Asking the Hard Questions

A week ago, a teen girl came in a minute late to our Bible study and asked if I would answer her questions. She wanted me to answer them quickly so she could go. She didn’t want to stay and endure a Bible discussion. I looked at her questions which were very personal and full of struggle. Questions written as a letter to God in her diary. She asked why she was the size she is; why some people are successful at suicide but she hasn’t been; if God would let her die; and more like those.

I suggested that the Bible study hour was not the best to deal with these personal questions, and she asked if I would talk to her afterwards. I told her that I would.

I found her upstairs and we sat down and I looked at her questions again and told her that I might not be able to answer some of her questions. She was hurting deeply and wondering about whether she really believed in God and his goodness and justice.

I told her that maybe the best way to answer her concerns was to set the base for understanding God and what happened with creation. God created us with the capacity to make moral choices, choosing to receive God’s love or rejecting his love which also gives the capability to return God’s love or withhold it. God didn’t create beings that would love him without choice because forced love is not genuine love.

Understanding this truth settled some of the questions she had.

The 90 minutes I spent with this young lady was one fo the most important moments in my life. Not because I answered hard questions, but because I was given an opportunity to share God’s love and glory with someone who is searching for his love. Right now, I am certain that a seed has been planted and pray that she will come to faith in God and ultimately in God’s Son, Jesus Christ.

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The Gospel for Everyone

It would be foolish to say that American Christians live in a vacuum, separated from the realities of the world. America, the melting pot of the world, where people come to settle and make their fortune is now a hugely religiously diverse country, maybe more than any other. As much as our country has been a melting pot of people and cultures, religions are not melting together. Each religion remains separate, holding to their own beliefs and practices, taking little notice of other religions unless there is conflict between them somehow, or they have a common enemy and join forces to fight a common enemy, yet still maintaining their diverse separateness.

This blog has lightly addressed religious pluralism before. Though there is no one definition accepted by all authorities of what religious pluralism is, I will address it from this perspective; that all, or most religions contain some element that is similar in some ways to Christianity and may appear to have come from the God of the Bible, in the Old Testament (Hebrew scriptures) addressed primarily as Yahweh, and the New Testament as God the Father, whether these religions recognize the God of Bible or not, or correctly. For instance, a religion may recognize love and mercy as a high calling and practice for its followers.  That is an important element in Christianity, an important part of Biblical faith.

I have begun reading one of my son’s college textbooks, Neighboring Faiths, A Christian Introduction to World Religions by Winfried Corduan (Intervarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL, 1998). One line in the introduction speaks my very heart. “The discussion in this book proceeds from an evangelical Christian perspective, which sees interreligious encounters as opportunities for sharing the gospel of redemption,” emphasis mine (page 15).

There may be certain things in other religions, non-Christian religions, and those things, such as love and mercy described above, certainly come from God, but, how they got there is the question. There is no religion as old as the worship of God. He created the world and the first humans worshipped him(Genesis 1&2), and other beliefs and religions didn’t come in until some point later, after sin entered the world (Gen. 3), and Adam and Eve’s children began to populate the earth with sin in their hearts.

Just because pluralistic religions possess certain Godly elements, does not make them true religions. A conscious faith is necessary for a person’s salvation (borrowing Corduan’s and Donald Nash’s words here).  Or as the apostles spoke “Salvation is found through him alone ; in all the world there is no one else whom God has given who can save us” @Acts4.12, TEV.*

Jesus, the stone the builders have rejected, the Jewish leaders, is the only one, the only way.  As Jesus said, “Jesus answered him, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life; no one goes to the Father except by me’” @John14.6, TEV.

All these other religions, even though they contain some elements that we find in Christianity, that are taught in the Bible, that are recognizable as being associated with God in some way, are not the way to God. They don’t have Jesus. Salvation is in Jesus for all the world, obviously meaning, every person, everywhere, regardless of gender, nationality, financial status, social status, or anything else. Jesus’ salvation is meant for them.

