Tell Me About Your Jesus

I posted on social media recently a question to others who’ve professed their faith in Christ.

If someone said to you, “Tell me about your Jesus,” how would you respond?

There were some good online dialogue.

Then one friend commented, “Nick, how would you respond?”

Hopefully, the “nuts & bolts” below will help bring confidence to so many of us who are timid about sharing our faith.  It can be fairly terrifying.  (Satan will make certain of it.) But, nothing will more infuse your soul with supernatural adrenaline than telling someone about Jesus.

Below is my reply:

With a statement as powerful as “Tell me about your Jesus,” I, personally, would be careful to ask questions often to better understand if I am going in the right direction. The answers offered to my questions would help me understand the person’s present worldview (atheistic, agnostic, seeker, works-based religion, mysticism, etc.)

Understanding a person’s worldview helps tremendously.  Author and defender of the Christian faith, Gregory Koukl, in his book, The Story of Reality, proposes that every worldview attempts, at some point, to answer four basic questions: (1) Where did we come from? (2) What went wrong? i.e. why is the world a mess, (3) What is the solution to this mess?, and (4) How does it end for us?

By far, the Bible does the best job of answering all four of these questions.

1. I would most likely begin with making certain they understand that the Jesus of history truly existed and that the vast majority of historians (Christian & non-Christian) agree on four basic tenets about Christ: (1) Jesus certainly existed – even UNC New Testament professor, Bart Ehrman, who describes himself as “agnostic with atheistic leanings” states that Jesus “certainly existed”, (2) he was executed by crucifixion by the Romans, (3) he was buried in a borrowed grave, and (4) on Sunday the tomb was empty. Of course, it’s point No. 4 where the debate begins – “why was the tomb empty?”

2. Then, I would do my best to explain the simple gospel story (“gospel” means “good news”). I would let them know that God gifted us with not one – but four – perspectives of the life of Jesus: the New Testament books of Matthew, Mark, Luke & John. Together, the four stories provide a rich and powerful story of love and hope through the man, Christ Jesus. I would then provide various scriptures from those stories about the love of God given to us in his Son.

3. It’s important to allow the person to stop us any time they desire and ask questions. Also, should the questions come across as dismissive about the Bible, try not to come across defensive. Jesus not only encountered the same responses, he seemed to welcomed them as it gave way to healthy dialogue.  Search the gospels and you will discover it is full of people who strongly questioned Jesus’ claims. Even Jesus’ own family, early on, thought he was a nut case. So, should your friend have objections simply reply with something like, “That’s actually a great point. And a lot of people feel that way. (Pilate looked at Jesus and asked, “What is truth?”) Could I try and bring some clarity to your question from the Bible?” Or, if you have no clue how to answer their question simply reply, “That’s a wonderful question. Would you mind if i do some research and get back to you on what i find?”  It is critical to always be kind and respectful. 

4. Most of all, our ability to share our faith depends on prayer and study of the scriptures as it defends on nothing else. One can have the New Testament memorized (Satan does), but if that person is not allowing the Holy Spirit to fill and control them they will be of little use to impact the kingdom. And the old saying is true: people don’t care how much we know until they know how much they care. Per that last statement, make certain they can tell you’re simply discussing the answer to their query and not attempting for force the Christian faith on them (Jesus never imposed himself or his message on a single person.)

5. Also, never worry about an initial conversation turning out to be “part one” of an ongoing conversation. I had a “part one” conversation just a couple of weeks ago with a person seeking truth. Only God can change a heart. We are merely the messenger.

Sometimes, people are more philosophical and have many great (and hard) questions. And, then there are times when the Holy Spirit will use the most simple of responses to the statement, “Tell me about your Jesus,” to convict a listener’s heart. Such an account is recorded in Acts 16 when the Philippian jailer asked Paul & Silas, “What must I do to be saved?” They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved.” It appears that was enough for the jailer – as well as his entire family.

6. Finally, I like to inform people with whom I’m visiting that the Christian faith is nothing close to the “opium of the people” as Karl Marx once described religion. Nor is it an emotional crutch or a fairy tale, as some derisively call it. Quite the contrary, it is a rational, intelligent faith – a faith God actually encourages people to test and examine. The Bible is based on actual history – history that can be fact-checked. The gospels, according to historians, seem to fit best in the category of ancient Greco-Roman biography and, when scrutinized and weighed against the same criteria as other ancient literature, prove to be overwhelmingly reliable. The Homeric Epics come nowhere close to manuscript evidence of the New Testament, and no one questions their validity. Further, scholars, scientists and academics from the likes of Yale, MIT, Cornell, Harvard, Dartmouth, Stanford, UC-Irvine, Notre Dame, Cambridge and Oxford, just to name a few of the myriad of scholars, have placed their faith in the risen Christ.

The first verses I learned when being taught to share the gospel are commonly referred to as The Roman Road.  Simple and brief, I would encourage you to have them highlighted in your Bible and, even better, memorized. They are:

Romans 3:23 – If the Bible is indeed true, we have a serious, life-impacting problem: we are separated from God because of our sin.

