Measuring Greatness

Without rigorous examination of our hearts, we won’t be able to discern whether we are pleasing our Master or following an inner longing for validation.

The prophet Jeremiah addressed this question directly: “Do you seek great things for yourself? Seek them not, for behold, I am bringing disaster upon all flesh, declares the Lord. But I will give you your life as a prize of war in all places to which you may go” (Jeremiah 45:5). Jeremiah makes clear that God’s measurement of greatness is much different from the world’s. Note that he doesn’t say, “Do not be great. You’ll get spiritual brownie points for false humility.” No, as Jesus Himself says, greatness is measured in how well we serve others.

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MEASURING GREATNESS
by Gary Wilkerson | August 10, 2015

John the Baptist would not let himself be distracted from leading a life of great consequence.

The gospel of John tells us, “A discussion arose between some of John’s disciples and a Jew over purification. And they came to John and said to him, ‘Rabbi, he who was with you across the Jordan, to whom you bore witness — look, he is baptizing, and all are going to him’” (John 3:25-26, ESV). John’s followers were speaking of Jesus. Evidently they had theological concerns about Him. Maybe they had heard about His miracle at Cana and thought He had mishandled the cisterns.

John wasn’t going to be distracted by the debate. He knew that something greater than doctrinal sticking points was at stake. He answered, “A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven” (John 3:27). In other words: “Can someone work a miracle like this if he hasn’t been sent by God? That kind of power comes only from heaven.”

What John says next is powerful: “You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, ‘I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him.’ . . . He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:28, 30). John’s focus in life was clear; his holy calling was centered completely on Jesus. For that reason John the Baptist was known as a great man.

The problem for many of us today, in our success-driven culture, is that we seek great things for ourselves. Well-intentioned ministers seek to build a Twitter following. Christians want to be heard even if it means having fifteen seconds of stupidity on YouTube. We may convince ourselves we are pursuing things for God, but is Jesus really our focus? Without rigorous examination of our hearts, we won’t be able to discern whether we are pleasing our Master or following an inner longing for validation.

The prophet Jeremiah addressed this question directly: “Do you seek great things for yourself? Seek them not, for behold, I am bringing disaster upon all flesh, declares the Lord. But I will give you your life as a prize of war in all places to which you may go” (Jeremiah 45:5). Jeremiah makes clear that God’s measurement of greatness is much different from the world’s. Note that he doesn’t say, “Do not be great. You’ll get spiritual brownie points for false humility.” No, as Jesus Himself says, greatness is measured in how well we serve others.

Holding Tightly to Christ

My point is this: you don’t deal with violent expressions of faith by pretending that confidence is the problem and content doesn’t matter.

And yes, sinful humans have committed atrocities in the name of Christ, but in each of these cases, the problem was a failure to be true to the content of the Christian faith. It wasn’t certitude and confidence in Christianity that led to the Crusades, but the idea that Jesus could be coopted by a political and military endeavor. The crusaders weren’t “holding too tightly” to the content of Christianity; they weren’t holding tightly enough. How else can we explain the transformation of a Savior suffering for His enemies into a warring king charging into foreign lands?

So here we are in the 21st century. And ironically, despite the popular pluralism espoused by the president and writers like Saletan, one of the drivers of religious conflict today and one of the explanations of the West’s inability to deal adequately with radical Islam is exactly this failure to consider the content of the beliefs being presented.

It’s simply not true, no matter how often our leaders tell us, that confidence in our beliefs is bad while the content of our beliefs is neutral.

– Trevin Wax

Charlie Hebdo, Intolerance, and the Problem of Double Standards

Charlie Hebdo, Intolerance, and the Problem of Double Standards

January 16th, 2015

The terrible massacre in Paris could be a “teachable” moment on the meaning of tolerance, but it will require soul searching by America’s cultural leftists.

The outpouring of sympathy and support for the staff of the French magazine Charlie Hebdo has been enormous. Over a million people poured into the streets of Paris to protest the terrorist attack on its headquarters, a gathering said to be larger than when France celebrated the end of World War II. It appears to be a near universal statement of support for freedom of expression.

