Read This Article from Relevant Magazine online

It is interesting that all at once there are several discussions about Christian -vs- Saints.  Here is a good one. Why-They-Called-Us-ChristiansClick on the link and it will take you to the Relevant article entitled, “Where the ‘Christian’ Name Really Came From.”

http://www.relevantmagazine.com/god/church/where-christian-name-really-came

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All the Saints in the World

My small group has been working through Aaron Chamber’s book, Remember Who You Are.* During a recent small group get together, as we examined the chapter about being a saint, ideas about Christians in our culture ran through my mind.

The common cultural mantra goes something like this, “I like Jesus but I hate the church.” That hurts! The church, Christians, people of God are the excuses people have for not completely checking out Jesus or the church. To be honest, there are Christians in the church who are hypocrites, and there are those who are inconsistent in their faith walk, and there are some who don’t get it at all and don’t know how to live as a Christian. Then in the public’s eye you have extremists churches who are fundamentalists and judgmental to all people, and of course your celebrity Christians who have fallen because of sin. I suppose we could make a long list of excuses people have for ignoring Jesus and the church.

The thought occurred to me that evening, the world hates “Christians,” but what about “Saints?”

To qualify, saints are not those 3000 or so people over the 16-1700 year history of the Catholic Church that have been canonized by the Catholic Church. “Saints” are what the Bible calls Christians the most; People who have through faith become followers of Jesus Christ and have been saved by God’s grace.

The Bible calls people in the Bible who are saved, saints, Christians, disciples of Christ, followers of Christ, the family of God, the bride of Christ, the body of Christ,the Church of Christ, etc. We are called Christians a couple of times and Saints a lot in the New Testament. Even the Old Testament refers to saints. For instance, Psalm 16:3, “As for the saints who are in the earth, they are the majestic ones in whom is all my delight.” Daniel 7:18, “But the saints of the Highest One will receive the kingdom and possess the kingdom forever, for all ages to come” (NASB).

Saints belong to God. Why? Because of what has happened to them when they came to Christ for salvation. They have been “sanctified.” Cleansed from sin, freed from the slavery of sin, freed to live a holy life in God, made to be like Christ free of the guilt of sin, pure, no longer defiled in their character, they are saints.

Now, if we Christians were more aware of our sainthood, how would the world view the church, how would they look at Christians?

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*Remember Who You Are, Unleashing the Power of an Identity-Driven Life, Aaron Chambers, Standard Publishing Company, Cincinnati, Ohio, http://www.standardpub.com/Products/24324/remember-who-you-are.aspx

Merry Christmas to You!

Forget the troubles of the year. Forget that people feared the end of the world last Friday. Forget the fiscal cliff, the Sandy Hook and other tragedies. Lay down you present concerns and follow my words for a moment.

It is easy to celebrate Christmas without celebration. It happens that we participate in Christmas festivities, presents, eggnog, parties, meals, vacations, ABC Family’s 25 Days of Christmas and all and still not celebrate.

There are many reasons this might happen, but the core aspect of celebrating with celebration is we have lost our focus. Here comes the cliché, so excuse me for a moment.

  • Jesus is the reason for the season.

The whole idea behind the holiday that contains Christ’s name is remembering Christ’s birth. Many do so with decorations, presents, programs, church attendance and special services, visiting soup kitchens, spending time with family, sharing gifts, and a lot more ways. In all of this, we can still get lost in Christmas without the hint of actual celebration.

How do we come back to celebrating Christmas. Look to Jesus!

Is it that simple? I believe it is. It is for me. I am not decrying the things that occur at Christmas. I am not putting down commercialism, or Santa Claus, or holiday parties, or Rudolph and Frosty, but I am trying to direct our focus to the real thing, Jesus.

For God so loved the world that he (sent) his one and only Son, that whoever will believe in him shall have eternal life” John 3:16.

Isn’t that what Christmas is about? God’s love, Jesus’ human life, our salvation.

May you have a Merry Christmas filled with the peace of God and the grace and joy of knowing his Son, Jesus Christ.

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Which Thief (on the cross) Are You?

