Christian Influence in a Hostile World

Christianity was born in a hostile environment. The Roman Empire was full of all kinds of people with all kinds of beliefs and practices. It was held together by a powerful military and the demand of giving allegiance to the emperor above all. Christians were considered oddballs. They believed in only one God. But everyone in Rome knew that every tribe of people had its own gods. Christians believed that a peasant preacher from a small town had been executed but then raised from the dead. But educated Romans knew that people don’t rise from the dead.

Many people have noted the parallels between ancient Rome and modern day America. And we know from experience that modern day America is a hostile place for Christianity. The world believes that our morality and religious ideas are out-of-date. They are convinced that we are uneducated and unwilling to accept the world as it is.

Against this hostility, many Christians wish to force a return to the cultural Christianity that dominated American life in the middle of the 20th century. We are tempted to fight the battle in the courts and through politics.

It took a few centuries, but Christianity became the dominant religion in the ancient Roman Empire. But Christians did not win over that world through political victories. Christians won the hearts and minds of the people of ancient Rome by being faithful Christians. Jesus had said that his faithful followers would be people who fed the hungry, clothed the naked and visited the sick. The Christians of ancient Rome were the ones who tended to people in prison and found food for the poor and starving. Christians received and took care of the sick and dying. Eventually, the Romans’ admiration for their faithfulness overcame the prejudice against their faith.

The ancient Roman world was won to Christian faith by love. The modern American world will be won the same way. When the world sees us as angry and hostile, they will ignore us. They need to see us living faithfully in the gospel we claim to believe. As Jesus said, “Light your light shine so that they will see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.”

Love in Christ,

Greg Burriss

Pastor, Rocky River Baptist Church

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Hell is Real

I believe in Hell. There has been a lot of discussion lately among Christian thinkers and writers about whether or not we should believe in Hell. Some think we should not because God is such a loving God. But the New Testament seems clear to me on this point: Hell is real.

Over the years, I have not talked about Hell a lot. Even though I believe in Hell, I am not excited about it. Too many so-called Christians seem to take pleasure in the idea of judgment. But God’s heart is for salvation and redemption. “The Lord… is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish. but that all reach repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).

The Bible uses a number of different images to describe Hell. Jesus talks about a place of fire, but He also talks about a place of outer darkness. Jesus uses some terrible images. But He clearly believed in Hell.

By Hell, I mean, that there is a place of judgment and punishment for sinners. God is not only a loving Father. God is the moral judge of the universe. If there is no moral reckoning, then God has given up His responsibility. God is the Savior. God is also the righteous Judge.

All over the world, immense greed is corrupting political and economic systems. This corruption devastates the lives of millions of people. Every evil cannot be compared to Hitler or Saddam Hussein. But many lesser sins also hurt people and corrupt the fabric of human society. Such sin cannot be ignored by a righteous God.

We cannot be trusted to assess our own sin. Most people can find examples among others of terrible sins that they believe deserve to be punished. Yet each person justifies him or herself. In our own mind we are only doing what had to be done. The suicide bomber and the husband who beats his wife stand alongside the teller of little white lies in committing sin yet believing he is doing nothing wrong.

I believe Hell is real. We like to keep a certain understanding of God that comforts us. God has designed and created everything for our benefit. For there to be justice, there must be judgment.

 

Love in Christ,

Greg Burriss

Pastor, Rocky River Baptist Church  

God Our Father

God took a real chance when He chose to use the term “Father” as His preferred designation. The Bibles uses many terms to describe who God is and how we relate to Him, but Jesus prefers to call Him “Father.” God wants us to know that He loves us like the best parents love their children. The problem is that the term “father” doesn’t mean the same thing to everyone.

Now God is the perfect Father. If someone has a father who is abusive or negligent, they still understand that fathers are not supposed to be abusive or negligent. God is the Father you didn’t have.

But even for people who have basically good fathers, thinking of God as Father can create problems. If our father allowed us too much freedom or gave us things without making any demands on us, we may expect God to do the same.

