Every Question Is A Personal Question

The other week a student at SLHS asked me a question that comes up a lot in evangelism: what about the person that never had the chance to hear about Jesus? How can God send that person to Hell?

Now, like I said, this question comes up a lot, so I went into one of my typical answers. I talked about God’s sovereignty over all creation, and how all people have been given the ability to see that God exists and respond. And then how God, before he created anything, knew that if he gave all people free will some of those people would never in any possible scenario receive his free offer of grace. Therefore when he did create them he was free to put them in places where they would never hear about Jesus.

I think that is where I lost him. Actually, I know that is where I lost him because he said out loud, “That’s BS!” (Except he didn’t use the abbreviation). No, it’s not BS— it’s Christian philosophy at its best. Nevertheless, that didn’t really matter.

So I said to him with a laugh, “So you’re not convinced?”

And this is where the conversation took a turn. As we continued to talk he mentioned that all of his family is Buddhist. Ah, now things made sense. He wasn’t just asking some abstract philosophical question, he was asking a very personal question. He wanted to know if his family, who in his mind had never heard about Jesus, was going to Hell. That is a very different kind of question.

The mistake I made is a mistake that is often easy to make when talking to people about matters of faith. It is easy to talk about and respond to matters of salvation in the abstract. It is easy to do because often the person asking the question poses the question in this way as a means to protect him or herself.

But what I had forgotten that day is there are no purely abstract philosophical questions when it comes to matters of salvation. Every question asked is a personal question because the answer will always affect the questioner in a personal way. It may affect how they think about their own eternity, or it may affect how they think about eternity for others—but in both cases, the answer matters to them. If it didn’t they would not have asked the question.

When the student asked the question, I should have responded in a more personal way. Here are some examples of what I could have said.

  • “Wow that’s a really great question. It sounds like you are concerned about God’s fairness. If God is fair, how do you think God views you?”
  • Or “Wow that’s a great question. What led you to think about that question?”
  • Or “Honestly, I’m not 100% sure, but if you really want to know, I’d be happy to get back to you with an answer. But what about you? It seems God is wanting to tell you about Jesus. Do you know what Jesus has done for you?”

I’m grateful that God is bigger than my mistakes and missed opportunities. But hopefully this article will help you and me to remember whenever someone asks us a question about salvation, that question is always a personal question. So we need to pray (sometimes in the moment) and ask God to show us how to respond with a personal, not just philosophical, answer.

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Overcoming Election Anxieties

It’s very easy to say, Jesus is Lord. It’s not easy to live like Jesus is Lord.

Watching the presidential debate the other night reminded me of this. After it was over I felt anxious. And when I woke up the next morning I still felt residual anxiety.

I’m sure I wasn’t the only one.

My feelings of anxiety were not bad in and of themselves, but they did point to something bad. Like a flashing “Check Engine” light in my car, these feelings signaled that something within me was broken and in need of repair.

That broken-something was my lost vision of Jesus. Specifically, that broken-something was my lost vision of Jesus as Lord.  I had lost sight of who Jesus really is.  And as a result, I was no longer living as if Jesus really is Lord.

The remedy was the God-breathed words of Psalm 97:

The Lord reigns, let the earth rejoice;
let the many coastlands be glad!
Clouds and thick darkness are all around him;
righteousness and justice are the foundation of his throne.
Fire goes before him
and burns up his adversaries all around.

His lightnings light up the world;
the earth sees and trembles.
The mountains melt like wax before the Lord,
before the Lord of all the earth.

The heavens proclaim his righteousness,
and all the peoples see his glory
.
All worshipers of images are put to shame,
who make their boast in worthless idols;
worship him, all you gods!

Zion hears and is glad,
and the daughters of Judah rejoice,
because of your judgments, O Lord.

For you, O Lord, are most high over all the earth;
you are exalted far above all gods
.

O you who love the Lord, hate evil!
He preserves the lives of his saints;
    he delivers them from the hand of the wicked.
Light is sown for the righteous,
and joy for the upright in heart.
Rejoice in the Lord, O you righteous,
and give thanks to his holy name!

