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.”

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.

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

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.

Condemning George Zimmerman: Be Careful What You Wish For

I can’t believe I’m doing it. I promised myself I wouldn’t. I should just close my laptop and walk away. Resist the urge. Despite all my best judgment and a true desire to stay above the fray, I just can’t ignore the flood of terrible theology coming from supposed “Christians” in the wake of the George Zimmerman’s acquittal.

There is a LOT of anger out there over a life that ended too early. There is anger about injustice. I will not state my opinion here. What concerns me are the statements like the one Juror B29 made about the case this week:

In fact, there has been a very loud “God’s gonna getcha,” mob on social media and in the court of public opinion. Here are a few more:

God’s. Gonna. Getcha. Now if any Christian is angry about the verdict of this trial, this is the last thing he or she should be saying. It completely misses the point of the gospel. Think about what it is saying. “God is going to punish his sin with eternal Hell (what this argument is truly ordering for Zimmerman).” The problems are too numerous to count, but allow me to try.

First of all, it assumes Zimmerman’s guilt after he was found not guilty.

Second, it wishes eternal punishment on someone, which is exactly  the opposite of the kind of heart that Jesus calls us to have. Wishing someone literally go to Hell is the most hateful thing you could feel. Conversely, John writes, “If anyone says, ‘I love God.’ yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen.” (1 John 4:20)

Third, despite the Catholic Church’s teaching on the “mortal” or “deadly” sins, there is no biblical evidence that any single sin can separate you from the grace of God. I know the concept of this special class of sins, of which homicide is included, is deeply ingrained in the moral foundation of many people’s hearts. It is part of the Ten Commandments. This poor theology, without biblical backing, stinks of mere moralism that suggests, “as long as I’m a pretty good person and avoid certain sins, I’ll be ok.” Jesus said, “You have heard it said, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgement.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother is subject to judgment.” In Jesus’ book, holding angry grudges against others is just as detestable as having the gall to carry out that grudge to its full logical conclusion.

Fourth, and most importantly, such moralistic views spit in the face of Jesus’ saving work on the cross and it stomps all over the gospel he asked us to spread. It ignores the fact that ALL sin is punishable by death. You don’t have to commit murder to live a life far from God. But let’s not forget that the sentence some are calling upon Zimmerman is the one that we all deserve.

Now let’s imagine

Let’s imagine that George Zimmerman really was guilty of racial profiling and coldblooded murder. Let’s imagine that you have no moral issue with wishing someone an eternity in Hell. Let’s assume that the doctrine of Murder as a deadly sin is accurate (even though not found in Scripture) and that there is a theological and moral basis to this “God’s Gonna Getcha” argument.

EVEN THEN, the gospel response is to “love your enemies.” EVEN IF you were convinced of all those things and you saw George Zimmerman as your enemy, the Christian thing to do is to serve him. To seek him out, to minister to him, to show him the grace that Christ has shown you.

We’ve got to challenge this “God’s Gonna Getcha” theology. It’s just not biblical — but more importantly — I am unspeakably thankful he didn’t “get me” when I lived a life opposed to him.

Killing My Praise

Has something that you see all the time ever caught your attention in a new way? The beauty of your wife’s face? The message hidden below the surface of your favorite movie? That stop sign at the end of your street that you always roll through until the morning when a police car is sitting on the cross street?

Me too. It happened to me today.

Throughout the Bible there is a phrase repeated over and over (or something like it):

Sacrifice of Praise.

Sometimes it’s called a “thanks offering,” or it may be put in other words. Because I’ve spent so much time in church, it is natural to breeze by these lines and think of Sunday gatherings. But today the question hit me:

When was the last time I sacrificed my own praise?

At this moment, I’m not talking about being the giver of praise to God, so much as being the sacrificing of people’s praises that are directed to me. Take a look at the verse that got my wheels turnin’ for more context:

Hebrews 13:15 Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of Praise – the fruit of lips that confess his name.

When we confess Jesus as our savior, part of that is sacrificing our praise. It is so easy to come across as boastful, prideful, arrogant. While Paul does talk about boasting in Christ, I fear that too often we (or maybe I am the only one) boast in ourselves and try to cloak it in spirituality.

When someone praises you, do you sacrifice that praise and turn the focus on God?

Are we people who actually believe he is responsible for “every good thing?”

I mean really?

You will probably be praised for something today.

Let’s sacrifice that praise to the sustainer of life.

Men, What Do You Aspire To?

The Christian message of humility has led many men into a "ho-hum, I'm not good enough" brand of false humility. Meanwhile, the Bible's take on it is that men should actually desire and aspire to be leaders.

