28 November 2011

Seeing Intolerance as Opportunity

I have observed that just the name of Jesus evokes tremendous reactions in our culture.  No other name sparks debate, arouses hostility, or engenders great devotion like the name of Jesus.  It is a curious thing if you stop and really think about it.  Why is it that the name of Jesus increasingly met with such passion and controversy.  People love to hate Tim Tebow because he relentlessly proclaims his love for Jesus to the world.  Why?  Military chaplains are currently instructed (at least in the US Air Force where I serve as a reserve chaplain) to refrain from using the name of Jesus in public prayer.  Why? I've watched in my lifetime the name of Christ removed from Christmas.  In my small town the banners attached to the light poles along Main Street read "Happy Holidays", "Peace on Earth", and "Noel."  I've noticed other biblical allusions, but nowhere can I find the word Christmas.  Why? I suspect because it contains the name Christ, which, of course, is Jesus.  Maybe you've noticed this in your town too.

Even an unbeliever, who rejects the claims that Christianity makes about Jesus, should find the omission of Christ from Christmas and the hostility to Jesus curious.  I mean really, either you believe in Jesus and go to church and all that religious stuff or you don't.  If you don't why would you care if others do?  If you choose to reject the message of Christianity personally, then why object to those who do accept it or to traditions and celebrations that obviously are rooted in it?  Neither is one forced to believe in Jesus, nor one is punished for not believing.  So why all the intolerance for the name of Jesus?

The answer to the question depends greatly on your point of view.  A non Christian person may genuinely think that if the name of Jesus or symbols of Christianity occupies any part of the public square, then it is being forced on them.  The so-called politically correct person may simply want to sanitize that public square for any perceived favoritism toward any one religion.  The secularist may simply want no religious expressions at all in the public square.  A religious person, like a devout Jew or Muslim, may simply feel that they are being run over by the religious majority. 

There can be no doubt that the prominence that Christianity once held in our country has faded.  Many past assumptions that kept Christianity mainstream simply aren't there anymore.  At one time the vast majority thought nothing negatively about Christian public prayers, displays of the Ten Commandments, or nativity scenes and crosses on public properties.  But in the last half century or so much has changed.  Our culture has become increasingly tolerant of every kind of lifestyle, behaviors and obscenities and increasingly intolerant of of anything specifically Christian. 

Now before you think that I'm just whining and pining for a return to the good old days, let me interject this.  I'm just stating an obvious trend in our American culture.  But even as I do so, I'm excited about the opportunity for the gospel and for the church.  I know historically that in the darkest times is when individual Christians have shined most brightly.  Today, is a great day to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ. 

Paul wrote to the Romans, "For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes..."(Rom. 1:16)  Here we see why someone like Paul would suffer and strive for the gospel of Jesus Christ.  He knew that people's salvation depended on it.  Therefore, he would not listen to critics, tolerate false teaching, or back away from its message for a second.   

It might irritate me that the culture has shifted and that Christianity doesn't hold the sway over traditions like it used to.  I might sigh a little and wish that it were different.  But a symbol, monument, decorations, or public prayer never saved a person's soul.  However, there is a person by whom all persons who believe can be saved - Jesus.  Under serious threat of persecution Peter boldly declared Jesus as legitimate and said, "And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men, by which we must be saved" (Acts 4:12).

Many people don't like the exclusive claims of Christianity.  They don't like being informed that their ways are wrong.  I think we can understand that. Who likes being told their wrong about anything?  I believe that this is why we are told to "speak the truth in love" in Scripture.  If people's natural pride is going to bristle at being told they are wrong, that they need to repent of sin and that they need to die to self, it might help if we delivered that message with genuine love and compassion.  It does nothing for the gospel to return hostility with hostility or intolerance with intolerance.  Our response must always be love.  Even as our culture may become more increasingly belligerent toward Jesus, we need to be falling more deeply in love with Jesus and the gospel.  If we do this, then we can love our enemies and pray for those who attempt to do us harm-just like Jesus told us.  And a life that demonstrates this is of infinite more worth for the gospel than any symbol or tradition.

There is no other name than Jesus by which people can be saved. Therefore, I want people to see Him through me - by my proclamation, by my testimony and by my life.  Frankly, I don't care what the culture around me thinks or does. I can't control how much or how little society reflects my Christian convictions, but I can be passionate about the gospel, which has the power to transform lives first - then a whole culture.     


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