Growing In Godliness Blog

Growing In Godliness Blog

Author: Tom Rose

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Forever is Composed of Now

Friday, November 13, 2020

Forever Is Composed of Now*

By Tom Rose

 

Forever is an easy way to think of eternity.  It never stops; it just keeps going on.  It’s timeless.  After this life is over and judgment occurs, each of us will continue in an endless existence in either heaven or hell.  As shocking as this statement may seem to some, Christ Himself said as much in Mt. 25:31-33, 46.

“When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory.  All the nations will be gathered before him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats.  And He will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left. And these (goats) will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous (sheep) into eternal life.”

So what determines whether one is a “sheep” or a “goat?”  Again, Christ answers that question in Mt. 7:21-23.

“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven.  Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’  And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’”

In essence, whether we choose to obey God and His laws in this life will determine our place in the next.

Returning to the title, you are probably wondering how Now is composed of Forever.  When I reflect back on the moment when I decided to be baptized, I recall an unmistakable urgency.  It was not a casual action, and it was not something to be put off for a later time.  Although I was raised in a 5 generation Methodist family, at barely 18 years of age I obeyed the Gospel and was baptized during the first semester of my freshman year in college.  I had learned God’s plan through dating my future wife while attending Sunday evening church services and needed to act upon my understanding.

Although that was almost 60 years ago, it modeled exactly what had happened in first century Christianity.  In Acts 2:38, a crowd of three thousand were baptized on Pentecost.  In Acts 8:26-39, an influential Ethiopian eunuch was baptized by Philip in a desert. And in Acts 16:25-34, Paul baptized a Philippian jailor and his family at midnight.  In each case, and every other recorded baptism in the Bible, the believer was immersed in water as soon as possible after the individual recognized the need for it.  Thus, the operative word was Now.

In modern society, to leave a “legacy” ordinarily means to specify the distribution of property – money, in most cases – to heirs according to the terms described in a will.  However, it is a relatively rare event for most people to be mentioned in a will.  And yet, people talk all the time about the life of a person, now deceased, how it enriched them.  Aside from the obvious things, each of us will leave behind for all the world to see the value system that marks everything we did.  Somehow, people who never asked us directly what we valued in life never doubt for a moment what it was.  They know what we thought of people of other colors and creeds by the language we used and the lives we connected with.  They know how we treated strangers, how we loved the individuals closest to us, and how we cared for those who loved us - even how we spoke to them in hard times or gave ourselves away to satisfy their needs.  They know the depth of our spiritual life by the way we treated those around us, and what we thought of life, and what we gave our lives to doing.  Therefore, our legacy is far more than just our fiscal worth.  And though we add to it every moment of our lives, during our lifetime, we are given both the vision and the wisdom to understand that our legacy is what we choose it to be.

In closing, it is the power of the present that makes us aware of our future and how much of it may be left.  Although it is truly a gamble, you reason if you are young and healthy, sixty years, probably.  However, for most older adults, ten years, hopefully.  Five, surely.  But the truth for all of us is, tomorrow, God willing.  Thus, the question comes, “What could you do today that would influence your life for all eternity?”  The simple answer is: put on Christ in baptism (Gal 3:27), and if you’ve not yet done so, earnestly consider doing it because “Forever Is Composed of Now.”  Your life, your legacy, and your relationship with God will be immeasurably better – both in this life and the next - for having done so.  Indeed, “Now is the day of salvation” (2 Cor. 6:2).

*This title came from a line in a self-published book by Kristen L. Crawford entitled, Within the Shadow of Myself: A Poetic Memoir, p. 28.  ISBN 9798644302284

Showing Brotherly Affection

Sunday, March 05, 2017

Showing Brotherly Affection

By Tom Rose

It has always been that way.  You dress up in your best to go to church.  Even if you have personal problems, are depressed or simply undone with life, you go to church and look normal, say everything is okay, and try to hide the pain that won’t go away.  Church is not the place to bare your soul and share your messy problems, because people will talk and people will judge – all the while saying they feel “so sorry” and “would do anything to help you.”   Why is it that we think of church as a place to go after we have cleaned up our act, not before?  “Church!” said the prostitute, “Why would I ever go there?  I was already feeling terrible about myself.  They’d just make me feel worse.”