But is it? Is there really a consensus, even here in the United States, for freedom of expression in all its forms? Do all the people who hold up signs declaring “the pen is mightier than the sword” really believe it when it comes to those with whom they disagree?

Sadly, many do not. In fact, some of the very same people outraged by the violence committed against Charlie Hebdo are all too happy to limit freedom of speech and inquiry on America’s campuses. Universities routinely use speech codes to limit what can be expressed on campus. Prominent figures such as former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and former Harvard University President Larry Summers are prevented from speaking at some of the country’s most prominent universities. A University of Illinois professor who taught a class on Catholicism is fired for explaining the Catholic understanding of natural law and homosexuality; and a training manual for employees at Marquette University (a Jesuit school no less)  advises them to report privately expressed criticisms of same-sex marriage to authorities as harassment. Hair-trigger charges of “microaggression” are leveled against professors for an unintended insult. “Trigger warnings” are sent out on social media to warn tender-hearted students that they had best avoid certain lectures (say, on religion and Western Civilization) for fear of being traumatized.

It’s bad enough on America’s campuses, but illiberal shaming rituals of intolerance are coming to the workplace too. If you say or write anything, even privately, that certain groups may find offensive, you can lose your job. Just ask Atlanta’s Fire Chief Kelvin Cochran, who was recently fired because of a book he published outside of work in which he expressed Christianity’s traditional teachings on homosexuality. Mozilla’s Brendan Eich resigned his new post as CEO after an outcry over his private donation to a group supporting a traditional marriage initiative in California. Apparently, some freedom of expression is more equal than others.

It would be easy to conclude that people who oppose the free speech of some are merely hypocrites. They say one thing and do another. And it’s true, they are hypocrites—flagrant partisans of a double standard. But it’s important to realize that the major reason they are not deterred by such criticism is that the double standard is actually a core principle of their ideology. In their minds, to be inconsistent is absolutely necessary to be consistent, just as it is necessary to be intolerant of certain points of view supposedly to be tolerant. It is the necessary illiberal means to advance their idea of a liberal agenda.

The key to making sense of this is to understand that free speech is not really the issue. The elimination of barriers to their vision of absolute equality is the issue. After all, the heirs of the radical “free speech” movement that began in the 1960s—the radical tenured professors who now hold sway in many American universities—are the same people trying to control free speech on campus. Leftists who want to control speech are doing so precisely because they believe that something—namely, their ideology of radical egalitarianism—is more important than free speech.

They may think of themselves as great civil libertarians of free speech, but they tolerate little dissent if someone dares question their most sacred ideas. Their inspiration is not the First Amendment, which is little more than a means to an end—embraced when it’s convenient and rejected when it’s not. Rather it is the cause of making ideological war on certain kinds of people and certain kinds of ideas, and in that war it is perfectly permissible to take no prisoners.

Who are the enemy? Actually, Charlie Hebdo’s cartoon targets make up a pretty good enemies’ list—Christians, conservatives, rich people, and Jews, particularly if they can be linked to Israel. Of course, also on the list is the lampooned Prophet Mohammad, but he presents an ideological problem for the left. Often, Muslims are presented as victims of America, Israel, and conservatives. In that context, they become a cause célèbre, a special class right up there with gays, women, and racial minorities.

However, when an Islamist terrorist beheads or blows up an ideological ally such as Charlie Hebdo, they have a problem. Luckily, the problem only lasts until the first mosque is attacked by some unhinged right-winger. Then it’s back to defending Muslims from “Islamophobes,” often making the ridiculous charge that Islamophobia is a species of racism. They have difficulty keeping their enemies straight because their ethics are situational. It depends on how a particular situation fits into the broader ideological war on Christianity, Judaism, and Western culture.

