Category Archives: Faith

The Love of God and Marriage

A few weeks ago I picked up a copy of Henri J. Nouwen’s book Life of the Beloved in a bookstore. I started reading through it and as I read about the love of God, I began to think about this love and marriage. Does marriage express the love of God? And if so, how so? So read on…

We are the the beloved children of God. This is a truth imprinted throughout scripture, from Genesis to Revelation. But the truth and believing the truth are two different matters. For various reasons, maybe our own sinful awareness or perhaps a traumatic childhood, we’re so prone to rejecting the truth that we are loved by God.

Unfortunately, as our rejection contradicts what Nouwen describes as that sacred voice that tells us we are Beloved, we begin a futile chase for love in various streams and substances that never satisfy. They have the appearance of fulfilling our desire for love but ultimately they fail to deliver anything but eventual misery. Whether we’re chasing the bottom of a whisky bottle, that next pornographic website, a bigger house then the one that already is stretching our financial means, endless work just to appear as someone great in the eyes of our peers, etc… it’s all the same. That’s why we must come to the knowledge that we are eternally loved by God.

Yet knowing that we are eternally loved by God, our Creator, we lose the desire to vainly seek love in created realities.

Knowing that we are eternally loved by God matters much. As Nouwen says, “Every time you listen with great attentiveness to the the voice that calls you the Beloved, you will discover within yourself a desire to hear that voice longer and more deeply. It is like discovering a well in the desert. Once you have touched wet ground, you want to dig deeper” (p. 37). So once we come to a full awareness that God loves us and that our deepest desire for love is found only in God, then we continually seek that love in God.

However, as I think about this, I think about marriage… After all, we are creatures and so our are spouses, yet we seek love from one another. Is this vanity?

No!

In the story of Adam and Eve, the Lord says, “It is not good that the man should be along; I will make him a helper as his partner” (Gen 2:18, NRSV). Then God creates a woman for the man and Adam has a wife named Eve. Before going on, let me point out that the word “helper” (‘ezer) is not about hierarchy in the relationship between the man and woman. The same word is also used in Deuteronomy 33:29 where the Lord describes himself as Israel’s helper and I’m quite sure the text is not implying that Israel has a hierarchal relationship over God. What the Lord is doing is creating a helper who will bless the man as his partner and had it been that the woman was created first, then the Lord would have created man as a helper to bless them woman as her partner. Because in truth, both the man and woman need each other as partners who help each other and that is what this relationship is about… Two people, who through a mutual relationship, will help each other as partners.

Consequently in Genesis 2:18 we find an expression of God’s love for us as he gives us partners to help us along in life. In the context of marriage, it means that marriage itself is a blessing from God. While not everyone will marry in life, nor do they need to in order to have the love of God fulfilled in their life, this is important for those of us who are married. Our marriage is an expression of God’s love toward us. In marriage, God is giving us a spouse as a helper and likewise, God is giving us to our spouse as a helper too. That is, when two people are married, God is blessing them with the intention of them living as lifelong partners who help each other through life. So when we look at our spouse and our spouse looks at us, we are seeing what should be a tangible reality of God’s love.

Of course, that’s not always the case. Marriage is never a perfect blessing because it is an expression of love clothed in flesh… in the humanity of Adam. It’s a risk that God takes. It’s the same risk God takes in creating humanity in his image, who will fail to reflect his in numerous and sometimes very horrendous ways. Sometimes the expression of God’s love through the blessing of marriage  backfires horribly and for those who have experience this failure, I am deeply sorry. Nevertheless, for many of us, despite our sins and weaknesses, God is still able to express his love to us through our marriages.

Realizing that we are loved by God means that we also must learn to let that love permeate everything we think, say, and do.

