This is a special morning. Across Colorado and around the world, Christians today commemorate one of the crowning events in the life of that man whom they worship as God incarnate, Jesus of Nazareth.
National Day of Prayer was observed on May 7 with thousands of gatherings across America. I had the honor to keynote the Northern Colorado Prayer Breakfast in Loveland. God's oxygen, God's ark, and God's ambassadors were my word-pictures for the day, expanding on NDP's 2015 theme, "Lord, hear our cry" (I Kings 8). We're all grateful for the many times He has heard our cry and we knew it, I said. But what about the times when God's answer is "wait" or "no," or when all we seem to hear is silence? Then we need vividly sustaining images of who He is, what He offers us and requires of us. We need practices to keep us thinking and living prayerfully. I suggested three:
1) Breathe God's oxygen. God's oxygen is spiritual conversation between the Father and his child, you or me. We breathe it in with Scripture and breathe it out with prayer. And it's not optional! To think we can live without it for a day or even an hour is suicidal folly. Nor is God ever really silent to us when we have His written word in the Bible and his incarnate word in Jesus Christ, both constantly speaking to us and feeding us.
2) Build God's ark. God's ark is the visible structure of His truth, His love, His law, and His liberty, anchored for our rescue in a drowning world. Prayer must be not only said, but lived and put into action for our own and others' benefit. That visible structure honoring and reflecting God's order takes form in the church, to be sure, but also in families, schools, businesses, communities, civil and political societies. Our work is to secure them before evil's rising flood submerges everything.
3) Be God's ambassador. God's ambassador is that man or woman who purposefully and fearlessly brings others into the oxygen, into the ark. First the CPR, then the boarding pass. Who is waiting right now for us to get them inhaling and exhaling with Him, then show them aboard his vessel of refuge? Role models in the Bible include Andrew bringing Peter to Jesus (John 1, fairly easy), Philip bringing the Ethiopian to baptism (Acts 8, less easy),and Ananias helping Saul become Paul (frighteningly hard).
"Prayer is the Christian's vital breath, the Christian's native air," says an old hymn. "We enter heaven with prayer." So what are we waiting for? But the initiative is always with the Father, Son, and Spirit. Our own unaided effort is never enough. The breath of life God gave man in Genesis 2 wasn't just molecules of gas; it was that spiritual conversation between Maker and image.
Likewise the restorative breath for dry bones in Ezekiel 37. Likewise the risen Jesus breathing upon his disciples in John 20. With their inspiration and respiration you and I can be energized to breathe God's oxygen, build God's ark, and be God's ambassadors.
Some us who presented at National Day of Prayer Loveland event. Organizer and chairman Sosamma Samuel-Burnett is at right, John Andrews is next to her.
Have you observed two reoccurring events in the news? First, there is murder followed by a suicide. Is this the result of teaching and acceptance of evolution in our society? If life is just a matter of chance and time, what difference does it make what I do? If I am not responsible to a Creator God, than I can do anything I please.
Second, the people left behind always express shock that their friend/relative was capable of such an atrocity. However, such disclaimers ignore basic humanity for the perpetrator and the one making the claim. Jesus said, "For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander" (Matt 15:19).
Evolution conjectures that things are getting better and better. The news of the day negates this theory. If we are honest with ourselves, we will recognize the truth about our own deceitful heart.
One need not be Christian or Jewish to embrace America's founding principles, but there is no denying that those principles are rooted in the Old and New Testaments. So it's strange to see individuals or institutions that profess allegiance to the Bible but disallow its relevance to the way we govern ourselves. For those who say Scripture is authoritative, it should guide them not only in religion on Sundays, but also in politics, economics, and academics the other six days of the week. That's the premise of the Saint Louis Statement, a position paper issued by some friends of mine. They were concerned about the many Christian schools and churches that buy into relativist, collectivist, and leftist ideas in disregard of biblical teachings to the contrary. We can all think of examples. (Colorado Christian University, where I direct public policy programs, thankfully isn't one of them.)
