Tag Archives: repentance

Countercultural but Not Counter Culture

Dec 16, 21
JMorgan
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4 comments

Jesus was countercultural but not counter culture.  Yes, His teachings flipped the script on all mankind valued – rich is poor, strong is weak, greatest is least, up is down and down is up.  His lifestyle conflicted with everything society held dear – rejecting popularity, power and prosperity.  He chose homelessness, loved enemies, defended the oppressed, marched undaunted toward persecution, remained silent when accused, and forgave His murderers.  No one has ever spoken or lived more counterculturally.  Yet no one has ever shown more care and concern for the people He encountered.

Jesus’ words and actions, if conveyed literally and imitated fearlessly, would be considered just as radical in America today as they were in Israel then.  However, studies show our society sees most Christians and churches not as countercultural but counter culture.  Scripture calls us to be transformed in our thinking but not conformed in our behaviors.  Yet the majority of believers are far less radical in their lifestyles and more vocal in their personal opinions than Jesus, who did and said only what He heard from the Father.  It’s become difficult to distinguish Christian neighbors and coworkers from the rest of the crowd, at least not in ways that intrigue or endear.

In a culture increasingly demanding conformance to its ideals – tolerance and acceptance of each individual’s unmitigated pursuit of happiness – we have an unprecedented opportunity to contrast that myopic, self-centered world view with the enduring hope of Christ-centered living.  Imagine the shock and awe of watching millions of countercultural revolutionaries walk away from popularity, power and prosperity.  How would the public perception of Christians change if we practiced what Jesus modeled – understanding without convergence and compassion without condemnation?  The Gospel will offend, but being offensive or defensive will never awaken America from its collective conscience coma.  It’s illogical to counter culture by imposing our moral standards, which many of us don’t live by, on people who don’t believe in the God who set those standards.  What would be more effective is praying, caring and sharing so counterculturally that it illuminated the shallowness of living for the dot (here and now) and not the line (eternity).

Biblical Counterculturalism

Disciples obey the commands of Jesus, most of which go against nearly every fiber of our being and every principle of secular humanism.  To diagnose issues and prescribe solutions for helping churches and Christians become more countercultural and less counter culture, we first need to look at how Jesus obliterated established norms and instructs His disciples to do likewise…

Biblical shouldn’t be radical.  However, taking those principles seriously would be culture shock for a post-Christian America that long ago passed the Age of Commerce, Age of Affluence, Age of Intellect, and has entered the Age of Decadence.

Conventional Culture

Life doesn’t work without Jesus.  As countercultural and irrational as His words and example may appear, the alternative eventually leads to hopelessness and chaos…

  • Preserving the freedom of one group to defy God’s commands unavoidably decimates the rights of other groups
  • Pretending there is no life after death is convenient and comfortable until disaster strikes
  • Teaching kids they are cosmic accidents produces exactly the response we would expect and now observe
  • Believing mankind is inherently good leads to disappointment when sinful human nature inevitably prevails
  • Ascribing the illogical ability to invent truth ends in disillusionment when ill-conceived fallacies prove one day to be untrue
  • Authenticity is impossible apart from our intended identity as children of God, so being “my authentic self” expediently evolves to mimic transitory cultural norms
  • Identity crises tempt youth to portray façades on social media and escape reality via VR and avatars
  • Trust in human wisdom requires cognitive dissonance when science must be ignored to justify immorality (e.g. gender designations by doctors, heartbeats of unborn infants)
  • Tolerance, secular society’s highest virtue, is necessarily intolerant of those who don’t share its progressive views
  • Advertisers pitch seemingly altruistic messages linking possessions to personal empowerment when money is their only true motive
  • Politicians know the path to ultimate power lies in defining everyone as an oppressor or oppressed to regulate the first and rescue the latter
  • Government positions itself as savior, directing attention from the Savior, by “generously” offering healing and funding to create dependence

Those who are Fatherless lack a trustworthy guide, drawing wrong conclusions because they process information through a filter based on bad assumptions – that there is no God or that He is not good.  Sands shift with no firm foundation, not knowing where they came from or where they’re going.  Only Christians know the end of our story because we’ve read the last chapter of the Book.

Are We More Countercultural or Counter Culture?

Against that backdrop, are churches and Christians conforming to conventional culture or to biblical counterculturalism?  In other words, are we influencing culture more than we’re influenced by it?  The answer lies in our responses to questions like the following…

Countercultural but not counter culture means awakening society to the truth of Jesus by our humility, love, evangelism and service – not our accusations and expectations.  Non-believers will recognize their sin and need for forgiveness when we shine the bright light of Christ’s righteousness.  Churches and Christians dim that light, revealing our hypocrisy and not His holiness, when we compromise to look more like the world and less like Jesus.  Yet being different does not mean being distant.

It’s Your Turn…

In our next post, we’ll explore practical ideas for striking that delicate balance between being countercultural but not counter culture.  Please share your thoughts to start that conversation…

I Have a Confession…

Dec 02, 21
JMorgan
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one comments

The defining characteristic of post-Christian culture is a belief that mankind is good and God is bad.  Accusing the Lord of the greater “sin” for letting bad things happen to presumably “good” people obviates any perceived need for forgiveness through His Son.  Moral relativism recalibrates the compass (a conscience pointing to Jesus) that God instilled in every human being.  Secularism eliminates any standards by substituting a comparative claim to a morally higher ground than God and those who follow Him.

Now on the defensive, churches and Christians took the bait and responded in the worst possible way, fueling the fire by claiming moral superiority of “Team Jesus” over “Team World”.  As a result, media lies in wait to pounce on any opportunity to highlight the hypocrisy of players and coaches on the opposing team.  A vastly better approach to awaken America from its collective conscience coma and possibly spark revival is a (seemingly ironic) preemptive strike…

The Principle of Confession

The stark division in our nation today between those who place all their faith in mankind and those who trust in Jesus is about whose version of “truth” is better.  However, Scripture consistently awards the victory to whoever confesses they are worse.  Our proud American culture sees confession as losing, but abject humility always triumphs over self-righteous pride in God’s economy…

  • Woman washing Jesus’ feet with her tears exalted over cynical Pharisee (Luke 7:38-39)
  • Repentant tax collector Zacchaeus exalted over disbelieving crowd (Luke 19:1-10)
  • Apologetic prodigal son exalted over jealous older brother (Luke 15:11-32)
  • Traitor crying out for mercy exalted over condescending religious leader (Luke 18:9-14)
  • Servant-minded sheep exalted over self-centered goats (Matthew 25:31-46)
  • Dependent children exalted over self-sufficient adults (Luke 18:15-17)
  • Woman caught in adultery exalted over her accusers (John 8:3-11)
  • Reluctant, meek Moses exalted over arrogant, hard-hearted Pharoah (Exodus 3:11)
  • Remorseful David exalted over obstinate Saul (Psalm 51:1-17)

The list goes on and on throughout the Bible of those rewarded for confessing their weaknesses and others derided for concealing them.  “Look at how bad I am!” wins every time over “Look what we did!”  Jesus modeled humility and taught that the last (servants) will be first and least will be greatest in the Kingdom.  Yet rather than being transparent so that people can see Jesus through us, most Christians hide their flaws, essentially rebuilding the veil Christ tore when He died to pay for our sins.  That pious pretention, in defiance of Jesus’ model and teachings, prompts the negative perception many Americans have today of Christians and churches.

The Power of Confession

Eventually the truth comes out.  Even faithful believers can’t help but do things wrong.  We know human nature is sinful.  Yet most pretend to be “better” than we actually are.  To look good in front of our church friends we’re on our best behavior.  Around non-believers many Christians see being “nice” as the key to evangelism, letting our actions speak for themselves.  Yet that’s a convenient excuse to keep faith private to avoid ridicule, controversy, accountability, or confession.  We don’t want to be held to a higher standard, like refusing to put a “Jesus fish” on the back of our cars in case we cut someone off or honk impatiently.  Most Christians mistakenly think people won’t want to know Jesus if we’re not perfect, when it’s actually our admission that we mess up that attracts people to Him (and to us).

In this Age of Decadence, the trajectory America takes next depends on which religion, Selfism or Christianity, will be first to drop the charade and openly confess their shortcomings.  Youth in our nation worship at the altar of self-reliance and feigned authenticity while rates of teen depression, addiction and suicide soar.  Underneath the world’s façade lies a fragile veneer barely suppressing their guilty consciences.  That’s why secularism works so hard to rid society of any vestige of Christianity lest it puncture the veneer, bringing them face-to-face with the only One who can fill their “God-shaped hole” and offer freedom from guilt.  Meanwhile, Christians erect an unintended blockade at the church door by not openly confessing our sins, making the unchurched wonder if they’re too immoral to be accepted by Jesus.  When believers walk on eggshells, hoping no one discovers any skeletons in our closets that could reflect poorly on Jesus, it actually has the opposite effect – making Him seem less accessible and His followers more hypocritical.  If we would instead convey our deep need for forgiveness, it would encourage non-believers to recognize theirs.

