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Author: Tom Rose

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Finding Grace in a World Full of Ungrace – Part II

Friday, December 10, 2021

Finding Grace in a World Full of Ungrace – Part II

By Tom Rose

Author, Philip Yancey, describes a friend who was battling with his fifteen-year-old daughter.  He knew she was using birth control, and several nights she had not bothered to come home at all.  The parents had tried various forms of punishment, to no avail.  The daughter lied to them, deceived them, and found a way to turn the tables on them saying, “It’s your fault for being so strict!”

Yancey recalls his friend telling him, “I remember standing before the plate-glass window in my living room, staring out into the darkness, waiting for her to come home.  I felt such rage, I wanted to be like the father of the Prodigal Son, yet I was furious with my daughter for the way she would manipulate her mother and me and twist the knife to hurt us.  And, of course, she was hurting herself more than anyone.  I understood the passages in the prophets expressing God’s anger.  The people knew how to wound Him, and God cried out in pain.”

“And yet I must tell you,” said my friend, “When my daughter came home that night, or rather the next morning, I wanted nothing in the world so much as to take her in my arms, to love her, and to tell her I wanted the best for her.  I was a helpless, lovesick father.”

When I think about God, I hold up that image of the lovesick father, which is miles away from the stern monarch I used to envision.  I think of my friend standing in front of the plate-glass window gazing achingly into the darkness.  I think of Jesus’ depiction of the Waiting Father of the Prodigal, heartsick, abused, yet wanting above all else to forgive, to begin anew, and to announce with joy, “This my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.”

Compassionate forgiveness is at the heart of extending grace.  C. S. Lewis exclaimed, “Everyone says forgiveness is a lovely idea, until they have something to forgive.”  Indeed, ‘forgive and forget’ are easy words to say, but can be difficult to do!  Yet, if we fail to do so, bitterness, rather than the Lord, will rule our hearts.  For a moment, let us look at what it means to forgive.  Forgiveness is not ignoring those who wrong us, ignoring the sin, nor putting the offender on probation – promising to “forget” if no other offenses occur.  Rather, genuine forgiveness means halting the cycle of blame and pain; breaking the cycle of ungrace. 

What blocks forgiveness; it’s not God’s reticence – but ours.  It may be our attitude toward the offender always wanting to put “conditions” on our efforts such as: 1) I am unable to forgive you – at this time; 2) I’m going to forgive you, but in the future I’m not going to have anything to do with you; 3) I’ll do it, but consider it a favor from me to you; and 4) I’m going to forgive you, but I’ll never forget it!  However, none of these actions are supported by the scriptures.  Mt. 6:14-15 says, “For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.  But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”  On the other hand, it may be our attitude toward our own sins that contribute to our inability to accept forgiveness. Weighted down by repeated failures, lost hope, and a sense of unworthiness, we pull a shell around ourselves that makes us almost impervious to grace.  Like the friend’s  daughter’s refusal to listen to wide and loving admonitions of grace, so we stubbornly turn away as well.  And like a spiritual defect encoded in the family DNA, ungrace is easily passed on in an unbroken chain to others.

We as humans also struggle with two types of hoarding.  First, we are often unable to forgive ourselves as old memories clog our lives and Satan reminds us of our failures by bringing that junk that was once tossed to the curb back inside.  Secondly, we fail to forgive others as sometimes we feel we have a right to carry a grudge and thereby not only stack up our own junk, we haul in someone else’s too!  If the cycle of ungrace goes uninterrupted, in time it will lead to resentment – a word that literally conveys the idea of “to feel again.”  Resentment clings to the past, relives it over and over just as one would pick each fresh scab off a wound so that it never heals.

In our everyday interactions, ungrace behavior can cause cracks to fissure open between parents, parent and child, siblings, brethren, best friends, business partners, prisoners, tribes and races.  Left alone, cracks widen, and for the resulting chasms of ungrace there is only one remedy: the frail “rope-bridge” of forgiveness.  One can best understand forgiveness by observing what God does when He forgives us our sins.  He removes the notation from the record (Mica 7:18-19).  He forgets, putting it out of His memory (Heb 8:12).  He then treats us just like He did before we sinned, receiving us back wholeheartedly (Lk 15:20-24). 

