Thursday, March 20, 2014

Throwback Thursday with VOM's Richard Wurmbrand

With Richard Wurmbrand, founder of
The Voice of the Martyrs, and
William Levi of Operation Nehemiah (Sudan).

I read Richard Wurmbrand's Tortured for Christ during the summer of 1994 and it had a profound impact on my faith. I later had the privilege of meeting Richard and Sabina Wurmbrand a few years later at a Voice of the Martyrs conference in Bartlesville, Oklahoma.

Take a moment today to order of copy of Tortured for Christ (free) or the expanded version, In God's Underground.

The Wurmbrand's faithful witness motivated me to distribute Gospel cassettes in the Middle East. How could God use you for the sake of the Gospel?


Friday, March 7, 2014

Heresy On The Right

What is the last, best hope of the world?

Ralph Reed, CPAC 2014
"In this hour of testing, may it be our finest hour as conservatives. Let us save this nation, this last, best hope of mankind, and give them the country they richly deserve." [9:46 mark] Ralph Reed, Chairman of the Faith & Freedom Coalition.

These were Ralph Reed's concluding words in his speech to the attendees of the 50th Annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) Friday afternoon.

As someone who has attended CPAC on more than one occasion, I can confirm that statements to this effect are common fare among conservatives.

Christians of any and all political convictions ought to ask themselves whenever they hear or read statements like this, "Is is true that America is the last, best hope of mankind?"

All Christians ought to give the same response, "No!," because this statement is heretical.

The last, best hope of mankind is Jesus the Christ, the King of kings and Lord of lords. He is the first, last, and only hope of mankind.

The bride of Christ is comprised of Christians from all nations and together we proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ until his return. No single nation holds a privileged position in the kingdom of God. There is one King and one kingdom and we all serve him together.

Conservatives criticize progressives for seeming to elevate the federal government to the place of God but conservatives must not make the same error with an idealized America.

It's time to stop applauding the "last, best hope of mankind" line because when Christians elevate a nation to a position that is reserved for God alone we are engaging in idolatry.



Wednesday, February 5, 2014

The Question: Is Jesus God?

Last week I wrote about the lordship of Jesus Christ and some of the implications for Christian living which follow from this fact. In the discussions which followed, challenges were raised not just against the lordship of Jesus Christ but against the very deity of Christ.

Is Jesus God?

Those who deny the authority of the Bible will, of course, discount the brief arguments I will share here. However, I would encourage those who discount or downplay the veracity and significance of the Bible to examine the degree of confidence they place in other historical works.

There are over 5,600 Greek manuscripts of the New Testament in existence today. The total is over 24,000 when you include manuscripts written in Latin, Coptic, Syriac, and Aramaic. The number of manuscripts we have for Aristotle is about 50. Plato is in the single digits. One manuscript fragment of John’s gospel is even dated to within 30 years of the original versus the hundreds of years distance from the original for all other ancient works.

This does not prove the existence of God or the deity of Jesus Christ but perhaps the content of the Bible ought to be given a bit more respect and consideration before it is dismissed.

One helpful way to understand what the Bible has to say about the deity of Christ is the HANDS method provided by Robert Bowman, Jr. and Ed Komoszewski in their work, Putting Jesus In His Place: The Case for the Deity of Christ. Scripture reveals to us that Jesus shares the Honors due to God, the Attributes of God, the Names of God, the Deeds that God does, and the Seat of God’s Throne.

Honors of God. A radical, scandalous fact of Scripture is that Jesus’s followers gave him honors that were due only to the one true God of Israel. Jesus’s followers did this because Jesus himself called for such honor. Right after John records that the Jewish leaders were angry with Jesus for “calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God,” he shows Jesus claiming divine honor for himself. “Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him” (John 5:23). It should be no surprise then that Jesus’s followers afford him divine honor as well.

We see an example of such honor in Revelation 4:11 where John writes of Jesus: “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.” John falls at the feet of Jesus to worship him in Rev. 1:17 and, rather than rebuking John for worshipping someone other than God, accepts his worship as appropriate. Jesus’s followers honor and worship Jesus with honor that is due to God alone.

