“As You Wish,” Husbands Leading With A Purpose

[The following article was published in the June 8, 2014 edition of The Lookout. For more excellent reading, or to subscribe to The Lookout, click here.]

“Aaaas Yooooou Wiiiiiish!”

This was the cry of Westley (a.k.a. the Dread Pirate Roberts) after being pushed down a hill in The Princess Bride, the beloved 1987 film by Rob Reiner. His long unrequited love, Buttercup, had pushed him over the edge; she had yet to discover that this Pirate who had taken her captive was, in fact, her long lost love and stable boy, Westley.

Decades after being introduced to this movie, “as you wish” still strikes me as a pretty good statement of love and commitment. Continue reading

Advertisements

How Do I Become “Saved?”

[This week’s posts will be a continuation of a recent sermon at Adventure Christian Church, based on questions members submitted to our leaders. Some answers were not addressed from the stage and will be covered here as a supplement. Check out the live answers here.]

It happens all over our country, in many different contexts. Pastors who have a genuine heart for reaching the lost tell their audience or congregation to be saved by simply “accepting Christ into their hearts.” Continue reading

The Way (part 2) – The ONE Way? Really?

[This is the second in a series about Jesus’ claims in John 14:6. Click Here to read the series from the beginning]

Jesus said he was “the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” In fact, he then said, “No one comes to the Father, except through me.”

Those claims sound pretty exclusive to me.

And yet, it is so common for Christians to shy away from affirming this teaching of Jesus. Isn’t it interesting that we want to honor Jesus so long as he’s helping others, healing the sick, preaching peace and love, and tearing down _____ [insert your modern, contextualized, political pet peeve here], yet when he teaches something like his own exclusivity we try to explain it away, or—more often—ignore it completely and hope no one calls our bluff.

So today we ask, could Jesus actually mean what he said?

The Way to What?

Jesus said, “I am the Way.” But the way to what? This simple statement is implying two things: there is an end goal in life, and there is ONE way to it. Elsewhere he compares “the way to salvation” as a narrow path to which few will adhere, while the “way to destruction” as a wide and easy path to find. I’m guessing he’s not calling himself the latter.

In actuality, he calls himself the way to the Father. As in, being in the Father’s presence is the goal in life and Jesus is the only way to that goal.

What if there’s no Father?

Every religion has some image of “salvation.” They don’t all say anything about damnation, but they do all say something about salvation. A “higher existence,” if you will. It may be a separation from worldly desires, or a perspective on the world hewn from life experience that allows you to always make the right decision. Reincarnation into higher beings, trying to achieve a goal.

Nirvana.

Paradise.

Heaven.

Let’s not act as if there is no “salvation” in these worldviews. But just because they all paint the picture that we need some sort of deliverance does not make them all “the same.” It doesn’t mean they are all saying “basically the same thing.” What it reveals is that the notion there is something wrong or imperfect with us is a universal notion. It is a truth that—if we would just be honest with ourselves—we cannot escape. It’s part of our very humanity.

This truth also reveals that there is a desire for the perfect, for the correction of our brokenness, for the healing of wounds and for the freedom that comes when insecurity, self-preservation, and fear finally cease.

So the question is where this idea comes from? Where do we get morality, if not from a moral law-giver? Where do we get the idea of perfection if the very essence of the world is imperfect? If that is all that is observable, where have we learned to universally long for its inverse?

See, many world religions will deny God as Christianity understands him. They want to acknowledge God (some higher power, a guiding force, etc), but they don’t want this god to be personal. They don’t want their god to have created everything from nothing.

But a world without a creator God has no purpose, meaning, or basis for morality. A world without a personal, creator God is utterly futile.

The Way to the Father Creator.

The question of the Father implies that there is A CREATOR. Here’s why Jesus is the only way to be in relationship with said creator. One thing that is always true of created things is that they are subject to the will of the creator. When you create something, you have the right to regulate its purpose and use. It’s the reality that our copyright laws aim to recognize and thus, protect. It’s why we have patents. The creator has the right to dictate purpose to the creation.

As such, we owe God obedience to the will for our lives that he has set out. We were made for the purpose He alone dictates, and we are obligated to recognize and respond to that responsibility. When we fail to do this, just like any creator whose invention fails to do what it was supposed to, he has every right to scrap his creation and start all over.

But he doesn’t. Rather than destroy us because of our sin (falling short, or breaking his intention for us), God has given us a means by which we can be reconciled to him. The cost of sin is death, to be sure, but God gave his son to bear the death that we all deserve.

Think you’re pretty good? You don’t sin that much? Think your good deeds ought to outweigh the bad things you do (only once in a while, as we all seem to convince ourselves)? The issue is that even failing once separates us from him. And even if that weren’t true, I know I fall short several times, daily. So I don’t know whose scale we’re measuring on, or which good deeds “count” as more significant to counteract all my selfish deeds and desires, but I’m pretty sure a very strong case can be made for me breaking the relationship and the intention my creator had for me.

