Four Life-Changing Challenges for Christians

I confess that many times I’d prefer to take an easy road. The secular culture shouts its “follow your heart” mantra and honestly, my heart generally prefers the path of least resistance. It’s a smoother ride to go with the flow than it is to paddle upstream against everything the world says makes sense. But this isn’t the healthiest approach, because the only way to build true strength is to successfully endure struggle. Experience confirms that when little is required of me, I am less likely to grow in a way that benefits myself, my children, the church, or the world in which I live. Our world desperately needs a fleet of lifeboats powered by followers of Christ who have the perseverance to face difficulties on the stormy seas of life. I’d like to suggest four challenges that are worth accepting right now as Christians.

ACTIVELY CULTIVATE A RESILIENT FAITH. Authors Brown, Phillips, and Stonestreet write in their book, Making Sense of Your World, “For the Christian, the Bible is not merely a book to be looked at, it is also a lens to be looked through.” Unfortunately, Bible literacy is at an all-time low and recent studies indicate that only six percent of American adults hold to a Biblical worldview. The only way for Christians to withstand the pounding cultural waves that come against us is by diligently studying and meditating on Scripture in conjunction with doctrinally sound resources. This requires more than just reading a Bible verse or two out of context followed by whatever a popular influencer has to say about it. We need to engage in deep and consistent thinking about God’s Word by appreciating the multifaceted way it reveals Him to us rather than placing ourselves at the center of it. As we engage in study methods that help us dig beneath the surface of the Biblical text, we will begin consuming meat rather than just milk. This healthy diet helps us fortify our shields of faith to repel the fiery darts that the enemy relentlessly launches against us. It also prepares us to go on the attack and skillfully wield the sword of the Spirit.  As Paul prayed for the recipients of his letter to the church at Philippi, we should desire to grow in knowledge and discernment so that we may be pure, blameless, and filled with the fruit of righteousness (Philippians 1:9-11). Additionally, we should remember to test all things against Scripture and hold only onto what is good (1 Thessalonians 5:21) by being alert to any message that is emotionally manipulative, me-centered, or simply uses Scripture to proof-text a desired application.

ENTHUSIASTICALLY ENGAGE WITH YOUNGER GENERATIONS. Research overwhelmingly confirms that as the number of adult believers a child or student has investing in their lives increases, the chances of them walking away from church when they leave home decreases. We need to be willing to step out of our comfort zones on behalf of our brothers and sisters in Christ who are younger in the faith. Scripture repeatedly tells us that God is the defender of the weak and vulnerable and He commands us to vigorously protect His spiritual children in the same way. We should strengthen our resolve to disciple those within our spheres of influence in the truth of His Word so that they are not tempted to look to the culture for answers. When we have the courage to answer hard questions and doubts without turning blind eyes or deaf ears, we protect susceptible young believers by arming them with the superior answers found in the Biblical worldview. It takes effort to develop clear critical thinking required to understand the deceptive ideologies that lurk in the world and to help younger generations recognize the danger in falling prey to them. It’s more important than ever for seasoned believers to put our own self-interests aside and equip younger generations to resist the temptation to be conformed to the world. In a culture that is actively catechizing our children to devalue life, look out for number one, and redefine identity, it’s up to mature followers of Christ to offer something counter-cultural.

SELF-SACRIFICIALLY SERVE THE BODY OF CHRIST. Our world has a consumer mentality that caters to pleasure, entertainment, and seeking out whatever makes us happy as individuals, but being part of a church family often requires that we set aside our own preferences for the benefit of the body as a whole. God calls us to humbly demonstrate deference to our brothers and sisters in Christ even when it isn’t convenient or comfortable for us. Scripture says that as each individual part works together in cooperation out of love, and is led by Christ, the entire body will be healthier (Ephesians 4:16). The church can only be an effective force for good in the world if each individual fulfills a precise role while utilizing the unique gift with which God has equipped them. I believe that God has put my church family together to serve Him in a specific way in this exact time and place, so it will not promote the health of the church if I neglect my own role or step into someone else’s. First Corinthians 12:4-7 says, Now there are different gifts, but the same Spirit.There are different ministries, but the same Lord. And there are different activities, but the same God works all of them in each person. A manifestation of the Spirit is given to each person for the common good.” Christ’s body was broken and bled for His bride, the church, so the least we can do is offer ourselves as a living sacrifice for her. As each member of the body supports the ministries of the local church through our consistent presence, persistent prayers, affirming words, and self-sacrificial deeds, we will be able to function as a healthy part of the body of Christ, our love will be evident to all, and He will be glorified.

