Popular Religion

Taking questions from a reporter, a politician (who small remain unnamed) crafted answers about religion probably intended to express an inclusive position. The 2004 transcript intrigued me as I thought it might offer insight to some popular views about faith.

My goal here is to explore the tenets of Christianity, not politics. People (including politicians!) can believe what they want, and label themselves Christian if they choose.  But is popular religion Biblical?   Excerpts of the interview follow, with my comments.

Q: Have you always been a Christian?  A:  My mother was Christian.  Her view always was that underlying (the world) religions were a common set of beliefs about how you treat other people.

Faith is individual, not inherited. You can’t be born a Christian, rather, you must be “born again” according to Jesus (John 3:3).  World religions may share some morality claims, but their truth claims are mutually exclusive.  Ravi Zacharias, from India, said he came to Christ “amid the thunderous cries of a culture with 330 million deities.  I remain with Him knowing that truth cannot be all-inclusive.”

Q: Who is Jesus to you?  A:  Jesus is a historical figure for me, and he’s also a bridge between God and man, in the Christian faith, and one that I think is powerful precisely because he serves as that means of us reaching something higher.

Jesus is God our Savior, the only mediator between God and people, who gave Himself as a ransom for all. This truth is not limited to “the Christian faith,” but is for all people.  His purpose is for all to be saved and come to the knowledge of this truth, a far more specific purpose than “something higher” (1 Tim. 2:3-6).

Q: Do you believe in heaven?  A:  If I live my life as well as I can, I will be rewarded.  I don’t presume to have knowledge of what happens after I die.

People are granted eternal life and a place in heaven based on faith in Christ, not as reward for a life well-lived (Eph. 2:8-9). By faith, we can know our eternal destiny (1 Jn. 5:13).

Q: What is sin?  A:  Being out of alignment with my values.

Sin is coming short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23), something we all do.  “The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Rom. 6:23).

Dr. Ed Stetzer said, “People like to believe in a generic Christian-ish god with cafeteria doctrines.” What do you believe?  Christians believe a Person revealed in Scripture, not eclectic spirituality common in popular religion.

 

Found!

Losing her daughter 18 years ago was a tragic and devastating moment in Shanara Mobley’s life. It was so troubling that it caught the nation’s attention.  But now the news reports a surprising turn.

Roaming the halls of the Jacksonville hospital in green and floral print smocks, Gloria Williams befriended Mobley and offered to assist with her newborn baby. Thinking Williams was hospital staff, Mobley allowed her to take the baby out of the room.  She didn’t come back.  That was 1998.  A parent’s worst nightmare.

Authorities had grainy surveillance footage, DNA, and inked footprints. They circulated sketches of the fake nurse.  They stopped local women to check their babies’ footprints and searched transportation hubs in case she tried to leave the area.  The FBI took up the case.  Cable news and “America’s Most Wanted” picked up the story and announced a $250,000 reward.  The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children never gave up on the cold case.

Mobley never stopped hoping, and the wait finally ended. This month she received a call that her kidnapped daughter was found living in South Carolina under a false name given by her kidnapper.  A few days later, Mobley held her daughter Kamiyah again.

Can you imagine the inexpressible joy of finding a lost daughter? Jesus used the joy of the find in his parable of a shepherd with a hundred sheep.  The shepherd willingly leaves the ninety-nine and searches for the one lost until he finds it.  He calls together his friends saying, “Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!”  Jesus interpreted the story saying, “There will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.” (Luke 15)

In the latter part of his interpretation, Jesus might have referred to the self-righteous who by their own good deeds judge themselves as good enough, and do not need His offer of grace and forgiveness. Regardless, the point is that God is a loving Father who rejoices when his children are found in repentance and faith.  “He will rejoice over you with shouts of joy” (Zeph. 3:17).

Elizabeth Clephane penned the words to the hymn “There Were Ninety and Nine” which captures the intense search, and the joyful find. “Although the road be rough and steep, I go to the desert to find my sheep…Lord, whence are those blood-drops all the way? They were shed for one who had gone astray…And the angels echoed around the throne, Rejoice for the Lord brings back his own!”

Are you Found?

Social Construct

Inaugurating a new President is an American moment, but we are more “pluribus” than “unum.” Even the joint session of Congress to ratify the Electoral College results was contentious, with V.P. Biden gaveling the session closed with, “It’s over.”  But sharp differences remain.  How often have you thought, “How do those people even think like that?”  The answer is what’s behind those thoughts, even if the thinker is unaware.

The Declaration of Independence uses “created equal,” “endowed,” “unalienable rights,” and “laws of nature,” coinciding with a worldview that “all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together” (Col. 1:16-17).  The founders understood the created order, self-evident truths, and natural law.  They and we can hold these truths and demand freedom without establishing a theocracy.

Since the tower of Babel, another worldview has seen man as building a new humanity of his own liking, with no need of the transcendent. This has become the modern philosophy of social constructionism.  This means that “we all take part in constructing the reality we share in our own society.  In other words, reality is not given us by nature.  There is no such thing as a creation order,” as explained by Os Guinness in “Impossible People.”  We make our own rules, and devise our own identity.  We are alone in the universe, so we can choose what matters.  What was once moral or true is just a social construct, and meaningless for today.