Since Jesus came to seek and save that which was lost (@Luke19.10) and all the world is lost (@Romans3:12&23), that salvation in Jesus which brings people to God is for everyone.

What we find as common ground, belief about abortion, helping others, peaceful living, justice, etc, are the things that through the Christian’s faith, Biblical understanding and truth make opportunities for Christian believers to share the gospel of redemption that is in Jesus Christ alone.

*Today’s English Version of the Bible (aka Good News for Modern Man)

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Why Does God Allow Bad?

This first appeared in the August 28, 2002 LaPlata Home Press with the title “What?”

In 1977, Becky Conway of Urbana, Illinois, learned she had cancer in her knee. The cancer was bad enough that the doctors saw the need to amputate the leg. She was homecoming queen, a cheerleader, and an outstanding track athlete with a promising future and she was a PK (Preacher’s Kid). Everyone, even her parents, were down about her loss, but she never once lost her faith, never complained, and remained filled with joy because she knew God had something greater in store for her other than track. She had the opportunity to witness to schoolmates that wouldn’t have listened to her before because she was a PK and it was expected of her to be a witness. Several did come to faith in Christ because of her character and witness following the amputation (Moody Monthly article “…why is she smiling?” by Kay Oliver, Volume 79, #10, June 1979, pages 17-19).

Too many people see difficult and tragic events as unjust and unfair. Usually the question that is thrown around is “Why would a loving God allow or cause such terrible things to happen, especially to good people?” A lot of people have a pessimistic outlook and are actually looking for bad things to happen or to come out in people. They usually find it and then blame God, not knowing nor understanding all the details involved. So they ask “why” or “how?” These are the wrong questions. The proper question is what does God have in store?

Job is often called the most patient man in the Bible. To some extent this is true, but he asked the wrong questions when he lost everything and kept wondering what he had done that would cause God to allow or even bring such calamity upon him. God spoke with Job and asked, “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?” Job 38:4. God’s emphasis was that HE IS IN CONTROL. Nothing is beyond his knowledge and understanding is beyond his grasp or power. God’s plan may allow calamity simply to bring you to faith. Job, you, and I are just people. God (sic) on the other hand is Almighty God, the creator and sustainer of all life. When bad happens, God still has something outstanding in store, or as Peter wrote, “In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold-may be found to result in the praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ” 1 Peter 1:6-7

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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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Distressed

A few years ago, I transported a pre-school child to Macon (Missouri) and back for school. She had mental and learning disabilities and needed special teaching, but was a very, very sweet girl. She was curious about everything, asking a lot of questions all the time. She thrived on all the attention she received. I believe her smile could melt any heart.

She had difficulty pronouncing my name correctly. One day on the way to school, she asked, “Jeff Jord you goin’ pick up me?” She was really concerned that someone other than myself would be picking her up that day.

“Let not your heart be troubled, believe in God believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many dwellings-for I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself. That where I am, there you may be also” John 14:1-3. Jesus and his disciples were in the upper room when he spoke these words to them. He had washed their feet (John 13:1-20). He identified who would betray him, which baffled them (John 13:21-30). Jesus predicted that Peter would deny him three times before the rooster crowed (John 13:31-38). He even gave them the Lord’s Supper which represents his death (Matthew 26:26-29). Before all this happened, Jesus predicted his own terrible death (John 12:27-50).

All of this troubled and confused the apostles. Jesus’ words had dashed all of their kingdom hopes. He was going away and was going to die. They didn’t like what he said as well as not understanding what he was telling them either. In their troubled hearts they were in essence asking the same thing little Julia asked that one day. “Are you goin’ a pick up me?”

Jesus reassured them that in fact, he was coming back for them. They were even going to stay with him in his Father’s place. How like children we are with questions and doubts, seeking reassurance from Jesus that he didn’t just leave us but will for those become children of the Father through faith in Jesus.