On the other hand, if our father was a strict disciplinarian, we may battle the opposite temptation. We may then try to work our way into God’s favor. We may never feel the inner peace that comes from knowing God’s grace.

Our relationship with our parents will affect how we relate to God as our Father. But God is the perfect Father. He patiently teaches us as we listen to and obey His word. As we grow in God’s grace, we are becoming grown-up brothers and sisters of Jesus and mature children of God.

Love in Christ,

Greg Burriss

Pastor, Rocky River Baptist Church  

A Different Kind of Politics

Jesus’ earthly ministry took place at a time when His people were an occupied country. The Israel in which Jesus lived was not a self-governing country. The Israelites were subjects of the great Roman Empire. The famous city of David, Jerusalem, the location of the Jewish Temple and the center of their religious faith was governed by a Roman, Pontius Pilate, who was like a provincial governor. Even Herod the Great, the king of the Jews at the time when Jesus was born, was put in power by the Roman Emperor.

The religious thought of the Jews included a lot of thinking about how God would one day overthrow the Romans and bring a kingdom in Israel that was autonomous, a kingdom ruled once again by a descendant of their greatest king, David. God had brought their ancestors to that land. God had brought them back to the land from exile in Babylon. God had led them to throw out the heathen Greek army that threatened their faith. When Jesus came along, many believed that God would send a Messiah to overthrow the Romans as well.

Jesus had a hard time convincing his disciples that he was that Messiah, and that His mission was not to overthrow the Romans. His mission was to overthrow sin in the human heart. He would not do that by leading a conquering army. He would do that by allowing Himself to be crucified. His disciples and everyone who knew Him thought that His crucifixion was Jesus’ end, a complete failure. They did not understand His sacrifice of love.

Even after his resurrection, His disciples did not understand His mission. As He gave them final instructions, they asked Him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” Even after all of His lessons, they were still expecting Him to change the power structure of this world. And you know how Jesus responded to them. “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”  (Acts 1: 6-8 NIV).

God has not lost control of His plan. Too often Christians are forgetting the commission of Jesus. We want God to fix the world our way and in our time. But the reply of Jesus remains the same. Let God take care of ruling the universe and you receive power to be witnesses for Christ.

Satan so often seems to be winning. But faith recognizes that God has not abandoned us. He is not overthrowing governments. He is still overthrowing sin in human hearts.

Love in Christ,

Greg Burriss

Pastor, Rocky River Baptist Church  

First Steps in Prayer

Over the years I have had many people talk to me about praying: How do I pray? I don’t know what to pray. Should I say the Lord’s Prayer or recite a Psalm? Is prayer only real when it is spontaneous?

The reason that these questions come regularly is that prayer is not a natural experience for us. Prayer is a spiritual activity but we have to do it with our physical bodies. This is the reason why we often don’t know exactly how to answer the questions either.

But there are some definite guidelines for prayer in the Bible to help us get started. And the first one is: do it. Paul tells the Thessalonian Christians to “Pray continually” (1 Thess. 5:17 NIV).  When Jesus begins teaching his disciples about prayer in the Sermon on the Mount, he starts with “And when you pray…” (Matt. 6:5) assuming that we will be praying.

The second guideline I would suggest is that the actual practice of praying is where you begin to learn the answers to the questions you want to ask. It’s a little like riding a bike or driving a car. Someone else can give you some information to get you started, but you can’t really learn what is involved until you are actually doing it yourself.

Finally, the key to prayer is faith. By faith I mean believing that God wants to hear from you and speak to you. God will honor your attempts at sincere prayer and respond to you. Trusting that He will respond in a loving way is the first step on the road to a real life of prayer. When the author of the book of Hebrews talks about faith he says, “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him”  (Heb. 11:6 NIV).

A lot more could be said. The Bible has a lot more to say about prayer. As you commit (or recommit) yourself to a life of prayer, remember that the Lord and Creator of the entire universe cannot wait to sit down and commune with you!

Love in Christ,

Greg Burriss

Pastor, Rocky River Baptist Church