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.

5 Ways to Protect Your Kids from Online Pornography (and other threats)

When my son gets a little older and starts playing sports, I think I’m going to give him a bottle of prescription pain pills.

I’ll tell him to use them responsibly, but what he does with them is his business. After all, he’ll be eight or so by then, and he needs to learn how to handle responsibility. Plus, considering pills are not damaging in themselves, it’s all in how you use them. I want him to make good choices, and people only learn from their mistakes, right? It’s the world they’re growing up in. Someday they’ll grow up and (in the “real world”) a doctor will prescribe them pills for pain. They need to know how to use them.

You’ve got to let your kids be their own people, after all. Continue reading

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.”

The Nazi Gospel

Arbeit Macht Frei.

“Work makes free.” Or perhaps a better English rendering might be, “Work brings freedom.”

This quote was plastered across the front gate of several concentration camps during the reign of the Third Reich and Nazism in World War II Germany. It was forged by prisoners at Auschwitz (ironically not bringing their freedom), and it was on the gate at Dachau, where I recently had opportunity to visit.

ArbeitMachtFrei

“Work makes [you] free.”

I’m no historian, and I’m certainly no expert on World War II, or Nazism. So allow me to vamp a bit while I engage Hitler’s claim, “Arbeit Macht Frei.

Hitler has become the embodiment of evil in our world. He is the poster child, the author and underwriter of perhaps the most evil chapter in recent world history. His crimes against humanity were vast and horrendous. Surely there were MANY points at which one could challenge his worldview. Engage with his insistence that certain people were “subhuman,” or with his socialistic reforms. Argue against his harsh treatment of humans. But consider if perhaps, the root of his depravity was founded on a much more basic level—a level more common mankind than you might have originally thought.

Arbeit Macht Frei.

At the inception of the Concentration camps was a simple idea. There are some in our society that are less. They are broken in their very nature. They are further from God.

But they can be rehabilitated. If they work hard enough, they can be restored to wholeness within society. Did you know that in the earliest days of Dachau (one of the first—and the first of its size—camps established by Hitler), prisoners were often rehabilitated and released? They were trained how to work to maintain their humanity.

This is not a revolutionary idea. It’s not new, and it wasn’t when Hitler rose to power, either. It is the essence of our humanness. We are given revelation of a God who is bigger and greater than anything we can do or even imagine (Romans 1:20). Even without the Bible to guide us, every culture in the history of the world has had some understanding of “God.” It’s what we call “general revelation.” And even without a Bible, we recognize that there is something “wrong” with us (Romans 2:14-15). That’s why every religion has some concept of “salvation.” Every religion in the history of the world depends on Work [to] Make [you] Free.

Arbeit Macht Frei.

At the core of what Hitler believed was that how hard one worked determined his value. How much one accomplished was tied to one’s humanness. Still today, in every religion except Christianity, salvation is the result of Human hard work. Karma is the gross sum of your acts in this life playing out in the next…and the next (Nirvana may take millions of lives to achieve). In Islam, man is on the tip of a sword and at the judgment and God “flicks” you one way or the other, based on your good deeds. Even if you were “mostly good,” Allah may have a “bad day” and condemn you anyway. You just better do your best. In Old Covenant Judaism, everything hinged on rigid obedience to the Law of Moses. In modern American Christendom—and ironically, atheism for that matter—the message can have a tendency toward moralism, being a “good person,” and doing the right thing.

Arbeit Macht Frei.

But true Christianity is different. Christianity is about a God to whom we owe everything. A God we could never pay back for our short-comings because our lives are already his. The Gospel is about a God that saved us “by grace through faith, not by works so that no one can boast.” Trying to be “good enough” is succumbing to “Arbeit Macht Frei” gospel, which is really no gospel it all.

Religion says “works bring freedom.”

Christ says, “My grace is sufficient for you.”

The bleak end to the story at Dachau is that in short order, prisoners stopped being released. Men, women and children were brought in with the promise that they could work for their salvation, that Work would bring freedom. And all the work they did—the back-breaking, arduous work that was typically overtly and explicitly pointless—only enslaved them further. They were prisoners of their work. Work would never bring freedom, and it was only when the allied troops arrived and showed them grace that the prisoners received freedom.

Arbeit Macht nicht frei; Gnade Macht Frei.

Work does not make you free; Grace makes us free.

Solid!

Solid.

That’s my impression of every single missionary family I met last week. Simply put, they are solid people.

Solid in their convictions.

