If you can’t dictate the terms to a McDonald’s cashier, what makes you think you can do so with God?

If you authentically seek God on his terms, you will find him. If you think you get to sit in judgement of the real God, you will not find him.  If you “seek” a god of your own making, you will not find him – except in the mirror, and as you know that god has rather limited powers.  If you think that pretending He doesn’t exist will make him go away, you are mistaken.

Romans 1:18–20 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.

 

Romans 9:20 But who are you, a human being, to talk back to God? “Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?

That may sound obvious, but think about how many people insist that all religions lead to God.  Lots of false teachers in churches will tell you such things.  People claim that they wouldn’t believe in a God who says that homosexual behavior is a sin or who sends guilty sinners to Hell, as if not liking someone makes them disappear.

An acquaintance once noted that he would never believe in a God that would send his Jewish friend to Hell.  What was lost on this college-educated person is that whether he liked God or not, if the one true God will send non-believers to Hell then that is what will happen.  God is not going to disappear because this guy doesn’t like his terms and conditions.  And being in Hell with his friend is not going to make it better for either of them.  Side note: If the subject weren’t so serious it would be amusing how certain people are that they will be happier in Hell or that they get to spend time with friends and family there.

They don’t recognize the absurdity of thinking something doesn’t exist just because they don’t like it or the idea that they can tell the real God what He must be like.

What if you went to a company for a job and demanded that they hire you on your terms?  Hey, go ahead and ask for a million dollar salary and unlimited vacation.  Ridiculous, eh?  But only a tiny fraction as ridiculous as thinking you are going to tell God how things must be.

Or tell the cop who pulled you over that you set the speed limits today and that he is wasting your time.  Or pretend that he doesn’t exist because you don’t like him.

Or tell your teacher that she has to give you an A+ even though you won’t come to class, do homework or take tests.

Or if you are still at home, tell your parents that you set the rules now.

Better yet, go to McDonald’s and tell the cashier to give you your entire meal for $1 because you set the prices and see how that works.

If you can’t dictate terms to the person barely and momentarily higher than you on the cosmic organization chart, what makes you think that the one true God must answer to you or that pretending He doesn’t exist will make him disappear?  

God sets the terms, not us.  His first commandments make that explicit.  Better yet, the first verse of the Bible makes that clear.

What makes anyone think they get to dictate the terms of the universe and eternal life to the one true God?  Pride.  Satanic pride (“Did God really say . . .?”).

Be bold in prayer, but know that God still sets the terms.  Ask tough questions, but know that God is ultimately just and all-knowing (also see Job 38).  Seek him earnestly, but humbly and on his terms.

Where do you find his terms?  In the Bible.  They are indescribably generous.  All you have to do is repent and trust in Jesus.  No good deeds required – though in response to his mercy and grace and by the power of the Holy Spirit you’ll be inspired to do good deeds.  Better yet, not only are all your sins forgiven but God will credit Jesus’ perfect righteousness to your account.  It is the ultimate trade, but that is the only way to get there.

If you “seek” a god of your own making, you will not find the one true God.  If you’ve been doing that, stop kidding yourself.  Eternity is a mighty long time to regret your foolish pride.

If you authentically seek God on his terms, you will find him.

Acts 17:26–27 (ESV) And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us . . .

 

Luke 11:9-13 And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.  What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

If you are a believer, try using this line of thinking when sharing the Good News with others.  Ask someone what they think happens when they die, then use the 10 Commandments to point to their sinfulness and need of a Savior.  Explain how God sets the terms of engagement and how remarkably loving and generous they are.  Note how these same terms applied to you and how grateful you are for them.  If they start judging God or pretending that they can ignore him if they don’t like his ways, use any of the examples above to push a reset button on them.  They may not repent and believe on the spot, but you will disarm them of a really bad line of thinking and hopefully plant a seed that someone else will water.

