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I am a born-again, Bible-believing, evangelical Christian man from the midwestern United States.  Tonight, before turning out my bedsight light, I was reading a book called The Heavenly Man.  The Heavenly Man is an autobiographical account of the life of a Chinese Christian known as Brother Yun.  Brother Yun is fond of quoting a scripture for every situation he encounters, and while reading his book tonight I happened upon a passage of scripture that intrigued me.  Wanting to read more of it, I looked it up and read some of the surrounding text as well.  I should say right up front that despite my faith and trust in Jesus Christ, I don’t read my Bible as much as I should, so what I share with you here, I share as a layman and as a fellow believer, not as a teacher or a preacher.

The Biblical book of Revelation is perhaps the most misunderstood (or misinterpreted) of the books of the Christian Bible.  I can say this despite my own limited and imperfect understanding, because anyone who will look can see the conflicting understandings and interpretations of its text which exist in the modern church; it just can’t mean everything that people think it means.  It’s doubtful that any of the other Biblical texts have been interpreted in so many conflicting fashions.

But one of the beautiful aspects of the book of Revelation is the messages to the seven churches of Asia, which are present in chapters 2 and 3.  At the time of its writing, the so-called seven churches of Asia were the churches of Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea.

These messages were written specifically to each church: a unique message for each of the seven churches named, each message tailored to the character of each church, its strengths and weaknesses.  For instance, the first message in the series was written to the church in Ephesus and acknowledges first the virtues of that church: hard work and perseverance, a refusal to tolerate wicked men, and discernment of which apostles were true and which were not.  And yet there is also a shortcoming in this church: it had lost the fervor with which it had originally embraced the Gospel.  “I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love…Repent and do the things you did at first.”

To each church an edifying word was sent, first praising the virtues and then pointing out the particularly grievous sin or shortcoming of that particular group of believers.

The reason I got out of bed to write this message to you tonight is found in the message to the church in Sardis.  When I happened upon this passage tonight I was struck by its perfection in describing the evangelical Christian community in North America.

“I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead.  Wake up!  Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your deeds complete in the sight of my God.  Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; obey it, and repent.  But if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you.” (Revelation 3:1-3)

I won’t waste your time by attempting to interpret this passage for you.  Its potential application to the complacent and self-satisfied modern evangelical church in North America seems so obvious to me, I’m going to trust that upon meditation you will also find it speaks to you.

Wake up, Christians!  Please share your thoughts by commenting below.

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Barack Obama

Barack Obama has recently come under criticism from evangelical Christian personality James Dobson for comments he made back in 2006 while addressing a liberal Christian group.”Which passages of scripture should guide our public policy? Should we go with Leviticus, which suggests slavery is OK and that eating shellfish is an abomination? Or we could go with Deuteronomy, which suggests stoning your child if he strays from the faith? Or should we just stick to the Sermon on the Mount…So before we get carried away, let’s read our Bible now…Folks haven’t been reading their Bible.” -Barack Obama

Dobson has accused Obama of distorting the Bible, but that’s an oversimplification of Obama’s mistake. What Obama has really done is put his ignorance of Christianity on public display.

Let me break it down for you in very simple terms: The Holy Bible includes many different types of literature; civil laws, religious laws, poetry, histories, narratives, prophecies, and many other subgroupings. What Obama is citing in Leviticus and Deuteronomy are the civil code and religious laws of the ancient Hebrews. These are a part of the Christian canon by virtue of their presence in the Jewish scriptures, but they don’t govern the Christian faith in any way. For Christians, the Old Testament (or Old Covenant, to be more precise) was superseded by the New Testament (or New Covenant) nearly 2000 years ago.

What Obama did, essentially, was to borrow a common anti-Christianity red herring argument and use it to pander to a liberal Christian group.

Conservative Christians have been rumored to be flirting with the Obama campaign, but this instance ought to serve as a warning. This man claims to be a Christian but doesn’t know the scriptures or understand the distinction between different types of religious texts.

My last (previous) post, titled “They Just Don’t Get Us,” got more of a response than I had anticipated.  The article was only concerned with the growing rejection of Christianity (and Christians) by American society.  The comments that were posted by readers were mostly concerned with Christian hypocrisy and its effect on the cultural perception of Christianity itself.  But as I think about the subject more, I’m more intrigued with the intellectual part of the equation.

I’m not a theologian, but I am a Christian who understands most of the fundamentals of his faith and is committed to learning more in time.  Let me air out some ideas here, and please do me the favor of sharing your feedback.