Romans  6:23 – A bad news/good news verse.  There is a horrific consequence for this problem.  And there is also a solution: the “free” gift of eternal life in Christ Jesus. This “gift” had to be provided because of the first part of this verse: sin has a inviolable consequence: death.  Because of human sin, someone had to die.

Romans  5:8  –  The gift is free to us, but it was not truly “free” for it cost God the life of his Son.  Jesus died in our place, absorbing all the wrath of God on himself – for our sin. Why did Jesus do this?  Because of his boundless love for us.

Romans 10:9-10 – How do we accept this gift?  A gift can’t be earned by human effort; it is, by faith, accepted by a willing and believing heart.  So, when we agree with God that our sin has separated us from him and that he has provided for us a saving solution through the sacrifice and resurrection of his Son, the Bible says, “you will be saved.”  Saved from what?  The Bible calls it the second death (following physical death), or hell.  Further, those who profess faith in the risen Christ are made righteous in the sight of God – in right standing before God.  This means that a holy, terrifying Judge no longer sees us in our sin, but as he intended for us to be.  In short, he sees in us the righteousness, purity and holiness of his Son imputed to us through faith.

Hope this helps. Much love, Nick

Chosen But Free – The Biblical Doctrine of Election

NOTE: The issue of “election vs. free will” will forever be debated.  What is critical, though, is that a believer leans fully on the authority and sufficiency of Scripture, without adding to, or taking away.  Conjecture, speculation and theory are good for earthly debate.  But, when all the dust settles, there is only one authority: the Word of God.  “Your word is truth,” Jesus said to the Father.[1]   Even the most intelligent of biblical scholars will never fully understand all the mysteries of the Bible.   But, that’s why it’s “by faith we are saved,”[2] and not by mere human intellect, logic & reason.  Volumes have been written on this topic.  I am merely sharing a few thoughts in this blog.  It would be impossible to write all I would like.

 Here’s the question I was asked recently:

If God, being fully sovereign, has already pre-ordained all past, present & future events how can I believe that I can choose anything of my own free will?  And, if God is fully sovereign, what about the atrocities of the Crusades, the Dark Ages, the Holocaust, crimes again children, etc?  Did God preordain these events?  If you say He didn’t, then are you telling me He was “caught off guard”[3] by them?  Tell me, is God totally in charge or partially in charge?  It can’t be both.

Oh, the tangled and exhausting mess we find ourselves in when we begin to assign to God what He can and cannot do, or what He can and cannot be.  Not to mention that it angers God:

Then the LORD answered Job out of the storm. He said: “Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge?  Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me. “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand.[4]

God continued….

The LORD said to Job: “Will the one who contends with the Almighty correct him? Let him who accuses God answer him!” Then Job answered the LORD: “I am unworthy-how can I reply to you? I put my hand over my mouth. I spoke once, but I have no answer- twice, but I will say no more.” Then the LORD spoke to Job out of the storm: “Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me.[5]

Clearly, the Bible says that we – not God – will be the ones answering the questions, not him. (Unless he chooses to do so.)

 

That said, how would you have answered the question posed above?

 

Here’s how I responded:

Chosen But Free [6] – that’s the title of theologian/apologist, Norman Geisler’s, book on this white-hot topic among evangelicals.   Geisler, as well as Spurgeon, Packer, MacArthur, and other respected biblical scholars, affirms what simply doesn’t make sense to us. He affirms both the sovereignty and foreknowledge of God and the human responsibility to either receive or reject Him.

Why should we even want to sort through this controversial of a topic?  I like the way A.W. Tozer answers this question:

“What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.”[7]

So, which is it?  Are we all robots that God has wound up, setting us on our way to live a pre-programmed set of life-long thoughts and actions?  Or, are we free to make our own choices?

Again, are we, as human beings, merely following a program, of sorts, that’s been downloaded into our psyche by God before we existed?  Are we mindless slaves who, unbeknownst to us, have no real choice in anything we say or do?   If that’s so, why would Jesus say things like, “Whosoever will…?[8]

Because by saying, “whosoever” it sounds a whole lot like Jesus is saying, “you have a choice: accept me or reject me.”  The first Bible verse almost everyone on planet earth learns is “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believes in him…”  (John 3:16)

On the other hand, what is God talking about when the Bible over and over again speaks of His “elect” i.e. “chosen ones?”[9]  Has He already made up His mind as to who will go to heaven and who will go to hell? i.e. “who’s in, and who’s out?”   Wayne Grudem asserts,

“Several passages in the New Testament seem to affirm quite clearly that God ordained beforehand those who would be saved.”[10]  In John 17, verses 2, 6, and 24, Jesus seems to be praying for only those the Father “has given Him” and, in verse 12, acknowledges that one has already been “doomed for destruction so that the Scripture would be fulfilled.”?

