Confront? Or Conform?

by Richard Doebler

What do we do when facing a tidal wave of sinful culture? The answer depends on whether our goal is simply to survive the onslaught—or turn the tide. In other words, do we want to retreat and withdraw to protect ourselves? Or advance to effect change in society?

When I saw the January, 2017 issue of National Geographic touting the “gender revolution” with a 9-year-old boy-turned-girl from Kansas City on the cover, I did a double-take. Then I opened the magazine and began to read.

I’ve always appreciated the insights into strange customs and foreign cultures provided by National Geographic’s amazing photography and stories. Occasionally, though, I’m disturbed by what I find.

Is the magazine merely “reporting” on culture here, or is something else going on in this issue? Are the editors pushing an agenda?

We know everyone has a bias—his or her own worldview. Christian believers have a strong bias, and that’s as it should be. But for reporters who claim to be neutral in their writing, when does telling a story shift to promoting a cause?

It’s no surprise

We should not be surprised when secular magazines cross the line to push a particular agenda.

I don’t expect non-Christians to think like—let alone act like—Christians. (It’s hard enough to get Christians to act like Christians, but that’s a topic for another time.) Furthermore, I don’t expect secular humanists, sociologists, and anthropologists to listen to—let alone respect—the opinions of their political or theological adversaries.

They perceive themselves to be educated elites. So why should they listen with open minds to other points of view? They generally disregard anyone beneath their academic standing. Worse, if an intellectual equal (someone with conservative views) contradicts their opinion, they often resort to mocking derision rather than open dialogue. If he’s not liberal, they think, he’s obviously not educated.

This, of course, betrays their bias. Many agenda-driven secularists listen only to those who reinforce their own views. So what should Christians do in the face of such prejudice? How should we push back? How can we engage in a conversation with people who refuse to listen?

I have friends who canceled their subscription to National Geographic. That’s one response: make a statement by boycotting the magazine. If only hundreds do that, of course, the magazine will not notice or care. If hundreds of thousands interrupt the revenue stream, however, National Geographic will notice. They might even care.

But I’m not so sure.

Another way

For my part, I haven’t canceled my subscription. I will continue to read National Geographic. I do this not to support secularists, but to understand them. I want to be informed for the debate. Know thine enemy, as it were. How can I poke holes in their logic if I don’t know their logic or what they say? Unlike them, I want to demonstrate an open mind and a willingness to listen. I hope to maintain some legitimacy to participate in the cultural discussion, adding my voice to theirs.

When I write to editors or simply have a private discussion, I try not to lecture as much as ask questions that may reveal the fallacies of their thinking. Typically they won’t consider another point of view, so I try to catch them off-guard with difficult questions. At the same time, I trust God’s Spirit to convict their hearts, something I cannot do.

We might, for example, ask National Geographic why this gender-bending phenomenon (like so many prepubescent activities) is not simply a “phase” these children may be going through. A friend pointed me to findings from the American College of Pediatricians (ACP), which says “as many as 98% of gender confused boys and 88% of gender confused girls eventually accept their biological sex after naturally passing through puberty.”

Here’s another: Is the ACP wrong when it says: “Conditioning children into believing that a lifetime of chemical and surgical impersonation of the opposite sex is normal and healthful is child abuse”?

Pushing back

Others will disagree that dialogue is a way to deal with culture in these troubled times. That’s fine, as long as they push back in some way.

I am not opposed to boycotts and cancellations or other more public forms of protest. They can be legitimate responses to confronting the secular agenda. I’m only saying there is room enough to push back in multiple ways on several different fronts.

Whatever we do, we must not give in or conform to society. Writing to Christians surrounded by the Roman culture, Paul said, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind…” (Rom. 12:2).

To see our world transformed, God calls us to be transformed. We need renewed minds and determined spirits so we will not give in to the pressures of the world around us. Instead of conforming to society, we must confront it—but in a winsome, engaging way.

“…Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have,” Peter wrote to the first-century church. “But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander” (1 Pet. 3:15-16).

