Is Peace with the World a Reasonable Goal?
Prince of Peace

By now you may have heard about Christian celebrities who have either renounced their faith or are in the process of losing their faith.

The most recent celebrity to do so is Marty Sampson, a lyricist long associated with Hillsong and whose songs many of us have sung in our churches. Sampson wrote:

“I’m genuinely losing my faith, and it doesn’t bother me. Like, what bothers me now is nothing. I am so happy now, so at peace with the world. It’s crazy.”

He has since deleted the comment and qualified it by saying he was “struggling with many parts of the belief system that seem so incoherent with common human morality” and his faith is on “incredibly shaky ground.”

Struggling with doubts and questions is not unusual. Of course, few Christians have the kind of public platforms that people such as Marty Sampson and Josh Harris have.

But as Sampson tries to figure out how to get his spiritual life back on solid ground, it’s worth asking about his goal. Is his goal peace with the world, as he mentioned? Because if it is, then Christianity will never give him what he’s seeking, as these Bible verses attest:

  • Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”
    ~ Romans 12:2 ESV
  • “Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” ~ James 4:4 ESV
  •  “Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you.”
    ~ I John 3:13 ESV

With growing animosity, our culture has set itself against the God of the Bible. Yes, to the point of hatred, including hatred of those who identify as Christ-followers. Even so, Christians are not to respond with hate in return. We are to love our enemies (Matthew 5:44).

But loving our enemies is not the same as being at peace with the world. For the foundation of a Christian’s faith will always put us at odds with a world system that has declared itself too wise to need God and too independent to be accountable to Him. A world which, at best, mocks our faith and, at worst, kills Christians who profess to belief in the God who sent His Son to die for those who hate Him.

Is Sampson, along with others, willing to obtain peace with the world at the cost of compromising or renouncing his Christian beliefs? Does he understand it’s those beliefs that engendered the hostility to begin with?

What about you and me?

  • Is peace with the world worth losing peace with God (Romans 5:1)?
  • Is acceptance by our culture worth giving up the acceptance we have in Christ (Ephesians 1:6)?
  • And is the temporary approval of the world worth losing our eternal identity in Christ (Galatians 1:10)?

Peace—real peace—is found in a relationship with the Prince of Peace. A relationship with the world apart from Jesus Christ can only provide a poor imitation.

The Christian life is the sum of more than just singing emotional songs and quoting Bible verses. It includes a willingness to endure suffering and the loss of the approval of others. Jesus Christ showed us what that looks like:

“Looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2).

Easier said than done? Yes. But not impossible, by the grace of God and the power of the Holy Spirit. Still, the choice is ours to make.

What will you choose?


 
The Cross and the Supreme Court
Cross

Happy 243rd birthday, America. You’ve changed a lot in those 243 years. In some ways for the better. In other ways, not so much. But one of the most significant changes is in how the cross is perceived in our culture.

For centuries, the cross has been an undeniable symbol of Christianity. It represents the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ. People who identify as Christians erect crosses on church buildings and in cemeteries. They wear crosses around their neck as jewelry.

So it’s not surprising that those hostile to the cross of Jesus Christ want it removed from public places. What is surprising—and sad—is the rationale for the recent Supreme Court decision.  And many Christians are cheering the decision without realizing the danger of the underpinning argument.

The American Humanist Association (AHA) had asked the Supreme Court to require removal of a 40-foot tall, concrete cross in Bladensburg, Maryland. The cross was originally a private venture to honor local men who died in World War I. The AHA protested the cross’s presence because it is located by a public highway and maintained by a government agency.

The Supreme Court rejected the claim that this was an unconstitutional endorsement of religion. But here’s the kicker…the Court said this cross was essentially historic, not religious.

Justice Alito did say, “The cross is undoubtedly a Christian symbol, but that fact should not blind us to everything else that the Bladensburg cross has come to represent.” He added, “The image of a simple white cross developed into a cultural symbol of the conflict….The adoption of the cross as the Bladensburg memorial must be seen in that historical context.”

They permitted the cross to remain because it was cultural and historical rather than just religious. Let that sink in for a moment.

Judge Alito’s decision did note, “Its removal or radical alteration at this date would be seen by many not as a neutral act but as the manifestation of a hostility toward religion.”

Well, at least we have that. Please don’t misunderstand me. I’m thankful for the supportive Court decision. Yet I’m torn because of the apparently diluted meaning of the Cross of Christ.

Sadly, this is the culmination of decades of nominal Christians going through the motions of religious activity without any heart change. Wearing cross jewelry because it’s fashionable or socially acceptable, yet devoid of association with the substitutionary death of our Redeemer.

Today, many people identify as Christian by default. Because their parents are Christian. Or because they go to church twice a year, on Christmas and Easter. Or because they’re not Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu, or Muslim, yet they still have a general belief in God.

The power of God’s Word, His redeeming work through Jesus Christ, and His ongoing work in believers through the indwelling Holy Spirit all seem to get lost in the default choice. People check one box because the others don’t quite fit. It’s no wonder the meaning of the cross is leaning more and more toward a cultural and historical context than a religious one.

Am I glad the Bladensburg Cross is allowed to stand? Absolutely. But I’m also sad that it’s allowed to stand while being slowly and inexorably stripped of its essential meaning.

When you see or wear a cross, is your understanding of it filtered through a cultural perspective or a biblical one? If it’s just cultural, you’re missing out on both the central meaning of the cross and the Person it points to.