Biblical passages like the following appear to make it clear it doesn’t matter what we think or do:

  • It does not, therefore, depend on man’s desire or effort, but on God’s mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh: “I raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden.[11]
  • But [God] stands alone, and who can oppose Him?  He does whatever He pleases.[12]

 

Again, which is it?  Robots?  Or, free to choose?

 

Simply put, this is one of those doctrines that will forever cause our human intellect to short-circuit.  Consider the following humorous illustration:

“There was a group of theologians discussing the doctrines of predestination and free will. When the argument became heated, the dissidents split into two groups. One man, unable to make up his mind which group to join, slipped into the predestination crowd.  Challenged as to why he was there, he replied, ‘I came of my own free will.’ The group retorted, ‘Free will! You don’t belong here!’ So he retreated to the opposing group and, when asked why he switched, responded, ‘I was sent here.’ ‘Get out,’ they stormed.  ‘You can’t join us unless you come of your own free will!” The confused man was left out in the cold.”[13]

 

A little History:  Calvinism

  • The debate regarding “Predestination (God’s already predestined every human thought and action) and Free Will (we have the freedom to make our own choices)” is nothing new.  It’s been a source of major theological difference since Augustine and Pelagius argued about it in the early fifth century.  In Erwin Lutzer’s, Doctrines That Divide, this topic, alone, occupies a third of its pages.  Healthy debate is actually a very good thing, though.  It teaches us to think deeply.  And having our convictions challenged only makes us stronger in knowing why we belive what we believe.  Problems develop as a result of the reckless, uneducated comments that fly out of the mouths of “self-appointed authorities” on both sides.
  • In 1538, the reformer/theologian, John Calvin, wrote his Institutes of the Christian Religion, which, for centuries, served as the basic textbook of theology for most Protestants.  Later, in 1618-1619, the Synod of Dort convened in the Netherlands to defend Calvin’s “Institutes” against contrary teachings and came up with what is today commonly known as “Five Point Calvinism,” often identified by the acrostic: “TULIP”: Total Depravity; Unconditional Election; Limited Atonement; Irresistible Grace; and Perseverance of the Saints.  “Limited Atonement” is the point that conveys the message that Christ died for “the elect” only. (Or, more pointedly, that God has predestined some for heaven and some for hell. This ideal is commonly known as “double predestination.”)
  • As stated earlier, history proves that godly men have fiercely debated this doctrine.  The great 18th century preacher, George Whitefield, agreed with this doctrine and taught that any contrary teaching was blasphemy.  But,… the great preacher and hymn-writer, John Wesley, argued that limited atonement “made God a devil.”  For 17 centuries, the debate has raged on.  Today, we have very godly, educated scholars still disagreeing…still debating…and they always will.

 

Familiarize Yourself with the Word “Antimony.”

  • “Antimony,” by definition, is: “an apparent contradiction between valid principles or conclusions that seem equally necessary and reasonable.”
  • The first chapter of Ephesians, Paul addresses our being predestined for salvation.  Pastor/Teacher, John MacArthur, does a masterful job of explaining this element in his commentary on Ephesians:
  • “God’s sovereign election and man’s exercise of responsibility in choosing Jesus Christ seem opposite and irreconcilable truths – and from our limited human perspective they are opposite and irreconcilable. That is why so many earnest, well-meaning Christians throughout the history of the church have floundered trying to reconcile them. Since the problem cannot be resolved by our finite minds, the result is always to compromise one truth in favor of the other or to weaken both by trying to take a position somewhere between them. We should let the antimony remain, believing both truths completely and leaving the harmonizing of them to God…..It is not that God’s sovereign election, or predestination, eliminates man’s choice in faith. Divine sovereignty and human response are integral and inseparable parts of salvation – though exactly how they operate together only the infinite mind of God knows.”[14]

  • A perfect example of antimony is: “Was Judas ‘predestined’ to betray Jesus Christ? If so, what kind of God would do such a thing?!”  True: Judas was predestined.  Also true: Judas had choice in the matter.[15]  So, which was it?  Both.  But it contradicts human logic, reason and intellect.  I agree with former Houston Baptist University professor, Robert Creech, Ph.d, who said, “Anything that undermines the love of God is rightly suspect.”[16]  The problem of Judas is simply antimony.
  • In Romans 9:15, God says, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.”  What part of that verse is hard to understand?  Bottom line: God has the last word.  And He basis His will on His wisdom, not ours.  Archbishop, William Temple, once said, “One of the things believers are most fond of doing is thinking they’re more spiritual than God.”   In Romans 11:33-34, Paul wrote: “Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! “Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?”
  • Finally, God said through the prophet, Isaiah, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9 NIV)

 

“Which is right? ‘Predestination’ or ‘Free Will?” The answer is: “Yes.”

