The Unusual American Tolerance Of Christian Values

ConstitutionIf you take the Bible seriously, people have most likely branded you as a narrow-minded bigot. That accusation hurts, doesn’t it? After all,  we live in a culture that celebrates the tolerance of sin and false religion, but is markedly intolerant of Biblical Christianity. Astonishingly, many American Christians are surprised by this animosity. They forget that Jesus told His disciples point blank that the world would reject us because it rejects Him.

18 “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. 19 If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. ~~John 15:18-19 (ESV)

To understand why American Christians struggle with the current hostility towards Christianity, we should briefly look back on our history. New England was first settled by Puritans, who sought to establish a land that held to Biblical precepts. 150 years later, people already deviated from Puritan doctrine, but they continued to adhere to many Christian principles when framing our new nation. John Adams famously declared:

Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.

The 19th Century further eroded Christianity in the United States with the advent of liberal theology and cults like Christian Science, Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormonism. Yet Americans still largely embraced Christian values and revered the Bible at least as a moral standard. Though the first half of the 20th Century brought a little more spiritual erosion, open hostility towards Christianity only gained momentum after the 1960s.

The momentum accelerated in our present century, and pretty much doubled when the Supreme Court legalized same sex marriage in all 50 states.  Older Christians, remembering days when America still respected Christian values to a certain extent, feel puzzled by recent challenges to religious liberties.

Although America’s Christian foundations began crumbling even before the Declaration of Independence was written, most Americans regarded Biblical principles as noble and desirable until the last decade. Therefore the open hatred of Christianity shocks us.

We’re shocked because our American experience insulates us from knowing how Biblical Christians have suffered persecution throughout history. My 2017 Tuesday posts on the Protestant Reformation give a small glimpse into some of that persecution. If we understood that Christians have been hated throughout the 2000 years since our Lord’s crucifixion, maybe we’d realize that God mercifully gave us 300 years of tolerance before allowing us to suffer for His sake.

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I Want My Life Back!

Count It All Joy

In my 20s and early 30s, I regarded life’s trials as intrusions that kept me from living real life. Oh sure, I knew that Jesus promised tribulation in this world (John 16:33), and I undoubtedly quoted it sanctimoniously to friends during their various times of difficulty. But deep-down, I resisted the idea that I should be subjected to hard times.

All too often, as I went through those hardships, I’d protest by declaring, “I want my life back!” In my estimation, adverse circumstances robbed me of the quality of life that I expected God to hand me. I equated ownership of my life with maintaining control of my situations.

It took years (far too many years, actually) before I understood that my trials were as much a part of my life as the things I enjoyed. They didn’t intrude on my life. They were part of life! Furthermore, they were meant as God’s instruments in refining my character to reflect Christ’s.

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. ~~James 1:2-4 (ESV)

Having moved through a few more decades, I’ve learned that life fluctuates between good times and uncomfortable (even painful) times. Perhaps more importantly, I’ve learned that the Lord doesn’t give me the right to demand life on my terms. I belong to Him as His slave, and because of that fact, He has the authority to exercise full control over my circumstances.

This past couple years, I’ve noticed several friends respond to their struggles by declaring, “I want my life back!” So often, I’ve wanted to shake their shoulders and shout, “This is your life, honey! Grow up and stop being so self-centered!” Thankfully, the Lord has mercifully restrained me from making such a callous mistake, reminding me of the gentleness I desired from my friends when I was young.

Interestingly, I’ve been going through a variety of trials lately that have interfered with my schedule and how I want my life to proceed. A few weeks ago, I caught myself telling God, “I want my life back!” Almost immediately, I had to laugh at my self-centered attitude, and then I had to repent of my hypocrisy.

Like my younger friends, I still need to acknowledge that my life belongs to the Lord, Who will use my circumstances for His purposes and glory. I don’t have to like my trials, but I can take joy in knowing that He uses them to develop me into a woman who lives for His glory.

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A Fun Little Song With Truth We Can Celebrate

It was a fun little song. It amuses me that, 47 years later, I still  remember both the lyrics and the upbeat tune. Especially since I really didn’t understand exactly what it meant.

Being good Charismatics, we predictably sang this ditty almost every time someone decided to lay hands on me for healing. After all, we assured ourselves,  we were merely claiming God’s promise in Romans 8:11. In our understanding, that fragment of Scripture taught that Christ’s resurrection guaranteed physical healing in this present life.

