Christianity’s Gift to the World

thinkingI’m currently reading a book by Steve Brown titles What Was I Thinking? Things I’ve Learned Since I Knew It All. Brown’s books are wonderful. Like me, he is a conservative Christian who believes in the inspiration of Scripture. Doctrinally, I think we are fairly similar. Yet, his writing takes you to new levels of reflection. The first time I read anything by Brown I remember thinking to myself that he was either a heretic or a genius – and it took me a while to figure out which. I’ve settled on genius. Brown writes in a way that is provocative. It’s like he is intentionally picking on the scabs conservative Christians walk around with. What he says makes you angry until you slowly start to realize it’s not Brown that is angering you, but rather God’s Word. And faced with that realization, there is nothing left to do but repent.

Basically, Brown makes me think. I’m sure some people find him annoying – some may have even settled on heretical – but I appreciate him. Here’s a quote from What Was I Thinking? that I currently can’t get out of my mind:

“Our gift to the world is not one of anger, judgment, or condemnation. Our gift to the world is to find where the Holy Spirit is creating beauty, speaking truth, and manifesting goodness—and when we find it, to identify it, enjoy it, affirm it, and get involved in it” (p. 64)

It’s that’s first sentence that has stuck with me … “Our [Christians] gift to the world is not one of anger, judgment, or condemnation.” Too often, that’s the face we present to world around us – anger, judgment, and condemnation. When, in reality, the Church should be an extension of God’s gift to the world – grace, mercy, and salvation through His Son.

Brown makes the further point that because of our anger and disgust with the world around us, Christians often retreat to the Church. We take safe haven in our churches and our Christian subculture because we are convinced that’s where the Holy Spirit is. We do it because it makes us feel safe yet our safety comes at the expense of the culture around us. We create a divide between the sacred and the secular and then refuse to cross it for fear of sacrificing our own righteousness. But it’s important to understand that this divide is man made. From God’s perspective there is no “secular”. The gospel of John makes that clear:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. (John 1:1-5)

All things came into being through Him. It’s this fact that gives God the authority to speak into the hearts of every man and into the core of every situation. It’s that fact that gives Jesus the authority to forgive our sins. It’s that fact that gives God the right to determine that salvation must be accomplished according to His plan rather than our own. It’s that fact that is the foundation of grace. And when we retreat in disgust from the world around us and take refuge in our Christian subculture we are failing to take that gift of grace to the very people that need it the most. Jesus understood this. That’s why He hung out with sinners. That’s why He said,“It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick; I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mark 2:17). Even the Great Commission, our marching orders from Christ, instruct us to take His message of grace to the world, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20). 

When Christian present nothing to the world but anger, judgment, and condemnation and then retreat back to the safety of our own Christian subculture, we are forfeiting the one gift we have to give the world. It is imperative that Christians refuse to forfeit our input and voice to the culture we live in. Music, arts, literature, science … all of these things stand to benefit from the input of Christians.

If we want to deliver Christ’s grace to the world, we must be engaged in the world. Jesus once prayed for His disciples, “14 I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. 15 I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one” (John 17:14-15, emphasis mine). Notice that Jesus didn’t pray for His disciples to be taken out of the world; rather, He prayed that they be kept safe from the evil one as they engaged the world for Him. 

Christ’s prayer should be the strategy of the Church. Rather than withdrawing from the world and drawing imaginary lines between the secular and the sacred, we should engage the world. We should deliver Christ’s gospel to the sic and refuse to sacrifice our voice while tending to our own safety.

Genius.

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Review of "The Unexpected Journey" by Thom S. Rainer

JourneyThis book chronicles Thom Rainer’s one year journey with his wife to interview people who turned from other religions to Christianity. I enjoyed every page of the book. Admittedly, some of the stories left a bigger impression on me than others, but each proved to demonstrate how God works in people’s lives. I would have have added it to my “must read”, however, I felt that the writing got a little choppy toward the end of the book and I would have appreciated a little more detail in some of the stories.