If you don’t believe me, ask Dutch-born cartoonist Bernard Holtrop who worked for Charlie Hebdo. Apparently fed up with so much solidarity from people he despises, he declared, “We vomit on all these people who suddenly say they are our friends”—mentioning the Pope and Queen Elizabeth and others who had the temerity to express support for Charlie Hebdo. “I have always defended Charlie Hebdo,” he said, “[and t]here can be no debate on freedom of expression, never.” Never, except of course when it comes to the Pope, who deserves nothing but a splash of bile from his stomach.

Holtrop and Charlie Hebdo’s vulgarity is certainly no excuse for the horrible violence perpetrated against its staff. Moreover, it’s a good thing that so many people around the world spoke out in favor of freedom of expression. I only wish that many of the magazine’s left-wing supporters in America and around the world would apply the same standard to Christian conservatives.

So here is my appeal. If the champions of free speech on the left want to be truly consistent, they should do the following:

Stop making convenient exceptions to freedom of expression. As is often noted, the First Amendment is intended to defend unpopular speech, not popular speech. That includes speech with which you disagree. No self-respecting liberal can call himself that if he violates one of the most sacred of all civil liberties—freedom of expression.

Recognize and embrace the most liberal of all principles—namely, that expressions of personal (and especially religious) opinions are protected by the Constitution. Not only does the First Amendment guarantee freedom of the press, it also protects “the free exercise of religion.” Firing a person for writing a private book expressing his religious views on homosexuality is no less offensive and unconstitutional than dismissing someone for criticizing the Pope or the Prophet Mohammad.

Return the American university to a place of liberal education, learning, and open and free inquiry. Many of America’s universities and colleges are still dedicated to these principles, but too many of them are not. It’s not only the stifling of free speech but monotonous conformity that bedevils academic learning, particularly in the humanities. The ethos of academic freedom should be truly respected, not used as an excuse to shut out certain points of view. Real diversity of opinion should be embraced as an end itself.

Stop exaggerating the threat supposedly posed by Christians and other conservatives. Much of the rationale for prohibiting conservatives from speaking on campuses stems from the outrageously stupid view that they are about to swoop down on the college green like the KKK and start lynching people. Activists actually believe they are conducting a defensive operation, when in reality they are offensively imposing a majoritarian view on minorities (especially on campus). A short look in the mirror would correct that misapprehension. It’s not conservatives who are behaving like intolerant bigots. It is radical leftists.

Drop the collective guilt mindset of identity politics. So much of the intolerance generated by the postmodern left is based on spurious assumptions about how groups of people think. The notion of “white privilege,” for example, that assumes all white people are unconsciously racist is guilty of the same racialist thinking that white supremacists once used to justify their hatred of blacks. Liberals need to go back to thinking of human beings as individuals who should be judged by their merits, not by their racial characteristics.

Get a consistent story on how to think about radical Islam. Depending on whom you talk to, Islamist terrorists are either bloody murderers of liberal cartoonists or “activists” responding to legitimate fears of “Islamophobia.” Leftists can’t make up their minds whether to fear or embrace the radical Islamists. The reason for their confusion stems from the fact that they fear Christians far more than Muslims. They occasionally get shocked out of their delusions by the threat of real violence by Islamist terrorists. But it doesn’t take long for them to realize that they can’t go too far down that road without aiding and abetting the real enemy: Christians.

Thankfully, most leftists who wish to stifle free speech don’t use violence. But they do advocate the coercive use of shaming rituals and the force of law to get their way. The means are not nearly as severe, but the principle of coercion remains. Once someone embarks down the road of saying one’s opponents have no right to their views at all, it’s not too many steps until one is tolerating all sorts of horrible things, like firing someone for his religious views.

The terrible massacre in Paris could be a “teachable” moment on the meaning of tolerance, but it will require soul searching by America’s cultural leftists. Double standards are the defense mechanisms of the confused and the insincere. They can only be exposed by clearing up the confusion and by exposing the insincerity. One hopes that after all the Charlie Hebdo marches are over, we can set to work to establish real freedom of expression in this country for everybody, and not just for a certain special few from one wing of the ideological spectrum.

Kim R. Holmes is a Distinguished Fellow at The Heritage Foundation and author ofRebound: Getting America Back to Great (Rowman & Littlefield, 2013).