COURAGEOUSLY SHARE THE TRUTH IN LOVE. Truth-telling is not in vogue today and is often met with considerable pushback in a world where truth is redefined according to individual preferences. While it can be uncomfortable at times, as Christians we are called to speak things that comport with reality and to do so in the most loving way possible. First Corinthians 13:6 says, “Love finds no joy in unrighteousness but rejoices in the truth.” I’m not loving my neighbor if I don’t speak the truth based on objective and knowable reality. As we share true things, our interactions should be defined by gracious, well-seasoned speech and marked by wisdom in how we answer difficult questions (Colossians 4:6). The enemy of each human soul sets a trap with lies designed to steal, kill, and destroy. As believers we know the One who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life…the One who is the only sure source of our identity…the One who grants each human life value, dignity, and worth. May we not be fearful of what man may do to us but be bold as we endeavor to set captives free by sharing truth so they may experience abundant life in Christ.

In a world that tempts us to do easy things like flaunt our authentic selves, look out for number one, despise our neighbors, and accept redefinitions of truth, I pray that we would have the courage to accept life-changing challenges with grace. We can be thankful that God promises to never leave us or forsake us, especially in the middle of difficult circumstances. We can place our trust completely in Him as we set our personal agendas aside to see His kingdom advance. The maker of the winds and the waves won’t abandon us as we set sail and do hard things for His glory.

Four Ways To Respond As Salt And Light In A Post Roe World

You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet. You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 5:13-16)

The reversal of Roe versus Wade is a moment those of us who affirm the dignity, value, and worth of all human life from the moment of conception have prayed about for years. I unapologetically celebrate the fact that the Supreme Court chose to right an egregious injustice against pre-born humans, but simultaneously recognize the confusion and angst generated among many in our culture by this historic decision. I believe it is more important than ever for those with a Biblical worldview to advocate for the pro-life position in ways that preserve truth and shine the light of the gospel among those seeking to live within this new reality. I’d like to suggest four ways we can faithfully follow Jesus’ commandment to be salt and light as we engage with others on this divisive topic.

Look to the example of the early church.

I’ve watched as the church, the beloved bride of Christ, has been unfairly maligned and inaccurately represented in the days since the Supreme Court ruling. Many voices have accused the church of turning a blind eye to anything except life in the womb and challenged us to “step up and do something” in response to potential hardships created by the reversal of Roe. This ignores what the church has already been doing for decades. I’ve been in faith communities my whole life filled with people who advocate, work, give, and pray both individually and collectively for vulnerable and victimized women, men, and children at every stage of life and in every segment of society. The church will continue to do what it does best…serve as the hands and feet of Jesus in a broken world.

It’s easy to become angry when we are slandered, but the early church gives us a beautiful example to follow when we find ourselves under attack. The ethic of love taught by Jesus compelled the early believers to rescue discarded babies from trash heaps, elevate the status of women, and uphold the dignity of each of God’s image bearers. Despite these positive contributions, they were under unimaginable persecution from the Roman Empire. Ignatius was an early church father tried during the reign of Emperor Trajan on the charge of atheism for refusing to bow down to the pantheon of Roman gods. He was executed, most likely by being fed to wildcats in the Colosseum, but not before he penned these words to believers at the church in Ephesus on his way to trial in Rome:

Pray continually for the rest of humankind as well, that they may find God, for there is in them hope of repentance. Therefore allow them to be instructed by you, at least by your deeds. In response to their anger, be gentle; in response to their boasts, be humble; in response to their slander, offer prayers; in response to their errors, be steadfast in the faith; in response to their cruelty, be civilised; do not be eager to imitate them. Let us show by our forbearance that we are their brothers and sisters, and let us be eager to be imitators of the Lord.

Ignatius offered the antidote of gentleness, humility, prayer, steadfastness, and civility to counter the cruelty of his day. We, too, can instruct others by our deeds as we follow the example of the early church.

Contribute to clarity.

Meme culture has a way of presenting information that is overly simplified and designed to gain the most likes or shares. They are usually created for emotional impact and do not always present the most accurate picture of reality. I think there is wisdom in taking the time to carefully consider the arguments being represented before reflexively clicking the like or share button. This is probably even more important when the content represents our own point of view to ensure that we don’t fall prey to confirmation bias. Why do we feel compelled to share? Is it truthful? Is it accurate? Is it kind? Is it likely to change another person’s mind? Are we just seeking validation?

In my experience, most memes, or tweets, or clever quips present a caricatured version of a position, and do not really get to the heart of the issue. For this reason, I think they do more to muddy the waters and should be put to the test out of fairness to both sides. An emotionally charged issue like abortion requires even more scrutiny because it is simply too important and complex to be summed up in a social media rant, 280 character tweet, or meme. I once heard it said that you only truly understand another person’s position when you can articulate it back to them in a way with which they can agree. In other words, treat other people’s ideas the way you would want yours to be treated. Jesus, of course, said it best, “And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.”(Luke 6:31)

Take aim at ideas and not people.