Paul, steeped in his Jewish upbringing before converting to follow Christ, could not have been a missionary to the Greek and Roman cultures without understanding them. He saw how important it was to connect to those he hoped to reach. In Athens, for instance, he quoted Greek philosophers familiar to his audience (Acts 17:28). He became a “slave” to people, he said, in order “to win as many as possible” (1 Cor. 9:19). So he identified with them and even became like them (1 Cor. 9:22). He urged the Colossians to “Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone” (Col. 4:5-6).

Salt and light

Jesus also spoke of salt, calling his disciples to be light penetrating the darkness and salt covering the earth (Matt 5:13-16).

Last week I stepped outside onto rain-slick ice and suddenly lost my footing, crashing painfully down on concrete steps. Defeated, I crawled back inside the house. I still have scrapes and scabs from that mishap.

The sad thing about that incident? At the very moment I fell, a bag of salt sat inside my house, ready to spread and melt the sidewalk ice. But instead of being outside on the ice where it could do some good, the salt was still inside the house, still in the bag.

When, unprepared, we encounter the icy cold ways of the world, we can expect a fall. Saltless, we can be defeated, left to crawl back to the safety of our Christian communities, bruised and beaten.

Salt does no good if it stays inside, safe and dry. So can we do some good? Our goal should not be to protect ourselves but to effect a change. Let’s spread out into society. Let’s engage our culture. Let’s get out from our secular-free zones. Let’s be salt and light that penetrates our world.

Grace and Truth: The Mystery of Christmas

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…. The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:1, 14, NIV).

It’s a mystery how a supernatural God could become flesh and live among broken, sinful people!

How could God become human? Holy and sinful don’t mix. How could he be fully God and fully human? How could he come full of grace and full of truth? The math just doesn’t add up. Fill a bucket 100% full of water, and you’ve got 0% room for anything else.

Scholars and theologians have long wrestled with these questions. Their attempts have led to frustration, arguments, and worse — church divisions, heresies, wars. Finite minds cannot grasp the infinite.

And yet we try, perhaps because the attempt offers us a glimpse into God’s transcendence. We cannot comprehend him, but we are better for trying.

So we try to unravel the mysteries of John 1:14, searching for clues about an incomprehensible God, described in the old hymn as “Immortal, invisible, God only wise / in light inaccessible hid from our eyes…”

“Full of grace”

The concept of “grace” is by itself a mystery to many. An ice skater or dancer can display “grace” in her performance; my insurance bill may offer a “grace” period; someone can say “grace” before a meal. But society doesn’t really grasp the full significance of the grace of God.

The translators of the Contemporary English Version considered the term grace too vague, too difficult for the modern ear, so they used other words to translate the Greek charis, words such as “kindness” or “favor.”

(I’m not sure why the translators thought removing the term from their translation would help people understand grace better. Can you imagine an owner’s manual eliminating terms too “sophisticated” for anyone under the age of 12: Don’t say, “LED,” say, “Light Emitting Diode.” Even better say, “Little, tiny twinkling light.”)

But the term grace appears occasionally even in secular spaces.

During the recent evacuation of Aleppo, Syria, during a bitter civil war that has killed thousands (including many civilians), the U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry appealed for “grace” to save lives: “Russia and Assad have a moment where they are in a dominant position to show a little grace,” he said

He could have asked for kindness or favor. Instead, he asked for grace.

The need for old-fashioned grace remains, even in our modern times, even if secular minds don’t get it.

Jesus came “full of grace,” which is to say he came to save lives and bring them out of spiritual conflict and war — out from sin’s domination and control, out from the consequences of living among rebels (and, in our case, the consequences of being rebels), out from hopelessness and despair.

Grace brings peace to wars raging within our hearts and souls. Grace offers freedom from sin — as well as from people or substance or hurts that enslave us. Grace pardons us when we deserve consequences. Grace infuses us with the hope necessary to overcome despair.

We need grace — and Jesus came full of God’s grace.

“Full of truth”

Church people are often very good at “truth” — defining right from wrong. Legalists at heart, they’re good at setting rules. They know how to lay down the law.

Of course, it’s not just church people. Everyone, it seems, has opinions on what is true and what is not.

On a plane recently, I had a conversation that eventually led to me being challenged: “Why should a baker be able to refuse service to a gay couple just because he’s offended by their private choices?”

