Tuesday, July 31, 2007

"How Can I Better Defend the Faith..."

“How can I better defend the faith, and more effectively share the gospel?”

This week a young man asked me to pray for him. He is a new believer and is trying to explain his faith to fellow inmates, most of whom don’t seem that interested in what he has to say, while others seem to have a whole arsenal of arguments to refute what he believes. So he asks, “How can I more effectively defend the faith, and share the gospel?” And so in these next two posts, I’d like to write about first, defending the faith, and then next week, on sharing one’s faith in Christ. They are two different things, really.

Defending the faith, we called “apologetics.” Sharing the gospel, we called “evangelism.” They are not the same thing, though an apologist will sometimes present the gospel, and the evangelist will have to sometimes explain things an apologist would. By spiritual gifting, I am an evangelist and not an apologist. And that is fine with me. In the Bible, evangelists like Philip, got to be swept away by the Spirit of God, to find them selves riding chariots with foreign dignitaries who want to know God. (See Acts 8: 26 – 40) Apologists tend to just get whipped or stoned, etc. (See the rest of Acts). Stephen and Paul were apologists. They actively "defended the faith" before the religious people of their day. Sometimes apologists are forced into their ministry, as is the case of Stephen before his stoning, and Paul so many times. But sometimes an apologist might seek out a situation. When Paul would go to a new city, he first went to teach religious Jews in their Synagogues.

Evangelists are different; our task is different. We aren’t defending our faith, but encouraging others to consider the good news that we have to tell them. That, and we tend to have better hair. (See Television) I like to look at it this way. In the battle for men’s souls, apologists are the defense, while evangelists are the offense. Peter seemed to be more an evangelist. In Acts 2, people called out to Him, “What must we do?” He told them, and they would respond by either not believing, or else they would believe, be baptized and immediately added to the emerging church. Our audience is different. But more on that next week. Here is a good verse for apologists:

“But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.”
1 Peter 3:15

Apologists tend to be great thinkers. That is, they have a love to research things, and to find the answers. I don’t. Sorry, but I just know what I believe. Yes, I know my Bible. But it is my personal experience with Christ that excites me, and what I’ve experienced I am happy to tell people about. But at times evangelists have to defend their faith too, just as apologists have to sometimes stop bringing up examples and proofs, and just share the gospel to an open heart. I can’t just be an evangelist and never defend my faith, anymore than I can ignore showing mercy or offering help, just because these aren’t my gifts. Teaching may not be my passion, but God wants me prepared in case I need to. I learned early on, that I needed to have some answers for questions about Christianity because in America, people think they know what the Bible says, without ever actually reading it.

We, who are not apologists, need training. It took me three tries to read through C.S. Lewis’ “Mere Christianity.” His non-fictional work is very apologetic. That book was so deep, it answered questions I’d never ask. But it did help me, when others would ask me questions. I started seeing my need for apologists, when people who really had wrong beliefs about God, would try correcting my beliefs, or worse, if I were trying to share the gospel with someone, and others would interject things that just are not true about God. When that began to happen, I saw that my experience with God, wasn’t answering their questions. I tried getting around it, but I needed help. I mean, when people ask hard questions about God, one can only quote to them Proverbs 6:6 so many times.

“Go to the ant, thou sluggard;
consider its ways and be wise!”

It works once or twice, but by the 4th and 5th time, people stop scratching their heads and just kind of stare you down. I found it a good thing to get some training. There are a great many resources out there for this. C.S. Lewis’ non-fictional writings are good for this. Also Josh McDowell is a writer and speaker who has defended the faith and is a great resource. He presents Jesus to the Muslim and to the secularist in a most excellent way. If you are more philosophical, you might want to look at the writings of Francis Schaeffer. There are many others.

In Norman Geisler and Joseph Holden’s book Truth Quest, they write:

“The word apologetics is not a military word; it is a word that describes how a lawyer gives a verbal defense for a client in the courtroom.”

