Archives for October 2011

Evidence for Faith

Skeptics of Christianity delight in ridiculing “blind” faith.  They claim that truth is only knowable when it can be tested and proven, thereby eliminating faith – in their minds – as reliable.  Faith certainly carries an element of trust beyond our five senses, but it is by no means limited to blind trust.  Consider, for instance, what I saw in Mata de Cana, Nicaragua this year: Evidence for Faith.

First, the Evidence of New Creation.  Paul wrote, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.  The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Cor. 5:17).  Sharing the gospel from house to house, I personally observed evidence of new creation.

Sharing the gospel with this dear woman soon resulted in her new birth

Two elderly women epitomized the change.  Both – in separate encounters – countered my gospel presentation by saying, “How can anyone know what you’re saying is true.  No one has died and returned to earth to confirm the existence of God, heaven, and hell.”

Unleashing the power of the cross, I soon witnessed the marvelous surrender of their wills to that of Christ.  Their new births were accompanied by a noticeable change in their countenances.  Whereas their eyes, smiles, and body language were initially influenced by common courtesy, now they were driven by “new creation.”  The change was very apparent.  Those of us present could feel the difference in atmosphere in their homes.

What are we to make of this almost instantaneous, noticeable change in people’s demeanor?  We draw the only conclusion possible: God supernaturally fashioned new creations.  The old did indeed pass away; the new did come!

Second, the Evidence of Changed Lives.  Making a verbal profession of faith in Christ is easy.  If faith is limited to cheap statements, perhaps the skeptics’ doubts are accurate.  But how should doubters respond to changed lives?

Missionary Darrel Johnson introduced me to a 100-year old lady who had received Jesus as her Savior a few years before.  My eyes took in the remnants of her once-thriving bar.  The pool table now serves as a mere table, much of it covered with beans waiting to be shelled.  The shelves, once stocked with liquor for an exciting evening of partying, now hold the simple products of a village store.

Still vibrant at 100 years of age, she is a new creation whose changed life matches her profession of faith!

Prior to salvation, she was part and parcel of the culture of sin: drinking, carousing, cheating, fighting, family breakup, etc.  Following salvation, she refused to propagate the sin which sends people to hell, so she closed her bar.  Sacrificing income, she embraced a lifestyle of holiness and public witness.  Caring for her fellow villagers – their souls, families, children – she changed her life.

How, I ask, can skeptics respond to this?  How do they explain such a radical change, not only in this woman’s demeanor and lifestyle, but in her firm decision to forego income so that her profession of faith would be consistent with her actions?  The only reasonable explanation is that Christ changed her.

Third, the Evidence of Christian Presence.  Frequently, I found evidence of manmade religion, often in the form of paganism blended with Roman Catholic beliefs.  Lostness abounded.  Tucked here and there, however, in Mata de Cana are genuine Christians.

A young father whose family lives far from the beaten path serves as a wonderful example.  He welcomed us and settled into conversation, as his young sons watched from a cautious distance.  As I spoke of the one true God and His plan to reconcile sinners to Himself, the man’s face brightened instantly.  He proudly told me that he too is a believer.

He peppered me with a list of questions that had troubled him, most of which were driven by confusion surrounding Catholicism.  He was thrilled to learn from Scripture why these doctrines are false.

As we prepared to leave, he voiced a beautiful, solemn promise.  He said that our visit to his faraway home brought him great encouragement, because he had felt alone as a Christian.  Seeing brothers and sisters from the U.S. deepened his faith and belief in the worldwide family of God.  He pledged to take his family every Sunday to the Baptist church in Mata de Cana and to teach his boys to know and love the Lord Jesus.

Mata de Cana's Baptist church

I offer this evidence to Christianity’s skeptics.  How do they explain the presence of genuine followers of Christ in a land largely sheltered from the gospel?  What explanation can they give for the immediate, heartfelt connection this father felt with those of us from the U.S.?  The only explanation is that the family of God is genuine; it knows neither geographical nor ethnic boundaries.

Finally, the Evidence of Personal Sacrifice.  Day after day, I saw a Nicaraguan woman sweep and mop the floor in our mission’s kitchen.  I learned later that she walked a solid half hour each morning in the pre-dawn darkness – traversing a slippery, treacherous path – to reach the village.  After dark, she followed the same trail home.  Why?  As a Christian, she values her service to the mission more so than her personal comfort.  Christians are willing to sacrifice much for the mission.