Solid in their life.

Solid faith.

Solid marriages.

Solid families.

Solid kids with solid faiths of their own.

Solid.

If I were starting a church, I’d want any one of them planting with me. I would want them as elders, and ministry leaders. When we worshiped, the singing was genuine, and when they would pray, it was bold and meaningful.

These people get it.

Enter the interesting paradox. Given the opportunity to describe themselves in three words, I doubt any of them would use the word “solid,” or any of its synonyms. There was a humility about them. It was one thing they all had in common. It was humility born of struggle and heartache. A bi-product of moving away from family, of feeling alone in a new culture.

As one minister put it, “When you get to a new culture, it’s very strange. The very essence of your calling, mission and job is communication, yet you can’t even ask anyone where the bathroom is.”

John [the apostle] recorded John [the Baptizer] as saying of Jesus, “I must become less, he must become more” (John 3:30). Then Paul proceeded to call himself the least of the apostles (1 Cor. 15:9), the least of the believers (Eph. 3:8), and the least of all sinners (1 Tim. 1:15). As his view of himself decreased, Jesus was glorified.

I think that is what has happened with these missionaries. Those that have stuck with it for the long term—who have struggled through being the new guy, struggled through learning a new culture, being worth very little (in a pragmatic sense) because of an inability to communicate, struggled through questioning the decisions they’d made, struggled through a life apart from everything comfortable, not to mention taking on the challenge of raising support from the generosity of others—those people have been humbled. They have become less, and their passion for the gospel has only grown stronger and stronger.

Growth only comes out of struggle. Life grows in the valley, regardless of how grand the mountain peaks may be. As one worship song says, “There may be pain in the night, but Joy comes in the morning.”

This isn’t to say they don’t have issues. Or sins to deal with. Or disagreements with spouses, church members and kids. This doesn’t mean their kids never run into trouble, or that everything is always hunky-dory. In fact, I got to see a few very small examples of some of these while I was with them.

Because they are real about it.

Because they aren’t shaken by it.

Because they have been through the fire and come out “without the smell of fire on them” (Daniel 3:27).

Because they are solid.

I want to be solid.

Stop Calling America a “Christian Nation”

How many times have you heard it? “We are a country founded on Christian values!” People fight over the constitution and how “Christian” our founders really were.

I’m not here to argue Thomas Jefferson’s theological ideology.

But I did just spend ten days with Missionaries from all over Europe. Europe is the birthplace of the protestant reformation, and the home of the Catholic church. There are churches every ten feet, and monuments to Christian faith throughout. Many of these countries, if they don’t have an “official” state religion, they do have concessions for Christian religions in their constitutions and governmental accommodations for church operations. In Italy, it’s Catholicism, as in Spain. In Germany, it’s Lutheranism. In all cases, atheism is reigning supreme.

Nations in Europe have been moving away from “official state religion” status, but that has not separated the church from the state. And the result is that a mockery has been made of the church. There are religion classes taught in schools in Italy. But they are not taught by Christians. And they are ecumenical in teaching other religions alongside Christianity. Most people identify as “Catholic,” but have been to mass only a handful of times in their life. They openly admit they don’t believe it. But they’re still “Catholic.”

In Spain the Protestant Reformation never “took.” That means that neither did all it’s teachings of “Sola Scriptura,” or “Sola Fidei” (“Scripture alone” as our only rule for faith, and “Faith alone” as the way we are saved, in response to Catholicism’s teachings that one must obey certain “rites” to obtain the grace of salvation). So until 35 years ago, it was illegal to own a Bible. That means in the late 1970s, in an officially Christian (Catholic) state, owning the Bible was a crime. Thanks, state religion.

In Germany, the official church is Lutheran, and Priests are state employees. The priesthood is seen as a “civil servant” job, like a meter maid, or a social worker. Lutheran priests in Germany do not have any requirements on them to agree to any set of doctrine or beliefs. In many cases, they are openly atheistic, but found a job doing this church gig. One woman—a new Christian—told me of her struggle with not wanting to be seen as an “extremist” for being a part of a biblical church. And in order to join she had to go to the town hall to “de-register” with the Lutheran Church. How do you say “Big Brother” in German? To make matters worse, those churches are funded by the government, so no attendees need to give an offering (contrasted by non-Lutheran “free” churches, which operate on member giving). That sounds great until you consider Jesus’ teaching that our heart follows our wallet (Matthew 6:21), or Paul’s teaching about the “joy of giving” that was a commendable trait in many of the churches he founded (2 Cor 8:1 ff). These churches are being robbed of the joy of giving by being told there is no reason to give.