In the final analysis, forgiveness is an act of faith.  By forgiving another, I am trusting that God is a better justice-maker than I am.  By forgiving, I release my own right to get even and leave all issues of fairness for God to work out.  I leave in God’s hands the scales that must balance justice and mercy.  And yet I never find forgiveness easy, and rarely do I find it completely satisfying.  Nagging injustices remain, and the wounds still cause pain.  I have to approach God again and again, yield to Him the residue of what I thought I had committed to Him long ago.  But I do so, because Jesus instructed us in His model prayer (Mt. 6:9-13) to say, “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.”  In 1984 Charles Williams has said of this prayer, “No word in the English language carries a greater possibility of terror than the little word as.”  Why?  Because Jesus plainly linked our forgiven-ness by the Father with our forgiving-ness of our fellow man.  In a world that runs by the laws of ungrace, Jesus requires – no demands – a response of forgiveness.  So urgent is the need for forgiveness, that it even takes precedence over “religious duties” (see Mt. 5:22-24). 

Thus, God granted us a terrible agency: by denying forgiveness to others, we are in effect determining them unworthy of God’s forgiveness, and thus so are we.  In some mysterious way, our own divine forgiveness depends on us.

But God took the initiative and shattered the inexorable law of sin and retribution by invading earth, absorbing the worst we had to offer, crucifixion, and then fashioning from that cruel deed the remedy for the human condition.  Calvary broke the logjam between justice and forgiveness.  By accepting onto His innocent Self all the severe demands of justice, Jesus broke forever the chain of ungrace.  And we as His children must do likewise.

Allow me to close with a true story of grace in action.  As 2013 came to a close, Malcolm Gladwell, a staff writer for the New Yorker and author of such bestsellers as The Tipping Point and Outliers, spoke publicly about his own rediscovery of faith.  He credits a visit with a Mennonite couple in Winnipeg, Canada, who lost their daughter to a sexual predator.  After the largest manhunt in the city’s history, police officers found the teenager’s body in a shed, frozen, her hand and feet bound.  At a news conference held at the family’s home just after her funeral, the father said, “We would like to know who the person or persons are so we could share, hopefully, a love that seems to be missing in these people’s lives.”  The mother added, “I can’t say at this point I forgive this person,” stressing the phrase at this point.  “We have all done something dreadful in our lives, or have felt the urge to.”

The response of this couple, so different from a normal response of rage and revenge, pulled Gladwell back toward his own Mennonite roots saying, “Something happened to me.  It is one thing to read in a history book about people empowered by their faith.  But it is quite another to meet an otherwise very ordinary person, in the backyard of a very ordinary house, who has managed to do something utterly extraordinary.  Their daughter was murdered.  And the first thing the Derksens did was to stand up at a press conference and talk about the path to forgiveness.”  He adds, “Maybe we have difficulty seeing the weapons of the Spirit because we don’t know where to look, or because we are distracted by the louder claims of material advantage.  But I’ve seen them now, and I will never be the same.”

 

For the above article, ideas and phrases were selected from: Grace, by Aaron Erhardt, Louisville, KY: Erhardt Publications, 2015; God’s Amazing Grace: The Sweetest Sound of All by Wilson Adams, Murfreesboro, TN: Courageous Living Books, 2015; What’s So Amazing About Grace” by Philip Yancey, Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1997; Vanishing Grace by Philip Yancey, Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2014.  

Finding Grace in a World Full of Ungrace – Part I

Thursday, December 02, 2021

Finding Grace in a World Full of Ungrace – Part I

By Tom Rose

 

[Note: The article that follows draws heavily from two books by Philip Yancey which are referenced at the end.  In an effort to help describe grace, this author uses a new word to contrast everything that is not grace, which he simply terms ungrace.]

We speak of grace often as if we fully understood it, but do we?  More importantly, do we believe in it and do our lives proclaim it?  Most of us have grown up with many values based on what sociologists call the “Protestant Ethic.”  It can be described in phrases like: pull yourself up by your own bootstraps; the early bird gets the worm; no pain, no gain; there’s no such thing as a free lunch; and stand up for yourself!  However, each of these are examples of “ungrace”.  Indeed, most institutions run on ungrace and their insistence that we earn our way.  Over time, we build up a resistance to grace – partly because it is unearned (and doesn’t seem fair) and partly because it is shockingly personal to the individual who receives it. 