If you’ve ever wondered how God works to draw people out of alternative faiths to Biblical Christianity, than you will find this book very interesting.

To Teach and Admonish: Colossians 3:16

Yesterday’s post concerned our responsibility to our fellow Christians. Today’s post takes a look at what the Apostle Paul has to say concerning the subject. In Colossians 3:16, he writes:

“Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God” (Colossians 3:16, NASB).

There’s a great deal to unpack in this verse! Paul writes that we should, with all wisdom, teach and admonish one another. The word “teach” means to communicate and impart truth while the word “admonish” means to caution and warn away from error. Stop and consider these words for just a moment. We are to teach truth while warning against error. The world will teach us that it’s okay to believe whatever we want provided we are sincere. The Apostle Paul seems to have directly addressed this notion with just two words; truth and admonish. We have a responsibility in our churches to teach truth and to warn others away from error!

Skeptics will warn us that no one knows what the truth actually is and scoff at the notion we can be sure we’re teaching what is true. Fortunately, the Apostle Paul tells us in this verse how to accomplish such a task. We are to “let the word of Christ richly dwell within us” and teach with all “wisdom.” Paul isn’t instructing us to teach our subjective notions of what truth may be, rather, he is instructing us to teach the objective Word of God! We are to allow the Word of God to dwell in our hearts! Warren Weirsbe writes, “Many saved people cannot honestly say they that God’s Word dwells in their hearts richly because they do not take the time to read, study, and memorize it.” Teaching the Word of God isn’t something to be taken lightly. We can be sure we are teaching God’s Truth but first we must be sure to consider His Word carefully and prayerfully. We have a responsibility to our fellow Christians to take the Word of God seriously and to teach and preach the truth while warning against error. This is an undertaking that should not be taken lightly. This is why James wrote, “Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgement” (James 3:1, NASB).

The Apostle Paul says we are to do this joyfully, “singing with thankfulness in [our] hearts to God.” Studying the Word, teaching it, and warning others against error is an act of worship. God’s Word should be at the heart of our worship, our Bible studies, and our sermons. Failing to impart God’s truth is failing to meet our responsibilities to one other.

 

Tending to the Vertical and the Horizontal: A Study of Hebrews 10:23-25

Occasionally, a Scripture verse or passage will hit me over the head with the force of a baseball bat. I experienced such today as I set out to mull over Hebrews 10:23, “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful” (NASB). However, it wasn’t this verse that gave me a concussion; rather, it was the following verse:

“… and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds” (Hebrews 10:24, NASB).

The author of Hebrews is writing most likely to Jewish Christians who, under much oppression, were tempted to turn from Christ and return to their pagan ways. His advice translates well to modern Christians who are tempted to adhere to the ways of the world and live selfish lives. Consider, how different the Church would look of we all followed the directions found in this verse. How would things change if we all actually took the time to consider the practical ways we could encourage and love one another? This verse doesn’t suggest we should simply love one another when the opportunity presents itself – it suggests we should be contemplating carefully how we can show love to one another! This changes everything! We should wake up in the morning mulling over our plans to intentionally love others. We should strategically love bomb people!

Dr. Thomas Constable writes that Hebrews 10:23 advises us to tend to our vertical relationship with God while verse 24 advises us to tend to our horizontal relationships with others:

“… (v.24) moves us from the vertical to the horizontal dimension of Christian living. This admonition to love one another, our social obligation, [is] necessary since some [tend] to wander from the faith” (Constable).

We’ve all known people who have strayed from the Church and stepped out of God’s will. If I’m being honest, there have been moments in my life when I didn’t tend to my faith as closely as it deserved. In these moments, it is crucial that Christians step in and take their responsibility to love one another seriously. This commitment to our “horizontal” relationships should directly flow from our vertical relationship with God.