They go on to say that the Greek word is “apologia” and that it is found often in the New Testament. For instance, it is in both 1 Peter 3:15 (see above), and for example:

“It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart; for whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me.”
Philippians 1:5

Apologists get sent to where their belief system will be attacked. Evangelists get sent to where they will be heard. Ah, but even if I am not a gifted teacher or apologist, I am a servant of God by name. And so according to 2 Timothy 2:24-25, I need to learn apologetics:

“And the Lord’s servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.”
2 Timothy 2:24-26

Apologists strive for people to live according to the truth. They don't just always want to be right. They love truth. They know that the truth will set people free in their hearts. This is the passion of the apologist. Jesus said:

“..If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
John 8:31b-32

So if you want to defend the faith, the thing to do is to know God’s word. Ask the Lord for wisdom, and for a gentle spirit and kind heart. Then ask the Lord to send you people who don’t have it right. If they listen; wonderful! When you don't have an answer for their question, you go back and find the answer. You can always say, “I’m sure the Bible has an answer to this, and so let me have a look and I’ll get back to you as soon as I find it.” Then you go back to the resources that you have, your Bible and the apologists who have written on that question, and you pray. God loves to reveal Himself to you. Then you can go back to those you were talking with, with your answer. Truth isn't in a hurry. If they are not open, but just argumentative, you don’t need to push at all. It is the Lord who opens hearts. And of course, quoting Proverbs 6:6 will always buy you a little time.

One more note to future apologists. It seems important that you keep your cool. Speaking the truth; yet giving gentle answers. Others may shout at you, but you are to exhibit the peace of God. I remember trying to convince a friend to follow Jesus. Instead of evangelizing, I was trying to apologize. Frustrated to tears, I burst out with, “Dag-*&#^$%!!! I just want you to have peace like ME!!!” If you want to defend the faith, knowing His word is one thing, but you need to also ask the Lord to work in you profoundly, the fruit of His Spirit.

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control. Against such things there is no law.”
Galatians 5:22

Note: There aren’t many fruits listed here. It is describing one fruit with many characteristics. Imagine a fruit vender trying to sell his peaches, and barking out, “Come and get it, the peaches aren’t very sweet, but they sure are fuzzy!!!” Apologists need all the characteristics of the fruit of the Spirit. And God will work that in you if you ask Him too.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

"Why Are Some Christians So Sad?"

Donald's wants to get into meditation. Not knowing any Christians who practice meditation, he got a book that included eastern philosophies and practices. He soon discerned that the book was not for him, but a question came up concerning inner suffering. Apparently Buddha taught that the inner sufferings, in response to one’s hardships, are most tragic. But "Why are some Christians so apparently sad and suffering?" Donald quotes from what he was reading:

"In Buddhist teachings, human suffering is an expression and reflection of the distance between our reality and our desires and beliefs."

Here’s an example of a difference between those in Christ, and those not in Christ. The above statement may indeed represent the unregenerate human being. For anyone, however painful our afflictions, it is how a person internally processes their suffering, which can potentially damage the soul. However, the Christian’s reality is wonderful! We accept that at this time, in these fallen bodies, we suffer. Yet we can rejoice in our sufferings! This is due to first, the effects of “the fall,” and then to the salvation we have received through Christ. We recognize the pain, but glory in the promises.

"I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us."
Romans 8:18

Romans 8 explains how, due to sin entering the world, the whole earth is not as it would be. Were the world not fallen, this Buddhist teaching would be right. But since it has, and since all creation is groaning, it is rather unnatural for people to just accept their sad lot in life. There is hope! Some of us have entered that hope. As part of creation itself, we who are born again, eagerly anticipate the time when God will come.