Good news from the Middle East

We spent a few hours in the Dubai airport a couple years ago on our way to and from Kenya, but didn’t go out into the city.  It was a huge and wildly busy airport 24 hours a day.  Even from the airport windows the city looked beautiful.  I assumed it was as restrictive about Christianity as other Muslim nations, but apparently not.  Via Dubai: Amazing and Strategic City – Desiring God.

Proselytizing is against the law in the UAE. But what that means in essence is: You can’t pay someone to convert (as if that were possible) or unduly coerce them to change religions. But speaking the gospel of Jesus Christ abounds.

There are many Christian churches, and the ruler of the emirate is favorable to them for the sake of the expatriates. Only about 13% of Dubai’s local population is local Emirati people. The other 87% are expatriates, half of whom are of Indian descent. Thousands of these are Christians.

Therefore, the gospel sounds forth weekly in Dubai. And on the university campuses, there are organizations that aggressively seek to speak to students about what the Bible really teaches.

That is the best possible definition of proselytizing.  By definition, authentic Christian faith can’t be bought or coerced.  I hope and pray that this situation lasts and that the Gospel spreads from there to the rest of the region.

Your job description as a Christian

Well, at least part of your job description.  As I like to remind Christians, some, but not all, are called to be evangelists.

Ephesians 4:11 (ESV) And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers . . .

So you may or may not be an evangelist.  But all are called to be ambassadors . . .

2 Corinthians 5:20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.

. . . and all are called to be defenders of the faith (“apologists”).

1 Peter 3:15–16 (ESV) but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.

So if you claim the name of Christ you may or may not be an evangelist, but you are definitely an apologist and an ambassador.  The only question is whether you are doing a good job.  You will be very glad when God uses your efforts to be able to share his truths with someone who is seeking them.

As the Wintery Knight asks, Can you dispense with apologetics and just preach the gospel when evangelizing?  I think they are intertwined, especially in our culture.  If you don’t subscribe to his blog you should start.

See the Apologetics links to the right for some great resources.  If I could only recommend one site it would be Stand to Reason.  Scour the site, listen to the Podcast and read Tactics: A Game Plan for Discussing Your Christian Convictions and you’ll be in great shape.  CARM.org is, great, too.

Also see these PowerPoint slides that I have used for a class at church called Defending Your Faith.  You are welcome to use or adapt them.  Now get to work!

Reverse missionaries & the Great De-Commission

u-turn.jpgA favorite updated for your reading pleasure.

Typical evangelism for any religion involves someone going out at some degree of expense and risk to share what one believes to be true.  It is a pretty simple and logical concept: If you think you know the true path to forgiveness, joy, peace and eternal life and you truly care about others, then of course you’ll want to share the Good News (regardless of how you define it).

However, some people hold the view that all religions are equally valid paths to God.  As I was reflecting on the discussions on the Jesus is still the only way thread, I was reminded that people who hold the “all religions are valid” view should have a completely different model of evangelism.  Wouldn’t it be most loving for them to send “reverse missionaries” to encourage everyone to follow their local religions?  After all, consider the persecuted people around the world who could avoid pain, suffering, economic loss, prison and even death if they just held beliefs more palatable to their culture.

For example, you’d want to send people to Christians in India, N. Korea, China, all Arab countries and more to explain to them that Hinduism/Islam/Buddhism/etc. are just as good and that they should leave Christianity to maximize their comfort and happiness.  If you follow any organizations like Voice of the Martyrs you are probably familiar with how much Christians suffer for their faith in many parts of the world.  Why suffer like that if other religions are just as good?

And loving universalists (those who believe everyone is going to Heaven, regardless of what they believe) should go to China to encourage people to be atheists.

What a tragedy that hundreds of thousands or even millions of Christians died unnecessarily for their faith over the centuries.  They should have just recanted and gone with the local religion, right?

What I’ve found is that religious pluralists and universalists do no such thing. They typically think their “home religion” is correct (why else would they belong to those denominations?) but are afraid to offend someone or risk rejection for sharing their view, or perhaps are unwilling to work to learn their beliefs well enough to defend them.

