Let’s begin with good news you wouldn’t think to be news: a Christian club in Michigan can legally require its leaders to be Christians.
InterVarsity Christian Fellowship is a student ministry that provides community and Bible studies on college and university campuses. It has been part of Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan, for seventy-five years. The club is open to all students, but it requires its leaders to agree with the organization’s statement of faith.
As the Becket Fund noted, Wayne State “rightly allows fraternities to have only male leaders, female athletic clubs to have only female members, and African-American clubs to have only African-American leaders.” However, it claimed that a Christian club should not be able to have only Christian leaders, deeming InterVarsity’s leadership policies “discriminatory” and de-registering the club in 2017.
Judge Robert H. Cleland of the US District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan ruled last week that the university’s actions “strike at the heart” of the First Amendment and are “obviously odious to the Constitution.” He added that the school’s attempts to dictate the club’s leadership are “categorically barred by the Constitution.”
Prince Philip’s “wonderful knowledge of the Bible”
This is not the only good news in the news. Premier Christian News is reporting that Prince Philip encouraged Queen Elizabeth II to talk more about her Christian faith ahead of her Christmas broadcast in 2000. Those who knew him well were not surprised.
The Rev. Prof. Ian Bradley has preached where the queen attends services when staying at Balmoral, her estate in Scotland. He told Premier that Prince Philip “would note down all the details of the sermon.” He added that Philip “had a wonderful knowledge of the Bible, and then he would sort of quiz you at lunchtime, ask you about your sermon and really put you on your mettle.”
Rev. Bradley stated: “I was amazed at his biblical knowledge. I mean, we sat up one evening, talked almost far into the night about biblical references to the environment, his great interest, of course. He was very well steeped in the Bible.”
Many of us were unfamiliar with Prince Philip’s faith or Judge Cleland’s decision in favor of religious freedom. But our lack of knowledge makes these stories no less real. We serve a God who “sees in secret” (Matthew 6:6) and “will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness” (1 Corinthians 4:5).
In other words, God is working to advance his kingdom in ways we may not see. We should never judge his omniscience by our fallen minds (Isaiah 55:8–9) or his omnipotence by our finitude (Matthew 19:26).
The power of God and a personal confession
In recent days, I have been suggesting a case for Christian optimism based in the fact that it is always too soon to give up on God and that the risen Christ can still do anything he has ever done before. Our problem is that we tend to measure God’s capacities by ours, assuming that we are experiencing all that he is doing.
Ernst Troeltsch, a nineteenth-century liberal Protestant theologian, famously argued by his “principle of analogy” that there is “an essential similarity between our humanity and the humanity of the past period.” This approach to historiography examines reports of the past through the prism of the present. If people don’t walk on water today, Jesus and Peter did not walk on the Sea of Galilee (Matthew 14:22–33). If bodies don’t rise from the dead today, Jesus did not rise from the dead.
This mindset affects biblical Christians more than we might think.
In the first church I pastored, a woman came to our Wednesday night prayer meeting with the news that she had been diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer. We prayed fervently for her healing. She returned in three weeks with the news that the cancer was gone. I will confess to you my first thought: I was glad the doctors got it wrong.
A young pastor complained to Charles Spurgeon that people were not responding to his sermons. Spurgeon said, “You don’t expect them to respond every time you preach, do you?” The young man assured the great preacher that he did not. Spurgeon replied, “That’s why they do not.”
“I began to suspect that life itself has a plot”
With God, we often get what we expect. Not because our faith limits God in any way, but because our faith limits our capacity to receive all that God intends to give.
It is hard to pray for miracles if we don’t expect miracles. It is hard to obey the word of God if we don’t expect God to keep his word.
Oswald Chambers was right: “Thank God it is gloriously and majestically true that the Holy Ghost can work in us the very nature of Jesus if we will obey him.” But we must obey him.
Chambers added: “Faith never knows where it is being led, but it loves and knows the One who is leading.” If the second phrase is true for us, the first is irrelevant.
The Secret Service agent who saved a president
Jerry Parr was nine years old when he saw the 1939 film, Code of the Secret Service. The actor playing agent Brass Bancroft was a young man named Ronald Reagan. At that moment, Parr dreamed of becoming a Secret Service agent.
Parr went on to achieve his dream. Reagan went on to become president of the United States.
On March 30, 1981, Parr was escorting Reagan to his limousine outside the Washington Hilton hotel when an assailant opened fire. After shoving the president into the car, Parr made the decision to take him to George Washington University Hospital. First Lady Nancy Reagan later credited Parr with saving her husband’s life.
If you and I will stay faithful to the last word we heard from God and open to the next, he will use us in ways we may never anticipate. We cannot measure the eternal significance of present faithfulness.
Will you judge God’s capacity to use you by your abilities or by his?
NOTE: I’m honored and grateful to be this year’s keynote speaker at the 57th Annual Louisiana Governor’s Prayer Breakfast this morning. The theme of “Pray Louisiana” is especially appropriate as we respond to a year of unprecedented challenges. If you’d like to watch, you may view the live stream at 7:30 a.m. today on The Louisiana Governor’s Prayer Breakfast Facebook page.