How Christian Case Making Turns “Free Riders” Into “First Responders”

I’ve been part of a first responder family my entire life. I was born while my father was in the police academy and grew up during his law enforcement career. Prior to his retirement, I entered the academy and my son was born. He watched me serve as a first responder as he grew up and then entered the academy as well; he’s been serving as an officer for several years now. I’ve listened to the stories of first responders (or told my own) for the past fifty-three years. I’ve learned an important truth about law enforcement first responders. There are no “free riders” in a police patrol car. When two officers are working together in a unit, there are no passengers. Each has a job to do. The driver obviously guides the unit, decides where the tandem will patrol, and is responsible for safely navigating the car, even during incredibly tense and difficult situations. But the officer sitting in the passenger seat is just as active and engaged as the driver; he’s not just along for the ride. He’s responsible for all radio communications with the station, is primarily responsible for the reports written during the shift, and is often the best set of eyes in the unit. First responder “passengers” can teach us something about our lives as Christians.

If you’ve been a member of a local church for any period of time, you’ve probably noticed twenty percent of the members serve actively while eighty percent usually enjoy the benefits of this service (the old 20/80 principle). There are many “free riders” in the church who are willing to attend but don’t seem to be engaged in much more than this. Well, I want to confess something to you: I am now part of that eighty percent. With my speaking and writing schedule, I am seldom at home on Sundays and when I am, I am usually unable to help out at church. I often feel lucky to be there at all. And there’s something else you probably already know: the twenty percent who are working hard to help out with the weekly service may still be unengaged in what they believe as Christians. Even though they are working hard, they still may not know much about Christianity. You can be a “free rider” even though you appear to be working hard.

So, what makes the difference between those who are coasting and those who are engaged? How can “free riders” become “first responders”? It all comes down to case making. Let me return to the analogy of first responder “passengers” to make the point. These officers may look like they are along for the ride, but they have an important role to play, just like those of us who may appear to be sitting in church pews:

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Is the Church A Cruise Ship Or A Rescue Boat?

When describing the difficulty in creating a more thoughtful version of Christianity in America, I sometimes describe the Church as a large ocean liner. If we, as Christian Case Makers, hope to have a significant impact on what appears to be a sometimes uninformed (or apathetic) Christian culture, we must turn this large ship one degree at a time. The Church is not a jet ski we can turn on a dime; it is a large, established institution requiring gentle nudging from the tugboats amongst us who want to change its direction. I love the Church. I’ve been a pastor and church leader myself, and I’ve come to respect the role of pastors and shepherds. It’s an incredibly difficult job, requiring special gifts. As Paul says in Ephesians Chapter 4 (verse 11), only some of us have been given by God to be pastors. Most of us are not gifted in this way, and the more I work with local churches, the more I respect those who are in a position of leadership, especially those pastors who recognize the importance of Christian Case Making. As I visit with these pastors around the country, I’ve heard them describe how difficult it is to raise up congregations who are capable and ready to defend what they believe, especially in a hedonistic culture such as ours. When they describe the Church at large, it sounds a lot more like a cruise ship than a rescue boat.

I’m using this analogy to help us think about the nature of the Church in America so we can be more focused in our efforts to make it better. I believe the Church is our best and last hope. It has been the often unrecognized foundation of our culture, the unsung (and maligned) hero responsible for much of what we take for granted as a nation and a people. As skepticism, hedonism and nihilism grow in our country, Christianity has the opportunity to meet the challenge or shrink from the fight. I believe we must renew the life and role of the mind in Christendom if we expect to have a continuing impact on our culture. And that’s where I think my analogy may illustrate the nature of the challenge we face. Let me describe two kinds of ocean vessels and you tell me which one sounds more like the Church today:

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A Brief History of Islam

Have you ever wondered how a religion gets started? Do a bunch of people get together and decide to start a church just so they can pass the collection place and launch a television ministry? Does God look down from heaven and choose someone to start a new belief system just so he can have a few more buildings with stained glass windows built in his honor? Or does some ambitious person decide to blaze a new path to God because he believes all the others are wrong?

Here’s one story—the story of Islam—that may help you understand how a religion gets going. This is the true account (short version) of the early beginnings of Islam, the world’s second biggest monotheistic religion.

The Story of Islam

Muhammad ibn Abdallah was born in A.D. 570 into a prominent family in the city of Mecca, Arabia (now Saudi Arabia). His father died before he was born, and his mother died when he was six. Raised by his uncle, Muhammad married a 40-year-old wealthy widow named Khadijah when he was 25. The newlyweds settled in Mecca, where Muhammad became a successful businessman.

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Tips for Studying the Bible

As Christians, we have a lot of questions that we don’t always know how to investigate on our own, and we’re grateful when somebody will come in and give us the quick answer. But if you’ve raised kids, you know that when your kids have a question and ask you to sort something out for them, they come away with one kind of knowledge. When you allow your kids to work through, and find, and research the answer for themselves, they come away with a completely different kind of understanding. I can remember when I first came to Christianity out of atheism, I really needed to examine the issues for myself. And let’s face it, there are lots of times when it’s not so much an understanding of the truth; it’s not so much that the truth is out there and I just can’t grasp it; it’s that I hold some type of prerequisite, presupposition, that prevents me from seeing the truth clearly.
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Why Doesn't God Stop Suffering?

