Archive | March, 2011
Growing in the Word podcast: 3-27-11

Growing in the Word podcast: 3-27-11

Morning service from Immanuel Baptist Baptist Church.  Guest speaker Dr. Bobby Kelly brings a powerful message about what it means to be adopted into God’s family.

Growing in the Word podcast: 3-20-11

Growing in the Word podcast: 3-20-11

Morning service from Immanuel Baptist Church in Shawnee, OK.  Sermon from March 20th, 2011.

Is God Angry at Japan? Listen to the Bible, not Beck

Is God Angry at Japan? Listen to the Bible, not Beck

Whenever tragedies strike, it is always inevitable that some will go down the path of dangerous theologizing.  In the wake of the horrific earthquake in Haiti, Pat Robertson stated the tragedy was a result of that nation’s “pact to the devil” and CBN later said the country was “cursed.”

The recent earthquake/tsunami/ radiation crisis in Japan is no different.  On Monday, while the Japanese people were still pulling victims from the rubble and battling potential nuclear meltdowns, radio/TV personality Glenn Beck stated that the tragic events were a message from God.  Beck stated, “I’m not saying God is, you know, causing earthquakes,” and then added that he’s “not not saying that, either.”  Beck continued, “Whether you call it Gaia, or whether you call it Jesus, there’s a message being sent and that is, ‘Hey, you know that stuff we’re doing? Not really working out real well.’ Maybe we should stop doing some of it.” Perhaps Beck is not singling out the Japanese people in his comments and saying that the message from God in these earthquakes is for all of us to heed.  However, the timing and the implication are troubling and these comments only add to the corpus of Beck’s past comments/writing about religion that reveal him to be confused and at odds with Scripture.  So, how is it wrong of us to say that tragedies are the result of people’s particular sin?

Jesus made it very clear how we should interpret the meaning of tragic events.  In Luke 13, some people report to Jesus about others who had been persecuted and killed by Pilate.  Jesus used it as an opportunity to teach us about how we should respond to tragedies.

Luke 13:1-5- “There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”

This passage of Scripture makes it clear that tragic events are not the result of people’s particular sin.  Rather, they are they the effect of living in a fallen world cursed by sin.  Jesus taught that in response to a tragedy, we should not point our finger at the victims and say, “They sinned.”  Instead, tragedies are a reminder that we have all sinned and unless we repent and have a right relationship with Christ on the basis of faith, we will all be liable for the judgment.  It’s not just a few that are cursed, we all are.  Honestly, I think some of the statements that tragedies are the results of some people’s sin are made from prejudice.  What would we say if an earthquake caused the nuclear reactor in Arkansas to melt down?  Are they cursed?   Do they have some “extra” sin the rest of us do not?

Please listen to Jesus rather than the pundits when it comes to thinking about why tragedies happen.  They remind us we will all perish unless we live for Christ.

 

Why Sharks at the Aquarium Don’t Eat the Fish They’re Swimming With (And How We Could Learn the Same Lesson)

Why Sharks at the Aquarium Don’t Eat the Fish They’re Swimming With (And How We Could Learn the Same Lesson)

Yesterday my family went to the Oklahoma Aquarium in Jenks to have a little fun and time off for Spring Break.  We had a great time and especially enjoyed the huge exhibit of sharks.  They have a glass walkway that tunnels through the exhibit so that sharks swim above and beside you.  It just so happened that while we there, we got to see them feed the sharks.  As I watched these amazing creatures eat, I was reminded of something that occurred at another aquarium last year.

On our way to a convention in Orlando, FL, we stopped at the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta, which is famous for housing whale sharks.  They have the largest tank I have ever seen with every kind of fish and many dangerous types of sharks.  As we stood there watching the animals, one of my children asked, “Dad, what keeps those sharks from eating all the other fish and each other?”  I started to respond with the typical Dad-like “Well, you see son, these sharks…” but then it hit me- that’s a really good question.  Honestly, I hadn’t thought about it before.  Come to think of it, in all of the zoos and aquariums I have been in, I have never once seen a shark attack and eat another fish in the tank.  So, why do the sharks behave so well?

We asked a worker at the aquarium and he responded, “That’s easy.  The sharks are so well fed they don’t want to eat the other fish.”  Sharks are fed a consistent, steady diet of food that keeps them satisfied and refraining from undesired behavior in the tank (i.e. eating the other fish).

It dawned on me what a tremendous lesson this is for us.  I wonder if much of our undesired behavior would be eliminated if we had a steady diet of the Word of God in our lives?  I wonder if we would stop attacking people, treating them rudely, selfishly, and scornfully if we were well fed on the truth and wisdom of the Word?  Sadly, far too many Christians do this to one another in the church.  Many churches, if they were aquariums, would have only a handful of sharks because they ate all the other fish!  Imagine the horror if you took your small child to the aquarium to see the sharks violently chase down and devour all the cute little “Nemo” fish?  Now, imagine what people on the outside of church think when they look in and see the believers arguing and tearing each other to shreds.  They want no part of that.