Early on in marriage, after the honeymoon is over, we begin to see the short-comings and weaknesses in our marriage. Unfortunately, what we often see our the problems that our spouse’s have, while failing to recognize our own problems. Often then, the first response is to try “fixing” our spouse, by criticizing and correcting, which only adds to the problems. Stop that! It doesn’t work. There is only one person in this world that we have enough control over to affect change and that is ourselves. So my suggestion is this: INSTEAD OF TRYING TO CHANGE YOUR SPOUSE, DECIDE WHAT YOU MUST DO TODAY IN ORDER TO SHOW THE LOVE OF GOD TO YOU SPOUSE.

Now, go do that.

As a husband or wife, be a helper and be an expression of the love of God to your spouse.

Good Friday: Religious Freedom and the Crucified Christ

Every week I drive into the same local Shell gas station to buy gas because this is where the cheapest gas prices are in town. The manager is a Muslim and I think he originates from Pakistan. Then about once a month I get my hair cut at one particular barber shop because the barber not only does a good job but also offers the cheapest price for a haircut in town. The barber is a Buddhist who migrated to the United States from the nation of Laos.

I wonder how I would feel if either that gas station manager or the barber refused to do business with me because as a Christian, my religious and moral values differ in some way from their own convictions? How would you feel if either of these businesses refused service to you because they do not share your Christian religious and moral convictions… because in doing so, they feel they would be violating their own religious convictions?

Us vs. Them

As you most likely know, their is a firestorm erupting in American culture over the State of Indiana’s passage of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). You can read the bill, officially known as Senate Act 101, right here. Whatever the intention of this bill actually is, which is still not entirely clear (evidenced by the fact that Indiana legislators have already amended the law), the application of the law seems to single out LBGQT people over the issue of gay marriage. Consequently, a restaurant owner has the right to refuse catering service for a gay wedding because doing so violates the religious conviction of the restaurant owner who believes that gay marriage is morally wrong.

The firestorm has continued to spread with one restaurant owner, who professes to be a Christian, calling into a radio station to freely admit that he does discriminate against gay people. Then another restaurant owner, responding to a hypothetical question (which seems unwise), has said according to this article “If a gay couple was to come and they wanted us to bring pizzas to their wedding, we’d have to say no.”

So it seems that regardless of the RFRA intention, the issue has singled out the moral issue of homosexuality. That is, once again some Christians have found another way to elevate the moral issue of homosexuality above other moral issues and religious convictions. I wonder if those same Christians would refuse to provide catering to a wedding should they learn that the ceremony will include something such as a Wiccan prayer ritual or if the reception to follow should have alcohol where inevitably some people will become drunk? My point is simply to say that by singling out gays and gay marriage, something else appears at work beside mere religious and moral conviction. That something else is a cultural war waged by political power that continues fostering an “Us vs. Them” scenario where exclusion  − both implicitly and explicitly − is the result.

This is a Christian problem! Some Christians seem to insist upon the rest of society conforming to their beliefs and values, even if it means relying upon state political power to ensure that conformity. Those within society that do not embrace the beliefs and values of these Christians are then marked for exclusion. This was the way of the Pharisees and other religious leaders in Jesus’ day, who were quite accustomed to practicing exclusion themselves. Yet the more that Christians embrace an exclusionary practice, the more Christianity drifts further and further from Jesus. Only this time this drifting is not due to the theological liberalism that characterized some mainline Protestant Denominations throughout the 20th century; this drifting comes from Christians  maintain the political privilege of a Christendom culture is coming to an end.

Good Friday and the Gospel

It seems as though the gospel is failing among us… the gospel that was and is salvation for both the Jew and Gentile (cf. Rom 1:16)

Today is Good Friday. It’s the day when Jesus was nailed to the cross for the sake of the world, to set the world free from the burden of sin and death. Jesus’ death was that inclusive moment when God destroyed the barrier that excluded Gentile from Jew, by making the two into one…

But now in Christ Jesus you who used to be far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace, the one who made both groups into one and who destroyed the middle wall of partition, the hostility, when he nullified in his flesh the law of commandments in decrees. He did this to create in himself one new man out of two, thus making peace, and to reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by which the hostility has been killed. – Ephesians 2:13-16

Jesus’ death was that act of grace on the part of God that said my sin and your sin will no longer separate us from God or each other. It doesn’t negate the fact that we are sinners, as we most certainly are, it just means that Jesus has atoned our sin by making peace through his death so that our sin would no longer exclude us.

