The Implications of “Whosoever”

November 16, 2013

The Apostle Peter, like all the other disciples of Jesus, was a Jew. He believed, as did all Jews, that the Hebrew nation was a special family group chosen by God to receive the blessings of His kingdom. Gentiles were considered unclean; they lived in a different world, so to speak, one that was outside the purposes of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

OCC ThailandWhen Jesus appeared and made claims about “the kingdom of God,” the Jews of His day tried to process His words within their Hebrew worldview. But Jesus soon fell into disrepute, partly because he called God His “father,” and partly because he said radical things like “God so loved the worldwhosoever believes in Him shall not perish but has everlasting life.” We love this verse because of it’s promise, but to the Jews of Jesus’ day this claim was nothing short of revolutionary…and blasphemous!

Back to Peter. Acts Chapters 10 and 11 tells the story of how Peter was sent to preach the word of salvation to a group of Gentiles. The Holy Spirit fell on them in the same way He fell on the Hebrew followers of Jesus on the day of Pentecost. Those of us who are Gentiles simply cannot appreciate how mind blowing this was to the Jews at that time. When Peter explained to the Jewish leaders of the church in Jerusalem how the Holy Spirit fell on the Gentiles, it took a while for this truth to sink in:

“…if then God gave the same gift to them as he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?” When they heard these things they fell silent. And they glorified God, saying, “Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life.”

(Acts 11:17-18, ESV)

The Jews fell silent because they were experiencing the most radical paradigm shift in history. They needed some time to process the implications. Paul, in several places in his epistles, calls this paradigm shift a “mystery” that was hinted at throughout the preceding millennia but was now revealed in the church. Salvation is not a result of belonging to the right people group. Instead salvation is wrapped up in the word “whosoever” regardless of one’s nationality. We who are Gentile Christians would do well to gain a better understanding of the worldview implications involved here. If we would read the Bible with this framework in mind, it would help us to interpret its truths a bit better and to appreciate the wonders of God’s redemptive plan a bit more.

Most of us who live in the United States are intensely patriotic. We believe in “American exceptionalism.” And, truly, the Judeo-Christian ethic which made this country great is something to cherish. But God is not an American. His “holy nation” extends beyond the border of the United States and Israel:

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”

(Revelation 7:9-10, ESV)

Our involvement in missionary outreach, whether it be in our own neighborhood or on the other side of the globe, is an effort to extend the truth of salvation to our true nation in which our eternal heritage lies. May God bless our efforts as we seek to extend the truth of His kingdom to our brothers and sisters in every corner of the globe.

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The “Foolishness” of God Sacrificing Himself

November 9, 2013

In an online discussion the other day, a Facebook friend who is an atheist was pointing out what he believes are inconsistencies with the Christian faith. He said the following:

Hell…was created for those who don’t return the unconditional love of a god who sacrificed himself to himself to save all humanity from himself.

FoolishCrossI have spent some time pondering his statement, which was really intended to point out what he saw as absurdities: a god sacrificing himself to save humanity from himself, and sending people to a place of eternal torment because they didn’t look past the absurdity and love him anyway. At face value these ideas do seem to be absurd, don’t they?

Believers should not be surprised when non-believers ridicule the Christian faith. The Apostle Paul said it would be so in his first letter to the Corinthian church:

For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.” Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

(1 Corinthians 1:18-25, ESV)

The gospel is a “stumbling block” and it is “folly” to the world. But God has made foolish the wisdom of the world. God is the Creator. Prior to His creation of the universe, nothing existed. He is the Great Determiner of everything!! So when God chooses to create a universe, complete with things, angels, animals, and people, He sets all the rules. How arrogant we are when we sit in judgment and proclaim that His ways are foolish!

I am going to take the liberty to offer Mark’s amplified version of the statement made by my atheist friend:

Hell (which is an existence where God has completely removed all of His restraining influence, allowing those who dwell there to live uncontrolled by any rules whatsoever)…was created (as an self-chosen alternative) for those who don’t return the unconditional (other-centered, compassionate) love of a god who (of His own volition) sacrificed himself (by being mercilessly tortured, so we wouldn’t need to be punished) to himself (as the great righteous judge of the universe) to save all humanity (because all humans are in rebellion) from himself (who must exercise His holy, righteous wrath against all sin).

God took our punishment for us so we could dwell with Him for eternity. What is so “foolish” about that?


Confess and Believe

August 30, 2013

A number of years ago, one of my sons started dating a girl whose father was an “evangelist” in a religious group not considered to be in line with a mainstream, evangelical confession of faith. Donna and I really liked the girl and her family. Even though their beliefs were not in line with our way of thinking we all seemed to get along fairly well.