The world around us truly is a battlefield of ideas. Some lead to human flourishing, and some represent catastrophic landmines. John Stonestreet, President of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview, often says that ideas have consequences, and bad ideas have victims. Abortion has claimed over 63,000,000 innocent victims over the last five decades in the United States in addition to impacting the lives of survivors and pro-choice advocates. Ideological victims have bought into the deeply held convictions of the sexual revolution that have been promulgated for years. Abortion on demand is a bad idea with knots tied so tightly that it will take time and grace to untangle them.

As we untangle theses knots, we must recognize that other people are not our enemies. Rather, we all have a common enemy who captures hearts and minds with cleverly crafted deceptions. The apostle Paul says in 2 Corinthians 10:3-5 “For although we live in the flesh, we do not wage war according to the flesh, since the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but are powerful through God for the demolition of strongholds. We demolish arguments and every proud thing that is raised up against the knowledge of God, and we take every thought captive to obey Christ.” Paul admonishes us to aim carefully to destroy the lies holding our fellow image bearers captive. Firearms instructors encourage their students to “aim small, miss small” to increase the likelihood of hitting their intended target, but also to avoid hitting an unintended target. As we push back vigorously against false narratives, it is critical to make sure we are taking aim at ideas and not people so we don’t inflict further harm to those who are already hurting.

Present the pro-life case logically.

In the current emotionally charged environment surrounding abortion, it’s important to be able to offer a logically sound defense of the pro-life position. Jesus instructs His followers in Mark 12:30 to love God with our minds. He follows this up by saying we are to love our neighbors as ourselves. We obey both of these commands when we learn to think through the issue of abortion rationally in order to have respectful discussions with those in our spheres of influence. Scott Klusendorf teaches prolifically on pro-life apologetics and offers this simple syllogism:

Premise 1:  It is wrong to kill an innocent human being.

Premise 2:  Abortion kills an innocent human being.

Conclusion:  Therefore abortion is wrong.

In order to defeat this argument, one must prove that at least one of the two premises is wrong. If that cannot be done, then the conclusion is valid. Klusendorf also offers this sixty second defense that is worth memorizing:

I am pro-life because the science of embryology establishes that from the earliest stages of development, you were a distinct, living and whole human being. You weren’t part of another human being like skin on the back of my hand; you were already a whole living member of the human family even though you had yet to mature.

There is no essential difference between the embryo you once were and the adult you are today that somehow justifies killing you at that earlier stage of development. Differences of size, level of development, environment, and degree of dependency are not good reasons for saying you could be killed then but not now.

Now is the time for those with a Biblical worldview to rejoice over the reversal of Roe versus Wade as a very good, true, and beautiful gift from God. In His goodness God has granted dignity, value, and worth to each of His image bearers. The sanctity of life is a truth worth celebrating. Beautiful new lives will have the opportunity to draw their first breaths in a post Roe world.

Book Review: Faithfully Different

Natasha Crain’s newest book, Faithfully Different, is an essential guide for Christians seeking to navigate an increasingly secular culture. Those with a Biblical worldview have no doubt recognized how much more difficult it has become to live according to beliefs and values that were once considered mainstream. The reason, Crain states, is that Christians are now a worldview minority. She lays out a thorough case by sharing studies and providing statistics demonstrating that while many Americans self-identify as Christians, their beliefs don’t bear this out in the way they live and function within culture. She concludes that, “It’s no longer normal to be a Christian with a biblical worldview in America.”

Crain clearly defines secularism as a worldview that lacks a commitment to the authority of religion or god(s) and instead looks to the self as the ultimate authority. She summarizes the messages of secular culture in the following four statements:  Feelings are the ultimate guide, happiness is the ultimate goal, judging is the ultimate sin, and God is the ultimate guess. In the remainder of the book, Crain provides wise guidance to help Christians respond boldly, yet graciously to nine specific secular pressures related to these messages through clarity of belief, clarity of thought, and clarity for living.

She adds an interesting perspective to her analysis of culture by appealing to her marketing background in a couple of chapters. In chapter three, she demonstrates how the nature of influence works to make secularism appealing to Christians through its relevance and prominence within culture. In chapter eight she illustrates how virtue signaling is utilized to create buy-in for secular morality. Both chapters add a unique twist to her discussion of how secularism is marketed to those with a Biblical worldview.

While this isn’t strictly an apologetics book, Natasha Crain’s background as the author of three previous books on apologetics for parents is evident in Faithfully Different. She has a special knack for explaining basic apologetic arguments (as she does in chapter four) in a way that enables them to be easily grasped even by those with no previous study in this area. Additionally, she provides a list of resources at the end of each chapter for readers who want to investigate topics beyond the scope of the book.

One of my favorite things about Faithfully Different is the hopeful way in which Crain ends each chapter. She strikes a positive tone, encouraging readers with a Biblical worldview to take advantage of opportunities to stand courageously for truth even while living as a minority in a secular culture. She emphasizes that the world still desperately needs the answers and perspective on reality that the Biblical worldview offers. This book is a much needed and timely resource for any Christian seeking clarity in confusing and rapidly changing times.