The Practice of Confession

Humble confession is central to every aspect of our walk with the Lord and critical for effectively living out our mission in this world…

  • Prayer – Approaching our loving Father with reverence, thankfulness and honesty (James 5:16)
  • Evangelism – Public profession requires personal confession (1 Corinthians 1:26-31)
  • Salvation – Confession is a precursor to forgiveness and justification (1 John 1:9)
  • Compassion – “Washing feet” as servants compelled by love levels the playing field (John 13:1-17)
  • Generosity – Admitting we’re only stewards and not owners deflects glory to God for our giving (1 Peter 4:10-11)
  • Discipleship – Accountability and authenticity are not one-way streets (John 13:34–35)

Faithful practice of those spiritual disciplines by the power of the Holy Spirit is the only hope for bridging the divide in America between those who trust in mankind and those whose faith is in God.  Both sides of that debate have dug in their heels, unwilling to confess their faults, afraid giving any ground would involve compromise.  As a result, Christian conservatives and secular progressives see each other as arrogant.  No one likes arrogant people.  Humility is foundational to Christianity but antithetical to Selfism, so it’s on believers to take the first step to break through relational barriers if we are to have any chance of pointing our society back toward Christ.

The Plan for Confession

Taking the initiative to show our cards, beating humanism to the punch by revealing our flaws (before they do), requires shifting focus from what divides to what unites us all – an eternal soul, a sinful nature, and a conscience.  Eternity and awareness of sin are fixtures in every heart and mind, no matter how hard anyone tries to deny their existence.  Yet the emotion that accompanies current hot button issues has kept churches and Christians from seeing that those who don’t know Jesus are “lost sheep”, suffering in that denial.  It wouldn’t take much to awaken those dormant longings and offer what they’re so desperately looking for – a true identity, available only to children of our loving Father.  But seizing the opportunity will necessitate wildly countercultural acts of humility and sacrifice on our part…

  • Stop professing without confessing, otherwise we look like celebrities endorsing a product they don’t believe in or use themselves
  • Admit that keeping our faith “private” is really a cover to avoid scrutiny and confession, because cultural Christians speak of everything else they love (except for Jesus)
  • Brag only about our Savior and how badly we need Him, not about any accomplishments
  • Never couch our identity in a church or denomination, as if our faith rests in earthly affiliations rather than an eternal Savior and heavenly Father
  • Distance from political parties and candidates, not risking alienating those who will never agree until they meet Jesus and experience His forgiveness
  • Disassociate from any groups that could make it appear we’re brainlessly adopting ideology rather than fully dependent on Jesus for direction
  • Recognize swallowing pride and unveiling weaknesses is the key to knocking down barriers, making Jesus seem accessible, and countering accusations of hypocrisy
  • Don’t lose touch with your own sinfulness and “sinners” by always hanging around “good” churchgoers
  • Call out sin within the church, acting as a whistleblower if no one else speaks up, so the church at least adheres to the standard it tries to apply to those outside the “4 walls”
  • Be the first to admit you’re wrong and eager to give credit to others
  • Let the contrast of the Lord’s bright light of love illuminate the darkness through mind-blowing acts of kindness

Walking this path means drowning out the noise of a culture that in the name of tolerance demands conformance to the fallacy that sin does not exist, which we combat not by accusing others of sin but by confessing our own.

It’s Your Turn…

Are you and your church willing to boast in your weakness to highlight Christ’s strength?

America’s Collective Conscience Coma

Nov 11, 21
JMorgan
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one comments

The Lord’s signposts directing traffic to Himself are found on all of life’s roads.  The beauty of creation, the “coincidence” of God-incidents, the emptiness of worldliness, the desperation of disasters, and the inevitability of death all point toward the Father.  Even more compelling, yet perhaps most often ignored, is the GPS of a conscience God was gracious enough to provide us when we wandered off in the Garden of Eden.

Nowhere in life are we more distant from the Father, less likely to find our way home, than when we no longer acknowledge mankind’s sinful human nature and successfully snuff out our consciences.  Without those flashing signals, a key component of the Father’s guidance system, we risk running off into a ditch when temptations and distractions come our way.  Jesus came to heal those who knew they were sick, not the self-righteous without any sense of their own depravity.  Christians and non-believers alike can lose touch with their need for Jesus, gradually quelling their consciences, convinced by conscienceless voices that they’re pretty good people.

A Fully Functioning Conscience

It is possible to have a conscience that is untainted by worldly influences, but only through faithful obedience to God’s Word.  Paul declared on many occasions that his conscience was “clear”.  Martin Luther boldly proclaimed at the Diet of Worms in 1521, “Unless I am convinced by Scripture and plain reason, my conscience is captive to the Word of God.  I cannot and I will not recant anything, for to go against conscience would be neither right nor safe.  God help me.  Here I stand, I can do no other.”

A Christian’s conscience becomes defiled when it is diluted by beliefs and morality contrary to Scripture.  Many churches today teach that personal transformation and sanctification are not necessary, substituting dutiful compliance with religious obligations – the same myth Paul and Martin Luther spent their lives debunking.  On the other extreme, a hyperactive conscience can push believers away from their faith, forgetting the power of God’s grace, allowing the guilt of sin to convince them they are no longer welcome in His family.  Our Father’s love trumps shame but also demands obedience.

For non-Christians, receptivity to the Gospel hinges largely on whether they are still clinging to conscience or if it can be awakened within them.  Repeating sin for long enough eventually represses remorse, self-justifying until good is called evil and evil good.  Yet I find hope in the fact that many professed atheists attend “church” each week on this blog’s Facebook page, repeating trite arguments presumably to allay their own consciences or possibly hoping to be persuaded to believe.  If any vestige of a conscience does still exist, it can be revived by life-altering challenges, undeniable miracles, unconditional compassion, and humble confession – all powerful demonstrations of God’s holiness, exposing suppressed sinfulness (by comparison).  In contrast, latent consciences retrench further when Christians pit Team Jesus against Team World, as if being forgiven makes us “better” when we are in just as much need of grace.

The air war many churches conduct, dropping verbal bombs on those breaking laws of a God they don’t worship, advances the mission of powerful forces that are successfully convincing our culture that their consciences should be clear, obviating any need for forgiveness…

  • Tolerance (of sin) is the highest virtue
  • Pursuit of happiness is justification for practically anything
  • Traditional values are outdated and irrelevant
  • Religion is about oppression and control
  • Christian leaders throughout our nation’s history were immoral
  • Science and intellect can solve all our problems
  • Secondary educators know better than parents how to raise their kids
  • College students must be taught not just how to think, but what to think
  • Government can be trusted for (financial) provision and (physical) healing
  • Activism for a (socially acceptable) cause is the meaning of life

Overcoming conscience typically requires an outside force applying pressure or reassurance that, “It’s ok, everybody’s doing it.”  The objective behind wiping consciences clean, selling the lie that human nature is good, is to engender faith in politicians, institutions and corporations who live by an enlightened society’s principles.  Securing that trust translates into profits, power, and the opportunity to one day turn the tables on an unsuspecting populace.

The Church’s Conscience

America is increasingly building its collective conscience on the sinking sand of its own righteousness and not God’s.  Our culture is influencing churches more than churches are influencing culture.  Many spiritual orphans miss out on the love of our Father because churches haven’t practiced what they’ve preached when it comes to conscience…

  • Rarely addressing the topic of sin boldly from the pulpit
  • For those who do speak of sin, few confront it directly within their congregations
  • Gossiping about sin behind backs rather than discussing face-to-face
  • Never following Matthew 18 fully, sharing a member’s unrepentant sin with the whole body
  • Some teaching that it is alright to live bad because God’s grace is so good
  • Violating a new believer’s conscience, leading them to assume certain sin is acceptable
  • Feeling better about ourselves as we spend more time with churchgoers who “don’t drink, smoke, chew, or go with girls who do”

As Christians quell their consciences, desensitized to God’s hatred of sin for which Christ suffered so greatly, they more closely resemble the rest of the world.  Studies reveal most believers don’t stand out from the crowd.  Yet authentic disciples should act and sound completely different, called to…

  • die to self while humanity celebrates self
  • live for eternity while “lost sheep” live for the here and now
  • love and serve unconditionally while the worldly demand reciprocity
  • be children of a loving Father while the fatherless search for identity

When the house of cards of Selfism crumbles, and it will, consciences will be awakened.  We pray the consciences of believers will also be awakened by then so we’ll be recognizable, appear approachable to repentant prodigals, and be ready to give account for the hope within us.