Attributes of God. Scripture teaches that Jesus has all the attributes of God. Paul wrote to the church in Colossae of Jesus, “For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily” (Colossians 2:9). The fullness of God dwells in Jesus. The person of Jesus existed before becoming a human being (Philippians 2:6-11). Jesus created the world and all things (Col. 1:16; John 1:3). Jesus is unchanging in his nature and character (Hebrews 1:10-12). He is omnipotent (1 Corinthians 1:23-24; John 10:17-18), omnipresent (Matthew 28:20), and omniscient (Matt. 9:4; Mark 2:6-8; Acts 1:24). All throughout the New Testament, the Bible shows that Jesus possesses essential attributes that are characteristic of God alone.

Names of God. Jesus also has names that belong to God alone. Examples include: “Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14; Matthew 1:23), “God” (John 1:1, 18), “My God” (Jn. 20:28), “God over all” (Romans 9:5), “Lord” (Matt. 3:3, 14:30; Acts 2:36), “Our Savior” (Titus 1:4. 2:13, 3:6), and “I Am” (John 4:26, 8:58).

Deeds of God. Jesus created the world (John 1:3), sustains the universe (Colossians 1:16-17), performed miracles (numerous texts), and has power over nature (Matthew 14:22-33) to name a few.

Seat of God’s Throne. Jesus is the Messiah, seated at the right hand of the Father. “Again the high priest asked him, ‘Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?’ And Jesus said, ‘I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.’ And the high priest tore his garments and said, ‘What further witnesses do we need? You have heard his blasphemy. What is your decision?’ And they all condemned him as deserving death.” (Mark 14:61-64). Jesus indeed occupies this throne today (Hebrews 1:3, 8:1, 12:2).

Bowman and Komoszewski summarize the situation thusly:
All creatures, even the most glorious angels in heaven, are expected to worship him. He has existed forever. He exerted omnipotence in making the universe, and he continues to do so by sustaining its existence. He goes by the divine name “Lord” and also answers to “God.” He lives in God’s “home” (heaven) and sits in God’s “chair” (his heavenly throne). From that very position he sends the Holy Spirit, reveals himself to apostles, guides the church by his divine presence as they complete his commission to tell the whole world that he is Lord, and will one day judge all creatures and give eternal life to whomsoever he chooses. Such a person must, in fact, be God. [Putting Jesus In His Place, pg. 275]
The New Testament clearly teaches the deity of Jesus Christ from beginning to end. What will you do with this knowledge now that you have it? I invite you to acknowledge Jesus for who he is, repent of your sins, receive eternal life, and worship him as God and Lord. If you are already a disciple of Jesus the Christ you can have every confidence that you do not serve Jesus in vain. Go forward in renewed strength as we continue together in the mission he has given us!

This article originally appeared at ClashDaily.com.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

The Mileage of True Belief: Jesus Is Lord

Belief is never a matter of mere intellectual acceptance or agreement in Scripture. Belief always necessitates a comprehensive adherence expressed through faithful obedience.

Believing that Jesus is Lord compels the implication that Caesar is not. I am not. You are not. Jesus is King of kings and Lord of lords. Believing that Jesus is Lord must lead to certain actions: we submit, we obey, we follow, and we imitate our Lord.

Our allegiance to King Jesus not only supersedes all other allegiances but orders and informs all of our relationships.

Jesus is Lord of heaven and earth so the governing posture of our lives is one of love. We walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God (Ephesians 5:2).

Jesus is Lord so we recognize the church as the bride of Christ rather than a mere religious institution we can take or leave based on whether it pleases us or not (2 Corinthians 11:2). We wouldn’t welcome Jesus with open arms but tell his bride to go wait outside because she’s ugly and annoying.

Jesus is Lord so we love our wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her because no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body (Eph. 5:25, 29).

Jesus is Lord so we bring up our children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord (Eph. 6:4).