Many churches in Germany have over 3,000 on their register, yet average about 12 in attendance.

12.

That is not hyperbole (It’s not scientifically accurate, either. It is simply an observation). That is the stark reality of faith in Europe. A “Christian” continent.

This is the background for my skepticism about calling America “a Christian Nation.” First of all, it’s not. Not in the way that “Christian” nations have always been defined. There is a separation of church and state that was intended more to protect churches’ interests than anything else. We don’t have state-run churches that have no regard for what is taught, or who determine doctrine based on political benefits (we still have those denominations, they just aren’t run by the state). We don’t have churches that are under-funded because the message has been sent that the church will cover the bills. We don’t have to register as Christian at the Religious DMV.

But second—and perhaps more importantly—I have to question whether we should even desire for this to be a “Christian Nation.” I must imagine that this is a case where we should be careful what we wish for. State religion brings religious classes back in the schools, but those classes don’t need to be taught by Christians. And I would much rather my son or daughter learn to pray from myself, my wife, or our pastors, elders and friends, than some teacher who is covering it as a part of a public school curriculum. Sure, there are cultural Christians in America, who claim the name, Christian, but nothing else. But it is far less wide-spread than in Europe. Our government does not interfere with what churches can and cannot teach (not yet, anyway, regardless of what FoxNews says on the issue). State religion would mean that churches would be predominately one denomination and that statements of faith would largely be compulsively homogenous.

What we have is better than having a “Christian Nation.” I keep putting that in quotes because I think it is a misnomer. A nation cannot be Christian. There is nothing biblical (at least in the New Testament) about being a God’s People simply by citizenship in a nation. There is no such thing as a “Christian” nation, but rather there can be nations with high number of Christians. And that is the opportunity we have in America.

As a nation of Christians, we have the right to teach our own children biblical truths.

As a nation of Christians, we have the right to pray openly, even if we don’t get to compel others to pray with us.

As a nation of Christians, we have the opportunity to support churches and ministries without a large portion of that going to cover administrative costs for the “Department of Church” somewhere in our capitals.

As a nation of Christians, we have the right to raise our kids the way Deuteronomy 6 describes, rather than outsourcing spiritual growth to bureaucrats.

I am skeptical of America ever being labeled a “Christian” nation, but I am not against Christians taking a more fervent stand for what they believe in within its borders. Consider that the places where the church is growing the most are the nations most hostile to Christianity. Maybe that persecution acts as a refining fire that identifies who truly believes, when there is no worldly benefit for such a confession. Perhaps it is time that we spend less energy trying to establish a “Christian America,” and more energy being Christians in America.

Thanks for listening.

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.

A Toddler, Duplos and the Pride of a Father

Exciting examples of engineering excellence. That’s what I see when I watch my 22-month old son play with blocks. His affinity for building began early, and blocks have now become his favorite toys. I’d wager that we could throw out almost all other toys and he would hardly notice. Duplo blocks are king.

The other day I was sitting next to our son on the floor, blocks strewn about, looking more like a WWII bombing zone than anything with a form. Of course, the chaos of it is what makes it fun. As I sat there and watched our architect-in-training try to make sense of the craziness before us, he decided to engage me in his work.

“Look, Daddy!”

What he held out was a rudimentary structure with blocks out of place and almost certainly substantial stability issues. It was clear he had a low regard for building codes. But in that moment, there is only one response a father could give:

“Oooooooh, I see that! I’m proud of you!”

His face lit up and he smiled his big, gappy, toddler-toothed smile at me, and he said simply (but with an unmistakable satisfaction), “Uh-huh!”

Yep, Dad being proud of him was not only appreciated, it was expected. Praise from Daddy was so satisfying that for the next ten minutes, with every block or two, he would hold out his tower and a similar exchange would follow. It never seemed to get old to him.

Nor did it get old to me. With each step along the way, I saw him learning new skills, trying new things, and basking in the approval of his father. He was entirely in the moment, not concerned with other things, fully confident that his dad would take care of any needs he had. He had a genuine desire to please me.

And as I sat there, the world’s worst construction inspector, I saw again one of my favorite things about being a parent. The way kids are with their parents teaches us so much about how God wishes we would be with Him.

Just as my child desires to hear me say I’m pleased with him, God wants that to be the leading desire in our lives.