Shouldn’t false teachers who insist that all religions lead to God lend their time and money to being reverse missionaries?  Yet I never hear of them undertaking such efforts to reduce the “needless” suffering of Christians around the world.  Real faith is behaving as if what you say you believe is true.  Yet these folks don’t follow through to the logical consequences of their worldview.  This is one of the easiest ways to spot false teachers.

Of course, since I hold the view that Jesus is the one way to salvation then it is on my heart to share that with people.

If you encounter “Christians” claiming that other or even all religions are valid paths to God, ask them simply and politely if that means we should end Christian evangelism efforts and “evangelize” people to follow whatever “valid” religion will result in the least persecution for them.  It will help expose their false view and hopefully encourage them to think more carefully.  They shouldn’t judge God for “only” providing one way to salvation, they should be eternally grateful that He offered a way at all.

Weekend at Bernie’s theology

A favorite updated for your reading pleasure.

I read this great metaphor at a now-defunct blog about how the false teachers who don’t believe the essentials of the Christian faith have taken over many dead churches and propped them up to suit their motives.

In the not-so-classic movie Weekend at Bernie’s, two friends prop up a dead guy to make him appear alive so they can throw parties at his house. In the same way, theological Liberals don’t believe in the essentials of the faith (Jesus is God, He is the only way to eternal life, the Bible is authoritative and accurate, etc.), so they think they have a dead church on their hands.  They don’t have faith that God can still work through his Word to transform lives and cultures.

They prop it up, though, because they like the money, the influence, the buildings and the status that comes with their leadership roles. But they are frauds. They either lied at their ordination vows or changed their minds later. Either way, if they were honest they would stop accepting payment from their members for teaching the opposite of the beliefs the church was founded upon.

Their teachings are like salt water, leaving you thinking that you are having your spiritual thirst quenched but all the while killing you.

For a better analysis, read this by Charles Spurgeon. He wrote it in 1870 but the message is still fresh and applicable.

Bait & switch = bad idea. Forgetting to switch = really bad idea.

Worldly thinking has led countless churches to avoid many truths of scripture lest they offend non-believing visitors.  And when the churches grow to serve the larger numbers they get caught in a trap of their own making.  If they shift to focus on the entire Bible, they will lose members.  Then they won’t be able to keep the doors open.  That forces them to rationalize continued diluted or false messages.

The Bible teaches that we should not use trickery to share the Gospel.

1 Thessalonians 2:1-6 You know, brothers, that our visit to you was not a failure. We had previously suffered and been insulted in Philippi, as you know, but with the help of our God we dared to tell you his gospel in spite of strong opposition. For the appeal we make does not spring from error or impure motives, nor are we trying to trick you. On the contrary, we speak as men approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel. We are not trying to please men but God, who tests our hearts. You know we never used flattery, nor did we put on a mask to cover up greed—God is our witness. We were not looking for praise from men, not from you or anyone else.

Sadly, many churches water down the Gospel to avoid offending people.  They just want to get them in the door and plan to get around to the whole truth later.

Of course, we don’t want to add to the offense of the Gospel, but we shouldn’t distort it to avoid the legitimate offense.

But as bad as the bait & switch strategy is, the bigger problem is that the churches using this strategy forgot to make the switch.  And they used the bait for so long that they now think that is all they need to do.  They never get around to sharing the whole Gospel.  If your message never offends (in the appropriate Biblical sense) then you are preaching the wrong message (Hello, is Joel there?).

We shouldn’t dilute the message just to grow the numbers.  Hey, if youth groups offered free beer & p*rnography that would probably increase attendance, but are those the numbers that count?

And consider the mainline churches that continue to see declining figures.  The more “inclusive” they are the smaller they get.  They offend the world less, I suppose, but they have nothing left to offer the world, either.

I think it exhibits a lack of faith when we don’t trust God enough to preach his word in an undiluted fashion.  Does He really need us to edit it for him?