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 reblogged from The Public Discourse

The Indignity of Giving Thanks

The Indignity of Giving Thanks

The spirit of thanksgiving runs against the temptation we face as human beings to assert our self-sufficiency. Few of us enjoy the feeling of indebtedness; a fact easily demonstrated by our oft-unsolicited readiness to return a favor once someone has expressed kindness to us. I owe you one, I will return the favor, and I am in your debt are some of the ways in which we express this attitude. Such responses, together with the more modest one, please let me know what I can do for you, allow us to express gratitude without acknowledging the chronic shadow of dependence that so rudely dogs our entire threescore and ten.

 

Not only does this inability to express gratitude without our own autonomy stealing the show sometimes rob of us of the joy of affirming the contribution of others to our wellbeing, it also shrivels up our desire to worship God. An unexamined sense of self-sufficiency instills in us a subtle but false attitude of entitlement, thus making it difficult for us to accept the sense of vulnerability that is part of true gratitude. Ever since the tempter said to Adam and Eve in the Garden, “You will be like God,” human beings have never given up the temptation to either elevate ourselves to the level of God or pull God down to our level, so we can deal with God as equals. We are always looking for a chance to say to God, “I can take it from here.”

 

Such an attitude of entitlement, I believe, occupies a central role in the story of the ten lepers in Luke 17.  While all ten are healed by Jesus, only one of them returns to express gratitude. In his editorial comment, Luke informs us that the one who returned to give thanks was a Samaritan, and Jesus refers to him as a foreigner. Undoubtedly,lepers this implies that the other nine were Jews. Could it be that the Jewish lepers felt entitled to the services of this Jewish prophet and their God? If God were to begin to right wrongs in the world, wouldn’t the most logical place to begin be among his own chosen people? Judging by Jesus’s expression of surprise in the passage, it seems the only words one would have expected from the mouths of the nine lepers would have been, “It’s about time!” Without a clear sense of how little we are entitled to, we cannot really come to terms with the need for gratitude—for an attitude of entitlement is an effective impediment to gratitude.

 

But everything we know about ourselves and our world speaks loudly against this tendency to self-sufficiency. As human babies, we all begin our lives at the highest level of dependence, and none of us really outgrows all degrees of dependence. We depend on parents, teachers, peers, coaches, and others to open doors for us in life. Even in places where commitment to personal autonomy is likely to produce more martyrs than religious conviction, dependence on others is still a living reality whose attempted concealment is gradually unveiled by the onset of old age. From the inventions that give us comfort in this world to the young soldiers who give their lives in the battlefields to protect our livelihoods, an unobstructed view of our lives reveals the fact that we all owe debts that we can never repay. We will never begin to worship God until we recognize that we are bankrupt debtors, for an attitude of gratitude is an indispensable impetus to worship.

 

Like skilled gourmet chefs spicing up their delicacies, Scripture writers sprinkle their words with admonitions and exaltations regarding gratitude, frequently tying it together with worship. For example, in the midst of a dark catalogue of humanity’s journey away from God, the apostle Paul lays the blame on our unwillingness to glorify God or give thanks to God. Similarly, the author of Hebrews grounds our worship of God in gratitude. He writes, “Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe” (Hebrews 12:28). It is impossible to worship God without gratitude, and it is impossible to be grateful while clinging to self-sufficiency and entitlement at the same time. Yes, there is some vulnerability in gratitude sincerely expressed, but that is because we are relational beings whose deepest needs can only be met in partnership with others and ultimately with God. While an attitude of entitlement is an impediment to gratitude, an attitude of gratitude is an indispensable impetus to worship. Show me a person whose life is characterized by gratitude, and I will show you a person whose soul is poised to worship God.

 

J.M. Njoroge is a member of the speaking team at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.

reblogged from http://www.rzim.org/a-slice-of-infinity/the-indignity-of-giving-thanks/

 

“With All My Heart I Want To Leave You With The Truth”

Evangelist Billy Graham to mark 95th birthday with message to America

Graham, who has not preached publicly since 2006 because of frail health, has filmed a public message to air on national television on his November 7 birthday, giving fans a rare and possibly final opportunity to see the man dubbed “America’s Pastor.”