"The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed."
Romans 8:19

For both the regenerate and the unregenerate soul, a certain amount of vexation in this world is sanity. The world is not how any of us would have it. Remember, we were created for the Garden. We weren’t created to endure suffering. But we’ve all suffered. There is a denial or deception involved for the one who ignores our situation. But once we recognize the pain, we can decide what to do about it. For that we need some truth. The glory that is to come, is already the Christian’s reality, because we are recipients of the promises of God. So while Buddha might tell us that our pain is caused by our life’s desires not matching our reality; for the Christian, our pain is that our present experience is not matching our reality.

"No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love Him, -- but God has revealed it to us by His Spirit...."
1 Corinthians 2:9,10

Thanks to Christ Jesus, God has given us more than we could ever hope or imagine! Our minds cannot conceive what He has for us who love Him. Our spirits only know that it is going to be wonderful. We taste now and see that the Lord is good, and we get glimpses of our reality, which is awesome.

Why are some Christians sad? The answer isn't because their reality is bad. Their eternal reality is awesome! The present sadness is because their eyes are fixed on the present suffering. We people are like mirrors, reflecting what we are facing. Put a mirror in a Scottish glen, and gazing at the mirror will bring you serenity. Take the same mirror and stick it in a dungeon, and you’ll get a dismal reflection. I’ve experienced bouts of depression. Not everyone can maintain their focus on Christ and the promises. We all have our pains and pasts. It isn’t about putting on a happy face. It is about putting our face in His presence, and reflecting.

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit."
2 Corinthians 3:17,18

The Bible tells us to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus. The Christian who does not, will soon be struggling. The book of Hebrews keeps pointing our attention back onto Jesus, so that this transformation into His likeness can continue. Unlike mirrors, people actually are transformed into the likeness of what we are facing. Praise God!!! We can change!

"Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God."
Hebrews 12:2

The battle is for our focus! A Christian’s joy, freedom, peace, and yes, happiness, depend upon our being able to focus. We don't need great minds, but we need to keep our minds in a great place: on Jesus. We are not individually mighty. Yes, we have received the Spirit of God, Who helps us in our weakness. But we are in battle. Scripture is filled with reminders to not only fix our eyes on Jesus, but to continuously encourage each other to do so. Fellowship is so important! We need frequent reminders.

"So I will always remind you of these things, even though you know them and are firmly established in the truth you now have."
1 Peter 1:12

Because the joy of the believer comes with reflecting God, Peter, when writing to the church about goodness, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness and love, wrote:

"For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But if anyone does not have them, he is nearsighted and blind, and has forgotten that he has been cleansed from his past sins."
2 Peter 1:8,9

Meditation for the Christian isn’t emptying our heads, dieting solely on bean sprouts or saying "Ohmmm." It is deliberately entering the presence of God, focused on truth. Here are a couple of books on meditation. These two people have helped so many of God's children, find their focus for centuries. They are both pocket sized books, and very inexpensively. Here they are:

"Practicing the Presence of God," by Brother Lawrence. (1610 – 1691)

"Experiencing God Through Prayer," by Madam Guyon. (1648 – 1717)

Christians have glimpses of the glory of God? That is part of our reality. Our sin stained earthly eyes and ears and senses cannot focus on these realities for long yet, but the truths are there. And we know that one day, we will be out of these bodies and in His presence.

"Now we see but a poor reflection; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known."
1 Corinthians 13:12

Yes, people may want much more than they have. But as Christians, if we want anything that we don't have, we are actually wanting less than what God has for us. That is a kind of insanity, due to yet imperfect faith. But Jesus has us covered here too.

“He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”
Philippians 1:6

Christians can suffer inwardly, when our focus is out of place. Keeping our eyes fixed upon Him and His promises to us; that is where the battle is now. Satan and the world and our flesh seek our settling for gratification in this lifetime, now, sooner than later. This is the pressure we feel since “the fall.”

We are free to be joyful or miserable. But our reality is that we have many great and wonderful promises that we can either eagerly anticipate, or we can focus on the here and now. I find that recalling some of the many times God has already shown me proof of His presence in my life, helps me remember promises He's made to us. Heaven is indeed coming! We don’t ignore the pain, but we can choose where to focus.

