Regarding Monumental Changes

Recently my wife and I visited Petersburg, Virginia to attend the wedding of a family friend. While there we were saw some of the many historical sites in that area of the country. One of the most interesting was Blandford Church and Cemetery. The cemetery has graves dating back to 1702. After the siege of Petersburg, as much as a year afterwards, there were still bodies in unmarked shallow graves or even lying in the open on the field of battle. Most were confederates as the union troops had been given proper burials. The women of Petersburg knew these men were someone’s husband, son or father and felt it unseemly for their bodies to remain this way. So, they formed the Ladies Memorial Association of Petersburg and began raising funds to give these men proper burials on what became known as Memorial Hill near the church. In the end, they buried or repatriated the bodies of some 30,000 confederate soldiers, many in mass graves because they could not be individually identified in the days before dog tags.

Georgia window at Blandford Church

But the most interesting aspect of the church is the windows. From 1904 to 1912, Louis Comfort Tiffany designed windows for the church, one for each southern state, to commemorate the men who gave their lives at Petersburg. It is one of the few buildings in the world where every window is a Tiffany window. The windows are works of art, each featuring a different character from the Bible and the seal of the state to which it’s dedicated. Each state also wrote an inscription to their war dead that Tiffany incorporated in the window. The window for my own state of Georgia features St. Thomas.

While touring the church, I thought of ongoing attempts across the south, most recently in New Orleans, to purge confederate history from the public square.  When seeking to remake a society in their own image, totalitarians always seek to destroy its history. This is often done by reducing history to a binary, everything associated with a particular event or time is evil and so must be destroyed whereas everything the new guard are seeking is good and must displace the old.

This happened after the French Revolution and during every communist revolution including Mao’s Cultural Revolution. During the Cultural Revolution, thousands of Chinese historical sites were destroyed by the communists. I wonder how long it will be before this beautiful church is in the cross hairs of our own version of the cultural revolution?

An historic event is never about only one thing and so can rarely be classified wholesale as good or evil. And the participants in the event are never in lock-step as to their motivation for what they do. Anyone who tells you they are is either ignorant of history or seeking to manipulate you.

James Robert Farlow

My great, great grandfather, James Robert Farlow was in the 9th Georgia Light Artillery. They fought in the Chickamagua campaign in October, 1863 and saw action at the siege of Petersburg in 1865. They surrendered with the Army of Northern Virginia on April 9, 1865. He owned no slaves. He was a simple man who returned from the war and went to work farming to feed his family. He once stood for alderman in College Park, GA but as far as I can tell that’s as high profile as he ever got. He passed away in 1915 at the age of 76 having raised seven children. Most of the soldiers of the confederacy were like this, probably most of the soldiers of the union as well. They were men caught up in something bigger than themselves who answered the call to fight for their state and defend their homes and families. They fought with courage and honor. Some of them returned home, many did not.

When I was in Moldova on a mission trip many years ago, I noticed every village had a monument to the soldiers of the village who gave their lives during the Second World War. The Soviet Union was gone by the time I was there and with it Communism, but the monuments remained. Because, like my great, great grandfather, these men were not fighting so much for a larger, political cause, in this case to uphold communism, but to defend their homes and families. To lump them all together as godless communists seeking to prop up Stalin and so deserving of no remembrance would be an insult to them and to those who loved them.

To remember men like this is not only right but it is honorable and those who say otherwise know not honor.

Don’t Expect Unbelievers to Act Like Believers?

One of the cliches of contemporary Christianity is “You can’t expect unbelievers to act like believers.” It’s often said in response to outrage or concern over current cultural conditions. The implication is we should not get all exercised about people’s behavior because, well, boys will be boys, so let’s just concentrate on the gospel and not try to reform the behavior of unbelievers because it can’t be done.

But is that true? Should Christians put no effort in trying to reform the culture or even the behavior of individuals short of their full conversion to the Faith? Is it impossible for someone to change a behavior that is harmful to themselves or society short of conversion?

To start answering that question let’s do an exercise in walking through to the logical consequences of this belief:

“I wish Hitler and the Nazis would stop loading Jews onto trains and taking them to concentration camps.”

“Well, you can’t expect unbelievers to act like believers.”

Or in our modern day:

,”I wish women would stop murdering their babies in the womb by the thousands each year.”

“Well, you can’t expect unbelievers to act like believers.”

Or what about an individual example:

“I wish my brother-in-law would stop drinking up his paycheck every week and buy food and clothes for my sister and their kids.”

“Well, you can’t expect unbelievers to act like believers.”

If you think those are extreme examples, you’re right. The point is, there is a point where everyone recognizes human behavior can and should change – whether the person engaging in that behavior is a believer or not. A change in behavior will never save my soul but it can make life in this realm better for myself and those I impact.

The problem may be in our understanding of what it means to “act like a believer.”

While Christianity always bears fruit in someone’s life, we cannot assume because a person is moral or loving to his family or law-abiding that he’s a believer. If that’s true, then nor can we assume because they are lost they have no ability to change for the better since clearly there are some people behaving morally who are not converted.

Christians understand God’s grace at work in the world in two different ways. One way is saving grace – the unmerited favor God gives to those who repent of their sins and place their trust in Him. God gives His saving grace to whomever He chooses (Romans 9:15). When we receive that kind of grace, God gives us a new heart (Ezekiel 36:26). Therefore, everything about us changes from our outward behavior to our inward motivation. We stop being about ourselves and start doing everything for the glory of God (I Corinthians 10:31).

