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“I don’t know whether Obama is a Christian.”

Those were the words The Washington Post chose to feature referring to remarks by a potential Republican presidential candidate, Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin.

And that’s when the buzz began.

But was Governor Walker actually casting doubt on Obama’s faith? No… not according to his spokesperson, Jocelyn Webster. She telephoned The Post to clarify that given the broader context of what was said, Walker was simply making a point of principle by not answering such kinds of questions. He was not being skeptical of Obama’s faith. (But, of course, that’s what generates buzz, and The Post knows it.)

The account that Barack Obama gives of his conversion to Christianity certainly reveals his familiarity with the gospel:  

So one Sunday, I put on one of the few clean jackets I had, and went over to Trinity United Church of Christ on 95th Street on the South Side of Chicago. And I heard Reverend Jeremiah A. Wright deliver a sermon called "The Audacity of Hope." And during the course of that sermon, he introduced me to someone named Jesus Christ. I learned that my sins could be redeemed. I learned that those things I was too weak to accomplish myself, He would accomplish with me if I placed my trust in Him. And in time, I came to see faith as more than just a comfort to the weary or a hedge against death, but rather as an active, palpable agent in the world and in my own life.

It was because of these newfound understandings that I was finally able to walk down the aisle of Trinity one day and affirm my Christian faith. It came about as a choice, and not an epiphany. I didn't fall out in church, as folks sometimes do. The questions I had didn't magically disappear. The skeptical bent of my mind didn't suddenly vanish. But kneeling beneath that cross on the South Side, I felt I heard God's spirit beckoning me. I submitted myself to His will, and dedicated myself to discovering His truth and carrying out His works.

But, in all fairness, the New Testament strongly warns those who give mere mental assent to a few facts about Jesus if they don’t also—by their actions and their voting record—show that they actually love what Jesus loves, like say for example preserving life and honoring marriage.

Just consider these terrifying words of Christ from Matthew 7:21-23:

Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?' And then will I declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.'

The debate about Obama’s faith continues to strike a nerve because there are people who want to know more about what Obama truly believes before they accept his profession of faith. On the other hand, there are others who say, "The man says he's a Christian. Just accept his word and move on."

Your turn: What do you think? Is it a fair question to ask whether Obama is a Christian? Do you think The Washington Post fairly reported Gov. Scott Walker’s remarks on this issue? Do you believe Barack Obama is a follower of Jesus Christ?
 

Alex Crain is the editor of Christianity.com. You can read more posts by Alex at his blog and follow him on Twitter @alex_crain.

Your Stress is Harming Your Spiritual Life

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“I wonder if we’re growing too comfortable with the amount of stress we have in our lives. I wonder if we realize what it is actually doing to us, not just physically, but spiritually.”

—Andrea Lucado in Your Stress Is Harming Your Spiritual Life
(RelevantMagazine.com, February 12, 2015)

In a recent article at Relevant Magazine, writer Andrea Lucado addressed the issue of stress and how to deal with it. If you’re like most people, being an adult means never going back to the carefree days of childhood. But that doesn’t mean you can’t learn how to have peace as you face bills, deadlines, difficult relationships, and a myriad of other pressures. In fact, if you don’t learn how to have peace through the storms, you’re damaging yourself both physically and spiritually, argues Lucado.

Lucado defines stress as “feeling worried about things that aren’t going your way presently, didn’t go your way in the past, or might not go your way in the future.” She confesses to having gone periods of dealing poorly with all three worries at once and describes what she learned from it: “When we forget the character of God, the troubles in our minds escalate quickly. But when we remind ourselves of who God is—He is good (Exodus 34:6), He is just (Nehemiah 9:32), He is merciful (Hebrews 4:16)—the pressure to solve our own issues and take care of our own stress is off.” (Read the whole thing here.)

Christianity.com writer, Melissa Kruger, echoes similar thoughts in her helpful piece, How You Can Be Content, Even in the Storms:

“A contented Christian is not free from the weight of desires, heartaches and trials, but one who experiences adversity in a paradoxical way, “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything” (2Corinthians 6:10). We have much sorrow, but because of our redemption we are always rejoicing. Temporal pleasures are only able to provide temporary happiness. The spiritual realities of our lives are what secure our joy and peace.”

Far from leaving the reader with a simple platitude of “just trust God more,” Andrea Lucado also lists practical steps that have helped her and she invites us to join her:

“I set a challenge for myself this year that you may want to consider if your stress level is high. I’m starting every day by writing down five things I am thankful for and five things I know to be true about God’s character. I’ve been doing this for a few weeks now, and though I can’t say my stress is completely gone and everything is roses, I have felt more aware of how good my life is and more aware of God’s presence in it. Reminding myself of these things has allowed me to be less skeptical of God and more trusting of Him. And in that trust, there has been peace.”

Your turn: Have you ever been through a period of being stressed out but you learned how to deal with it? Share your experience in the comments below. What do you think of the advice given by the writers above?
 

Alex Crain is the editor of Christianity.com. You can read more posts by Alex at his blog and follow him on Twitter @alex_crain.

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“Unless we get on our high horse and think this is unique to some other place,
remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed
terrible deeds in the name of Christ..."  

—President Barack Obama, February 5, 2015 National Prayer Breakfast

The Crusades may have happened 1000 years ago, but they’re headline news once again. President Obama’s statement above compared the Crusades with the recent actions of Islamic terrorists, drawing a collective gasp from Christians everywhere.

