Free Indeed

This is starting to look like a cultural revolution to some degree.  Be careful what you ask for, America.

Cultural values are expressed in its monuments to the past.  When time comes for change, what happens to those monuments is a declaration to the present.  Iraqis brought down Saddam Hussein in 2003. Ukrainians toppled Lenin in 2014.  I understand those.  But Columbus, Washington, Lee, Grant?  Even Francis Scott Key and Teddy Roosevelt can no longer stand.  This cleansing of the public square…maybe someone can translate the statement being made, if it’s a coherent statement at all.

It reminds me of something Jesus said.  After he healed a demon-possessed man who was blind and mute, he gave a talk.  He used what happened to that man to illustrate a point.  He explained that when an impure spirit comes out of a person it might well come back and find the house unoccupied.  “Then it goes and takes with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there.  And the final condition of that person is worse than the first” (Matt. 12:43-45).  His point was that just the removal of what is wrong is not enough.  It must be replaced with something right.  In this case, he was challenging his hearers to believe that he is the promised Messiah who offers the only hope of being right with God.

America’s founders led a revolution based on freedom, however imperfectly. But the trajectory they set became opportunity for all to gain freedom, including the right of assembly, protest, and speech.  Do those who seem to want a modern revolution realize that they are railing against the very culture that grants their freedom to speak against its flaws?  Will they open the doors to a final condition far worse than the first?

Os Guinness gives this much thought in his book, A Free People’s Suicide.  He writes, “In pulling down what are seen as the oppressive structures and practices of the old regime, successful revolutions inevitably create a vacuum into which can flow a hundred forces lethal to the ideals for which the revolution was fought.  The French, Russian and Chinese revolutions are cautionary examples of this truth.  Far from ordering freedom, they spiraled down to demonic disorder and tyranny, often far worse than any evil they replaced.”

I hope my fellow citizens consider carefully where we go from here.  Change may well be needed, but make sure change is for the better.  Heed the call of Jesus, “If the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36).  Then call for cultural change in a way that uplifts all.  Your life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness are at stake.

Oh, and by the way.  Happy Birthday, America.  Enjoy your freedom.

The Love Motivation

If you have yet to believe God exists or the Christian gospel is true, I want to reveal something to you.  When a Christian says or writes something that challenges you at the point of faith, it is an expression of love. You matter.

George W. Truett (1867-1944) learned early in life that love and truth are graceful companions.  He is a favorite son of Hayesville, North Carolina who became a Christian leader of renown and influence. He spent the first 22 years of his life there, before migrating to Texas and later becoming the pastor of First Baptist Dallas.  He was one of the most famous preachers of his era, introducing many around the world to the Savior.

At the age of 19, Truett professed faith in Jesus Christ during a revival meeting.  At the time, he was a schoolteacher at nearby Crooked Creek in Towns County, Georgia.  The next year, he founded Hiawassee Academy with the support of his McConnell cousins who lived nearby.

Truett loved his students, and that gave him the freedom to speak truth to them.  His biography tells the story of Jim, a crippled lad 16 years old.  Jim appeared at the school one day during chapel.  After the service he stayed behind. Truett asked, “My lad, what do you want?”

“I want to go to school!  I want to be somebody in the world.”  Because of Jim’s poverty, Truett gave him free tuition and books.

Truett later spoke with the boy in his office.  Jim explained that his father died in a mill accident, and his mother was struggling to support Jim and his two sisters.  Truett laid his hand on Jim’s head saying, “Jim, I believe in you thoroughly, and I want you to know that I love you.”

Startled, Jim said with a sob, “I didn’t know anybody loved me but my mother and sisters!”

One Friday evening as Truett led evening prayers for the boys, Jim stood up with his crutches.  Through laughter and tears he said, “Teacher, I have found the Savior!  That time you told me you loved me started me toward Him!”  It was the first soul Truett ever led to the Savior, and it was love and truth that won Jim over.

The message of truth must be motivated by love.  Ravi Zacharias said, “If truth is not undergirded by love, it makes the possessor of that truth obnoxious and the truth repulsive.”  Our example is Jesus.  When he proclaimed truth to people, “He felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and dispirited like sheep without a shepherd” (Matt. 9:36).  His gospel begins just so: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son” (John 3:16).  May that love motivate you to believe and share the truth.

