.”  That is, God is active and real, but his wisdom is largely limited to those important but invisible realms we call spirituality or religion.  In other words, “We can figure out science by ourselves.”  In contrast to both those worldviews, believers operate from a mode of thinking you might call “Christian theism.”  That is, we believe that the only reliable truth or interpretation of the truth available to us is from God, who is not only real, but is central to all of life.

Skeptics would say, “Oh!  So you Christians believe you should check your brains at the church door.”  And I would reply, “No, we believe it’s important to use our brains.  I apply my intellect to comprehend what God’s Word says.  Then I further apply my mind to understand the lessons of biology, history, and physics.  Then I invite the Holy Spirit of God to give me the power to apply the truth, and the patience to pause until the fog lifts and other things become more clear.

It takes a lot more brain power to be a Christian because I can’t simply settle for reflex answers or personal insults.  I am called to know the truth, apply it to the situation at hand, and then communicate it with compassion.  Advocates and atheists can settle for slogans and insults.  Disciples of Christ are directed to speak the truth in love.

Lift up the Cross!

Give it to me Straight, Lord

It must be one of the most memorable lines ever uttered in a movie .  The scene is a military courtroom in A Few Good Men.  The young military prosecutor played by Tom Cruise barks at a general on the stand, “I want the Truth!”  Jack Nicholson’s belicose character bellows back, “You can’t handle the Truth!”

So it is with so many of the “seekers’ and spiritual pilgrims who search the web and visit the bookstores in America today: they insist they want the Truth.  The sad fact is that many can’t handle the Truth. After a generation of being being polluted with the ideals of relativism and tolerance, many of us are unprepared to deal with truth that is authoritative and absolute.  We vastly prefer personal truths which vary from person to person, age to age.  We are predisposed to convenient truth which can be adjusted to fit our circumstances.  The very fact that an idea is offered up as absolute or binding means that it cannot be valid at all.  It it doesn’t our 21st Century template.

Of course, the Bible is transparently authoritative. One of the recurring themes of the Old Testament is “Thus saith the Lord.”  While that phrase doesn’t occur in the New Testament, these phrases and statements do:

  • “Teach them to obey all the things I have commanded you [Jesus.]”  Matthew 28:20
  • “All Scripture is inspired by God…”  2 Timothy 3:16
  • “My sheep hear my voice and they follow me.”  John 10:27 
  • “Be doers of the Word, and not hearers only.”  James 1:22

Sometimes we speculate that the men who wrote the Scriptures might have had no idea they were jotting down the very words of God.  Perhaps not, but they certainly realized it pretty quickly afterwards.  In 2 Peter 3:16, the Apostle Peter describes the letters of Paul as “Scriptures.”  He even concedes they are sometimes difficult to understand and have sometimes been twisted by false teachers, but they should be heard and heeded.

Rational men and women are not intimidated by healthy authority.  In fact, the average American is delighted when his GPS device is authoritative in offering up directions.  It can be downright unsettling when the trusted navigator  shifts into the vague uncertainty of “Recalculating… recalculating…..!”  Likewise, it is extremely comforting when a physician speaks with authority: “This is your diagnosis and here’s how we plan to make you well.”  Can you imagine that sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach after receiving bad news from your physician and then watching his expression shift to uncertainty and confusion?  Marines and other warriors of the US Armed Forces succeed when the people in command are clear and direct in issuing commands.  Even the Bible suggests how confusing it is for an army or a nation “when the trumpet is uncertain.”

In the swamp of relativity that is American culture in 2011, it seems trendy to blur distinctions and resist the status quo.  Even so, most words still have meaning.  Red is a color that we can recognize.  A pound is still a measure of weight that is precisely defined.  Likewise, the word disciple has a specific meaning.  A disciple is not a fan.  Fans are known for their enthusiasm.   A disciple is not an admirer.  Admirers are drawn to a look or a personality.  A disciple is someone who is so devoted to the ideas and priorities of a teacher, that he builds those principles and priorities into his own life.  Jesus Christ only calls disciples.  We don’t simply cheer him on with enthusiasm.  We walk with him by faith, striving to embody his Truth in our lives.   We didn’t come to the cross looking for suggestions.  We came to find a Savior!

One of the first things you learn at the amazing US Marine Corps Museum in Quantico, VA is the story of Sgt. Eddie Wright.  In Iraq in 2004, Wright’s platoon was attacked by a larger group of armed insurgents.  The assault resulted in the deaths of Sgt. Wright’s commanding officer and at least five other Marines.  At one point, an RPG struck his rifle and blasted it out of his hands.  As the dust cleared moments later, the dazed Marine discovered he was unable to pick up the pieces of his rifle because he had lost both hands and both forearms.  Despite these and other profound injuries, he continued to direct the evacuation of the wounded, pointed out targets for the gunners, and directed the evacuation of the entire platoon.  Forty-five minutes  later aboard a helicopter, a shocked medic fought desperately to stop all bleeding.  He commented to the young warrior, “With all these injuries, I can’t believe you didn’t go into shock.”  Sgt. Wright replied, “I couldn’t.  I was in command.”

In life or death situations on life’s battlefields, there is no substitute for for a qualified individual in command.  Who better to command my life than the Creator God who sent his son to rescue me from death and destruction?  The Word of God provides directions to a destination I’ve never visited.  It describes conditions in a realm I cannot see.  What’s more, this is not just one more consumer decision.  This is a matter of life and death.  Along with millions of other well adjusted human beings, I am happy to pray, “Give it to me straight, Lord.”  He is in command.  I am glad to take orders.

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