Consider this from a friend’s Facebook page:

‎The greatest revival in history took place among the most wicked people in history- the Ninevites. The message they heard was destruction was coming in forty days. Jonah impacted the whole city with this message and they responded by repenting. He had mega growth (in less than 40 days) without using mega growth methods. Here is a biblical model that worked with no problems -100% response. Jonah didn’t want to see these results but God did. Unless we learn the principle that God has not called us to be a success, but to be faithful to his message we will never learn the real meaning of our being God’s servants.

That can’t be right. What the people need is theater-style seating, entertainment and to be told how swell they are.

It is sad that people just think of the great fish when they think of Jonah, but there is so much more to that book. A reluctant preacher saying the real words of God means infinitely more than man’s “wisdom” in how to reach people.  No props, no gimmicks, no pandering, no appealing to people’s “felt needs” (unless that it is the felt need to be forgiven of one’s sins against a perfect and holy God).

Don’t distort the Gospel in an attempt to gain the whole world yet forfeit your soul.

Biology, not bigotry, and removing barriers to evangelism

I’ll support unrestricted, taxpayer-funded abortions as soon as you convince me that the unborn aren’t human beings and I’ll support government recognition of “same-sex marriage” as soon as you prove that these couples can provide a mother and a father to a child.

In both cases it is biology, not bigotry, so don’t let people silence you on these crucial topics.

You don’t have to convert people to your point of view on marriage or abortion before sharing the Gospel or pointing them to the Bible.  But for many people these are barriers to even considering Christianity.  Just having a few replies — literally just a minute or so — is often all it takes.  You can simply say, “Yes, the Bible does say it is a sin but even if it didn’t we are still separated from God by our many other sins . . .” and then point them to the cross and to God’s word (same thing for the abortion issue).  Here’s a real-life example of how to do that.

If people are hostile to it, then hold your pearls.  But don’t give up before you try.

About that guy on the island . . .

Or in the jungle. Or in the Muslim country. Or wherever. You know, the hypothetical guy that people worry about when wondering whether God is fair if everyone doesn’t get an adequate revelation about Jesus.

For many it is an honest desire that the Gospel go to all people. For others it is a rationalization for the false teaching of universalism, where everyone goes to Heaven regardless of whether they know of or trust in Jesus. For others it is an excuse to rebel against Christianity.

I have good news: The real God is sovereign. No one seeks him on his own, but if God makes him spiritually alive then he will not only seek God but he will find him. As Acts 17 notes, God knows exactly where everyone is. No one will face God and be able to offer excuses.

Acts 17:26-27 From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us.

So if you are concerned with the hypothetical character noted above, you have a lot of options in which to channel your energy:

1. Pray for them  (Matthew 9:37-38 Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”)

2. Go see them yourself and share the Good News.

3. Donate to organizations like International Cooperating Ministries that build churches around the world.  $10,000 will build a church for a congregation of ~100 people that has committed to start 5 more neighboring churches.

4. Donate to organizations like Faith Comes By Hearing that get the word of God out to people in over 600 languages via audio Bibles (Praise report: A mission team just took the first batch of Kimeru language Proclaimer audio Bibles to Kenya.  Many people will be hearing the word of God for the first time!)

5. Support Stand To Reason or other excellent Christian apologetic organizations that help equip people to defend the Christian faith in a winsome and effective way.

6. Trust in God’s sovereignty.

But whatever you do, if you claim the name of Christ then don’t act as if He isn’t perfectly just.

Defending Your Faith

I’m excited about a six-week class on Defending Your Faith that I’ll be teaching at church starting April 15.  The class will equip people with knowledge and tactics to strengthen their faith, disciple fellow Christians and reach non-Christians.

What if someone asked you, “Why do you believe in Jesus and how can I?”  Or if people said that the Bible was written by men so it must have mistakes?  Or that Christianity just borrowed its ideas from other religions?  Or that we don’t know what the original writings of the Bible really said?  Or one of the many other common objections to Christianity?  Do you have accurate and winsome responses for them?  This class will equip you with solid and easily understandable answers to common questions and objections about Christianity and the Bible.

As I like to remind Christians, some, but not all, are called to be evangelists . . .

