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Archive for the ‘Gospel’ Category

You don’t have to have a degree in theology, philosophy, or science to engage in Christian apologetics or “defending the faith.” What you need is a deep-seated faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and an abiding love for Him.

but in your hearts regard Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. -1 Peter 3:15-16

Did you notice what Peter didn’t say? He didn’t say you need to have a working knowledge of metaphysics or a basic understanding of aristotilian logic or even the scientific method.  He didn’t even suggest that conversation on spiritual matter requires an ability to answer all spiritual questions an unbeliever might have. While knowledge in the above areas is incredibly valuable, none of these things actually equip us for the task of defending the faith.

On the contrary, regarding “Christ the Lord as holy” in our hearts is the means by which we will be ready to give an answer for the hope that is in us. In other words, if you want to be prepared to defend your faith–you must simply treasure Christ supremely in your heart.

You might object that some people won’t care about how precious Christ is to you. They have questions about Christianity, the Bible, evolution, etc. etc. Let me first say that most people don’t have nearly as many questions as we think they do. And secondly, all people are naturally opposed to the things of God anyway (1 Cor. 2:14).

When we seek to convince a non-Christian of the veracity of the Christian faith, we are fighting a losing battle. Apart from the work of God on the human heart, people suppress the truth in their unrighteousness (Romans 1:18). In other words, its impossible for Christianity to gain a fair hearing–everyone you would hope to convince of Christianity’s merit are already opposed to it.

Does that mean that apologetic task is doomed to fail? If all our arguments will not convince people, how are we to approach apologetics? I have never met anyone who converted to Christ because they lost an argument about Christianity. On the contrary, I have witnessed many come to faith because of testimony of a faithful Christian and the hope they found in Christ.

The manner in which we do apologetics is as important as the answers we provide. Thus Peter says when you give a reason for the hope you have in Christ, do so “with gentleness and respect.” So its important that our lives are consistent, in some regard, with our testimony. I am not arguing that Christians seek to be perfect, but rather that they continually rely on, live by, and hope in the gospel.

Peter would have us be ready to give an answer “to anyone who asks us a reason for the hope that is in us.” You don’t have to be an expert in philosophy or science to do so because life’s biggest questions cannot be answered by science or philosophy. What happens when I die? Why did my friend die so young? Why is there so much sin, sickness, and despair in the world and will it ever go away? What is the meaning of my existence?

Science and philosophy attempt answers at these questions but neither can fix the problems that drive them. The gospel does one better. The gospel offers a fix to the problems behind these questions. Simply put, the gospel offers what people truly need:  hope.

Science and philosophy can only attempt answers to the “why” questions but neither can solve our most desperate problems. So instead of constantly worrying about whether you can intelligently answer every question your unbelieving friend might have, simply offer them the hope you have found in Christ. They may be completely closed off to any discussion of Jesus now, but eventually life will confront them with questions that they cannot answer and problems they cannot fix and if you are abiding in Christ you have the answer to their heart’s deepest longing–to know their creator through the sacrifices of His Son. When you have a friend desperate to save their marriage or coming to terms with the reality of death, if you are abiding in Christ, you have the answers to their most desperate questions.

I am thankful for intelligent Christians in the public square who are answering the scientific and philosophical questions of the unbelieving world. I praise the Lord for them but these conversations are not likely to produce much fruit. What will, however, is one friend offering another hope–hope to overcome our deepest flaws and failures. Hope to live again. Hope that will not disappoint.

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Mark 2:1 And when he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home. 2 And many were gathered together, so that there was no more room, not even at the door. And he was preaching the word to them. 3 And they came, bringing to him a paralytic carried by four men. 4 And when they could not get near him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him, and when they had made an opening, they let down the bed on which the paralytic lay. 5 And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “My son, your sins are forgiven.”

This man and his friends were clearly determined to get a hearing with Jesus and their motivation seems clear enough—they believe Jesus can heal the lame. Of course if you read on you will find that Jesus did indeed make this paralytic man walk again but Jesus doesn’t begin by healing this man. Instead Jesus sees these men’s faith and says to the paralytic, “My son, your sins are forgiven.”

This isn’t what the paralytic was looking for. Perhaps he had some sense of his spiritual condition as we are told that Jesus “saw their faith,” but the goal of this man and his friends is physical healing and Jesus instead redirects the conversation toward sin.

Sin is rarely a popular subject in conversation and yet Jesus leads this conversation with, “your sins are forgiven.” Tim Keller reflects on this passage in his book The King’s Cross:

Jesus is confronting the paralytic with his main problem by driving him deep. Jesus is saying, “By coming to me and asking for only your body to be healed, you are not going deep enough. You have underestimated the depths of your longings, the longing of your heart” (pp. 28).

