Christianity

Christianity does not exist in a vacuum. That’s not to say it couldn’t exist in a vacuum, it most likely can.  God is capable of that.  But we live in a world in which religious pluralism is prominent. It has been that way since people have occupied the earth (sometime after Adam and Eve’s children had children). There are many religions and many of those religions possess some good and beneficial characteristics and qualities. Yet, without the differences, a vacuum would exist. The differences however, are the points when sense awakens to the variance that exists between the religions.

Christian colleges and schools of religion have studied comparative religions for generations. Comparing religions, honestly and fairly, can bring a wealth of knowledge and certainly understanding, and hopefully wisdom.

Some religions value peace, while others promote love. Some religions emphasize mankind’s role while others are more concerned with god’s position. Some religions are focused solely on this life and others are concerned with the future life in another sphere of existence. And yet, though most religions have a thing or two in common with Christianity, Christianity offers a few unique perspectives that are not found in any other religion whatsoever.

First, Jesus who is the Christ (Messiah) is the only source of salvation for mankind, for every person. The Hebrew people of the Old Testament times were looking for salvation from God through the Messiah he would send. Jesus fulfilled all 300 plus prophecies that foretold who the coming Messiah would be. Things like where he would be born @Micah 5:2; that he would ride into Jerusalem on a donkey @Zechariah 9:9; that he would suffer and die @Isaiah 53:5, and more.

Jesus arrives on the scene in the first half of the first century and fulfills all the prophecies, revealing himself gradually over a period of roughly three years. Toward the end, a few days before he was crucified, Jesus told his disciples, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” @John 14:6.

Peter with John the apostle beside him, having been arrested for telling people that Jesus is the Messiah told the court “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved” @Acts 4:12.

Paul encouraging Timothy, a pastor of the Ephesian church reminded him “For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all men—the testimony given at the proper time” @1 Timothy 2:5-6.

Second, mankind’s need is God himself. Pascal, centuries ago noted that every man has a God-shaped vacuum that can only be filled by God. Yet, since sin entered the world through Adam’s disobedience, humans have tried to fill that vacuum or hole as some have interpreted it according to his own will and means coming up with all sorts of things that remove God from the equation, even by some who believe in God and his Messiah, Jesus. It’s sort of the spiritual form of trying to put a round peg in a square hole. It won’t fit. It won’t fill the void.

Mankind’s need is God. As people try to fill the void in their lives, they try any one of a number of religions that do not include God or vary from God’s revealed word, the Bible. Some people try to fill the void through addictions, drugs, alcohol, sex, relationships, food, money, work, objects, etc. But, it is God that fills the void. He does so through our faith in Christ Jesus’ death on the cross.

With Easter 2012 upon us, Good Friday being tomorrow, when Jesus died, it wasn’t that some really great man died who brought wonderful teachings to the world. Jesus wouldn’t be any better than Ghandi, Aristotle, Thomas Jefferson or any others. He wouldn’t be greater than any prophet like Elijah, Isaiah, or Jeremiah. But he is the Son of God and God has proved that he is through Jesus deeds and miracles and teachings (cf., John 20:30-31; Acts 2:22), he died and rose from the dead.

There is such a wealth of religions and religious teaching that confusion about what is real and true and what isn’t. How do we sort through it all? Look at the similarities? Compare the differences? If I am talking with someone from other religions I will find the similarities and some them the truth from what we have in common, deconstructing their argument and disproving the untrue by means of truth and reality.

There are many religions, but there is only one that leads to God and salvation. It is Christianity and that was God’s plan all along. Those who believe in Christ through faith and obedience would possess the name of Christ and be called Christians.

They are people who acknowledge that Jesus is the Son of God as well as believe in the fact and are completely committed to Christ @Luke 9:18-27 (cf., Romans 10:9-10; Acts 2:38; 1 Peter 3:21; Romans 6:1-7). They believe and live by faith.