Ephesians 4:11 (ESV) And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers . . .

. . . but all are called to be ambassadors . . .

2 Corinthians 5:20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.

. . . and all are called to be defenders of the faith (“apologists”).

1 Peter 3:15–16 (ESV) but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.

So if you claim the name of Christ you may or may not be an evangelist, but you are definitely an apologist and an ambassador.  The only question is whether you are doing a good job.

With work and practice you will get better at it.  You don’t have to be a Wintery Knight, but you will be very glad when God uses your efforts to be able to share his truths with someone who is seeking them.

See the Apologetics links to the right for some great resources.  If I could only recommend one site it would be Stand to Reason.  Scour the site, listen to the Podcast and read Tactics: A Game Plan for Discussing Your Christian Convictions and you’ll be in great shape.

There is a list of some good books to get started at An apologetics Reading Plan for Beginners.  Here are some I’ve read or plan to read:

The ten books on the reading plan below are selected specifically for the beginner in apologetics. They are on the list because of their accessibility and their quality of content. The order is provided as a progressive reading plan for those just getting started. Working through this list should give the novice a good foundation before moving on to more advanced titles.

1. The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel

All of Lee Strobel’s books are required reading for two reasons. First, they are good introductions to the subject and provide a good overview of the material from some of the best scholars in their fields. Second, the writing style is very accessible, taking you alongside a journalist in his investigation of the evidence for Christianity. In this particular title, Strobel focuses on the life and identity of Jesus.

2. The Case for a Creator by Lee Strobel

This book is just as readable as The Case for Christ, but this one delves into the evidence for the Creator. Another thing that makes this good reading for the beginner is this: whatever areas you find particularly interesting can be pursued further by reading the sources interviewed in the book.

3. The Case for Faith by Lee Strobel

In The Case for Faith, Strobel moves from making a positive case for Christ and a Creator to defending Christianity from some common criticisms and objections. This one deals with the hard faith questions such as the problem of pain and suffering and issues of doubt. Again, all three of the Lee Strobel books are a great starting point for the beginner.

**Interlude: Watch the The Lee Strobel Film Collection

At this point, now you can take a break from your reading and actually watch a series of three DVDs that are about an hour each. These excellent documentaries follow the same content as the books, along with interviews with experts and specialists. This is a great refresher for what you have read and also makes for a great small group resource and a DVD to lend to a friend.

6. Tactics: A Game Plan for Discussing Your Christian Convictions by Greg Koukl

Information without application results in stagnation when it comes to apologetics. That’s why it’s time for a good dose of Tactics, which will train you not only to use apologetic content in everyday life, but it will also train you to be a better, more critical thinker. This is another “must read” book, and mastering its contents early in your apologetic studies will put feet to your faith.

7. The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus by Mike Licona & Gary Habermas

The resurrection of Jesus is central to Christianity. This book equips you to understand and defend the resurrection from an historical perspective. Not only does the book have useful diagrams, summaries, and an accessible style, but it also comes with a CD-ROM with interactive software for teaching you the material. This is an essential book for the apologist.

9. I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be An Atheist by Geisler & Turek

Geisler and Turek have authored a great apologetics book that also takes a step-by-step approach to showing that Christianity is true—and it’s filled with lots of information. This gives the growing beginner a ton of good content, while strengthening the framework of a cumulative case for Christianity. This book will help to grow your overall general apologetic knowledge as well.

Is forgiveness possible?

ER

A friend reminded me of this clip so I wanted to run it again.  The video is fictional, of course, but the premise occurs countless times every day around the world: People need and want forgiveness, but the world tells them lies.

Christianity has the truth and the Good News, but far too many people claiming the name of Christ are unequipped and/or unwilling to share it, even when asked.  If that applies to you, then do something about it.  Right away!  I recommend Tactics by Greg Koukl as a great way to learn how to share your faith as an effective ambassador and apologist for Christ, just as the scriptures command.

2 Corinthians 5:20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.
1 Peter 3:15–16 (ESV) but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.