Just as my son built what he could, with what skills he has, and had no shame with the fact that it was yet imperfect, God wants us to be the same with him: putting our all into pleasing him and having no shame when we still are imperfect.

Just as I expect for Cade’s abilities to grow over time, for him to keep trying new things and to keep moving the bar because he will have grown and matured, so God expects us to grow continually closer to him, to continue pleasing him by living lives that increase in grace, love and holiness.

Just as my love for my son won’t change if he doesn’t grow as I think he should, God’s love for us doesn’t change simply because we fall a step or two back from time to time.

We don’t expect skyscrapers from novices. God doesn’t expect perfection, especially from those who are toddlers in the faith.

So all we can do is to aim to please him, building our “godliness” skills, one duplo block at a time, each step of the way laying our lives before him, saying, “Look, Daddy!” If we’ve been genuine, he will smile and say, “I see that! I’m proud of you!”

Judge Not…Yeah Right

Being the pastor of a small church for the past year, here’s one I heard a lot: “Matthew 7:1 says, ‘Judge not, lest you be judged.'” In fact, it wasn’t just in that setting. Regardless of the setting, any time a discussion of value judgments and lifestyles comes about, someone in the conversation is quick to throw out Matthew 7:1. They may not know the difference between Matthew and Psalms, between Moses and Paul, but by golly, they have memorized Scripture, and the verse they chose to start with was “judge not, lest you be judged.”

Here’s the issue: no one lives this way. No one actually lives it out.

One of the most universally crucial skills in life making value judgments. We decide all the time to do what we calculate to be the best thing in a given situation. Despite the fact that this is reality, when people quote this verse, it is with a mentality that it is *wrong* (note inherent value judgment) to make any sort of judgment based on anything anyone else does, ever.

It’s a personal thing. It’s relative. Nothing is universally better than anything else, and to suggest so is equivalent to High Treason. But again, no one lives this way. Some things are just better than others. Let me give you some examples:

  • Clean is always better than dirty. You might disagree, but that doesn’t make the statement untrue. If dirty were better, people would “dirty up” when they have company coming over. But no one does that, because clean is better than dirty.
  • Nonviolence is better than violence. When stories of domestic abuse come out, no one rushes to the defense of the abuser. “You know, judge not. You don’t know what he meant by it. Maybe it’s how he shows he loves her.” Bull. No one assumes that. Because it is less virtuous to be violent than it is to express yourself through nonviolence.
  • Bravery is better than cowardice. No one ever honored a victim of a terminal disease by saying, “it was a cowardly and timid fight to the very end.” Rather, every fight against terminal illness is “strong,” “determined,” and “brave.” Why? Because even if it were true, the former would not honor the person, because bravery is better than cowardice.

When we were in Muncie I got drawn for jury duty. I was genuinely bummed when I was not selected to be on the jury, because a) I am a nerd, and b) I have enough of an ego to think I would have been an A+ juror. It’s okay to admit you feel the same about yourself!

As the lawyers questioned potential jurors about their responsibility should they be selected, I couldn’t believe how many had “religious objections” to what they were being asked to do. The task of a jury is to determine whether the defendant did in fact (in this case) possess what the District Attorney alleged she possessed.

Time and again what I heard was, “My religious beliefs tell me not to judge.”

Here’s where the insanity lies. The lawyers were not asking for a moral judgment of the person, but rather a decision on whether the person did, in fact, commit the crime. She did or she didn’t. The jury’s task was to determine the likeliness of that fact. NOT determine if she was a bad person because of it.

This is a poor interpretation of this verse that is damaging to our culture, and it is unreasonable to ask anyone to live it out. Jesus said, “Judge not…” but then he judged many people. He condemned sinful action and praised holy action. In the vast majority of his parables, he made a moral judgement upon the characters therein. In one instance, Paul told the Corinthians that he judged them for their passivity without even needing to be there to hear the case, and then told them to cast out the sinner in question. As Christians, we are told to be “wise as serpents,” to “be on our guard,” and to “test every teaching.”

Clearly, we are meant to judge.

So what does Jesus mean when he says, “judge not?” A better way to say it might be, “condemn not.” Don’t condemn someone. We don’t have the power to judge someone’s heart and say, “because of ___________ you are going to hell.” We also are not above any other people, and don’t have the standing to act like we are better than they.

The fact is, life necessitates value judgments. We do it with our kids all the time. You tell them what is good for them and what is not. Again, we are supposed to do this. We are supposed to challenge teachings that the world throws at us, and lifestyle choices and world views and philosophies! We are supposed to be “wise as serpents.”