ANGRY PREACHERAfter a few months, however, we noticed that my son became increasingly frustrated in his relationship with the family, particularly the father. Evidently the father began making my son the target of his evangelistic outreach, telling my son that he was not saved because he had not been baptized using a specific formula, or set of words, that were in line with their religious group’s doctrinal position. My son would come home and ask me about what we believed, telling me that his girlfriend’s father was making him worry about his own Christian faith and his eternal fate. We discussed numerous doctrinal positions, examining what the Bible said about the various points of disagreement that were becoming obvious.

The one passage that settled the issue of salvation for my son was this one in Romans:

But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.

Romans 10:8-10, ESV

It is as simple yet as profound as this. Confess with your mouth and believe in your heart that Jesus is Lord and that God raised Him from the dead. At one point in His earthly ministry Jesus said “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45). Formulas don’t matter. What matters is what is in our hearts, and if something is in our hearts it will be evidenced by what we say. Certainly obedience is important, and the way that we walk in day to day life is important. But our salvation is based on what we believe about Jesus’ lordship. If we truly have accepted Jesus as Lord, it will effect every area of our lives. This is the true evidence of salvation.


Do Not Be Wise In Your Own Eyes

August 10, 2013

The history of the nation of Israel as recorded in the Old Testament is one where the people fell into a pattern: when they feared God and followed His laws they were blessed. But when the people forgot their God and turned to their own ways or the ways of the pagan nations around them, they got into trouble. Then they would cry out to God and He would deliver them. kneelFor a while, the people would honor God and His anointed leaders, but before long they would forget and the whole cycle would start again.  Moses had warned them by saying “You shall not do according to all that we are doing here today, everyone doing whatever is right in his own eyes…” (Deuteronomy 12:8, ESV). Instead they were to pay attention to the words and ways of God as revealed to them through Moses.

This is the great divide in our culture today, as it has been throughout time. Will human reasoning be enthroned as the great master, or will God’s ways as revealed in His word be the source of our guiding principles? Human reasoning is not a bad thing…certainly the earth is full of wonderful things created by men and women of all cultures. But when our ways contradict God’s ways, when reasoned thought leads us to conclusions that are contrary to the truths revealed in Scripture, that’s when problems arise.

Solomon, probably the wisest human (besides Jesus) who ever lived, gave this admonition:

Do not be wise in your own eyes; Fear the Lord and turn away from evil.

Proverbs 3:7, NASB

Many recent examples could be given where human reasoning has stepped on God’s word. Take, for example, the controversial issue of abortion. Proponents of abortion point to many reasons why the killing of an unborn fetus should be permitted: the child might be born into poverty, the child has been diagnosed with a disability, or the mother may not love the child because it is inconvenient and unwanted. Proponents of abortion “reason” that the fetus in the womb is not fully human, it’s just a blob of tissue, and it’s not viable prior to a certain point in its development. But those who fear God point to places in His word where it is obvious that God knows us and makes plans for us even before we are conceived. Besides, it’s not even reasonable to conclude that the fetus is not human simply due to its current location. Clearly, both God’s word and common sense indicate that the taking of an unborn life is murder.

God created the world in wisdom. He has revealed Himself and His ways in the pages of the Bible. We would do well to let the guidance there shape the way we think and reason.

Every way of a man is right in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the heart.

Proverbs 21:2, ESV


The “Arrogance” of Christianity

August 3, 2013

oneway_jesusWe live in a relativistic culture where “truth” exists on a sliding scale. Few people will argue against the idea that 2 + 2 = 4, or that the moon orbits the earth (although even these ideas are challenged by some). But in issues of morality, or faith, or justice, or fairness little consensus will be found on what, exactly, is truth. Lots of folks will claim to make statements that, they say, are true, and most get a pass…unless that truth is inspired by religious faith, especially Christianity.

Jesus Christ made many truth claims, with His most famous and foundational being…

“I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

John 14:6, ESV

This is not simply some quaint and flowery utterance out of the mouth of an eccentric sage. Jesus was driving a stake in the ground. He was planting a flag of conquest in the soil of the earth. Jesus was making a claim that, when truly adopted by His followers, brings a sword instead of peace (Matthew 10:34). If you are a follower of Jesus, you have got to take Him at His word. Christianity is the only true faith. All other religions are false.

I made this statement “Christianity is the only true faith” in a Facebook post the other day. It provoked the anger of some readers. One called me a “rear end” (but he used a different 3 letter word), and he said I would “most likely do anything his church tells him to do.” Then he went off on a diatribe about preachers who demand money from their followers and priests who molest little children.

