This vimeo link will take you to my annual message at the Northwest Baptist Convention meeting in Spokane on Nov. 16. The message is about 35 minutes long. The text is Ephesians 2:12-18.
Perhaps you know that the Northwest is home to many nones. Nones are those who say they have no religion, which includes more than 30 percent of those living in the Northwest. Forty-two percent in Portland and 37 percent in Seattle say that have “no religion.”
What does this mean for those sharing the good news of Jesus Christ in the Northwest? First, it means that many of our neighbors have no faith system that they must “leave” to come to Christ. Leaving Islam or Buddhism presents multiple difficulties that do not exist for the nones. Coming to Christ from Islam means breaking with family and community, as well as Islamic teachings. It can even put one’s life in jeopardy. By contrast, those with no religion are not “leaving” a faith system as much as they are filling a void, i.e. the God-shaped hole in every human heart. Many of those coming to Christ are coming from this kind of background. In China, for example, tens of millions are coming to Christ from atheism and agnosticism.
Secondly, Jesus Christ provides the only satisfying answer to the deep needs of the heart. These include forgiveness, love, and hope, but I want to speak of two which you might not have considered, but which exist for every person, including the nones.
First, every human being yearns for justice, but without our God, justice cannot be had. On June 17, 2015 nine people were murdered during a Bible study at the Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC. In Syria and Iraq, thousands of Christians, and others, have been slaughtered by ISIS. These and other atrocities demand that justice be done. But how do you secure justice for those so grievously wronged? They are dead. Even if the killers are caught and punished, how does this help the victims? If there is no God, a God who is holy and all-powerful, so that He knows what is right and has the ability to produce the right, there is no ultimate justice. Without a just God to whom all must give an account, this world is reduced to “winners and losers.” Winners are those who get the most “stuff” and live a long and happy life. Losers are those who don’t get the “stuff,” and whose lives are cut short or impaired through bad health or bad luck (like being born in Afghanistan!). Ultimately we all lose because death comes to all.
To be clear, if there is no God, there is no justice, and therefore Adolph Hitler was a “winner” in comparison with his victims. Hitler died at age 56. For many years he enjoyed great power and luxury. By contrast, Anne Frank, one of Hitler’s victims, died at age 15. She suffered terribly under Hitler’s tyranny, as did millions of others. Little children, young men and women, were slaughtered by this evildoer. If there is no God, and no hope of ultimate judgment and resurrection and eternal life, then there is no true justice for the most evil among us, and their victims are life’s losers. This is a reality that nones and all unbelievers need to confront. Jesus Christ provides the only hope for justice and fairness.
Secondly, every person wants to live in peace, but without our God, there can be no peace in the truest sense. In the Middle East, we are not hoping for peace. Worldly diplomacy and military engagements are merely intended to end the killing and produce what might be called “peaceful bigotry.” The goal of the United Nations is not to make the Palestinians and the Jews love each other. The goal is simply make them stop the killing and live beside each other. If the killing stops we will call it “peace,” but really it’s a “peaceful bigotry” because there is no love. The same could be said of those fighting in Iraq, or even in the streets of some American cities. Our political and judicial system is meant to keep order, not produce peace. Only God can produce peace because peace requires a heart-change. In the human heart there is a longing for peace, but without Christ the best we can hope for is a peaceful bigotry.
We are privileged to live in one of the most beautiful places in the world, which at the same time is one of the world’s great mission fields. About four percent of Northwesterners are in church on Sunday. But we have a powerful Gospel. We have the only message that addresses the great needs of the human heart, including the needs for justice and peace. It is a good day to share the gospel of Jesus Christ in the Northwest.