Christian Courage

Christianity is for the courageous, even if you don’t live in North Korea. Fear, worry, and despair common to the human existence call for the courage that is coincident with faith.

Persecution is real in North Korea. I read about a woman exiled to a life of hard labor because she is a Christian. She escaped to China. She collected food, medicine, and Bibles, and stole her way back into North Korea to meet the needs of fellow believers. Christian courage is evident in Afghanistan, too. There, church leaders changed their national identity cards to show they are Christians. Now the Taliban is hunting them down.

In the Open Doors USA 2022 World Watch report, Afghanistan tops the list for persecution of Christians. But China’s communist party leads the way in using central control to punish Christians. They use facial recognition, internet monitoring, and artificial intelligence to surveil Christians and create social credit scores. Low scores mean limited travel, employment, and education opportunities. Yet the church in China grows. More Chinese are Christians today than are members of the communist party.

Canadian authorities arrested and charged Pastor Artur Pawlowsky with multiple crimes for conducting church services in defiance of COVID restrictions. Californian John MacArthur did the same but wasn’t arrested.  Agree or not with their defiance, what they did took the courage of conviction.

It takes courage and sacrifice to be like Christ, to express the new life He has granted to you. Perhaps this is why the Father allows danger and trials to exist in the world.  This is the proving ground of faith, the hardening of defenses against that adversary who “prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Pet. 5:8).

Courage energizes other qualities that characterize the Christian life. “Courage is not simply one of the virtues,” C.S. Lewis wrote, “but the form of every virtue at the testing point…at the point of highest reality.” Love, honesty, and humility shine the brightest, as does faith, when energized by courage. That’s because they are such a contrast to the hate, deceit, and pride around you. “Prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world” (Phil 2:15).

Regardless of who or what the opponent is, whether oppressive government, neighbor, co-worker, social media gadfly, or even your inner thoughts, God is not surprised and is equipping you for this moment. “Conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ…in no way alarmed by your opponents…For it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (Phil. 1:27,28, 2:13). Join the fellowship of believers worldwide who live unalarmed, and with courage.


The Storied Life

Hiroo Onoda was a WWII Japanese army intelligence officer assigned to a clandestine operation in the Philippines. After the war ended, he refused to surrender for 29 years.

Onoda lived in a hut in the mountains, carrying out guerrilla activities. After the war, authorities dropped multiple leaflets with military information and family letters urging him to surrender. It was all propaganda to Onoda. He lived in ignorance of the truth that the war had ended, which excluded him from a peaceful, civil life. After locating him in 1974, the Japanese government sent his former commanding officer to relieve him of duty. “Whatever happens,” he had promised Onoda, “we’ll come back for you.” When he finally did, it meant Onoda was at a crossroad. He surrendered his sword. The Philippines later pardoned Onoda for crimes against their people.

Life is a story, isn’t it? “Every man is hanging by a thread or clinging to a precipice,” G. K. Chesterton writes. “Existence is a story, which may end up in any way.” The rising action and uncertain information thicken the plot. The protagonist embraces the truth and resolves the conflict. The Japanese soldier might never end his war, but he did.

The Christian worldview sees a plot trajectory in all lives. In the rising action, the characters think they have sorted truth from propaganda. Yet, they live “in the futility of their mind, being darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God” (Eph. 4:17-18). But the truth leaflets keep dropping and finally someone comes and asks for their swords.

At that moment, the action stops. “All Christianity concentrates on the man at the crossroads,” Chesterton writes. Will he see that the “truth is in Jesus” (Eph. 4:21)? The Lord Himself has come for him. “Yes, I surrender my sword!” he cries. By faith he accepts the truth and is included in the life of God. He is pardoned for his sin and prior disbelief.

How thrilling to see yourself in that story! It means “you lay aside the old self” and are “renewed in the spirit of your mind and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth” (Eph. 4:22-24). That renewal provides you the clarity to resist the propaganda of a culture that is untethered from reality and ultimate truth. You live a righteous and holy life because that’s your new identity.

The life of faith is the denouement of the story, the new normal. It is the beginning of an amazing grace story, a story of love, peace, and purpose despite the daily reminders of your former clandestine life. You have a new story because something happened at that crossroads. You surrendered to the Truth. His name is Jesus.

Faults and Forgiveness

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards recently pardoned Homer Plessy. Plessy has been dead since 1925.  What’s this all about?

In the post-Civil War era, Plessy committed civil disobedience by violating a state law that required the separation of races in railroad cars. He appealed his case to the U.S. Supreme Court.  In the Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) decision, the Court created the “separate but equal” doctrine. The lone dissent was Justice Harlan who wrote, “Our Constitution is color-blind and neither knows nor tolerates classes among citizens.”

In the Brown v. Board of Education (1954) ruling, the Court began to fix its faulty reading of the U.S. Constitution. The Civil Rights Act (1964) further clarified constitutional freedoms. That history ultimately led to the descendants of Plessy and Harlan gathering with Gov. Edwards for a moment of repentance, forgiveness, and healing.