Culture’s Conscience

The most compelling arguments our media, universities and secular leaders use to extinguish consciences is that God is bad and so are His followers.  Discrediting the Creator is just as effective as claiming He doesn’t exist in eliminating any responsibility for obeying Him (or any guilt over disobedience).  To sear consciences, mankind’s measuring stick for morality only needs to be higher than what they paint God’s to be.  Avowed atheists ironically spend a good deal of time pointing out the “sins” of a God they profess not to believe in, while confessing no sins of their own.

  • Claiming God is bad because He…
    • Allows and/or causes terrible things to happen to “good” people
    • Made human nature bad and then eternally tortures anyone who slips up
    • Tempts mankind to violate His rules so He can punish them
    • Slaughtered “innocent” women and children in the Old Testament
  • Claiming Christians are bad because they…
    • Think everyone else is going to Hell
    • Pretend to be good but hate those different than them
    • Discount “virtues” of those who haven’t chosen their narrow path
    • Oppressed “innocent” victims throughout history

They then ask, “What kind of heartless psychopaths must Christians be to believe in a God like that?”  To avoid those mischaracterizations of God and Christ-followers, many pastors have stopped teaching from the Old Testament or reinterpret Scripture to adapt to cultural norms, lowering standards for member morality.  But playing defense ignores the underlying motive behind society’s assertion that its moral code is superior to Christianity’s – the goal and challenge of repressing their consciences.  Sustaining their delusion requires keeping the truth of human nature and their need for Jesus as far away as possible – as well as consumption of a steady diet of people-positive messaging.  While living the American dream of freedom from restraint and remorse, guilt and shame are always nipping at their heels.  Being anywhere near God’s holiness threatens to turn on a light they would rather remain extinguished.

It’s Your Turn…

In the next post, we’ll discuss a biblical plan for restoring one of God’s greatest gifts – a moral compass within each of us pointing directly to Jesus.  How would coming out of our collective conscience coma spark revival within our churches and our nation?

The Abducted Word Behind Post-Christian America

Sep 02, 21
JMorgan
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3 comments

Part 1 (of 3)

God is love.  Because love is often misunderstood, so is God.  There are powerful incentives on this side of heaven for misinterpreting and miscommunicating the intended meaning of “love”.  Decoupling the word from its source removes constraints around the most compelling concept God ever designed.  Usurping ownership of “love” and the right to redefine it frees mankind to leverage the ultimate others-centered term for self-centered purposes.  In the name of “love” (and often in the name of “god”), governments manipulate and control entire populations.  Leaders compel conformance by conspiring with media to turn public opinion against those not “loving” enough to comply with edicts deemed to be in the nation’s “best interest”.  With no reference point back to its Originator, activists invoke their conceptions of “love” to move culture in directions that suit their personal interests.  For example, our society today conflates love with tolerance, disingenuously applauding others for the passionate pursuit of pleasure to justify their own indulgence.

Those who don’t know Jesus as Savior struggle to grasp love’s true meaning because Jesus is its greatest ambassador and example.  Some look elsewhere for role models, deferring to whatever celebrities, teachers and politicians consider “loving” (as if love were relativistic and not an absolute).  Others wonder, “how could a loving God allow bad things to happen to good people?”, reflecting a fundamental misunderstanding of who God is and who humans are.  Questioning God’s goodness and presuming man’s goodness implies love came from us and not Him.  Likewise, dig deep into an avowed atheist’s or agnostic’s past and you’re apt to find they once believed in God but rejected Him out of disappointment that (at some point) He didn’t do what they wanted or did something they didn’t want.  In other words, they thought they knew God but didn’t have a proper frame of reference for understanding His love.  Since God is love, it turns out they didn’t know Him at all.

Even in some Christian circles, God’s love has been taken out of its biblical context, calling into question how well many believers actually know God

  • A recent study found that 60% of professed “born-again” Christians between 18 and 39 no longer believe a loving God would provide only one path to eternal life
  • A pervasive message dominating Christian media airwaves and American pulpits rewrites John 3:16 to say God loves us so much that He sent Jesus to give us an abundant, fulfilling life
  • A prevailing view of “faith” today is a firm belief that God’s love guarantees a particular outcome; however, Jesus modeled expressing a preference yet deferring to the Lord’s will no matter what it entails
  • Many well-known pastors have succumbed to social pressure, deemphasizing the Old Testament for fear God wasn’t politically correct enough then for today’s PC culture
  • We frequently speak of how “blessed” (code for loved) people are based on how many good things happen to them
  • Contemporary Christian songs seem to require somewhere in the lyrics a reference to how our (loving) God will rescue us in this life from “storms”, “valleys” or “chains”

Perhaps churchgoers have heard popular passages about love so many times they’ve become desensitized, losing sight of the full context of God’s love.  Some facets of His character are less palatable to consumers, but every dimension is rooted and grounded in His love.  Common misapplications of verses like Romans 8:28 and Jeremiah 29:11 imply a linkage between God’s love and expectations that He will give us our heart’s desires and keep us from harm.  But His love isn’t diminished when the Lord does whatever is necessary (from His eternal, omniscient perspective) to bring us closer to Him and lead people to Jesus.  Nor was Christ’s love for His disciples compromised when they suffered and died martyr’s deaths.

The Old Testament prophet Malachi stressed that Jesus was coming because so few on earth, even in Israel, knew who God was.  The next book in the Bible, Matthew, set that record straight – leaving no doubt that every aspect of God’s nature, encapsulated in Jesus, is about love.  Today, as the world’s definitions of love infiltrate churches and many Christians lose touch with who God is, the day of the Lord’s next and final intervention (the return of Jesus), draws nearer.  Before that second advent, we pray as many people as possible come to know the love of Jesus intimately.  Toward that end, believers and non-believers alike need a framework for better understanding and communicating about God’s love to stem the tide of secularization in our nation.  The Old and New Testaments repeatedly give us that framework, but somehow many of us didn’t get the memo.  As result, some have left the faith while others have been led astray within the faith.

Couching Love in the Context Jesus Modeled

As a disclaimer and preface, no example or picture of God’s love can enable us to comprehend or live out the Great Commandment except by the power of the Holy Spirit.  Having said that, the Holy Spirit implores us to experience that love by seeing God as Jesus saw Him – as a Father.  Not only that, but the Spirit urges us to see ourselves as our Father sees us – as His children.  The spiritual identity crisis faced by all human beings can only be resolved by becoming a child of an infallible, infinitely loving Father.  That transformative sense of belonging completely alters how we treat others, how we react to circumstances, how we respond to opportunities, and how we make difficult decisions.

Jesus showed us what it means to live with absolute assurance that His Father is almighty God, the maker of Heaven and earth.  Jesus modeled what we should emulate – a love commensurate with a level of faith only possible in a Father who can be completely trusted because He is unaffected by worldly worries, fears and temptations.  In every way, Jesus was clearly His Father’s Son – in prioritizing prayer above all else to spend time with His Father, in His imitation of all facets of His Father’s character, and in reflecting His Father’s mercy on all those humble enough to identify as a child (rather than a father figure).  To remove any doubt, Jesus almost always referred to God as His Father and welcomed being called His Son.  He was unflinchingly secure in His identity, boasting only in His Father and position as His Child.  Jesus went so far as to issue a dire warning to follow His lead – “unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven”. (Matthew 18:3)

Picturing God as He truly is (our Father) and us as we truly are (His children) serves as guardrails, inhibiting misuse of the term “love” and keeping worldly definitions from invading the Church’s vernacular.  It also gives Christians a context for sharing about God’s love that will resonate with non-believers.  We might as well be speaking Greek trying to explain the difference between Agape (unconditional), Eros (sexual) and Phileo (brotherly) forms of love.  However, if non-believers consider the lengths an exceptional dad would go to to defend and protect his children, the inextricable linkage between our Father and Agape love would become imminently clear.  It was that purest form of (fatherly) love, not cruelty (as many non-Christians assume), that led God repeatedly to discipline Israel and rebuff its enemies.  In addition, if the world saw God as a Father who loves us enough to pay the highest price to spend eternity with Him, they would be less inclined to dismiss Him as distant or callous for “allowing” disease and disasters.  Without that fatherly frame of reference, modern society is applying untethered definitions of “love” to rationalize repudiating Christianity by labeling God as intolerant or harsh by their standards.

