Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Mid-week addendum: So what about all those other religions?

To those who feel it's impossible to believe that just one path to salvation is right & true when so many paths are out there, I ask you to consider this:

Imagine for a second that you would stop at nothing to ruin your enemy. Now imagine this enemy (we'll call him "Bob") has an extremely valuable one-of-a-kind painting that he needs to sell for a lot of money.

If your greatest goal in life is to ruin Bob, and you know about his painting, what would you do?

You might try to steal or ruin it. But let's assume Bob's no idiot, and has it perfectly protected. You can't get to it. Now what?

You do something you can control and Bob can't stop - you flood the market with counterfeits. And then you make sure that everybody knows about them.

You do this because you know the best way to devalue what is real is to make people question it's reality. And the best way to do that is to create numerous competitors. People must be forced to ask themselves, "How can I possibly know which is the real painting?!"

If they can't answer easily, most people won't buy any of them - while others will give up trying to figure it out and content themselves with a copy. Either way, the more they doubt the better.

That's why counterfeiting anything is such a serious crime. It undermines the value, power, and meaning of the real thing.

Now let's also assume that Satan's no dummy. As long as some people sincerely follow the wrong path and others in disgust refuse to believe anything at all, he wins.

That is at least one way to answer the questions: Why are there so many religions out there? And why should I believe just one?

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Jesus Christ is the only way to salvation

You’ve heard the comments, right?

“Truly spiritual people are all alike, no matter what religion they profess.”
“Why would there be so many different religions if only one is true?”
“How could a God of love send a person to Hell just because he didn’t happen to believe in Jesus?”

You know what really chaps people’s hides? It’s the obnoxious, narrow-minded, arrogant exclusiveness of this claim. No, really, think about it. Where do Christians get off claiming that, not only is their way the only way, but that everyone else is just plain wrong? It is obnoxious and narrow-minded. And it’s just about the most exclusive claim a person could make. It is not, however, arrogant . . . if it is true.

And that’s precisely the issue here: Is the claim that Jesus Christ is the only way to eternal life true?

If it is true, then no narrowness of mind or accusation of intolerance means a thing. That’s just the way it is.

But if it’s not true, then who really cares what a bunch of (in that case) crazy people say?

So, to be fully redundant and absolutely clear: Although people will try to make it an issue of kindness, courtesy, intelligence, modern-thinking and even patriotism, this question is actually a question of truth - and nothing else.

Now, to my knowledge there is no extra-biblical proof for the only-ness of Christ. Unlike philosophical proofs for the existence of God, this point of doctrine cannot be reasoned out. It must be revealed, or it cannot be known. And so, only two questions need be addressed.

1. Does the Bible really make this claim?

Answer: It does. Jesus himself made it.*

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

These words – this claim – is so stunningly clear that the only way to get around it is to throw some mud and hope it sticks.

Maybe Jesus was wrong, the mud-tossers theorize. Maybe He just thought He was those things. People do make mistakes, you know.

Or, they continue, maybe He was misquoted. It happens all the time in the newspapers! Maybe what He actually said was: “I am a way, a version of the truth, and anyone can come to the Father any way they want.” **

For either of these diversions to even be possible, the Bible would have to be something less than true. Thus the importance of the second question.

2. Can the Bible be trusted?

Answer: I happen to think so.

I say there is a huge amount of proof that the Bible is true – not just spiritually or metaphorically true, but true the way we mean “true” when we use it in normal conversation. I will share those proofs in a later blod.

But for now, to put it in the simplest terms possible, it comes down to this: Do you believe the Word of God or do you not? I would say there are three possible answers to that question.

1. You believe. If that's the case then really, you have no choice. If you believe that the Bible is a God-given reliable documentation of reality, you must accept that there is only one way that people can be saved.

2. You say you believe the Bible is true but refuse to accept what it clearly teaches. In that case, you're indulging in stubborn disobedience or purposeful deception.

3. You do not believe the Bible is trustworthy. It may not really matter to you what the Bible says. You may reject it outright - or you may just not be quite there yet. Either way, thank you for reading, and I pray you'll continue.


* - John 14:6 is not the only place this claim is made. It’s all over the New Testament.