Aware of our inbuilt confusion about grace as well as our difficultly to explain it, Jesus chose to teach about it frequently – most often in the form of parables.  The three stories in Luke 15 (about the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son) seem to make the same point.  Each underscores the loser’s sense of loss, tells the thrill of discovery, and ends with a scene of jubilation.  It is only when we pause and allow their meaning to filter through our minds that we are confronted with their astonishing message and begin to realize how thickly our veil of ungrace obscures our view of God.

For example, can you image a housewife jumping up and down in glee over the discovery of a lost coin (Lk 15:8-10).  Now that image is not exactly what comes to one’s mind when we think of God.  Yet that is exactly the picture Jesus insisted upon.  In effect He is asking us, “Do you want to know what it feels like to be God?  Well, when one of my creatures pays attention to Me, it feels like I just reclaimed my most valuable possession, which I had given up for lost.”  The message is clear: God will go to any length to bring us home.  How far will He go?  All the way to Calvary.  God gave us His Son as proof that He has not given up on us.  That’s grace!

Grace is unmerited, undeserved, unconditional love of God toward man.  Grace is what every sinner needs, but none deserve (see Rom 5:8).  Unconditional love is a difficult concept to grasp.  By grace, God did for us what we could not do for ourselves.  Truly, God’s goodness toward us was not based on any thing we had done – or would do in the future.  He acted freely and without expectation of receiving anything of equitable value in return.  It was unearned kindness.  Indeed, grace is the essence of the gospel as it puts the “good” in the Good News.  It provides healing to those who hurt, help to those who struggle, and hope to those who despair.

Here is an important concept, though: while salvation is by the “riches of His grace” (see Eph 1:7), it is not by grace alone.  Paul, in Eph 2:8 says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God.”  The giver and gift are so involved that the gift cannot be handed over unless the recipient is involved.  Grace is God’s part; faith is man’s part.

Read the The Parable of the Vineyard (Mt. 20:1-16), then pause to notice the role of each character.  God is the master of the house, Christ is the foreman, the laborers are the disciples, the vineyard is the church, and a denarius was the ordinary pay for a day laborer.  Whereas the first group of workers agreed to a set wage, the others merely trusted the master to give them “whatever is right” (see v. 4).  Now at the close of day, the early hires were dirt covered, sweat drenched, energy depleted, hands throbbing, back aching, and denarius deserving – everything the latecomers were not!  The foreman was told by the master to pay the wages beginning with those hired last.  As each worker stood before the foreman they each were given a denarius – regardless of the time they started work.  Predictably, the story has those who get more than they deserve, those who think they deserve more than they get, and a jealous reaction arises.  However, no one received less than he initially expected, and some received more.  The master had not made the early hires equal to the latecomers; rather he made the latecomers equal to the early hires.

Many Christians who study this parable identify with the employees who put in a full day’s work, rather than the add-ons at the end of the day.  We like to think of ourselves as responsible workers, and the employer’s strange behavior baffles us.  However, unless we step outside the world of ungrace we risk missing the story’s point.  God dispenses gifts, not wages.  None of us gets paid according to merit, for none of us comes close to satisfying God’s requirements for a perfect life.  If paid on the basis of fairness, we would all end up in hell!  Grace cannot be reduced to generally accepted accounting principles.  In the bottom-line reality of ungrace, some workers deserve more than others; in the realm of grace the word deserve does not even apply.

Jesus did not want His followers to be haughty, nor did He want them to have an employee mentality.  It is not so much for so much.  Rather, they should focus on work, not wages; service, not seniority; production, not position; trusting in God’s goodness at the end of the day and not comparing themselves to other workers.  From our Protestant Ethic background, we reach a troublesome dilemma as few things seem more unequal than the equal treatment of unequals!  But this is the ‘New Math’ of grace. The master did not give the latecomers what they deserved; he gave them what they needed.  It was not based on merit, but mercy.  Moreover, if we care to listen, there is a loud whisper from the gospel that we, as believers, did not get what we deserved.  For each of us as His children deserved punishment and got forgiveness.  We deserved wrath and got love.  We deserved a debtor’s prison and got instead a clean credit history.  We deserved stern lectures and crawl-on-your-knees repentance, but He left our world to return to His and set the table of grace, beckoning us to come to His banquet feast.

