This week on Family Policy Matters we will be airing an inspiring speech by John Stonestreet, President of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview. The message was delivered at NC Family’s Major Speaker Series in Raleigh, N.C., on April 26.
John Stonesteet, President of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview was the keynote speaker for NC Family’s Raleigh Dinner on March 26, 2018.
As John said, I’m the President of the Colson Center. That name, Chuck Colson, probably rings a bell to many of us. He was one of the great Christian leaders of this past generation. He was a fan of individuals in Christian history who believe that Christian faith was personal but not private; that Christian faith demanded engagement with the culture around it; it demanded action; it demanded that Christians not run away from the brokenness, but as Christians have done throughout history, running into the brokenness with hope and restoration and redemption.And so we spend a lot of time talking about issues, talking about what’s going on in the culture, but instead of talking about any of those things tonight, what I really want to address is, I want to bring us back about 30,000 feet and just ask a question.
Several years ago, as John mentioned, I co-authored a book on the issue of same-sex marriage. This was before the Obergefell decision before the U.S. Supreme Court. But I remember travelling around and interviewing different people for this book. I met a pastor out West, in a state where they had passed a Marriage Amendment, but an activist judge overturned that and he was in a really discouraging place. And I remember him looking at me and here’s what he said, “John, it’s over. We’ve lost.” I sense that from a lot of Christians as I travel around, that the culture has moved so far so fast. Things went in such a short period of time from being unthinkable to unquestionable. And so a lot of people of faith, a lot of people of moral conviction on these issues, feel like there’s nothing that we can do. But, I want to remind us of something. You see, we live in a cultural moment and it’s a cultural moment in which a lot of things are changing in a hurry. And so these changes in our moment are putting great pressure on people of faith: Do we belong in the public square? What can we do? Have we lost?
What I want to remind us about this cultural moment, it’s just that! It’s a moment! And as people of faith, praise God, we have access to something bigger. This Story. [Holds up Bible.] When we open up the pages of Scripture, what God gives us is nothing less than the Story of reality itself. And so as people of faith, we can never rethink the Story from the [current] moment. The only way to understand our moment is from the perspective of the Story. And I want to remind us, as people of faith in a time of great cultural change and upheaval, one of the things that we need to do over and over and over again is remind ourselves of truths that come from the Story, that help us understand the moment.
I want to give you three of them tonight. The first one is this: —It’s something we say to each other as believers every single year on a Sunday morning on Easter. What are those words we say to each other? “Christ is risen! He is risen Indeed!” We say that, and sometimes I think what we mean is: “I believe Christ is risen.” I hope you believe Christ is risen. But when the first followers of Jesus said, “Christ is risen!” they were not saying they believed Christ is risen. They were saying it as a fact. In fact they were saying it in the same town in which the whole world had seen Jesus die just a few days earlier. So for them, it wasn’t a statement of personal conviction, it was a statement of public truth: “Christ is risen!”
Now why does that make a difference for us in this moment? I want to point us to a book in the New Testament written by the Apostle Peter: 1 Peter. If you read through that, the thing that Peter comes back to over and over again is that people who are followers of Jesus are to be known, defined by hope. Now here’s what’s interesting: The group of people that Peter is writing this book of hope to is a group of people that are about to walk into a season of intense persecution under Nero. But here’s the kicker! You see for Peter, hope is not a feeling. Hope is not an emotion. In fact, he’s very clear: To be a person of hope is not to hope that something changes in your environment. In fact, biblical hope is never a hope for something to change. Biblical hope is hope that is secure, not because of something that might happen, but because of something that has happened. And guess where Peter grounds our hope? It’s in that statement that we say to each other each Easter, that we can be people of hope, not because something might change on the horizon, but because Christ is risen. The most true thing about this cultural moment is the most true thing of any cultural moment throughout history. The next election comes out the way that we want it, or doesn’t come out the way that we want it: “Christ is risen!” The Supreme Court makes a decision that is a terrible decision, like it has in the last couple of years: “Christ is risen!”
Now the second truth about our moment is also something that we get from the Apostle Peter. The quirky Danish existentialist philosopher Søren Kierkegaard said that “Life has to be lived forward, and it’s only understood backwards.” Now we’ve all had that experience—Right? Where we walk into a chaotic season of our life, maybe a tragedy, or some great accomplishment, and we don’t quite understand it. But you get to the other side and you can turn around and you can kind of make sense of it. You’ve had that experience, right? What I love—and I’ve just looked at this again during the Easter season—is that we can actually watch that happen with the first followers of Jesus through the end of the Gospels and into the early chapters of Acts. If you walk through that last couple of chapters of Luke for example, what you find is a couple of followers of Jesus who are walking into the first Holy Week, not even knowing that it’s Holy Week. They have expectations of Jesus that He’s going to do one thing. He completely does something else. They become dispersed, they leave Him, they abandon him, they’re scared, things are chaotic. What we get to watch, walking into the first couple of chapters of Acts, is these disciples turn around and start identifying what just happened. And the first place we get it in a package form is Peter’s sermon at Pentecost. And there’s a punch line to that sermon” “God has made Him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.”
Here’s the first truth, “Christ is risen.” Here’s the second truth, “Christ is Lord.”