No other religion makes the same claims, no other religion makes such bold claims and no other religion can back their teaching with actual truth. Jesus is the way and the truth and the life.

Larry Norman who was Christianity’s first rock musician popularized the term “One Way” with the forefinger pointing to heaven. Why? Because Jesus is the only way! It is a bold claim, but it is truth. And because Christians receive grace, there is no arrogance to the claim that Christianity has the only answer to life’s questions and is the only way to God.

Celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ, because if he had not raised to life, Christianity, no matter how nice, or how good it is, has no value. Jesus has raised to life and he lives and sets at the right hand of God in heaven waiting for the day that God will send him back to judge the world.

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What I’m Thinking

I’ve been thinking quite a bit but haven’t been able to articulate what is running around in my head. I have been concerned with celebrity worship, especially in our churches. I am concerned with everything Christian having to be so big and everyone participate in nationwide programs. I am concerned with Christianity that is placid and inactive.

Coming soon!

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The Flush Toilet

What innovation had the most impact on life n the twentieth century? A popular survey asked this question when (sic) we approached the year 2000. Many conveniences were suggested; washing machines; hair dryers; canned food; improved communications; radio; TV and more. However, the number one response was indoor plumbing, specifically, the flush toilet. People are most grateful that not only do they not have to carry in water from an outdoor well but they do not have to visit the outhouse. Of all the great technological marvels of the twentieth century, indoor plumbing captured the hearts of most Americans.

What will be the number one innovation in the twenty-first century? Voice activated computers; cars that drive themselves or air travel like on the cartoon The Jetsons; cures for disease or something else? Who really cares? Stuff happens and things change. Who would have believed that the Wright Brothers first flight in 1903 would have led to air travel being such a major source of transportation, or that the first computer (which was as big as a house and had millions of parts) would lead to computers being so important.

Innovation and invention are the result of God-given abilities (thinking, creativity, and ability to produce ideas). The Bible says, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever” Hebrews 13:8.* Things and times change, Jesus doesn’t. The Hebrew writer continues with a warning to not be carried away by many and strange doctrines (verse 9). Beliefs change and deceive many people. There are many gods, materialism, sexual addictions, drugs, alcohol, and more. Innovations come and go. Religious beliefs come and go and many are rehashed. However, Jesus never changes. Christianity under Jesus’ rule is never altered. Whatever comes, whatever goes, there is one we can trust who does not come and go, who never changes, Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

* Scripture reference is from the New International Version of the Bible

This first appeared in the July 31, 2002 LaPlata Home Press

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Silly Road Signs

This article first appeared in the August 21 2002 LaPlata Home Press. for a time, I wrote a devotional article called “Flowing From The Mouth Of The Jordan.”  I’d like to share some of these devotionals with you over the next few posts.

Have you ever noticed how silly some of the road signs are that we see on highways around the country?

For instance: FRESH OIL; LOOSE GRAVEL. The street or highway department sprays oil and tar on the road or shoulder, than they cover it with chat which sticks to the tar like flies on a no-pest strip. When this is done in town* (see explanation below), it seems everyone is upset and grumbles and gripes about it because it messes up our cars. On the highways in particular, in the right circumstances, it can be dangerous and wrecks can happen as cars slide around on the loose chat. The sign is warning us of a possible hazard ahead.

Or, DON’T DRIVE INTO SMOKE. January 1978 was my first experience on the Will Rogers Turnpike as I drove into Oklahoma. As I was heading toward Vinita, Oklahoma, I see these signs with a peculiar warning, “Don’t Drive Into Smoke.”  I’m think, “What? What a stupid sign. This is a highway. Where would smoke be coming from on a highway?” My limited intelligence, experience, and imagination could not figure a good reason for the warning. When it was explained to me by an Okie, I finally understood. Sometimes, people burn off their fields near the highway and the highway department burns off the shoulders of the road and the smoke may roll onto the highway obscuring your vision. It could hide the danger of a slower or stopped truck or car. The sign is warning us of a possible hazard ahead.