It should be noted, however, there is one aspect of the Protestant Ethic that is affirmed by the scriptures.  Phil. 2:12-13 admonishes us to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling…for it is God who is at work in you.  No one is too bad to be saved, but some are “too good” to be saved because they have a self-righteous attitude.  They tend to look down on others, think too highly of themselves, and feel that God owes them something.  Then there are others who are unwilling to make the effort to change their lives and to put in the work to grow in Christ.  Nevertheless, God will always do His part to make you into the person He wants you to be, if you will work, too.

In summary, grace remains the last and best word to describe what God has done for each of us.  First, grace is free only because the Giver Himself has borne the cost.  Second, grace makes its appearance in so many forms that it is difficult to define.  However, something like a definition of grace in relation to God would be: grace means there is nothing we can do to make God love us more, and grace means there is nothing we can do to make God love us less.  Yet, grace alone does not save us; grace is God’s means by which – if we choose to obey His commands - we may be saved.  Third, grace alone melts ungrace.  Finally, Christians are saved by grace in order to serve by grace.

When I stand before the throne,

Dressed in beauty not my own;

When I see Thee as Thou art,

Love Thee with unsinning heart;

Then, Lord, shall I fully know –

Not till then – how much I owe!

 

For the above article, ideas and phrases were selected from: Grace, by Aaron Erhardt, Louisville, KY: Erhardt Publications, 2015; God’s Amazing Grace: The Sweetest Sound of All by Wilson Adams, Murfreesboro, TN: Courageous Living Books, 2015; What’s So Amazing About Grace” by Philip Yancey, Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1997; Vanishing Grace by Philip Yancey, Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2014.  

The Planned Death of Jesus

Friday, October 15, 2021

The Planned Death of Jesus

By Tom Rose

One of the ways in which pseudo-scholars, critics, and skeptics attack our Lord is by denying that His sufferings were planned and purposeful.  His death, they insist, resulted from a miscalculation; it was a noble attempt to bring goodness into the world, but ended in an unplanned disaster.  But nothing could be further from the truth.  The whole trajectory of His life was prophesied 700 years before and included every aspect of His career as the Messiah, Servant of Jehovah in the book of Isaiah.  Indeed, He came into the world “not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent me” (Jn 6:38)…and the Father’s will was for Him to die.  Jesus was not a well-intentioned victim of a plan that surprised Him when it went horribly wrong.  No, He knew exactly how His life would end, down to the minutest detail, and had know it since before the foundation of the world when the plan of salvation was formed.

Luke 18:31-34 is the third and most complete of Christ’s specific predictions concerning His death as recorded by Luke— the first is found in Lk 9:21-22; and the second in Lk 9:44.  Jesus was on His final journey to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover.  So that there would be no misunderstanding, He takes the twelve aside to remind them, with specific details, what was about to happen to Him was God’s plan. Yet, despite Jesus’ clear teaching, the disciples failed to perceive the meaning of what He had taught them.  The threefold repetition in v. 34 says, 1) they understood none of these things, 2) this saying was hidden from them; and 3) they did not know the things that were spoken.

But there was a perfectly good reason that the disciples failed to grasp the Lord’s teaching about His suffering and death; it failed to fit their messianic theology.  They expected the Messiah to be a king, who would defeat Israel’s enemies and establish His kingdom.  (Recall Bro. Pope’s reference to Acts 1:6 this morning.) They were looking for a coronation, not a crucifixion; for a messiah who killed His enemies, not one who was killed by His own people, and (even more unthinkable) willing to forgive His enemies as they did so.  The idea of a crucified Messiah was an absurdity to them; it was so ridiculous that they could not even comprehend it.  “The word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing,” wrote Paul in 1 Corinthians 1:18.  Thus, “Christ crucified” was “to Jews a stumbling block” (v. 23) a massive barrier that they could not get past.

After His resurrection Christ reaffirmed the veracity of the O.T. teachings and gently rebuked two of his disciples, on the road to Emmaus, for their failure to understand it (Luke 24:23-25).

Eventually, His disciples came to understand it, to believe it, and to preach it…beginning in the first century and continuing down to the present time. 