Friends, make a commitment to incorporate a daily time in God’s Word in your schedule.  If we feast on Scripture- to truly study it and contemplate how can we apply it in our lives through the power of the Holy Spirit, I can only imagine how it would change our appetites.  Our appetite for worldly and fleshly things would be diminished.  Our appetite to injure others with our words and actions would decrease.  Our behavior in the “aquarium” of life would be much more God-pleasing if we were consistently in the Word.

 

Growing in the Word podcast: 3-13-11

Growing in the Word podcast: 3-13-11

Morning Service from Immanuel Baptist Church in Shawnee, OK from March 13, 11.

 

Are You Willing to Take the Risk? Shahbaz Bhatti and the Risky Business of Following Jesus

Are You Willing to Take the Risk? Shahbaz Bhatti and the Risky Business of Following Jesus

Genuinely following God is going to require risks.  To grow deeper in our walk with Christ will mean that God will call us out of our comfort zones to risk new levels of obedience and faith in Him.  Without these risks, we never really learn the exacting nature of true discipleship.  We never really learn that life isn’t about us.  We never really learn how to move beyond selfishness.  The risks, for some the threat of loss of life and for others the loss of comfort/convenience, are opportunities for us to grow in our relationship with the Lord.

Last week, Shahbaz Bhatti was martyred in Islamabad for his faith in Christ.  Batti was the Minister for Minority Affairs in Pakistan.  In recent months, he had become an outspoken opponent of Pakistan’s Sharia law, particularly the blasphemy laws which call for the execution of anyone who speaks against Muhammad.  In a story posted by the BBC, a video of an interview given by Bhatti can be seen where he basically predicts his death.  Bhatti boldly proclaims his faith in Christ and his willingness to die for his principles.  Here is a quote from Bhatti:

“I’m speaking for the oppressed and marginalized Christian minority… I want to share that I believe in Jesus Christ who has given His own life for us. I know the meaning of the cross and following the cross.  And I’m ready to die for a cause… I’m living for my community and suffering people and I’m ready to die for their rights.”  He goes on to state that he would rather die standing for his principles than bow down to the threats of radical and violent Islamic groups.

You can read the BBC story and see the video of Bhatti (scroll halfway down the story and click on the video of his picture) here:

Bhatti Interview

Shahbaz Bhatti understood the risks involved in following Christ.  He was willing to give his life and for that the Lord will greatly reward His faith.  But I wonder, do we understand the risks involved in truly following Jesus?  When you get down to it, most of us don’t want to be inconvenienced.  We don’t want to take risks, but much prefer our comfort zones of playing it safe and easy.  If you are going to grow deeper in Christ, God will call you to take risks.  He’s going to call you to risk talking to your friend or co-worker about the Lord.  He’s going to call you to risk sharing the gospel with them.  He’s going to call you to risk breaking off any unhealthy relationship or activity that brings you down spiritually.  He’s going to call you to risk tithing.  He’s going to call you to risk going on a mission trip.  Following God is not a risk-free offer!

Are you willing to take the risk of growing deeper in Christ?  When you compare our lives to Mr. Bhatti, many of us aren’t even facing real risks.  His risk was the loss of life.  Many times our “risk” is the danger of an awkward moment while talking to someone about the Lord or the loss of creature comforts for one week on a mission trip.  If you really want to grow, God will call you to risks.  We often ask this question in association with risks- “Is it worth it?”  With risks we weigh the consequences of taking the step of faith.  The risk of following Jesus to deeper levels of sacrifice and obedience is always worth it.

Last Sunday, I preached on the story of Rahab hiding the Hebrew spies in Jericho.  She took a huge risk in believing in God even when no one else around her did.  She took a huge risk allowing the men to hide in her home.  If the authorities found out, she and her family would have been killed.  She took a huge risk hanging the scarlet cord out her window.  What if the Hebrews didn’t return as promised?  What if they were defeated in trying to take the city.  In my research, I discovered the earliest known fortified city in human history was Jericho.  For centuries it stood having never been conquered.  She risked that the Hebrews would do what had never been done before.  The scarlet cord was evidence she was up to something and she certainly would have been found out and punished if the city did not fall.

Was it worth it to Rahab?  Yes!  She finally found purpose and meaning in life by placing her faith in the one true God who created her to obey and glorify Him.  She lived the rest of her life in Israel married to a prince.  The prostitute became a princess and her son is in the bloodline of the Messiah, Jesus Christ!  What an awesome payoff for the risk she took to follow God closely.  I pray you will take the risk to follow God to deeper levels of commitment- it’s definitely worth it!

 

 

Growing in the Word podcast: 3-6-11

Growing in the Word podcast: 3-6-11

Morning Service from Immanuel Baptist Church on March 6th, 2011.