** - While this kind of attitude may be understandable from an unbeliever, as one Christian author puts it: “As a Christian, how can you explain Christ’s decision voluntarily to . . . accept all the real wrath of the Father for all of mankind’s past, present, and future sins, and to suffer the indescribable torment and death on the cross if all other paths to God are the same? What an immeasurable insult to the finished work of Christ on the cross!” (I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist, Forward)

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Creator, savior & king – Part 3 (kind of, but a little bit different)

One thing that has always baffled me about the absolute sovereignty of God is this: How do I know when to let go and just accept what God has allowed in my life?

For example, if I know that God is all-knowing, all-powerful and all-loving, and He allows a banking error that leaves my account showing $500 less than what I actually have, do I:

1. Just accept it and move on?
2. Contact the bank once and ask them to fix it? And if nothing happens give up?
3. Keep contacting the bank until they file a cease-and-desist order?
4. Rob the bank, but take only the $500 they owe me?

Assuming that #4 is disqualified for obvious reasons, what about numbers 1 through 3? What about number 2.5 – which is probably right, but I don’t know what it is?

If we fight too much, we may end up fighting God.
But giving in too quickly could also make us disobedient - not to mention irresponsible & foolish.

So, where's the point of balance?

I don’t know.

I’m the guy who either gives up too easily or continues to fight too long. Or (worst of all), I give up at exactly the right moment, but then question my decision. And when I do that, I go around & around in small tight circles in my head, getting more & more stressed out trying to decide if I should re-open the issue or if it's too late for that. I don't do this every time, of course, but when I do it can be very unpleasant.

It would be great if I could figure out exactly what my responsibility is and then, when I hit that line, give it up completely with a peaceful and trusting heart. What I really want is a formula – something clear, precise, universally applicable, and easy. But I suspect that no such thing exists. In fact, if I had to guess, I’d say it’s probably more a matter of applying faith, maturity, responsibility and wisdom to every decision I make. Worse yet, it almost certainly differs situation to situation and moment to moment.

And that's hard and it's frustrating.
But here's the silver lining - the inevitable "God's working even in this!" element: While this kind of slithering ambiguity is the toughest thing to pin down, it may also be the very best thing for me in the long run. Because if nothing else will, maybe it will force me to sharpen my spiritual ears and inspire more quiet time just listening to my Lord.

Anyway, I think it's a good question, this question of divine sovereignty vs individual responsibility.
It's is one of the core questions of the Faith.
It's where theology meets real life head on.
It’s where the rubber meets the road.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Creator, savior & king – Part 2

Like I said before (twice now), he made us, he saves us, and everything that happens to us is under His control.

But I’d be really surprised if no one noticed the huge glaring loophole in last week’s blod.

That loophole is this: We all live inside our own skin and think inside our own heads. So we know that not everything we do is under God’s control.

There are plenty of times (every day!) that we know exactly what we ought to do – and we don’t do it. And what we must avoid at all costs – and we do it anyway. The word for that kind of activity is “sin”. It happens when we reject the rulership of God and decide, for even just one brief moment, to be in charge of ourselves.

Now, please note that we can be in charge of ourselves and still not sin simply by doing what God commands. That’s being responsible & righteous. But when we use the freedom God gives us to do things He doesn’t want us to do, then we have a problem.

So then, how can anyone with any self-awareness at all make the claim that God is in control of everything that happens? The answer is fairly simple.

1. God will sometimes, for our own good, rescind our freedom to do certain things

We can take control and make the decision to do something extremely or only slightly destructive. But sometimes, (although we have already sinned just by deciding to do it) God loves us enough to revoke our ability to carry it out.

I’ve experienced this kind of caring forbidding in my life.

I worked hard enough my last two years of college to earn a place in the masters program at Harvard Divinity School. I was in charge. I worked really hard, I filled out the applications, and I went to the interviews. And I made it. But thrilled as I was, it was not the right thing to do. It was wrong for my kids, wrong for my wife, and if I had actually pursued my course of study there I have no doubt my faith in God (and probably even my belief in God) would have been destroyed.

At the time, I wanted to think going there was right, but looking back years later, I know it would have been a tragedy. And I have no doubt the only reason it didn’t happen is because God stepped in and forbade it.