Jesus is Lord so our jobs are not merely a means of earning money in order to satisfy our desires. Whatever we do, we work wholeheartedly, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord we will receive the inheritance as your reward. We are serving the Lord Christ (Colossians 3:23-24).

Believing that Jesus is Lord changes everything. To believe but not obey is to not believe at all. To believe but not have our entire lives reoriented is to not truly believe.

Henry Rollins of Sons of Anarchy fame (I guess he’s done some other things, too) once said, “Knowledge without mileage equals bullshit.” He might as well have been talking about Christianity.

Following Christ turns knowledge into mileage and this often entails swimming upstream. If people don’t think we’re a bit odd we may need to examine ourselves. It could be that we’ve conformed to the world. Our salt may have lost its saltiness.

Paul writes in Romans 12:1-2, “Present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

Paul goes on to paint a picture of the will of God in the remainder of Romans 12. Christians are in the world and not of the world but we are in the world for the world.
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:14-21)
Do we bless those who persecute us or do we curse them? Do we associate with the lowly people of our society? Do we repay evil for evil or are we doing our part to live peaceably with all? Do we avenge ourselves or do we feed our enemies and give them something to drink? How we answer these questions will tell us whether we’re overcoming evil or being overcome by evil.

Being in the world for the world can be a source of great joy. Author and theologian Frederick Buechner wrote, “The place where God calls you is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” Where does your deep gladness currently intersect with the world’s deep hunger? If you have no answer it could be that you have merely assented to facts about Jesus Christ rather than taken up your cross to follow Him. Without this mileage, your knowledge amounts to bullshit.

Originally posted at ClashDaily.com.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Discipleship and Freedom In Christ

How exactly are Christians to make disciples? Be specific!

This was a question posed to me in response to my previous post, Common Christianity Is a Neutralized Christianity. The question is a good one. After all, disciple-making is the great task left to the Church by Jesus the Christ before He ascended to heaven. It’s been 2,000 years now. We ought to know how to do it!

My initial reply to this question was not as specific as the questioner would have liked. Disciple-making: “Helping someone along through word and deed as the Holy Spirit transforms and develops that person into an ever-growing follower of Christ. This would be in contrast to say-a-prayer-and-you’ve-got-a-ticket-to-heaven conversions where the person may or may not experience regeneration and life-transformation.” Too vague, they said.

Here’s why I believe we should pause and consider what we are dealing with before proceeding with precise plans of action for making disciples. In Matthew 4:19 Jesus is speaking to two of His first disciples. He says, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” The Great Disciple-Maker is our example and He began the discipleship process with the command, “Follow me.”

Pastor David Platt has written a book I recommend on this subject entitled, Follow Me. In it he offers a very helpful contrast between Christianity and major world religions. “When Jesus came on the scene in human history and began calling followers to himself, he did not say, ‘Follow certain rules. Observe specific regulations. Perform ritual duties. Pursue a particular path.’ Instead, he said, ‘Follow me.’”

Imprecision can be a good thing when it comes to Christian disciple-making because it makes room for freedom in Christ. Every disciple is a unique person gifted with their own distinctive combination of experiences, talents, passions, fruits of the Spirit, personality, life stage, temperament, and vocation. Followers of Christ are also situated in many diverse cultures which adds multiple layers of perspective and history to the journey of following Christ.

Just this week I was having a discussion with my family on what disciplines we are focusing on in our Christian formation at the start of this new year. One offered meditation, particularly focusing on thankfulness, another said reading and reflective journaling, while the other mentioned worshipful singing. Each practice reflects the passions and talents of the individual child.

The task for my wife and I is to work with each individual child and guide them with wisdom and experience as the Spirit works in their lives. There are things we all do together as a family that are the same. However, if we were to impose a uniform discipleship process on the children collectively we would be failing to stoke the unique set of gifts God has given to each child. “Follow me” is expressed differently by each of us as the process of sanctification looks different within each one of us.

