Atheists force college to remove public crosses

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The Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) has forced a New Mexico college to remove crosses displayed on its campus. They were less successful, however, when they tried to force an Indiana school district to cancel a program led by two pastors.

The FFRF sponsors an annual “Nothing Fails Like Prayer” award, to be given to the best secular invocation. Due to the efforts of atheist groups like theirs, it’s not surprising that the number of Americans who think Christians are facing growing intolerance has drastically increased in recent years.

How should we respond to those who malign Christians and Christianity? Jesus’ answer to that question might surprise you.

“Grieved at their hardness of heart”

Jesus was in a synagogue with a man with a withered hand. His enemies “watched Jesus, to see whether he would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse him” (Mark 3:2). He asked them, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?” (v. 4a). “But they were silent” (v. 4b), refusing to consider his question.

In response, “he looked around at them with anger” (v. 5a). But note what comes next: he was also “grieved at their hardness of heart” (v. 5b). He healed the man, and “the Pharisees went out and immediately held counsel with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him” (v. 6).

I understand why Jesus was angry at his enemies for their utter lack of compassion for the man with the withered hand. But I am impressed that he was also “grieved” (the word means to be “deeply distressed”) because of their “hardness of heart” (the phrase describes someone who is stubborn and unwilling to understand the truth).

Why would Jesus grieve for people who refused to consider the truth? He knew three facts we need to remember today.

Lost people act like lost people

Paul’s letters to the Corinthians were addressed to believers living in one of the most hedonistic cultures in the world. “To corinthianize” meant to engage in all sort of sordid, unspeakable immorality.

But the apostle did not want the Corinthian Christians to give up on their neighbors. He explained their spiritual plight: “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14).

You and I were once where lost people are today. The only difference is that when we made Jesus our Lord, the Holy Spirit made us a “new creation” (2 Corinthians 5:17). Now we are former beggars telling beggars where we found bread.

Satan is a deceiver

The Bible describes the devil as “the ruler of this world” (John 12:31) and “the father of lies” (John 8:44). He acts in both capacities: “The god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:4).

Jesus knew that those who rejected the truth were being deceived by the devil and had compassion for them. So should we.

The consequences of sin are tragic

The book of Esther centers on wicked Haman’s plot to execute Mordecai and annihilate the Jewish people. After Esther intervenes, the king executes Haman and Esther sets Mordecai “over his house” (Esther 8:2).

Pride truly does go before destruction (Proverbs 16:18). “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23), for “the soul who sins shall die” (Ezekiel 18:20).

A caring doctor whose patient refuses lifesaving treatment might be angry at such a tragic decision, but she is more likely to feel compassion for the person and the suffering to come. Jesus knew the consequences of his enemies’ continued rejection: He would be exalted with his Father in glory, but they would spend eternity in hell (Revelation 20:15).

The key to the compassion of God

To have the compassion of Jesus, we must have the help of Jesus. We cannot offer grace to enemies of the truth unless we have received grace from our Father.

Augustus Toplady wrote the famous hymn, “Rock of Ages,” in which he admits, “Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to the cross I cling; naked, come to thee for dress; helpless, look to thee for grace.” He also gave voice to our need for divine empowering in this simple prayer: “I can only spread my sail; Thou, thou must breathe th’ auspicious gale.”

We need the power of God to manifest the compassion of God. Would you pray for God’s “auspicious gale” of grace today?

NOTE: I would like to invite you to attend a special upcoming event at Dallas Baptist University on Monday, February 12. Michael Gerson, nationally syndicated Washington Post columnist and Chief Speechwriter and Assistant to the President for Policy and Strategic Planning under President George W. Bush, will be speaking at our spring Institute for Global Engagement Leadership Lecture Series.

The lecture will take place at 7:00 p.m. in Pilgrim Chapel and will explore how Christians might engage the political arena at the highest levels while making an impact for the cause of Christ. Michael will also overview the current political environment, including many of the opportunities and challenges at hand. I will join him in the second part of the lecture as we discuss cultural engagement related to the topic and take questions from the audience. You can register for the event here.