AND WHEN THAT HAPPENS, I need help. When that happens, I can’t “make it up,” because he already has exclusive rights to my life. Everything is already his. Even my “extra.” I already owe him everything for the very breath in my lungs. Any good I do to “make up for” the bad already belongs to him. It’s not extra credit. It’s just credit. and our account falls short every time when we rely on our own goodness.

This is why every ideological system in the history of the world has some concept of salvation.  We’ve come full circle and completed the cycle. We are broken > We need salvation (or whatever you’d like to call it) > We try to earn it by being good, >but we’re not that good > thus we are “broken” > and we need salvation (or whatever you want to call it).

Jesus breaks the cycle. Jesus says, “It’s not about how good you are.” Jesus says, “Your attempts were never going to be able to pay the penalty.” Jesus says, “I bring grace, where every other system only offers works.”

Jesus brings grace. It’s what is distinctive about Christianity, and it’s why Christianity is the only Way.

It’s why Christians have hope. Because the very law-giver has said, “I will forgive you of your lawlessness.”

No one else offers that.

Don’t miss your chance to take him up on the offer.

Seminary Smatterings #1: Sausage, Silver, and Sovereign

There is a local butcher in town who has THE BEST breakfast sausage I have ever had.

The. Best.

We get a pound of it pretty much every week, and I pound out my own patties (a process that makes it that much more satisfying), and we enjoy taste-bud bliss for a couple of mornings.

And so I’m telling people about it all the time! My wife and I are telling people about the best-kept secret in Louisville, Kingsley’s Breakfast Sausage (if you’re in Louisville, go support this local family business; you won’t regret it).

But we tell people about it because we feel like they are missing out on something great.

Well, never does a week go by where I sit and class and don’t think, “People need to hear this!” Reading, studying, discussing, these things lead to deep connections being made in the Scripture and I come across things all the time that people need to know. I wish I had time for all the conversations I wish I could have.

So this is the first post in a series I will call, “Seminary Smatterings.” There won’t necessarily be consistency from week to week, but I just want to share some thoughts or lessons that have seemed profound.

From my Isaiah class:

We’re only in chapter one, but already there are a TON of things jumping off the page. I won’t go into all of them, but Isaiah 1 says some interesting things about Silver. In fact, God compares the Isrealites to Silver that has become “dross.” When a silversmith is working with silver, there is a refining process. Over and over, the smith heats the silver up to a liquid, and all the impurities—the dross—float to the top, where the Smith scrapes them off and repeats the process. And repeats.

Until he can see his reflection in the silver.

In Isaiah 1, God is stating his case against Israel: they have turned away from him and forgotten to properly honor him for all he has blessed them with. Worst of all, they have turned the means by which God graciously gave them a way to reconcile with him despite sin—the very essence of their worship practices—into mere lip service. Their hearts were not repentant of their sin, nor did they have any intention of turning to him.

Thus, their “silver has become dross” (Isa 1:22).

But wait, the end of chapter one (and remember, this sets the tone for all the book), God makes clear that he will redeem the faithful. And what image does he use?

25 “I will turn my hand against you
and will smelt away your dross as with lye
and remove all your alloy.
26 And I will restore your judges as at the first,
and your counselors as at the beginning.
Afterward you shall be called the city of righteousness,
the faithful city.”

God tells Israel he’s going to turn up the fire. Let persecution come. Let hard times knock us down. Allow struggle. Ordain strife. And he allows that to bring out the impurities. He does it so that the faithful will remain.

And they will reflect his own face.

Be faithful, the fires are not meant for you, but for the impure, to reveal the faithful people of God.

From “Life and Teachings of Jesus”

Just a thought that was posed on day one that I found provocative (but possibly accurate—still thinking through this). What if Jesus’ whole ministry really could be summed up by his first pastoral sentence: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15). What if that is simply his message.

What if “the Kingdom of God is at hand,” is not primarily about the end times, or about Heaven, per se, but a statement of fact? Said another way, what if the statement was, “God is King. Therefore, in light of this fact, repent (for it is the only proper way to come before a king). And believe in the Gospel for your salvation, for your membership in this Kingdom.” 

What if the “Kingdom of God” is the kingdom where people actually live as if God were their king? Bowing to his authority, submitting where his decrees bristle against our will? Giving him glory and honor? Trusting him to provide based on the fundamentals of his economy, his social order, his reign and his ability to fight his own battles?

What if we came before him with our hat in our hands, pleading for mercy because we don’t deserve communion with him, because that is how you come before a king, rather than “waltzing in, handing him the resume we’ve built up and telling him how glad he should be to have us on his team. That’s not how you act in the presence of a King!” (this was a paraphrase from my professor, regarding the Pharisee and the Tax Collector in Luke 18). What if repentance has much more to do with giving up the notion that our lives are our own, and less to do with apologizing for each individual mistake we make? 