Or my favorite, BRIDGE MAY ICE WHEN COLD. I’ve seen these signs mostly in Arkansas and Louisiana. The first time I saw one of these signs I began to imagine the bridge with a mind of its own and the highway department is warning drivers to beware. I could see someone driving across a bridge in the winter when the bridge decides to ice over and cars begin spinning.

In Louisiana, I saw a couple of bridges with the signs on the exit side of the bridge, as if some demented highway employee is playing a joke on drivers. The bridge ices and you start spinning. As you spin past the bridge and see the sign, you yell out, “O yeah. . .thanks. . .for the. . .warning!!!!!” But, ice on bridges when the road is clear is a very real danger. The sign is warning of a possible hazard ahead.

The Apostle Paul says, “Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes  Ephesians 6:11. The devil is a liar and a deceiver. He plots and schemes ways in which to trap you in sin. The Bible warns us about the devil and his tricks. Beware, the devil has a trap ahead, around most every turn in life, just over the rise each day may be one of his tricks.

  • He may trip us up, and cause us to stumble: FRESH OIL; LOOSE GRAVEL.
  • He may hide behind a smoke screen of grumbling of some sort: DON’T DRIVE INTO SMOKE.
  • He may change the conditions quickly to cause you to slip up: BRIDGE MAY ICE WHEN COLD.
By knowing God’s word and way, we can, with the help of God’s own Spirit, see the road signs and dangers and YIELD AND STOP, keeping us out of danger. Beware, the devil is a roaring lion looking for whom he may devour (1 Peter 5:8). He may be around every corner trying to snatch you away from God.
* Many small towns such as in northern Missouri pave their roads (and on some two-lane highway shoulders), tar and oil is spayed on the road surface and chat spread to cover and adhere to the tar and oil and it makes a sort of pavement type surface and until it settles in, cures or whatever the correct term is, the dust and the tar mess up your car.
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Nothing is What it Seems

The movie “The Recruit” starring Al Pacino and Colin Ferrell is an interesting story of a CIA agent who recruits and instructs prospective CIA operatives. The story has its twists and we learn from beginning to end the reality of the training and the real world of espionage is that “nothing is what it seems.” Al Pacino’s character Walter Burke repeats this truth throughout the movie and in the end is caught in his own farce and is told by James Clayton (Colin Ferrell’s character) “nothing is what it seems.”

What appears on the surface to be true is not what is real.  It may seem real, it may seem to be true, and everyone believes that it is, but reality lies somewhere else, somewhere underneath, it is buried beneath the surface of life and is manipulated by someone who is controlling reality.

One of the problems with modern Christianity is that we have ceased to fight a spiritual battle. We are fighting individuals and organizations and governments and movements and joining movements and organizations to fight all of these where they differ from or we believe that differ from our Biblical and religious beliefs and practices.

So we fight against the organizations of abortion, homosexuality, economic irresponsibility by the government, sexual immorality on TV and in the movies, pornography on the internet, liberal feminism, and so much more. But attacking the establishments of these values is that where the battle for Christians and the church is at?

Before I go further, please don’t get me wrong, I appreciate those who go to battle in the courts and before congress to protect Christian values and rights and work hard to overturn or enact legislation to set things right. It is needed and certain individuals and groups such as Focus on the Family and others are certainly called by God for that purpose, but is that where the Christian and the church is to focus? The government? The courts? Abortion clinics? Is it? Should I complain to television producers that I am offended by almost every TV show that is on TV now? Should I lobby for greater restraints on the Internet so that people cannot access immoral sites? What?

Here’s the truth of scripture. “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” Ephesians 6:12.

Our fight is not the immoral or misguided organizations, or even individuals who believe and/or follow these belief’s and practices. They are not the enemy. As one preacher I heard say more than 20 years ago, they are prisoners of the enemy. The devil has them trapped. Our fight is with the the powers of sin that influence our world. Satan, the devil, his demons and evil spirits, their influence in individual lives.