The Christian message of humility has led many men into a “ho-hum, I’m not good enough” brand of false humility. Meanwhile, the Bible’s take on it is that men should actually desire and aspire to be leaders.

1 Timothy 3:1 – “Here is a trustworthy saying: ‘Now if anyone sets his heart on being an elder, he desires a noble task.'”

Men, have you ever thought about being an elder in your church? Have you ever thought about helping to lead a group of Christians? Have you felt discontented with the way y0ur church is being run? Have you stopped to think that those may be biblical thoughts?

That’s right, you can desire to be an elder. In fact you can set your heart on it.

What about being humble?

Okay, so I know this may be a strange line of thought. But think about it. Why would someone set his heart on being an elder? Because it means he wants to see the church run well. He wants to see the Body of Christ exalt Christ, and be a beacon in the community. Probably 90% of suggestions pastors hear for their churches are ways that they could potentially improve their reach in their context. The church needs men in leadership that are passionate about the Church and want to see it operate in Christ’s mission faithfully. This has nothing to do with being arrogant vs. being humble. It has everything to do with your desire to see Christ glorified. If that is your goal, and not having a position of power, you need not worry about the humility question.

Do I just go to my pastor and say, “I want to be an elder?”

Perhaps. It actually might be a huge blessing to your pastor to have a candidate interested in performing the duties rather than men just filling a seat at the table. When that conversation happens, you need to be ready for the pastor to examine you before giving his blessing. The passage following the above verse lists the qualities of being an elder, and [spoiler alert!] it’s not an easy job description.

The idea in the passage is that elders live a certain kind of life in Christ. When you go to your pastor, his response shouldn’t be, “oh, really?!?” but rather, “I think you’d make a great elder!” The evidence of your candidacy comes from a life lived. You will already have authority amongst church members because of the way you are disciplined in knowing and applying God’s word. People will already come for you for advice because you seem to have the parenting thing figured out, or the marriage thing, or the financial thing. The life lived determines your authority. When you set your heart on being an elder, you set your heart on a higher standard for living. Such a standard will qualify you for eldership.

Nobility is tough

Let’s not breeze over the last part of the verse. Leading a church is a noble task. It is worthwhile. It brings with it a certain amount of favor in the eyes of men. It brings with it the opportunity to put plans into action. It also comes with a lot of responsibility.

Throughout history, when men are described as noble, it hardly ever means they took the easy road. When knights’ did noble acts, there is a high likelihood that pain, suffering and sacrifice were included. Being an elder is a noble task. It is hard. Yes, there is hard work involved and a sacrifice of time, but becoming an elder will also put the burden of other Christians’ maturity on your shoulders. That’s a heavy emotional load. Yes people may honor you, but you have a daily charge to deny the urge to let that intoxicate you. You have a call to adhere to the Bible and not culture in all situations. There is honor that comes with it, but only after great sacrifice and discipline.

Eldership is not a fast-track to having people validate you.

You don’t want the opposite

The last thing to point out here is that you don’t want the opposite end of this statement. Especially if you are a man and are reading this. You don’t want to live undisciplined. You don’t want to be greedy, or a belligerent brawler. Men have the amazing ability to think the most of themselves even when no one else does. We want to be excellent, and the life described here is an excellent way to live. Why wouldn’t you desire that? Why wouldn’t you set your heart on living a 1 Timothy 3 kind of life? Isn’t that ultimately at the heart of what manhood is?

How does your church determine its elders? Leave a comment below!

“The Bible” on the History Channel

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The Bible is a 10-hour epic miniseries on History Channel that portrays the Biblical narrative from Genesis to Revelation. It premieres March 3 at 8pm EST.

You don’t want to miss this.

In the weeks following this post, a good portion of America might actually be engaging in conversation about the Bible. Let that sink in. Your coworkers may watch. Conversation started. Maybe your kids may tune in. Ice broken. Maybe you even invite someone over to watch, or just invite them to watch. groundwork laid.

I’m talking, of course, about History Channel’s new miniseries on the Bible, produced by Reality TV mogul Mark Burnett, and his wife, Roma Downey. There has been a lot of press around this miniseries, hitting from all angles, to be sure. Without going into the critical analyses (especially having not seen it yet, myself), suffice it to say you cannot produce a 10-hour epic portrayal of the Bible without some push back.

God’s Word, The Greatly Abridged Version

But what should Christians think about such a series?

Glad for the conversation

As Christians, we ought to be very glad whenever discussions are started around what we believe. Heck, we ought to be thankful for conversations about the opposite of what we believe as well! People are about to watch the story of God’s chosen nation, Israel, and his loving provision for them. They will watch and learn about not just Jesus’ crucifixion but his resurrection. They may get a visual of what it means to be a disciple.

It’s time we just got excited about the conversation.