But looking at this verse in context, we see an entirely different meaning, and a meaning that gives us a correct way to apply Christ’s resurrection to ourselves. Let’s read this verse in its immediate context first, and then we’ll talk about how it fits into the apostle Paul’s overall argument.

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. 10 But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. 11 If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you. ~~Romans 8:1-11 (ESV)

Even here, we can plainly see that Paul is talking about personal holiness rather than physical healing. He contends that the same Holy Spirit Who affected Christ’s resurrection gives us Christ’s very righteousness, thereby empowering us to live in obedience to God’s law instead of following the dictates of our sinful inclinations.

You might wonder why Paul refers to the Holy Spirit as the Spirit Who raised Christ from the dead. To answer that question, we need to go back to Romans 6, where the apostle discusses our baptism as a way of identifying with Christ’s death, burial and resurrection.

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. ~~Romans 6:1-4 (ESV)

As the Spirit raised Christ literally, so He raises us figuratively in our present life to resist sin and to walk in righteousness. Going back to Romans 8:1-11, then, we understand that the same Spirit Who raised Christ from the dead gives us Christ’s life in order that we can live in Christ’s righteousness. Through the Lord’s resurrection, we have new lives, liberating us from the tyranny of sin.

Certainly His resurrection also carries the assurance of our physical resurrection at Christ’s return, as we’ll discuss in subsequent blog posts. Please don’t misunderstand me as saying that the benefits of Christ’s resurrection are limited to their implications in our present life. But also appreciate the wonderful truth that His resurrection allows us to enjoy a new life, even now, that permits us to experience His righteousness.

That little song based on Romans 8:11 is still fun to sing. Its proper context makes it even more fun as we celebrate the victory over sin that we enjoy because the same Spirit Who raised Christ from the dead dwells in us!

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Anticipating The Resurrection: Future Posts, Future Study And Our Future Bodies

Resurrection Butterfly 02

A while ago, we discussed the possibility of doing a Bible Study series on 1 Corinthians 15, which goes into depth about Christ’s resurrection. Right now I’m still deciding exactly how I want to structure the study. The study I wrote on Titus last year demanded a lot of energy from me, and I question whether or not I have the physical stamina to do something on that scale again.

That said, let me reiterate my observation that the resurrection, although it’s the cornerstone of our faith, goes largely ignored by most Christians. We easily comprehend the significance of the crucifixion, knowing that through it Jesus atoned for the sin of those who believe in Him. But we have more difficulty figuring out what the resurrection means.

In part, our difficulty comes about because pastors don’t say much about the resurrection outside of Easter Sunday sermons. But before we place too much blame on pastors, perhaps we should think about our own awkwardness with the subject.

Death, we understand. We’ve all experienced the death of someone we’ve known. The older we get, the more of our relationships end in death. Therefore, the Lord’s death has an element of familiarity that we can latch on to.

Resurrection, in contrast, lies in our future. Except for Jesus, nobody has yet experienced resurrection.  So we understandably feel removed from the very concept. Even seasoned Christians have trouble grasping the truth that Christ has a physical body right now, and that one day we will have glorified physical bodies either in heaven or in hell. We’ve read this truth repeatedly in the New Testament, but somehow it doesn’t quite register.

So, although we verbally affirm the resurrection, we don’t spend a lot of time thinking about it. I know I don’t!

Over these next two weeks leading up to Easter (or Resurrection Sunday, if you prefer that term), I hope to write a few posts about the resurrection. I’ll look at Scriptures other than 1 Corinthians 15, sharing insights that I’ve learned over the past couple years. Hopefully my posts will prepare us to celebrate His resurrection Sunday after next as well as building our excitement about going through 1 Corinthians 15.

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Easter All Year Round

Is it too early to start celebrating Christ’s resurrection?

Talk about a ridiculous question! The resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ provides the cornerstone of our faith, and really should be celebrated throughout the year. Because He rose from the dead as He said He would, He guarantees that He will one day raise us to live with Him forever. That promise fills me with joy!

Since celebrating Christ’s resurrection can never begin too soon, let’s get into the Resurrection Day spirit with this contemporary hymn that accentuates the joy of His triumph over sin and death.