But the scriptures show a different picture.  Think of Esau after Jacob tricked him out of his birthright and the anger he expressed as recorded in Gen 27:41 “So Esau hated Jacob because of the blessing with which his father blessed him, and Esau said in his heart, ‘The days of mourning for my father are at hand; then I will kill my brother Jacob.’”  Yet, with the passage of time and a few chapters later we read, “But Esau ran to meet him (Jacob), and embraced him, and fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept” (Gen 33:4).  Almost the same scene of emotional healing is portrayed by Christ in His famous parable of a father greeting his prodigal son. “And he arose and came to his father.  But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him” Lk 15:20.  If you noticed, both passages contain an embrace or a hug – the most beautiful form of communication that allows the other person to know beyond a doubt that they matter.

Perhaps the apostle Paul knew better than anyone who has ever lived what it meant to be forgiven by God and reconciled to Him.  Knocked flat on the ground on the way to Damascus (Acts 9:1-9), he never recovered from the impact of God’s undeserved grace extended to him.  Indeed, Paul knew what could happen if we believe we have earned God’s love.  In dark times, if perhaps we badly fail God, or if for no good reason we simply fall short on keeping The Faith, we could fear that God might stop loving us when He discovered the real truth about us.  However, Paul took pains to explain how God has made peace with human beings (see Titus 3:1-8) by giving up His own Son, rather than to give up on humanity – helping mankind know beyond any doubt that God loves people because of who God is, not because of who we are!

Just as God has challenged us to know the unsearchable riches of Christ (see Eph. 3:16-21), He also asks us to show that same devotion for our brethren. “Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love” (Rom. 12:10).  Two examples of Paul’s deep interpersonal relations with his brethren are found in Acts.  Read Acts 20:36-38 and notice the verbal and non-verbal emotional interactions as Paul and the Ephesian elders part from each other for the final time.  A second illustration is found in Acts 28:13-15 near the end of Paul’s perilous journey to Rome.  When Paul reaches Puteoli, Italy, brethren invite Paul and his companions to stay seven days.  However, other Christians in Rome get word of Paul’s arrival (a person whom they had heard about, but had never met), so they walk forty-three miles to the Market of Appius to greet him.  Others, possibly getting a later start, meet Paul ten miles closer to Rome at the Three Inns.  Deeply moved by their visible demonstration of love, Paul “thanked God and took courage.” In these greetings (and many others) were found open displays of affection probably including hugs and kisses.

Let’s suppose your car has a problem and is not working properly.  Would you take it to a dealer’s showroom or a service department?  Perhaps that is a question we need to ask about our meeting houses – do they resemble more a “showroom” or a “service department?”  And why is that?  One writer offers this observation:

“Many years ago I was driven to the conclusion that the two major causes of most emotional problems among Christians are these: the failure to understand, receive, and live out God’s unconditional grace and forgiveness; and the failure to give out that unconditional love, forgiveness, and grace to other people. …Although we believe in God’s Word, the good news of the Gospel has not penetrated to the level of our emotions.”1

I believe the following statements, when pondered soberly, may help us look at the big picture – as God sees you and me along with all humanity.  “Jesus gave up worship for a womb, majesty for a manger, splendor for a stable, and heaven for a hamlet.  He went from being wrapped in glory to being wrapped in swaddling cloth.  He left breathtaking for breath taking and the infinite became the infant.  It was incredible to know that the baby Mary delivered had actually come to deliver her and everyone else.  He was born so we could be born again.  He lived on earth so we could live in heaven.”2

Sometimes we need to hear more than reassuring words of comfort.  Sometimes we need a hug – a hug where someone wraps their arms around you so tight and assures that everything will be alright.  That is in fact what Susan and Anna Warner did.  Born into privilege on Long Island, NY, their mother died when they were young and their father lost his fortune in the Panic of 1837.  Reduced family circumstances forced them to leave their New York City mansion for an old Revolutionary War-era farmhouse, both women began writing novels.  In addition, they began holding Bible studies for the cadets at the US Military Academy.  On Sunday after-noon, the West Point students rowed over to the island where the sisters had prepared lemonade and ginger cookies for their guests.  At the close of their time together, the frail women would offer a tender hug to each of these physically conditioned young men – knowing someday they might lose their life in battle.  After Susan died, in 1885, the Sunday classes became Anna’s “one thought in life.”  She continued teaching until her death in 1915 and that year’s graduates included Dwight D. Eisenhower – one of her pupils.  The sisters are buried in the cemetery at West Point, the only civilian women who earned this signal honor as Bible teachers to generations of cadets and their former home has become a museum on the grounds of the Academy.

