Salt and Light

Dr. Kent Brantly

Dr. Kent Brantly

These are strange times we live in. Right here in the USA, charities that care for orphans and invalids, and small businesses run by families are forced to close or face punitive fines because of morals informed by faith. Are news stories like these the canary in the coalmine? Is the world better off with fewer Christian organizations, and is that where we’re headed?

History tells us that Christians have often served with courage. In 252 AD in what is now Tunisia, when the plague began to spread, residents including medical practitioners fled the affected areas, abandoning the afflicted. But not Cyprian, Bishop of Carthage. He organized Christians to risk their own lives to care for the afflicted. He seized the opportunity to show living witness to the hope of eternity. For his efforts, he was superstitiously blamed for the plague and banished. In 258, he returned only to be arrested and condemned to a martyr’s death by the people who knew the good he did. The words come to mind, “Love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you” (Matt. 5:44).

Africa is better off because of Christians like Dr. Kent Brantly with Samaritan’s Purse, who in 2014 contracted Ebola while treating those with the disease. His remarks to the 2015 graduating class at his Alma Mater, Indiana University School of Medicine, reflect a familiar Christian worldview: “When everyone else is running away in fear, we stay to help, to offer healing and hope. There is so much more to being a physician than curing illness. The most important thing we do is enter into the suffering of others.” He recently returned to Liberia with his family to continue doing just that.

Christ-followers in America today are organized in multiple ways to serve with compassion: Caring for the poor while preserving their dignity, and challenging them to participate in the solution; creating businesses in poverty-stricken areas to give hope for communities; supporting the two lives most affected by unplanned pregnancies – mother and child; promoting the value of women by rescuing those caught in prostitution and drug addiction; educating students from the philosophy that to learn about the world is to learn about God; working for policies that bring justice to victims of crimes, giving inmates reasons and means not to return, and caring for their children; leading the way in racial reconciliation and working for public policies that support families. Christians serve to restore a world fallen short of how God designed it to be, yet loved by Him none the less because of it.

The world is better off because of believers that follow Jesus. May He grant us courage to continue facing cultural headwinds, as we heed the Savior’s words, “You are the salt of the earth…You are the light of the world.” (Matt. 5:13,14).


go_set_a_watchman_coverThe Navy veteran and octogenarian was a delightful conversation partner when I visited his home in Austin, Texas not long ago. As I expressed some discontentment about a few issues affecting small business, his wise words were, “You live in the world that is, not in the world as you want it to be.” Checkmate, kind sir. In a few words, the retired structural engineer explained a large part of a well-designed life: contentment.

On the return trip, I happened to read an excerpt from Harper Lee’s much-heralded novel Go Set a Watchman. It describes the Alabama residents in the home county of protagonist Jean Louise Finch. “The Federal Government had forced a highway or two through the swamps, thus giving the citizens an opportunity for free egress. But few people took advantage of the roads, and why should they? If you did not want much, there was plenty.”

You can define contentment as the gap between what you have and what you want; the closer the distance between the two, the greater your contentment. For the mathematical mind, contentment is inversely proportional to the difference between have and want. But to the point, it is usually easier to close the gap by moving your wants rather than your haves. In other words, live in the world that is.

“Godliness with contentment is great gain” (1 Tim 6:6), we are told, for three reasons. We can’t take it with us when we leave this world. We can be content with the basics of life, i.e. food and shelter. We can fall into a terrible trap of loving money. Note that money is not the root of evil, but to love it is. A bonus reason to be content is that God “will never desert you, nor will (he) ever forsake you” (Heb 13:5).

The godly person prioritizes the pursuit of a more precious treasure: righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance, gentleness, and faith. Will we ever have enough of these? And these noble pursuits of the heart leave neither the time nor the will to gather more wood, hay, and stubble, the things we can’t take with us.

Contentment does not proscribe thrift, hard work, ambition, and entrepreneurship, for these are admirable as well. You play the hand you’re dealt, but you still play to win. So perhaps contentment means acknowledging that some things are either too costly to pursue or simply beyond your reach. Godly contentment is a heavenly reminder to that earthly forgetfulness that misplaces your priorities.

Billy Graham said, “The happiness which brings enduring worth to life is not the superficial happiness that is dependent on circumstances. It is the happiness and contentment that fills the soul even in the midst of the most distressing circumstances.” That contentment comes with faith in Christ that says, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?” (Heb 13:6).

Give Credit

Tim Tebow

Tim Tebow

Tim Tebow is back in the news, signing to play football with the Philadelphia Eagles.  The young quarterback has received much attention about his public expressions of faith.  At least he’s willing to give credit where he thinks it’s due.

After the 2010 Sugar Bowl, his last collegiate game, with ‘EPH 2:8-10’ in his eye black and with microphone in his face, he thanked “my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ who is the reason we are all here.”  He then thanked the team, coaches, and fans.  Seems fair, since he didn’t achieve success in a vacuum.  Seems fearless, too, given all the criticism he had taken.

There is a story, perhaps urban legend material, about the boxer Muhammed Ali.  It seems he was on a commercial airliner.  The captain turned on the “fasten seatbelt” light which he ignored.  He told the insistent flight attendant, “Superman don’t need no seatbelt.”  She shot back, “Superman don’t need no airplane, either!”

The human experience is hard enough without living by the proverb, “if it is to be, it’s up to me.”  Initiative and responsibility are admirable, but it’s lonely when you look around at your possessions, accomplishments, and position, and see only your handiwork.

In the Jimmy Stewart movie, Shenandoah, he plays Charlie Anderson, a man who had promised his dying wife to raise the kids as Christians.  Here’s his mealtime prayer: “Lord, we cleared this land. We plowed it, sowed it, and harvested it. We cooked the harvest. It wouldn’t be here and we wouldn’t be eatin’ it if we hadn’t done it all ourselves. We worked dog-bone hard for every crumb and morsel. But we thank you just the same for this food we’re about to eat. Amen.”  How ungrateful, but revealing.

