The Greatest Tragedy

They called him the greatest.

I met him once. He was very involved where I went to Elementary school, and that is where I had the opportunity to challenge “The Greatest” to a fist fight. Continue reading

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This post is meaningless! Daily Discipleship Weekend Podcast

This weekend, I thought I would shake things up. Here is a brief message (audio only) of what I learned as I walked through Ecclesiastes the last three days.

Enjoy.


This post is part of a series called “Daily Discipleship: One year (or less) through the Bible.” For the previous post, click here, and for the whole project in one place, click here.

 

Daily Discipleship, Day 4: Acts 24-28

Who doesn’t love book ends?

Bookends are great, and make awesome decorative accents.

Whether they are bookends designed to look like books, or like the “B” bookends my wife and I had for years because that’s our last initial, bookends always come in pairs.

Literary bookends are the same way. They frame what lies between as a clue to the reader what takeaways are important. Continue reading

Heaven IS For Real! (but not because a Toddler says so!)

With the release of a movie recently, many, many people are talking about Heaven. That’s a good thing, right?

Maybe.

Heaven Is For Real, a movie produced by mega-church pastor TD Jakes, and a book about a 4-year-old view who allegedly “visited Heaven” when he died on an operating table, has taken the nation by storm. Over and over, I have the same conversation. Someone will know that I’m a pastor and so must LOVE this enterprise, says, “I saw Heaven Is For Real last night. SUCH a good movie! I totally believe it!”

Then my face, which I imagine looks a bit like a boy being pinned down by his older sister and her friends for a “makeover,” launches us into a different discussion. Continue reading

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

Go Fish!

Have you ever watched one of those fishing shows on TV? Not the super boring ones with a guy, alone on a lake with his cameraman, pulling in one little fish at a time. I’m talking about the real fishing shows. The ones with the career fishermen, who are gone for weeks at a time on a boat. The shows where they face terrible storms and risk life and limb to bring in the biggest haul they can manage. Have you seen those shows?

Every episode has a scene where the fishermen hit the motherload. As they bring their nets on board, hundreds—if not thousands— of fish pour out onto the deck of the boat. 

That is real man’s fishing. 

And I think it’s what Jesus had in mind when he called Peter, Andrew, James and John to be “fishers of men.” Here’s the passage from Matthew 4: Continue reading

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.”