Life is precious; may we hold it dear to us.  For it is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away (James 4:14).  Thus, while we have today, may we endeavor, as God’s elect, to put on bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness and longsuffering toward our fellowman (Col. 3:12).

1David Seamands, “Perfectionism: Fraught with Fruits of Destruction,” in

            Christianity Today, April 10, 1981, pp.24-25.

2Aaron Erhardt, Grace, Louisville, KY: Erhardt Publications, 2015, pp. 46-

            47.

Rethinking Our Walk in Christ

Saturday, July 02, 2016
Rethinking Our Walk in Christ
By Tom Rose
 
Christians desperately need to know how we can have a positive, optimistic, spiritual future while living in a disintegrating, chaotic and increasingly non-Christian society that threatens to take us down with it. A second urgent challenge concerning the Christian life is that it is so daily. It seems we never get a break because the world never stops its relentless, daily attempts to squeeze us into its mold. Both of these chronic issues can be solved by understanding Roman 12:1-2.
 
“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God,
that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to
God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed
to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind,
that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect
will of God.”
 
Let’s begin by looking at the term sacrifice. We have been trained by our culture not to believe in sacrifice, but rather to believe instead that we can have it all. Indeed, we have everything we need at our finger tips with the touch of an app or a nearby shopping mall where we can get it instantly just by sliding a plastic card. However, Paul reminds these Roman Christians that when they were baptized into Christ, they chose to turn their body into a “living sacrifice” – one where the old man of sin is dead and buried and a new creature arises to live a new kind of life in sacrifice to God (Rom 6:3-11).
 
The concept of self-sacrifice is a prerequisite to the second idea in this passage: the renewing of our minds. The kind of sacrifice God requires comes from a renewal, a transformation, of one’s mind and life. Indeed, one cannot separate the idea of sacrifice from the concept of renewal as it is the transformation of our minds that will keep us from being conformed to the world in which we live.
 
But why did these First Century Christians entertain such a radical idea? The answer lies in the term “therefore.” In chapters 9 through 11 of Romans, Paul develops a sweeping view of God’s redemptive plan for Jews and Gentiles showing both are saved by the mercy of God. In those three chapters, which immediately precede the word “therefore,” the word mercy occurs nine times, and yet it occurs not a single time in chapters 1 through 8. In 12:1, Paul makes the connection between God’s mercy and our self-sacrifice by proposing: in view of the mercy God has offered, sacrifice yourself to Him, kill your old sin-infested self, and open yourself to a new life He offers by His loving mercy. He even adds that it is reasonable, logical, and credible to do so!
 
Although some of my readers are probably saying to themselves, “Yes, I’ve got all this, but what about this crazy world and all of its relentless pressures?” Return to the text where Paul lays out a twofold challenge in 12:2 to every child of God: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Rom 12:2). To better understand these two options, let us look at the meaning of these two words.
 
Be Conformed – Gk. Suschematizo, to become together with (like) another figure or shape. Only found twice in the New Testament where the word refers to “conformity to the world” in Romans 12:2, and “conformity to the lusts of the world and flesh” in 1 Peter 1:14.
 
Paul commands believers in Rome not to allow the world to conform them to its agenda, values, culture, norms, priorities, or expectations. The influences pushing at us from those external forces is powerful and unrelenting. In essence, it is loud, powerful and unstoppable. Perhaps two translations of this passage will help us get a better understanding:
 
“Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mold.”
J.B. Phillips, The New Testament in Modern English
“Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it
without even thinking.” Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase from
The Message
 
The phrase “without even thinking” illustrates that the pressure to conform is so constant, so ongoing, so pervasive that it becomes part of the environment and thus, we no longer notice it.
 
Be Transformed – Gk. Metamorphoo, to form with. This compound word comes from our familiar word metamorphosis which is the process whereby a caterpillar turns into a butterfly.
 
What is most revealing about these two words is that both are always rendered in the passive voice. This means no one independently conforms or transforms himself, but rather is conformed or transformed by a process initiated by a power outside himself. In this verse, God has given Christians two commands, obeying the second gives us the power to obey the first.
 