Ravi Zacharias summarizes it well:

President Obama basically lectured Christians not to get on a moral high horse in their castigation of the ISIS atrocities by reminding them that the Crusades and slavery were also justified in the name of Christ. Citing the Crusades, he used the single most inflammatory word he could have with which to feed the insatiable rage of the extremists. That is exactly what they want to hear to feed their lunacy.  ‎In the Middle East, history never dies and words carry the weight of revenge.

May I dare suggest that if Christians had been burning Muslims and be-heading them, he would have never dared to go to Saudi Arabia and tell them to get off their high horse. He unwittingly paid a compliment to those who preach grace and forgiveness. That is the dominant theme of the Gospel. That is why we sit in courtesy listening to the distortion of truth, the abuse of a privilege, and the wrong-headedness of a message.

Ironically, Obama’s words have caused many to actually investigate the Crusades as evidenced by this popular post by Kevin DeYoung at The Gospel Coalition:

Contrary to popular opinion, the Crusades did not begin as a holy war whose mission was to convert the heathen by the sword.  In fact, very few of the crusaders saw their mission as an evangelistic one.  The initial purpose of the Crusades, and the main military goal throughout the Middle Ages, was quite simply to reclaim Christian lands captured by Muslim armies.

The popular conception of barbaric, ignorant, cruel, and superstitious crusaders attacking peaceful, sophisticated Muslims comes largely from Sir Walter Scott’s novel, The Talisman (1825) and Sir Steven Runciman’s three-volume History of the Crusades (1951-54).

[Yes,] many of the Christians who went to war under the sign of the cross conducted themselves as if they knew nothing of the Christ of the cross. But that’s not the whole story.  The Crusades is also the story of thousands of godly men, women, and children who sacrificed time, money, and health to reclaim holy lands in distant countries overrun by Muslims.  The Christians of the East had suffered mightily at the hands of the Turks and Arabs.  It was only right, it seemed to medieval Christians, to go and help their fellow Christians and reclaim their land and property.

The point of this article is not to make us fans of the Crusades, but to make us more careful in our denunciation of them.  We fight for nation-states and democracy.  They fought for religion and holy lands.  Their reasons for war seem wrong to us, but no more than our reasons would seem wrong to them.

(Read the rest here.)

Another key point that Obama and others seem reluctant to admit is that violence and murder are actually commanded in the Muslim holy book, the Quran, but the opposite is true with Christ. While it may very well be true that "no religion has ever been immune from exploitation for nefarious ends, and that to believe otherwise is dangerous" (as this blog post at The Economist so condescendingly points out), it seems ill-advised for Obama to have lectured a room full of Christians at the National Prayer Breakfast about that. Honestly, would he have told a room full of Muslims at a prayer meeting to “get off their high horse” if Christians were actively beheading Muslim hostages and burning Muslim villages around the world? My guess is probably not. This article by Christianity.com writer, Doug Ponder, discusses some crucial differences between Islam and Christianity in greater detail on this front. Here is a summary excerpt:

Some will object (they always do) that the vast majority of Muslims are peaceful people. This is quite true, and we can be thankful it is so. But we must remember that a Muslim’s peacefulness is actually inconsistent with the full teachings of the Quran. In other words, most Muslims are not peaceful because of Islam but in spite of Islam.  The Japanese journalist, Kenji Goto, who was recently beheaded by ISIS militants wrote in 2010, "Hate is not for humans. Judgment lies with God. That's what I learned from my Arabic brothers and sisters." Sadly and ironically, Goto’s 'Arabic brothers and sisters' could not have learned such a peaceful philosophy from the Muslim holy book. Indeed, his final encounter in this life was with Muslims who were following Quranic directives to the letter.

Your turn: Are Christians today obligated to answer for the Crusades? Are the Crusades the same as terrorist actions carried out by those who are literally following the teachings of Islam?  Weigh in with your thoughts in the comments below. Finally, rather than become discouraged by all the misinformation being spread about Christianity, let's at least be glad that it’s a topic being discussed. Keep in mind the most important things we are to winsomely declare to others today: who Jesus is, and the freedom from sin that He offers. 
 

Alex Crain is the editor of Christianity.com. You can read more posts by Alex at his blog and follow him on Twitter @alex_crain.

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(The face of a boy after three days with measles rash: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

A measles outbreak traced to Disneyland has sparked a new wave of outrage toward parents who choose not to vaccinate their children. While 95% of the national US population has been vaccinated against the measles (see this from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), certain communities dip below the 90% range, which CDCP considers to be acceptable "herd immunity" for a population to maintain.  

Reasons vary as to why parents opt out of vaccinations. "People say there's only two camps, the pro-vaccination camp and the anti-vaccination camp, and anyone who's anti-vaccination isn't that smart," says Meghan Van Vleet, a former naturopath and a parent of two in Boulder. "But there’s not two camps; there’s like 50 camps."

Christian author and professor, Denny Burk, turns the question of vaccination into a moral one for Christians, asking pointedly: “Do we owe it to our neighbors to vaccinate our kids?” Burk highlights the following quote from a Washington Post article by Michael Gerson:

“Whether hipsters or home-schoolers, parents who don’t vaccinate are free riders.

Their children benefit from herd immunity without assuming the very small risk of adverse reaction to vaccination. It is a game that works — until too many play it.”

Your turn: Are non-vaccinating parents “free riders?” Are Christian parents who withhold vaccinating their children endangering public safety? If so, is that crossing a moral line? Weigh in with your thoughts in the comments below.
 

Alex Crain is the editor of Christianity.com. You can read more posts by Alex at his blog and follow him on Twitter @alex_crain.

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