Wednesday, July 15, 2015

culture shifts - one american christian's thoughts

two different themes have been heavy on my heart lately and i'm unable to shake it.  i can't just move on.  do you ever feel busy or consumed, just because you can't stop thinking about something?  like your heart and mind can't seem to find rest?

that's where i've been for a while, and i'm trying to put it into words.  my wife and kids have been getting the brunt of it lately :) so i'm attempting to put it on paper.  not because i think my perspective is valuable or needs to be heard.  but this is my journal.  it helps me unwind when i write down my thoughts.

the first theme relates to the persecution of christians around the world.  those who have the courage to take the gospel to places where either Jesus is unknown, or where following Him is punishable by prison or death.  it is projected that only 10% of christian missionaries who are sent out actually go to these places.  like me, most are in places (albeit dangerous) where christianity is openly accepted. 

the other theme that i've been wrestling with is the dramatic culture shift - away from the christian faith - in the U.S.  now i have never been one to buy into the "america is god's country" talk, mostly because i think our rich/comfortable/soft version of christianity displeases Him.  that being said, i've always been thankful for the religious freedom we have in america, and of the general appreciation of the bible and christian heritage.

but things are changing - and fast.  acceptance and celebration of "all things" is at an all-time high.  there are seemingly no more rules, as if the character of God has suddenly changed.  as if the bible no longer perfectly balances grace and truth.  as if true love never says "no", has no discipline, no boundaries, and simply permits anything that feels right.

the culture of today simply says "follow your heart".  yet Jesus said, "for out of the heart comes evil thoughts; murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, and slander."  or as the great prophet jeremiah put it, "the heart is the most deceitful of all things..."

meanwhile, american christians are softer than ever.  many are embracing and celebrating the new direction, just falling right into its tempting lure.  others, are cowardly avoiding it altogether.  which leads me to the connection between my two themes...

while our christian brothers and sisters around the world face the persecution of prison and death as they stand up for Jesus, many western christians are cowering due to fear of the persecution of being made fun of, or ejected.

did you catch that?  death versus picked on?

christian brothers and sisters around the world are being beaten, imprisoned, and killed for their bold proclamations for Jesus Christ.  meanwhile, we carefully toe-the-line because its simply "unpopular to go there"?  its unacceptable - and should anger us as christians.

consider a few recent headlines (only a few of literally hundreds):

*a 15 year old in oregon can now have a sex change without their parents permission - and have it paid for by the state of oregon.

*two men were arrested in california for reading their bibles on government property.  they were sitting on the curb, outside of a DMV building.

*bruce jennner, who won a gold medal in the 1976 olympics, will win the courage award at the espy's tonight because he had his male parts removed and replaced with female parts.  (meanwhile, the list of courageous nominees includes lauryn hill, a college basketball player who died of brain cancer after raising 1.5 million for cancer research...  and noah galloway, an army veteran who lost an arm and a leg in iraq, and still competes athletically at a high level.)

(note: i'm sensitive to anyone who struggles with their identity.  stories like jenner's are extremely sad.  but my christian faith says that we are the ones that need help, not God.  in other words, He didn't make a mistake when creating us.  and we certainly don't need to fix his mistakes in order to find happiness.  it is us who have made mistakes along the way - we've listened to the wrong people, fallen into convincing influences, etc.  we've been deceived.  and the answer is rarely "do what makes you feel better".  the answer is always found in the liberating person of Jesus.)

but on a more obvious note - most 15 year olds can't make a responsible decision about what to eat, much less head out the door to have a sex change!  yet that kid is now being encouraged by the general population, with its celebration of the courage of bruce/caitlyn jenner.

as christians, our silence on these topics is as equally detrimental as the loudmouth christian who responds like an insensitive idiot.  don't let his mistake cause you to be silent.  silence can be the loudest expression of what we do or don't believe.  an unwillingness to talk about our faith, fearing the resistance that may follow, is a shallow witnesses and trivializes the profound price that Jesus paid for us.

i was impacted greatly by something i read recently.  while an american missionary worker was visiting an underground christian church in china, a local pastor there told him:  "don't you dare give up in freedom what we would never give up in persecution... that is, the witness of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ."

the author says it was the one most powerful thing that anyone has ever said to him.

