The Osteen Moment — Your Own Moment Will Come Soon Enough

Joel Osteen found himself forced to answer a question that every Christian — and certainly every Christian leader — will be forced to answer. When that moment comes, and come it will, those who express confidence in the Bible’s teaching that homosexuality is a sin will find themselves facing the same shock and censure from the very same quarters.

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Chilling Almost Beyond Belief

Americans generally know that abortions happen, but the reality of abortion is kept out of sight and, for most, largely out of mind. To acknowledge that abortions do occur does not require any actual knowledge of the numbers of abortions performed and the scale of the catastrophe. News reports that emerged in recent days will make that evasion harder to justify.

The New York Times reported on January 6, 2011 that the abortion rate in New York City is about 40 percent of all pregnancies. That means that no less than four out of every ten pregnancies in that city are terminated by abortion. That statistic is horrific, leading a group of New York religious leaders to describe the abortion rate as “chilling.”

Of even greater magnitude is the abortion rate among African-Americans in New York City — a rate of almost 60 percent. This means, of course, that far more black babies are aborted than are born. How is it that black church leaders are so silent on this murderous assault on unborn African-American babies?

The Guttmacher Institute recently reported that the national abortion rate is 22 percent. Two out of every ten pregnancies in America end in abortion.

The enormity of the abortion rate in America underlines the fact that abortion is anything but rare. Over 1.2 million abortions were performed in the United States in 2008, the last year with full numbers reported.

This means that abortion is taking place in your neighborhood and in mine. The abortion rate in New York City staggers the moral imagination, but the abortion rate nationwide is itself “chilling.”

We are a murderous people, and the blood of the innocent cries out for justice.

Thus says the Lord: “A voice is heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping. Rachel is weeping for her children; she refuses to be comforted for her children, because they are no more.” Jeremiah 31:15

For the Sake of the Kingdom: Redefining Retirement

The concept of retirement is rather recent in origins. Most historians trace the concept back to Germany’s “Iron Chancellor,” Otto von Bismarck, who pushed through a series of social changes in the late 19th century. Among those changes was a system something like Social Security, intended as a guaranteed pension for the elderly.

Bismarck’s idea was that workers in Germany would need to give way so that younger men would be able to enter the workforce and support their families. The concept of retirement from the workforce took root, and by the mid-point of the 20th century, most American workers expected to retire at something close to age 65.

The contemporary ideal of retirement was a life of travel, leisure, golf, and time with grandchildren. In states like Florida, California, and Arizona, entire communities of retirees emerged. “Leisurevilles” advertised a concept of the good life that was free from employment and largely, if not exclusively, devoted to withdrawal from the world of all work.

These communities are now in trouble. The concept of retirement is now changing, brought about by the economic recession that has propelled many older Americans back into the workforce. As Laura Vanderkam reports in USA Today:

After decades of decline, the labor force participation rate among people older than 65 rose from a low of 10.7% in 1987 to more than 17% now. Nearly a third of those ages 65-69 are working or looking for work, up from less than 20% in the 1980s, and surveys of Baby Boomers find that many don’t intend to retire immediately either.

We will likely look back on the period between 1950 and 2000 as the Era of Retirement. When President Franklin Roosevelt signed Social Security into law, the expectation was that workers would probably live an average of 5-8 years after retirement. But the extension of the human lifespan during the last half of the 20th century meant that retirement could easily last for twenty years, and often even longer. Now, those who live to age 65, Vanderkam reports, “can quite reasonably expect to live to age 85 or more.”

Here is the key sentence in Vanderkam’s essay: “The notion that work is something you want to stop doing is getting a makeover as well.” It’s about time.

The Bible dignifies both labor and age, but the modern American ideal of retirement is nowhere to be found in the Scriptures. Instead, lives of useful service to the Kingdom of Christ are the expectation, all the way to the grave.

The economic crisis of recent years has forced many Americans to rethink and redefine retirement as a matter of necessity. For Christians, this represents an important opportunity. The ideal for Christians should be redeployment, even after employment. There is so much Kingdom work to be done, and older believers are desperately needed in this great task. There are missionaries to be assisted, ministries to be energized, young couples to be counseled, boys without fathers to be mentored, and wisdom and experience to be shared. The possibilities for Christian redeployment are endless.

There is room in the Christian life for leisure, but not for a life devoted to leisure. As long as we have the strength and ability to serve, we are workers needed in Christ’s Kingdom. Given the needs and priorities all around us, who would settle for life in Leisureville?

The Deadly Logic of Anti-Blasphemy Laws

Blasphemy is a serious matter. Jesus himself underlined the importance with the statement: “And anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but the one who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven.” [Luke 12:10] In this case, the meaning is clear — those who resist the work of the Holy Spirit in calling sinners to faith in Christ will never be forgiven.

Christianity is not an honor religion. Christ did not call upon his disciples to defend his honor, but to believe in him and to follow him in obedience. In this verse, Jesus affirms that even slander against him can be forgiven, but the unforgivable sin is obstinate rejection of the Gospel and the work of the Holy Spirit.

In recent weeks, a coalition of Muslim nations has demanded (again) that the United Nations criminalize blasphemy. A considerable number of Christians might, at least at first hearing, think this as a reasonable demand. After all, we do not disagree that slander against the honor of God is a very, very dangerous sin. But anti-blasphemy laws place the power of theological coercion into the hands of the state, and this is deadly dangerous.

