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.

 

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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

“As You Wish,” Husbands Leading With A Purpose

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

“Aaaas Yooooou Wiiiiiish!”

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

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

How Do I Become “Saved?”

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

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

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

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

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

Those claims sound pretty exclusive to me.

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

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

The Way to What?

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

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

What if there’s no Father?

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

Nirvana.

Paradise.

Heaven.

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

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

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

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

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

The Way to the Father Creator.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No one else offers that.

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

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.”