  • As one friend once told me, “We were predestined to have free will.”
  • John MacArthur writes, The Bible is clear that “no person receives Jesus Christ as Savior who has not been chosen by God:”[17] John 6:44; Romans 8:29-30; Romans 9:11, 14-15; Eph. 1:4-5; 1 Thess. 1:4; 1 Peter 1:2.
  • But,.. equally clear in Scripture, MacArthur continues: “The frequent commands to the unsaved to respond to the Lord clearly indicate the responsibility of man to exercise his own will.”[18]  Matt. 3:1-2; Matt. 4:17; Matt. 11:28-30; John 3:16; John 5:40; John 6:37; John 7:37-39; John 11:26; Rev. 22:17. Interestingly, Luke 2:10, records the angel, Gabriel, proclaiming, “I bring you good news of great joy that shall be for all people.”….not “some” people.
  • Again – and I can’t emphasize this enough – the Bible clearly teaches that God is 100% sovereign.  But, the Bible also teaches that of mankind’s responsibility, or freedom to choose.  The New Testament is replete with Jesus’ invitation to all mankind, the dozens of “whosoever will’s”.  Paul wrote to Timothy, “For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior; Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.”  Then Peter writes, “The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.”  (Hyper-Calvinists will jump through all kinds of theological hoops trying desperately to dismiss these passages as in support of the free will of man.)
  • One of my college professors, paraphrasing Charles Spurgeon, explained it to me this way: Throughout Scripture two abiding truths are told time and again: 1) God is in absolute and complete control (He is sovereign), and 2) people are responsible for their choices (humans have free will).  In high level human logic, those two truths are incompatible – sort of like a “married bachelor” – it is completely contradictory.  But, in God’s economy, it works.  As Spurgeon stated, those truths are like the two rails on a railroad track. They are parallel and never touch, but you have to have both for the train to go anywhere.[19]

 

Accept the Fact That Some People Just Enjoy Arguing.

  • Know that this conclusion will only frustrate some.  But, typically, these are folks who, for whatever reason, just enjoy arguing.  It frustrates them that they can’t wrap their mind around God. They are foolish to ever think they could. They can’t stand it when things like this don’t “add up.”  But, neither do talking donkeys, huge bodies of water parting, or virgin births, all of which are in our Bible.  You can’t cherry-pick which miracles you’re going to allow to be inexplicable.
  • Author & theologian, J.I. Packer:  There is among Christians “the reluctance to recognize the existence of mystery and to let God be wiser than men.” He goes onto write that some people simply “are not content to let [predestination and free will] live side by side, as they do in the Scriptures…..The desire to over-simplify the Bible by cutting out the mysteries is natural to our perverse minds, and it is not surprising that even good men should fall victim to it..”[20] 
  • Unfortunately, people still enjoy throwing the body of Christ “into confusion”[21] with rhetoric that is just plain irresponsible. God’s already told us that He’s “not a God of disorder, but of peace.” (1 Cor. 14:33)  So avoid combative, argumentative dialogue on this topic.  If you find someone that refuses to validate your position simply leave or talk about something else. Because whether they want to admit it or not, this issue will not be settled in this life.
  • And, speaking of arguing…

 

A Warning:  Hyper-Calvinists

  • A person would be categorized as a hyper-calvinist if the following applies:  they are not satisfied with simply holding to a strict argument for the Five Points of Calvinism.  They want you to believe it too.  All of it.  They argue their case self-righteously, almost angrily, giving little or no respect for opposing arguments and opinions.
  • Jesus never imposed his convictions on anyone.  But this person has absolutely no interest in civil discourse.  Rather, they want to bully their interlocutor into aligning their conviction with theirs.
  • As a result, the hyper-calvinist, like the ancient Pharisees, foolishly believes they’re on a level with the mind of God as they laughably attempt to mold God into their own little theological box created by their mere human logic, reason and intellect.
  • Should you ever encounter a person who fits this profile, simply smile and walk away.  This person loves to argue.  Any attempt to have an adult conversation with them will suck the very life out of you while their rambling, arrogant logic takes you with them down the proverbial rabbit hole. 🙂

 

 Final Thoughts:

  • Holding to the Bible teaching that God is 100% sovereign (I do believe this) means God is responsible for all the blessings in my life.  But he’s also responsible for my son taking his life.  (He could’ve stopped it.)  It’s either all on God, or it isn’t.  You can’t have it both ways.  But, like Job’s terrifying experience meeting God that day beginning in Job 38, I’ve also made a choice not to question God’s fathomless wisdom.  In my cognitive dissonance – rather than futilely attempt to spend my life trying to figure God out, I’ve chosen to focus on the cross.  Why? Because of the Cross and the Empty Tomb my son is more alive than he’s ever been.  And a reunion is coming. There are simply some mysteries that won’t be revealed until we reach heaven.  Paul told the Corinthians: “Now we see things imperfectly as in a poor mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God knows me now.”[22]
  • Let me finish with a quote from the great 19th century, British preacher/ theologian, Charles Haddon Spurgeon:

“The system of truth revealed in the Scriptures is not simply one straight line, but two; and no man will ever get a right view of the gospel until he knows how to look at the two lines at once…..I see, in one place, God in providence presiding over all, and yet I see, and I cannot help seeing, that man acts as he pleases, and that God has left his actions, in a great measure, to his own free will. Now, if I were to declare that man was so free to act that there was no control of God over his actions, I should be driven very near to atheism; and if, on the other hand, I should declare that God so over-rules all things that man is not free enough to be responsible, I should be driven at once into antimonianism or fatalism. That God predestines, and yet that man is responsible, are two facts that few can see clearly. They are believed to be inconsistent and contradictory, but they are not. The fault is in our weak judgment. Two truths cannot be contradictory to each other…..They are two lines that are so nearly parallel, that the human mind which pursues them farthest will never discover that they converge; but they do converge, and they will meet somewhere in eternity, close to the throne of God, whence all truth doth spring.”[23]

 

Soli Deo Gloria, Nick

 End Notes

[1] John 17:17, NIV; See also Isaiah 40:8

[2] Ephesians 2:8, NIV

[3] The term used to describe God as One who can be “caught off guard” or not completely certain of what happens next is:  “Open Theism.”

[4] Job 38:1-4, NIV

[5] Job 40:1-7, NIV

[6] Norman Geisler.  Chosen But Free, 2001.

[7] A.W. Tozer.  The Knowledge of the Holy, 1978.  Quoted by Norman Geisler in Chosen But Free.

[8] Matthew 10:32; 12:50; Mark 9:37; Luke 9:24; John 3:16

[9] Matthew 24:22, 24; Romans 8:33; In Colossians 3:12, the Amplified describes “chosen ones” as “His own picked representatives.”

[10] Wayne Grudem, Ph.D.  Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine, 1994.

[11] Romans 9:16-18, NIV

[12] Job 23:13, NIV

[13] Edwin Lutzer. Doctrines That Divide. 1998.

[14] John MacArthur.  MacArthur Commentary on Ephesians, 1986.

[15] For an excellent commentary on Judas, see John MacArthur’s, Twelve Ordinary Men, 2002.

[16] Robert Creech, Ph.D.  Quote included in a personal e-mail from Dr. Creech.  2000

[17] MacArthur.  Ephesians.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Larry McGraw, Ph.D. Professor of Theology. Hardin-Simmons University. Abilene, TX.

[20] J.I. Packer. Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God. 1991

[21] Galatians 1:7, NIV

[22] 1 Corinthians 13:12, NLT

[23] Charles Spurgeon.  A Defense of Calvinism, 1897.  Included in “A Heritage of Great Evangelical Teaching,” 1996.

Why Pray? (Does it really make any difference?)

I want to thank everyone for your kind and encouraging words regarding the message I preached on June 16th about the mystery of prayer and why God, through human eyes, seems so capricious i.e. why does he answer some prayers and not others?

My daughter, Macy Watts, listened to it yesterday and told me should couldn’t stop crying. (Most of the time that’s what happens when they find out I’m that day’s preacher. )

Why pray? Because Jesus did.

Why flood heaven with requests? Because Jesus did.

I shared the following with Macy. Perhaps, for those who are wrestling with this spiritual disciple called prayer, my response to Macy may be of some encouragement. love to you all. nw

“Macy, the topic (of why God answers some prayers and not others) has always been problematic for me. Way before Jordan died I would hear testimonies of people talking about how their loved one had stopped drinking or using drugs. I begged God to heal my dad and sister. They died anyway. Or about someone who had been reconciled with their dad or mom. And I would ask God, “Why them and not me??” But, at some point, you just have to strip away the veneer and ask the question behind it all: “can I trust God, or not?” It’s a hard question sometimes. In Daniel 9:23 the angel, Gabriel, came in “swift flight” to tell Daniel, “As soon as you began to pray, an answer was given.” If I am going to believe John 3:16 I have to believe Dan. 9:23 right? I can’t cherry-pick which scriptures I’m going to believe and which ones I’m not. At some point in one’s life you have to drive a stake in the ground and, with your Bible in your hand, say to God, “Life is hard. I don’t understand most of it. But I’m going to believe this book, by faith alone, in Christ alone.” And then walk away with the issue once and for all settled. As my brother/friend, Joe Price, told me after Jordan Blake Watts took his life, “If faith was easy, it wouldn’t be called faith.”

When Macy texted me after listening to the message she included my closing quote:

“It appears to me that God has decided that he can use me better in my pain than with my son still here. I don’t understand it. I don’t like it. I don’t have the answers that I need. But I’ve chosen to believe that God is still God. And that God is still good.”

For Narnia, nw

Satan’s Relentless Pursuit to Take Us Out

I had been in full-time, vocational ministry for just over 30 years when, for the first time in my life, I gained new insight into the depth of the evil Satan possesses.

After my son, Jordan, took his life I was crippled in every way, en route to being hospitalized for suicidal thoughts myself.

As you can imagine, during that first year, I, numerous times, broke down into screaming madness on the floor.