In Pakistan, for example, Section 295C of the criminal code states that “derogatory remarks, etc., in respect of the Holy Prophet … either spoken or written, or by visible representation, or by any imputation, innuendo or insinuation, directly or indirectly … shall be punished with death, or imprisonment for life, and shall also be liable to fine.”

On November 8, 2010, a woman named Asia Bibi, a Christian, was sentenced to death by hanging just because she had entered into what was claimed to be a religious argument with Muslims. She was arrested after an Islamic mob surrounded her house and demanded her death.

This past Monday the governor of Punjab, Salmaan Taseer, was assassinated by one of his own security guards after the Governor had stated words of support for Asia Bibi. The assassin said that he murdered Governor Taseer in an act of “protecting Allah’s religion.”

Saroop Ijaz, a human rights attorney in Lahore, Pakistan, explained in the Los Angeles Times that, though no one has yet been executed under the blasphemy laws, “at least 32 people have been killed while awaiting trial or after they have been acquitted of blasphemy charges.”

Anti-blasphemy laws serve the honor logic of Islam but not the evangelistic aims of Christianity. It is wrong to give governments the power of theological coercion. Seen in this light, blasphemy is no small matter, but anti-blasphemy laws are deadly barriers to the proclamation of the Gospel.

Martyrs in a Modern World

Christians — especially those enjoying the safety of the West — often think of martyrdom as a part of the distant Christian past. But a recent barrage of headlines dispels that notion in a hurry. Over the past several weeks, Christians in Iraq suffered a series of church bombings, and experts in the region predicted a virtual evacuation of that nation’s Christian population. Approximately half of all Iraqi Christians have already fled the country. That represents a failure of the American ambition to leave Iraq with a government that would protect basic human rights and liberties. The murderous terrorism against Christians in Iraq amounts to a form of religious cleansing.

Meanwhile, oppression of Christians in Egypt, the most populous Arab nation, intensified with a January 1 bombing of the Saints Church in Alexandria. Twenty-one worshipers were killed and another 100 were injured. Analysts predicted a rise in the scale of these attacks, since many Muslims seem intent on eliminating Egypt’s approximately 10 million Christians.

In Pakistan, rioters took to the streets to insist that the nation’s draconian blasphemy laws stay in place — effectively allowing only Muslim practice and preaching. As The New York Times reported, “A crippling strike by Islamist parties brought Pakistan to a standstill on Friday as thousands of people took to the streets, and forced businesses to close, to head off any change in the country’s blasphemy law, which rights groups say has been used to persecute minorities, especially Christians.”

There is no way we can determine the exact theological beliefs of these worshipers in Egypt, Iraq, and Pakistan, but there can be no question that they are suffering and dying in the name of Jesus Christ. They deserve our earnest prayers and advocacy. They also remind us by their witness that Christ has enemies — and so do His followers. The blood of the martyrs does indeed cry out their witness for Christ.

We must pray for persecuted Christians everywhere around the world.

“Through prayer we can be saved because of our Lord Jesus Christ, even after we have been punished. This will become salvation and confidence to us at the much more fearful and universal judgment of our Lord and Savior.” Justin Martyr

How Not to Fight Atheism

There is nothing so short-sighted and unhelpful as Christian insecurity — and this kind of insecurity recently led to predictable results in Fort Worth, Texas. In early December, the Dallas-Fort Worth Coalition of Reason — a group dedicated to raising the profile of secularists, atheists, and agnostics — began running advertisements on Fort Worth public buses that read, “Millions of Americans are Good Without God.”

Some Christians responded with outrage. “The ads are hurtful to the people who do believe in God, and I proudly believe in Jesus Christ,” said one woman. A coalition of Fort Worth pastors called for a boycott of public transportation. According to The Associated Press:

The Rev. Kyev Tatum, pastor of Friendship Rock Baptist Church, said not only the community but also some bus drivers have been offended by the ads, set to run this week until a printing problem caused a delay. Tatum called for a boycott, saying about a dozen churches would try to provide rides for anyone who refused to ride a city bus over the atheist ads.

These offended Christians called for action by transportation officials, and they did not have to wait long for a response. The Fort Worth Transportation Authority voted December 15 to ban all religious ads on buses. The policy took effect January 1, 2011. According to press reports, “both sides cheered the decision.”

Christians are sometimes our own worst enemy, especially when we claim to be offended. Those pastors and concerned Christians who demanded that the transportation authority ban the atheist ads actually gave the secularists the Grand Prize. By precipitating (and, of all things, celebrating) a ban on all religious messages from this public space, these Christians surrendered Gospel opportunities simply because they were offended by an atheist advertisement. No wonder the atheists clapped.

This is a disastrous strategy. Are Christians so insecure that we fear a weakly-worded advertisement on a public bus? These bus ads represent just how weak the atheists’ arguments really are, but the response from agitated Christians represents a far more dangerous weakness. Instead of responding to the ads with a firm and gracious defense of the Gospel, these activists just surrendered the space altogether, rather than to bear the offense of the cross.

Christianity has enemies, and the greatest victory of these enemies is to prevent the proclamation of the Gospel. The strategy so celebrated in Fort Worth is a route to evangelistic disaster. Religious liberty is a friend of the Gospel, and constraints on religious speech serve the cause of the secularists.

Being a Christian does not mean never having to be offended. Like the Apostle Paul, we are called to bear the offense of the cross gladly. If Paul had followed the Fort Worth strategy, Acts 17 would never have happened.

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