Never allow anyone to discount or minimize the importance of the death and resurrection of our Lord, Jesus Christ, for as the hymn says, “Without Him, how lost I would be.”

Something too Precious Not To Share

Friday, August 27, 2021

Something Too Precious Not To Share

By Tom Rose

What things are precious to us?  They are generally objects: a favorite dress, sweater or perhaps a wedding gown; an old pair of sneakers or perhaps a baby’s first shoes; a special locket, pin, or ring; maybe a record, scrapbook or a special book or Bible possibly with a flower in it; certificates, trophies and plaques; collections of coins, stamps or rocks; books, letters, newspaper clippings, and of course, the pictures.

Mentally take yourself up in the attic and let me join you as you open the boxes, open the trunks.  As I watch the way you handle and linger over the contents, and listen to you tell your memories about their meaning, and watch your facial expressions, I’ll tell which ones are precious to you. 

This sentiment was expressed by Amy Grant in her song, “Heirlooms.”

“Up in the attic…down on my knees,
Lifetimes of boxes…timeless to me;
Letters and photographs…yellowed with years,
Some bringing laughter…some bringing tears;

Time never changes…the memories, the faces,
Of loved ones…who bring to me…All that I come from,
And all that I live for, And all that I’m going to be…
My precious family is more than an heirloom to me.”

Isn’t that the sentiment we hear survivors of a house fire or natural disaster tell us after their devastating loss?  “Well, even thought we lost everything, at least no one lost their life.”  I believe that is what this song is suggesting.  In this life people, and our relationships with one another, are more valuable than “things.”

However, there is something of even greater worth to consider – one’s soul.
In our everyday lives, do we ever think of our spiritual (i.e. non-material) life as being precious to us?  The apostle Peter in explaining how Jesus redeemed His believers from a life of sin, sets up another contrast of values by saying,

“…Knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things like silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ.” (I Peter 1:18-19)

The price of our freedom was not perishable possessions, it was the life-blood of the Son of God, a far more costly gift than any amount of earthly treasure.  I Cor. 6:19-20 emphasizes this point by noting,  

“You are not your own, for you have been bought at a price.”

In the second verse of this song, we find the writer is telling us that spiritual and eternal concerns are truly more important than earthly matters.  

“Wise men and shepherds…down on their knees,
Bringing their treasures…to lay at His feet;
Who was this wonder…Baby yet King,
Living and dying…He gave life to me.

Time never changes…the memory, the moment,
Of loved ones…who bring to me…All that I come from,
And all that I live for, And all that I’m going to be…
My precious Savior is more than an heirloom to me.”

The Puritan Thomas Watson thoughtfully observed, “Great was the work of creation, but greater the work of redemption; it cost more to redeem us than to make us – in the one there was but the speaking of a Word, in the other the shedding of Christ’s own blood.”  That thought gives the word precious a whole new meaning.

Perhaps, however, this song has yet a deeper meaning.  Do we view our faith and our salvation as just another “heirloom” to be left in the “attic” of our minds?  Looking honestly at our daily actions, do we rather than sharing with others our love for the Lord, just keep our memories from the past to ourselves?  When was the last time we spoke of the events of our own baptism or that of our friend or relative?  How often do we speak of the ideas expressed at a Gospel meeting, or mention to someone the words of a prayer or hymn at the funeral of a loved one?  When was the last time we talked with a friend about what the Bible says it takes to inherit eternal life?  Do we ever treat Jesus as just another object along life’s pathway? 

Let me share with you some recent research to highlight the importance of these questions.  Larry Alex Taunton is the Executive Director of Fixed Point Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to the public defense of the Christian faith.  Over the past two years, he launched a nationwide campaign to interview groups of college students who belong to the atheist equivalent of Campus Crusade (e.g. Secular Student Alliances and Freethought Societies). The rules were simple: “Tell us your journey to unbelief.”  From several hundred subjects, a composite sketch of the American college-aged atheists began to emerge, and it would challenge our assumptions about this demographic.  Most of the participants had not chosen their worldview from ideologically neutral positions, but in reaction to Christianity.  These students had heard plenty of messages encouraging: “social justice,” community involvement, and “being good,” but they seldom saw the relationship between that message, Jesus Christ, and the Bible.  They were serious-minded, but often concluded that church services were largely shallow, harmless, and ultimately irrelevant.  Although, students would often begin by telling the researcher they had become atheists for exclusively rational reasons, the results of their testimonies made it clear that, for most, this was a deeply emotional transition as well. Finally, and perhaps most poignant, they showed a deep respect for those teachers and ministers who took the Bible seriously.  Two responses give insight into their thinking.