“Follow” (Matthew 4), “abide” (John 15), “go” (Matthew 28), “love” (John 13), “be” (there are 74 “be” commands in the New Testament!), “believe” (1 John 3:23). There are over 1,000 commands given in the New Testament for all believers to collectively obey. How we obey these commands as the Holy Spirit conforms us to the image of Christ (Romans 8:29) will be uniquely expressed from one individual to another.

How exactly are Christians to make disciples? Faithfully, according to Scripture, as the Spirit leads while allowing each disciple to express their uniqueness and freedom in Christ.

This post originally appeared at ClashDaily.com.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Common Christianity Is a Neutralized Christianity

Our brothers and sisters in Christ were killed for their faith at an alarming rate in 2013. This is according to a report from Open Doors which was able to document 2,123 deaths compared to 1,201 the previous year. Open Doors claims that 1,213 of those deaths occurred in Syria alone. North Korea, Somalia, Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan were listed as the top five most dangerous countries in the world for Christians.

Certainly, the numbers are actually higher than what is reflected in this report. For every documented death, who knows how many are misclassified or yet accounted for. Nevertheless, we can see that Christians continue to face extreme and ever-increasing levels of persecution throughout the world. It costs something to live openly as a Christian in these regions. The call to follow Christ is a call to follow Him in suffering.

Satan is always seeking to extinguish the mission of Jesus Christ on earth by any means necessary. 1 Peter 5:8 warns, “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” Satan devours all he can in his attempt to destroy the kingdom of God although history reveals this is a failed strategy. In 197 A.D. the early church father, Tertullian, challenged a Roman governor with these words, “The oftener we are mown down by you, the more in number we grow; the blood of Christians is seed.” Persecution may not always lead to the growth of the church but it has certainly failed to eliminate it.

Satan does not need to attempt to eradicate the church through violence in some parts of the world. Many parts of the West are susceptible to a different strategy. Whereas Christians in Syria have a veritable target on their back, Christians in America are met with a yawn. There’s no need for a frontal assault if the opponent can be neutralized from within.

In a previous post I explained that America is not a Christian nation, arguing that it is more appropriate to compare America to the Roman Empire rather than ancient Israel. In our attempt to Christianize the country we have defused the radical nature of the kingdom of God in order to maximize the number of people who would feel comfortable attending our churches. We have allowed ourselves to become satisfied with passing legislation that we believe will improve the morality of the people. With the first method the church has lost its saltiness. The second method has generated more heat than light (see my previous post on salt and light). Satan is content with either.

Our attempts at making America a Christian nation have produced a common Christianity rather than a radical Christianity. With common Christianity, the vast majority of Americans are Christians. Say a sinner’s prayer, accept Jesus into your heart, and you now have a ticket to heaven when you die. In the meantime you can blend into the culture and pursue your version of the American dream. Little else is expected.

Consider countries where Christianity was the official religion of the nation. Church attendance is in severe decline in formerly Christian countries throughout Europe. Christianity was given a privileged status, it became common, the salt lost its flavor and it became good for nothing (Matthew 5). When Christianity becomes highly associated with a particular culture, then living as a Christian becomes associated with merely going along with the culture. Christianity is normalized and thus neutralized. The kingdom of God has become just another version of the kingdoms of the world.

The kingdom of God is never just another version of the kingdoms of the world. There is nothing common about the fact that God became a human being. The all-powerful King of the universe came into this world as a vulnerable infant at the mercy of His mother’s care. He associated with the weak, vulnerable, and outcast. He upset the religious norms of His day. The Messiah came, not as another conquering Caesar, but riding on a mere donkey to suffer a criminal’s death on our behalf. Jesus conquered through suffering and dying and He calls His followers to take up their cross and follow Him. There is nothing common about our King or His Kingdom!

Satan hasn’t come against the church in America with violent persecution because he has not had to. We have neutralized ourselves. We can recapture the radical nature of the kingdom of God by living our lives in such a way that people can see Jesus in us. We can love both neighbors and enemies with the self-sacrificial love of Jesus. We can lay aside our preoccupations with worldly power and replace it with a passion for making disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that Christ has commanded us. Jesus was anything but common and His followers should not be either.

This post originally appeared at ClashDaily.com.