Until people know Jesus as Savior and God as Father, they remain spiritual orphans.  An earthly dad cannot substitute for a heavenly Father.  Feeble attempts to fill the “Father-shaped hole” end in what we’re witnessing today – rising rates of drug addiction, anti-depressant usage and suicide.  America’s fastest growing religion, Selfism, inflates a fragile identity bubble around our nation’s youth that eventually pops because conditional self-love can never replace the unconditional love of a Father.  Statistics estimate 85% of incarcerated youth come from fatherless homes.  My fear is a larger percentage of Fatherless youth are imprisoned in sin and hopelessness.  Personally, when my mom chose alcohol and prescription drugs over her children when I was 13, I counted on my dad to save the day only to realize I’d stepped “out of the frying pan and into the fire”.  But divine providence soon led me to a Father who would never let me down and the rest – praise the Lord – is history.

It’s Your Turn…

In the next post we’ll delve into the many ways seeing God as our Father sheds light on the nature and depth of His love.  Please share how adopting a Father/child perspective has impacted your relationship with the Lord and helped you share Christ with others.

Why Did Jesus Come When He Did?

Jul 22, 21
JMorgan
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2 comments

Scripture points to a pattern of world-changing interventions whenever humanity arrives at a seemingly inevitable, yet intolerable destination – that of no longer knowing, except for a remnant, who God is.  Genesis 6 says, “The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time…but Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord.”  We all know what happened next.

Eventually the world once again reached the point where nearly everyone was worshipping false gods and idols.  Even God’s chosen people had adopted a distorted image of Him, despite countless demonstrations of His character throughout their history.  Malachi, the final book of the Old Testament and thought to be one of the last written before Jesus’ arrival, portrays Israel as confused and misguided…

  • “’I have loved you’, says the Lord.  But you ask, ‘How have you loved us?’” (Malachi 1:2)
  • “’If I am a father, where is the honor due me?  If I am a master, where is the respect due me?’ says the Lord Almighty.” (Malachi 1:6)
  • “It is you priests who show contempt for my name.  But you ask, ‘How have we shown contempt for your name?’” (Malachi 1:6)
  • “You have wearied the Lord with your words.  ‘How have we wearied him?’ you ask.“ (Malachi 2:17)

Malachi (3:1) prophesied what the Lord’s next extraordinary intervention would be in response to such utter confusion about who God is.  “I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me.  Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come.”  By God’s grace, rather than save only a remnant, He chose to make Himself fully known to the world and offer redemption to all mankind.  God in His infinite mercy brought torrents of love rather than water at the incarnation.  Through Jesus, the Father left no room for doubt about exactly who He is.  “No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is Himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made Him known.” (John 1:18)

Yet like the flood, our Father’s intent to clear up any misconceptions about His character still promised to be a demanding, painful process.  “But who can endure the day of his coming?  Who can stand when he appears?  For he will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap.  He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver.” (Malachi 3:2-3)  Jesus was unreserved in His criticism of the Pharisees who were largely responsible for leading His people astray.  Jesus refuted their self-serving teachings at every turn and put His righteous anger on full display over their misrepresentation of His Father, designed to elevate themselves and condemn others.

Ironically it was often those who the religious leaders condemned most harshly that wound up being the remnant Jesus preserved during God’s second grand intervention.  Malachi (3:16-18) prophesied, “A scroll of remembrance was written in his presence concerning those who feared the Lord and honored his name.  ‘On the day when I act,’ says the Lord Almighty, ‘they will be my treasured possession.  I will spare them, just as a father has compassion and spares his son who serves him.  And you will again see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between those who serve God and those who do not.’”  Jesus fulfilled Malachi’s prophecy by confirming, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.  I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand.” (John 10:27-28)

Today, we are left to wonder whether humanity is edging closer to the precipice where once again only a remnant of authentic disciples truly know who God is and recognize how high His expectations are of Christ-followers.  If so, then perhaps the Lord’s next (and final) earth-shattering intervention, the return of Jesus, is not as far off as some imagine.  False religions are proliferating across the globe.  Atheism and agnosticism are on the rise in America and other developed, “educated” nations where faith has turned to human intellect and science.  Cultural Christians no longer subscribe to a holistic picture of God’s character and expectations because it conflicts with their personal view of who God should be and their preferred level of commitment to living out their beliefs.  Most churches fear that challenging “consumers” with the unabridged truth of who God is and the actual costs of following Jesus would send them running for the exits.  Through books, videos and trainings, America then exports its attractional church growth models, teaching pastors how to build viable institutions, not sold-out disciples.

Only the Father knows His timetable, but if history is any guide then we can be certain Jesus’ next advent will once again be difficult for many churchgoers and leaders.  Like the Pharisees, many pastors withhold the “key to knowledge”, a full depiction of God’s demands for repentance, discipleship, accountability, surrender, sanctification and compassion.  Malachi (2:7) recorded God’s disappointment with teachers who selectively conceal truths – “For the lips of a priest ought to preserve knowledge, because he is the messenger of the Lord Almighty and people seek instruction from his mouth.  But you have turned from the way and by your teaching have caused many to stumble.”  In an effort to appease “customers”, churches tend to emphasize God’s love but not His hatred of sin, offering “cheap grace” without expectation of transformation.  According to Malachi (2:17), priests in his day had wearied the Lord “by saying, ‘All who do evil are good in the eyes of the Lord, and he is pleased with them.’”  When churches today point out sin in society yet do not confront sin within the body, it wearies the Lord and fuels the popular notion that Christians are hypocrites.  That label is accurate to the extent believers choose not to accept what they do not like about God or only obey His commands that suit their lifestyles.

It’s Your Turn

Do you see the connection between the last book in the Old Testament and the first books in the New Testament – Malachi’s disappointment that God’s chosen people no longer knew who He was, and Jesus’ appearance to clear up any misunderstanding?  As our world drifts further from God every year, the day is approaching when Jesus will reappear to set the record straight about His identity and to rescue the remnant of authentic disciples who persevere until that time.

The Hypocrisy of Calling Christians Hypocrites

Jul 08, 21
JMorgan
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2 comments

The escalating clash of sacred and secular in America is not only testing the authenticity of Christians, but exposing the logical fallacies of trying to construct a world without God.  As the voices of atheists and agnostics slowly begin to prevail, it is becoming increasingly difficult to ignore the irreconcilable inconsistencies of secular humanism.  A victory in media’s campaign against Christianity will reveal for all eyes to see the entropy that ensues when we follow “one nation without God” to its logical conclusions.  Failure risks revival, a return to Jesus, when that grand experiment culminates in chaos – alienating and cannibalizing its own as the rights of one interest group tramples those of others it had originally intended to advance.

The Futility of Life Without the Lord

Expunging any vestige of Christian influence hinges largely on convincing America’s youth that secularism’s guiding principles are superior to those espoused throughout most of our nation’s history.  Indoctrinating youth also requires concealing as long as possible the inherent contradictions and inevitable pitfalls of a godless society:

Hypocrisy of…Trusting Science

Science reportedly obviates the need for belief in God, yet reliance on science ceases when it conflicts with other secular objectives, like authorization for immorality.

  • Despite physician assessments at birth and the presence of reproductive organs, a person’s gender today is officially whatever “they” declare it to be
  • Despite heartbeats and brainwaves, infants in the womb are not considered human beings so that inconvenient lives can be taken

Hypocrisy of…Professing Tolerance

Freedom from the shackles of religion and its public expression is the ultimate goal, yet non-Christians relentlessly evangelize Selfism, a man-deifying “religion” with a strict moral code.

  • Believers no longer have the freedom to profess biblical viewpoints in conflict with prevailing standards for sex, marriage or social justice without repercussion
  • In this zero-sum game, where one gains freedoms as the other loses them, Christians aren’t at liberty to tell anyone what they should (or shouldn’t) say or do, but may be told what they can (or cannot) say or do

Hypocrisy of…Redefining Decency

Reasonable standards of behavior gradually decline, seemingly innocuous at first but evolving into decadence, as society grapples with how to make sense of a world God created without acknowledging His existence.

  • My son has attended the same public school for 3 years, but is now referred to as “they” in communications by teachers and administrators, sacrificing reason for rudeness
  • Inclusiveness in the popular “sex positivity” movement defines prostitution and pornography as essential services that should be revered and applauded

Hypocrisy of…Proclaiming Goodness

Inherently sinful by nature, most of us privately do what we feel compelled to publicly condemn.  We post and like messages on social media conveying how disturbed we are by those who “judge” others, pretending we’re never guilty of that ourselves.

  • Non-believers accuse Christians of self-righteousness but assume an air of moral superiority in this cancel culture filled with anger and hostility toward non-conformists
  • Seeking utopia, secularism touts decriminalization and wide open borders but quickly calls for regulation and law enforcement when personally impacted by those policies

Hypocrisy of…Commandeering Compassion

To replace Jesus as Savior, government prints money to fund subsidies and stimulus, and portrays Christians as callous for not supporting social programs that build dependence and perpetuate poverty.