“Let me ask you a question,” I said. “Can you imagine any behavior bad enough that a business owner should be able to refuse service?”

“I don’t think so,” she said.

“Well, what if one of your customers paid you only with bad checks? They all bounced. Would you have the right to refuse service for such a customer? Or what if a person had too much to drink? Would a bartender have the right to refuse him service?”

“Well, of course,” she responded. “If something is against the law or threatens the safety of others, you don’t have to serve them.”

“Okay,” I said. “So there are behaviors that cross a line. The next question is who gets to say what is right and what is wrong? Who gets to tell us what behaviors are objectionable?”

She thought a moment and chuckled. “Well, I want to be the one to tell you what’s right or wrong.” She saw my point: somebody has to draw the line. Society needs standards — a basis for what is acceptable and what is not, for what is true and what isn’t.

Her problem is our problem: as humans we chafe at the idea of rules imposed on us by others. We don’t want our style cramped. We don’t want others telling us what we can and cannot do. Instead, we want standards that line up with our personal preferences. We want to set the rules for ourselves.

When someone else violates our rules, we know a great injustice has occurred. A wrong has been done. If someone cuts in front of us in line at a crowded store, we are offended. If people cheat us or harm us or steal from us, we want justice. We want wrongs (according to our definition) made right.

On the other hand, if we violate our own rules, we hope others will give us grace: I’m so sorry. I really didn’t mean to. I don’t know what came over me. I wasn’t paying attention. Please forgive me. Let me make it up to you.

The truth is: we need grace

Most us, judged by even our own standards, do not measure up. So we need grace. However, we need more than grace; we also need truth.” That’s why Jesus had to come “full of grace and truth.”

We need truth because without truth — without absolutes or standards — there is no need for grace: If there are no laws, there are no lawbreakers. If there are no lawbreakers, there is no one who needs forgiveness.

To put it another way: without lines, you can’t go out of bounds. Grace is needed because we have crossed the lines of God’s truth.

Jesus did not come to dismantle the truth or somehow to blur the distinction between right and wrong. No, he came “full of truth” — not full of laws or rules, but “full of truth.”

God’s truth, at its core, is more than a list of rules or laws. When it’s linked to grace, God’s truth can transform a human heart.

“The law was given through Moses” (John 1:17a) — but the law by itself could not change us.

Moses teaches us that our problem is sin. The Old Covenant shows us that sin cannot be conquered by self-discipline, good intentions, or will power. Trying to obey the truth, trying to be good, trying to follow the straight and narrow cannot untwist our twisted hearts. We need more than truth.

“The law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:17). The fullness of truth and the fullness of grace are miraculously, mysteriously blended together in the person of Jesus.  He is the Word of truth who by grace became flesh.

This is the mystery of Christmas — the miracle that can never be fully explained. Because of Jesus, truth convicts us of sin…but also because of Jesus, grace offers us forgiveness. Because of Jesus, truth reveals our own unworthiness…but grace, also because of Jesus, transforms our hearts and makes us worthy.

Because of Jesus — because of Christmas — we can experience what we can never fully comprehend: God in human flesh, living among us, full of grace and truth.

Now there’s a mystery we can live with.

— by Richard Doebler

Confrontation That Conforms

by Thomas Yerman

Light! It’s much more than illuminating energy to dispel darkness. Light is a biblically rich symbol.

It was the first thing God created (Genesis 1:3). Light guided God’s people in their journey after being freed from their bondage in Egypt (Exodus 13:21-22). The author of Psalms taught that the Lord was his light (Psalm 27:1). The prophet Isaiah said that the servant of the Lord would be a light for the nations and that God himself would one day be the everlasting light. (Isaiah 49:6, 60:19-20)

light-of-the-world

So when Jesus came to the rescue of a woman caught in her sin and revealed himself to the people saying, “I am the light of the world” it was a powerful and bold statement. I believe he was actually saying that the promised day of light has arrived! Jesus is the source of everlasting joy and salvation —light enabling us to see all things as they really are. Though Jesus confronted the women, he did not condemn her. He told her to sin no more. Then he told the people gathered there, “Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” What a revelation to mankind, both then and now!