—–

It was surprising but so encouraging to see that the clip below was on the TV show ER a couple years back.

The chaplain is the classic fake Christian you’d expect to find in most theologically liberal churches today.  I love how the patient doesn’t buy her “just make up a god in your own image” type of platitudes.

The money quotes from the dying patient:

All I’m hearing is some new age “God is love” one-size-fits-all crap . . . I don’t have time for this now . . . I want a real chaplain who believes in a real God and a real Hell . . . I don’t need to “ask myself,” I need answers, and all your questions and uncertainty are only making things worse . . .

I need someone who will look me in the eye and tell me how to find forgiveness, because I am running out of time!

Hey Christians, time to fire up!  Some people don’t want the truth.  But there are lots of real people like this in the world who need and want the truth.  They must be so sick of the lies and the politically correct “God is whoever you want him to be” nonsense taught by the world and by far too many churches.  Is it really so hard to understand that you do not get to tell the creator of the universe how eternity works?  You don’t set the terms and conditions of salvation any more than you get to tell your boss to triple your pay and give you 50 weeks of vacation, or tell your teacher that he must give you an A without you coming to class.

Are you ready to tell people the truth and the Good News?  Forgiveness, redemption and eternal life are possible, but only through trust in Jesus.

If you want to hear from God . . .

If you want to hear from God, read the Bible.

If you want to hear from God audibly, read the Bible out loud.

Seriously, the Bible is God’s preferred method of speaking to people.  It is possible that He could use some other means such as an angel or a dream, but it is not likely.  And if He does speak in some way outside the Bible, the message will never contradict anything in the Bible.  This is good news, not bad news, because it means you can hear from him anytime you want.

You can learn about what God is like, why Jesus the Son came (to save lost sinners), what the chief problem of man is (sin), how to be forgiven for all your sins and be reconciled to him, how to best live your life, how to love others, how to be a better spouse / parent / friend, and much more.  No one should go through life without reading the book written by the inspiration of the creator of the universe.

Make no mistake: The original writings turned out exactly as God and the human writers wanted them to, and it has been reliably transmitted to us.

If you’ve never read all of the Bible, this is the year.  Here’s a carrot: I guarantee that you won’t regret it.  You are actually spending time with God as you read it and learning what He wanted you to know.  It will accomplish what He desires and achieve the purpose for which He sent it (Isaiah 55).

Here’s the stick for Christians: If you don’t read it, I’m going to pray that atheists ask you why you claim the name of Christ without having a desire to read what He is trying to communicate to you.  They might even ask how you can be sure you should be following him if you haven’t taken the time to read the primary writings about him.  They might ask how many other books and magazines you read and how much TV you watch rather than read what your Savior has to say. (I recommend going with the carrot.)  Seriously, make this the year you start reading it regularly.

You don’t have to read it in a year, though that is a reasonable goal if you’ve never done it.  Hey, at least read the New Testament!  It is shorter than most novels.  Just pick it up each day and read something.

Here are some great Bible reading plans.  I’m really enjoying going through it chronologically.  It weaves things like the messages of the prophets into the historical accounts of the kings they preached to, and it puts the Psalms in where the related historical events occurred and/or when they were written.

Or try listening to the Bible if you are more of an auditory person.  You can get free downloads of the New Testament and reasonably priced downloads of the entire Bible.

Just read it.

—–

Bonus: This great message, courtesy of Brandon.  I love how it highlights that if someone claims God told them something then the burden of proof is on them to prove it.

Titus 2 and the alleged St. Francis saying

St. Francis’ saying that Christians should “Preach the Gospel at all times; when necessary, use words” is terrific, except for three things:

  1. He didn’t really say it.
  2. He didn’t really live it (he used words, a lot).
  3. Even if he said it and lived it, it is only accurate if used as hyperbole.  Jesus, Paul and a whole bunch of Christians throughout the centuries all used words.

I hear that quote far too often, and typically used as a reason not to use words to share the Gospel.  Bad idea.  I wrote about the problems of taking that saying too literally here.