But what if it’s all “Hollywood?”

This is probably true. There will probably be inaccuracies. I’m sure there were some “punches pulled” so that various people groups wouldn’t be offended by the content (see this CNN writeup). But the real question is why are we trying to “punch” people with the Gospel?

It’s Hollywood! Ultimately, Burnett and Downey, as well as the History Channel and the A&E family of networks are after ratings! Liberties will be taken, stories that you and I might consider “crucial” will probably be left out. It is possible that this will be one big 2nd-grade Sunday School lesson, just portraying the biblical stories.

But they’re still portraying biblical stories.

So what do Christians do?

We embrace this, full force. This will be 10x more visually engaging than any sermon, and we live in a visual culture. We live in a world that loves story. To prove it, complete the following quotes:

  • Go Ahead, _____ ______ _____.
  • You had me at _________.
  • Life is like a _____ __ _________.

Most likely, you don’t just know the rest of the quote, but you can picture the scene, context and dialogue surrounding the quote. This is great for our culture.

When we do have conversations, we must “have an answer for anyone that may ask” about the Hope we have, the faith we claim. And we need to “do it with gentleness and respect.”

Let’s embrace this advancement of God’s Kingdom and use it to point people to Christ!

Three Lessons for the Start of Lent

[Credit where it’s due: The inspiration for this post comes from a recent sermon from Pastor Tim Lucas at Liquid Church in New Jersey. Listen to/watch their Lent sermon series HERE]

With yesterday’s celebration of Ash Wednesday, the season known as “Lent” has officially begun. Lent is a 40-day period (excluding Sundays) leading up to Easter, meant to represent the 40-day period that Jesus spent in the desert at the onset of his public ministry (Read the story here).

While in the desert, we are told that Jesus fasted, and so one of the most notable markers of Christians celebrating Lent is selective fasting for forty days — giving up any number of things for the forty day period. Some examples of the most common items are listed below (based on twitter #lent hashtags, source: Christianity Today):

Most common things being given up for lent; size represents frequency.

Giving something up can be a great thing. Denying our fleshly desires and using that energy to focus on God can be a great spiritual discipline. But I think this story teaches a couple other lessons, and that all believers would do well to glean some wisdom from this narrative. (For reference purposes, I will be following Matthew’s account of the story).

THE SPIRIT DID THE LEADING (4:1)

The first fact we see in this story is that Jesus was led by the spirit, for the purpose of being tempted. If the Spirit would lead Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted, he might similarly lead us into times of dryness. 2 Corinthians 12:9 says, “My grace is sufficient for you; my power is made perfect in your weakness.” We shouldn’t live our lives focusing on staying within a comfortable situation, assuming that trouble is always the Devil’s doing. The devil doesn’t show up in this story until the end of the 40 days. Before that it was just a time of hardship. Times of dryness and periods in the “valley,” offer Christians opportunities to feel their own weakness and rely on God’s strength.

SATAN USED SCRIPTURE (4:6)

We need to be seriously watchful against this. Satan knows the Bible, and probably better than you or I. He knows his opponent, has advanced scouting reports and has watched lots and lots of game film. Don’t take him lightly.

Seriously, though, it needs to be pointed out that Satan knows what the Bible says, and in this story he shows that he is okay with mangling it to serve his purposes. He doesn’t say anything that’s unbiblical, but he tries to apply it to meet Jesus’ personal desires. Likewise, as we approach all kinds of cultural issues, we can see many people support their agenda with Scripture but often times they don’t take into account what the whole of Scripture has to say on the topic.

Sometimes it can be a great thing to challenge the “establishment.” But we must be cautious of Scripture being used to push our own agendas. Lies are simply false statements, but deceptions are lies wrapped in truth. Satan is a master deceiver. Be wise in how you accept these arguments and ground yourself in the Biblical text first.

JESUS DIDN’T HAVE A BIBLE WITH HIM

This isn’t explicit. But it doesn’t say that he said, “Wait a minute, Satan, let me look up what the Bible says about this before I respond.” Jesus had internalized Scripture. He knew the tempter’s schemes, and he had Scripture ready to go at every turn. When temptation strikes, it can be a great thing to turn to the Word. If it’s not available, though, you’re in trouble. Believers should know what they believe. We should be ready to combat Satan and his lies. We should invite God’s spirit to speak through us by verbalizing his Words on our lips.

Lent would be a great time to start building an arsenal for just such occasions. There will be times when you feel exhausted from the desert you’ve been going through, and that is when Satan will wish to deliver your final blow. God’s wisdom is the sword with which we fight back.

I hope these lessons give you something to think about  as we start this Lenten season this year.

What about you — how are you celebrating Lent this year?