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Redeemer Church

Redeemer Church
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Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Christians and Our Martyr Complex

A poll taken earlier this year gives us a new perspective on the attitude towards Christians in the community of higher learning. This poll was designed and conducted by a Jewish group to gauge feelings of anti-Semitism in American universities, but what they found was far from their expected results. 53 percent of its sample of 1,200 college and university faculty members said they have "unfavorable" feelings toward evangelical Christians.

Said chief pollster Gary Tobin, "If a majority of faculty said they did not feel warmly about Muslims or Jews . . . there would be an outcry. No one would attempt to justify or explain those feelings." As Dr. Jim Eckman observed, "since higher education is training the next generation of leaders and is instilling them with a worldview, that worldview is biased against biblical Christianity".

I don't doubt, if polled, we would see a similar bais against Christianity mirrored in many other circles (politics, media, the sciences, etc.) as well. This results in a double standard when it comes to the public response to conflicts surrounding Christianity. Case in point: Kathy Griffin's "Suck it, Jesus" comment during this year's Emmys. I am fairly certain there would have been a much larger outcry had she degraded any other religion and their deity/s. However, I am inclined to point the finger at Christianity before I point it at others.

One of my biggest pet peeves is hearing Christians cry "martyr" the moment we feel slighted. We instantly play the "persecution" card and chalk it up as suffering for Jesus to avoid any self-evaluation about how we are presenting (and representing) Christ and the Gospel. Bypassing introspection, we charge on bull-headed in behavior that we think honors God simply because non-Christians react negatively to it. While Christ promised His followers they would receive hostile responses just as He did, such a response is not an instant endorsement that you are conducting yourself in a Christ-like manner. We must make certain that the tension rises out of the pure Gospel and not as result of an attitude that is abusive, ignorant, or self-righteous.

We should be constantly striving for a Christianity that is graceful and winsome rather than judgemental and overbearing. We should be studying to be intelligent and articulate in our presentation of Christ and the Christian worldview rather than close-minded and shallow. From religious issues (God, sin, etc.) to scientific issues (Intelligent Design, stem cell research, etc.) to social issues (homosexuality, abortion, etc.), we need to be prepared to give a more satisfying answer than "The Bible says so". The Gospel is offensive enough on its own, there is no need for us to add more offense to it. Instead, we should be administering a constant gut & heart check to make sure that the "persecution" we receive is brought on by the Gospel and not our own foolishness.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Why is there pain?

This question grows out of one of my previous posts entitled The Victims of Tyranny and Tragedy. The question arises: why must the fallen world be so painful? The answer is similar to my previous blog in that it is rooted in the holiness of God and the sinfulness of man (neither of which do we grasp the depth and severity of). However, these are only two of the factors and a third may surprise you. One of the main reasons this world is so painful is because of God's great love and compassion for us.

I know, this sounds ridiculous and contradictory but let me explain. As children, we learn what our bodies were not made for through pain (our hands were not made for the stove, etc.). In a similar way, God is trying to teach us as spiritual children that we were not made for this world. More precisely, we were not made primarily for any desire in this world but rather were made to desire God above all else.

This, in fact, is how the whole pain thing started. In the garden, man and woman rejected God as their supreme desire and chose the desire for autonomy and freedom from God (in the form of choosing the forbidden fruit) instead. Through this act, not only did man sin and become fallen, but the world was subjected to bondage to corruption and futility. Because of this, creation has not functioned in the perfect harmony that it was intended for.

Why? Why did God do this to the world? Why so many children with heart-wrenching disabilities? Why natural disasters that take so many lives? Why famines and diseases? As John Piper puts it, God put the world under a curse so that the physical horror we see around us would become a vivid picture of how horrible sin is. In other words, natural evil is a signpost to the unspeakable wickedness of moral evil. God allowed the disorder of the natural world to match the disorder of the moral and spiritual world. Diseases and deformities are God's portraits of what sin is like in the spiritual realm and that is true even though some of the most Godly people bear the most horrible deformities.

Yet we don't feel it! In our present, fallen condition our hearts are so numb and so blinded we seldom feel the gravity of our sin. Almost no one feels the abhorrence that sin is or feels repulsed or nauseated at how they scorn the glory of God. We should feel as deeply about sin as we do about a friend's disability. We should feel as intense and bad about our immorality as we do about starvation. O, that we could feel how offensive and repugnant and abominable it is to prefer anything to your Maker! To plagiarize John Piper once more, the natural world is shot through with horrors that aim to wake us up from the dream world of thinking demeaning God is no big deal.

Thus, if there were not the pain that there now is, it would be far too easy to forget God and how we have spurned Him. It would be far too easy to prefer all the temporary pleasures that this world offers rather than prefer the eternal joy in Christ. To quote C.S. Lewis, "We are half-hearted creatures like an ignorant child wants to go making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the beach. We are far too easily pleased."

Friday, October 12, 2007

The Charges Against Christians

There are many names thrown at modern-day Christians but there are a select few that seem to be more common than the rest and seem to stick unusually well. Unfortunately, I have to admit that we have all too often earned them.

"Majorities of young people in America describe modern-day Christianity as judgmental, hypocritical and anti-gay" says David Kinnaman, president of the Barna Group and author of UnChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks About Christianity. He continues, "What's more, many Christians don't even want to call themselves 'Christians' because of the baggage that accompanies the label." So let me address these charges from former to latter.

Of being anti-gay, I believe the church has sorely mishandled this issue. I have never understood why we treat homosexuality (inside or outside the church) as any different than any other sexual sin (adultery, premarital sex, etc.). They are all the same in the eyes of God. As Paul said, "For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Do you not judge those who are within the church?" Yet we have flipped them around, trying to change the lifestyle (of an outsider) before changing the heart (and bringing them within the church). Up until that point, we need to love them and witness to them in word and deed (just like every other lost person). If and when a conversion takes place, then the issue of homosexuality can be approached in a sensitive but uncompromising biblical approach with the assistance of the Holy Spirit working in their lives. Public policy is another matter and one I have addressed in a previous blog (see below).

To the charge of being hypocritical, I think most people use this word quite poorly. A hypocrite is one who professes beliefs of one sort but privately (or not so privately) practices the opposite without any attempt at change. For instance, no one would call a recovering alcoholic who disapproves of (and discourages others away from) alcoholism a hypocrite for having a momentary relapse. In the same way, Christians who discourage others away from and disapprove of a vice or sin but slip up and fall in that area don't quite fit the definition of hypocrite. The key is in the fight, the struggle, the effort to overcome. When the sin or vice becomes habitual, accepted or even celebrated then one crosses into hypocrisy. Unfortunately, there have been some very high-profile Christians who have been guilty of just that.

Addressing judgmentalism, I feel I've already said a bit. To the Christians, why are we judging those outside the church? To the rest, are we really guilty of as much hypocrisy as we're accused of? If we as Christians are to come under fire and garner a negative image , it should at least be for the right (and righteous) reasons. As Jesus said, "No servant is greater than his master. If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also." This is not golden ticket to interpret every bit of "persecution" as a sign you are doing the will of Jesus, only a proper understanding of Scripture will prove that in the end. Instead, too often we see a superficial "religion" in the guise of Christianity used to promote a person's bigotry, hatred, and self-righteousness. I don't expect John and Jane Doe to know the Bible well enough to see the duplicitousness of these individuals, so the burden falls on the true believers to live in a way that is lovingly and gracefully biblical and thereby reveal the disparity between the two. Only then will we be able to wear the label of "Christian" without being afraid of the stigma attached and knuckleheads who brought it upon us.