  • The real question is not who cares more about the poor, but how compassion is best delivered to help them – and what motives are behind the methods (e.g. buying votes)
  • It isn’t compassionate to burden future generations with excessive debt; however, believing this life is all there is encourages myopic thinking

Labeling Christians closed-minded deflects attention from the stringent requirements of Selfism, which mandates absolute adherence to its central, hypocritical tenet – the inalienable right of everyone (except for Christians) to pursue whatever makes them happy (so long as it doesn’t make anyone else, except for Christians, unhappy).  In fact, social norms are moving in the direction of considering the most civil and enlightened those who lavish the highest praise on those most decadent.

A public relations “race” is taking place among businesses, universities and politicians bent on outdoing each other in proclaiming support for issues they cared little about until it became financially and politically expedient.  In that game, points are awarded for mocking those who purportedly corrupted young minds by teaching them “arcane” views on subjects like marriage, gender and purity – namely, Christians.

Only Life with the Lord Makes Sense

Yet it’s traditional, biblical values that resolve the logical contradictions that are already surfacing in our culture as it increasingly adopts the premise that there is no God:

  • Science – Beginning with the fact that God created man and woman reveals His intentions and ensures personal preferences do not overturn the science behind the definitions of gender at birth and life at conception.
  • Tolerance – Jesus permitted everyone to choose belief or unbelief, offered forgiveness for offenses, practiced unconditional love, and enforced justice equitably understanding that we’re all made in God’s image.
  • Morality – We need guideposts, and not of our own construction for our convenience, because doing whatever makes us happy, satisfying our desires at the moment they arise, doesn’t make them right.
  • Human Nature – John Adams warned, “We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion.  Our Constitution was designed only for a moral and religious people.  It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”
  • Compassion – Jesus demonstrated His love by serving those deemed least consequential with dignity, bringing glory to the Father.  Handouts glorify the giver and demean the recipient, not recognizing the eternal value of every individual.

God is not a cosmic killjoy, unnecessarily restricting freedoms.  His “arcane” rules are grounded in love because He knows defying them will harm us.  Pursuing happiness with no hope beyond tomorrow leads to depression, drugs and diseases trying to escape a road to nowhere.

Despite that hopelessness and hypocrisy, our post-Christian culture persists down the path toward self-determination because the battle is not about ideologies or logic.  It’s about Jesus, plain and simple.  Spiritual warfare is pitting God’s truth against man’s will, fueled by the same desires that prompted Adam and Eve to explore good and evil on their own terms.  Satan is dangling the apple again, tempting Americans to find out what society could look like without any constraints.  The only impediment is Christianity, so media discredits our faith by saying we are on the wrong side of every key issue today – politics, vaccines, justice, abortion and stimulus.

Responding When the Walls Cave In

Because the conflict is spiritual, reason and even religion will not prevail – but the Holy Spirit can.  Our job as believers is not to get in the Spirit’s way, working through His power to provide truth as the lies of secularism become readily apparent.

According to studies, those three characteristics are not hallmarks of Christians in America today.

It’s Your Turn

What other logical impasses have you seen from defining personal and corporate “truth” apart from God?  Because society doesn’t work without Him, where is secular “wisdom” and professed kindness toward one group undermining years of progress in advancing the cause of another?

Time to Find Out Who the Real Christians Are

Jun 24, 21
JMorgan
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3 comments

In past decades being a Christian was an assumption, an expectation and often a prerequisite for social standing in America.  To this day, particularly in small towns across the country, “Christian” is a label assigned at birth based on the faith of parents, a birthright inherited in turn from their parents.  Families did business and socialized with those they knew from church, not necessarily trusting those who never made an appearance or missed too many Sundays.

Those days of cultural Christianity are nearly over.  The next generation is attending high schools and colleges where “coming out of the closet” has transitioned now to trepidation about publicly identifying as a Christian.  Belief in Jesus is costing employees and candidates jobs in companies that associate Christianity with opposition to the world’s definitions of equity and justice, which corporate HR policies implicitly require workers to not only accept, but applaud.

A carefully crafted, coordinated campaign is being conducted via schools, businesses, media and government to lay the blame for all society’s ills on Christians.  A confluence of events has created the perfect storm – a pandemic, a dramatic political shift, race riots, Pride marches and abortion court cases.  Campaign organizers know this is the optimal opportunity to turn America from its Christian roots.  Their messages contend that Christians are on the wrong, “hateful” side of each of those issues – instigating slavery, denouncing vaccines, impeding gender fluidity, blocking stimulus payments, and opposing women’s rights.  Meanwhile, secular leaders position themselves as our enlightened, compassionate “saviors” – rescuing the poor, healing diseases, and liberating victims from further oppression by the blight and scourge of society…Christians.

We’re about to find out who the real Christ-followers are.  The temptations to deny Jesus and costs of discipleship have reached unprecedented levels here – and are still rising.  The Great Commission is not optional but for the first time in America, it will put most Christians in harm’s way.  Only true believers will still share their faith, regardless of the consequences.  Scripture commands us to love and pray for those who persecute us.  Only those fully surrendered to Jesus will practice what He preached.  All Christians are called to be servants, even to those who cause their suffering.  Only churches that promote godly perseverance will thrive during the coming persecution while others close their doors.

Disclosing Authentic Disciples

How many Christians are ready and willing to face those challenges?  Have churches accustomed to “good” times prepared members for hard times?  Christian conservatives relished a four-year reprieve under a church-friendly president, becoming complacent rather than arming believers to face a sudden, unbridled attack on Christianity.  Church leaders should have seen this coming, equipping disciples with the full armor of God rather than continuing attractional models that were already precipitating a decline in the Church’s growth and influence:

  • Belt of Truth – Withholding inconvenient truths about dying to self, repentance, disciple-making, and dire warnings about not serving the poor
  • Breastplate of Righteousness – Shirking responsibilities to hold members accountable for their actions while pointing fingers out at those who don’t subscribe to God’s laws
  • Feet Fitted with Readiness – Not training churchgoers to bring the Gospel of peace to friends, family and neighbors, able to answer tough questions, but instead encouraging them to simply extend invitations to hear from a “professional”
  • Shield of Faith – Preaching and praying about getting out of problems (the subject of most contemporary Christian songs), not finding joy in how suffering shapes and molds disciples
  • Helmet of Salvation – Focusing on this life, not looking ahead to eternity in the next, enduring persecution by envisioning standing among the faithful in Revelation 7
  • Sword of the Spirit – Rather than internalizing the central theme of God’s Word, His love for the unlovable, and paying that forward, we reserve love for those who love us

Without battle gear, few will be relentless in their resolve in the face of enormous pressure to conceal, concede or conform to culture.  Most will retain their beliefs but reserve comments and opinions for discussions with fellow Christians.  Those who have rarely mustered the courage to speak about Jesus before society launched its full-scale offensive against Christianity will be even less inclined going forward.  However, a “remnant” who’ve been boldly evangelizing and discipling for years will be less likely to cower when their livelihood and social status are threatened unless they recant biblical truths.

Importance of Perseverance

Scripture is unambiguous about how Jesus views those who relent under intense heat.  Yes, Peter denied Jesus three times, but many of the disciples still had doubts about His divinity before the resurrection.  We live post resurrection and have no such excuse.  It is impossible to lose salvation, but hiding or renouncing faith calls into question the sincerity of the initial profession.

  • “But whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before my Father in heaven.” (Matthew 10:33)
  • “So I will spit you out of my mouth, because you are only warm…” (Revelation 3:16)
  • “I take no pleasure in the one who shrinks back.” (Hebrews 10:38)
  • “The one who stands firm to the end will be saved.” (Matthew 24:13)

Jesus doesn’t interact with a fake self or false pretenses, only with the real person.  He dealt harshly with those pretending to be someone else, and drove away those who came to Him with selfish intent.  Jesus knows who we are and “whose” we are.  He looks beyond our past sin at future potential to know Him.  He doesn’t buy our claims to be “good”, understanding our inherent evil nature.  He sees an immortal soul (spiritual being), not just flesh and blood (human being).

For those who stay true to God at tremendous personal risk, refusing to sway in the breeze of individual and cultural “truth”, Jesus gives assurances that He will not abandon His “sheep among wolves”.  Like all great heroes of faith, the decision to sacrifice the present for the future hinges on trusting and seeking God first by understanding that our citizenship is in heaven.

Foiling the Plan to Eradicate Christianity

The intended objective of branding Christians as irrational zealots against sex positivity, gay marriage, women’s rights, poverty alleviation, drug legalization, racial justice, health care and science is clear.  In this Age of Decadence, only Christianity stands in the way of the inalienable right of Americans to uninhibited exercise of any (legal) desire without conscience or consequence.  Ironically, the Church’s foray into consumerism accelerated the transition from the Ages of Commerce, Affluence and Intellect into this Age of Decadence.  We built buildings instead of disciples, giving society ample grounds to view church as a business and churchgoers as hypocrites because they were treated like “customers”, not adequately challenged or accountable for practicing the principles they espoused.