We praise God for that act of grace, as we should. We gather together around the Lord’s Table to sing hymns, offer up prayers, hear from God’s word, and ultimately remember through the partaking of bread and wine, which represents the body and blood of Jesus, that we are now included. So why then should we turn around and maintain a practice of exclusion, singling out certain people for their religious, moral, and lifestyle choices? Do we think their behavior somehow taints us, indicts us as guilty? Or do we just need to keep our culture sanitized of that which offends our Christian sensibilities? Were these the concerns of Jesus  when he embraced the sinner… when he was lifted up upon the cross as a scandalous and shameful spectacle?

True Religious Freedom

Jesus died to include those whom his followers sometimes exclude. This has to change. Here’s how…

In his book Exclusion and EmbraceMiroslav Volf writes, “We would most profoundly misunderstand the Eucharist, however, if we thought of it only as a sacrament of God’s embrace of which we are simply the fortunate beneficiaries. Inscribed on the very heart of God’s grace is the rule that we can be its recipients only if do not resist being made into its agents; what happens to us must be done by us” (p.129). That is to say that as we gather around the Lord’s Table to remember the very grace of God which includes us who are sinners, we must also become practitioners of this inclusionary grace. We are to be agents of this grace with our fellow believers whom we are communing with around the Lord’s Table and with our neighbors, regardless of whether or not they are believers… or whether they share our same beliefs and moral values. However, the way we live as agents of this grace will differ in each particular setting we find ourselves in.

When it comes to discerning how we should live as agents of this inclusionary grace in the market place, we should look at how Jesus, whom we follow, did this in his life. For the sake of space, let’s just recall that Jesus sat among and engaged in life with the “sinners and tax-collectors.” In doing this, Jesus was neither approving of their sin nor becoming participants in their sin and it seems that should be the case with us. Neither by eating a meal with a gay person nor by providing them with a meal, even in a gay-marriage or same-sex civil union, means approval or participation in the actual relationship. To say otherwise is believe in guilt by association and it that’s true then we are guilty of another sin just about every time we engage someone else with just a simple smile. Rather than incurring guilt participating in life with someone who is gay, what we are doing is removing the “Us vs. Them” barrier that we have built up. We are saying that even though we may not agree with their certain aspects of their life, we will not let it become a hostile barrier that stands between us because our God let his Son, Jesus the Messiah, be crucified to demolish such barriers.

As we, who profess to be Christian, remember the death and resurrection of Jesus on this Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday, let us become conduits of the very grace we are recipients of. Let us give up the political power we use as an attempt in conforming the rest of society to the beliefs and values we choose to live by… And let us instead serve our neighbors regardless of whether we agree with their lifestyle choices. For to do is to embrace true  religious freedom!

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” – Galatians 5:22-23.

“So we must not grow weary in doing good, for in due time we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who belong to the family of faith.” – Galatians 6:9-10.

May it be so among our neighbors whether they be Christian or not, White or Black, Strait or Gay!

The Tulsa Workshop… In the Rearview Mirror.