Sometimes we get sad, between acknowledging the pain, and regaining our focus on our reality. That refocusing takes some folk longer than it does others. For a time, they may feel sad. We are free. If we feel rich, we can eat clam chowder and think we have it made. (New England style only please. None of that red stuff!) Or if we feel poor (or too high in cholesterol), we can sit with our watery soup and celery stalk, meditating on a life misspent. But neither reflects our reality! We have it so much better! Our reality is that eternity, and all God promises for us started when we came to Christ. Suffering is a meantime kind of thing.

Brother Lawrence was a monk. Madam Guyon was a prisoner in the Bastille. Both, regardless of their very different circumstances, knew joy, and their meditation brought them into a more constant focusing on Christ. Their writings are great tools for Christian meditation.

And if you know any sad Christians who don’t want to meditate so, I recommend you simply do what I do. Gather together several solid believers; those moved by compassion; real prayer warriors. Then on Sunday, if after service your sad Christian is still seemingly glum, just go on up to them. Then as a ministry team, join hands, and encircle this sad soul. Then looking on them with Marsha and Peter Brady smiles, sing that old children’s song, “Jesus Wants You For a Sunbeam, To Brighten Up Each Day!” Invite others to join you. I can promise you that the next time you see them they’ll at least be smiling at you!

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

"Why Does God Allow Horrible Things To Happen To Children?"

Russell is not sure how to answer this question. He knows and loves the Lord, and yet when asked, “Why does God allow horrible things to happen to children?” he finds his own answers unsatisfying. He knows God is good, and asks. "How can I answer this question?"

The problem is in the question. There is a lie right in it. To answer the question at all, without addressing the lie first, will leave the believer feeling they’ve dishonored God. So the first step is to address the lie, and then ask the question again.

The word that throws the question off track is “allow.” Let’s first point out that God does not “allow” any kind of sin at all. There are a few definitions of the word, but the way “allow” is used here, according to my Webster’s, is:

allow: PERMIT (for example: doesn’t allow people to smoke in his home) or b: to forbear or neglect to restrain or prevent (allow the dog to roam) {intransitive verb.}”

God doesn’t “allow” evil? Nowhere in scripture does he permit harming children. In fact, there’s no greater advocate for the children of this world, than God Himself. The problem with the word “allow” is that it implies that God could do something about a child’s suffering, but chooses not to. God is not passive. Lose those intransitive verbs when describing Him! He’s been very deliberate to care for the children. The problem is not with Him. The problem is, and always has been with unregenerate grown ups.

God Himself wrote out and gave us, “The Ten Commandments.” If these Commandments were honored, children would be safe. These commands are found, clearly marked, in the book of Exodus, chapter 20. I hear we once had them in our courtrooms. As you read them, imagine how safe all children would be, if mankind honored these commands of God. See the drama with which God deliberately bestowed upon mankind these tablets of commandments! He is not passive! If mankind obeyed, children would live in homes that honor God above all else. Imagine a world where children could live with no murder, where truthfulness is expected, with no unfaithful parents sleeping around, no theft, lying, or envying what others had? Contentment!

God finalized the giving of these commandments through Moses to all, with thunder and lightening and trumpet sounds. He then sealed the deal with a warning of judgment for those who disobeyed them. The people witnessing it were terrified. God made His will memorably clear! His people were to live these Commandments out in such a way, that the nations would turn to them to learn of God. Before Christ came, if people wanted to worship and learn of this wonderful God, who was God alone, they went to Jerusalem to learn of Him. The Ten Commandments were the basics. You didn't take them lightly. Children were protected.

But God’s people were not always obedient to the task. Many bible scholars believe that God rebukes Jonah for wanting God to destroy Nineveh, because God wanted to save Nineveh's children! God said to Jonah:

“But Nineveh has more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left, and many cattle as well. Should I not be concerned about that great city?”
Jonah 4:11

Nineveh was a huge city and that number was probably only the population of the children, too young to know the difference yet, between left and right.

