I don’t understand

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I don’t understand

Last night I took my thirteen year old daughter and her friend to an event called Winterjam.  This was my third (or fourth) time attending Winterjam as I had gone previously with her older sisters. The event is a multi-artist Christian music show which features top recording artists, especially those that would appeal to teens.  In the middle of the event, one of it’s organizers stood up to explain the purpose:  “To worship God together.”  Included in the event was a clear gospel presentation and a testimony by a man named Tony Nolan.

Tony spoke in a way that was relevant to teens, using social media illustrations to portray how to (and not to) relate to God.  The event also included a plea for attendees to sponsor orphaned children until they can meet their “forever families.”  Volunteers from the audience were sought for training in preventing teen suicide. Youth workers attended a short session before the show. An offering was taken, some of which would go to our local rescue mission.   Finally, artists and speakers alike lifted up the name of Jesus in prayer.

The one bad apple of the night was the protesters positioned outside.  They held up signs questioning the faith of attendees (or had their children do so).  One man was yelling through a loud speaker as the crowds filed toward the door.  There were about 7 of them if I counted right, shouting bible verses and condemnations outside for about an hour as the arena was being filled.  I don’t understand.  I have seen and heard this group before when attending concerts. Their words are always that of condemnation.  I’m certain they didn’t come inside to hear the message.

What I wish they could see is that the music draws in teens (and adults) who might never set foot inside a church because they fear they might meet people like, well, THEM–the protestors!  I wish they could understand that almost no one attending the concert thinks that being a follower of Jesus is about listening to loud music.  That is certainly not the message that is given inside the arena.

You see, music is just an avenue to bring people to Christ.  In our culture people don’t often visit a church out of curiosity.  They might go to a concert.  Music is a universal language, and we can use it to influence people.  I don’t understand the need of some to condemn. I have written previously of the need to build others up in God’s kingdom rather than to tear them down.  I pray the three young boys that were present with their fathers will not learn hatred and condemnation, but will learn to reach out to people in love.

Let me leave you with one of the songs sung by Jeremy Camp last night.  Well done Jeremy!

The Simple Gospel

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I have written recently of my love for the Scriptures and of growing out of the “baby stage” of following Christ.  With that said, I would like to say that the gospel itself, the “good news” about Jesus, is not difficult to understand.  In 1 Corinthians 15 we find a quick outline of that gospel: “that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures,” (vv 3-4, NASB).

All of us have stepped away from who God designed us to be. We, the created, have chosen our own way. I know because I’ve done it.  We follow our own desires, and we serve our own needs.  Yes, we also come through for others.  God has left His mark on all mankind, so that we internally know good from evil.  Still, we choose wrongly many times.  Greed, self-promotion, self-protection, jealousy–we all go there.  Some of us do so inwardly, and some of us carry it all the way through to our actions, but whether in thought or in action, we all go there.

Being who He is, God is completely pure and unchanged by our self-serving nature.  He is Holy, that is, “set apart.”  He is “apart” from our self-centeredness (called sin).  As much as He loves us and wants a relationship with us, our self-centeredness, our sin, keeps us from His holy nature.

So God sent His Son Jesus to die for all those things we put between us and Him.  Through Jesus all those things are put to death and the barriers between us and God are broken.  We saw God’s power when He raised Jesus from the grave.  Jesus was not just some martyr for a good cause, but Lord of everything, including our sin.

God has asked us to believe in Jesus’ work on our behalf.  He has asked us to follow Jesus’ example with our lives, and that involves getting to know who Jesus is, and allowing Him to change our lives to be more like His.  That is the simple gospel.  There are model prayers you can pray to get started, but it’s not about the prayer.  It’s about choosing to leave behind a self-centered lifestyle, and to move into a Christ-centered life.  It is a decision to follow Christ and trust in His work on the cross for your self-centeredness (sin).  The prayer asking God’s forgiveness is the starting point.  A total makeover awaits. You won’t be perfect when you commit to this journey. You will become more like Christ as you learn from Him. You will learn what pleases Him (previous post), and God will give you His Holy Spirit to help you do it (future post).

If I may end with an example, check out the book of Philippians in the Bible, chapter 3.  In verses 1-6 the Apostle Paul gives all kinds of reasons why he could brag about being an important citizen of his day.  Then he turns a corner in verses 7-11 and gives it all up for something better:

But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.”