for me, at this point in our history, that means this:  as our country changes, it is the responsibility of Christ followers to stand up and testify to what Jesus taught.  not in a loud, obnoxious, mean way.  but in a clear, obedient, honest, and loving way.  we must remember that since the death and resurrection of Jesus, millions of people have been persecuted, imprisoned and killed for following Him.  the least we can do in our free country, is defend His teachings at the risk of being made fun of.

in other words, we must defend in freedom, what our family-in-Christ defends every day under persecution!

for american christians, we should embrace the changing times as an opportunity.  finally, we can, at least in a minimal way, join our brothers and sisters who suffer around the world!  use tonight's espys broadcast as an opportunity to start a conversation!  a conversation where you can lovingly share about the nature of God, the truth of scripture, and our responsibility to defend it.  

welcome the backlash.  let them mock you... let them pick on you... let them make fun of your beliefs... let them lie about you and label you as a hater.  read 1 peter 3:16.  God has proven throughout history, that when people are willing to suffer for Christ's sake, great revivals of faith take place!  the explosion of house churches in countries of persecution display this truth.  it is a fact:  where christians defend the faith in persecution, the church of Jesus Christ has the most success.

how beautiful would it be if the sudden attack on christianity in the U.S. ignited true followers of Jesus to awaken from their slumber?  what if the attacks against our faith is exactly what we need in order to be resuscitated from our spiritual deadness?

christians in america love to talk about grace.  and its is true, that by His grace we are saved.  but we must not let the amazing grace offered to us make us lethargic.  the availability of His grace doesn't excuse us to become lazy with our sin.  while His grace sets us free, let us not forget that he is a King of Justice who will return as promised:  "I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay each one for what he has done."  (rev 22)

i don't know about you, but want to live for that day.  if persecution follows my beliefs, my words, and my lifestyle, so be it.  i am a follower of Jesus.  i believe every word of the bible.  i believe it must be studied and understood in order to see past the flippant claims against it.  i lean liberal when it comes to caring for the poor, and conservative when it comes to the protection of unborn life.  i believe God designed sex and marriage to be between a man and woman.  not only does the bible cover that thoroughly, but it also makes biological sense to me.  i believe in the saving grace of Jesus through His blood shed on the cross, and that is available to ALL, no matter what we've done.  and i believe in a God whose love is perfect.  like a perfect parent who uses combinations of rules and freedom, forgiveness and punishment, kindness and sternness, grace and truth.

i am ashamed of how many western christians have managed the cultural issues above, therefore damaging the definition of "christian" and leading millions to misunderstand Jesus.  and while that is unfortunate, it cannot lead us to water-down a gospel message that is no doubt quite offensive.  we are called to be loving and sensitive as we navigate these times, but we must never turn our back on the Author and Finisher of our faith.

it is true that love wins!  but remember... when Love (1 john 4:8) returns to put an end to His story, Love will arrive pissed off - with a sword to strike down the nations (rev 19:15).  Love...  is returning not only to rescue, but to judge.

the day He comes back as Rescuer and Judge, i'm sure i will feel scared and worthless before him!  but man...  how i want to be able to look my King in the eyes on that day, despite my multitude of sins, confident that i stood for His word, and didn't get swept up in the cultural shifts and changing philosophies that the world threw my way.

thank you Jesus for allowing us the privilege to follow you, share your teachings, and defend your truths!  we pray for our brothers and sisters in REAL persecution around the world.  let us join them in their sufferings - literally and in spirit.  may we commit to not give up in freedom what they do not give up in persecution.  help our kids grow up even stronger in the faith, as their world will be increasingly more difficult.  give us the strength to stay strong in this fight as we anticipate the return of our Rescuer and Judge.

indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted (2 tim 3:12)
don't let anyone capture you with empty philosophies and high sounding nonsense that come from human thinking and from the powers of this world, rather than from Christ.  (col 2:7-8)

...guard what has been entrusted to you.  avoid the pointless discussions and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge.  although some claim to have it, they have abandoned the faith. (1 tim 6:20-21)

but even if you should suffer for righteousness' sake, you will be blessed.  have no fear of them, nor be troubled.  (1 peter 3:14)

do not be surprised when the world hates you (1 john 3:13)

have a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.  (1 peter 3:16)

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