Since most Christians are not viewed as “real” by the unchurched, it will be interesting to find out soon who the “real” Christians actually are.  You’ll recognize them easily.  They won’t be activists the media likes to associate with Christianity to fuel the perception we’re all radicals – like nationalists, politicos, and protestors.  They won’t be the CEOs (Christmas and Easter Only) or even fairly frequent (cultural) church attenders.  They won’t be the celebrity Christian leaders who profit personally or professionally from their platforms.  When the costs outweigh the benefits, most people within those groups will go radio silent or disassociate from Christianity.

The true believers in America will look like the early apostles and the courageous disciples in nations today where following Christ could cost them their careers, families or lives:

  • Oozing Humility – Quiet but not bashful, drawing attention to Jesus, not themselves
  • Standing Firm – Uncompromising, knowing scriptural relativism leads to moral relativism
  • Loving Enemies – A genuine love that sees in everyone an eternal, possibly lost, soul
  • Dying Daily – Not punching a ticket to heaven because salvation may be free but it wasn’t cheap
  • Living Forward – Storing up lasting treasures, walking away from temptations to sell out
  • Helping the Helpless – Getting hands dirty in compassion, shining a light in dark places

Christians with those characteristics already stand out in a crowd but will be increasingly rare and conspicuous as persecution intensifies on American soil in the coming years.  Efforts to eradicate Christianity always inevitably wind up proliferating it.  Thanks to a faithful few by the power of the Holy Spirit, this time will be no different.

It’s Your Turn

When you’re facing the loss of all you hold dear for the crime of guilt by association with Jesus, what will you do?

Why Make a Bet You Can’t Win?

Jun 10, 21
JMorgan
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6 comments

Part 3 (of 3)…continued from prior blog post

Maybe it was the pastor’s humility, confessing that Andrew was justified in seeing many Christians as judgmental and hypocritical, that convinced him to meet one last time.  During that conversation about “sin”, Andrew expected to be cornered and guilted, not watch a Christian fall on his sword.  Andrew’s neighbor, Bill, was just excited he was able to broker a third meeting between a pastor and an atheist!  Bill also enjoyed being a fly on the wall learning responses to the standard arguments all atheists raise against Christianity.

The pastor assumed today could be his last opportunity with Andrew, so he had a strategy…

“Thank you for hashing through a tough topic last time we met.  There’s no way around the question of whether sin exists – it’s the fundamental disconnect between the Christian and secular world views.  We’re either accountable for our actions when this life is over or we’re not.”

“Hey, I have a wife, boss and police to keep me in line.”  Andrew’s wry smile quickly disappeared.  “I don’t answer to any imaginary god, and don’t appreciate churches holding the threat of eternal punishment over my head to get me to do what they want.”

“That’s not my intent.  But since you bring it up, are you 100% confident there’s no afterlife?  You’ve asked me to prove there is a God, but can you prove there’s not?  How do you know for sure?  Are you willing to bet the ranch with absolute certainty?  There’s a lot at stake here.”

“All I know is what my eyes see and my mind tells me – proven scientific facts.   Unless you’ve got some way to validate Heaven and Hell, then they’re just figments of your imagination.  Or worse, they’re inventions intended to manipulate uneducated masses.”

“I’m just saying, given the size of your wager maybe it’s worth retracing the roots of your unbelief.  Was your decision that death is the end truly about science alone or is there any chance it stemmed from disappointment with God for not doing or being what you wanted at some point in your life?  Many atheists once presumed God’s existence but faced unmet expectations or just preferred the freedom to live without His constraints.  Motives matter.”

“My family wasn’t religious.  The only time I remember praying, maybe once or twice, was when my mother got sick.  Looking back, it was a silly thing to do – a desperate act by a confused child.  College and business confirmed what I already knew – everything Christians ascribe to God can be explained by natural phenomena and the power of self-determination.”

Bill didn’t know Andrew had lost his mom at such a young age.  “So sorry for your loss – that must have been really difficult.”

“Thanks for sharing such a painful memory, Andrew.”  The pastor decided to open up too.  “I lost my dad at a young age, and in my case, it got me thinking about my own mortality.  It’s part of what led me into ministry, realizing this life is short.  Leading people toward Christ felt like finding out seashells would be the currency next year and trading all my dollars for shells now.  Conducting business in earth’s economy seemed less important than saving in Heaven’s account.  I started living for the line and not the dot, doing now what I’ll be doing then like praising and serving God, rather than what ends when I die like maximizing income, impressing people and worrying.”

“Then you’re not living in reality.  What a waste because this life is all there is.  I’ve heard the saying, ‘if you’re too heavenly minded you’ll be of no earthly good’.  Living a heaven-centered lifestyle when heaven doesn’t exist is like being granted parole but returning to your jail cell.  How can you be effective or relevant in the here and now when you’re always looking ahead?  I live for the moment because it’s fantasy to believe there’s anything outside space and time.”

The pastor briefly revisited a prior argument.  “An external actor, or ‘uncaused first cause’, had to be present outside the space-time continuum before creation – and He won’t disappear when space and time end.  In the meantime, looking forward actually enhances the human experience because Christians willingly sacrifice short-term personal pleasure for the good of others.  Whatever we do provides greater meaning and joy knowing the returns on our investments don’t stop at death.  We have a saying, ‘aim at Heaven and you will get earth thrown in; aim at earth and you will get neither.’”

Andrew was a businessman, but spiritual ROI was a completely foreign concept.  “If you’re wrong about eternity then you’re missing out on so many chances for success and happiness.”

“Actually, if I’m wrong we’re both going to wind up in the same place, six feet under – but quite frankly if you’re wrong, you’ve got a real problem.  Yes, you’re freer to chase what we consider ‘sin’ like greed and lust, but we have forever to enjoy what God provides.  So we don’t need to milk all we can out of this life before we’re worm food.  Atheists need justice now, wealth now, and notoriety now – but we have plenty of time for all that so we leave them up to God.  We seek His approval, not man’s, and don’t demand justice since Christ is the ultimate victim.”

“So you forego the visible for the sake of the invisible.  Can you hear how crazy you sound?”

“Actually, it’s worse than that.  A disciple of Jesus Christ is called to die to self – like the soldier in the foxhole who must reckon himself already dead to muster the courage to fight.  Funny, that reminds me of the old saying that ‘there are no atheists in a foxhole’.  Anyway, according to the Bible, what’s unseen is more important than what’s seen.  Christians give up the temporary for the permanent.  We’re all one accident or diagnosis from death, so we die to worldly impulses sooner than later.  We’re already citizens of Heaven since our seat is reserved, so we have dual citizenship.  We reside in America but are citizens of a Kingdom.  This is not our home or our destination.  Our priority isn’t where we live but where we’re headed.  We receive a new birth certificate when we pledge allegiance to Jesus.  Under His authority we don’t give up freedoms but gain an ability to say no to sin and to know we’re forgiven when we screw up.”

Andrew knew there was another side to the eternity story.  “That’s great for you, but what about the billions who your religion says are bound for Hell?  What kind of God condemns non-believers to eternal torment for a single ‘crime’ – even unbelief?  Do you call that fair?”

“The question isn’t how could a good God send people to Hell.  It’s how could a just God rescue bad people from Hell?  We do so many thousands of things wrong in our lives yet professed atheists and non-Christian faiths tell God that He didn’t need to send His Son to endure torture and crucifixion to pay for their sins.  ‘Thanks, but no thanks!’  Everyone in Hell chose to be separated from Jesus.  Why would we expect to have a relationship with God after our deaths if we didn’t have one with Him during our lives?”

“Then why doesn’t He show up and prove that He’s real rather than hiding Himself from unsuspecting non-believers destined for damnation.”  Andrew’s sarcasm hid his sincerity.  “If He did exist, then He’d be on the hook for causing what I see all around me – pain, death, corruption and disease.”

“How has God revealed Himself to you, Bill?”  The pastor was testing Bill, concerned that a long-time church member didn’t appear to have responses to Andrew’s stock objections to Christianity.

“Personally, there are hundreds of ‘God-incidents’ in my life that were far too miraculous to be chalked up to ‘co-incidence’.  Maybe when you appear before God one day Andrew, you’ll understand all the invitations and evidence you missed on this side of eternity.  Even the hard times my family has gone through points us toward Jesus – we pray more and sense His love during our darkest days.  And knowing our troubles will be over in Heaven gives us strength.”

“Well, I just hear crickets and am not waiting around for a sign from above.  Meanwhile, I have all I need – family, friends, wealth and weekends – and don’t need faith as a crutch.  Plus what I see from Christians is about the same level of judgment and compassion you depict in your God.”