Later God sent His Son Jesus to Earth, where He experienced fully, childhood. Knowing childhood, Jesus grew into manhood. He has some amazing things to say about children and how we adults are to treat them. Those mistreating children, beware:

“And whoever welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes me. But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.”
Matthew 18:5,6

Author of "Children in Crisis," Dr. Phyllis Kilbourn is the founder of Rainbows of Hope and Crisis Care International. She’s written numerous books on bringing healing to children of war: child prostitutes, child soldiers, child laborers, child prisoners, HIV positive children and AIDS Orphans, abused, abandoned and street children. She spent 22 years working with children in Liberia and Kenya, and has worked to help restore children's lives with the power and love of God.

I once heard someone ask her, "What do you say to children who ask, ‘Why does God let this happen to me?’" She thought for a moment and answered, "I have never heard a child ask that question. That is not a question that a child would ask."

Children desire to trust in someone who will love them and care for them. Through repeated maltreatment, they can become damaged and in time can grow cold. But God doesn’t allow it, people do. And apparently something worse than a millstone is coming. God’s judgment is coming.

Here's what Jesus says about children:

“And he said: “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”
Matthew 18:3

“Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”
Matthew 19:14

“See that you do not look down on one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven.”
Matthew 18:10

We are told to become like children. We are to come to God trusting. It is okay to ask God, "Why is this happening?" But do we really want to hear the answer? Because the answer is going to involve us! 2,007 or so years ago, Jesus commanded us to take the gospel out to the entire world. Have we done this yet? I don't know the latest figures, but aren't there more than 2,000 languages that still do not have a Bible, or even the Ten Commandments written in them?

“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”
Matthew 28:19-20

Ministry to children who have already been damaged by adults is important work. We need to bring Jesus to the world. We need to be about both now, because this world is a mess. Children at home and abroad are suffering.

Russ might try sounding out the people who ask him this question. “Do you know that judgment is coming?” It may be that the asker believes God doesn’t care about the children. But they might just be frustrated that His judgment on people who hurt children, isn’t coming now. Maybe they truly just want the suffering to end. That is hard.

God’s timing is not ours. We don’t fully understand his timing. But there will be a judgment and those who harm children are in the greatest of danger. We must trust God to work out the timing, according to both His justice and His mercy. We don’t seem to do well, juggling justice and mercy together. We tend to express these one at a time. God can do both at the same time.

God sent Jesus to save us out of both His justice and His mercy. Though enemies of God, He showed us love, by taking our punishment. As horrible as things are in this world, we are not in a position to demand immediate revenge on anyone. We ourselves were given grace. Yet to those who harm children, their time is surely coming:

“The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”
2 Peter 3:9

God is the greatest advocate of children. It is unregenerate people who need to change. And judgment is coming. Meanwhile, there are opportunities to get involve at every level. Here are a couple good places to start. There are many more:


Rainbows of Hope

Here is a good verse that causes me to pray for mercy. God expects this of us parents:

“Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.”
Ephesians 6:15

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

"Why Can't I Just Forgive Him?"

Doris was truly wronged by someone very close to her. He not only hurt her, but himself as well. She says that she has tried to forgive him, but still she is so hurt, and angry, and she’s wondering, “Why can’t I forgive him?”

Doris probably has forgiven him. Two things to remember: 1. Forgiving, for the Christian, is not an option. And 2. Although I realize that most of the people reading this are not pointy-eared half-Vulcans, forgiveness does not at all require feelings.

Christian, help your self out by taking the hard line. Forgiveness is not an option for us. Most Americans learn from a very early age, what is often called “The Lord’s Prayer.” In the Bible, right after this, Jesus says:

“For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”
Matthew 6:14,15

Where would we be without God’s forgiveness? Maybe you do better than I do. But one day soon, you’ll want His forgiveness. If you have not forgiven someone, your prayer life will be hindered. Those who don’t forgive, God likens to that wretch in the parable of “the unmerciful servant (Matthew 18:23-35).” Jesus’ warning to those who do not forgive, when they have been forgiven all, is very clear. Forgiveness is not an option.