I was reminded of it again when listening to a John MacArthur series on marriage and family. If people really wanted to use their actions to help support the Gospel message (which still needs words to be communicated), then they would take this passage very seriously.  Note how there are specific commands about sound doctrine, women, men and slaves.  And the commands note that by obeying the commands that the word of God may not be reviled.  After all, if Christians can’t obey these teachings that brings the word of God into a bad light for non-believers.

We should be zealous for good works, but that includes obeying God’s commands about the role of men and women.  Do the St. Francis fans take that seriously?

Teach Sound Doctrine

1 But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine. 2 Older men are to be sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness. 3 Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, 4 and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, 5 to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled. 6 Likewise, urge the younger men to be self-controlled. 7 Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity, 8 and sound speech that cannot be condemned, so that an opponent may be put to shame, having nothing evil to say about us. 9 Slaves are to be submissive to their own masters in everything; they are to be well-pleasing, not argumentative, 10 not pilfering, but showing all good faith, so that in everything they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior.

11 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, 12 training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, 13 waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, 14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.

15 Declare these things; exhort and rebuke with all authority. Let no one disregard you.

Does God love unconditionally? Sort of.

Our last church, which we left over 15 years ago for reasons like this, had a billboard and a weekly sermon theme that “God loves you unconditionally.”  Alternate versions used by other churches go something like, “God loves you just as you are.”

Guess how your average non-believer will interpret that, with plenty of help from Satan?  “Yes, God loves you unconditionally, just as you are, so no need for any change or to repent!   And you definitely don’t need Jesus!”

In the agape term for love, which is having someone’s long-term best interests at heart, God does love unconditionally.  But He doesn’t provide salvation unconditionally.  You must repent and believe.  Those who only teach part of the Gospel don’t teach the Gospel at all.  They demonstrate that they are ashamed of the real Gospel.

Romans 1:16 I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile.

Greg Koukl likes to point out that, “God catches his fish and then He cleans them.”  I think it is important to remember that when sharing the Gospel.  If someone had come to you or me and said, “As soon as you stop being greedy, lustful, idolatrous, selfish, etc. I will share some great news with you!” I don’t think we’d have been interested in hearing more.  According to the Bible, we can’t have power over sin until we are saved.

God does love us: Romans 5:8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

But a response is required: Romans 10:9 That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.

Run, don’t walk, from churches that are ashamed of the real Gospel.  If they teach that you can be saved without Jesus or that your good deeds will earn your salvation, or that God doesn’t require you to repent and believe, then get out and find a real church.

Do you ask yourself questions like this?

Randy Alcorn had a great list of questions to think about in light of eternity.  Everyone spends eternity somewhere.  Don’t let the distractions of the world keep you from the most important questions in life.  See Questions in Light of Heaven – Blog – Eternal Perspective Ministries.

  • Do I daily reflect on my own mortality?
  • Do I daily realize there are only two destinations—Heaven or Hell—and that I and every person I know will go to one or the other?
  • Do I daily remind myself that this world is not my home and that everything in it will burn, leaving behind only what’s eternal?
  • Do I daily recognize that my choices and actions have a direct influence on the world to come?
  • Do I daily realize that my life is being examined by God, the Audience of One, and that the only appraisal of my life that will ultimately matter is his?
  • Do I daily reflect on the fact that my ultimate home will be the New Earth, where I will see God and serve him as a resurrected being in a resurrected human society, where I will overflow with joy and delight in drawing nearer to God by studying him and his creation, and where I will exercise, to God’s glory, dominion over his creation?
Think carefully and often about matters of eternity, because eternity matters.

I want this T-shirt the next time I teach Decision Making and Will of God

Courtesy of Brandon

I love how it highlights that if someone claims God told them something then the burden of proof is on them to prove it.

Decision Making and Will of God is one of my favorite lessons to teach.  From a previous post:

This is such a crucial topic, because we make big and small decisions all the time and are constantly living with the consequences of past decisions.  Someone asked if God speaks to you about specific decisions when you are reading the Bible, such as whether you should pay off your mortgage.   I think this is about how you apply the Bible to decision making and not about whether God sends individual messages through his word.