 

Change of Heart

“Change is the only constant in life.” – Heraclitus (500 BC)

In a city near you, people have been using both peaceful and violent means to accelerate change.  The daily news compels you to form an opinion on the methods or the goal of that change.  Some plead for America to honor its original declaration that “all men are created equal.”  Others want balanced scales of justice.  Some want a new president or a new law.  Others want to redistribute wealth or property.  Some want reconciliation while others want reparations.  The reason for so many solutions is that we don’t agree on the problem.

Our most basic problem is a matter of the heart, and what we desire above all else.  Jesus said “Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness” (Matt. 6:33).  When you seek God’s rule over your heart, you’ll find that you also “love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt. 22:39).  Jesus loved and associated with people not like him, and they were changed.

Tom Tarrants tells the story of a heart change in his biography, Consumed by Hate, Redeemed by Love.  The subtitle is, “How a Violent Klansman Became a Champion of Racial Reconciliation.”  Tarrants honestly believed he was a Christian because of his early church experience in the South.  In high school in the 1960’s he became radicalized, believing his terroristic actions were necessary for God and country.

In 1968, law enforcement shot him several times as he attempted to set a bomb.  At the age of 21, he received a 35-year sentence for his crimes.  He escaped but was recaptured. He attempted suicide but failed.  So he began to read.  History and philosophy began his intellectual liberation.  His spiritual liberation came when he read, “What will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?” (Matt. 16:26).

He realized that he needed repentance, forgiveness, faith, and change.  In 1970, kneeling on the concrete cell floor he prayed, “Lord Jesus Christ, I have ruined my life and the lives of others and committed many sins.  Please forgive me, take over my life, and do whatever you want with me.”  He writes, “In that moment I felt as if a thousand pounds had been lifted off my shoulders.  Something deep within me had changed – new life had invaded my heart.  Jesus had heard my prayer and I was now somehow different than I had been.”

True Christianity brings change.  The last fifty years are evidence of Tarrants’ changed life.  He reconciled with people he had hated and hurt.  After prison, he became a minister, reconciling people to God and to one another.

It’s not just that America needs change; Americans do.  Jesus’ call to love your neighbor is a timeless reminder that change begins with the heart.  Are you ready for that change?

Otherness

Chuck Colson wrote, “If we fail to stand for Christ at that place where the world is denying His Lordship, we are missing the mark.” The death of George Floyd and the following violent events are such a denial. Christ is Lord over how we treat one another. You won’t hear that narrative in the “outrage” media.

To stand for Christ is to think, speak, and act as He does. When He walked this earth, Jesus befriended rich and poor, dejected and rejected, Samaritan and Syrophoenician, untouchables and unlovables, the hated and the unnoticed. The Christian gospel begins with love, Jesus said (John 3:16). Hate has no place in the life of a believer, either as an action or a reaction. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Let no man pull you so low as to hate him.”

A rejection of “otherness” is built in to human nature. We use race, culture, and language as sieves of acceptance. Yet God uses that very tendency to show Himself, by contrast, through the lives of his followers. “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). Life in Christ transcends “otherness” and is a powerful contrast to a disoriented, misguided world.

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn put his finger on the real issue. “The line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.” It’s about me. The good news is that Jesus is in the heart-changing business! William Wilberforce wrote, “Is it not the glory of Christianity to extinguish the malignant passions; to curb the violence, to control the appetites, and to smooth the asperities (abrasiveness) of man; to make us compassionate and kind, and forgiving one to another; to make us good husbands, good fathers, good friends; and to render us active and useful in the discharge of the relative social and civil duties?” True renewal in Christ Jesus is quite evident, especially to the “other.”

I am encouraged by the activities of the One Race movement, an organization based in Atlanta. They emphasize our commonalities, since God “made from one man every nation of mankind” (Acts 17:26). They promote The Atlanta Covenant which includes, “We believe that cultural reconciliation is inherent to the gospel of Jesus Christ and it is only through the gospel that reconciliation between cultures is possible. There is no power other than the power of the cross of Christ that is able to destroy historic cultural divisions and bring unity and peace.” Amen to that.

The Bible describes a heavenly scene. “A great multitude which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb” (Rev. 7:9). When you set aside “otherness” and stand for Christ, you will see a bit of heaven on earth.