The author of Hebrews didn’t stop there. In Hebrews 10:25 we are instructed to “not forsake our assembling together, as is the habit of some.” Tending to our Vertical and Horizontal relationships is best accomplished in the local church. Attending church faithfully and becoming invested in the local church helps keep us focused on the vertical while providing ample opportunity for the horizontal.

Dr. Charles Stanley writes, “God did not design us to ‘go it alone’ in our Christian faith … our participation in a local church not only protects our personal fellowship with the Lord, but it is a vital aspect to how He matures us and transforms us into His image.”

Let’s face it folks, if we want to be more like Christ, we need to tend to both our vertical relationship with God and our horizontal relationships with others.

Why I Teach Eternal Security

I serve as an adult Bible study teacher in a Southern Baptist Church that preaches and teaches eternal security. I often get the impression that people think I teach eternal security simply because it is the doctrine my denomination supports when, in fact, it is the other way around; I am a Southern Baptist, due in no small part, to the fact that the SBC endorses a Biblical view of salvation. Here is an excerpt from the Baptist Faith and Message …

All true believers endure to the end. Those whom God has accepted in Christ, and
sanctified by His Spirit, will never fall away from the state of grace, but shall persevere to
the end. Believers may fall into sin through neglect and temptation, whereby they grieve
the Spirit, impair their graces and comforts, and bring reproach on the cause of Christ and
temporal judgments on themselves; yet they shall be kept by the power of God through
faith unto salvation.

The first three words of the above passage from the Baptist Faith and Message are of vast importance, “All true believers …” It is important to understand the implications of these words. We are not talking about people who shallowly recited a particular prayer, people who attend church, or people who were raised in Christian homes. We are talking about true believers. In other words, we are not talking about people who simply exhibit some of the qualities of being a Christian; rather, we are talking about people who have had a genuine, life-saving encounter with Jesus Christ. Who are these people? The Word describes them as those who believe in Jesus Christ:

“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16, NASB).

“They said, ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household'” (Acts 16:31, NASB).

It is important to understand that salvation isn’t about the outward behaviors a person may exhibit. Rather, it is about an earth-shattering, life-changing belief in Jesus Christ:

“Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come” (2 Corinthians 5:17).

In fact, this change in our lives is so earth-shattering and dramatic it is impossible for us to manufacture on our own. It can only be received as a gift from God:

“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9, NASB).

Salvation is based on an earth-shattering, life-changing faith in Jesus Christ that only comes to us as a gift from God. No amount of works will achieve it and when God gifts us with salvation it should humble us. This is the context in which we approach the doctrine of eternal security. The Baptist Faith and Message then explains that those people who have been gifted with salvation will be sanctified by the Holy Spirit. Wayne Grudem defines sanctification as “the progressive work of God and man that makes us more and more free from sin and like Christ in our actual lives.” Sanctification is the means by which God separates a true believer from the world and makes them Christ-like. It begins at salvation (Titus 3:5), should continue throughout our lives (Romans 6:19, 2 Cor. 3:18), and is completed upon our death as our souls go to be with the Lord (Hebrews 12:23). Believers enjoy sanctification as a process that God works on us and also bear responsibility to participate in the process through obedience.

The Baptist Faith and Message teaches that those who have been truly saved and thus sanctified by the Spirit will never fall away from a state of grace and will persevere to the end. This is a position that is demonstrated in Scripture:

“For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39, NASB).

“… and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand” (John 10:28-29, NASB).

“Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to make you stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy, to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen” (Jude 1:24-25, NASB).

Simply put, if God gifts a person with genuine, earth-shattering, life-changing salvation in Christ Jesus, nothing will be able to undue it. To suggest otherwise is to suggest that God does not have the power, nor the ability, to save a person once and for all. Christ’s work on the cross can not be undone. He has died for our salvation and his sacrifice was completely sufficient to accomplish the task! A true believer can have complete confidence that they are saved from hell. This confidence enables us to live the abundant life that Christ speaks of in John 10:10.

Two Common Objections to Eternal Security

There are two common objections to the notion of eternal security and Scripture addresses both.

