Unlikely Converts

 A person does not become a Christian in a usual place, service, or prayer. There is no typical convert. In fact, if you get a group of believers together to tell their stories, all would be different and some would seem unlikely. 


Ana Marie Cox

 John Stonestreet (Colson Center for Christian Worldview) was on the radio a while back discussing Ana Marie Cox, a writer, editor, and political pundit. She describes herself as “progressive, feminist, tattooed,” not exactly convert material. Yet she recently ‘came out’ as a Christian in a Daily Beast article. On Morning Joe she explained, “I have grace offered to me no matter who I am or what I’ve done. No matter if I’m liberal or conservative or I’ve bone bad things in the past. It’s not that I think you should believe like I do. I have found something incredibly precious, and it’s too precious not to share with others.” 


Dr. Rosaria Butterfield

 Dr. Rosaria Butterfield, a tenured university professor, was clearly on the far left and quite anti-Christian. After she bashed Promise Keepers in an article, a pastor approached her, encouraging her to look deeper. It was his persistent, engaging way that led her to the Bible. Her friends noticed a change as she considered the words of Jesus. “I fought with everything I had. I did not want this. I did not ask for this,” she admitted. Then one ordinary day, she believed. “The voice of God sang a sanguine love song in the rubble of my world.” Now she has a husband, a Christian pastor, and she’s living a redeemed life. 


Kirsten Powers

 Kirsten Powers is sometimes on a ‘fair and balanced’ cable news channel. Earlier in her life she wavered between atheism and agnosticism. Though stridently irreligious, she broke her personal rule not to date a religious guy, and began attending church with him. She began to think that the evidence favored Christianity. Then she had a memorable dream about Jesus that compelled her to join a home Bible study looking for answers. She became convinced. “Of all people surprised that I became an evangelical Christian, I’m the most surprised. The Hound of Heaven had pursued me and caught me – whether I like it or not,” she confessed. 

 C.S. Lewis tried to remain atheist but, “I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England.” Saul was a persecutor of the early church who was changed by Jesus on that Damascus Road. And the list of seemingly improbable converts goes on. 

 But are these really unlikely conversions? Don’t underestimate the power of truth! Jesus didn’t come to make bad people good or good people better; he came to give life, something everyone needs. In that sense, we all start from the same place, so if anyone is an unlikely convert, we all are. 

Enduring Faith

I first noticed his British accent. Later I learned that what he had to say was even more impressive than the way he said it. I was at a conference a few months ago, and sat down to enjoy breakfast with my fellow attendees. It was providential that I sat next to Rob Gifford, the China Editor for the Economist magazine.China

 He is certainly credentialed for the job: Harvard-educated, fluent in Mandarin, well traveled as documented in his book “China Road.” Our conversation quickly turned from polite aquainting to my persistent questioning. He recently completed an article, “Cracks in the Atheist Edifice,” and I was anxious to hear the details.

 He spoke of a city, amazingly nick-named ‘China’s Jerusalem’ due to its population of Christians. Many churches there that do not meet in homes have had their buildings demolished recently. This sad destruction notwithstanding, the communists are gradually allowing more religious freedom in China. Some members of the ruling party are now Christians, and many believers are emerging from the shadows to active roles in the community. Many demographic experts agree that there are now more Christians than communist party members.

 China has a long history of Christian missionary work. Robert Morrison translated the Bible to Mandarin by 1819. Coming later were Hudson Taylor, Lottie Moon, Eric Liddell, Bill Wallace, and Bertha Smith. Many missionaries to China, including some of these, were ignored, arrested, imprisoned, tortured, and murdered without seeing much fruit from their labor. If they could only witness the growing tribe of Christ-followers in China today!

 They knew our God is not restrained by time. We tend to look for results now if we sacrifice or serve, but sometimes the check is cashed after we are gone. Endurance is a trait of the faithful, regardless of results seen in this life. We cannot faint from past failures nor rest on past successes.

 Where does this endurance for faith and life come from? It comes as believers from Georgia and England share news of the faithful in China. It comes from an awareness of those who have gone before and who finished well. We are a community that spans time and geography, bound by our common heavenward gaze upon the One who authored our faith.

 “Since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus…” (Heb 12:1-2).

 It is a difficult world we live in, but we are not without hope. We know Who to trust, and how to have an enduring faith.

Not Welcome Here

After spending American treasure and blood to root out terrorists and improve security in Iraq, life has become much more difficult for some Iraqis. In fact, it’s shocking to realize that Christians in Iraq were more secure under Saddam than now. After murders of Christians by church bombings, beheadings, and crucifixions, the Christian population in Iraq is reduced from 1.5 million to 0.5 million. Similarly, the so-called Arab Spring in Egypt and Libya, encouraged by the American government, unleashed the burning, bombing, pillaging fury of the Islamists against Christians. The expansion of Islam by the sword is not unfamiliar to history, and continues also in Syria, Nigeria, Ivory Coast, and Bosnia to name a few. The trend is clear: Christians aren’t welcome where Muslims are in power.

Lest you take too much satisfaction in our American freedoms, the same sentiment is picking up steam here as well. Don’t believe it? Consider that New York Governor Cuomo said, after lambasting the morals held by evangelical Christians and Catholics, that these kinds of people “have no place in the state of New York.” A wedding cake business in Oregon, owned by Christians who believe in the sanctity of Biblical marriage, were told by a judge they have to provide their services for a gay couple. It seems that if their private beliefs affect their public actions, they no longer have religious freedom. Christians with traditional beliefs about marriage are not welcome in Oregon. New York and Oregon are considered “blue states.” These are but two examples from this month’s headlines, but it is not hard to find that similar stories have increased in number in the last few years. The trend is alarming: Christians aren’t welcome in America’s states or courts where liberal Democrats are in power.

Throughout history, Christians start hospitals and schools, help the poor, and generally work for better communities to live in. Why drive us out?

In Islamic nations, the reason is clearly intolerance for Christians and our Savior. Some of that may be true in America as well, i.e. God has made some exclusive truth claims in the Bible, which rankles the post-modern, all-truths-are-equally-valid illogic. Our gospel holds that everyone is broken and needs fixing (lost and need a Savior), contradicting the popular notion that people are basically good, and must improve with self-help since there’s no One out there.

Christians hold to a set of values, like sex is designed for heterosexual marriage, babies in the womb are innocent persons made in the image of God, healthy people should be encouraged to work, and the environment is for stewardship, not worship. How hypocritical we are if values like those are just discussed in our homes and houses of worship, and not lived and promoted? Therein is the rub against popular culture, which may be the main reason for the accelerating Christian pogram. Christians dare live and express values that are politically incorrect and counter cultural.

The Apostle Paul called the cross an “offense” or “stumbling block” (Gal 5:11). For the message of Christ to be effective, a person must know he is in need, even if that means being offended. And that message of offense is often transferred to the message-bearer, regardless of whether the message is conveyed by action or word. Jesus saw that coming. “If they persecuted me, they will persecute you,” he warned. How are we to respond? Well, the One we follow says, “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

We are “Citizens of heaven,” but hoping to bring heaven to earth. “Live life God’s way,” is our call to our culture, “and there will be more love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control.” Faith in Christ Jesus is life transforming, not just a religious activity inside a building on Sunday. It takes courage to be salt and light in a tasteless and dark world, especially when that makes us not welcome here.