For example, if you want to know whether paying off your mortgage is the right thing to do, you have a couple options:

  1. Ask God for a supernatural sign for the answer, whether it is a yes or a no (a la Gideon).  My guess is that He won’t decide for you that way, but it is always his option.  One thing we know about God is that if He wants to tell you something directly He isn’t very subtle.
  2. Use the wisdom model of decision making.  You don’t have access to God’s sovereign knowledge (Will I lose my job?  Will interest rates go up or down?  Etc.).  You do have unrestricted access to his moral will via the Bible. Example: Is it immoral to pay off your mortgage early?  No, unless that means you won’t have enough money to feed your kids.  After moral considerations, look to the wisdom angle.  Ask God for wisdom, as He promises to deliver — but as with Solomon, He doesn’t promise to decide everything for you.  Read the Proverbs (and more).  Seek the counsel of others.  Consider the pros and cons.  That’s how to make wise decisions.  Finally, provided the options are moral and wise, consider your personal preferences.  We have tremendous freedom in Christ to do many things with our time and money.  Will paying off your mortgage make you happy?  If so, then do it.

Here’s a picture of what is looks like:

Decision making and the will of God

Really short version: Aside from direct and clear personal revelation from God, you don’t have access to his sovereign will when making decisions.  Therefore you must look at other factors.  If it isn’t moral, don’t do it.  If it is moral but not wise, don’t do it.  If it is moral and wise, then use your personal preferences.

Using this model you can end up with a wise and biblical decision, but you have avoided the traps of the “God told me to ____” routine.  People who run around saying that God told them this and that convey a super-spirituality that can leave less mature believers wondering if they really have a relationship with God (i.e., “God doesn’t tell me every little thing to do, so maybe I don’t really know him.”).

The “God told me ___” routine can also be outright blasphemy, as when “Christians” claim that God is moving in a new direction counter to what He revealed in the Bible.  The United Church of Christ “God is still speaking;” theme is a good example of that.

Saturating yourself in the word is a key success factor in making good decisions. If we focus on worldly wisdom things go badly:

Jeremiah 17:9 The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?

But if we repent and do everything we can to see things from God’s point of view we will make better decisions.

Psalm 37:4 Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.

Romans 12:2 Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

This model will help you make good decisions in all areas of life.  You can also use it to help friends, children, etc. make good decisions.  I even use it at work as a “faith flag” at times.  If people ask career advice, for example, I pull out this diagram and share it with them (i.e., “At the risk of getting all religious on you, here’s the method I use to make decisions like that.”)

P.S. A kid came into my wife’s elementary school library yesterday and asked if she had any books on how to make good choices.  She thought of the diagram above and laughed.  Let’s just say I refer to this model now and then.  She thinks I should write a children’s book on decision making.  I think she is kidding.

Hat tip to Greg Koukl of Stand to Reason for much of this, including the diagram.

World religions & evangelism videos

I came across this post from a couple years ago and thought I’d re-run it.  This is one of my favorite topics to teach, although I prefer not having to cram it all into one hour!  It works better as a 6-8 week series where you can go more in-depth.

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pluralism.jpg

I did a one hour presentation on world religions for a church group and decided to video tape it as an experiment.  I was pleased with the content of the presentation but learned some things about lighting, sound and pace.  That will make the next one much better. I was hoping it would be shorter but it is hard to cover all world religions and some evangelism basics in one easy session.

I covered some foundational concepts that apply to all religions then addressed some key differences of Christianity versus Islam, Mormonism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Hare Krishnas, Wiccans and atheists (OK, that’s more of a world non-religion).

I shared experiences I’ve had in witnessing to people in these faiths and some things that helped navigate through conversations effectively.  You really can share the truth without starting a Jihad.

Go here to just see the PowerPoint slides.

Major thanks to Stand to Reason, where I learned much of this.