That familiar refrain had always bothered and convicted the pastor.  “Unfortunately, Christians aren’t always a perfect reflection of a flawless God.   Somehow many miss a key fact that you gloss over as well – that each of us is not simply the sum of our physical bodies, words and actions.  We are an eternal soul created in God’s image.  Christians often judge based on outward appearance but that’s just our candy coating – an ‘earth suit’ housing our true identity.  Our bodies can be falling apart but our souls can be in perfect health.  Yet many churches treat members like consumers, focusing on what God gives to them and not what He expects of them.  The message is they can punch a free ticket to Heaven and then live however they’d like, including looking down on non-Christians rather than looking up, seeing each individual’s eternal value in the Lord’s eyes.”

It’s Your Turn

Do you feel the conversations with Andrew at least moved him from staunch Atheism to uncertain Agnosticism?  Is questioning the wisdom of banking eternity on what can’t be proven a solid approach for making headway with professed atheists?  Or is there a better way to break down their resolve, like radically and relationally demonstrating God’s love to them?

Does Sin Exist?

May 27, 21
JMorgan
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one comments

Part 2 (of 3)…continued from prior blog post

Andrew’s anti-theistic resolve hadn’t wavered during lunch with Bill and his pastor.  He had no reservations about making good on his promise to meet again, viewing the pastor as a worthy challenger in a battle of wits.  He was armed and ready, with his only uncertainty being why the pastor had chosen, from the entire Bible, the story of the “prodigal son” as his homework assignment.  Bill was more apprehensive, realizing during the first conversation how few answers he had to Andrew’s questions.  Fortunately, given how adeptly his pastor had handled each objection, Bill saw his role as referee in today’s sparring match between two heavyweights.

“Great to see you, Andrew.  Glad I didn’t annoy you too badly when we met last month – at least that’s my assumption since you agreed to get together again today!”  Self-deprecating humor was the pastor’s go-to disarmament tactic.

“I’m a man of my word.  Plus I rarely turn down a free lunch!  Mind if I start with a question?  Why the ‘prodigal son’?  Hope the insinuation isn’t that I ran off and squandered my family’s estate?  Yes, I’ve partied, gambled and had my share of fun but I don’t see any need to apologize to anyone for anything.”

“No, the prodigal son is my story.  It’s Bill’s story.  We’ve made more mistakes and bad decisions in our lives than you could imagine.  We’re in no position to judge because we’re living in glass houses.  The only difference is that we headed home with our tails between our legs, not expecting but receiving forgiveness for all our sins.”  The pastor considered using a different last word in that sentence but knew progress in this conversation hinged on coming to agreement that sin exists.  He had tried earlier in his ministry to reshape the Gospel message to be more palatable to secular ears, but eventually realized there is never “good news” without bad news.

“Call it what you want, but the only ‘sin’ I’m aware of is calling someone else a ‘sinner’.  Atheists like me are more open-minded and less condemning than most Christians I know.  No offense, Bill.  If it were my son in the story, he wouldn’t need my forgiveness for pursuing whatever makes him happy.  I love him so I respect his right to live however he wants.”

“God is our Father and loves us unconditionally as well.  But are there no standards of behavior for your children?  Do they ever break the rules?  Love doesn’t mean that sin doesn’t exist.  Love is not forced acceptance of all beliefs, opinions of actions of another person.  These days, the world says everyone has the power to define right, wrong and ‘love’ as they see fit and anyone who disagrees with them is a ‘hater’.  You accused Christians of hypocrisy and self-righteousness yet defining morality however each person wants gives carte blanche to say, ‘I’m good and anyone who sees the world differently is bad’.  You say Christians are judgmental yet secular culture ‘cancels’ non-conformists, deeming them unfit for decent society.  Dissent suppression is what happens when ‘love’ and ‘evil’ becomes relativistic.  Therefore, I believe we both agree on the existence of sin.  We just differ on what it is and who enforces the punishment.”

Andrew was biting his tongue, fighting the urge to lash out for being labeled “self-righteous” by those he considered most self-righteous – Christians.  He went another route instead.  “But wait a minute, sin is an offense against some higher power, so if there’s no God there’s no sin.  Yes, we have rules in my house for our kids but there are no consequences for breaking laws of a god that doesn’t exist.”

“Actually, it’s the reverse.  Our awareness of sin leads us to seek God.  Jesus is a healer, but if we don’t know we’re sick, we won’t look for a doctor.  Only when we realize we’re incapable of true, undefiled goodness will we awaken to our need for forgiveness.  It’s when we’re finally humble enough to cry out for mercy that we hear His voice when He calls.  Professed atheists demand proof of God yet close their eyes and ears to His presence by ignoring their God-given consciences.  You’re not an atheist because you don’t believe in the Lord – you’re an anti-theist because you choose not to believe in sin.”

Andrew didn’t like being told what he is or isn’t, particularly by a guy who believed in fairy tales.  “Well, I don’t have any guilt or need any salvation.  My job is just to love and make the most of every day.”

“Even when it comes to what we call ‘love’, our motives are impure.  Most interactions with family, colleagues, customers, neighbors and friends are infused with facades and agendas.  Our feelings about them are conditional, based on their behaviors.  Greed messes up partnerships, infidelity breaks up marriages, and pride ruins friendships.  Repentance and forgiveness are the only ways to reconcile those relationships.  Like the prodigal son, our connection with God is broken due to sin but Jesus, the only sinless source of pure love, died to offer the path to reconciliation with our Father.  Andrew, is your life really sinless and your love totally pure?”

As referee for the main event, Bill felt obligated to step in before this conversation actually turned into a prize fight over Andrew’s objections to being accused of “sin”.  “Andrew is a nice guy and a great neighbor.  Are you really saying Pastor that there’s no good in anyone apart from God?”

The pastor was disappointed that a long-time church member like Bill didn’t understand one of the core tenets of his own faith.  He blamed himself for not building discipleship into the fabric of the church’s mission.  “Yes, but it’s the Bible that confirms what each of us already knows deep down – we’re never free from the shackles of ‘sin’ no matter how unselfish we try to be.”

That word “freedom” pushed Andrew’s button, hitting on the aspect of his “religion” he cherished most.  “I’m not a slave to anyone or anything!  I’m free to do whatever I want whenever I want.  I don’t need Jesus to liberate me.  Christians are the ones in chains.”

”So if human nature is free not to sin, why do we have so many courts, police, jails, legislators, lawyers, judges and regulators?  Why are discrimination and favoritism so rampant?  Why does crime skyrocket during natural disasters when law enforcement is nowhere in sight?  We look out for ourselves, take advantage of people, and rarely help those who can’t return the favor.  Societies without restraints don’t head toward utopia but entropy.  Power becomes control, not freedom.  Socialism becomes dependence, not liberty.”

Andrew had a far more optimistic picture of mankind.  “How can you be so negative?  I know what you’re against, but what are you for?  Look at all the world’s advancements, innovations and discoveries.  We’re making tremendous progress but are being held back by arcane religious thinking, trusting in invisible deities rather than tangible, proven scientific facts.”

Bill needed to get back to work soon and had an idea to bring the discussion around toward a conclusion.  “So does this sacred versus secular debate essentially boil down to trusting in humans or in God – either our adequacy or His provision?”

“Well said, Bill.  I became a pastor because I’ve seen the evil men are capable of and I’ve seen the goodness of God.  I don’t claim to have all the answers, nor do I think science ever will, but I’ve found far more hope in the Bible and my relationship with Jesus than the world can offer.”

“I have all I need without using faith as a crutch to avoid understanding truth in the real world.”  Andrew was still playing the same cards he’d held close to the vest in prior conversations with Christians.  “A job, family, education, health and wealth are enough for me.”

“What if you lose your health?  Do you trust medical science to heal you?  Steve Jobs’ wealth couldn’t save him.”  The pastor knew several anti-theists who never questioned their faith in atheism until they faced imminent death.

“Is God going to heal me?  Christians die too.  Am I supposed to turn to churches for answers?  Most churches I’ve seen are run like businesses, accusing the world of sin and asking for money in exchange for forgiveness.”

That accusation hit home with the pastor, who felt led to conclude the conversation with a confession.  “Yes, churches are to blame for leaving you with that impression.  We were the food bank and homeless shelter, but separated evangelism from compassion.  We started the hospitals and schools, but now complain about culture without engaging in it.  We used to transform more lives, but now treat churchgoers more like customers to be retained than disciples to be trained.  We historically confronted sin in the church, but now point fingers at those who can’t be expected to obey laws of a God they don’t acknowledge.  But the sins of church leaders are not God’s fault…”

It’s Your Turn

Is it possible to share the Gospel without talking about sin?  Jesus, Peter, Paul and John the Baptist all came out of the gates preaching repentance, but today the word “sin” is taboo in secular social circles – and even in many churches.  Has our hesitation to hold ourselves accountable for sin inside the church cost us our voice to speak about sin outside the church?