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Disturbing Dream Because of Disturbing Religious Trends

I had a vivid dream the other night. I don’t often remember dreams and when I do, I rarely remember details. Until now, there are only two dreams I have had that I remember and one a recurring dream.

In my dream I was walking with a man I knew from the town I ministered at a few years ago, Theo Goodding. Theo was one of the patriarchs of the town at the time. He attended a different church than I ministered too, but I respected him and am pleased to have counted him as one of my friends.

In the dream, Theo and were walking down a country dirt road and talking about the land. He would point out this piece of land and that one and who they had belonged too. A lot of the land had belonged to him. Walking and talking with him I began to emphasis with his distress and pain. He was troubled because he and the others sold the land we were viewing because the generations following them were not interested in the land that they wished to pass on to their heirs.

Two disclaimers here. First, I am not trying imply that Theo Goodding’s heirs rejected to accept what he had to pass on them. I know several of his family and they are believers and I believe faithful followers of Jesus Christ. Second, I don’t put a lot of stock in the idea that every dream has a meaning. That would be inconsistent with the randomness of thought and honestly, we wouldn’t be able to keep up with all our dreams and their meanings. Yet, I do believe some dreams have meaning and I do believe that God uses dreams to help us understand some things and/or gets our attention by means of some dreams.

Here is what I have come to understand. I have read two books, the analysis of 20 years of polling and surveying about religious belief and the washout of a standard of belief and faith in God, Christ, the Bible and the Church, and an editorial about how today’s teens have no moral intuition to  base anything value on.

Book 1: The Vertical Self by Mark Sayers, http://www.amazon.com/Vertical-Self-Biblical-Discover-Obsession/dp/0849920000.  Sayers explains that modern culture directs people to want to be famous (thus, American Idol, that I sarcastically and maliciously call American Idiot, and similar shows, like American’s Top Model and so forth. I really don’t like these type of shows, they disturb my Biblical sense of morality and fairness) and how that is a problem from a Biblical and Christian perspective.

Book 2: Uncompromised Faith by S. Michael Craven, http://www.navpress.com/store/product.aspx?id=9781600063626. This book really disturbed me. Craven documents the how our society and culture has had its moral, religious and values foundation has disappeared and the future of America because of this.

The polls and Surveys were Barna Groups’ research for the past 20 years called the State of the Church Series (6 in all), http://www.barna.org/faith-spirituality/504-barna-examines-trends-in-14-religious-factors-over-20-years-1991-to-2011, in which Barna examines the trends of 14 religious factors for the years 1991-2011. The two biggest elements that hit me is that among the whole American population Church involvement and Bible reading and Bible study is significantly down in almost every category and that each generation is moving away from the beliefs and values that Theo’s generation possessed.

And finally, I read an editorial in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch this morning (9/14/11) that is not religious or spiritual in nature but highlighted how today’s teens have no ability to determine what is moral and what is not. It has disintegrated, http://www.stltoday.com/news/opinion/.

The editorial prompted this post. It is apparent that the values, beliefs, and hopes that people like Theo Goodding, my parents, myself, and so many others is not being received by the next generations. And that will have a negative effect in the church, for faith overall, and will affect the whole world and already is

That dream was emphasizing to me the problem and the need to search for a solution to our culture failing to accept what God wants each person to have and as it is passed on from one generation to the next. In fact, this factor was an issue in Israel’s history. When a generation of Israel had been faithful to God, after a revival of sorts, such as documented a number of times in the book of Judges, that same faith and trust in God eroded more and more with each succeeding generation until there was virtually no one who trusted in God anymore.

That very factor has been growing in our society and it is now evident. I don’t have the practical solution to this issue except to say, I will continue to pray, and to preach Jesus, and be genuine in my faith and witness to Jesus in my life.