Paul states that he has lost everything that made him “important” so that he could be found in Christ.  Paul’s identity is in knowing Christ and in being found in Him.  That is a powerful, yet simple concept.  It is the concept that changed my life many years ago, and I am still pursuing it today.  It is the gospel lived out.

Christ is my focus.

Christ is my identity.

Everything else hinges on these two facts.  I am a follower of Him.

Since I like to post a song with my blog, here is a link to a song by my favorite band, Third Day.  The song is called “Creed,” and it expresses what Christians through the ages have believed about the Christian faith.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zqpZtJYZhJU

 

My love for the Scriptures

IMG_4621 In my last post I mentioned my love for the Scriptures. That seems to be an unpopular position these days. We live in a time when the authenticity and authority of the Scriptures is in constant question.  I think it’s easy for some people to question the Scriptures because we so often see them misunderstood and misused. I know people who claim to know God but who focus totally on the “dos and don’ts” of Scripture.  They rush to judgment, making it look as if all God wants is for us to follow His list. They attack people who don’t believe the Scriptures, and worse, they attack people who do believe, if they follow differently.  This isn’t biblical. Here is what God thinks of using our knowledge to attack others:

“If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:1-3).

I’ve also seen the Scriptures misunderstood in this way: God is love, and He told us not to judge, so we need to keep our noses out of everybody’s business.  What’s right for them is right for them.  What’s right for us is right for us.  Christians have no business determining what is right for someone else, and no right to talk about it.  In this philosophy every person determines what is right in his/her own eyes. This is also a wrong interpretation.  Without listing a hundred places in Scripture where Christians are confronted with their sins, let me quote the Apostle Paul, “What shall we say then?  Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?” (Romans 6:1-2 NIV). The New American Standard translation quotes it my favorite way: “May it never be!”  In today’s terms, “No. way!”

Emotionally, living according to our own consciences may sound okay, but here’s a thought to ponder:  If there is a God in heaven who created all things, shouldn’t He have the right to determine what is right and what is wrong?  Doesn’t the creator have supremacy over the created?  I’m afraid we dramatically underestimate who God is.  Who of us can even fathom a God who can create everything we know–and everything we don’t?  We so greatly underestimate His power that we live our lives as if we are great enough, wise enough, and powerful enough to make the rules.  In short, we are self-centered.

So, how are we to understand the Scriptures?

First, I recommend using a guide that will help you learn to study.  I highly recommend Living by the Book by Howard and William Hendricks.  http://www.amazon.com/Living-Book-Science-Reading-Bible/dp/0802408230/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1426284131&sr=8-1&keywords=living+by+the+book

It is practice in studying the Scriptures that helps us to understand what God has said.  People who seldom read the Scriptures only understand the easy part (the church fathers called it milk). If we don’t study the Bible, we don’t understand the meatier stuff;  We don’t understand God.  We cannot because we are still thinking like babies.

I believe part of being a baby is relying on rules to say we know God. A small child might learn not to run out in the street because she might get hit by a car, but does that mean she knows her parent?  Or does she simply know one of the ways her parent is keeping her safe?  Another part of being a baby is wanting to feel good all of the time and not do hard things like believing what God has said about Himself and His authority.  A small child always looks for his or her own needs to be met.  When he is hungry he cries for food. When she is cold, she wakes her parent up in the middle of the night to ask for a blanket.   But does this mean she knows everything about her parent?  Of course not.  She has a lot of growing to do before she can understand how the parent provides for her, the depth of parental love, or the dreams the parent has for the child’s future.

It is like that with God.  If we remain babies we focus on the rules and on our feelings.  We miss the benefit of growing wiser and knowing our Father more fully.  We remain self-focused, narrow-minded, and shallow in our relationship with God. May I encourage you to get to know Him?  By practice you will have your senses trained to discern what He is like.

Hebrews 5:12For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food.13For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is an infant. 14But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil.

If you question the authenticity of Scripture, following are some resources to look up. The authors/speakers have devoted their lives to teaching about the reliability of Scriptures. They both began as skeptics and atheists and came to believe the Bible is reliable and true. Check them out:

Google YouTube, Lee Strobel: He has some great long and short discussions about the Scriptures.  Here is a short one: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P-1zO7fz1OA website: http://www.desiringgod.org/seminars/why-we-believe-the-bible-part-1

Josh McDowell has a great website with wonderful resources:

http://www.josh.org/video-2/is-the-bible-reliable/

Is the Bible True . . . Really?: A Dialogue on Skepticism, Evidence, and Truth (The Coffee House Chronicles) Josh McDowell