DO NOT be conformed by the power of the world around you;
that power which comes from Satan.
DO submit to the process of transformation. The power to do
that comes from God and His Word.
 
It is vital to comprehend that it takes both an external and an internal effort to accomplish the renewing of one’s mind. The external dimension is exposure to the Word while the internal dimension is a cultivated heart and mind that want to be renewed.
 
What we learn from God’s Word and submission to Him does not change anything about our external circumstances. The world may still deteriorate; we may be persecuted or otherwise suffer. But what will change can be our minds, and that makes all the difference. The apostle Paul was one of the most abused, persecuted, and oft-imprisoned men who ever lived (see 2 Cor 11:23-28). Yet Paul was one of the most chronically joyful souls regardless of his circumstances or state of need (Phil 4:11). His joy and confidence came from his renewed mind and its strong connection to God.
 
We as Christians are to be a source of inspiration, making a difference in this world. In His first sermon Jesus urged His believers to be “salt” and “light.”
 
“You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavor, how
shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown
out and trampled underfoot by men.
You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot
be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but
on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house.
Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good
works and glorify your Father in heaven.” Mt. 5:13-16
 
If we dare live our faith in open and transparent ways, the rest of the world could well see Christ living in us (Gal 2:20). In pre-refrigeration days, if a slab of salt-cured pork went bad, nobody blamed the pork. They blamed the quality, amount, or application of the salt. Salt and light radically impact everything they touch. People were attracted to Jesus because He was different. In Him they saw something that neither the Romans nor the established Jewish religion had to offer. Today, every time the world comes in contact with a Christian, a transference of hope, love, and relevancy should occur. If we are being transformed by that same Christ, people will be attracted to Him through our manifestation of His righteousness, His purpose, His love, and His unchanging ways.
 
Finally, we must address the daily struggle that confronts us living a faithful life as God’s children. In another reference to renewal Paul says, “The inward man is being renewed day by day” (2 Cor 4:16). Here, just like in Romans, the words are present-tense verbs, showing that it is a continuing, ever-present, never-ending reality that requires our “day-by-day” diligence.
If we will allow our minds to be renewed continually by the Word of God, we will spot immediately when we, or the world, have gone off course and need correction. We will not drift slowly, carried along by the winds of change. Rather, we will implement corrections in our course countless times each day – and that is why keeping the faith is such a daily occurrence.
 
A Christian who is transformed will learn the will of God, live the will of God, and love the will of God. Is it any wonder that a great Bible teacher, D.L. Moody exclaimed, “The Bible was not given for our information, but for our transformation.”

Are We Giving Our Children Cut Flowers?

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Are We Giving Our Children Cut Flowers?

By Tom Rose

Followers of Jesus Christ don’t have children merely for companionship or to avoid loneliness in their later years or so they can pass on property and the family name.  They view parenting as an opportunity to invest themselves fully in the life of a child who will someday become an irresistible manifestation of God’s grace.  A child who will grow up to make a difference by exercising his or her unique talents and gifts, and thereby leave his corner of the world more kind and gentle, more spiritual and righteous.  That’s our motivation for bearing and raising children – and our challenge.

However, when images of the whole world’s cruelest realities – war, abuse, violence of all kinds – are instantly accessible at the touch of a button or the flip of a page, it’s hard for parents to remain idealistic, hopeful and positive.  When the dark side of human nature – the stormy, troubled side – is the pervasive picture of former heroes and heroines of politics, entertainment, and sports, it’s hard to feel supportive and trustful of our fellow human beings.  And when our media makes sure nothing is left to the imagination, it’s hard to share the beauty of love and faithfulness within a marriage to the fresh, untouched territory of a teenager’s mind.  All these problems seem so big, the people in charge so far away, so powerful, so wealthy, so far removed from our living rooms, our offices, and our schools, one might be tempted to exclaim, “Why even try?”

Feelings of helplessness plague us as parents when we see our younger children – even toddlers – being taught the very lessons that we don’t want them to learn from their peers, the media, and fallen heroes.  Yet we know from daily living that the only thing to do when there’s a mess is to clean it up.  This cleaning-up must be an everyday task in the way we treat ourselves, our families, our friends and neighbors, indeed, everybody.
That is precisely why God’s divine plan has parents in charge of preventing and/or cleaning-up the mess of our character-starved, immorally littered world and sees children as honoring and obeying their parents (see Eph 6:1-4).

