Some crises are beyond our ability to control.
Hurricane Fiona intensified into a Category 4 storm today as it headed toward Bermuda after slamming the Turks and Caicos Islands yesterday and devastating Puerto Rico on Monday. Alaskan officials are rushing to provide aid to remote villages flooded by recent storms; a major earthquake struck Mexico on Monday; Uganda has declared an Ebola virus outbreak.
Other crises are entirely of our making.
Russian President Vladimir Putin announced the partial mobilization of his country’s military today, calling up reservists as he escalates his war in Ukraine. A cheating scandal is rocking the chess world. And California Gov. Gavin Newsom is promoting billboards in conservative states telling women seeking an abortion that “California is ready to help” and (ironically) quoting Mark 12:31, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
Doesn’t he realize that a mother’s closest “neighbor” is her unborn child?
However, lest Texans like me jump to the conclusion that his state is ungodly and ours in the “Bible Belt” is more godly, we should consider this news: a new index reports that Dallas, Texas, ranks No. 1 in the nation for infidelity. Using Census Bureau data, the “most unfaithful cities in America” were identified. Fort Worth, Texas, came in second; Houston ranked third.
By contrast, the “most faithful cities” were, in order: Pasadena, Torrance, Roseville, and Visalia, each of which is in California.
A mirror in the world’s largest castle
Whether religion is morally transformative depends on its object, not just its subject. We can go to church, but if we do not encounter the risen and living Christ, not much will change as a result.
As British Prime Minister Liz Truss read at Queen Elizabeth II’s state funeral Monday, Jesus alone is “the way, and the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). His Spirit alone can change human hearts (John 16:8). He alone can make us a “new creation” as the children of God (2 Corinthians 5:17; John 1:14).
The uniqueness and necessity of Jesus was illustrated for me years ago when I first visited Windsor Castle, the site of the queen’s burial. The castle was originally completed by William the Conqueror around 1086; it has been enlarged and renovated many times since, most notably by George IV, who died in 1830. It is the oldest and largest inhabited castle in the world.
The ceiling of St. George’s Chapel, where the queen was buried, is so ornate that I wanted to stare at it for hours. However, it is so tall that doing so is difficult and renders an observer dizzy from the effort. As a result, a large mirror has been placed on the floor, angled at the ceiling. When we look at the reflection below, we see the reality above.
In the same way, Jesus assured his disciples, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9). This is true of no other person in all of human history.
Does God accept the worship of all religions?
I make this point in response to a very disturbing report on “The State of Theology” in America just released by Ligonier Ministries and Lifeway Research.
It notes that 43 percent of evangelicals agree that “Jesus was a great teacher, but he was not God.” This percentage has risen thirteen points in just two years. Correspondingly and tragically, 56 percent of American evangelicals also agree that “God accepts the worship of all religions, including Christianity, Judaism, and Islam.” This percentage has risen fourteen points in two years.
Another study, this one by George Barna and the Cultural Research Center at Arizona Christian University, is even more disturbing: it reports that at least a third of senior pastors in the United States believe a person can earn a place in heaven simply by being a good person.
No wonder our culture is continuing its slide into unbiblical immorality. The retired congressman and my personal friend Frank Wolf is right: politics are downstream from culture, and culture is downstream from the church.
If those who preach sermons and those who hear them do not believe they urgently need a transforming relationship with Jesus Christ, we should not be surprised when their beliefs and their actions mirror those of our fallen society. The longer we avoid the light, the more our eyes adjust to the dark.
The prayer of a genius
So, let’s be clear: Jesus is who the historic Christian faith claims him to be: the sinless Son of God who walked our planet, died for our sins, rose from our grave, is praying right now for us, and will return one day as King of kings and Lord of lords (Revelation 19:16). (For evidence demonstrating the truthfulness of each of these claims, see my website article, “Why Jesus?” and my book, Wrestling with God.)
If you build your life on his unique lordship, when the hurricanes, floods, earthquakes, diseases, and the temptations of life find you, your house will stand (Matthew 7:24–25). If you do not, it will not (vv. 26–27).
A brilliant scholar at the University of Edinburgh was known affectionately to his students as Rabbi Duncan. The professor was a world-famous expert in Hebrew and Aramaic. One day some students began joking among themselves wondering what language this renowned genius used in his prayers.
Knowing his meticulous daily schedule, they made their way to his room in the nearby college and knelt quietly outside his door. To their surprise they could barely hear him whisper the words of Charles Wesley’s hymn:
Gentle Jesus, meek and mild,
Look upon a little child,
Pity my simplicity,
Suffer me to come to thee.
When last did you go to him?