 

These divine words filled my heart and mind with a fresh vision of Jesus as Lord. That Jesus reigns. That his reign is built on righteousness and justice. That Jesus is exalted above all. That he preserves my life and is able to deliver me from the wicked. That because of all these things, I can “rejoice in the Lord” and “give thanks to his holy name.”

With fresh vision came fresh healing. As I reflected on the psalm my attention was taken away from the frustrations of the election and instead was transfixed on the goodness of Jesus. As a result, my feelings of anxiety faded away. I was left, like the people of Zion, feeling “glad.” I was now living like Jesus really is Lord.

If this election season has you feeling anxious, maybe it’s because your “Check Engine” light is flashing. Maybe something within you is broken. Maybe you too have lost sight of Jesus as Lord. Maybe you’re not living as if Jesus really is Lord.

If so, let Jesus heal you.

Come to God’s Word. Reflect on the words of Psalm 97. Then, take a moment to rejoice and to give thanks that Jesus is still the Lord. I promise you’ll feel better… I sure did.

 

What our world needs…

One day I will react the right way in the right moment–but yesterday I missed that moment.

Meredith had just received some news from a friend and wanted to share it with me. The news—her friend’s eight-year-old cousin had been walking across the street to get the mail when he was hit and killed by a car.

My reaction–repulsion (wrong move). Anger (wrong move again). And distance (wrong move again again). In that moment my mind and body shot up every defense. I did not want to let in the tragic death of an eight-year-old.

In that moment I couldn’t. Because I knew it would make me think about my own soon-to-be eight-year-old. And the nightmare it would be if she was killed by a car in front of our house. (Just typing that last sentence makes my hands shake, and my insides want to vomit.)

Sometimes (particularly when I’m not consciously wearing my “pastor” hat) it is difficult for me to enter into another’s pain. Outside of “work” my flesh does not want to do it.

I think I’m just scared of pain. Real pain. Overwhelming, now-I-feel-helpless, hit-you-in-the-gut, came-out-of left-field kind of pain.

When I’m prepared (like when someone says “can I talk to you?”) I’m fine. Pastor hat on. Silent prayers for guidance check. Eyes forward, ears open—let’s go. But if it comes out of nowhere, and it hits close to home…my gut response is to push it away.

It’s a reaction based on fear.

I’m very thankful Jesus is not like this. In fact I am down right amazed at how Jesus enters into our pain.

Condescended from heaven, he entered our world as a helpless child. His heart was full of compassion for every person who came to him. He never shrunk back or ran away. No defenses. No anger. No distance.

Instead he humbled himself, entering into the pain of others all the way up to the cross. And then on the cross he entered into and was covered in the pain of every human being ever to exist.

I can’t help thinking as I scroll through my Facebook feed, and read news headlines, how unique Jesus is. I also can’t help thinking that what our world needs now is not more people proclaiming what is right and wrong (in their own eyes). Not more people mocking what they see or hear. And not more people being repulsed by what they see or hear.

All of that is just our defenses against the pain.

What our world needs is more people who will take the very unpopular and self-debasing action of entering into the pain of others.

We need people of real courage, full of compassion, who are not afraid to get covered in pain. People who are not afraid to feel overwhelmed or helpless by the stories and actions of others.

We need more Jesus-like people.

I confess, I need help in this area.

Maybe you do too.

Let us confess our fears to God. And let us pray that we, like Jesus, could have the courage to enter into the pain of others.

 

 

So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:1-8)

Who’s My Neighbor?

I’m reading a very convicting book right now. It’s called The Art of Neighboring by Jay Pathak and Dave Runyon. It begins by asking the reader to play the following game:

Think about your eight closest neighbors. To do this just imagine a Tic-Tac-Toe game piece. Then put your house in the middle. Next think about the eight houses in the sounding boxes. (Need a visual? Click here).

Now try to answer the following questions about each of your closest neighbors.