My son and I traveled to Tulsa, Oklahoma for the Tulsa Workshop last week. This was my first time attending this conference and overall it was a great experience. The theme was “Speak Life,” so here are my thoughts…

  • Traveling with Jared was a great thing to do. As his father, just listening to the different things he comes up with to talk about is priceless. But more importantly, the relationship we are building is so important and priceless too.
  • There’s a Facebook group (which shall remain nameless here) that I belong too that consists of different ministers and church leaders. It was nice getting to meet so many of these men and women, whom I interact with on Facebook, face to face.
  • The speakers and teachers such as John Alan Turner, Rick Atchley, Don McLaughlin, Robert Prater, Terry Rush, Patrick Mead, Josh Graves, Dr. Kent Brantley and Brandon Hatmaker were great but the two that spoke to me…
  • John Alan Turner spoke on failure and the grace of God, mentioning his own failed church plant. He reminded us that “God sees, knows, and wants to heal you from all the hurt and pain… Everything broken gets fixed.” As a minister who just helped close a church, I so needed to hear that word. Thanks John!
  • Dr. Kent Brantley. Really, I need not say anything. His story is compelling but also a great reminded of what following Jesus means. It’s risky and it always calls us to service of others, even at times suffering for the sake of others. Thanks Dr. Brantley for your faithful witness!
  • My son and I were shown first-class hospitality by Robert Prater, his wife Maggie, and their children. Thanks for twisting my arm and forcing me to eat BBQ!
  • Robert preaches for the Crosstown Church of Christ and took me by their church building. It’s situated in the middle of Tulsa among a neighborhood that has gone through a lot of social change over the years. So much potential for kingdom work their and Robert has the passion for that kind of work. Lord, bring gospel fruit from the gospel seeds this church is planting.
  • I took some time out to meet with the elders of a church in Oklahoma about their search for a new minister. Perhaps a move to Oklahoma is on the horizon… perhaps, but it’s too early to know for sure. In the meantime, if you know of a church looking for a minister where I might be a good fit then let me know.
  • There was one class where the speaker seemed (in my opinion) to use a lot of guilt and fear to motivate people for evangelism. I don’t understand this. Using guilt and fear might motivate people but it will only last as long as there is someone to keep heaping on the guilt and fear. And that never produces maturity. A better, more healthy way, of motivating people for evangelism seems to happen by inviting people into the compelling story of the gospel in such a way that they want to participate in it and share it.
  • Pie night at the dinner… a chocolate peanut-butter pie. Enough said there!
  • My son was asking me about what “grace” is. So we had a good conversation about grace. He understands as a young seven-year old boy does. His response, “I just want to follow the Lord, Jesus Christ.”
  • That’s what I want to do as well. Sometimes we do that well and sometimes we don’t.
  • Traveling back, we spent the night in St. Louis and then had breakfast with Bob Clark, who preaches for the Lafayette Church of Christ where my son and I stopped our travels to worship with other Christians. Mike Brown led the church in worship and Bob preached through Mark 10. As for me, I left with an overwhelming reminder that the Lord’s mercy is upon me and leading me to live as a merciful servant just like him. That’s also why I need to take time out from traveling on the road and gather with the church. To God be the glory!
  • Nearly 3,000 mils of driving latter and fifteen hours spent driving on Sunday, I am still physically exhausted. But I am glad I went.
  • To God be the glory!

Did you go to the Tulsa Workshop? If so, share some of your experiences.

Becoming Responsible For Our Faith

Few Christians, if any, move into to a new town and just decide to join the church that meets closest to their house, like the church around the corner. There’s a lot that goes into deciding what church we’ll join. We want to know what the church believes, what their mission is, what sort of values do they embody, if there are any major troubling issues, if this is the sort of community we want are children to be a part of, and on and on go the number of questions we want to know.

That’s all fine. I get it because I have those questions too. In fact, those are some of the questions I ask of churches seeking a new minister to serve with. However, somewhere in time, we started concerning ourselves with other questions too that have to do usually with just a couple hours on Sunday… worship and preaching. We know the concerns in the way people judge evaluate whatever church they just visited… One person wants contemporary worship, while the other prefers the liturgy. Someone else can’t stand all those old hymns, while another person thinks the contemporary praise choruses are just a bit too shallow for their liking. Then comes the preaching issues… the sermon is too long, too short, lacking humor, not serious enough, too theological, too shallow, and on and on it goes.