What does the cross mean to you?


 
Cathedrals, Temples, and the Dwelling Place of God

Our news feeds have been filled with horrific pictures of Notre Dame Cathedral being consumed by devastating flames. The videos remind me of a proverbial train wreck—it hurts to look but you can’t look away either.

The 850-year-old Cathedral is an iconic landmark that has been a must-see stop for every tourist in Paris. The French Gothic architecture, stained glass windows, and works of art are the focus of thirteen million visitors annually.

Even before the fire, I’ve been thinking about cathedrals and temples and the dwelling place of God. In my current Bible study we’ve been reading the account in First Kings of Solomon building the Temple—a dwelling place for the God of Israel.

For thousands of years, humanity has been constructing altars and buildings to worship God. Some are plain, others ornate. But as King Solomon said, “Will God really dwell on earth? The heavens, even the highest heaven, cannot contain you. How much less this temple I have built!” (I Kings 8:27 NIV).

And Acts 7:48-50 (NIV) notes Stephen’s words:

However, the Most High does not live in houses made by human hands. As the prophet says: “‘Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. What kind of house will you build for me? says the Lord. Or where will my resting place be? Has not my hand made all these things?’

Yet the Bible also tells us we—believers in Jesus Christ—are now the dwelling place of God’s Spirit. The same Spirit who raised Christ from the dead lives in us. Our body is His temple (I Corinthians 6:19).

The dwelling place of God is not a building made of wood and stone. Instead, His Spirit resides in His people. Buildings will come and go. Time wears them down and wears them out. Notre Dame Cathedral was in dire need of repair long before the fire. Authorities even speculate the fire may have started as a result of the renovation work.

But people are eternal. By faith in Christ, the Holy Spirit brings life that will last long after our mortal bodies are dust.

So what are we doing with this knowledge? Yes, we mourn the loss of temples and cathedrals, but not because they are the dwelling place of God. We mourn the loss of their manifestations of human beauty and artistry.

But we do it knowing the living God lives in us. We are His ambassadors with a message to the world of reconciliation to God in Christ.

Enjoy the beauty of manmade temples and cathedrals. But always remember, Christ-followers are the most beautiful temple of all.


 
Unplanned

I watch movies to be entertained. To smile and laugh and cheer at happy endings. I don’t watch movies to be disturbed…until now.

And I’m about to encourage you to watch a movie that will disturb you greatly.

Unless you’ve recently returned from a lengthy stay on an isolated desert island, by now you’ve heard of the movie, Unplanned. Reactions have generally been along expected lines. Most Christians support it and the secular culture abhors it.

Despite an initial limited run (1000 theaters nationwide), the movie came in at #4 in box office receipts for its opening weekend. That’s despite a virtual media blackout and proactive actions by social media gatekeepers to squelch any word of support. Twitter inactivated the official movie account. Television stations are refusing to sell advertising slots.

But the reaction that concerns me most is the one from pro-life Christians who say, “I’m already pro-life, so I don’t need to see it.” Or, “I won’t see the movie because the R rating proves it’s too upsetting.” Or, “I don’t get to the movies much. I’ll wait until the DVD is released.”

This is my response especially for Christians who don’t plan to see Unplanned.

Yes, this movie is rated R for several emotional scenes. But unlike the gore of fantasy movies, this is real. And I find it especially difficult to understand why a teen girl must be protected from seeing the reality of abortion via the R rating when they are legally able to have an abortion performed on them without their parents’ consent. Thousands upon thousands of young girls are marching blindly into Planned Parenthood to subject themselves to this very act of violence. They walk out more broken than they could ever imagine. Oh. My. Aching. Heart!

Let me get this straight: they can do it, but they shouldn’t see it?

This is, indeed, a disturbing movie. But that’s why every Christian needs to see it. Many will not, yet I believe that’s exactly what Satan wants: for us to stay sheltered in our protected Christian bubbles. He couldn’t stop the movie from being made, so he’ll do all he can to stop Christians from wanting to see it.

Too many Christians say they are pro-life, but the reality is many of us don’t really understand the horror of abortion. If we stay in our sheltered worlds, we won’t be as passionately heartbroken about the horror of abortion as we should be. And the enemy will continue winning the hearts and minds of this nation.

Unplanned depicts the level of lies and evil the enemy is wielding in our culture—the very thing Satan does not want us to know.

Sadly, many Christians will not see this movie because they don’t want to come face to face with just how horrible abortion is. Of course, we don’t want to know. Who in their right mind would ever want those images seared into their memory?

Still, how can we take an effective stand unless we know what we are really standing for?

If every Christian truly understood this, organizations and ministries such as Care Net and other crisis pregnancy centers would never lack for volunteers, financial support, and prayer warriors. Support they require to provide services to women and families who desperately need to know about available alternatives.

And these are not just women outside the church. According to a 2015 study, “more than four in 10 women who have had an abortion were churchgoers when they ended the pregnancy.”

Seeing Unplanned may not be a movie Christians want to see. But it is a movie we need to see. And it’s a movie pro-choice supporters need to see, as well. Do we all have the courage of our convictions to watch the unpleasant even when it makes us uncomfortable?

See Unplanned. Better yet, take as many people as possible with you. Do it for yourself. Do it for the girls and women who will have abortions without understanding the long-term consequences. Do it for the myriad unborn children awaiting an advocate who will speak up on their behalf.

Do it because it’s the right thing to do.


 
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