The point is, what if we are being called to give far more to be a Christian than we’d previously considered? What if God really is King, and we treat him like he is our “co-pilot” or “homeboy?”

What if we really do need to Repent? What if the Kingdom of God really IS at hand?

Just some thoughts. I’m sure I’ll have more next week!

The Way

It’s not very popular these days to say that Christianity is the only way to salvation. In fact, in many circles, that is one way to ensure you will not be taken seriously.

And I know many, many Christians who believe that to be true, but wouldn’t come right out and say it, because of the stigma it would raise.

I know this because I have long been one of those Christians.

Longing for “conversation,” and “dialogue,” I have skewed the truth to be something less than exclusive, buying into the cultural narrative that so strongly asserts exclusiveness is always a bad thing. But Christianity is exclusive. And I hope you’ll keep reading so that I can explain why.

One of Jesus’ closest disciples, John, who even described himself as “the one Jesus loved,” quoted Jesus as saying, “I am the WAY, the TRUTH, and the LIFE, no one comes to the father except through me” (John 14:6, emphasis added). That is a pretty exclusive claim. And it’s the source for this and subsequent posts about why Christians should not be scared of Christianity’s exclusive claims to salvation.

What is at stake?

“Exclusivism,” or the view that Christianity makes an exclusive claim to salvation or, put more simply, the idea that only Christians will be saved, has been under attack for some time now. As culture becomes more submissive, and as globalization exposes us to other cultures, it feels intolerant to say that those of other faith backgrounds will be saved. But exclusive faith has by and large been the orthodox Christian position since the beginning. In an effort to ease some of the tension that people feel in defending such a position, some have abandoned it for an “inclusivist” view.

“Inclusivism” is the general idea that those of other faith backgrounds can be saved, but that Jesus will do the saving, even if they worship another god. Appeals are made to the power of environment to determine one’s faith tradition. And it feels unfair for someone who is devoted to their faith and “living a good life” (this is often a factor in the debate, though it need not be. I’ll explain later) being condemned for eternity for believing in the “wrong” religion. Inclusivism gives people the escape hatch they need to believe in Jesus’ power to save, and his saving others based on their devotion to whatever tradition they claim. 

Then there’s “pluralism.” This is where I’ll spend the most time in this post. Pluralism is very popular today, even amongst Christians. As I said before, people who don’t believe in it will often affirm it publicly in an effort not to offend anyone. Pluralism is the belief that all religions have an equal claim on truth and salvation. They are all “basically the same,” trying to make the world a better place. Pay attention to that last part, as it will be important later. Pluralists use a number of illustrations, but one of the most popular is the “many ways up the one mountain” analogy (where the peak or goal is the same for everyone, but the paths to the top may vary substantially). I hope to show that Christians must pay a pretty high price in order to affirm this view, and we don’t do non-believers any favors by telling them that their other faiths are going to save them.

The Elephant in the Room

Allow me to share with you a classic illustration: Four men are led into a room containing an elephant. The four men, all blind from birth, have never learned what an elephant is, and, even if they had, have never seen one. You lead them into the room with the elephant and immediately they would start to feel around and conceptualize the elephant from what they could feel.

The first man starts to feel the tail, and says, “An elephant must be something like a length of frayed rope, used for tying things.”

The second has the elephant’s trunk in his hands, “No, you’re wrong. An elephant is a relative to the great Boa Constrictor.”

The third is feeling around the elephant’s leg, “Really, I think the elephant is more like a tree. Strong and solid.”

The fourth feels the elephant’s ear, and concludes, “Elephants must be some sort of parchment, or leather material.”

All four men have made equal claims about the part of the elephant to which they had been exposed. So the illustration goes, the varying religions of the world have all made claims about the small portion of truth they have been given while, in actuality, they are all part of the picture, and the idea that they are exclusive is merely a misunderstanding of reality.

This doesn’t work on two levels. The first is the men could have felt their way around the elephant. They would have come to a consensus about what sort of animal the elephant is, because elephants are material things you can put your hands on. On the contrary, the various world religions cannot come to consensus. Anyone who says they can is simply not paying attention. The problem lies in that they directly contradict one another in ways far more significant than the elephant discussion. Christianity says God is Three Persons in One God. Islam denies that to the point of waging war because Allah is ONLY one God. Meanwhile, Hindus say there are many gods and Buddhist/Taoist thought denies a personal God. Which is it? By simple logical analysis, these cannot all be true. They are directly in opposition. They are not all “basically the same.” And this on an issue pretty central to any given belief system holding up. Yes, muslims and Christians could probably be more loving to one another (I love the image of the Muslims protecting Christians and vice-versa in the Middle East). But their religions cannot both be true, and they would be the first to tell you they are not praying to the “same God.” This kind of argument is simply ignorant of the views adherents to religions hold.