From A Consumer Faith to a Dead Faith…

Somewhere in time our worship preferences became the standard by which we decided whether we liked a church or not, whether we would join that church or not. Somewhere in time the consumerism of American culture became a value among Christians and we started shopping for churches like we shop for everything else. Don’t believe me? Go visit any bookstore and look at the Bible section. Besides having to decide which English translation we prefer reading from, we now have specialty Bible’s marketed to almost every niche imaginable all to satisfy our consumeristic value.

Back to worship and church. We evaluate worship and the church based upon our consumer driven desires. Are we getting fed? Does the service inspire us? Are we happy? Somehow, church and worship became about us? But here’s the problem: When church and worship becomes about us, we develop an appetite that will never be satisfied! It becomes like an addiction and we need that bigger emotional high or that next powerful sermon to get our fix. The only problem is that as time goes by, it gets harder and harder to keep getting our fix. That’s usually when we bolt for another church because the church we’re at doesn’t get us high enough anymore. If we’re lucky enough, perhaps we can find a good sermon podcast or catch some cool church streaming their worship live but eventually that well runs dry too.

Before we know it, our faith has become dependent upon the church and its Sunday worship gathering. When the can’t deliver the goods, our faith begins to sail like a lead balloon. Eventually we come to the point where there isn’t any church with enough juice to fill up our faith and so we are left with a dead faith.

Maybe out of fear of God’s judgment, we keep showing up and going through the motions. Or maybe we show up because we have friends. But regardless, our faith…

What faith?

From Consumers of God to Worshipers of God…

But it doesn’t have to be this way. It shouldn’t. It never was meant to be this way either. There are numerous passages throughout scripture that suggest we have a part in maintaining our faith that we must take responsibility for. This isn’t to suggest that we earn our salvation, that we make up our own faith, or that our faith is dependent upon us. It’s like food and eating. We’re dependent upon God for blessing the tree with fruit but if we’re going to reap the blessing of that fruit, then we need to go pick some fruit off the tree and eat it. If we can’t do that, then hunger is what we get.

“How can a young person maintain a pure life? By guarding it according to your instructions! …In my heart I store up your words, so I might not sin against you.” – Psalm 119:9, 11

“Be devoted to prayer, keeping alert in it with thanksgiving.” – Colossians 4:2

“But you, dear friends, by building yourselves up in your most holy faith by praying in the Holy Spirit, maintain yourselves in the love of God, while anticipating the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that brings eternal life.” – Jude 20-21

The best way for us to take responsibility for our own faith is to devote ourselves daily to the scriptures and to prayer. Such discipline is not always easy to maintain because there is so much in life competing for our time and attention these days. There are numerous daily Bible reading plans available on the internet. Some are free and some will cost a few dollars but as long as we can afford five dollar coffee drinks at Starbucks, we can afford to spend a few dollars on a Bible reading plan. So Pick one! After your reading spend a few minutes praying about it. Pick a couple of other times slots throughout the day for prayer and do that every day so that you can develop a rhythm.

By taking responsibility for our own faith through daily attention to scripture and prayer, not only will we discover our own faith coming alive but our experience during worship will change for the better too. Whether we’re in a high church, low church, traditional church, or contemporary church, we’ll come full of the Spirit. We may come with great joy or great sadness on our hearts, depending on what is happening in our own lives, but we’ll come with a genuinly Spirit-filled faith in Jesus Christ ready to truly worship God with our church.

I Went To Church And…

Ok, I’m not really a fan of saying “I went to church” or “I am going to church” since the church is a people and not a building or worship event. Nevertheless, that’s how our society speaks of gather for worship with a Christian church.