I must really leave the other answers up to people with more wisdom and ability and will watch and listen to learn from them in this matter.

May God and his ways return to our culture before it is too late for America and the rest of the world.

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What I’ve Learned From 9/11

With the tenth anniversary of 9/11, about every blogger has written something in relationship it. Many churches had special services, or special portions of their services devoted to memorializing those who died 10 years ago. Most sporting events over the weekend had special moments to honor that horrible event in 2001. Memorial events were taking place all over the nation and especially in New York where the planes destroyed the World Trade Center. What more can I add to all that has been said?

I was horrified, angered, and frightened went our country was attacked. I felt the same things most Americans did. What in the world happened? Why did it happen? How could it happen? What are we going to do now? Are we safe here like we have always believed we were?

I have learned that we are all vulnerable. That statement may seem obvious, but I mean a lot more than the obvious. It is not just America that is vulnerable, the whole world is vulnerable. We lost our innocence and no matter where in the world you live, you are susceptible to danger. The danger may not be Al Qaeda, but it may be some other enemy. Our whole planet is in danger of attack.

But I mean even more than that.

It is curious to me that my sermon yesterday, planned for months without realizing it would fall on the tenth anniversary of 9/11, was about how sin took over the world on three different occasions. The title of the message was, “Sin: Taking Over the World” from Genesis 3-10.

After Adam and Eve sinned by disobeying God and eating the fruit from the “tree of the knowledge of good and evil,” sin spread quickly. Cain murdered his brother Abel, as Hebrews 11:4 tells us, it was because he was evil. It wasn’t long until we learn in Genesis 6 that the whole world had become corrupt. Violence had completely taken over the earth and God regretted creating humans. Humanity had completely ignored God and whatever other evils they were committing, they had become overtly violent. Hating, harming, injuring, murdering one another. That’s when he flooded the earth, in order to restart and restore without evil ruling the earth.

But it didn’t take long for evil to raise up and spread as if there was no restraint. Noah’s son, Ham, saw his father asleep and naked in his tent and he brought disrespect to his father when belittled Noah to his brothers, Shem and Japheth. But it wasn’t long until pretty much the whole world resisted God’s command to spread out and occupy the world. Humanism became the rule and they decided to build a tower to human ingenuity, ability, and strength, called the Tower of Babel.

It was then that God mixed up their languages. The world spoke one language in that day, but now there were many and it created confusion and stopped their evil.

That third time that the Bible tells about sin and evil taking over the world is in the last days. Of course the New Testament teaching about the last days is that since Jesus Christ died and raised, we are in the last days. The last days will continue from Jesus’ death and resurrection until his return.

2 Timothy 3:1-5: 1But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. 2For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3 heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, 4treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, 5having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people. (English Standard Version)

Sin is permeating our world at a level we haven’t seen since the events in the first 10 chapters of Genesis. The Barna research group just recently published its state of the church, examining the religious and spiritual trends of the past 20 years (1991-2011). The report is eye-opening. It is apparent from the report that sin is taking over America, we are becoming more and more worldly; http://www.barna.org/faith-spirituality/504-barna-examines-trends-in-14-religious-factors-over-20-years-1991-to-2011.

We are vulnerable to sin and evil. The world is full of it. Satan is attacking us. He intends not to just injure us but to destroy us. The attack by Al Qaeda 10 years ago is a physical and tragic symbol of how unsafe and susceptible we are to Satan’s attack and that attack was one of the tools of Satan.

Yet . . . we can be protected. There is hope. First it is in Christ. If you are born again into Jesus Christ (read John 3), you have salvation, but you better be aware and active in your faith. Paul writes these words to us about our spiritual Al Qaeda; 10Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. 12For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. 13Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. 14Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, 15and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. 16In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one;17and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God,18praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints. Ephesians 6:10-18 (ESV)

May you be blessed by God and be safe within his love and hope and eternity.

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