Physical healing is not this man’s deepest need. Our deepest needs are spiritual. The human heart’s deepest need is to know its maker. Sin is our greatest barrier in seeing that need met. Only Jesus can bring the sort of healing we really need and he offers this freely to this paralytic. He offers it freely to us.

I praise the Lord that He doesn’t always answer my prayers in the way that I would like Him to because in so doing He promises to meet my greatest need. Every day Jesus meets my greatest need—to be restored to the Father—to be a child of God. Jesus meets that need every day because every day He “lives to make intercession for me” (Hebrews 7:25).

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Christianity ought to radically change the way that we see people and relate to them. As I am currently working through the parables of Jesus, I have been struck by how many of them address our relationships with people. In the parable of the good Samaritan, Jesus intimates that all people are our neighbors–even the person we are most frustrated with (for the Jew that was the Samaritan). Further, Jesus is more concerned with us living like neighbors than determining who fits that bill. In the parable of the wedding feast, Jesus indicates that we should be reaching out in love to all people. Living in a kingdom that is upon us and yet awaits fulfillment (already/not yet) should open our eyes to see the poor, the downtrodden, and the needy in our midst.

The gospelradically changes the way we see ourselves and other people and how we relate to them.  Using the four gospel truths of Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Consummation, here is a basic guide to poeple:

  1. Creation:  God created the world and he made it good–everything in it, including you and me, belongs to him. Every breath is a gift.
  2. Fall:  God’s good creation has subjected itself to corruption. We have sinned and what God made good has been broken.
  3. Redemption: God promises to fix his broken creation through the death and resurrection of His Son, the God-man Jesus Christ.  People who trust Christ are healed of their corrupt nature.
  4. Consummation: God will send Jesus back to finally redeem those who trusted him and he will finally and decisively make all that is wrong in the world right.

Seeing ourselves in the right light:

  1. 1. We are created beings. We have value.
  2. We are broken. There is much about us that isn’t good–we need to be familiar with this aspect about ourselves. Our nature has been corrupted in a way that we cannot fix by ourselves.
  3. We can be redeemed through Christ. Our corrupt nature can be done away with and replaced with a new one. We don’t deserve this–its the most marvelous gift.
  4. We are not yet what we will be.

Seeing other people in the right light:

  1. They are created beings. They have value. Not one is worth more than another.
  2. They are broken. We should expect them to fail and even hurt us at times.
  3. They can be redeemed by grace. No one deserves this–that is why everyone should hear about it.
  4. Those God saves he will perfect.

Seeing ourselves in relation to other people:

  1. You are created and therefore have value to offer other people.
  2. You are broken and thus have the potential to do great harm to people made in God’s image.
  3. You are saved by God’s grace. You don’t deserve this–its a gift so you are no better than anyone else.  This salvation does grant you a unique potential to bless others.
  4. You are saved, you are being saved, and you will be saved. God isn’t done with you yet.

This paradigm has the power to radically change the way we see people and relate to them. As C.S. Lewis said–humans are immortal beings–that changes everything. Christians ought to be the humblest of all people.

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Here is a brief post on part of Ephesians 1:15-23. Odds-on you will remember that Paul opened the letter with a resounding praise of the Father for his total work of salvation, from before the foundation of the world to the time the promise is kept, to the praise of his glorious grace. It is important to note that all three members of the Trinity are included in Paul’s opening praise in Ephesians 1:1-14: (1) The Father is praised for administrating our salvation. (2) The Son is praised for accomplishing our salvation. And (3) The Holy Spirit is praised for applying and sealing us in our salvation.

Ephesians 1:15-23 includes Paul’s thanksgiving and prayer for the ones in Ephesus who listened to the gospel and have believed. He begins with the words “For this reason” and goes on to thank God for the local body, which was made possible by God’s work of salvation, which he began before the foundation of the world! I hope this makes you eager to study this great text! One verse that I have been thinking a lot about, and praying for our readers is: “That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him” (1:17). “Spirit of wisdom and of revelation” in this verse are significant words because we only know about these things when God reveals them to us. God does not make everything known to us. This is what the Preacher in Ecclesiastes means when he writes, “Consider the work of God; who can make straight what he has made crooked?” (Eccl. 7:13). It is a poetic way of saying, “Who can know about what God has made unknowable?”

There is a line in one of my favorite songs, where one of the vocalists sings, “You only know what I want you to.” If I get nothing else across in this post, I hope you are awestruck by this: were it not for God making known the mystery of his preplanned salvation to us, we could not know it. But God has made it known! “In all wisdom and insight,” Paul says, “He made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His kind intention which He purposed in [Christ] with a view to an administration suitable to the fullness of the times, that is, the summing up of all things in Christ, things in the heavens and things on the earth” (Eph. 1:8b-10).