Most church communities have some sort of centralized gathering where people come together for worship and fellowship that includes singing, praying, reading scripture, preaching, and participation in the Lord’s Supper. Maybe these churches do a few other things together like Bible-class time or a meal but regardless, this is a very typical feature of church. Yet in recent years it seems like this tradition, especially of the contemporary style, has taken its share of criticism from both Christians and non-Christians (see, for example here and here). But yesterday, I went to church with my family and enjoyed it. So did my family.

A Little Context…

I am a minister of the gospel… a preacher or pastor, as some call me. I really don’t put a lot of stock in titles, as I am just trying to follow Jesus whom I believe is Lord. For the last three and a half years I served with the Columbia Church of Christ until the church decided it was time to close at the end of January 2015. I still believe I am called to serve as a minister of the gospel and so I am searching, waiting, and listening for the church God wants me to serve with next. But in the meantime, what do I do?

The first two Sunday’s in February I was doing some guest-preaching in a couple of different churches in the area. Then there were two different snow storms each of the next two weekends resulting in every area church canceling their services because of the weather and road conditions. So each of those two Sunday’s were spent at home with the family (no complaints).

Although I have daily disciplines such as regular prayer time and daily Bible reading to help maintain my own faith and don’t expect the worship gathering to sustain my faith, it felt odd to sit at home on Sunday and not be at church. Then came yesterday. I wasn’t expected to be preaching anywhere or doing anything else as a minister and I certainly didn’t have to get out of bed, should I have chosen to sleep in which I’ll admit was a tempting idea. So came the moment that I had to answer for: Do I go to church only because I’m the preacher or do I go because, for all of the criticisms I might raise, I really believe in and value gathering with other believers for worship and fellowship?

Into The Holy of Holies

So as I have said, I went to church. I went with my wife and children. We visited the Countryside Fellowship Church in Savage, Maryland where a few of the people from the Columbia Church of Christ are now visiting. I also happen to know the pastor of that church, so there was that connection too.

The atmosphere was relaxed, somewhat contemporary but it didn’t seem like the church was trying to keep up with the latest trendy fads in worship. The members were friendly and hospitable without pushing themselves upon us. The worship began with a reading from the Psalms and a call to worship. After singing several songs, the pastor preached on Revelation 3:1-6 (Jesus’ message to the Church of Sardis) and then we shared in the Lord’s Supper together before singing one final song. In so many ways the gathering was typical and normal with nothing spectacular except for the presence of the true living God. It was just church.

Yet it was nice, for a change, to sing, pray, read scripture, encounter the preached word of God, and share in the Lord’s Supper not as the preacher but just as a worshiper. It was nice to be reminded through song, prayer, scripture, word, and the Lord’s Supper that even though I am not righteous on my own accord, I belong to God and live in the glorious presence of God because of the blood of Jesus Christ by which I am made righteous. That message was especially pointed as we sang the song by Kutless Take Me In (To The Holy of Holies).

I Went To Church And…

I know that there are churches where worship is a lifeless endeavor of just going through the motions of a dead faith. Likewise, I know that there are other churches where worship has become such a professionally manufactured endeavor that the work of the Spirit seems stifled by a shallow faith. But as I reflect on going to church, I am reminded that when we come ready to give our heart to God we receive… not some superficial emotion that is meant as a mask to whatever junk we are dealing with. I’m still struggling with the worry of my family and I living in limbo as we await the next church I’ll serve with.

What I received was joy, the kind that Paul spoke of in Philippians 1 where he was content with whatever happens because of his solidarity with Christ. I received this gift of joy not because I deserve it or could obtain it as though it is a commodity. I received it simply because I showed up at church desiring to worship the God who, by his grace and mercy, has made me alive in Christ and given me his Spirit as the assurance of this life.

So yeah, yesterday I went to church and I am glad I did.