“Our country is in great need of a spiritual awakening,” Graham says in a program titled “The Cross.” “With all my heart, I want to leave you with the truth.”

Graham’s message is at the heart of what the Charlotte, North Carolina-based association bearing his name calls its largest evangelism effort in the United States in its 63-year history.

It comes at a time when most U.S. evangelical leaders say they are losing influence, studies show Americans increasingly do not identify with any religion and many young people are unaware of Graham’s legacy.

“The students that I teach don’t really know who Billy Graham is,” said Anne Wills, a religion professor at Davidson College outside of Charlotte. “They don’t have any idea about the scope of his influence.”

Evangelist Billy Graham’s voice is softer and his body weaker, but the man who helped transform Christianity in America and counseled U.S. presidents will reach out to the nation on his 95th birthday in an effort to revitalize the church.

On November 7, the elder Graham will mark his birthday at a party at the Grove Park Inn in Asheville, with political and church leaders among 800 invited guests.

billygraham
NOVEMBER 4 TO 9, 2013
BILLY GRAHAM’S 95TH BIRTHDAY at the Billy Graham LIbrary

Join us for a celebration of Dr. Billy Graham’s 95th birthday! Visit the Library the week of November 4-9, and each family or individual guest will receive a copy of “God’s Ambassador,” a book that celebrates his life and ministry. You can also sign birthday greetings for Dr. Graham. On Thursday, Nov. 7, Dr. Graham’s birthday, make plans to join us for cake.

For more information, please call 704-401-3200.

Today’s Evangelical Children?

REBLOG: Originally posted by Rick Frueh

The evangelical children of today will grow up and:

Never discuss or understand what true revival is.

Never see people weeping uncontrollably in a church service.

Never experience the presence of God in an unusual way.

Never see their parents on their face in prayer.

Never know what appropriate dress is.

Never experience an elongated church service directed by the Spirit.

Never watch as their pastor preaches on the street.

Never be part of a week long fast.

Never see the church hold an all night prayer meeting.

Never see the pastor weep behind the pulpit.

Never be part of a foot washing service.

Never be challenged over and over for a full time ministry calling.

Never see premarital purity as the norm.

Never be surprised by divorce.

Never see adultery as abnormal.

Never see the pastor refuse a raise.

Never see debt as unbiblical.

Never live without a television.

Never see worldly music as a spiritual hindrance.

Never believe that alcohol should be avoided.

Never not hear some coarse language from believers.

Never believe prayer is more potent than votes.

Never watch their parents witness to a stranger.

Never see people as excited in worship as they are about sports.

Never be a part of a family altar.

And while growing up in that kind of a spiritual climate, they will still insist they know what Christianity is. But sadly, they don’t.

Give Me Your Money in the Name of Jesus

Give Me Your Money in the Name of Jesus

Posted by Breeanne Howe (Diary) Thursday, February 2nd at 6:30PM EST

“Christianity has not, and does not profess to have a detailed political program. It is meant for all men at all times, and the particular program which suited one place or time would not suit another.”

This morning, in the middle of his National Prayer Breakfast speech, President Obama delighted those of us who love irony by quoting C.S. Lewis. It was an interesting moment in a speech that put forth the notion that taxing the wealthy is right in line with the teachings of Jesus. I mean, Jesus did hang out with tax collectors, right? The idea that government welfare is somehow the fulfillment of Jesus’ teaching on charity is a common misconception that many people make, Christians included, and it’s the main reason that liberals believe conservatives are Christian hypocrites. Perhaps if the president visited church more often than only during campaign seasons, he might not be so confused. See, not only do we spend time praising God in church, we also gain insight from our pastors who have surely spent more time in the word of God than we have.