Although the home is the primary place for establishing virtues as well as a good understanding of God’s Word, parents often look to the church for assistance in teaching and instilling spiritual values.  Therefore, Bible classes must be perceived by children and young people as preparation for life as they really experience it and for developing a faith that has personal meaning.  Unfortunately, sometimes teaching – both at home and in church - falls short of these goals.  Thus, it is important to ask, are we giving our young people ‘cut flowers,’ when we should be teaching them to grow their own plants?  The result may be that we are training another generation to be keepers of the aquarium, rather than educating fishers of men.

I once knew of a teacher who invited a whole group of people to study the Bible.  He told them that he had discovered the most marvelous Truths from God’s Word, and he wanted to share them.  He began to describe in minute detail the delights of the Scriptures without ever letting class members ask questions or participate in any way.  He told and told and told.  Although some teachers (and parents) believe that one will listen to what is being taught and automatically assume responsibility for a desired behavior or virtue, we really know better because “telling” – or handing out ‘cut flowers’ is not “teaching.”

Consider, for example, Susan, a third grader, completing in Bible study class her illustration of the good Samaritan (see Lk. 10:25-37).  Her face suddenly takes on a reflective look as she turns toward her teacher and asks, “Does this story mean that I am supposed to help Judy with her math?  She always comes to school dirty and wearing a torn dress and nobody wants to be with her.”  “Yes, Susan,” the teacher replies, “If you are going to be the kind of neighbor Jesus wants you to be, you need to care for those who are less fortunate than you are.”  Susan considered what her teacher had said, then responded, “I don’t want to, but I guess nobody in my class wants to either, so I’ll be a good Samaritan.”

Learners need to sort out and try on their ideas in a safe setting with a caring parent or teacher.  That’s really what Susan was doing in the conversation with her teacher.  She was actually questioning her understanding of what was required to being a “good Samaritan” and then determining a course of action by seeking the affirmation of the adult.  When one realizes, after studying this parable, that there are personal applications for these ideas, they are usually ready to make some changes in their own behavior toward others.

In the above case, Susan learned that this lesson was for her and that there were some things she could do to apply it to her life.  This example shows Susan is searching for ways to act on her learning and to do so she must do more than simply talk to her teacher about her discovery.  Moreover, she is beginning to assume responsibility for her own learning by living it out on the playground, the classroom, and the neighborhood.  Indeed, Susan will find that there are several ways in which she can be a good Samaritan to Judy.  She could give her some of her clothes, she could talk to her about brushing her hair and washing her face before coming to school, she could tutor her in math, she could defend Judy when others put her down, and she could work at becoming a friend to Judy.

To write meaningfully on tablets of the human heart, Christians need to allow students both to discover and to internalize Biblical truths - for herein lies the long-term power for committed servanthood.  If our instruction fails to excite and to involve our learners, it will likely yield a people trained to be passive observers rather than active participants in learning and in ministry (Ephesians 4:11-16).  As young people develop, if structured opportunities for practice and application of one’s faith are weak or non-existent, any commitment to the Christian life may be only superficially formed, and devoid of the pleasure and enthusiasm found in sharing their faith with others.

Parents who truly understand this goal of parenting – to draw out the spiritual potential of each child – will become fully engaged in the challenge.  They no longer just live to advance their career and their material possessions.  Rather, they seek to build character, value, and vision into young lives.  They no longer treat their children as inconveniences to be handed off to anyone who will tend them.  Instead, these leaders of the home see the “season of parenting” as the ultimate spiritual challenge, worthy of their best efforts, most fervent prayers, and largest investments of time.  In essence, they are parents who will do anything they can to encourage authentic Christian growth in their children. And in so doing, these parents choose to develop a garden with ever-renewing blossoms, instead of handing their child a vase of cut flowers. They know that molding a runny-nosed little bandit into a God-honoring difference-maker is the most stretching, demanding, and, ultimately, fulfilling challenge they face.  So they earnestly devote themselves to it.

If we at the Douglass Hills church of Christ can be of help or encouragement to you in such an endeavor, please take the time to reach out and ask us.  As God’s Word ever reminds us, “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old - he will not depart from it.” Proverbs 22:6

Something Too Precious Not To Share

Thursday, January 23, 2014

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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