1. What are the  names of the people who live in the households represented by each of the other boxes?

2. What are some relevant facts about the people in each house? For example, where were they born? What is their job? What do they like to do?…etc.

3.  What’s something personal you know about each person in each of the houses? For example, what are their dreams? Do they believe in God? What do they fear? Or some other meaningful bit of information that you could only know after a meaningful interaction with them.

 

Take your time…

 

Now, how did you do?

 

Yeah, my sheet was mostly blank too. Turns out we’re not alone. The authors of the book report the following:

  • About 10 percent of people are able to name the names of all eight of their neighbors.
  • Only about 3 percent of people can share any facts about their eight neighbors.
  • And less than 1 percent of people know any personal information about their eight closest neighbors.

 

I’m not even in the 10 percent group.

 

Here’s the hard news (and the whole point of the book). Jesus said to love our neighbors. And there is no reason to believe that Jesus didn’t mean love our actual neighbors—people who physically live next door to us.

Which means if you’re like me, (you actually want to follow Jesus) then you need to make a change. So let’s do it together.

This summer let’s commit to praying for our eight closest neighbors. Let’s commit to building relationships with our neighbors. Let’s commit to learning something meaningful about our neighbors.

We all desire to see our neighbors have their lives transformed by the gospel of Jesus Christ. The good news is, so does God. That’s why he led you to live where you live.

God has put us in our houses so that we can represent (and be ambassadors for) Jesus to our actual neighbors. God wants us to step out in faith and begin to pray for our neighbors so that we might get to know our neighbors. So that God might open a door for them to one day hear and respond to the gospel.

I’m not gonna lie, this makes me nervous. I’d much rather share the gospel with 100 strangers then the person living 100 feet from my door.   But hey, if Jesus said “Love your neighbor” then I guess we ought to actually love our neighbors.

Who’s up for it?

 


 

To learn more about how you can love your neighbor join me this summer in reading the book, The Art of Neighboring: Building Genuine Relationships Right Outside Your Door

Or check out their website http://artofneighboring.com/

Or watch this video for a little inspiration:

Choosing to Suffer

 

I’ve gone snowboarding three times in my life–each time ended badly. The most recent time was at a winter retreat a few years ago. Some students invited me to join them for a great “bonding experience.” So I took a board, went to the top of the hill, strapped myself in, aimed in the right direction (because I didn’t know how to steer), pushed off, and prayed for the best.

At first I flew down the hill in the direction I had aimed for. Everything was going great. Then I noticed a younger student fifty or so feet in front of me struggling to free himself from his own snowboard and get off the course. In a split second I had to choose, run the kid over or lean to the side and eat it on the hill.

I remember thinking “I can crash gracefully…” so I chose the latter.  I leaned to the right to tumble softly into the snow–unfortunately I did not see the snow bank in my tumbling zone. I hit the bank with my board, flinging my body and board in different directions.  I then felt my right arm bend in the opposite way it is supposed to. And I thought I heard something pop.

Pain shot up my arm and through my elbow and up to my shoulder, as I now lie covered in snow at the bottom of the hill trying to figure out what just happened. I saw the kid walking away completely oblivious to my altruistic act. And of course the students I was with enjoyed bonding by retelling others how bad I ate it.

Now it turned out that after about 24 hours, a lot of ice, and a lot of Advil, I started to believe I might actually be okay.  But here’s the thing… if I had known at the beginning of the day the pain and humiliation that was waiting for me at the bottom of the snow-covered  hill, I would have never gone snowboarding that day. “Bonding,” no matter how great, just would not have been worth that much pain.

I think most of us would react the same way. If we knew something painful was coming in our day, we would try to avoid it. We would try to change it.  For most of us, if we know that a situation has the potential to end badly, we avoid it altogether. Even if there’s a potential payoff.

Because who wants to suffer? Who chooses to suffer?

Jesus did.

What is amazing to me about Jesus is not that he suffered, but that he knew he was going to suffer and he chose to go through it 480px-Michelangelo's_Pieta_5450_cropncleaned_editanyway.