Let’s put that verse together: “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12) These words of Jesus are loaded with application to keep us living in and enjoying the light so we can push back the darkness in a very troubled world. His light pierces the human heart with at least three foundational truths—basic needs that confront the mind and heart with the choice to conform to his ways:

  1. I will live my life, living for the truth.
  2. I will live my life, dying to be free.
  3. I will live my life, holding on to the Lord.

Because Jesus said, “I am the light of the world” we can be assured that darkness will be dispersed, evil exposed, and falsehood revealed. Light gives us a clear path to walk on. The word truth can be used as an equivalent for light. Psalms 43:3 says, “Send out your light and your truth; let them lead me.” Psalm 119:105 states, “Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path.” God’s word is a lamp, a light that illuminates the darkness. Jesus identified himself as both, “the light of the world” and “the truth”—to whom we surrender our lives.

Because those who follow Jesus will be illuminated with truth, they will not walk in darkness. Darkness can be used as a symbol for sin. Romans 13:12 states, “The night is nearly over, the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light.” Though we have the light, we also have a sinful nature. This sinful nature tempts us to fulfill selfish desires, desires we are learning to die to through the freedom that Christ purchased for us on the cross.

Because those who follow Jesus have been given the light of life, they no longer rely upon their own strength. We recognize how weak and helpless we are without him; that we can do nothing without him—nothing. We also realize how much he has done for us! He has adopted us into his family and then, commissioned us to represent him. Then in awe, we become conscience that we are identified with bearing his very name, image, and reputation and hold on to him with an embrace that never lets go.

So let’s enjoy the “Son light” together—living, dying, and holding on together. As we embrace the light illuminating the various shadows in the world around us, we can be assured that the glory of our heavenly Father is with us.

“In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16)  Be blessed and shine on!


Thomas Yerman is a pastor at Living Hope Church in Elk Grove Village, Illinois.

A Covenant of Hope

It started as a celebration of a successful past but ended with a new covenant for the future.

The Full Gospel Church in Red Sucker Lake, Manitoba, gathered recently to recognize 30 years of fruitful ministry for Pastor George Disbrowe, who has led the church since the end of Pastor Alan B. Harper’s 54-year ministry there. Just two pastors in 84 years! A remarkable record.

Roger Armbruster, senior pastor at Maranatha (Niverville, Manitoba) has traveled to the Red Sucker Lake First Nation eleven times since 1992. When Armbruster spoke the afternoon of July 16 about the power of praise and prayer, a number of youth responded. They wanted to do a prayer walk through the community—covering several miles and requiring several hours. Even when high winds and heavy rains soaked the walkers, several youth, joined by their deputy chief and other community gatekeepers, hung in there to the very end.

That’s when God blessed them with a sign from heaven—a rainbow, reminding them of his covenant promise to bless his people:

Rainbow—a promise over Red Sucker Lake, Manitoba, with grateful prayer walkers.

Rainbow—a promise over Red Sucker Lake, Manitoba!

“And God said, ‘This is the sign of the covenant which I make between Me and you, and every living creature that is with you for perpetual generations. I set My rainbow in the cloud, and it shall be for the sign of the covenant between Me and the earth'” (Gen. 9:12-13).

Like so many First Nations communities, the youth of Red Sucker Lake have reached a crisis point regarding serious issues—life-and-death matters such as suicide, mental depression, alcoholism, and drugs. In the midst of social disintegration and crisis, however, God is also raising up a new generation in the community—youth who are building upon the spiritual legacy of Alan B. Harper and George Disbrowe; young people who are desperately crying out to heaven for a fresh movement of God in their community.

On this day, their commitment and prayers brought a renewed promise of God’s covenant.

Demon Possession in America?

Wood Cut ExorcismRichard Gallagher, a board-certified psychiatrist and a professor of clinical psychiatry at New York Medical College, sees room for both medical and spiritual explanations for bizarre supernatural encounters. In a recent Washington Post article he links his experiences as a medical doctor with the reality of the spiritual world.

Gallagher writes as a scientist as well as a believing Catholic. Read about his experiences and then tell us what you think. Do you agree with his conclusions? Have you encountered similar situations as he has? Read the article and then return to this page to weigh in with your own comments.

Read the article by clicking here.