Phil was once the president of his church’s youth group.  He loved his church when they weren’t just going through the motions.  He recalled Jim, one of his Bible teachers, did not dodge the tough chapters or difficult questions.  Although he didn’t always have satisfying answers or answers at all, he didn’t run away from the questions either.  The way he taught the Bible made me feel smart.  During my junior year in high school, the church in an effort to attract more young people, wanted Jim to teach less and play more.  Difference of opinion over this new strategy led to Jim’s dismissal.  He was replaced by Savannah, and attractive twenty-something who, according to Phil “Didn’t know a thing about the Bible.”  The church got what it wanted: the youth group grew.  But it lost Phil.

Michael, a political science major at Dartmouth, told us that he was drawn to Christians that unashamedly embraced Biblical teaching.  He added, “I can’t consider a Christian a good, moral person if he isn’t trying to convert me.”

As surprising as it may seem, this sentiment is not as unusual among non-believers as one might think.  It finds resonance in the comments of Penn Jillette, the atheist illusionist and comedian.  He says, “I don’t respect people who don’t proselytize.  I don’t respect that at all.  If you believe that there’s a heaven and hell, and people could be going to hell or not getting eternal life or whatever, and you think that it’s not really worth telling them because it would make it socially awkward…How much do you have to hate somebody to believe that everlasting life is possible and not tell them that?

In summary, three points clearly stand out from a thoughtful study of the scriptures coupled with a reflection of the above research.*  First, most young atheists come out of churches whose mission and message is vague.  Second, one must never confuse a desire for people to accept the gospel, with creating a gospel that is acceptable to people.  And third, Christianity, when taken seriously, compels its adherents to engage the world, not retreat from it (Mk 16:15-16).

*Taunton, Larry Alex “Listening to Young Atheists: Lessons for a Stronger Christianity,” The Atlantic, June 3, 2013.

Something Too Precious Not To Share

Thursday, May 06, 2021

Something Too Precious Not To Share

By Tom Rose

What things are precious to us?  They are generally objects: a favorite dress, sweater or perhaps a wedding gown; an old pair of sneakers or perhaps a baby’s first shoes; a special locket, pin, or ring; maybe a record, scrapbook or a special book or Bible possibly with a flower in it; certificates, trophies and plaques; collections of coins, stamps or rocks; books, letters, newspaper clippings, and of course, the pictures.

Mentally take yourself up in the attic and let me join you as you open the boxes, open the trunks.  As I watch the way you handle and linger over the contents, and listen to you tell your memories about their meaning, and watch your facial expressions, I’ll tell which ones are precious to you. 

This sentiment was expressed by Amy Grant in her song, “Heirlooms.”

“Up in the attic…down on my knees,
Lifetimes of boxes…timeless to me;
Letters and photographs…yellowed with years,
Some bringing laughter…some bringing tears;

Time never changes…the memories, the faces,
Of loved ones…who bring to me…All that I come from,
And all that I live for, And all that I’m going to be…
My precious family is more than an heirloom to me.”

Isn’t that the sentiment we hear survivors of a house fire or natural disaster tell us after their devastating loss?  “Well, even thought we lost everything, at least no one lost their life.”  I believe that is what this song is suggesting.  In this life people, and our relationships with one another, are more valuable than “things.”

However, there is something of even greater worth to consider – one’s soul.
In our everyday lives, do we ever think of our spiritual (i.e. non-material) life as being precious to us?  The apostle Peter in explaining how Jesus redeemed His believers from a life of sin, sets up another contrast of values by saying,

“…Knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things like silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ.” (I Peter 1:18-19)

The price of our freedom was not perishable possessions, it was the life-blood of the Son of God, a far more costly gift than any amount of earthly treasure.  I Cor. 6:19-20 emphasizes this point by noting,  

“You are not your own, for you have been bought at a price.”

In the second verse of this song, we find the writer is telling us that spiritual and eternal concerns are truly more important than earthly matters.  