The statement, entitled "The Bible, the Republic, the Economy, and the Academy," is posted here. Those of us already listed as signers welcome comments and discussion, as well as anyone wishing to add his or her signature.
As Christmas comes, reactions abound. Since the fourth century AD, when Roman Emperor Constantine embraced Christianity, church service attendance in Western Civilization is greatest at Christmas and Easter. Prior to Constantine, Christianity was illegal and thus did not attract people who were not deeply committed. Ironically during this period of intense persecution the number of Christians grew at a phenomenal rate, with an organic underground-style network of small home-based churches (much like China has been experiencing since the rule of Mao Zedong). That amazing growth, before Constantine, laid the foundation for Christianity’s widespread acceptance leading to a more organized Christianity.
Yet in many ways organizing Christianity stifled the life-transforming power that grew the earlier organic Church. And in more recent decades the spike in attendance at services for Christmas and Easter has decreased, while critical reactions toward or around these two special Christian days has increased in both number and intensity.
The name CHRISTmas forces most people to consider at some level: Who was Christ and why should his living two-thousand years ago make any difference to us today in our hectic modern life where we are bombarded with ideas trying to answer life’s most basic questions?
Many find this season warm and joyous. Yet others respond from indifference to an outright repulsive reaction to Jesus Christ’s claim to be God, the creator, sustainer and restorer of humanity and the world.
Some reject Biblical moral boundaries, while other rejections are connected to horrific acts done in the name of Christianity, or at least by self-identified Christians. While it is important to acknowledge such acts as horrific, it is just as important to ascertain if such acts are condoned or condemned by Biblical teaching, lest we throw baby Jesus out with the filthy and corrupt bath water.
As Americans, does the Christmas story have anything to do with: our freedom to think and express ideas; our freedom of religion; the equality of people; or even ideas like the size and reach of government?
Clearly the individual rights and freedoms that have long-defined America are not because of where America sits on the globe, but rather they fall directly from a worldview that sees humanity as unique and special and worthy of protection. And Christianity, which teaches that people are created in the image of God and that God came in human form and gave his life to provide a means for every person to have a restored and harmonious relationship with their Creator, puts a value on human life that is arguably much higher than that of any other set of ideas.
Cultures, which have embraced the Biblical value of humanity, have delivered the greatest level of individual liberty. While not all American founders embraced orthodox Christianity, they did embrace the Biblically-based view of human nature and that every person is created equal “with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”
The American experience, just like our own life experience, has had its struggles putting these profound ideas into practice. Yet had these ideas not sprung from a real foundation the American experiment in liberty would have been a futile effort, like every other culture that does not value humanity.
In recent decades some in America have been pushing America away from its foundation, with the result being increased chaos. Chaos has been answered by increasing the size and reach of government, leading to a decrease in personal liberty and making our personal and national future much less secure. We would be wise to look at the results of godless national experiments before we take the leap.
If atheism or any other set of ideas is true then by all means let us live life accordingly, but let us not take that jump without first investigating the idea which arguably has most radically and positively changed the lives of people and civilizations: Biblical Christianity.
Granted Biblical Christianity, unlike most other sets of ideas, does not align well with human logic, where might makes right, or utopia is achieved through personal effort. Does that not suggest that Biblical Christianity is not a human creation, but more likely revelation from our Creator? Even apart from the continual historical and archeological validations of Biblical history, Biblical teaching on human nature, the human condition, and the path to restoration, ring incredibly true with human experience.
Humanity is creative and desires to express that creativity. True faith cannot be forced upon someone. Vast power (control of resources) invites corruption, whether in business, politics, government, or religion. Left unbounded by inner moral guides or external militant guides, people and cultures self-destruct. Incredible transformation and healing does result when people bond with their Creator. Indeed these human experiences align with the Biblical presentation of humanity.
Ideas do have consequences. Ideas that ring true with life experience yield better results for us individually and for cultures. This Christmas, consider investigating genuine Biblical Christianity directly from its source document and resting your future in ideas that ring true and truly transform.
Mark Shepard writes from Vermont, where he formerly served as a state senator.