Far more troubling in this illustration is that the Pluralist who gives this illustration immediately poses himself as the smartest, most enlightened man in the room. He alone sees “the whole elephant.” He alone understands the reality that so many people throughout world history have missed. He alone sees the big picture, which is a bunch of blind folks groping aimlessly to see what he could clearly tell them. And by what standard are they they wisest people in the room? Their feelings. What they hope God is like. By how religious conversations make them feelSomehow, billions of people throughout world history have got it wrong, but Joe New-Ager has transcended them all. He’s the only one with “sight” to see the elephant, and he scoffs at the blind people for their blindness. 

The Biblical View

Perhaps there is a post for another day on the uniqueness of the Christian religion. For today, I would like to point out that the biblical text teaches exclusive salvation for Christians, and encourage you to commit these three verses to memory.

First, we have John 14:6, quoted above. “I am THE Way, THE Truth, and THE Life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” In this passage, Jesus is describing himself preparing Heaven (his Father’s house) for the people of God. And he tells his disciples they “know the way to where [Jesus is] going to be.” When they push back and say, “but we don’t know the way!” Jesus says “I am the Way.” To Heaven. To Salvation. To the Father’s presence. Jesus is the way.

Second, in Acts, the apostles who started the early church confirmed this. Acts 4:12 says, “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven, given among men, by which we must be saved.” This comes from Peter’s defense against the Sanhedrin immediately following Pentecost. And his statement was clear: Jesus (who had just been crucified) had risen, empowered Peter to speak (v10), since he was just an ordinary, uneducated man (v13), is the cornerstone of God’s Kingdom (v12), even though the ones who were supposed to build it (Israel) rejected him, and is now the only way to salvation. This was so true of their identity early on that the early Christians were not called “Christians” at all, but “followers of ‘the Way'” (Acts 9:2; 19:9, 23; 24:14, 22).

Third, an appeal to the decalogue (fancy, seminary-speak for the “Ten Commandments”) here seems appropriate. This isn’t the exclusivity of Christianity per se, but to the exclusivity of the One True God. The FIRST commandment (the “Big E” on the eye chart, as a certain famous pastor is keen to saying) is “You shall have no other gods before me.” (Exodus 20:2). In his book, Gods At War, Pastor Kyle Idleman points out that this word doesn’t mean “before” as “in priority over me,” but “Don’t have any gods before me” means, “don’t have them in my presence,” the way servants come before a king. No other Gods. A theme in the Old Testament is Israel compromising this very command, worshiping Ba’al, Ashtoreth, and other gods of the region rather than the One True God. As Idleman puts it, “God declines to sit atop an organizational flowchart. He is the organization. He is not interested in being president of the board. He is the board” (Idleman, Gods At War, Zondervan, 2013, p. 23). If we take this to heart, we have to conclude that worshiping Vishnu, Light, Allah, Thor, Zeus, Ba’al, the Inner Self, Molech, the Sun, or any other name is offensive to God. To say that people all have equal rights to worship these gods is one thing (they do). To say, as a Christian, that they are all equally valid as true worship is another (they are not).

So Christian brothers and sisters, be bold! These Scriptures just scratch the surface of what the Bible teaches about there being only One God and One Savior. Commit these to memory and engage conversations where you hear other people who consider themselves Christians making the “Christianity is not the only way” arguments.

Hold each other accountable. Think clearly and correctly about God, Man, Sin and Salvation.

Don’t be “Ashamed of the Gospel; it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.” (Romans 1:16)

Be followers of “The Way.”

Top Seven[ish] Things People Think Are In The Bible (And They Totally Aren’t) [Except some totally are]

A friend shared an article on facebook the other day, and asked for feedback. These are my thoughts; they are probably not complete, but they get the job done. You may want to read the original article before diving into my response. I think two overarching things need to be clear about my response, so keep these in mind as you read:

  1. The author addresses an URGENT problem in our churches. There are so many platitudes floating around in our churches that we rarely stop to examine, many of which we have either spoken ourselves, or heard others speak. Maybe we’ve thought them to ourselves or watched/heard something and thought, “that makes sense.” MANY SUCH STATEMENTS AND CONCEPTS ARE BLATANTLY UNBIBLICAL. We need to be “wise as serpents” and “examine every teaching” to make sure that we are not being led astray by the evil one.
  2. I see this as pretty indicative of where faith in much of America stands. To be clear, I would not call the author a non-Christian, but several of the ideas put forward here are not biblical, as I hope you will see. KEEP YOUR EYES OPEN FOR FALSE TEACHING.

Without further ado, we press onward.