This world is full of suffering and pain, and God does allow it. And while we may understand to a point why God had to allow suffering, why doesn’t he end it now? Why has he allowed it to continue so long? That is a troubling question.

 

A perfect and holy God created a perfect world. He “looked over all he made, and he saw that it was excellent in every way” (Genesis 1:31 nlt). Yet not for long. Because of free will, humans had a choice of God’s way or their way. They chose their way, and sin and evil entered the world. The perfect paradise God had created was destroyed. And from that moment forward—multiplied thousands of years—hunger, disease, hatred, wars, and untold heartache have plagued the human race. It is true God has promised to redeem those who trust in his Son for salvation and to restore creation back to his original design. But why is God taking so long to correct the tragic mess humans have made of this world?
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The Evidentially Diverse Resurrection Appearances of Jesus (Free Bible Insert)

As a detective, I am impressed with cases when they are evidentially diverse. Two witnesses to the same event are better than one. In a similar way, three witnesses are better than two, especially if they agree on their observations in spite of their individual peculiarities or differences. When I have multiple witnesses from diverse ethnic, social, economic or demographic backgrounds and these witnesses generally agree on what they say occurred, I reasonably adopt a higher level of confidence in their testimony.

That’s why the diverse accounts related to the Resurrection of Jesus are particularly important in assessing the validity of these claims. Take a look at a brief list of the Resurrection sightings:

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Ebola and the Call of God

It’s a life-and-death-story for the ages, one that vividly shows us what it takes to respond to the call of God, and what’s required to follow Jesus.

You know the story because it involves the deadly Ebola virus, but you may not remember the names of two Americans who brought the story home in dramatic fashion. Dr. Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol are medical missionaries who contracted the virus while helping treat victims in Liberia. In the middle of the summer they were flown back to the U.S. to receive treatment at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta. Both should have died, but they survived, recovered and were released just a few weeks ago, whereupon Dr. Brantly acknowledged his care in Liberia and the treatment he received at Emory. “God saved my life—a direct answer to thousands and thousands of prayers,” he said in a statement.

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Does a Loving God Send People to Hell?

Many people think it just doesn’t seem right that God would condemn some people to a fiery place of damnation. God is love, and eternally punishing people doesn’t quite fit with that, right? So how can a loving God send people to hell?

 

To begin, it would be helpful to understand where God is thought to be sending people. The majority of Americans believe in a place called hell. Many consider it a place of eternal punishment of “fire and brimstone”—like a fiery torture chamber. But is this what hell is—an eternal furnace of sorts where people are tortured forever? Just what is it?

 

Clarifying the  Words of Scripture

 

To understand the teaching of Scripture we must understand when words are used literally or figuratively. If we don’t, we can easily misunderstand the teaching. Jesus referred to hell as a place where there is fire, which normally produces light (Mark 9:48). At the same time he referred to it as a place of “outer darkness” (Matthew 22:13). It seems reasonable that these words are figurative. If a literal meaning were attached to them, darkness and light from fire would cancel each other out. Jesus often used metaphors in his teachings, and here we believe he was giving a word picture of the indescribable nature of hell.
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What Criminal Trials Teach Us About Objective Moral Truth

I’ve been involved in numerous criminal trials over the years, most involving cold-case murderers. In many of these cases, the outcome was influenced (in large part) by activity outside the presence of the jury. There are legal rules both sides must follow when conducting the prosecution and defense. Sometimes these rules allow one side to take advantage of the other in subtle, yet powerful ways. If a rule allows one attorney to benefit strategically (while staying within the applicable legal restrictions) most lawyers will capitalize on this opportunity to gain an advantage (so long as they are within their legal right to do so). Here, as in every part of our society, there is an important distinction between legality and morality; between what is legally permissible and what is morally virtuous. This distinction highlights God’s role in the existence of objective moral truth, as it exposes the inability of culture to provide an objective, transcendent moral law.
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Is God Genocidal?

To commit genocide is to deliberately kill a large racial, political, or cultural group of people, especially those of a particular ethnic group or nation. The word genocide is a combined Greek and Latin word meaning “race killing.”

The atrocities of Hitler and the Nazi army upon the Jewish people were genocide. The Nazis rounded up and murdered some 6 million Jews between 1938 and 1945. There were over 2 million genocidal killings of Cambodians by Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge army between 1975 and 1979. Over a period of 100 days in 1994 perhaps 800,000 Tutsis in Rwanda were brutally murdered by militia of the Hutu tribe. And between 1992 and 1995 the Serbs of Bosnia-Herzegovina committed “ethnic cleansing” by murdering over 200,000 Muslims in Bosnia. These are just a few examples of genocide humans have perpetrated on one another in recent history.

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