Understanding Christianity and its precepts requires first that an individual adopt the meaning of the proverb, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding” (Proverbs 3:5) and it also requires us to accept, if only temporarily and for the sake of argument, that all truth is dependent on the Creator’s point of view, not ours.  Jesus has many names, and Truth is one of the most important.  As Jesus said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” (John 14:6)  We aren’t just talking about a name, either – we’re talking about Jesus’ very identity.  That’s one challenge that many people can’t get past.  They want to be their own truth, rather than accepting a higher power.  We, on the other hand, accept that Jesus is one with the all-powerful, all-knowing, supernatural God (John 10:30) and that all truth and logic is grounded in Him.  That’s our perspective, our paradigm, from which we view the world around us and interpret the knowledge available to us.

It’s too simplistic to say that you have to first believe, and then you’ll understand and your belief will be justified.  But it’s in the same neighborhood with the truth.  Unfortunately, some people have tried to present Christianity with that rationale, and it has a tendency to make us look like fools.  The Western World likes confidence and it likes certainty.  It appreciates precise language, empirical proof, and unbeatable arguments.  What it doesn’t like is ambiguity on intellectual matters.  And yet one of the most basic (and positive) things we have to offer is an acknowledgement of our intellectual limitations.

What I’m really getting at here is the idea that in order to be at peace with God, we need to acknowledge His superiority and our flawed nature.  Once we incorporate that truth into our worldview, we find that we’re far more able to harmonize what we think we know with what the Holy Bible tells us.

I remember watching Barbara Walters interview some now-forgotten minor evangelical celebrity on television years ago.  I was watching with my mother, who I will tell you now, is a very perceptive person.  As we watched, we were both struck by a strange disconnectedness on Walters’ part.  By the way that her eyes glazed over and her smile became static, painted on, it was clear that she wasn’t engaged.  “She doesn’t understand what she’s hearing,” my mom said.  “She doesn’t get it, and she can’t connect with this person.”  Being the perceptive person she is, my mom was right.  Try as she might, Ms Walters couldn’t identify with the thoughts and ideas she was hearing, and that’s why she was unable to make a connection.  All she could do was smile and nod, and wait for the guest’s mouth to stop moving.

This story is illustrative of an unfortunate truth about our society.  There are still tens of millions of evangelical Christians in the United States today, as there have been for centuries.  But more and more, the rest of the country doesn’t understand our language, our perspective, our aspirations, or our place in American culture.

It probably goes without saying that evangelical protestants will never again occupy the dominant position they once did in this country, and maybe that’s not a bad thing.  But for many years there’s been a widespread attitude of tolerance (or indifference) from most Americans toward conservative Christians.  Sadly, it seems that Americans are becoming less and less tolerant of genuine religious faith with each passing generation.  If political commentary in the US is an indicator, it would seem that Christian faith is now openly frowned upon, to the point that many contributors to the public discourse (particularly bloggers and their commentors) are openly contemptuous of any expression of real faith by public figures.  There’s a sort of tolerance for religious affiliation, but that has more to do with a trendy, showy multiculturalism than real openness.

The expressions of scorn for Christians have become more common and more strident lately, and I think it’s because the general public misunderstands who we Christians are and what we want out of life.  It’s hard to trust someone you don’t know, and they don’t know us.  If they think that we want to force our morals on them, if they think that we look down on them or feel superior to them, if they surmise that we want to control their lifestyle opportunities and conscript them all into the army of our God, how can we be surprised at the hostility?

Is this anti-Christian bigotry?  Maybe, sometimes.  But I don’t think we can be spared from blame.  There have always been people who behaved thoughtlessly and spoke without regard for the feelings of others, and who cloaked their words and actions in evident religious fervor.  I’ll always remember Jerry Falwell taunting Ellen DeGeneres after she revealed her homosexuality, calling her Ellen Degenerate.  That made me shudder at the time – imagine how it must have affected nonbelievers.  There are also those who substitute their personal preferences for good Biblical doctrine, such as those who consider certain types of music to be evil or those who insist that only one translation of the Bible is suitable for use in church.  Then too, think of those who justify racist attitudes by citing scripture or by remembering “good Christian folks” of days gone by who also were racists.

We may also be able to thank the so-called Islamofascists for some aspect of this development, as they have demonstrated how badly a religion-saturated philosophy can go wrong.  But in the bigger picture, I think the wide and growing decline in participation in organized religion has given us a new generation of young adults who don’t know anything about religious faith and who don’t have any meaningful relationships with religious people, and who are consequently filled with fear and dread where religion is concerned.  Because of the general trend toward incivility and the anonymity of the internet, they have no qualms about expressing their distaste for others who they find threatening, and too often they find anyone threatening whose faith informs their actions.