Later, as I reflected back on those moments of unspeakable pain, I recalled how intense the battle was for my mind. I remember distinctly a voice in my head telling me to “finish the job. Go see your son. Your family will be much better off without your broken mind. Finish the job.”

Logic says that, at that point in my life, being 100% useless to the kingdom of heaven here on planet earth, Satan would’ve moved on to someone else.

But he didn’t.

Satan didn’t care that I was beat down.

His goal? Finish the job. Take me out. Hurt my family deeper.

I learned from a counselor once, “You can’t fight an enemy you don’t know exists.”

According to the Bible, the devil exists. And he hates everything about you.

If you’ve placed your faith in Christ, you are an active threat to his plans.

If you’ve never placed your faith in Christ, you potentially could do that one day. That makes you a potential threat.

He. Hates. You. And won’t stop attempting to take you out.

Marriage in shambles? Just lost a loved one? Just diagnosed with cancer? Suffering from crippling depression? Facing unanticipated financial crisis? Been recently betrayed. Wrestling with addiction? Lost your job? (Insert here your most recent crushing life event.) The list goes on…

Satan doesn’t care how hard life is for you. He’s coming after you to finish the job.

Two gospel writers, Matthew & Luke, record the temptation narratives (the “showdown in the desert” between Christ and Satan), recorded in chapter 4 of each gospel.

There are a dozen sermons in those passages. Mine here is just one:

After failing to get Jesus to sin the first time, Matthew records, “Then the devil..” (4:5)

Satan wasn’t going to give up.

After failing yet a second time, Matthew records in verse 8, “Again, the devil…”

He still wasn’t going to give up.

**While the Cross offers us mercy, the devils offers us none.**

Finally, Jesus ordered Satan, “Away from me, Satan!” And Satan had no choice but to leave.

But Luke adds this ominous warning: the devil “departed from [Jesus] until an opportune time.” (4:13)

Paul reminds believers that, because of Christ, “we overwhelmingly conquer through him who loved us.” (Romans 8:37) The disciple, John, put it this way: “Greater is he who is in us, than he who is in the world.” (1 Jn. 4:4)

This biblical truth is catastrophic to the work of Satan.  So, naturally, he works tirelessly to get us to forget it.

This way he can continue his relentless, systematic, and methodical strategy to take out families and individuals. Once and for all.

You can’t fight an enemy you don’t know exists.

My objective here is to remind you we have an enemy.

But, he is no match for the risen King, Jesus Christ, at whose presence the devil cowers in terror.

“Put on the whole armor of God,” an imprisoned Paul wrote, “that you may be able to take your stand against the schemes of the devil.”

Soli Deo Gloria.

For Narnia, Nick

Stop Trying to be Good Enough

freedom

Good works are not required for salvation. Rather, they are evidence of our salvation.

Whether it’s being faithful to our spouse, honest in our business/academic dealings, keeping our thought-life pure, being patient behind a slow-as-Christmas driver, or even attending church…

These “good works,” albeit moral, don’t “get us into heaven.” Further, by God’s standards, there’s no one on planet earth who is “good.” (cf. Romans 3:10-12)

The “older brother” in Jesus’ story of the two sons in Luke 15:11-31 did everything “right” i.e. checked off all his “good works” boxes – and he still was just as lost as his prodigal bother had been.

The Bible is crystal clear: placing our faith in the death of Christ on the cross and in his resurrection “gets us into heaven.”  Paul wrote,

If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” Romans 10:9

If even the tiniest “good work” saved us, Christ died for nothing. But, not only did his death mean something, it meant everything. This is what Jesus meant when, from the cross, he cried, “It is finished.”

Paul wrote,

“It was for freedom that Christ has set us free.” (Galatians 5:1)

Free from what? Free from tirelessly trying to “check off a list of ‘good works’”, thinking our human effort will make us good enough for God to love us.

Stop trying to be “good enough” for God to love you. This is known as legalism And it is a crippling form of spiritual bondage.

In the words of author, Philip Yancey,

“There’s nothing you can do to make God love you more, and nothing you can do to make God love you any less.

God’s love for us is fixed, inexorably, because of Christ’s excruciating death and resurrection.

Again, “good works” are not required for salvation. But rather, they are evidence of our salvation.

This is precisely why Jesus said, “If you love me, you’ll do what I’ve told you to do.” (Jn. 14:15) It all begins with our love for, and devotion to, him.

Anyone can fake their love for someone by going through the motions of kindness and goodness using calculated pretense and deception.

We can fool some people some of the time.

But we can never fool God.

Place your faith in the risen Christ. Be free.

The “good works” will supernaturally follow. )

Love to you all, Nick

Minor Prophets with a Major Message: Malachi (My response to the Prosperity Gospel)

No one likes to hear a sermon on giving.

But this sermon will be different than what you might be expecting.

When Malachi steps onto the scene a lot has happened over the last few centures:  Israel has, due to widespread spiritual rebellion, exhausted God’s patience, suffered punishment in way of being conquered by neighboring nations, taken into decades-long exile, and finally been released to return to their homeland in and around Jerusalem.