Objection 1: Christians are free to keep on sinning because of our eternal security. 

Anyone who teaches or believes this is guilty of a heresy known as antinomianism. Scripture clearly teaches that believers have a responsibility to leave their sinful life behind. In fact, the Bible suggests that those who continue to willfully and habitually sin may not be Christians to begin with:

“No one who abides in Him sins; no one who sins has seen Him or knows Him” (1 John 3:6, NASB).

Objection 2: What if someone becomes a Christians and then later denounces their faith and rejects Christ? 

While a true believer may have doubts at times, if they genuinely and permanently denounce their faith and reject Christ, Scripture teaches they were not Christians to begin with:

“They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us” (1 John 2:19, NASB).

Conclusion

The Baptist Faith and Message is right on target. Can a true believer step out of the will of God and refuse to participate in the sanctification process? Certainly. Can a true believer have doubts and periods of disobedience in their lives? Certainly. One thing remains certain, however, a true believer can never be separated from the grace of God and the salvation found in Jesus Christ. This certainty provides the believer with a joy in this lifetime like none other! It is a joy we can’t earn or work for, rather, it is a joy that is gifted to us by God … and it all hinges on one point … are you a true believer in Christ and have you had a genuine, life-changing, earth-shattering encounter with our Lord Jesus Christ?

 

Lessons from Habakkuk: Part 4 (Habakkuk 2:6-8) – The Woe of Exploitation

habakkuk1God responds to Habakkuk’s queries by pronouncing five woes of judgement on the Babylonians. These woes are presented in five stanzas of three verses each. Collectively, they form a song of mockery and judgement. The woes paint a complete picture of the Babylonian’s sin and the judgement that awaits them. It is scary, however, how much the five woes apply to our modern culture. The reader of these passages doesn’t have to stretch too far to recognize these sins in our world today. The first woe is a prime example.  The First Woe: The Woe of Exploitation (Habakkuk 2:6-8)

6 Won’t all of these take up a taunt against him, with mockery and riddles about him? They will say: Woe to him who amasses what is not his — how much longer?— and loads himself with goods taken in pledge. 7 Won’t your creditors suddenly arise, and those who disturb you wake up? Then you will become spoil for them. 8 Since you have plundered many nations all the peoples who remain will plunder you — because of human bloodshed and violence against lands, cities, and all who live in them. (Habakkuk 2:6-8, NASB)

This first woe targets those who have become rich on the backs of others. It is important to recognize that the sin in this case isn’t being wealthy, but rather the method the Babylonians used to amass wealth. The passage says they amassed what was not theirs. They plundered their neighboring nations through bloodshed, violence, and dishonest practices. Because of their actions, the righteous will mock them (v.6). Verses seven and eight promise that their victims would eventually rise up and turn the tables on the Babylonians by plundering and pillaging their lands. History records that this woe came to pass in 539 BC when the Persian King Cyrus conquered Babylon.

How does this woe translate into our modern culture? It should be obvious to most of us. Today there are people, governments, and corporations who amass wealth on the backs of others. People steal, extort, and charge excessive interest for loans offered to the little guy. The financial systems of the world tend to be crooked and those who amass their wealth in unrighteous ways would be wise to pay attention to this passage. Again, it is important to understand the sin isn’t being wealthy, rather, the sin is to accumulate wealth by taking advantage of others. I believe the warnings present in this passage still apply today. Those who take advantage of others will be mocked by the righteous. They most certainly run the risk of their victims rising up against them. There is no doubt that they will eventually have to face judgment for their actions.

Pastor Mark Driscoll offerer this chilling warning in a sermon, “In the world who are the rich people? Response: We are. You are. You’re the rich people. You are. There are 90 countries in the world where the average citizen spends less on all of their goods, food, housing, transportation, everything, 90 countries where the average person spends less on those things than you as the average American citizen spend on garbage bags to throw out your junk. You’re the rich people.” It is often tempting to become egocentric and to forget how wealthy most of us are in this country as compared to the rest of the world. And I am certainly not suggesting we should feel guilty in someway because of the wealth we are blessed with. I am suggesting, however, that we need to understand that the way we handle our finances and accumulate wealth (both corporately and individually) is important to God. If we are not careful, we will follow the way of Babylon.