First, the premise:

The opening paragraph and the link in it reveal that this person is probably coming from a relatively liberal position toward Scripture. By that I mean, they probably don’t believe it to be the inerrant word of God, but rather “stories” (a word he uses), with morals, kind of like Aesop’s fables. To correct thisopening paragraph, the Bible IS the only written word of God. To challenge that would be to suggest that other “holy books” should be held with equal weight. No time for that in this discussion. Let’s just say that’s a cliff I’m not willing to dive off.

Onward…

Number 7: The Rapture. Not Biblical!

The Rapture, especially as portrayed by Jenkins and LaHaye in the “Left Behind” series, is not biblical. The article is right that it is a relatively recent view (dispensational pre-millennialism–look it up) of the end times. This view takes a couple of verses and elevates them over the larger body of apocalyptic biblical passages, but even more so, I feel like this view adds so many judgment events that it muddies the waters and fuels the “no one can understand it” fire. Regardless, on this point, many scholars disagree—even professors at the seminary I attend—and it is healthy not to break fellowship over something like this. A more healthy view of the end times is: “be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.” (Matthew 24:44, 25:1-13, 1 Thessalonians 5:2). Christians have been given passages about the judgment not so we can “crack the code” and have some special knowledge, but so that we will prepare ourselves today for the day Jesus comes again.

Number 6: God hates _________. Biblical!

I don’t know if the author is looking for a specific reference to homosexuality (i.e. Westboro Baptist Church) to fill in this blank. If so, that is a much longer discussion for a different day. Allow me to simply address the unpopular notion that God hates things. The Bible is clear that God hates certain things. He hates pagan worship rituals (Deut. 12:31), altars set up to other gods (Deut 16:22), and divorce (in some translations of Malachi 2:16). He hates sin and all who do wrong (psalm 5:5; Psalm 11:5; Lev 20:23), in Proverbs 6:16-19 there is a list of six things “God Hates.”

What’s more bothersome is that the article’s author tries to write off Scripture pretty flippantly by excusing anything that is “judgment, damnation” or Levitical codes…you know, the parts where you might expect to find the things God hates. It is dangerous to pick and choose portions from the Bible we like, because it leads to worshiping our preferences rather than God Himself.

The point here is that God is a holy God, perfect and blameless in every way and cannot be in the presence of sin. Therefore, we are all deserving of punishment, but out of his love for us, he gave us a way to restore relationship with him, namely, letting Jesus become our sin (2 Corinthians 5:17-21) so that there would be no more penalty for us.

NUMBER 5: Everything happens for a reason. Not Biblical!

I actually agree with this one. This can be a sensitive topic because this very line may have provided you comfort in a very rough time. But this is simply not in the Bible. Some things happen for a reason. When that is the case in the Bible, it says so. Also, when that does happen, there isn’t any “I think” language going on. When God speaks, he speaks clearly. God Speaks (Gen 3), Burns a Bush that doesn’t burn up (Ex 3) and then ten plagues (Ex 7-12), Wets a fleece, then wets the ground around the fleece (Judges 6), Sends unquenchable fire (1 Kings 18), Speaks through prophets (“This is what the Lord, The God of Israel Says”), sent his son, and then his spirit, struck men blind (Acts 9), healed the sick and maimed, etc. You get my drift. When God does something “for a reason,” he doesn’t “whisper.”

A better understanding is that there is an evil one. He wants to deceive and discourage those who live in the Truth, and he is “the prince of this world.” Since sin entered the world, it is broken and “subjected to futility” (Romans 8:20). That is why there are natural disasters, broken relationships and pain all around us. However, God works all things (even the bad things that he didn’t cause), for the good of those who love him, who are called according to his purpose. . . to be conformed to the likeness of his son.” (Romans 8:28-29). Stuff happens, even things God allows to happen, but they are opportunities for us to trust in him for our peace, which brings me to…

NUMBER 4: God Is In Control. Biblical!

I can kind of get on board with this one not “being in the Bible,” except not really. God is never out of control. HOWEVER, he is not a puppet master, pulling strings. God has two major ways of expressing his will: prescriptive and permissive. Prescriptive will are the things he causes to happen (miracles, creation, the incarnation of Jesus, etc). But other things he Permits to happen. He allows us free will to live our lives because without the freedom to choose, a relationship with him would be meaningless. Anyone who has ever loved someone understands this. Love cannot be compulsory. As a result, God lets things happen and has given us as much evidence as he saw appropriate to point every human back to him (Romans 1-3).

The problem I have with this one is the idea that God was “bested” at the cross. Jesus’ prayers in the garden (for starters) and his many predictions to his disciples of what was to come are are evidence that this was the plan. Not to mention Psalm 22, Isaiah 9, Isaiah 53 just to name a few significant places where Jesus’ life, teaching, death by crucifixion and resurrection is prophesied several centuries before any of it happened.