Another woman said “I find it extremely arrogant to believe that your religion, and yours alone, is the only RIGHT one. There have been THOUSANDS of religions and gods across time. And each group of followers thought for sure their god was the ‘right’ one.”

Jesus’ truth statement above finds a parallel in the Old Testament. The book of Proverbs, after laying a foundation about the purpose of the book, opens with this truth claim:

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.

Proverbs 1:7, ESV

“…the beginning of knowledge.” In other words you really don’t know anything of eternal value unless it is based on the foundation of a reverence for God. Have you come to this place in your faith? Can you say with conviction that Jesus Christ is the only way to eternal life, even if it offends others? This is the question that divides cultures and will, someday, shake the world. And let me assure you, if you died today, the question of Jesus’ lordship in your life will be the one that determines your eternal fate.


Face-to-Face

July 20, 2013

It’s always great when our loved ones come home, or we go to visit, after being separated for a long time. Even in today’s technologically connected world where we can talk in real time to each other through live video, there is still no substitute for being there in the actual presence of our friends and family. The “real thing” is much better than the image.

SkypeThis is, partly, why God, in the second commandment, instructed us not to make an image of Him (or anything else) to worship. If we make an image, it cannot represent the reality and we end up worshiping false gods instead of the one true God. Jesus was God in human flesh, and those few humans who had the wonderful privilege of being with Him for the years He was on the earth had a very special opportunity indeed. They are the ones who wrote the books of the New Testament. Those writers longed to see Jesus again, and they gave us hopeful encouragements about how much better the “face-to-face” encounter would be:

Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.

(1 John 3:2, ESV)

For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.

(1 Corinthians 13:12, ESV)

For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.

(Philippians 1:21-23, ESV)

Our attitude should be like the Apostle Paul’s, quoted just above. We look forward to the day when we will see Jesus Christ in all of His wondrous glory. But, until then, we can strive to please Him through our words, work, and worship which is our fruitful labor in the here and now. May God help us to please Him in all we do so, when we do see Him face-to-face, we might hear Him say “Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of your Master!”


How Can a Loving God Let Bad Things Happen?

July 13, 2013
okla-dog

Click to see this woman find her dog during the interview.

I’ve had some fairly intense discussions with nonbelievers and doubters lately who have indicated how silly Christians appear when disasters strike. The TV reporter is interviewing a survivor of a tornado, for example, and the person being interviewed gives God credit for saving her life (or the life of her dog) when, just up the street, eight children died when the school building came crashing down. Instead of thanking God, the nonbeliever states, the person should look around her and wave her fist at God for letting the disaster and deaths happen in the first place. Having faith in the middle of a disaster does not seem logical, so the question is “How can this supposedly loving God let bad things happen to good people?”

This is the question of the ages. Theologians have discussed the paradoxical issue of suffering for centuries. In this little blog I have no theologically seamless answers, but I will make these brief observations:

  • Nowhere in the Bible is there any indication at all that belief protects the believer from all difficulties, suffering, or death. In fact, God’s greatest spokespeople suffered the most. Most of the Old Testament prophets were ostracized, abused, and/or killed. All of the closest disciples of Jesus were mistreated, most were tortured, and all but one suffered a martyr’s death. And Jesus, God’s son, suffered the most cruel death imaginable, and he was totally innocent of any sin.
  • The entire book of Job in the Old Testament is all about the issue of suffering, and Job never got an answer from God as to why God let him suffer so much. Even so, in the end, after God reveals his majesty to Job, Job remains loyal to God and honors God instead of cursing him.
  • The message of the Bible is abundantly clear regarding the big picture of life, and Jesus sums it up when he predicted/commanded “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33, ESV)

Jesus, the Overcomer, will help us in this life as we look to the next. In the light of this encouragement, we should strive to have an attitude of gratitude when troubles happen…not only when we stub our toes, but even when we or our loved ones suffer or even die. Paul encourages us:

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, ESV)

“All circumstances” means just that…we are to have a thankful attitude no matter what happens. Is it easy? NO! But consider the alternative. We could wave our fist at God for the losses and heartaches we experience. But what good would that do? It’s an attitude that reveals a lack of faith in our Creator. Maybe it is cynical for me to say this, but nonbelievers typically give credit for our current existence to the mechanisms of evolution. The “history” of evolution is full of heartless, brutal, and blindly indifferent suffering. An evolutionist should also give thanks in all circumstances because, hey, it’s the way we evolve! Even though I think the atheistic evolutionary worldview is bankrupt, my atheist friends would be happier and more consistent if even they could find a way to “give thanks in all circumstances.” Thank God, as believers, our hope is in a loving God who “works all things together for our good.” (Romans 8:28)