In the book of Malachi, a century has passed since they were allowed to return home.  Unbelievably, they were given permission to rebuild their destroyed temple.  They started out in a blaze of glory.  But, discouragement became complacency which became apathy which led down the proverbial rabbit hole of “Devotion to God is a complete waste of time.  From now on, I’m looking our for No. 1.”  As one scholar observed, their sin and rebellion against God was worse now than it ever was before they were taken into exile.

People seem to never learn.

Malachi’s job was, like all ancient prophets, an unpopular one.  He was to call Israel to account, pointing out how arrogant and self-absorbed they’d become.  They had become quite okay with telling God, in essence, to shove off – you’re just in the way.  (This would be the same God who had, throughout history, saved them over and over again from their own idiocy, as well as from enemy nations.)

As God, through Malachi, began listing all the ways Israel had abandoned their devotion to him, all they could do was, like spoiled children, smart off back to the prophet.

The book of Malachi is a fitting ending, actually, to the age of the prophets.  Following Malachi would be 400 years of seeming silence from God.  The next prophet would be John the Baptist, the one who would prepare the way for the true king, Jesus Christ.

One of the indictments handed down to Israel was that they had been “robbing God” by withholding their best while offering to him their leftovers (“Maybe God won’t notice?”) The issue was not about “amount”, but rather “attitude.”

In the only time in scripture where God gives us permission to put him to the test, he says,

“Should people cheat [rob] God? Yet you have cheated [robbed] me! “But you ask, ‘What do you mean? When did we ever cheat you?’ You have cheated me of the tithes and offerings due to me. You are under a curse, for your whole nation has been cheating me. 10 Bring all the tithes into the storehouse so there will be enough food in my Temple. If you do,” says the Lord Almighty, “I will open the windows of heaven for you. I will pour out a blessing so great you won’t have enough room to take it in! Try it! Put me to the test! 11 Your crops will be abundant, for I will guard them from insects and disease. Your grapes will not fall from the vine before they are ripe,” says the Lord Almighty. (3:8-11)

Now, here’s the sermon you might not have been expecting.

There is a not-so-subtle heresy today commonly termed the Prosperity Gospel.  It’s tenet can be summed up in the words of one of its modern champions:

In short:  God’s will for your life?  Wealth & health.

I have no interest in critiquing the man who is Joel Osteen, or others like him, in this blog – only their interpretation of scripture on what God says about giving.  The Prosperity Gospel Preachers understanding of basic biblical teaching on this particular doctrine is embarrassingly incomplete.  It would behoove them and to preach the “whole counsel/will of God” and include the other side of this doctrine.

If the passage from Malachi (printed above) were the only passage God chose to give us regarding giving, Osteen and the like would be spot-on.  But it’s not.  The preachers of the Prosperity Gospel don’t insinuate – they boldly proclaim the following axiom:

Are you healthy, successful and financially prosperous?  You’re giving God your best.  Are you languishing in financial bondage?  Barely living paycheck to paycheck?  Something’s wrong and you are not giving God your best.

But, as with any half-truth being preached from a pulpit, anyone with a halfway intelligent understanding of the Bible immediately begins thinking in response: “This sounds sorta right, but not all right.  Something’s wrong with this picture.”

Clearly, according to the Prosperity Gospel – the apostles, the early church fathers, persecuted Christians both ancient & modern (Sri Lanka) have done something wrong.  For, if God wants us to prosper in health and wealth – and God never changes – then logic dictates that the followers of Christ, both ancient and modern, should enjoy happiness, health and affluence.  But, nothing could be further from the truth:

Once again, Prosperity Preachers trumpet, “God’s will for you is happiness, health and financial prosperity!” So, how does that jive with actual scripture?  Glad you asked 🙂

Job 1:8, 12 – The Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant, Job?… everything he has is in your power.”

Isaiah 53:10 – “Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush [Christ] and cause him to suffer.”

John 9:1-3 – As [Jesus] went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.”

2 Corinthians 12:7-9 – …in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

According the Prosperity Gospel, here are the implications of these passages:

  • Job, whom God had just described, in vs 8, as the “most righteous man on earth” had apparently not given God his best.  Why else would God give Satan, himself, permission to destroy Job’s life?
  • Jesus, the subject of Isaiah’s prophecy, would suffer greatly as a result of God’s perfect will.  Clearly, for God to make his own son suffer so greatly, Jesus must not have given God is best, right?
  • The ancient misunderstanding was, “If a person was born blind or lame or deaf, etc., there must be great sin somewhere in his family.”  Sound familiar?  But, Jesus explained to the biblically myopic disciples that the man’s blindness had been given him by God to bring glory to God.   I keep trying to find the verse in this passage where Jesus says, “The man had not been giving his best and was cursed with blindness.”  Alas, it’s not there.
  • Finally, Paul, writer of a full third of the New Testament was, like Job, tormented by Satan, himself.  And, to make matters worse, when Paul begged God to remove his “thorn in the flesh”God said no. (No one knows what pain this was in Paul’s life but it was debilitating enough for Paul to beg God to remove it.)  According to the Prosperity Gospel, Paul had not given his best.