I guess what makes it seem like an option, is again the whole “feelings” thing. If we’d look at forgiveness more as a legal term, we’d do much better. But, because most of us are not true Vulcans, feelings are usually involved in situations requiring our forgiveness. Feelings, if trusted, can make us think we have not forgiven someone whom we may actually have indeed forgiven. What is forgiveness to us? Our sin was awful!

“For the wages of sin is death…”

If someone appears before God, outside of Christ, they have a debt that is going to be excruciating to pay! We need Jesus. Our debt, that we could never pay, Jesus paid in full for all of us.

“…but the gift of God is eternal life thorough Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Romans 6:23

I doubt that our minds can really fathom how profoundly we’ve abused our free will, and how horrible sin is. When we can look at it from God’s perspective, and keep our eyes on what He has done for us, then we may come at forgiveness a lot easier, than if we focus on our hurt and on those who sinned against us, while trying to muster up forgiveness for them.

You can forgive anyone, if you have the Holy Spirit. Are you trusting Christ for the forgiveness of your sins? Look at what Jesus said as soon as He started imparting the Holy Spirit to His followers:

“…Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”
John 20:21-23

Forgiving is the first thing that He talks about when imparting to us, the Holy Spirit. In Christ, we now have the power to forgive. God expects us to use this power. The only ones I guess, who don’t need to forgive others, are those who themselves will never need to be forgiven. I've yet to stone an adultress. You?

One day in Xinjiang, a man just outside our campus, punched me while I was carrying our baby. I couldn’t put the baby down. I had no clue why, and didn't know the man. But honestly, he almost hit the baby’s head! Others around him held him back, and I took the baby to a safe place. Then I returned, not knowing what I would do. I’d never been hit before. Not as an adult anyway. Crazy!

I didn’t see him, and for days I had trouble sleeping. Wrestling with my thoughts of what I would do if I saw him. I was upset still. I don’t recall the punch harming me physically. But you know; we were not created to suffer punches. We were created for fellowship in the Garden of Eden. We weren’t even designed to take insults and slights much less punches! But this ain’t the Garden!

A few nights afterwards, God opened my eyes, reminding me of His love, and my wonderful eternity with Him. I also was to consider this angry man, living in a Muslim region, inside a Communist country. What about hell? Who would tell this man about the saving blood of Jesus? There was no church there, no Billy Graham on TV, no Bible in his language even! I couldn’t “not forgive” him, but neither could I find him.

As weeks passed, the incident often came to mind. When it did, this anger would show up with the recollection. Why was I angry if I forgave him? Even months later, if you’d asked me, “did you ever forgive that guy?” I couldn’t have said. I wasn’t sure, because I was going by my feelings, instead of my decision. My mouth said yes, but my emotions said “not sure.” In my heart, he owed me nothing. He never would have to apologize, or say he was sorry, (or let me give him free hits, or a public wedgie!). He owed me nothing! I’d forgiven him.

Would I be doing this 7 times 70 for the rest of my life? “Honestly, you are fine Tom! The baby’s fine, Tom. Get over it!!!” For peace I would just declare to the heavenly realm, “I have forgiven this man! He owes me nothing!”

Summer came and we traveled south, 4 days away by bus. While there, we visited friends from our school! As is a wonderful custom in Xinjiang, they brought us to their homes, and overfed us Polo and Laghman (Polo is a rice and lamb dish, and Laghman is a homemade, long noodle, lamb and pepper dish). We had wonderful friends in Xinjiang, and hospitality is huge there!

While walking around the market with our friends one day, some more folk from our school saw us, and came over to say hi. One young man had a scar over his right eye. Immediately, I flashed back to that incident, months before. That man had a bandage over his right eye! This was that guy! I knew it! He was avoiding eye contact. And then what came out of my mouth really surprised me! Actually happy he was okay, I said, “Hey, I see your eye is doing better now!”