The philosopher Nietzsche believed that God is dead.  To him, Christianity is a hopeless quest for morality which prevents man from becoming Superman.  Sadly, both Hitler and Stalin fell under the spell of this antitheistic philosophy, and history records the disastrous results.  Ideas, like elections, have consequences.

It should not be so hard to acknowledge God.  But He had to remind even His chosen people to “remember the Lord your God, for it is He who is giving you power to make wealth” (Deut 8:18).  From his intricate and interwoven design of nature, to his providential hand in history and his power to bring good from evil, God is involved in human affairs.

Tebow was right.  Jesus Christ is the reason we are all here.  “All things came into being through Him” (John 1:3).  It is a life well-lived that gives credit where credit is due, especially in matters of eternal consequence.


Christian Optimism

Atlanta StockadeThe Old Atlanta Stockade was operated as a prison from 1896 to 1924.  It housed debtors and children alongside hardened criminals.  In the 1950’s, skeletal remains of 50 people were found on the site, the final explanation of many who ‘disappeared’ from the infamous prison.  In the 1980’s, Renny Scott and Bob Lupton led the effort to rebuild the blighted building as part of a Christian ministry to a low income neighborhood.  The grand re-opening was on an Easter Sunday, and the paper ran a photo captioned, “He is risen, indeed.”

Providing hope and life where there was once pain and death is indeed the story of the resurrection of Christ.  An unredeemed world is why He came, so no surprise when cultures do not embrace Him or us, His ambassadors.  As Christians in a fallen world, we’ve always been operating ‘behind enemy lines.’  The work of Benedictine monks who preserved Christian truth and knowledge after Rome fell, and of modern Chinese house churches that defy communist threats, and of Christians in America who hold seemingly ‘freakish’ views about unborn children and natural marriage, is the same: to share in the recreating, redeeming, restoring work of God.

As the world turns, some things stay the same.  Russell Moore wrote in the Washington Post, “The Supreme Court cannot get Jesus back in that tomb.  Jesus of Nazareth is still alive.  He is still calling the universe toward his kingdom.”  He was urging optimism despite a certain, recent, landmark ruling that has religious freedom implications.

Of course some Christians tend to embrace whatever the culture decides is the next righteous thing, claiming a loving God would not object to it.  Our Scripture says “Do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?”  G. K. Chesterton said to adapt to a changing morality tries “to prove that we fit into the world.   The Christian optimism is based on the fact that we do not fit into the world.”

Yet we are called to serve a world we are unfit for. Moore’s article continues, “While this decision will ultimately hurt many people and families and civilization itself, the gospel doesn’t need “family values” to flourish.  In fact, the church often thrives when it is in sharp contrast to the cultures around it.”  It thrives because we have more work to do.  For sure, the more culture rejects Biblical morality, the more likely will there be refugees from the chaos.  It won’t be the first time.

Chesterton explained that God wrote “a play he had planned as perfect, but which had necessarily been left to human actors and stage-managers, who had since made a great mess of it.”  We can be happy we are in the play, but honest in our review of it.  We are on the right side of history as we have the truth, the Holy Spirit, and divine Providence.  We can be optimistic that even if we become cultural outcasts we can still be part of the narrative today, and will be citizens of heaven forever.

The Declaration

Washington's Tomb

Washington’s Tomb

I have roamed the hallowed grounds of Mount Vernon, the home, gardens, fields and enterprises of George Washington that tell the story of a great American. His story is our story, how we became a nation. He did not compose our Declaration of Independence, but became the force behind it.

It was 239 years ago that brave Americans finally had enough of tyranny, so they drafted and signed a document for the ages. It was a declaration that placed their lives and fortunes in jeopardy. They did so with determination, and with reliance on Almighty God.

It only took three weeks to draft, revise and adopt it, but the ideas expressed were developed over years and couched in deep conviction. The context of the American grievance was a specific understanding about freedom under God, and such language found its way into the famous text.

They believed it was time for a nation to assume “the separate and equal Station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them.” They were men “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights” who appealed to the “Supreme Judge of the World” to vindicate their honorable intentions. “And for the support of this declaration, with a firm Reliance on the Protection of the divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.”

Consider those phrases. The Founders believed freedom is inherent in creation, not granted by government. They relied on a Creator God who was involved in the affairs of men and nations. Believing that God is necessary to sustain good government, George Washington said, “Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports.”

The Patriots wanted the world to know their intentions were not of greed, power, or war-mongering. They simply wanted freedom. They understood that God is capable of peering into the human heart. May God give America leaders today that have selfless, patriotic intentions, and are courageous enough to worship the Creator rather than creation.

The name ‘Providence’ describes a God who guides human history to the purpose he intends, and was Washington’s oft-used name for God. He and his fellow statesmen believed that God’s hand was guiding their struggle for independence and freedom. Some pivotal events of the Revolutionary War were so improbable that it’s no wonder Washington favored this name.

Should not a nation founded with such ideas of God be guided by them as well? Does not the yearning for freedom still drive Americans to resist tyranny from without (murderous terrorists) or from within (misappropriated taxes, burdensome regulations, legalized immorality)? Should not our Constitution is be used to preserve religious freedom rather than restrict it?

Though Washington did not sign the Declaration, he does have his own lasting declaration. The family tomb at Mount Vernon is a quiet place to reflect while standing mere feet from the greatest American in history. There the family engraved these words of Jesus as Washington’s declaration to those who visit: “I am the resurrection, and the life. He that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live. And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die.” That is real freedom!