Another governor, George Wallace, stood in the way of freedom until an assassin’s bullet paralyzed him. In 1979, he wheeled his chair into Martin Luther King, Jr.’s former church in Montgomery and admitted his faults. He said to them, “I can understand something of the pain black people have come to endure. I know I contributed to that pain, and I can only ask your forgiveness.” They did. As MLK said years earlier, “Forgiveness does not mean ignoring what has been done…It means, rather, that the evil act no longer remains as a barrier to the relationship.”

It takes courage to admit fault; it takes sacrifice to grant forgiveness. Courage, because humility is hard.  Sacrifice, because you give up your right to retaliation.  Repentance and forgiveness are part and parcel of the Christian experience because they express love for God and for one another.

Jesus told a story about a man who owed a great debt to the king. To settle the debt, the king planned to sell the man and his family as slaves. The man pled for leniency. The king felt compassion and forgave the entire debt. But the man went straight out and used harsh tactics to collect a small debt someone owed him. The king summoned the man and said, “Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow slave, in the same way that I had mercy on you?” (Matt. 18:21ff).

“To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable,” wrote C.S. Lewis, “because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.” When you grasp how much you have been forgiven, you will be a forgiver. The Bible says, “Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you” (Eph. 4:32).

The U.S. Supreme Court has more work to do in fixing its faults from the past. But whether it does or not, you have your own work to do.  Be a forgiver, as you have been forgiven.

Religion or Relationship

I attended a conference where some highly respected people discussed and answered questions on a serious topic.  Comedian Jeff Foxworthy was the moderator for the evening.

Foxworthy was so serious as he introduced the men sitting beside him as academics, intellectuals, and philosophers. Then he said, “Now let me explain what’s happening here by borrowing from Sesame Street.” Pause. “Remember that little song, ‘One of These Things Is Not Like the Others’?”

That moment of self-deprecating humor opened the way for a lively discussion on reasons faith in Christ Jesus is rational and how the Biblical worldview uniquely aligns with how we experience the world. They (including Foxworthy) discussed meaning, suffering, and hope.

The Christian faith is “not like the others.” I would summarize it like this: it is about relationship, not religion. For that formula to work, let me define religion as a moral framework for humans to overcome our flaws and a system to reach or satisfy a deity if it exists. Christianity explains that on our own, humans could never overcome our flaws and attain favor with God. Instead, God reaches for us and provides a relationship that mends the fallen human condition.

When God the Son became flesh and dwelt among us He brought relationship. “Our Father,” he taught us to pray. He referred to His followers as family (Luke 8:21). Friendship motivated His mission on earth. He said, “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).

For years, Foxworthy has led a Bible study for homeless people at The Atlanta Mission. The fact that he shows up when he could be elsewhere teaches its own lesson. It models how Jesus humbled himself and entered into human suffering so that he might offer you the gift of God, eternal life. It’s the gift of presence.

Jesus lay down his life so you can have an eternal relationship with the Father and live a transformed life by the Spirit’s presence within you. By faith you are a child of God (1 Jn. 3:1).

Disruptive Faith

The word “disruptive” comes to mind when I learn of someone who does not go along with the crowd. They stand out because they’re different, hopefully in a good way.

I recently became aware of a University of Georgia professor, Henry Schaefer. He is the Graham Perdue Professor of Chemistry and Director of the Center for Computational Chemistry. He’s a graduate of MIT and Stanford, and is a pioneer in his field. He’s also disruptive.

As an eager young professor in 1978, his research demonstrated that a Nobel Prize-winning chemist was wrong. He has since published over one thousand scientific research papers.  In 2004, scientists convened for a week-long conference in Korea to review and celebrate his work. He has directed over 100 doctoral students who are now professors all over the world. He is disruptive because his use of computers in chemistry caused scientists to think and research differently.

Dr. Schaefer is disruptive in another way. Many of his colleagues in the lofty airs of the academic community are proponents of scientific materialism (physical matter is all there is) and evolution (random mutations and natural selection explain life). He disagrees. In fact, he is an outspoken Christian. “There is no plausible scientific mechanism for the origin of life, i.e., the appearance of the first self-replicating biochemical system,” he says. “The staggeringly high information content of the simplest living thing is not readily explained by evolutionists.”

Dr. Schaefer speaks around the world and explains his greatest discovery. “In 1973, I discovered the Jesus Christ of history, the Jesus whose life is described on the pages of the New Testament.” He says, “I discovered that the resurrection of Jesus is not only historically true, but that it’s one of the best-attested facts in all of ancient history.” In 2003, he published his talks in a book, Science and Christianity: Conflict or Coherence?

Are science and faith in conflict? That’s certainly what some would have you think. It matters because humans are born with ultimate questions of origin, meaning, morality, and destiny. To trust only science for answers is to make it something like a religion. The irony here is that modern science developed because early scientists assumed an intelligent creator. Now we know the universe had a beginning, is fine-tuned for life, and contains genetic information to make life possible – all evidence for a creator who is not part of the material world.

That leads to the Jesus Dr. Schaefer discovered. “By Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible…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). You have reasons to believe that, even if it’s disruptive.