But what Jesus himself would not do is to make the final judgment. He didn’t come to condemn the world (although he did make plenty of value judgments). God the Father will be the ultimate judge, and our job is to put our trust in Jesus because he is the only counsellor with access to the judge’s chambers.

Fatty Culture

My wife tells me I’m fat on the inside.

I’m a thin guy. In fact, I have always struggled to put on weight (I know, cue the world’s smallest violin for the skinny guy that has it so rough). The truth of the matter is that I am relatively healthy and haven’t had any health problems. Yet. But I have sustained some pretty unhealthy eating habits until recently, and I exercise very little.

So the medical condition I suffer from is “fat on the inside.” I think that’s the clinical term.

The real issue is that I consume, and consume and consume food (some of which is terrible for me but so delicious) and don’t balance it with enough physical activity to use the energy the food supplies. I am just a consumer. In fact, that is the problem with all obesity in general (chemical/hormonal issues aside). At the risk of being simplistic, the issue with obesity is taking in more and more energy, but letting your physical activity level atrophy to death. Boil it down and it all comes down to calories in, calories out.

But this isn’t primarily about food.

I may be fat on the inside, but it’s not my only area of fatness. In fact, I’m a pretty fat guy all around.

I consume and consume on the internet and don’t spend nearly enough energy exercising the energy or knowledge that it gives me. I read news, I check my favorite blogs, and I read blog articles about effective blogging. But I don’t invest the energy I need to into contributing, writing and exercising. I check facebook repeatedly to “keep up with things.” I mindlessly hold my phone to my face as I surf around my favorite sites. In other words, I’m also a tech-fatty.

The result? Lethargy, and a tendency to copy whatever method out there seemed to “help” others get past their tech-fattiness. My connectedness causes a gap between what I want to get done and “researching” how to do it.

Why all this talk about being a fatty? Because I’m worried that I’m not alone, and that society is moving more and more toward being obese — not just physically — but being tech fatties and mental fatties and entertainment fatties.

There is a weird paradox around the information age. The more information we have at our fingertips, the less productive we seem to be with it. We talk about an article that discussed a study, rather than picking up some books and doing studies of our own. Mental fattiness in action.

We consume and consume and consume and never expel any of the fuel we receive. We store calories. We don’t exercise. We get fat in all kinds of different areas. We have become a fatty culture.

The bible has a word for this pattern. It’s called, “gluttony.”

Gluttony goes beyond food. It is a total lack of discipline in how you consume. It is “greedy or excessive indulgence,” according to Webster’s. And more and more it is a symptom of our culture’s ethos, a condemnation of the posh wealth that even this nation’s lower classes enjoy (in perspective of global poverty), much less those of us who don’t need to “struggle” to eat each day.

We have become a culture of gluttons. The fatty, salty and sweet flavors that were formerly mere morsels  now flood our food. So much so that much of our culture cannot stomach vegetables unless they are drenched in butter, or “southern-style” (soaked in sugar), or dipped in ranch dressing, or drizzled in velveeta. We have indulged in these flavor “treats” so much that they are now the new norm.

Cable packages have a bajillion channels, and TV viewing rises at alarming rates. Average home sizes have exploded in the last 50 years. Enough is never enough and I hereby confess that I am an all-around fatty in much of my life.

If this is so pervasive, what is it affecting that we don’t realize? Where else are we guilty of gluttony? Where else we might have a blind spot to our constant consumption and lack of exercise? Could it be that we have also become spiritual fatties? Could it be that we have been too worried about “what we are getting out of” church? Could it be that we have spent too long simply going to church to get?

The Gospel is inherently action-based, and yet church has become consumer-focused. Churches are in a race to have the hippest worship bands, the best coffee for service or the best atmosphere. Sounds more like a coffee shop than worshipping the all-powerful God of the Universe.

We go to worship where the pastor is the funniest or most captivating, or choose a church based on “what they have to offer.”

It’s time we stop consuming and start exercising some of what we have learned, putting action behind the spiritual calories that we come to church and take in. It is time for Christians to step up and see church as not a place to be served but a place to serve – a place to proclaim the gospel rather than to receive it.

What’s worst is that those regular attenders that are always in church are commended as being spiritually fit.

In reality they may be spiritually fat (at least on the inside).

It’s time to balance our spiritual diet and exercise.

How will you get some Spiritual Exercise this week?

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