“A Pastor, a Christian and an ‘Atheist’ Walk into a Bar…”

May 13, 21
JMorgan
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4 comments

“I invited my neighbor to church yesterday but got the Heisman, again”, Bill said extending his hand like a running back giving a stiff-arm to a would-be tackler.  “Andrew claims to be an atheist but seems interested in spiritual topics.  He brings up those same questions we’ve all heard before – you know, how can a good God send anyone to hell and how can someone who never heard about Jesus be condemned for eternity?  Not sure I’m the best person to give the answers he needs.  You’re certainly more qualified than me, Pastor.  So hope you don’t mind but I volunteered you to grab lunch with us.  To my surprise, Andrew was willing if you are.  But be warned, I think he’s approaching this like that running back and you’re the next defender between him and the endzone.”

Next Sunday, Bill and his pastor met Andrew at a restaurant after church.

“Nice to meet you, Andrew.  I admire you for being willing to get together – many folks these days aren’t open to discussing matters of faith.  I’m curious to hear what you have to say.  Hopefully something I share will be helpful.”  Bill’s cautions prompted the pastor’s preemptive pleasantries, a bit anxious at the prospect of getting into a heated debate in a public setting.

“I may not have a tremendous amount to add to the conversation so at least let me pick up the tab!  I’m just glad to introduce the two of you.”  Bill was excited to watch the tennis match – wondering whether Andrew would hold his ground as the verbal volleys crossed the net.

“With all due respect, pastor, I’m not all that interested in religion per se except for how it has harmed people throughout history – and in our world today.  Not just the wars over different views of God, which really aren’t that different, but the psychological impact of holding sin and superiority over the heads of good people.”  Andrew wasn’t one to mince words.

“Hey, I don’t like religion either – but I do love God.  Religion is man-made but Jesus wasn’t just a man.  You can dig up the bones of the founders of every religion except for Christianity.  Not all faiths are the same.  Only Christians believe God had to come down to us because we couldn’t possibly reach up to Him.  We see His goodness and power in His creation, realize our relative limitations, and know we’ll never be good enough and spiritual enough to force our way into heaven.  I know it’s not a great sales pitch to say we’re sinners in need of a Savior, but there’s a huge gap between God and mankind – which Jesus came to earth to bridge.”  As a pastor, he rarely missed a chance to inject a Gospel presentation when the opportunity arose.

“Seems a little arrogant to say your religion is the only way – and to call people sinners.  You’re making my earlier point – telling me I’m not a good person.  Frankly, it all comes across as an attempt to control and oppress to keep pews and coffers filled.  I work hard to provide for my family, don’t commit crimes, give to charity, and mind my own business – how am I not good?”  Bill couldn’t wait to see how his pastor would handle that grenade.

“Actually, what I think is more arrogant is telling God we didn’t need Jesus to suffer and die for us – that we had it covered, rejecting the most expensive gift ever given.  The fact is, if we all care to admit it, is that we can’t even trust our own motives.  People hardly ever act out of genuine concern for the welfare of others.  Besides, who hasn’t lied, cheated or stolen something?  Where is the line drawn on ‘good’?”

“What’s wrong with looking out for myself, even if that involves cutting a corner every once in a while?  If it doesn’t hurt anyone, why should I worry about a cosmic scoreboard kept by an imaginary god?  That’s the thing about Christians, always heaping guilt on unsuspecting, otherwise happy people.”  Andrew was digging in his heels, confident in his long-held positions.

“I assure you Jesus isn’t about keeping score but giving people a chance to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat in a game they could never win.  Hoping your good outweighs the bad is the opposite of Christianity.  Picture a courtroom where the judge has to do his job, but in this case it’s his son who’s facing the death penalty.  So the judge steps down, takes off his robe, asks to be handcuffed, and accepts the penalty you and I should have paid.  That’s Christianity.”

“Well, I don’t buy any of it.  I’m fine the way I am and know when this life is over, it’s over.  But in the meantime, I’m enjoying every day to the fullest.  Of course, that’s not always easy when this God you say is good allows natural disasters, mass murders, and children to be born with birth defects.”

“If you’re asking, ‘how can a good God let bad things happen to good people?’, first of all like I said no one is truly good.  Second, most problems are caused by mankind, not God, but despite that the Lord can use bad for good.  Imagine if no one had any issues – would there be any need for compassion or charity?”

“Well, if you watch the news and read social media it seems Christians are the ones causing many of the problems these days.  How do you reconcile the hypocrisy of all the church scandals with judging homosexuals for getting married and women for doing what they want with their own bodies?”  Andrew clearly had an axe to grind, possibly explaining why he agreed to meet.

“What are your thoughts, Bill?”  As a pastor whose vision was to make disciples, he was disappointed that a long-time member like Bill apparently was not prepared to respond to these meat-and-potatoes objections to Christianity.

“Thanks a lot, passing that one to me!”  Bill was stalling, buying time to think.  “I’ve always heard, ‘love the sinner and hate the sin’.”

“True, but I doubt our friend here sees gay marriage or abortion as sinful.  You mentioned pastors who fall from grace – it happens too often but don’t blame God for man’s mistakes.  When imperfect people are held to perfect ideals, any failure says more about the person than it does about Jesus – who’s still worth pursuing.  As for what we do with our bodies, your assumption is that you own yours.  However, if God created us, then we’re His property.  Bill is right that no one is passing judgment.  But the Lord intentionally designed the anatomies of men and women to be complimentary and orchestrated the miraculous conception and development of infants in the womb (who also belong to Him) for a reason.”

Andrew sat up and leaned forward, having just heard what he needed to launch his primary weapon.  “What’s miraculous about a baby being born?  Science and evolution accounts for everything that Christians default to belief in a God to try to explain.  If they understood the complex processes that give and sustain life, then proven facts would supplant blind faith.”

Ironically, the pastor saw atheism as a religion, defaulting to belief in science to account for what only God could have done.  “So are you saying something came from nothing and order from disorder?  Even the world’s leading scientists can’t create matter without matter.  In the beginning, something outside space and time – an uncaused first cause – had to introduce substance into what was entirely void.  And entropy should have resulted in chaos, but God’s design brought order to solar systems and ecosystems.”

“Why do Christians always fall back on that crutch as an excuse to stick their heads in the sand rather than learning and trusting in science?”

Bill started losing hope, anticipating an impasse.

“We value science but see discoveries as uncovering God’s design.  There are still so many mysteries and failed experiments because our brains are finite.  Yet despite those limitations, some people think whatever they can’t see or wrap their minds around cannot exist.  We can’t dismiss God and miracles just because they don’t fit into our mental file cabinets.  With so much scientists still don’t know, how can you bet your life on science?  Christians bet on God’s omniscience because we can’t know everything, and therefore are ok believing some things exist that aren’t visible.”  The pastor appeared to be transitioning from defense to offense.

“’See it to believe it’ seems more rational.  In my mind, the burden of proof lies with Christians.  We have the facts on our side.  The evidence speaks for evolution, not for any God or gods.”

As a pastor, he tried to avoid the hint of sarcasm inherent in his reply.  “Applying reason, facts and evidence to prove anything is presumptuous if there is no God.  Authentic atheism, carried to its logical extreme, contends that there is no logic.  If our brains were formed by accident without planning, then our thoughts are random and our conclusions untrustworthy.  But more to your point, I’m not sure we need more proof of who Jesus was than His 12 disciples who went from cowering in fear at his death to shouting His praise in the streets (at the risk of being killed) after his resurrection.”

Unfamiliar with the reference, Andrew shifted to another patented argument.  “I don’t know much about stories like that, but the Bible is a fairy tale with tons of errors written by a bunch of men over hundreds of years.  So it’s not reliable – and yet Christians do whatever it says.”

The pastor wondered to himself how few Americans have any scriptural foundation in this post-Christian society.  “It doesn’t sound like you’ve studied the Bible, and yet you accuse Christians of not doing their homework on your positions.  The Bible is the most scrutinized book in history with skeptics trying to punch holes in it for thousands of years, but none have succeeded.”

Bill needed to get back to work and had an idea.  “Pastor, would you be willing to read a book Andrew recommends about the science behind earth’s origins?  I’ll agree to read it too.  And Andrew, would you mind reading a few chapters in the Bible that he recommends?  Maybe we could meet again to discuss what we’ve all learned.”

It’s Your Turn

Why haven’t churches trained members to respond to the same objections “atheists” always raise?  As the ground in America becomes less fertile soil for the Gospel – with fewer biblically literate and more “anti-theists” (i.e. professed atheists) – can pastors remain the only ones with solid answers?