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Archive for November, 2011

The best argument for Christianity is Christians: their joy, their inner peace, and their devotion to others.  Unfortunately, the best argument against Christianity is also Christians – when they are joyless, when they are self-righteous, smug, and unloving, when they are complacent and uncommitted, when their words are not backed up by their actions.

On a hillside outside Capernaum Jesus amazed a crowd by announcing mind-boggling news: the very people who thought they would never be eligible to get into God’s kingdom are invited in – not because of their goodness but because of His, not because of anything they had ever done or could ever do, but because of what He would accomplish on Calvary’s cross.

Jesus wanted the good news of God’s love to be communicated throughout the entire world and down through history.  But how would He accomplish this?  What possible master plan did He have to achieve such an unbelievably huge task?  That is when He said to His followers, “You are my marketing strategy.  You are the means by which my message will be spread in your family, your neighborhood, your workplace, and wherever you go.  You will do this by being salt and light.  That is Plan A, and it had better work, because there is no Plan B.”

Those to whom Jesus gave this task were not from the religious establishment, or from the upper crust of society.  They included fishermen and even a hated tax collector.  Who but Jesus would have staked so much on so few?

Jesus used the metaphors of salt and light in a positive sense.  He was saying, “Salt creates thirst, and I want you to live a life that causes others to thirst for God, that spices up life, and that retards the moral and spiritual decay of society.”

And just as light exposes and attracts, Jesus was saying, “I want you to live the kind of life that illuminates my truth for people, that shines my compassion into the dark places of hopelessness and despair, and that draws people toward me, because I, ultimately, am the light of life.”

What an outlandish idea – that frail and fallible, timid and tongue-tied, insecure and inconsistent people like you and me would be asked to be the main purveyors of the monumental news that has the power to alter the eternal destination of those who believe it.  And, we must admit, the results have been mixed because the followers of Jesus have often managed to turn salt and light into negative metaphors.

Lee Strobel, in his book God’s Outrageous Plans, points out that there are four kinds of Christians who impact others in a negative way:

  • In your face Christians.  Those who are rude by being overly pushy.
  • Greeting card Christians.  Those whose understanding of the Christian faith is as shallow as the kind of verses you often find on Christmas cards.
  • Holier-than-thou Christians.  Those who are smug and self-righteous, those who let you know with 0bvious pride that they are going to heaven – that is, if they don’t overshoot it!
  • Cosmetic Christians.  Those with the kind of skin-deep spirituality that looks good on the outside but is not deep enough to affect their attitude and actions.

 

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The first Thanksgiving Proclamation was issued by President George Washington in 1779.  It began: “Whereas, it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits . . .”  Every year since 1779 our president has signed a proclamation setting aside the last Thursday in November which calls upon our citizens to offer gratitude to God for His manifold blessings.

Each of us has a different list of things for which we should be thankful.  A Sunday School teacher asked her class to make such a list, and one little boy wrote down that he was thankful for his glasses.  The teacher was impressed by that, for some children resent having to wear glasses.  Here, obviously, was a young boy who was mature enough to appreciate what wearing glasses did for him.

“Johnny,” she said, “I see that you put your glasses down at the head of the list of things for which you are thankful.  Is there any special reason?” He replied, “Yes ma’am, my glasses keep the boys from hitting me, and the girls from kissing me.”  To a young boy this makes a lot of sense.

A Christian hymn encourages us to “Count our many blessings” and to “name them one by one.”  If you haven’t tried that, I recommend it.  When we name our blessings one by one we become conscious of just how many we have.  This, in turn, encourages us to thank God for them.

Thanksgiving Day is definitely a good time to give thanks to our provident Creator.  It is also a good time to thank the people who have touched our lives in constructive ways.  How easy it is to develop the habit of taking for granted what others have done and still do to enrich our lives.

I am what I am as a result of God’s grace plus the investments that others have made in my life: my parents, my elementary and high school teachers, my teachers in college and seminary, and countless other special individuals as well.  The truth is that each of us is a charity case.  Though we could never repay in full the debts we owe, we can certainly make regular installments on them by serving the needs of others.

Tragically, thankfulness seems to be largely a lost art in today’s world.  Warren Wiersbe illustrates this fact in his commentary on Colossians.  He tells of a ministerial student in Evanston, Illinois who was part of a lifesaving squad.  In 1860, a ship ran aground on the shore of Lake Michigan near Evanston, and Evan Spencer waded again and again into the frigid waters to rescue 17 passengers.  In the process, Spencer’s health was permanently damaged.  Some years later at his funeral, it was noted that not one of the people he had rescued ever thanked him.

In order for the attitude of gratitude to be genuine it must be expressed every day of the year, not just on Thanksgiving Day.  As you count the ways that God has blessed your life, you should also take the time to focus on and thank the individuals who have made you the person you are.  Whatever you have achieved, however large it may be, you would have achieved much less without the investments that others have made in your life.

Is there a person – a family member, a teacher, a friend, a neighbor, or someone else – who needs to hear you say, “Thank you for all of the ways you have touched my life”?  If so, both you and that person will be blessed when you do so.

An eight-year-old boy in St. Paul, Minnesota wrote a letter to Judge Archie Gringold of that city: “Dear Your Honor.  I thank you so much for letting my mom and dad adopt me.  I’ll be nine soon, and I’m in the Cub Scouts.  Here’s a picture of me.  I’m also giving you four cents, because you deserve it.”  Four cents wasn’t much, but it was possibly all the little fellow had.