As a young Jewish man he certainly would have read (and likely memorized) scriptures like Psalm 22. He would have meditated on words like:

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish?

My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, but I find no rest.

But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by everyone, despised by the people.
All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their heads.“He trusts in the Lord,” they say, “let the Lord rescue him.
Let him deliver him, since he delights in him…

Do not be far from me, for trouble is near and there is no one to help. Many bulls surround me; strong bulls of Bashan encircle me. Roaring lions that tear their prey open their mouths wide against me. I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint. My heart has turned to wax; it has melted within me. My mouth is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth; you lay me in the dust of death…

Dogs surround me, a pack of villains encircles me; they pierce my hands and my feet. All my bones are on display; people stare and gloat over me. They divide my clothes among them and cast lots for my garment.

 

Jesus would have read those words and known that, as God’s Messiah, those words applied directly to himself. Every day that Jesus read the Scriptures he looked into his future. Every day he read those words he had a choice to make: run away from suffering or choose to go through it.

Of course this suffering was not thrust upon Jesus. Before the creation of the world, Jesus as the Son of God chose suffering as the effective means of salvation for all who would put their trust in him. And even in his earthly ministry Jesus says, “No one takes [my life] from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again” (John 10:18). And in Hebrews 12:2 we are told, “For the joy set before him, [Jesus] endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”

Before God spoke the words “let there be light” Jesus chose to suffer.  He chose to be humiliated, to be abandoned, to endure unimaginable pain. On earth he chose to be reminded of that future suffering from the moment he could read. Jesus knew what was coming and chose to go through it anyway.

Why?

Jesus was also interested in a bonding experience.  But he wanted more than just to make memories with friends. He wanted to see rebels of God become children of God.  He wanted to see sinners turned into saints. He wanted to do for people what they could not do for themselves. He wanted to take upon himself the suffering we not only deserve but so desperately try to avoid. Jesus chose to suffer so that one day we wouldn’t have to.

 

 

The One Big Difference Between Christians and Jehovah’s Witnesses

 

The other morning I was cleaning the kitchen when I heard a knock at my front door. I thought it was strange since the only people who usually knock on our front door are friends and neighbors—and they were all at work or school.

I opened the door and, to my surprise, I was greeted by a well-dressed elderly man. He’d come to invite me to an event at his church. He was kind and friendly. Yet something felt off when he said, “You know, a lot of people think the resurrection of Jesus is the most important part of the Easter story, but actually it’s his death that is most significant.”Watchtower_Bible_&_Tract_Society_(world_headquarters)

I replied, “Well, yes, His substitutionary atonement was significant…” He didn’t react. And that was okay because behind me was my three-year-old son waving a broom like a Color Guard charging into battle…so I had to go before something or someone got hurt.

The gentleman put a booklet in my hand with some information about the event and then left. I opened it and saw that the booklet was a “Watchtower” production inviting people to come to the local “Kingdom Hall.” “Oh, he’s a Jehovah’s Witness,” I thought.

Now, to be honest, I don’t know a lot about Jehovah’s Witnesses. I can’t tell you every tenet of their theology or what it’s like to attend one of their “churches”. They seem like nice people. And they seem really committed to their beliefs. But I do know one big difference between Christians and Jehovah’s Witnesses. And it’s a difference that breaks my heart.

According to their website, www.jw.org, Jehovah’s Witnesses believe “God created Jesus before he created Adam.” For them, Jesus is the literal firstborn of creation. Simply put, God the Father is eternal. God the Son [Jesus] is not. Which means, for them, Jesus is not fully God in the same way God the Father is fully God. Instead Jesus is “the divine Son of God” and Jehovah is “the only true God.”

To be fair, people have believed such things about Jesus since Jesus first walked the earth. But in 325 AD at the Council of Nicaea Christian leaders from around the world agreed that such a belief was not biblical. At that meeting they affirmed that Scripture teaches and Christians believe that there is

“…one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, begotten of the Father, the only-begotten; that is, of the essence of the Father, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father.”

