True Conversion

J.C. Watts found success as a college and pro football quarterback, and in politics as a U.S. Representative from Oklahoma.  In between those seasons of his life, he made a startling discovery about himself.

Watts left pro football to become a youth minister.  It was a return to his roots, being raised in church by Christian parents.  That return led to his discovery.  He said, “Like so many, I had put my faith in church work.  I could check a lot of boxes.  A guy came to our church and challenged us to think what we had put our faith in.  I called my pastor that night and said, ‘I think I have this all mixed up.’  I prayed for salvation and was baptized.”  He placed his faith in Christ and experienced a true conversion.

Jesus told a story (Luke 18) about “people who trusted in themselves that they were righteous” but were sadly mistaken.  One man prayed, “God, I thank you that I am not like other people (sinners)…I fast twice a week; I pay tithes.”  The other man prayed, “God be merciful to me, the sinner!”  The former was like the old Watts, checking all the religious boxes.  The latter recognized his soul’s great need, and God’s great mercy.

A true conversion to Christ is quite different than beginning religious activities.  It is entirely possible to be the best church member or a sincere minister (like Watts) and miss the point.  C. S. Lewis addressed that reality in an article he published just before Christmas 1959 in the Saturday Evening Post.  He imagined a demon talking to other demons.  “All said and done, my friends, it will be an ill day for us if what most humans mean by ‘religion’ ever vanishes from the Earth.  The fine flower of unholiness can grow only in the close neighborhood of the Holy.  Nowhere do we tempt so successfully as on the very steps of the altar.”

It’s shocking to think that people could have just enough religion to inoculate them from the real thing.  A true Christian conversion has much to do with who you are, who Jesus is, and what He did.  “All have sinned,” the Apostle Paul warns.  Jesus is God the Son who came to rescue you from your sins by giving His life as a ransom.  That transaction is yours when you answer His call to repent and believe.  Paul described his conversion saying, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me, and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God” (Gal. 2:20).

If you discover you have never been beyond religion or the steps of the altar, go to Jesus for your own true conversion.  “Come to me,” He says.

Basket or Lampstand

People put their lamp on a high lampstand last month by gathering in Washington DC for “The Return.”  The purpose of the event was to call for individual soul-searching and pray for a return to God.

What a counter-cultural thing to do.  This cultural moment has no time for a God who interferes with our personal preferences or the majority rule of America’s democracy.  We live in an age in which a federal judge who has impeccable credentials in academia and on the bench is called a “(unprintable) nut,” according to a late-night TV personality.  Why?  Because the judge’s life and practice are informed by her faith in God.  No matter that most of the Supreme Court justices claim the same faith.  The problem is that “the dogma lives loudly within you,” a criticism leveled by a U.S. Senator.  Apparently, faith is OK as long as it dies quietly under a basket.

The dogma does live loudly in believers, informing our treatment of people and our conduct at work.  “Do your work heartily, as for the Lord” (Col. 3:23). This has particular meaning for a judge who must be about justice, mercy, and equity, values near to the heart of God.  That used to be OK.  America was once united around the ideas of liberty, virtue, and faith.  Even our non-believing founding fathers understood that the Judeo-Christian ethic was a central organizing principle.  Without a common understanding of virtue, liberty is not sustainable.

Look, this is not about the politics of the moment.  My point is to encourage believers to live with courage and with the light of Christ.  He said, “Nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand” (Matt. 5:15).  America has historically been welcoming to people of all faiths or no faith, so live as though that’s still true.  As we live the ethics of Christ Jesus, loving our neighbor, providing for the infirm and needy, working for the public good, then God is glorified and our nation blessed.  We want our non-believing neighbors to know that we want God’s best for them in a nation “under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

That doesn’t mean you won’t endure insults on behalf of Christ.  “But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed. And do not fear their intimidation, and do not be troubled, but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence; and keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ will be put to shame” (1 Pet. 3:14-16).

So get rid of the basket.  Use the lampstand.