Yes God’s “will” can be changed, if he wills. He did not set us in action and then sit back to watch the pins fall, but he is active in our lives. The author really tips his hand here to call the Bible a “Story,” because the word implies fiction, which the Bible is not. But that’s probably something we could discuss more in a separate post.

NUMBER 3: “Jesus is my personal savior.” Not Biblical [but let me explain].

I have trouble with this one. To be fair to the author, there is no “magic prayer,” as many, many, many pastors and churches have led Christians to believe. I think that is at the heart of the author’s point. “Accept the Lord into your heart” and “Accept him as your personal savior” are not in Scripture. But Jesus doesn’t just say, “follow the leader,” either. The gospel call is to give our undying allegiance to Jesus as not just our savior but Lord and King. That means he gets priority over everything—literally everything (Luke 14:26)—else. That allegiance is not a decision parents can make for their children. Everyone has to personally choose to die to themselves and follow Jesus. The point he makes here is a good one, though. “Come forward, say a prayer, and be saved forever, whether you ever think about this night again or not” is a seriously anemic message that probably causes more problems than it solves.

On a more theological level, I have become increasingly aware of the corporate nature of the Gospel. Not that individuals are not saved, but the fact that Christ died for the Church (his bride), and many of the verses quoted and claimed for personal peace of mind are not, in fact aimed at a person but a population (Jeremiah 29:11, “I know the plans I have for you” is a plural you. Better to read it, “I know the plans I have for y’all.” Or John 3:16, “God so loved the world that he gave his only son, that those who believe…” Not to take away personal salvation, but the individualism that the author hits on here is a legitimate concern. Worship is not “Just me and God,” but Jesus and his Church, of which we are all members. God didn’t send Jesus to die for ME and MY sins, he sent him to die for the CHURCH and the sins of the WHOLE WORLD.

But I digress.

NUMBER 2: Jesus died for my sins. BIBLICAL!

No, No, No. This is heresy, and I don’t throw that term around lightly. If there is one item on this list that is “a hill I will die on,” this is it. To say this questions the very bedrock upon which Christianity is founded, and it will lead those who believe it away from Christ.  If he wanted to emphasize “MY,” see the discussion on number 3 about the corporate nature of Jesus’ redemption. But it doesn’t seem this is his point. His argument seems to be that the very idea of Jesus dying to take the penalty for sins is not in the Bible.

Here he goes again, taking the verses that say specifically what he says IS NOT in the Bible, and says we can’t use them to say that it IS in the Bible. This is absurd. Jesus is our atonement (Romans 3:25; 1 Cor 15:1-4), but I don’t need those verses to say that. Look at Hebrews 2:17, 1 John 2:2, or 1 John 4:10. What’s really fascinating is to read the account of the passover (Exodus 12, Leviticus 16) and then consider the ways that Christ is called the “Passover Lamb” (1 Corinthians 5:7), the “Lamb of God” (John 1:29), and is portrayed as a lamb through much of Revelation. Also reading Hebrews will help to understand why Christ is the only sacrifice that could cancel the debt in our sins.

Questioning the atonement, which he puts off to another post but makes clear he disagrees with it, is in vogue right now. One author called it “Cosmic Child Abuse.” The more I study the more convinced I am that the Penal (punitive in nature), substitutionary (he died in our place) atonement is the only view that makes sense of the cross. Arguments that Jesus died to set an example are weak, and fail to recognize that he could have more effectively accomplished that purpose without dying and living on instead. This is a complex issue that deserves more space than I can give it in this post, but the crucifixion (specifically) makes no sense without the context of penalty for sin. The cross had to happen so that the wrath of God, his perfect holiness, could be satisfied, while providing a way for his perfect love for his creation to be satisfied as well.

And finally:

NUMBER 1: God only helps those who help themselves. Not Biblical!

This one is spot on. He hits the nail on the head. The gospel is about coming to God in humility and brokenness. Not—as one of the elders at one church where I have served proposed—about us living our lives without “bothering” God and turning to him when we get stuck. That would make God some kind of Genie, or lucky rabbit’s foot or something.

In summary, he’s a little better than 50% right, with four of his 7 (1, 3, 5 and 7) are not in the Bible, at least not explicitly, and the author should be credited on this account.

But 2, 4 and 6 are in the Bible—explicitly—and at least 2 and 4 are central to the Gospel. Take those away and your idea of Christianity become paper-thin, relativistic moralism.

I hope this helps. My point in posting this is to challenge you: when you hear Christian teaching, do you accept it as spoken, if it “hits you right,” or “seems to make sense?” OR do you saturate your life in the Word of God so that you are able to refute those who oppose true teaching (Titus 1:9). To close, I will leave the following thought from Paul to Timothy:

“If anyone teaches false doctrines and does not agree to the sound instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ and to Godly Teaching, he is conceited and understands nothing

My prayer is that we won’t be seduced.