See, again, for the earliest followers of Jesus, this wasn’t a personal conviction. It wasn’t me saying: “I think Christ is Lord” or “Christ is Lord for me.” What they were saying is: “No, no, no. Whether you recognize it or not, this world belongs to God. Christ is Lord, Jesus Christ is Lord.” He’s not lord over some of reality. He is Lord of reality. Chuck Colson’s favorite quote was by a Dutch theologian named Abraham Kuyper. Here’s what he said: “There’s not a single square inch in the whole domain of human existence over which Christ, who is sovereign overall, does not cry out ‘Mine.”‘ You know what that means? It means, there’s not a single square inch where those of us who have encountered the Risen Lord, who is Lord, do not walk and say “His.” In fact, that’s what it means to follow Jesus. It’s to go into every square inch of reality and say, “His,” “His,” “His.” It’s His!
Because of those first two truths, “Christ is Risen,” and “Christ is Lord” can I just say something definitively for all of us who are concerned about the direction in which our culture is going? In many ways, it is never, ever, correct for the follower of Jesus to say, “It’s over, we’ve lost.”
Let me give you the third truth. The Apostle Paul in a sermon that he gave—really a speech that he gave to the Epicurean and stoic philosophers. It’s recorded by Luke in Acts chapter 17. Paul is invited in Athens to go to the Areopagus. This is a group of people, Luke says, that love nothing more than to sit around and talk about the latest ideas. Paul is invited to describe who God is, and he says a lot of things about God. But somewhere around verse 24ish in Chapter 17, here’s one of the things that he says: “The God who made everything determines the exact time that people live and the boundaries of their dwelling place.” Did you know that? Did you know that God intentionally determined that you and I, and our children, would live in this culture and not in another culture? The Apostle Paul says that Christ has called us to this time and in this place. He’s put us here now, for this season. Why? What does he want us to do when He’s called us here? What are we saved for? What are we ‘In Christ’ for? I’ll tell you,the first thing that we can be sure of, that Christians are not saved for escape. Christianity is not an escapist religionfor two reasons. Number one is you can try to escape the culture, you can’t. The whole essence of Christianity is centered on the person of Jesus Christ, and what John tells us is that Jesus is the God who became flesh and made his dwelling among us. God’s agenda has never been to snatch us out of here, God’s agenda has been to be with us in the suffering and in the struggle. Ultimately highlighted by what Jesus Christ did Himself on the Cross. Amen. Christianity is not an escapist.
Let me also say this though, just like we’re not saved to escape, we’re not saved to accommodate. There are a lot of voices right now that are attempting to accommodate—and of course, this is almost always coming at us in areas of sexuality and marriage. We have to accommodate because, somehow what we’re told is, if we don’t accommodate—this is a temptation for people of faith—then we’ll lose our voice in the culture. If we lose our stand for truth. we will not need to have a voice in the culture because we will have nothing to say. We’re told all the time that you’ve got to choose between truth and love. If you want to stand for truth, you’re not loving. If you want to love people, you can’t actually stand for truth, as if truth and love are in conflict. Truth and love are both ultimately sourced in Jesus Christ. There’s no conflict, except in our own perception.
So, if we’re not saved to escape, and we’re not saved to accommodate, what are we saved for? Here’s what the Apostle Paul says: “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.” That’s verse 17, you know what verse 18 says? That “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself and has committed to us the gospel of reconciliation.” That’s verse 18. Verse 19 is almost identical: That is: “God was in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself, not counting men’s sins against them but has given to us the ministry of reconciliation.” Here’s the punch line: Reconciled ones are called to be reconcilers. Wherever there is brokenness, that’s where God’s people are called. One of the lies that we’ve believed as the church over the last several decades is, as the culture took positions that we didn’t agree with, and even forced those positions on people of faith, that we should hire professionals that would go to Hollywood and D.C. and fight the battles for us. You and I, we may not be called to D.C. and Hollywood, but we’re all called to engage culture and to be a reconciler wherever God has placed us.
Church, we cannot outsource the job. Every single follower of Jesus is called to engage the culture, wherever they’re at.
I want to tell you one story of a Catholic priest on the East coast who had heard about a couple in his community who had gone for an amniocentesis. They were in their second trimester of pregnancy. You know that an amniocentesis is the test that diagnoses Down syndrome. It’s not a very accurate test, but the test came back to this couple positive, and this couple made the decision that nearly 90 percent of couples in the Western world make when they get that diagnosis, which is to abort. This priest heard about it, I don’t know all the details, but he dropped everything and he called the couple and he said, “Please, please don’t abort this child. Give it life.” They said, “We’re not ready to parent,” And he said, “Would you just bring it to life and give it up for adoption? Would you just not kill it but bring it to life.” And the couple said, “Yes,” but they had an appointment for an abortion scheduled the next week. This was Friday. Essentially, he had the weekend to solve this problem. Going into weekend services at his parish, he put everything aside. He went on a social media campaign to find adoptive parents for this couple, for this baby. By the end of the weekend, by Monday morning, 800 couples had stepped up and they found an adoptive parent for this child. That’s what reconciliation looks like, and that’s how culture changes. Not from the top down, but from all of us taking seriously our call to engage the culture wherever God has placed us.
Christ is risen! Christ is Lord! Christ has called us to this time and place. Amen. Thank you, it’s been an honor to be with you tonight.
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