“Wise men and shepherds…down on their knees,
Bringing their treasures…to lay at His feet;
Who was this wonder…Baby yet King,
Living and dying…He gave life to me.

Time never changes…the memory, the moment,
Of loved ones…who bring to me…All that I come from,
And all that I live for, And all that I’m going to be…
My precious Savior is more than an heirloom to me.”

The Puritan Thomas Watson thoughtfully observed, “Great was the work of creation, but greater the work of redemption; it cost more to redeem us than to make us – in the one there was but the speaking of a Word, in the other the shedding of Christ’s own blood.”  That thought gives the word precious a whole new meaning.

Perhaps, however, this song has yet a deeper meaning.  Do we view our faith and our salvation as just another “heirloom” to be left in the “attic” of our minds?  Looking honestly at our daily actions, do we rather than sharing with others our love for the Lord, just keep our memories from the past to ourselves?  When was the last time we spoke of the events of our own baptism or that of our friend or relative?  How often do we speak of the ideas expressed at a Gospel meeting, or mention to someone the words of a prayer or hymn at the funeral of a loved one?  When was the last time we talked with a friend about what the Bible says it takes to inherit eternal life?  Do we ever treat Jesus as just another object along life’s pathway? 

Let me share with you some recent research to highlight the importance of these questions.  Larry Alex Taunton is the Executive Director of Fixed Point Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to the public defense of the Christian faith.  Over the past two years, he launched a nationwide campaign to interview groups of college students who belong to the atheist equivalent of Campus Crusade (e.g. Secular Student Alliances and Freethought Societies). The rules were simple: “Tell us your journey to unbelief.”  From several hundred subjects, a composite sketch of the American college-aged atheists began to emerge, and it would challenge our assumptions about this demographic.  Most of the participants had not chosen their worldview from ideologically neutral positions, but in reaction to Christianity.  These students had heard plenty of messages encouraging: “social justice,” community involvement, and “being good,” but they seldom saw the relationship between that message, Jesus Christ, and the Bible.  They were serious-minded, but often concluded that church services were largely shallow, harmless, and ultimately irrelevant.  Although, students would often begin by telling the researcher they had become atheists for exclusively rational reasons, the results of their testimonies made it clear that, for most, this was a deeply emotional transition as well. Finally, and perhaps most poignant, they showed a deep respect for those teachers and ministers who took the Bible seriously.  Two responses give insight into their thinking.

Phil was once the president of his church’s youth group.  He loved his church when they weren’t just going through the motions.  He recalled Jim, one of his Bible teachers, did not dodge the tough chapters or difficult questions.  Although he didn’t always have satisfying answers or answers at all, he didn’t run away from the questions either.  The way he taught the Bible made me feel smart.  During my junior year in high school, the church in an effort to attract more young people, wanted Jim to teach less and play more.  Difference of opinion over this new strategy led to Jim’s dismissal.  He was replaced by Savannah, and attractive twenty-something who, according to Phil “Didn’t know a thing about the Bible.”  The church got what it wanted: the youth group grew.  But it lost Phil.

Michael, a political science major at Dartmouth, told us that he was drawn to Christians that unashamedly embraced Biblical teaching.  He added, “I can’t consider a Christian a good, moral person if he isn’t trying to convert me.”

As surprising as it may seem, this sentiment is not as unusual among non-believers as one might think.  It finds resonance in the comments of Penn Jillette, the atheist illusionist and comedian.  He says, “I don’t respect people who don’t proselytize.  I don’t respect that at all.  If you believe that there’s a heaven and hell, and people could be going to hell or not getting eternal life or whatever, and you think that it’s not really worth telling them because it would make it socially awkward…How much do you have to hate somebody to believe that everlasting life is possible and not tell them that?

In summary, three points clearly stand out from a thoughtful study of the scriptures coupled with a reflection of the above research.*  First, most young atheists come out of churches whose mission and message is vague.  Second, one must never confuse a desire for people to accept the gospel, with creating a gospel that is acceptable to people.  And third, Christianity, when taken seriously, compels its adherents to engage the world, not retreat from it (Mk 16:15-16).

*Taunton, Larry Alex “Listening to Young Atheists: Lessons for a Stronger Christianity,” The Atlantic, June 3, 2013.

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