God Bless.

Why Millennials Are [Really] Leaving The Church

Oy.

What a debate this has turned into. A couple of weeks ago, an article by Rachel Held Evans on CNN’s Belief Blog went viral. Evans, a self-proclaimed adopted Millennial takes aim at the “attractional” church model that squeezes preachers into skinny jeans, strives for “hip” worship and puts coffee in the lobby.

Twenty-somethings nationwide wore out the “share” button. They stood up and applauded, and lauded Evans as the new voice of the new Christianity.

Out with the ways of our parents and grandparents, in with a new, “real” portrait of faith.

Now, I think Evans has articulated incredibly well what millennials want church to be. That is why it got spread so quickly. But—as a member of the generation myself—I must take some issue with some of her conclusions. The question is not, “did she convey the zeitgeist of our generation correctly,” but rather, “are the things our generation is seeking beneficial?

For example, take this statement from Evans:

“What millennials really want from the church is not a change in style but a change in substance.

We want an end to the culture wars. We want a truce between science and faith. We want to be known for what we stand for, not what we are against.

We want to ask questions that don’t have predetermined answers.

We want churches that emphasize an allegiance to the kingdom of God over an allegiance to a single political party or a single nation.

We want our LGBT friends to feel truly welcome in our faith communities.”

The aim of this post is not to offer a point-by-point criticism of Evans’ article. But creeds like this one are where I begin to feel uncomfortable. While I agree with what these statements say, I think if millennials were granted all these wishes, it would be detrimental to the Church. “Being known for what we are for rather than what we are against” is a great aspiration. Unless, of course, you are not actually against anything. In that case you are denying scriptural commands to “test every spirit,” (1 John 4:1) and other calls to be diligent in sniffing out false teachings (Romans 12:2; 1 Thessalonians 5:21; 1 Timothy 4:13, 15; Titus 1:8-11, 2:1).

Another problematic statement is that millennials “want to ask questions that don’t have predetermined answers.” The root cause of this comes from the fact that millennials have grown up in a largely post-modern and subjective world. In our reality, the world tells us that truth is relative and that personal experience is the ultimate authority in moral/ethical decision making. Biblical teaching, however, tells us that truth is objective, there is a God, and he has already spoken authoritatively through his word. In reality, the questions we ask have been asked – and answered ­– in the past, and biblically so.

The word “doctrine” comes from the Greek word meaning “to teach.” Therefore, doctrines are the teachings of the church. We shouldn’t be scared of having doctrines that have been thought out and scripturally backed. Why must we demand of the church that they act as if we are the first ones to struggle with the issue of homosexuality, or the balance of culture and holiness, or the need for social action? Why the arrogance that says, “We’ve finally got this figured out, and since the church won’t listen, we’re out of here.”

The arrogance comes from what I believe is the real reason millennials are leaving. Because they are human. Not only are they human, they are sinners. You. And Me. And all the millennials. And all the Pre-millennials. And all the post-millennials. We are humans who desperately struggle to submit to God because our egos get in the way.

When we get down to it, every generation – every person – wants a God that pats him or her on the back. We want a God that agrees with what we agree with and condemns what we condemn – a God who values our own areas of strength and condemns the areas in which others struggle.

This can be seen repeatedly throughout the biblical record. Approximately seven milliseconds after being rescued form Egypt, Israel cast shrines of gold in the form of a calf (“Make us gods who will go before us.” Exodus 32:1) in hopes that their gods would suit their needs. One author points out that Satan’s first deception was to suggest to Eve that “she knew as much about reality and morality as God did.[i] (Genesis 3:4-5) Jesus was crucified because he was the Messiah that was prophesied but not the one the Jews wanted. More recently, the products of the sixties and the Jesus People movement wanted hipper worship in their churches. Today we want acceptance of things the Bible clearly condemns and the freedom to begin our belief statements with “I kind of feel like . . . “

Evans, along with many Millennials, would connect the “Jesus” with “social justice” in some way. “Being authentic” to many means serving like Jesus served. And while I agree that the church can grow a great deal in this area, Jesus’ message was not just about social justice. His first words in ministry were, “Repent!” (Matthew 4:17; Mark 1:15).

Interestingly, Evans makes the statement, “We aren’t leaving because we don’t find the cool factor, but because we can’t find Jesus.” But is it possible that millennials are leaving because the Jesus they find is not the Jesus that would condone everything they think to do? Is it possible that the church portrayed in the Bible cannot be harmonized with the relativist, permissive church for which millennials are screaming? Could it be that our churches have done a fine job of bringing Jesus to the forefront, and that a young and one prideful generation after another just doesn’t want to be told what to do?