Long story very short, we drove a U-Haul from L.A. to Boston and got literally kicked out of town. Then, out of time, out of money (and out of trouble!), we got back into our truck and drove away. Considering the shocking number of random factors that went into chasing us off, there is no way it was a natural occurrence. God had said “no”.

That was the worst moment in my life, and the greatest protective blessing I’ve ever received.

2. Nothing throws Him for a loop

Other times, God allows us to go ahead and make the mistake we want to make, but without ever forfeiting control of the situation. God is perfectly able to incorporate our sins and their affects into His perfect plan.

And this is true whether we sin or are sinned against.

Want a great example? How about this one? It’s Joseph’s response to his brothers who had sold him into slavery and then told their father he’d been killed by wild animals.

“As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.” (Genesis 50:20)

The brothers had committed serious, conscious, intentional evil. The victim was innocent and suffered much for many years. But still, he could look back on everything as a whole and proclaim that even in the face of great betrayal God was a good and gracious king in complete control.

How incredibly important that understanding is!

So here’s the thing: If we’re ever going to mature in our faith beyond an infantile level, we must abandon our weak and pathetic understanding of God’s sovereignty. He’s not just king, lord, and master when we let Him be – or when things are going well for us.

He is king, lord, and master always, entirely, and eternally.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Creator, savior & king – Part 1

It seems to me that one of the best ways to establish the greatness & worship-worthiness of God is by understanding that He controls absolutely everything.

Like I said before, he made us, he saves us, and everything that happens to us is under His control. And I’ll say it again – everything.

Anyone can doubt this fact when things seem to be falling apart around us, so it’s a good idea to get it settled in our heads now when things are relatively peaceful. (And even if they’re not, you’re still encouraged to participate.)

First, the promises

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28)

I hate to be a stickler (seriously, I can’t stand stickling), but I have to point out something that is regularly glossed right over. This promise is real, and it’s watertight. But, it is not universal. People seem to forget that. But look at the words. Who exactly is the promise for (and for no one else)? It’s for “those who love God” and “those who are called according to his purpose”. You have to be cooperating with the plan of God before you can claim the protection of God. This kind of blessing is not for everyone.

Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain. (Psalm 127:1)

Keep in mind that these statements are absolutely true. They’re not nice ideas or even beautiful wishes. They are also not poetic license. They’re true, and they say that if God doesn’t either cause or allow something to be it will not be. You can do whatever you want, but it will end in nothing if God doesn’t approve. This is also true for other people, earthquakes, Satan, mosquitoes, ice cubes, etc.

Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. (Matt 10:29~31)

There are four key points in the verses above.
1. Even two sparrows have almost no value at all.
2. You are much more valuable than many sparrows.
3. Nothing happens to the worthless sparrows “apart from” God’s will, so is it possible that things just randomly happen to you?
4. The words translated "apart from" are from a Greek word meaning “without one's will or intervention”.

These are just four specific examples of a theme that runs throughout the Bible: There is no such thing as chance. There’s no luck. There’s no fate. What there is is a powerful & loving God.

Now, the logic

If God is God, he must be perfect in every way. There are philosophical proofs for this, but I won’t go into them now. For now, just trust me.

If God is perfect in every way – and if the biblical accounts of His character are even close to accurate – then He must be perfect in knowledge, power and His greatest attribute, love.

If God is all-knowing He can never make a mistake. There’s never been a divine oops, and there never will be. He knows everything about everything. Okay? Now, hold that thought.

If God is all-powerful, there is nothing He cannot do. Nothing He cannot do. Nothing. All of which seems to indicate that He can do anything.

And finally, if God is all-loving, He will always act in perfect love. For this to make any sense, you have to realize that love, as defined in the Bible, is not a feeling. It’s an attitude. And the attitude is one in which the lover desires and does the best for the beloved no matter what.

So, let’s summarize what we have here:
1. God knows everything about you.
2. God can do absolutely anything He chooses to do.
3. This same God has promised to always seek your greatest good.

He’s never going to make any mistakes – like the time that in all sincerity, I got my wife a wooden ladder for Christmas and wrapped it in a black trash bag. (She did not like that.)

And He’s never going to try to stop evil from happening to you but find Himself too weak.


It’s the “tri-fecta of faith”.
It’s also pretty awesome when you think about it. And I encourage you to think about it.

Now, like a very wise man (note: that man was me) has said: “You do the math.”