Is Jesus the Only Way? Universalism, Rob Bell, and the offense of the Gospel

Is Jesus the Only Way? Universalism, Rob Bell, and the offense of the Gospel

I’ve been reading with great interest the last few days about the controversy surrounding the forthcoming book by Rob Bell, “Love Wins.” Granted, we should be careful about bringing charges and making assertions before the full book is even available. It is also entirely possible that the promotional material released from the publisher of the book has as its goal a controversy in order to sell more books. However, if you watch the promotional video that Bell has made, it’s difficult to come to any other conclusion than that he is a universalist. Take a minute and read Justin Taylor’s post on this controversy here:

Rob Bell: Universalist?

In essence, universalists do not believe that faith in Jesus Christ is the only way to be saved and have eternal life. Some have said that Bell is merely asking questions in the video, but even in such a format we can clearly be teaching something. Watch Bell’s video about the new book here:

Rob Bell- “Love Wins”

Bell is a very popular pastor/speaker/author who wields considerable influence representing the emergent church movement. This is not the first time controversy has been associated with Bell. His book, “Velvet Elvis,” called into question his affirmation of key, non-negotiable doctrines of the Christian faith such as the virgin birth. I remember having a discussion with some of the students in my seminary class about Bell and if he was really advocating what many accuse him of believing. If you have read his books, he is skilled in the way he states things and can often be hard to “pin down.” Apparently, “Love Wins,” is going to make it clearer than ever that Bell is moving away from the mainstream of evangelical doctrine.

The notion that faith in Jesus alone is the only way to have salvation and go to heaven is, and has always been, one of the most offensive things about Christianity to non-believers. Bell states in the promotional video it’s the reason so many want to have nothing to do with Christianity. Yet, the exclusivity of Christ in salvation is a doctrine that is clearly articulated in Scripture (cf. John 14:6; Acts 4:12 and many others that could be listed). I don’t have space in this blog to cover all of the arguments for, and those that have been posited against, the exclusivity of Christ (but see my letter below). Suffice it to say, the necessity of faith in Christ and not faith in good deeds or other deities is increasingly becoming a scandalous and offensive position to hold in our society. This recent news about Bell shows that it is now becoming more and more offensive even within the Christian ranks.

Recently, the local newspaper in our community has been publishing letters to the editor concerning this issue of the exclusivity of Christ. I was surprised to see multiple letters from those who would identify themselves as Christians defend universalism and deny that faith in Jesus is necessary to go to heaven. Below, I have posted my letter in response to these letters, which was published in the paper.

Dear Editor,

I have read with interest recent editorials on the issue of Jesus Christ being the only way to salvation. Too often, we interpose our 21st century understanding of truth on to the Scripture, thus making the Bible say what we want it to say rather than what God wants to say. This seems to be a difficult thing for many to accept when it comes to the topic of salvation. Our postmodern/pluralist culture finds absolute truth (the belief that one thing can be true for all people at all times) offensive. Yet, the Bible is clear in its claim to the exclusivity of Christ in salvation.

Recent editorials have attempted to deny Jesus is the only way to salvation on the basis of context. Yet, the context affirms the contrary. For example, Peter’s words to Cornelius in Acts 10:34 do not imply that those outside of belief in Christ could be saved. The verses that follow articulate what “fearing God” and “doing right” truly mean- that peace with God comes only through Jesus Christ. There is no doubt in the mind of Luke (who wrote the passage) that what saved Cornelius was not his religious belief outside of Christ, but rather his faith in Christ that made him right with God. Incidentally, if a multitude of religious belief systems are efficacious (able to save), why does a large portion of the Apostle Paul’s writings condemn any teaching that contradicts the exclusivity of Christ? The wonder of salvation is not that any belief system can save us, but that any of us can reach out to Christ for redemption.

Readers have stated the assumption that doing good can result in salvation. The Bible is clear that good deeds can never save us, but only faith in Jesus can save (Eph. 2:8-10). Good deeds are the result of salvation, never the basis for it. The message of Jesus’ gospel is not that we need to become better versions of ourselves, but instead we need to die to ourselves and become new in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17-18). In regard to salvation, the Bible says we can know with certainty how we are saved and should never place this doctrine under the rubric of “a poor reflection” (1 Cor. 13:12). In fact, John stated this as the reason for writing his Gospel: “These are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:31).

If we are going to accept the Bible as God’s Word and not force it to die a thousand deaths at the hands of postmodernism, we need to accept the biblical claim that faith in Jesus Christ is the only way to be saved. Christians should not wield this truth in a spirit of judgmentalism and sanctimony, but rather engage people with the love and hope that only Christ can bring.

More and more people in the Christian community are abandoning the doctrine of the exclusivity of Christ in salvation because the world is offended by it. Adherence to this doctrine appears to be close-minded, irrational, and intolerant. Yet, faith in Christ is necessary. Only Jesus could serve as our substitute on the cross, a perfect and unblemished sacrifice, to satisfy the righteous demands of God and pay the penalty and punishment of our sin. As the world grows more and more hostile to this crucial doctrine, I hope you will stand fast. In no way should we be mean, arrogant, or judgmental about it. People may claim that about us, but let’s encourage others to embrace Christ through authentically living out our faith, loving people, and communicating the gospel of Jesus.