I hope that gets you excited about the gospel!

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19 Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, 20 by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.  (Hebrews 10:19-25).

I have been thinking a lot about the local church lately—partly because I have been teaching on it and partly because I am fascinated by what the New Testament has to say about it.  In Nicaragua, I had the privilege of teaching pastors on Biblical church discipline—the practice of caring for the souls of the congregation—the NT’s emphasis on church discipline tells us that God has designed the local church to be a testimony of God’s grace to the world and its members to exercise genuine care and watchfulness over each other’s souls.

There is absolutely nothing like the local church.  The church universal is God’s global display of his life transforming grace.  The church local is one of the most profound experiences of that grace this side of eternity.

Hebrews 10 informs us of the value of the local church–it is the training ground for the age to come.  In the local church, God’s people are to “stir one another up to love and good works  . . . all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (vv24-25).

If the local church is the believer’s training ground in which to prepare for the Lord’s return, we ought to think very carefully about how we “do life” together in the church.  A huge part of doing life together as the church local is simply showing up.  The writer of Hebrews says one of the ways we stir one another up to love and good works is by “not neglecting to meet together.”  Apparently meeting together is one of the primary ways in which we prepare for the age to come.  If that is true—we ought to make every effort to get the most out of our corporate worship as a local church and give the most to those who gather with us.

Given the value of the local church and the command to stir one another up, I have been thinking about how we can make the most of our Sunday morning gatherings.  With that in mind, I came up with four suggestions as to how we might do that:

  1. Come to Church.  Seriously—I know this sounds silly but if you are not here regularly, its very difficult to encourage and build up the body as the NT commands us to (Heb. 10:24-25; 1 Thess. 5:11; 1 Cor. 12:13-30).
  2. Sing—sing and sing loudly!  No one is going to fault you for your lack of pitch—even if you can’t sing well, when others hear you sing, they will hear you singing God’s praises and rejoice and sing along with you.  I have found when I sing loudly, other people sing louder, perhaps out of desire to drown out my poor vocals, but nonetheless our singing should have a corporate feel to it as the Bible commands us both to sing to God and to each other (Eph. 5:19)!
  3. Talk to people—its difficult to “stir each other up” when we are mere spectators at church and are not utilizing this time to build relationships.  Some of my very best friends are members of our church, but sometimes I have to make a point not to spend all my time talking to them at church.  At church, I want to make a point to talk to people who I do not know as well.  Those who I am very close to will still be my friend if I don’t spend all my time at church talking to them and there are many wonderful, mutually encouraging relationships that can be built in our church if we will just step out of our comfort zone and talk to the people we don’t know as well.  Our church is small but just big enough for folks to fall in the cracks and miss out on mutually encouraging relationships.  Be intentional in your communication with people when we gather for corporate worship.  Instead of blaming others for their lack of interaction with you—why not seek them out.  You will only get out of church what you are willing to put into it.
  4. Make a point to let your fellowship extend beyond our corporate gatherings—as valuable as it is for us to meet together on Sunday morning, it is not enough.  We are to continually be encouraging one another and building one another up—that means our relationships ought to extend beyond what the settings that the local church provides.  Sign up for a community group and make a point to eat with people in our church to do fun things with them—make plans to go to a football game or to have lunch, go run, walk, or bicycle, play games together, it doesn’t matter what it is, but build relationships!  Invite a family you don’t know over for dinner—it may be awkward asking them because you don’t know them that well, but God will bless it because he promises to bless our obedience with His grace!

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If you haven’t heard, the Dove World Outreach Center (DWOC) of Gainsville, FL, a church of about 50 people, plans to burn several hundred copies of the Qur’an on the anniversary of 9/11. Their Pastor, Terry Jones, told  ABC’s “Nightline” on Tuesday “Jesus would not run around burning books, but I think he would burn this one.”

I don’t know what is more infuriating—the astronomical amount coverage that has been given to a nutty, disgruntled pastor in Florida or the fact that said Pastor thinks it wise and pleasing to God to burn Qur’ans.  When folks in Jakarta, Indonesia found out about this small church in Florida planning to burn Qur’ans, thousands rioted outside the U.S. Embassy.  In Kabul, Afghanistan, thousands protested and burned an effigy of Pastor Jones!  That seems a bit of a strong reaction to the burning of your holy book.  Its incredible that this sort of nonsense is not getting the same media attention as some crack pot who leads a church of 50 people is planning to burn a few thousand copies of the Qur’an.  Nevertheless, we as Christians need to remember that not all the Muslims in the world are rioting and again that our aim is always first and foremost the proclaimation of the gospel to all people.