While Obama may have been correct in saying that government mandated, shared responsibility is equal to the Islamic belief that those who’ve been blessed have an obligation to use those blessings to help others, he is incorrect to group in Jesus’ teaching, “for unto whom much is given, much shall be required.” Aside from the fact that Jesus was discussing requirements from God, not the government, he was actually teaching his disciples that they were stewards of God’s gift of Revelation. Their requirement was to spread the good news of Jesus Christ. It’s the crux of Christianity that Obama seems to miss. Jesus came because we are imperfect. We could never fulfill all the requirements that the pharisees loved to lord over the people. Jesus’ coming ended the rule of law and the began the acceptance that our only way to God was through Him. Yes, Jesus very much emphasized the importance of giving to the poor, but as a reaction in joy to what we’ve been given; not because of a law. Giving out of obligation is not truly giving, it’s merely following the rules. Just ask anyone who’s ever written a check to pay their taxes, I doubt you’d find them excited.

The Bible also teaches that everything we have, including money, belongs to God. We are called to be good stewards with His money. The government is the epitome of mismanaging money. If you truly want to help the poor, you should probably seek out charities; but that would require a bit of work on the part of the giver and a great many find it easier to just let the government run every aspect of their lives. So it is that welfare money ends up spitting out of strip club ATMs, and those same people who paid their charity to the government wonder why government hasn’t solved the issue. Perhaps they should ask the 27 Democrats who voted against stopping welfare checks from being used at strip clubs, casinos and liquor stores.

Another highlight in Obama’s speech was his proud proclamation that his administration has partnered with Catholic charities to help those in poverty. I wonder if those charities are among the ones begging the Obama administration, to no avail, to change the recent ObamaCare edict requiring them to cover birth control costs in their healthcare even though it is against their religious beliefs to do so. Really, slapping them across the face would take less time and probably hurt less.

I also really enjoyed when the president mentioned the half a million Americans who exercised their religious freedom to March for Life recently. Oh wait, he didn’t mention that.

Overall, the president’s National Prayer Breakfast speech was much of what we have become quite familiar with hearing, but sprinkled with some Bible quotes that ultimately fail to give credibility to Obama’s socialist leanings. Thankfully, President Obama did get it right in the end – God will continue to lead our nation, even after those that wish to tax us all into poverty use His word to do so.

http://www.redstate.com/breeanneh/2012/02/02/give-me-your-money-in-the-name-of-jesus/

Global Christianity

A Report on the Size and Distribution of the World’s Christian Population

A comprehensive demographic study of more than 200 countries finds that there are 2.18 billion Christians of all ages around the world, representing nearly a third of the estimated 2010 global population of 6.9 billion. Christians are also geographically widespread – so far-flung, in fact, that no single continent or region can indisputably claim to be the center of global Christianity.

A century ago, this was not the case. In 1910, about two-thirds of the world’s Christians lived in Europe, where the bulk of Christians had been for a millennium, according to historical estimates by the Center for the Study of Global Christianity.2 Today, only about a quarter of all Christians live in Europe (26%). A plurality – more than a third – now are in the Americas (37%). About one in every four Christians lives in sub-Saharan Africa (24%), and about one-in-eight is found in Asia and the Pacific (13%).
According to the Center for the Study of Global Christianity, there are about 279 million pentecostal Christians and 305 million charismatic Christians worldwide. (Charismatic Christians belong to non-pentecostal denominations yet engage in spiritual practices associated with pentecostalism, such as speaking in tongues and divine healing; see Defining Christian Movements.)

In addition, more than 285 million Christians can be classified as evangelicals because they either belong to churches affiliated with regional or global evangelical associations, or because they identify as evangelicals. Since many pentecostals and charismatics are also evangelicals, these categories are not mutually exclusive. (For more details, see Christian Movements and Denominations.)

In a conference call with journalists, Pew Forum staff members discussed the findings of Global Christianity: A Report on the Size and Distribution of the World’s Christian Population. This comprehensive demographic study of more than 200 countries provides data on the world’s Christian population by region, country and tradition and graphically illustrates Christian geographic distribution.

READ THE FULL TRANSCRIPT >

http://www.pewforum.org/Christian/Global-Christianity-exec.aspx