I was sincerely not upset at all! Despite months battling negative feelings, when I actually saw the man, nothing but happiness that he was okay. I remembered only his wound. Indeed, forgiveness had happened! Jesus had indeed meant what he said about our ability to forgive!

That day in the market, the young man told me that he was indeed the guy that hit me that day. He explained that he was drunk. Apparently, “I was drunk” was his apology. Ha! But it was a nice meeting, and as if for the first time.

Weeks later, back at school, at his invitation, I visited the young man’s dorm, and was able to explain what Jesus has done for him and mankind. I am so glad that God worked it out that way! Had I seen this man the day after he’d hit me, I doubt I’d have been reading to him from the gospel of Mark, explaining about God’s love.

Forgiveness is something that we do by faith. We forgive because God tells us to forgive one another. That is just obedience.

“Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”
Ephesians 4:32

Feelings are not a good measure for whether or not we’ve forgiven someone. Since that incident, if I have to forgive someone, I just do it. If Satan brings up the wound, I’m quicker now to just say, “Ah, but that is forgiven. They don’t owe me a thing.” And I’m free to think better things.

Debt collectors have no peace. Spiritually speaking, God has so much more exciting things for us to do! Our riches are in Heaven. Yeah, I suppose I could have shaken an apology out of that guy who hit me. But hey, I got to sow some spiritual seed instead! And what if we meet him in Heaven one day?!? I think I’ll pray for him right now!

“Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”
Colossians 3:13

Instead of saying, “I can’t forgive them,” the true child of God can say, “I forgive them. God will heal me up, and they owe me no debt.” We can do this!

“His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by His own glory and goodness.”
2 Peter 1:3

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

"Is Believing in Jesus Really Enough?"

Tony asked me to explain why some Christians say that all you have to do is to “believe in Jesus,” and that that is enough to get into Heaven. Tony not only believes in the fact of Jesus’ holy life, mission to save, atoning death, and resurrection. He puts his trust in Jesus every day, for the things that he will face and the people he will be interacting with. “What does it mean to believe in Christ? Is believing in Jesus really enough to be saved?”

There are two issues here; the resurrection and the English word, “believe.” In English, we can use “believe” either to mean that (1). we think that something is true, or (2). more profoundly, it can mean to actively trust that something or someone is able to do for you, what they claim. If by “believe in Christ,” one intends the first meaning, I see no guarantees in scripture that that “believer” has any guarantee of Heaven. When scripture speaks of “believing” in Jesus, the word “to believe” is:

Pist-yoo-o; to have faith (in, upon, or with respect to, a person or thing,) . . . To entrust (especially one’s spiritual well being): -believe (-r), commit (to trust), to put in trust with.”

Do you believe in the historic Jesus only? Or do you also believe (entrust yourself to) Jesus, who is alive today, and who is Lord? This is the question to put to the person who says, “Believing in Jesus is enough.” Anyone can believe in Marco Polo or Napoleon or Jesus’ earthly existence, by what historians have written, if by “believe in” they mean, believing that they existed and did some or all of what is claimed about them. But Jesus is living, and is actively Lord!

Believing in the risen Savior means that you will be hearing from Him, and responding according to your faith, daily. Salvation is not some passive category, which a person simply finds that they fall into. Being saved is as dramatic an act, as death and rebirth itself! We were in darkness and Jesus has come to take us out of that. He didn’t just flip on the light switch. The darkness is still there. The Father, through Jesus, literally rescued us out of it, bringing us into His Kingdom of Light.

“For He has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”
Colossians 1:13

Salvation is a journey. Jesus described Himself as “the way.” If you are already at your destination, you don’t need “a way.” You need a way when you are lost. And lost is how Jesus found us. To truly believe, we have to think of Jesus as an active agent, leading us out of one world and bringing us into another. When Jesus talks about salvation, He tells us that He is the only way to gain admittance into Heaven.