And we haven’t even mentioned the pain and persecution threaded throughout the rest of both the Old and New Testaments.

Bottom line:

  • Make no mistake: God’s words through Malachi are certainly true, as are Jesus’ words in Luke 6:38.  Giving God our best (whether its money, our time, our resources, etc.) will always, in return, receive a blessing. But, as you well know, the way God blesses is often different from how he thought he would bless us. (I asked God to make me a more patient driver, so he put me behind slow drivers 🙂  I asked God to help me be more compassionate to the hurting, so he hurt me deeply.) God’s blessing for us may well be new wisdom and discernment regarding the managing and stewardship of all with which God has entrusted us. (I always tell musicians/artists that their talent is merely on loan from the Lord.) It may be his peace that passes human understanding to help us get through a difficult time.  Or, it may actually be material blessing.  Regardless of how God blesses, it will be provide all that we need.
  • Almost always, a financial windfall is not in the cards. This doesn’t mean that’s never part of the Lord’s will.  But not usually. Think: the manna/bread provided for ancient Israel after the Exodus.  Israel was never in want of what they needed.  But God gave only enough for what they needed for the present time.  In the most familiar psalm, David wrote, “I lack nothing.” God’s definition of “prosperity” for some may be living paycheck to paycheck, giving us opportunity to trust him in tenuous times. (“Consider it pure joy when you encounter various trials…”)
  • And, finally, you may give your very best – and still return home to a busted water heater, or have your car’s alternator go out the following week.  Does that mean you are somehow amiss in your giving?  Not according to God, who is Yaweh Jireh –  יְהֹוָה יִרְאֵה  – our Provider.

Soli Deo Gloria, Nick

 

Good Friday – 20 Centuries Ago…

jesus-crucifixion

On Good Friday, while we go through our daily routines, use your imagination and travel back with me twenty centuries to the dusty roads of southern Palestine.

The son is appearing over the horizon. By this time, the rooster has crowed, alerting Simon Peter to the fact that, just as Jesus predicted, he would deny Jesus not once, but three times during the previous night. The other disciples have scattered in fear.

Jesus has spent the entire night facing an illegal, hostile, kangaroo court designed to railroad him into a verdict of execution.

The Jewish leaders have demanded an audience with Pontius Pilate, who, normally in Caesarea, is in Jerusalem because of the crowds associated with Passover. Pilate tolerates the Jewish leaders, hearing them out. But, seeing through their false accusations, Pilate agrees not (yet) to have Jesus executed, but to have him flogged. (death may be less cruel)

Jesus is about to have his back shredded and ripped from his body, producing voluminous blood-loss and hypovolemic shock. This was the type of torture from which prisoners often died. The Roman writer, Cicero, described it as “the cruelest and most hideous punishment possible.”

But, the crowds aren’t satisfied with the flogging.  They want death!  “Crucify him!”, they shout repeatedly.  So the verdict is handed down….the death penalty. For only Rome has the authority to execute a death sentence. And their favorite form of execution? Crucifixion.

Crucifixions are “events” intended to send a message of terror to the onlooking crowds: “Thinking about rebelling again Rome? Behold! This is your fate should you follow through.”

But, this is Good Friday, right? Given Jesus’ condition, how could anyone ever describe it as “good?”

Because, without the crucifixion, there can be no resurrection.

I saw a sign once sitting outside a coffee shop on the Friday prior to Easter.  It read:

“Come on in – where every Friday is Good – and no one has to die.”

That’s a nice sentiment, I guess.  But it completely contradicts what God says:

“For all have sinned…. [and] the wages of sin is death.”

Translation:  The verdict is in.  We’re all guilty of sin.  Every last one of us.  And God’s payment to us – the wages we have earned for our sin – is death.  An eternal death sentence.

Today, consider Him who died, so that we wouldn’t have to.

This is the Gospel.

To put it in the words of contemporary culture:

karma

From John MacArthur’s brilliant “God With Us”:

“Think for a moment about how Jesus died. It was not an easy, gentle passing from this world. It was excruciating agony and torture of the worst kind, for it was on a cross. He suffered in His death. He drank the bitter cup at Calvary in its fullness – He drained it to the last drop. He experienced all the pain, all the loneliness, all the torments that have ever been associated with death…..The death He tasted was the penalty of our sin.

The prophet Isaiah, seven centuries before Christ was born, put it this way:

“He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain,… Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering,… He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.” (53:3-5; emphasis mine)

MacArthur adds,

Jesus Christ received the full force of all that the devil could throw at Him. More than that (far more), He received the full expression of God’s wrath over sin.”

Contrary to the sign outside the coffee shop, according to God – someone did have to die.

So Christ did. For us. Willingly.

Why? Because of his relentless love for us all.

It’s Friday,…but Sunday’s Comin’, Nick