Persecution: A Time For Faithful Prayer

Twenty-One! That’s the number of Christians martyred the other day by the terrorist group ISIS… Milad Makeen Zaky, Abanub Ayad Atiya, Maged Solaiman Shehata, Yusuf Shukry Yunan, Kirollos Shokry Fawzy, Bishoy Astafanus Kamel, Somaily Astafanus Kamel, Malak Ibrahim Sinweet, Tawadros Yusuf Tawadros, Girgis Milad Sinweet, Mina Fayez Aziz, Hany Abdelmesih Salib, Bishoy Adel Khalaf, Samuel Alham Wilson, Exat Bishri Naseef, Loqa Nagaty, Gaber Munir Adly, Esam Badir Samir, Malak Farag Abram, Sameh Salah Faruq, and an unnamed worker from Awr Village.

I really appreciated the words of Jonathan Storment in his blog ISIS and “The Nation of the Cross” that he wrote shortly after the news broke. Like many of you, I am horrified by the image of seeing my brothers in Christ beheaded and having their blood spilled into the ocean. I have not stopped thinking about it. Those are my brothers in Christ… your brothers in Christ, if you are a Christian.

How do we respond? Some will suggest military action. But I am not asking how should the nations of this world respond to terrorism nor am I denying the role that God has allotted governments in punishing evil doers (cf. Rom 13:1-5). My concern is about our response as people who follow Jesus Christ, who are not of this world but belong to the new creation God has made in Christ. How do we respond here and now when our fellow Christians are being persecuted?

One response is to pray just as Jesus taught us (cf. Matt 5:43-44) and just as our first century brothers and sisters in Christ did when they faced persecution (cf. Acts 4:23-31). We pray not because we believe prayer will be effective in bringing about the results we desire; we pray because we believe that God the Father  remains Sovereign over his creation and we do so in order that our brothers and sisters in Christ may be strengthen by the power of the Holy Spirit to live as faithful witness of Jesus because only the light of faithful kingdom witness will dispel the darkness. By praying for our fellow Christians being persecuted we join in solidarity with them in faith as they suffer, serving the same Lord as members of the same kingdom.

And that is more important than we may realize!

You see, eventually we who live as Christians in America are also going to face persecution. And I’m not talking about being told that we can’t lead a prayer over the intercom at a school sporting event or having the Ten Commandments removed from the courthouse lawn. That’s not persecution! I’m talking about being kidnapped and killed just as our brothers in Christ from Egypt were persecuted. Eventually this is going to happen to us Christians… perhaps not in our lifetime but somewhere in the not so distant future. How we respond to the threat of Christians suffering persecution may determine how we will respond when faced with persecution. And it will teach our children how they should respond, rightly or wrongly.

As Jesus faced persecution himself, he prayed to his heavenly Father. It was a submissive act of faith that cried, “…not my will but yours be done!” (Lk 22:42). As Jesus hung from the cross, struggling just to breathe, he prayed for the forgiveness of his enemies… “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing” (Lk 23:34). When the disciples of Jesus began facing persecution, they came together and prayed for the Lord to “pay attention to their threats, and grant to your servants to speak your message with great courage… (Acts 4:29). When Stephen, the first follower of Jesus to be martyred, was being stoned to death, he prayed “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit… Lord, do not hold this sin against them!” (Acts 7:59-60). Prayer matters! It is an act of faith. How we pray as other Christians suffer is how we will pray should we suffer persecution. In fact, how we act now, whether our first response is the faithful act of prayer or the necessary acts of pragmatism due to a lack of faith, will determine how we act then.

And as I have said before and should we ever be called to suffer persecution for the name of Jesus Christ… Courage comes from conviction. We will never have the courage to be a martyr for Christ unless we learn to live now with the conviction of the martyrs for Christ now.