[i] Jack Cottrell, Solid! The Authority of God’s Word. WIPF and STOCK publishers. Eugene, OR, 1991. p. 85

Demolition is the best part!

My wife and I love home remodel shows. Good thing, too, because our new house was a renovation zone for about two weeks before we moved in!

In all home remodel shows, there is the “concept stage” where the designers set out to show the homeowner what their space could look like, and there is the working stage, but nestled right in between is the part everyone loves — the demolition stage!

There is very little more rewarding than finally getting the keys to your new place (at least if you bought a place that needed a little work) and starting to tear things up. It marks progress. It marks what could be. It is the start of a finished product that you are really going to love!

Here’s the problem:

Demo is only fun for about 5 minutes. As long as you are tearing up BIG strips of carpet and pad, prying up nasty floors, knocking down walls or tearing out cabinets, demolition is a smash (yep, it fits. Pun intended). But tons of tedious work follows. Pulling up staples from carpet pad and tack strips. Sanding, patching and prepping walls before you can paint them. Every little problem you run into adds time, a run out to the hardware store, and possibly frustration.

However frustrating these hold-ups might be, they are critical to the success of the final product. It is the difference of doing it right and doing it fast. For us, the big project was laying new floors, so these steps were the difference between a quiet floor and a squeaky one. A tack nail or staple missed in the prep stages could mean a floor that won’t sit flush, or could mean buckling floor boards later on.

Tedious as the work is, it is critical to get rid of all the old issues before installing the new.

What happens when you don’t

Before my wife and I got married, her family flipped a house and I got to be a part of the process. In one of the rooms, there were probably 4-5 layers of flooring — laid one over the other — to cover up the rot and mess caused by the previous tenets’ pets.

As we pulled up layer after layer we wondered, “why, why, why would anyone do it this way?” This covering definitely didn’t eradicate the smell from the house, and it didn’t remove any of the rot and decay caused by <snarling at the thought> cats.

By laying new floor on top of the old, it didn’t remove any of the problems, it was just a new façade to cover up what was really underneath.

New building cannot happen without removing the old

My fear is that too often, people become Christians and expect a new, shiny veneer over a life that has years of hurt, bad habits, scars and baggage at its core. Those that have been Christians for a while are guilty, too. We cling to the parts of the Bible that make us feel better about who we already are, and explain away or — worse — completely ignore the parts that cause us any discomfort.

Paul says in Ephesians that we are God’s “workmanship” (Eph 2:10), 2 Corinthians 4 portrays us as vessels crafted by God. He is shaping us and molding us.

Unfortunately, many of us come to him after years of not following him, and we have some old, nasty, cat-pee carpet hidden in our hearts. To expect him to just put a new layer on top is completely inconsistent with the very perfect and thorough builder that he is.

God wants to GUT our hearts when we come to him. He wants to start FRESH with a CLEAN slate. 2 Corinthians 5:17 says that “if anyone is in Christ, he is a NEW creation. The old is GONE, and THE NEW HAS COME.”

But he cannot do that without our consent. He cannot strip us of the old if we will not let him.

And that is our call. To allow him in and take out even the parts that we might be fond of. For a while it might seem tedious, painful and repetitive. Things might look a whole lot worse before they look any better.

But our job is to trust that his vision for what we could be will be an infinitely greater version of us that we brought to his feet.

Trust the process.

Allow the tedious demolition work.

Allow God to build something new and do it the right way.

Back From Vacation (Sabbath?)

Today is our first day back from vacation. It was a great week in the Cape Fear area of North Carolina.

Screen Shot 2013-06-25 at 8.25.06 PM

We got to take our little guy to the beach for the first time, and it was just a great opportunity to regroup as a family. We had no wifi and phone reception was very spotty. So we spent time together. We rested when we were tired. We went out and found something to do when we were bored. We played, sang, swam and snuggled (the little guy’s expiration on snuggles will come all too soon, we hear). It was incredibly relaxing and refreshing.

I noticed two things about taking a week away.

First, When you think about it, times like this week were designed by our creator. That was the original intent behind the Sabbath. Jesus said, “The Sabbath was created for man.” (Mark 2:27). Every week we would take a day out to rest and recreate. In Old Testament Israel, there was even a Sabbath year every seven years, where no planting or harvesting was done (hence, our word, “sabbatical”). And every seventh Sabbath year was a Jubilee (or a real shindig). We need times to rest, recreate and recharge, even if it’s not out-of-town.

Second, by the time we left, we were ready to get back. I was itching to write again, and just dying for a new book to read. Mallorie was ready to be home, too, and to get back into a more normal routine. That’s the funny thing about good, Sabbath rest. It gives you a renewed appreciation and excitement for the work you were made to do (yes, we were made to work!). 

So it is good to be back. I’m excited to be posting more often. And I’m starting to think that the Big Guy upstairs knows more about work flow than I do.