Worldview filters answers to: Does gender trump biology?  Can an unborn human have no value while the unborn of endangered species are protected?  Should unborn human parts be extracted, sold, and used for medical research and the survival of the fittest?  Will the responsibilities of family, church, and neighbors be shifted to government as provider and healer?  Are nations and marriage social constructs – no boundaries?  Is the environment god as per Nietzsche, “To sin against the earth, that is now the most monstrous crime of all”?  Should climate science remain open to sincere inquiry?  Should the Supreme Court shape our laws to the cultural mood?

We “think like that” because our worldviews filter how we perceive reality, including politics. Understand and settle your own worldview, and then you may understand your neighbor better.  As for our country, “If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?”  The answer, “In the Lord I take refuge…the Lord is in His holy temple.” (Psa. 11)  May the Lord lead us His Way, teach us His Truth, and give us His Life.

 

Jerry Bridges

Introducing you to notable Christian people is one of my pastoral goals for this space. A life well-lived is inspiring.  Jerry Bridges passed away in 2016, completing his 86 years of trodding this sod.  He spent most of his adult life with the Navigators, a Christian ministry that focuses on making disciples.  He is perhaps best known for his first book, “The Pursuit of Holiness.”

I personally identify with Bridges because he was an engineer and a minister. Born into humble circumstances in Tyler, Texas in 1929, he was raised in church.  He endured the hardships of weak eyesight and hearing, and the childhood loss of his mother.  Shortly after WWII, the Navy overlooked his mild disabilities and accepted him into an officer’s education program at the University of Oklahoma.

During a visit home, he went with his brother Jack, a pastor, who visited a man to explain faith and salvation. That night while in his bed, Jerry realized no one had ever explained to him what it meant to be genuinely born again even though he had responded to several altar calls as a child.  He decided then that he wanted Jesus as his Savior, whatever it takes.  Immediately he had assurance that his faith was true.

Upon his graduation, he was commissioned as an ensign in the Navy. Soon after, he attended his first Navigators Bible study.  He remained involved with the Navigators after his discharge and while working as an engineer.  In 1955, he met founder Dawson Trotman who asked him to join the Navigators staff.  After speaking on the subject of holiness for years, Bridges released his popular book in 1978.

The reason for the book’s success is that it clarifies questions about the meaning and practice of holiness. This line can be liberating if you have similar questions:  “We are through Christ made holy in our standing before God, and called to be holy in our daily lives.”  By this he distinguishes between holiness due to Jesus’ atonement for your sins, and your holy behavior that reflects who you are in Him.  By faith in Christ, you are “holy and blameless and beyond reproach” (Col. 1:22).  That wonderful gift and God’s holiness form your motivation to “be holy yourselves also in all your behavior” (1 Pet. 1:15).  If you fail to grasp both aspects of holiness, you could err in two ways.  God’s grace gift is not a license to sin, and your good behavior cannot make you holy before God.

Jerry Bridges’ message is that of the Bible: You can be holy, and you can live holy.  He was humble and transparent about his own sometimes imperfect life of pursuing God.  May he rest in peace, having completed the chase.

Welcome 2017!

Is there any way to know what 2017 will bring? Benjamin Franklin said that nothing is certain except death and taxes, so there’s that.  The most common New Year’s resolutions are to work on your bank balance and weight.  Notice that the former is to swell and the latter to shrink.  Don’t mix those up.

The Bible says “you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow” (Jam. 4:14).  Somebody should have told Thomas Watson that.  In 1943, the chairman of IBM said, “I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.”  Oops.  A Yale professor told Fred Smith that his great business idea was not feasible.  His idea became FedEx.  Another oops.  Gary Cooper said, “I’m glad it’ll be Clark Gable falling on his face and not me,” after turning down the leading role in “Gone with the Wind.”  You get the idea.

So, avoiding speculative predictions and dubious resolutions, here are three realities that will certainly follow us into 2017, for our great benefit.

  1. The love of God. “Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good, his lovingkindness is everlasting.” Be thankful for the ways God has shown his love to you, through creation, family, friends.  His eternal act of love was that while we were sinners Christ died for us. (Ps. 136:1, Rom. 5:8)
  2. The prize of the upward call. Paul said, “Forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead” he pressed toward the goal of this prize. He was saying that he had not “arrived” at spiritual perfection and had room to grow toward living life in Christ.  I figure that’s true for you, too.  It is for me. (Phil. 3:14)
  3. The presence of God. “I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you.” God offers this as an antidote to discontentment.  If contentment is the distance between what you want and what you have, to have God’s presence is the only way to close that discontentment gap!  Besides, as Jesus said, “Who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life?” (Heb. 13:5, Mat. 6:27)

For the world to know and embrace these truths in 2017, the world needs a change that only God can give. To that end I offer as a prayer Kelly Clarkson’s lyrics: This is my grownup Christmas list, not for myself but for a world in need. No more lives torn apart, that wars would never start, and time would heal all hearts.  Everyone would have a friend, and right would always win, and love would never end.

May 2017 be happy for you!