Sources
Mark Driscoll. Five Weighty Woes. http://marshill.com/media/habakkuk/five-weighty-woes Dr. Constable. Notes on Habakkuk. http://www.soniclight.com/constable/notes/pdf/habakkuk.pdf

Books Read in 2013: No. 8 – Inerrancy of the Bible: A Book for the Common Man

inerrancy

Title: Inerrancy of the Bible: A Book for the Common Man
Authors: Dr. Johnson C. Philip and Dr. Saneesh Cherian
Date Completed: April 20, 2013

This book serves as decent introduction into the Doctrine of Inerrancy. If I’m being honest, I’ve read better defenses of inerrancy and I doubt this little book will change the minds of anyone who is adamantly against the concept. However, this book does present the subject in an accessible manner that is fairly easy to digest.

Books Read in 2013: No. 7 – Think and Live: Challenging Believers to Think and Thinkers to Believe

thinkandliveTitle: Think and Live: Challenging Believers to Think and Thinkers to Believe
Author: Paul Hughes
Date Completed: April 20, 2013

This book distills posts and resources from Apologetics.com into one book. The result is tremendous. The title of the book is the stated goal – readers are asked to think, and live. The formula is fairly simple. In the first half of the book, readers are presented with a basic Christian apologetic. Chapters include Behold the Man, Only Logical, Risen Indeed, and Moral Miracles (among others). In the second half, readers are challenged to shape their lives around their beliefs. Chapters in the section include An Excellent Pursuit, Admirably Christian, and Love. I am appreciative for the approach. From the book:

So Christian belief, following on Christian thought, means to be ready to act as if what God says is so. Life and faith includes both … apologetics includes both.

Our beliefs should cause us to reexamine the way we live our lives. Christianity shouldn’t be simply an academic pursuit and the contributors to this book understand that. I highly recommend this work for anyone interested in apologetics.

Books Read in 2013: No. 6 – Did the Resurrection Happen … Really? A Dialogue on Life, Death, and Hope

didthe

Title: Did the Resurrection Happen … Really? A Dialogue on Life, Death, and Hope
Author: Josh McDowell and Dave Sterrett
Date Finished: April 8, 2013

Josh McDowell takes an interesting approach in presenting this introductory book on apologetics by crafting his presentation around an imaginary shooting on a college campus. The shooting leaves both staff and students searching for answers. Christians, atheists, and skeptics come together in the aftermath to investigate the reliability of Scripture. The evidence, arguments, and logic offered the book is quite convincing and is presented in a very approachable manner.

This book is an entry in McDowell’s ‘Coffee House Chronicles’ series and is geared toward college aged readers. My biggest concern is that readers of this age group may find the dialogue between characters a little awkward and somewhat unnatural. They are sure to be rewarded, however, if they persevere and focus mostly on the evidence that infuses this little book.  Another bonus is that this book is rather inexpensive for the Kindle.

100 Reasons I Love the Church: #2: Bible Study

bible1There is something special about studying the Bible with other believers. I always tell the Bible study class I teach there is no doubt I learn more from them than they do from me! I’m not suggesting we shouldn’t conduct private studies of the Word, in fact, I think we should do this daily, however, when you study the Bible with other like-minded Christians you are always sure to learn something unexpected. Someone is sure to see a passage of Scripture from a different perspective than you anticipated … it is in these moments you will see growth.

The Bible tells us that Scripture is God-breathed (2 Tim 3:16). If we profess to believe this, why wouldn’t we make every effort to study it as often as possible? There are vast benefits to listening to the Word preached in a congregation-wide sermon each week, however, if you are interested in true spiritual growth, get engaged in a small-group Bible study.

You will be blessed.

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