O Lord God, your Son Jesus Christ suffered and died for us. In his resurrection he restores life and peace in all creation. Comfort, we pray, all victims of intolerance and those oppressed by their fellow humans. Remember in your kingdom those who have died. Lead the oppressors towards compassion and give hope to the suffering. Through the same Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

– An Anglican Prayer for the Persecuted

Christianity In An Age of Religious Pluralism

Perhaps you’ve heard of Duck Dynasty. I’m a fan. I’ve not seen every episode but I’ve seen a bunch. Besides the humorous adventures of the Robertson clan, the fact that I minister with a Church of Christ and that there’s enough red-neck still in me keeps my interest. One of the great values of the show is that every episode ends with the family eating and praying together, which is a great example to set.* 

Our Context Matters…

The show has established a platform for the family to express their Christian faith and Phil Robertson has seemingly taken advantage of this platform the most. On a few occasions Phil has made some comments which might not raise any concern in his own context but certainly do elsewhere. Having said that, I don’t want to spend any more time criticizing Phil or discussing his past remarks.

I mention Phil Robertson in order to make an observation about a difference between his context and the context of many other Christians, including those among the Churches of Christ. The Robertson’s live near West Monroe, Louisiana where those who affiliate with a Christian church make up roughly 90% of the population.  Compare that to Columbia, Maryland, where 56% of the people do not claim any church affiliation. On top of that, the last time I checked, my children attend school with children from thirty-nine different nationalities. As you might imagine, along with those thirty-nine different nationalities comes a plurality of religions and assortment of values that sometimes differ drastically from the values held by many Christians.

All that is to say that while I appreciate the public stance Phil Robertson is willing to make for what he believes, his example is not a model for every Christian. The response Phil Robertson takes is one that is shaped by his own cultural context. Yet more and more Christians find themselves living in an urban to suburban context that is very different, one where religious pluralism is a reality that requires a different approach.

Apologetics As A Way of Life…

When taking a stance for Christ, one of the frequently cited verses is 1 Peter 3:15. In this passage, the apostle Peter says, “But set Christ apart as Lord in your hearts and always be ready to give an answer to anyone who asks about the hope you possess” (NET). For many Christians, Peter is talking about defending the existence of God or the resurrection of Christ. That’s why this passage is a favorite proof-texts among the enterprise of Christian apologetics. I’m all for providing good intellectual answers for those who struggle with Christian belief but what Peter is talking about in this passage is apologetics as a way of life. That is, to set Christ apart (sanctify) in our hearts is about making the way of life that Christ teaches our way of life. A quick read of the entire letter of 1 Peter should make this abundantly clear. 

Embracing apologetics as a way of life involves at least two steps:

  1. The first step in taking a public stance for our faith involves the way in which we set Christ apart in our hearts as Lord. We make sure that our life reflects the life of Jesus. What we say and do reveals our true values and when we profess Christ as Lord but exemplify a different set of values than those which Jesus embodied while on earth, we nullify our witness. One of the values Jesus lived by while here on earth involved the formation of relationships with other people. When we form relationships with others our Christ-likeness becomes a testimony that gives us a credible basis for proclaiming Jesus.
  2. Because we regard Jesus as Lord, the way in which we give an answer for the hope we have matters too. We don’t have an argument to win, just the good news of God’s victory in Christ to bear witness of. As David E. Fitch and Geoff Holsclaw say, “Surely such claim for the supremacy of Christ pits us against other religions and other ways to God. But the conviction that Jesus is Lord actually does the opposite: it frees us from coercion and control. It is Jesus that is Lord, not us. We do not need to land a knockout punch to win an argument against another religion. We are witnesses! We do not need to be prosecuting attorneys on behalf of Jesus. We are witnesses!” (Prodigal Christianity, 158).

As believers and followers of Jesus, we are called to live as his witnesses. In an age of increased religious pluralism, we must become more intentional about taking a stance for the gospel of Jesus Christ. Such intentionality includes boldness but let’s not confuse boldness with brashness. Our bold witness of Jesus must reflect the life of Jesus if we are to truly set Christ apart in our hearts as Lord.

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* Except for a few stylistic changes, this exact article was originally published in Connecting 29 (December 3, 2014), a biweekly publication of the Columbia Church of Christ, and has been reformatted for this blog.