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Saturday Sampler: March 11 — March 17

Extruded CrossesI admire Albert Mohler’s grasp on church history and his practical way of applying it to our present-day Christian experience. So I appreciate Ligonier for featuring Why Controversy Is Sometimes Necessary in their blog this week. Mohler reasons from insights that wouldn’t have occurred to me, making it a fascinating article.

Check out Six Significant Things I’ve Learned from John MacArthur by Leslie A of Growing 4 Life. She makes several interesting points, even beyond the six that comprise the body of her blog post.

Evaluating the rise of the NAR movement in Berean Research, Amy Spreeman demonstrates How abandoning Sola Scriptura shipwrecks your faith. I recommend this piece to anyone who believes that God supplements His Word by speaking to them directly.

Evangelism requires a balanced attitude, as Jordan Standridge shows us in Facts Don’t Care About Your Feelings, But Christians Should in The Cripplegate. His words particularly encourage me, since I often struggle with guilt that my mom evidently never came to saving faith before she died. Yes, my tone in witnessing to her was sinful, and I need to declare the Gospel with much greater gentleness and humility, but I must remember Who ultimately determines salvation.

Are You a Contender? asks Rebecca Stark in an essay for Out of the Ordinary. I especially love her point drawing a correlation between contending for the faith and knowing God’s Word. Ladies, contending for the faith is a responsibility that each of us must take seriously.

The End Time by Elizabeth Prata looks at The entertainment-driven church that’s so prevalent in evangelical culture these days.  Heed her wise words.

In a guest post for Midwest Christian Outreach, Inc, Marcia Montenegro describes The Basic Spirituality of Yoga to show us why Christians must avoid this practice. Marcia practiced Hatha Yoga for 20 years prior to her conversion to Christ, and therefore handles the topic with authority. If you’re at all considering yoga as a means of exercise, I beg you to read this article and seriously think about the points she raises.

Tim Challies suggests a few reasons Why Some People Aren’t Christians. His insights appear simple, but they are also profound. If you feel discouraged regarding your evangelism efforts, this blog post might give you some helpful perspective.

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If We Love Those In Heaven

Spotlight on God

This past Wednesday I introduced the topic of whether or not our deceased loved ones look down on us from heaven. This topic touches everyone; we’ve all lost at least one special person, and consequently we feel the powerful desire to cling to the relationship. We crave assurance that that person still loves us. That we matter to them.

Please understand that I really do understand that craving. When my friend Bob succumbed to his battle with AIDS, I found myself believing that he watched me from heaven, perhaps even more attentive to me in death than he’d been in life. In a sense, his death allowed me to feel closer to him. In my mind, he was now always with  me, focusing his love on me.

Dear sisters, do you see my self-centered attitude here? I wanted Bob’s attention to center on me rather than on the Lord.  I disregarded the truth that he now beholds Christ in all His glory — a wondrous sight that will consume him (and me) for all eternity!

As mortals still locked in sinful bodies, we tend to forget Christ’s preeminence in His creation. I realize I quote Colossians 1:15-20 often, but this passage has so profoundly transformed my understanding of heaven that I want to again draw your attention to it.

15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. (ESV)

Although Paul didn’t write Colossians 1:15-20 specifically in reference to heaven, the concept of Christ’s centrality in His creation should clue us in to the fact that creation revolves exclusively around Him. That being the case, it seems to me that heaven strips away everything that distracts from Him. Therefore, those in heaven with Him must be consumed with adoration of Him.

Doesn’t it seem selfish, then, to expect our loved ones in heaven to divide their attention between the Lord and us? Wouldn’t we want them to delight wholly in Him, completely liberated from all other concerns?

And do we seriously want to compete with the Lord for their attention?

I challenge you to think carefully about that last question. As harsh as it sounds, I believe it brings us to the heart of the matter. In repenting of my fantasies about Bob watching over me from heaven, I’ve had to confront my tendency to rival the Lord for Bob’s attention. Not a pretty admission, but a true one.

We continue to love those who go to heaven ahead of us, as well we should. But let’s love them enough to rejoice that they behold the beautiful face of the Savior. And let’s love our Savior enough to rejoice that our loved ones can worship Him without distraction. One day, we will join them in that glorious devotion to Christ.

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