Are you offensive? If you are traveling down Salvation Road, you smell. It is written:

“For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing.”
2 Corinthians 2:15

If you read around that verse, you’ll find that to the unsaved, you reek of death. Unbelievers worldwide will take offense at the cross for different reasons. My Muslim friends get offended because we claim that Jesus (whom they say was only a prophet) was beaten and crucified and buried. They don’t believe that Allah would let that happen to one of their prophets. My American friends get offended because we claim that Jesus is the “only way” to Heaven.

“Options” is one of America’s false gods. We fight to keep or increase our "options." We're bred to feel deprived if we don’t have “an option.” We feel that it is every person’s right to have a choice about everything; apparently even including who saves us. Almost anywhere else in the world, people happily live without options or choices in education, profession, marriage partner, or health care. That is unimaginable to most of us here. But be that as it may, we don’t get to choose between possible saviors.

Mankind was lost and literally hell-bound when Jesus came. Out of love He says:

“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”
Matthew 7:13,14

I don’t need to argue with my American friends. If they really believe in Jesus, these are His words:

“I am the way, the truth, and the life, there is no way to the Father but by me.”
John 14:6

Jesus is not only the guide; He is the way! When I lived in rural Haiti, there were no streetlights in our villages. I had 20/20 vision. But at nighttime, if there was not a bright moon shining, I needed friends to guide me home. My Haitian friends could see just fine at night. But I didn’t grow up in rural Haiti. I had electricity my whole life. My eyes never adjusted while there. I always had to “believe in” my friends to bring me home. Believing simply that Haitian people existed as I walked back to my room, would have had me ankle-deep in cow pies and falling into tarantula occupied ditches. As friends walked me home at night, I’d laugh amazed, “How did you see that?” And they’d laugh amazed, “How can you not see that?” My eyesight was evidence that I was a foreigner there.

True believers are foreigners while here on Earth. Our eyes were created for Eden, but sin put us in utter darkness. As foreigners in this strange land, we need Jesus to bring us home. Paul wrote:

“The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and will bring me safely to His heavenly kingdom.”
2 Timothy 4:18

Jesus says He is “the way.” If you are already at your destination, you don’t need “a way.” You need a way when you are lost. And lost is just how Jesus found us.

Maybe the problem is that people don’t feel lost. People don’t know their Bibles anymore. They believe Jesus existed, but don’t bother to heed His words. If they did, maybe they would agree with Mark Twain, who wrote:

"It ain't the parts of the Bible that I can't understand that bother me, it is the parts that I do understand."

That is not an unhealthy view, when one reads verses like Matthew 7:21. (See for yourself; it is too troubling!) We don’t have an option, as to who can save us from Hell. There is only one who has shed His blood, and only one Whose blood was acceptable, for mankind to be able to be rescued. That person wasn’t Buddha or Muhammad or Mary or Krishna or your Grandfather, “who was like this really good man.” It is Jesus the Christ. Peter said:

“Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”
Acts 4:12

If belief in Jesus’ existence was enough, demons could be saved. James wrote:

“You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.”
James 2:19

Or read the account of the demon in Acts 19:13-16. That demon said, “Jesus I know,…” But demons cannot be born again children of God. “Belief in” Jesus is more than just knowledge of Him. It is reliance upon Him who is alive and in our lives. He is risen!

Tony is questioned by people who seem to think that by believing the truth that Jesus is the Son of God, who came to earth in the flesh, lived a sinless life, died for the sins of the whole world, was buried and rose from the dead,” is all that God expects of them.

James chapter 2, is not about the difference between demons and men. He is talking about belief’s impression upon our lives.

“…faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” (vs. 17)

“…show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do.” (vs. 18)

He is talking about lives, changed as a result of having received the promise of salvation. If one truly believes in Christ, then their spiritual hand is in His, and they are letting Him lead them out of darkness and into the kingdom “Light.” They are going to smell!

2 Corinthians 2:16