Judge Gringold put the four pennies into a children’s fund.  “It makes it all worthwhile,” he told the Chicago Daily News.

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The third and fourth verses of John 13 constitute one of the most outrageous individual sentences in the entire Bible.  It is like a non sequitur, in which two thoughts do not seem to go together, because they are fundamentally at odds.

The first part of the sentence says, “Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under His power, and that He had come from God and was returning to God; so . . .” (NIV).  In other words, Jesus was fully aware
that He was God, that He was all-powerful, that He could do anything He wanted, that He had existed from eternity as part of the Trinity, and that He would return to His former exalted position in heaven.

At this point the usually insignificant word “so” appears.  So . . . what does Jesus then say?  Does He, knowing that He has all authority and power, use His superiority to arrogantly demand that His disciples pamper and cater to Him?

Here is the incongruous conclusion to that sentence: “So He got up from the meal, took off His outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around His waist.”  Unexpectedly, amazingly, He who was there when the world was created assumed the position of a servant and began to wash His disciples’ dirty feet and pat them dry with a towel.

What an incredible, humble display of pure servanthood – from the One who could have rightfully demanded to be served by His disciples!  It was as He had earlier said, “The Son of man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28).  He was proving that what He had earlier said to them was true.

Even though the concepts of absolute power and lowly servanthood appear to contradict each other, both qualities unquestionably reside in God.  Ultimately, God is a servant because He is love, and love by its very nature involves the giving of oneself.

Outrageous?  Absolutely!  Unlike the way things generally work in our world?  Of course!  It makes us want to shout, “Yea, Three cheers for the Son of God!”  But that is just the beginning of the story,
because Jesus then asked His disciples to do something very unusual.  He said, “I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.”

Here is the important point I do not want you to miss: It is understandable that we would want to worship the Son of God for His willingness to be a servant so we could be forgiven and reconciled with God.  But
as counterintuitive as it sounds, we also ought to be thanking Him for inviting us to follow Him in order to become servants.

Too many Christian ministers in churches today see their role as one of exercising authority, rather than that of being a servant patterned after the example Jesus set for His followers.  Authority can be exercised coldly and without love – and often is.  However, choosing to become a servant in a way that both meets human need and glorifies God can only be done by those who have love in their heart.

Serving others is a lot harder and less popular than being served.  That is why so many church members settle for sitting in the grandstands to applaud those who are down on the field of play.  It is also why churches have too many Chiefs and not enough Indians.  Church members who are unwilling to serve others may sing “Standing on the Promises” in church on Sunday morning, but all they are really doing is “sitting on the premises.”

It was love that motivated Jesus to assume the role of a servant in order to wash His disciples’ feet.  He has now passed the towel to us.

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Do all roads lead to God?  Millions of people in our world today believe they do.  Could it possibly be true?  Certainly such a belief cannot be found in the Bible.

Jesus Christ said, “I am the way and the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).

Of all the incredible statements by Jesus that are recorded in the New Testament, this assertion has the greatest tendency to anger people.  They consider it arrogant, egotistical, intolerant, and politically incorrect.

By contending that He is the only route to God, Jesus is alleging that Christianity is unique, and that it therefore cannot be reconciled with any other religion in the world.  For example:

  • Other religious leaders tell people, “Follow me and I will show you how to find truth,” but Jesus says, “I am truth.”
  • Other religious leaders tell people, “Follow me and I will show you the way to salvation,” but Jesus says, “I am the way to eternal life.”
  • Other religious leaders tell people, “Follow me and I will show you how to become enlightened,” but Jesus says, “I am the light of the world.”
  • Other religious leaders tell people, “Follow me and I will show you many doors that lead to God,” but Jesus says, “I am the door.”

Do you see the difference?  For many centuries people have tried to harmonize the various religions of the world into one.  In fact, that is what one faith, Baha’i, is all about.  However, there are drastic and irreconcilable theological conflicts between Christianity and all other faith systems.  This is not to criticize other faith systems.  It is not to say that others do not have the right to believe anything they choose.  It is just to point out the uniqueness of Christianity.

The difference between other religions and Christianity is the difference between “DO” and ‘DONE.”  That is, other religions base salvation on what people do to earn it through their struggling and striving — in other words, through their works.

Adherents must go on a pilgrimage, give alms to the poor, scrupulously maintain a certain kind of diet, perform good deeds, chant the right words, use a Tibetan prayer, go through a series of reincarnations, or faithfully follow some other religiously prescribed drill.  These are attempts to reach out to God.  In Christianity God reached down to us.

In Christianity salvation is spelled “D-O-N-E.”  This is because it is based on what Jesus Christ has done on the cross for those who will believe.  The Bible teaches that we are all sinners, spiritual rebels against our  Creator, and that there is nothing we can do to merit heaven.  Jesus took the penalty for our sin, which is death, upon Himself.

It is not difficult to see that the message of grace – “done” – and the message of working off past wrongs – “do” – are fundamentally incompatible.  God is not schizophrenic.  So, it does matter which route you take in your spiritual journey.

There is absolutely nothing anyone can do to merit heaven.  It has already been done.  The only requirement: accept what Jesus Christ has already done and follow Him.

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