I think it goes without saying that this action is not the sort of thing that Christian churches ought to be doing.  We are, after all, called to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us (Matt. 5:44).  Further the purpose of the church is to make disciples to the glory of God (Matthew 28:18-20; Acts 1:8), and we are do so with gentleness and respect (1 Peter 3:15-16).  It is difficult for me to understand how burning another world religion’s sacred book would aid us in fulfilling the great commission.

This act is nothing more than disrespect.  Such statements do not represent what Biblical Christianity is about. Such statements do not promote Muslim/Christian dialogue—in fact such acts serve to cut off such dialogue and erect unnecessary walls to the gospel of Jesus Christ.

So what do we do when professing Christians act foolishly in public like this?

I have three suggestions:

  1. Ignore them—Pastor Jones and his church are looking for attention.  This is a publicity stunt—so the best thing we can do in response is ignore them.  If the media in our country had half a brain, they would have ignored it too, but instead its been made a national spectacle and Hillary Clinton and General Petraeus are somehow involved.
  2. Major on the Majors—what bothers me most is the unnecessary walls to the gospel that are being erected because of this.  This ought to remind us of the Biblical call to take the gospel to all nations—including Islamic nations.
  3. Live above them.  When people misrepresent Christ, we must strive all the more faithfully to represent Him as He truly is.  When Jesus said we are to shine as lights in the world, I am not sure he had in mind Christians lighting other religious books on fire in protest.  Don’t mishear me—I think the Qu’ran is a false book, I think it has led many people to Hell, but again the goal of the church is to make disciples of all nations.

Interestingly enough, Pastor Jones said, “We expect Muslims that are here in America to respect, honor, obey, submit to our Constitution.”  It is that very same constitution that gives Muslims the right to read the Qu’ran and Christian’s the right to share the gospel with such Muslims.

What a crazy world we live in—I think the best thing we can do with this whole fiasco is to ignore it and press on to preach the gospel to all tribes, tongues, and people

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If you didn’t know, I recently returned from a productive and encouraging short-term mission trip to Nicaragua.  There are many stories I could tell you about Nicaragua that would encourage you—stories that may even impress you—stories of how our team members got to share the gospel with hundreds of children in the local schools and stories of the many difficult questions that I was asked at the Pastor’s Conference or stories from our door-to-door evangelism and how the Lord was working to convict people of their sin.  However, perhaps the most memorable experience I had while in Nicaragua happened at a small Baptist Church in the rural area of Los Cedros—it was an invaluable lesson learned from Pastor Adonis.

When we went out into the communities of the churches we were serving at in Nicaragua, the pastors of the churches went with us and even brought members of their churches along so that they might learn to do evangelism and so that he might be used of the Lord to disciple them.  Pastor Adonis has a passion for evangelism and for discipleship.  He understands that the only hope the lost people in his community have is Christ and he understands that the members of his church must be the ones that tell their lost neighbors about Jesus.  There can be no evangelism without discipleship—if people are not trained to reap the harvest, they will not go out into it.  There can be no discipleship without evangelism first preceding it.  You cannot disciple the lost, you must share the gospel with them first, then the process of teaching them everything that Christ commanded can begin (Matt. 28:18-20).  Pastor Adonis was doing both—teaching the members of his church to do evangelism and doing evangelism himself, going out into the community and delivering the good news to the lost.

While I was greatly encouraged to see a pastor leading by example and seeking to disciple men in his church, this is not what stuck out to me most about Pastor Adonis.  What stuck out most was what Pastor Adonis said to the members of his church who were not doing evangelism.  Thursday night was the last night that we would spend at Los Cedros Baptist Church and Eric Hixon preached a revival there that night.  At the end of the service, Pastor Adonis opened up the altar for people to come and pray and he challenged those in his church who were not doing evangelism in the community to come to the altar and repent for their sin.  About 15-20 adult members of the church came forward and knelt at the altar in prayer.

If evangelism is a command, then it follows that neglect of evangelism is sin.  This really convicted me because far too often I fall to the temptation to think of evangelism as an optional practice.  I felt like I should be at the altar praying—I wasn’t invited though, Pastor Adonis only invited the members of his church as they were the ones who had covenanted together as a body to hold each other accountable to seek the Lord.  Perhaps Pastor Adonis’ encouragement to his people to repent for not evangelizing seems harsh and perhaps it was, but it was sweet moment for me.  It did not feel bitter, it felt redemptive and loving—I got the feeling that Pastor Adonis was calling his flock to repentance because he loved them.  I hope that is the case—I am praying that God would develop such relationships in my church—ones were we can lovingly call each other to account and ones in which we take the gospel and evangelism seriously.

Despite the fact that I got to spend three days teaching Pastor Adonis and several other Nicaraguan pastors, it goes without saying that I feel I gained much more from Pastor Adonis’ example and care for his flock.

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