This first appeared the August 10th, 2002 LaPlata Home Press

(Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Version of the Bible)

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Final Grace Rests Easily Where Sin Once Sat from Romans, Part 14

Let me conclude this series on grace with an illustration of the truth we have just examined and how this is grace at work in us.

Mitsuo Fuchida grew up loving his native Japan and hating the United States, which treated Asian immigrants harshly in the first half of the twentieth century. Fuchida attended a military academy, joined Japan’s Naval Air Force, and by 1941, with 10,000 flying hours behind him, had established himself as the nation’s top pilot. When Japanese military leaders needed someone to command a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, they chose Fuchida.

Fuchida’s was the voice that sent his aircraft carrier the message “Tora! Tora! Tora!” (Tiger! Tiger! Tiger!) indicating the success of the surprise mission. Later, he too was surprised when he learned that, of the 70 officers who participated in the raid, he was the only one who returned alive. He had another close call when he was shot down during the battle of Midway in 1942, but despite serious injuries, he survived again.


By 1945 he had attained the position of the Imperial Navy’s Air Operations Officer. On August 6 he was eating breakfast in Nara, Japan,
where a new military headquarters was under construction, when he heard about a bomb dropped on Hiroshima. He flew to investigate, then sent a grim report to the Imperial Command.

On the same day, an American POW named Jacob DeShazer felt moved by the Holy Spirit to pray for peace. DeShazer had been in captivity since 1942, when, as a member of Doolittle’s Raiders, he had dropped bombs near Tokyo and then was forced to parachute into China. While imprisoned, first in Nanjing and later in Beijing, DeShazer had become a Christian. He found his heart softened toward his Japanese captors. After being liberated, DeShazer wrote a widely distributed essay, “I Was a Prisoner of the Japanese,” detailing his experiences of capture, conversion, and forgiveness.

Fuchida and DeShazer met in 1950. DeShazer had returned to Japan in 1948 as a missionary. Fuchida had read DeShazer’s testimony, bought a Bible, and converted from Buddhism to Christianity. DeShazer had recently finished a 40-day fast for revival in Japan when Fuchida came to his home and introduced himself. DeShazer welcomed the new convert and encouraged him to be baptized. While DeShazer continued to plant churches throughout Japan, Fuchida became an evangelist, spreading a message of peace and forgiveness in his native country and throughout Asian-American communities.

Fuchida died on May 30, 1976. Like dynamite inventor Alfred Nobel, who wished his legacy to be one of peace rather than destruction, Fuchida wanted the message of his changed heart to supersede the memory of his infamous attack. He wrote, “That morning [December 7] . . . I lifted the curtain of warfare by dispatching that cursed order, and I put my whole effort into the war that followed. . . . [But] after buying and reading the Bible, my mind was strongly impressed and captivated. I think I can say today without hesitation that God’s grace has been set upon me.”  [Elesha Coffman, “Beyond Pearl Harbor,” Christian History Online Newsletter (6-01-01); submitted by Kevin Miller; Wheaton, Illinois]

How does faith come to and grow in a person.  By God’s Word!  Paul tells us in Romans 10:17, “Faith comes by hearing the message and the message is heard by the word of Christ.”

God’s word, given to the unbeliever that does not resist the Word, works in their heart and mind and they come to believe in Jesus and convert to Christ, but that’s not all, the word continues to develop faith as the Word continues in their life.

God’s grace saves, but his grace does so much more than save, it transforms, protects, and develops and grows faith and hope, and life.

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Does America Hate Christians?

     Every week I encounter people who are believers, Christians from varying church backgrounds, Jews, Mormons, atheists, agnostics, Wiccans, pagans (as a religion), people who are nothing, and on occasion someone who is Muslim. I teach the Bible with most of them, talk about faith and life with them, sing songs of faith with them, have discussions about faith with them, and just visit them.