Ronnie, a member of our dental team, struggled to find a comfortable position from which to work on children.  The dental chairs placed the kids at a height which forced him to contort his body variously to relieve the pressure on his aching back.

Ronnie - "stooping low" for Jesus Christ!

Before arriving in Nicaragua, however, he had asked himself, “How low will you stoop for Christ?”  And even as he worked – bending for a while at the waste, then kneeling, and at times with his feet spread far apart – he asked himself, “Will you go this far?  Will you go this low?”  Thoughts of Christ’s suffering, thoughts of Christ pouring Himself out for the littlest and least, drove Ronnie to endure momentary discomfort to be Christ’s hands and feet.

How do we explain Ronnie’s personal sacrifice, that of the Nicaraguan woman, and of so many others?  The only explanation is one that defies every world religion other than Christianity: believers sacrifice and serve out of heartfelt gratitude for Christ’s death in their stead.  They don’t sacrifice as part of their religion’s mandate that good works are required to appease their God.  They don’t do so to earn a better, more enlightened position in the afterlife.  They sacrifice and serve for none of these self-driven motivators.  Christians sacrifice to meet the needs of the littlest and least, because it’s the least they can do to express their thanks for redemption and rescue from hell.

People from other religions sacrifice much in order to gain much – for themselves.  Christians sacrifice much, because Christ has already given them everything.  They sacrifice, not for personal gain, but that others might find forgiveness in Christ.  This is a very poignant example of evidence for faith, one among many that I saw in Nicaragua.

I am happy to hear from readers.  Please go to the “Contact” tab on this web site and send me a message.

Doing the Right Thing

My church launched a six-part video series Sunday night titled, Doing the Right Thing.  Produced by the Colson Center and the Witherspoon Institute, the study explores the ethical and moral breakdown that is assaulting culture from all sides.

Chuck Colson, speaking at a live Doing the Right Thing event

The series is hosted by Chuck Colson – famous for his role as President Nixon’s right hand man as well as for going to prison for his involvement in the Watergate Controversy – and Dr. Robert George, professor of jurisprudence at Princeton University.  Colson said, “We’re in an ethical mess… Why are we surprised?  It’s an inescapable consequence of neglecting moral training.” Speaking of a remedy, George added, “It has to begin in homes, churches, and schools.  At every level, we have to be working together to build a consensus around a sound and coherent ethic.”

The operative word from George’s comment is “consensus.” Listening to the panelists and experts interviewed for the video, it became clear that it is nearly impossible in America to agree upon “a consensus around a sound and coherent ethic.” A Harvard professor said that his esteemed university debated adding a required course in business ethics.  They eventually dropped the idea, because they couldn’t “build a consensus around a sound and coherent ethic.”

What this means is that America has now fully divorced itself from moral absolutes.  Confidently saying that right and wrong exist has grown troublesome, because doing so requires a standard from which to make such bold statements.  And no one wants to admit that our traditional standard was the Holy Bible.  We have rendered God weightless on American society, so ethics which find their origin in His word rest just as weightlessly.

Further, we have digressed so far that we don’t just deny moral absolutes; we embrace situational ethics.  Actually, we have gone further still: each person is free – even encouraged – to construct their own ethics.  For instance, if I value money more than honesty, I will cheat you if necessary to obtain money.

This explains, in large part, the steady degradation in quality of American made products and services.  In times past, business owners valued ethics.  They affixed their family name to their product or service, and they worked to offer the best possible.  They valued their customers, many of whom lived in their communities.  Today, by contrast, manufacturers purposely select cheap, fragile components, knowing they will contribute to a shorter life for their products.  Consumers will then have no choice but to purchase new ones in short order.  Profits will therefore mount for business owners.  Unethical behavior.

Americans see appliance repairmen more than ever!

The ice machine on my refrigerator broke not long ago.  I asked the repairman if I should consider purchasing a new refrigerator instead of fixing mine, since it was over sixteen years old.  His comment substantiated the breakdown of business ethics.  “Absolutely not”! he exclaimed.  “You’re lucky.  Your refrigerator is just old enough that it is actually a great product.  It was made when the manufacturers still cared about providing great refrigerators.”  Continuing, he said, “Most units I work on today are just a couple of years old.  I rarely get calls on the good, old ones like yours.  Keep it till it finally gives out!”