There’s a cross for you. I mean, the three crosses raised that day in A.D. 29 were our crosses. Our sin, our affront to God with our sin shows we are guilty and deserved death.

Three people died that day; Jesus in the middle, and two criminals on the left and right side of Jesus. When Jesus said “it is finished,” the fate of the two thieves was set. One would suffer in hell, the other, would join Jesus in “paradise.”

Sin destroys! Think about it. Sin doesn’t do good at all. The ultimate purpose of sin is to destroy the sinner. Lying destroys trust. Hate and murder destroys lives. Adultery destroys relationships and families. Sin destroys.

The reason for sin’s destruction is to hurt God. The devil, in the Garden of Eden, in the form of a serpent wanted to convince Adam and Eve to sin. He worked his deceit through Eve and Adam fell in with her in the sin.

The devil wants to hurt God, and what hurts the most, a severely broken relationship. Sin is the break-point and separation and punishment is the consequence, because, we have not obeyed the Father.

The thieves had separate attitudes about Jesus. One taunted Jesus to save himself. The crowds watching the spectacle were taunting Jesus in the same way. The other thief, realized that Jesus was without sin and that he did not deserve punishment. He even scolded the other thief. We deserve this punishment, but this man has done no wrong.

“For all have sinned” Romans3.23; and “the wages of sin is death” @Romans6.23. We are sinners, we deserved the death that Jesus died. But Jesus death was for sin. He was on the cross receiving the penalty for our sin, therefore he became sin for us.

Because the one thief was repentant, when he asked Jesus to remember him when he comes into his kingdom, Jesus told him that he would be in paradise with him that very day. He was forgiven. He was given freedom from the spiritual penalty of his sin.

Have you repented of your sin against God? Have you asked forgiveness for your sinfulness? Have you confessed Jesus as the risen Son of God because you believe in him? Have you been immersed for your salvation?

Which thief are you?

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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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Gut Wrenching Prayer (Jesus Praying in the Garden)

When Jesus was praying in the Garden, “My Father, if it is possible let this cup pass from me,” (@Mt. 26:39, NASB) he was asking the Father for another way. Jesus knew the extent of the horror he was going to experience. He knew how he would die and what it would cost him to go through that experience.

I’ve heard it said that Jesus wasn’t afraid of the physical pain. I can’t believe that to be true. But I do believe the physical pain was minor compared to the pain of feeling forsaken and separated from God when he would become sin for us.

Jesus comes to the Father, alone, with his friends a short distance away and he pleads with God, with his sweat becoming like drops of blood. He knows what is about to happen. He knows the terror his soul and his flesh will feel. He does not want to be separated in his loving, unified fellowship with God the Father. That separation will tear at his heart and soul. It will be the worst thing that can happen.

Jesus will know what it is like for people to be far away from God. What kind of hell their souls are in and will be in if they continue in sin with the consequence of punishment in hell.

Is there another way? Can we accomplish this in a different way some way where we will not be separated by sin?

Jesus never once wanted to abandon humanity to sin. He wasn’t betraying our faith and trust. He knew what was coming and what it meant and asked for something different.

But, because his relationship with the Father was one of love and unity and obedience, Jesus willingly submitted himself to the will and vision of God the Father. His words, “Yet not as I will, but as you will,” (Mt. 26:39, NASB) tell of his love for the Father and his love for humanity which bears the image of God.

This was a huge sacrifice for Jesus. He would be beaten and ripped to pieces and then crucified until he died, but his sacrifice was his fellowship with God is so pure and holy, he cannot associate with sin.  And if Jesus was experiencing pain from separation anxiety, consider what God the Father would experience.

Because Jesus willingly died for our sin, through our faith in him, our sins are forgiven. When Jesus died with our sins placed on him, the eternal power of sin was put to death. When Jesus rose from the dead, he came to life without sin because sin was defeated. Sin, the power of sin, and sin’s leader the devil were all done in.

To deal with sin, it gut wrenching. It is for us now, it was for Jesus then. But that is what he came to do, deal with sin by putting sin to death. And the Father’s will was accomplished when Jesus died on the cross for me and for you.

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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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