A coupe of months ago Jerry (his name has been changed) made a comment after a teaching and singing time with a group of about 45. He remarked to someone, “How can you believe that stuff. It doesn’t make sense.” He is a skeptic.

Ever since then, when I see the group, he goes out of his way to say hello to me and he enjoys the sessions and is singing with us too. He isn’t against us, but up to now he has not believed and wonders why people would. It seems he is becoming interested in things of faith. Maybe he will become a follower of Jesus Christ too. I hope so, I am praying that he will.

Bradley R.E. Wright in the latest Christianity Today presents the idea that Americans are alright with Evangelicals in Americans Like Evangelicals After All. He takes his comments further along than I will with by discussing why we worry about it.

Follow this link to read the article. It is worth our consideration: http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2011/august/americans-do-like-evangelicals.html

There is an obvious bias against evangelical Christians. But like some circumstances, it is a small number who are crying the loudest and in some cases responsible for stopping some aspects of faith from taking place or pushing agendas that vary from the beliefs and values that Christians hold, such as; getting prayer removed from schools; making it inappropriate to have a Bible or some expression of faith at your work. As well as pushing for abortion and same-sex values and there is more. It is troubling and we must deal with it appropriately, the way Jesus would have, the way the Bible teaches us.

If America doesn’t dislike us as much as we had believed, what does that mean to us? I can think of a couple of things.

  1. It should alleviate many of our fears about sharing our faith with others. If they don’t dislike us, many people won’t be offended by our expressions of faith and belief.
  2. It should change our attitude about how we encounter our culture. Some Christians are hot under the collar with our culture, some are militant in fighting the culture through litigation and or cultural commentary and condemnation. It seems we should offer grace not grouse. Please understand that I am not condoning immorality and anti-scriptural teaching, but our attitude in dealing with our culture should be a whole lot more gracious in my view. We are to love others.
      I have found in some cases, there are people who though they do not have a favorable view of Christians, when they encounter some of us, are not as resistant to our beliefs and values.
     For instance, Ronnie (not his real name), was very resistant to Christianity. Ronnie claimed to be a pagan, but was more atheist in value. He resisted faith and Christianity and had decent relationships with a handful of Christians. One time Ronnie was dissing pastors when he remembered suddenly that I am a pastor. He stopped, looked at me with a sly smile and said, Jeff, you’re alright for a minister” (I didn’t change my name, LOL).
Ronnie had a brother-sister relationship with one of the young ladies in the group. One time, she shared some things about her faith and encouraged the group of 15-20 that they need Jesus. He took offense at her comments because he felt that she had targeted him specifically. I am sure that she thought of him when she prepared to share that day, but she was considering the whole group, not any particular individual.
A couple of days later, Ronnie and I visited about what she shared and how it upset him. Fortunatel, he was convinced that she hadn’t targeted him and admitted that she had a right to share her beliefs and values with others just like he did.
I haven’t seen or heard from Ronnie for a couple of years, and I know that he checked into a drug and alcohol rehab at one point, so I don’t know if he has changed his view of Christianity, but with the right individual, he will at least talk with a Christian.
What I am saying is that though there are some who really have a poor view of Christians and Christian faith, most are not really hostile toward us and that’s a good thing. I must be honest, I haven’t personally experienced the hostility toward Christians that we read about. The closest to anti-Christian hostility I have personally seen was when the local school in the town where I ministered 18 years ago followed the advice of their lawyers and dropped the baccalaureate service for the high school graduates. The superintendent, being a man of faith, as were most of the school’s board and teachers and other employees, came to me and asked if the churches of our little town would provide the baccalaureate service for the graduates. Of course we gladly and willingly accepted and in a lot of ways it made things better. We were able to make the baccalaureate more personal and more religious in than before.
Is there bias against Christians? Yes. It seems that anti-Christian hostility is not what we thought. Praise the Lord!
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