Expand this thinking into the world of finance.  The economic collapse of 2008 and 2009 was driven by greed at every level.  The lending crisis was rife with unethical behavior, starting at the top of the banking institutions and travelling all the way down to homeowners who had no business receiving loans for which they could never pay.  Surprisingly, laws and regulations against such unethical behavior exist, but no one – including the government – enforced them.  Too much money was being made all around, so everyone turned a blind eye…until the bottom fell out.

How, we wonder, could such wholesale unethical business practices exist at such high levels of finance, business, and government?  The answer is as easy as answering the following question: if a business leader isn’t raised to believe in sound ethical standards, will he automatically behave ethically just because he receives an important job?  No, he won’t.  If he constructed his own set of self-driven ethics early in life, he will carry these same beliefs into the boardroom.  If he values growth in business, accumulation of personal wealth, and advancement in his career more so than he values integrity and making sound decisions for all parties involved, he will act out his personal beliefs even if they break laws and traditional standards of ethics.  This is precisely what happened at the highest levels of banking and governmental regulation.

What we are discovering today at every level of American culture is that we are facing consequences for throwing out biblical standards of ethics.  With no foundation to agree upon, everyone works from their own standard.  And because the Bible makes it clear that all men are sinners, it follows that they will always construct personal ethics that favor them.  Their self-centered ethics will always run contrary to the Bible’s standards of morality.

Now that this dangerous mindset has filtered through society, now that generations of citizens have been raised in the void of true ethics, we are seeing fissures almost daily in almost every facet of American society.

I remember when President Clinton was enmeshed in the Monica Lewinski affair.  Cultural observers argued that his Two faces forever linkedunethical behavior in the Oval Office had no bearing on his ability to lead the country wisely.  The “experts” were wrong then, and we are seeing ample signs of their ignorant assessment now.  When people don’t personally adhere to a common standard of ethics, they will always feel free to construct their own in a variety of situations.  Carried to its practical conclusion, this approach inevitably leads to unreliable decisions.  When right is no longer universally held to be right, we are left guessing as to how people will react.  Their decisions and behavior will be driven by what they deem to be best for them at the time.

Contrast this modern malady with the character of the men who forged the birth of our great nation.  The Founding Fathers, though they argued heatedly at times, enjoyed “a consensus around a sound and coherent ethic” – namely, that found in the Bible.  Many of our early leaders were true Christians, but even those who weren’t believed strongly in the rightness and wrongness of the Bible’s standards of morality.  They were wise enough to realize that without a common ethic, democracy would soon shatter and implode upon itself, which we are personally living through today.

The Founding Fathers could not imagine, for instance, our recent lending crisis and resulting economic collapse.  The thought that government would grant mortgages to people (using tax payers’ money), when everyone involved knew that most of the recipients would default on the loans (reasons: insufficient income; poor credit history), in order to line greedy pockets with cash, would have been an anathema to them.  The process from start to finish would have appeared unethical.

The Founding Fathers could not imagine, to use another example, that the U.S. Government would allow the legal killing of babies in their mothers’ wombs.  They couldn’t fathom that we would debate over how late in a baby’s development is too late to murder a child.  They would find it shocking that their political descendants would dare to predict at which point an unborn fetus feels pain, using this as a guide for what separates legal abortion from murder.

These things would be unconscionable to them, because their consciences were tied to the Bible’s ethics.  Human life was created by God Himself and was therefore worthy of the fiercest protection of anything in the universe.

People are still reeling from the credit crisis

The lending crisis would have turned their stomachs, because it represents wealthy leaders knowingly taking advantage of the poor for the sole purpose of personal gain.  To our founders, this easily smacks of government overstepping its God-ordained role of protecting its citizens.

I am looking forward to the second installment of Doing the Right Thing. I for one need the constant reminder in my life that, apart from God’s grace and ongoing help, I will choose to do the wrong things.  At my sinful worst, I will even go so far as to redefine bad as good.  Only persistent exposure to the Bible’s truths protects my sinful heart from error and reorients my mind to the straight and narrow path.  As Albert Camus said, “A man without ethics is a wild beast loosed upon the world.”

Written by Todd Ragsdale, pastor of Winnetka Heights Baptist Church in Tulsa, OK.  I am happy to hear from readers.  Please go to the “Contact” tab on this web site and send me a message.