The other way is God’s common grace. Common grace is the unmerited favor God bestows on all mankind whereby He provides us with the good things of this world in far greater abundance than we deserve – which is to say, not at all (Matthew 5:45).  Part of this common grace is the restraint of evil. When evil is restrained it is always a grace of God but as with many other of God’s graces He often accomplishes it through ordinary means such as governments (Romans 13:2-4), the influence of friends (I Corinthians 15:33), and the actions of the godly (Joseph & Daniel both were used by God to bless believers and unbelievers alike through their skilled leadership).

On a mission trip to Ecuador last year I met an American expatriate. He was a nice man. By all appearances a very successful one as well. He shared with a colleague and me how he’s been sober for many years after struggling for many other years with alcohol abuse. But, when we began to speak with him about the gospel, he denied that Christ was essential for a relationship with God. He believed there were many ways to god and that the god he was praying to every day was going to accept him one day.

This man was lost. But, he was also sober to the good of his earthly well-being and that of his family. I praise God for the latter and yet pray too that he will come to know Christ to the good of his eternal well-being.

So, can we expect unbelievers to act like believers? No, not if by that we mean following Christ and doing all things to the glory of God. But, we can and should expect them to act like creatures formed in the image of God who have His existence written on their hearts – because that is what they are. And we should not hesitate to make an effort to influence them for the good of themselves and others in this temporal plane while remembering the most important thing we can do for them is share the gospel.

 

A Time for Choosing

A Time for Choosing

 

In Jeremiah 26 we read an account of Jeremiah standing before the Temple preaching the word of the Lord to the people of Judah. He did this because the Lord commanded it so:

“Thus says the Lord: Stand in the court of the Lord’s house, and speak to all the cities of Judah that come to worship in the house of the Lord all the words that I command you to speak to them; do not hold back a word.” – Jeremiah 26:2

Notice the Lord’s command was not only to speak, but to speak everything – not to hold back a single word of God’s commands.

We never have the option of truncating or soft-selling God’s word. Our job is not to make it palatable but to make it clear. Unfortunately when you do that, people don’t like it.

In Jeremiah’s case, they wanted to kill him:

“When the officials of Judah heard these things, they came up from the king’s house to the house of the Lord and took their seat in the entry of the New Gate of the house of the Lord. Then the priests and the prophets said to the officials and to all the people, “This man deserves the sentence of death, because he has prophesied against this city, as you have heard with your own ears.” – Jeremiah 26:10-11

This will always be the result of sharing the truth of God’s word with a lost and dying world. They will not only not like you for it, they will in some cases actively seek to do you harm.

The problem with much of the church today is we can’t handle that. We want everyone to like us. We’ve confused loving people with making them feel good about themselves. And, as much as we say we do this out of a desire not to offend or to be loving, the reality is we do it for ourselves because we worship the idol of popularity and being liked. We are people pleasers (Galatians 1:10) rather than people lovers.

When we present God’s word and get the reaction Jeremiah got (or that Jesus got, for that matter), we think we’ve done something wrong when, in fact, we’ve done something right. We measure our effectiveness by people’s reactions rather than by our faithfulness to the message of scripture. We think by softening the edges or not speaking of things like sin or God’s wrath and judgment we will obtain a hearing for the gospel. But, with no understanding of sin or God’s wrath there can be no understanding of the gospel.

The irony is, the more we try to be inoffensive, the more we compromise with the world, the more they dislike us – because nothing short of complete capitulation will satisfy the wicked.

That’s the choice we have, complete capitulation or faithfulness to the word of God. If our goal is to be honored by the world, we must choose the first, if our goal is to honor God we must choose the second. There is no in between. We must either be cold or hot (Revelation 3:15).

The Christian life is difficult. That’s a promise from the Lord (John 16:33). If we seek to make it easy and non-confrontational, we will end up being unfaithful. But, if we stand firm in the face of opposition and are uncompromising on the truth of the gospel, the reward is great (Matthew 5:11-12).

The time has come for the church of Jesus Christ to choose this day whom they will serve.

 

Photo credit: Sebastian Anthony via Visual hunt / CC BY-ND

In Which I Decide What To Do When I Grow Up

OK, if anything needs a trigger warning it’s probably this. However, you should watch it anyway to see the depths to which our culture has sunk. That LGBT+ slope ain’t a bit slippery.

This is a 52 year old man who not only “identifies” as a woman but also as a six year old girl. He’s actually found some people crazy enough to bring him into their home along side their own children and be his “mummy and daddy.” Continue reading “In Which I Decide What To Do When I Grow Up”

The Vestigial Nature of Moments of Silence

When tragedy strikes, nothing is more ubiquitous than calling for a “moment of silence.” In times past, we understood our powerlessness in the face of tragedy and so turned to One who was not powerless to make sense of it. In other words, we prayed. Now, however, prayer is out of the question. Prayer implies we are not in control. Prayer implies we are not the highest authority. Prayer implies, well, that God exists and we can’t have that.

So, instead, we have come up with this vestigial act that looks like prayer but is not. Something we can all participate in that seems spiritual without really being so and, most importantly, that won’t offend anyone.

I don’t do moments of silence. Having a moment of silence in response to tragedy is like choosing a Matchbox car to get you to work. It may look like the real, functioning counterpart but in reality it is powerless to help you.

We should either admit God is there and we need him or admit that he’s not and that tragic events have no rhyme, reason or purpose. They are in fact not really tragic because nothing is good, bad or indifferent if there is no God – everything just is. And if that is so, why should we stop our lives for even a moment to be quiet simply because stuff happened?