The big difference between Jehovah’s Witnesses and Christians is that Christians believe that Jesus is fully God and Jehovah’s Witnesses do not.

Why does this matter?

If Jesus is not God, then Jesus sinned. And if he sinned then his sacrifice cannot save us.

In John 10:30 Jesus proclaims to the Jewish authorities, “I and the Father are one.” Now, just in case there was any question about what he meant in that statement, the next few verses make it clear:

“Again his Jewish opponents picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus said to them, ‘I have shown you many good works from the Father. For which of these do you stone me?’ ‘We are not stoning you for any good work,’ they replied, ‘but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God.’” (John 10:31-33)

The Jews knew he was claiming to be God. And Jesus did not correct them.

Similarly, after Jesus had been raised from the dead, his deity is affirmed. When Jesus appeared before Thomas (aka Doubting Thomas), Thomas was so taken aback that he worships Jesus saying, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28)

Again, Jesus does not correct him. Jesus, it seems, believed that he was, in every way, God.

Now, if Jesus knew that God the Father [Jehovah] was “the only true God” then Jesus committed the sin of blasphemy when he let people think he was equal to and worthy of the same worship as “the only true God.”

This is a real problem.

For if Jesus sinned [by committing blasphemy], it means Jesus’ sacrifice/atonement on our behalf was meaningless. Because a person in debt has no means to pay the debt of others. So, too, a sinner cannot pay the debt of other sinners. Only a perfect and righteous person has the means to pay off the debts of sinful people.

It is true that Jehovah’s Witnesses claim that Jesus was sinless. But if Jesus wasn’t fully God that can’t be true.

The important question is, was Jesus right to let people think that he was God and worship him?

If he was fully God—Yes!

If he was not fully God—No!

If Jesus was not fully God then Jesus sinned. Period.

This is why the one big difference between Christians and Jehovah’s Witnesses breaks my heart.

Jehovah’s Witnesses have put their trust in a version of Jesus—a Jesus that may be son of a god, but who is actually not really a god at all. And because of that, they are looking for salvation from one who does not have the power to save them.

Only a Jesus that is in every way God is worthy of our worship. Only a Jesus that is in every way God has the righteousness to pay for our sin. Only a Jesus that is in every way God can actually save us.

And so I pray for the gentleman who came to my front door. I  pray that he will come to know Jesus—the real Jesus. And I pray that one day he might come to Jesus and, without reservation, say, “My Lord and my God.”

 

To learn more about Jehovah’s Witnesses and how you can respond when they come to your door, check out https://carm.org/jehovahs-witnesses

Relapse: How can we stop doing the things we don’t want to do?

 

I’m not a “baseball guy”. I like the sport. But currently I couldn’t name more than half a dozen players. Yet, when I recently read that Angels’ player Josh Hamilton had relapsed with his drug abuse, my heart sank.

I don’t know him. I can’t even fathom what it is like to be him. But I can relate. Because I do know what it is like to relapse.375px-Vincent_Willem_van_Gogh_002

I know what it is like to do something you never thought you’d do again. I know what it is like to be overwhelmed with temptation. I know what it is like to have your mind switch into auto-pilot. I know what it is like to do a sinful action in a completely routine-like manner. I know what it is like to say “I’ll never do that again.” And I know what it is like to later do “it” again.

Relapse.

It’s not just a drug addiction thing.

It’s a gossip thing. It’s a cheating thing. It’s a yelling-at-your-kids thing. It’s a lying thing. It’s a lust thing. It’s a being-selfish thing. It’s a not-caring thing. It’s a self-comfort thing. It’s a sin thing.

It’s a thing every person, every Christian, goes through.

What’s the solution?

The answer is found in the book of Romans. The Apostle Paul writes in Romans 7:15-25,

I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do… For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it…What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!

 

Paul was no stranger to relapse. But he found freedom in Jesus Christ.

Freedom came when he acknowledged he was helpless to change himself. Freedom came when he saw his desperate need for a savior. Freedom came when he looked to Jesus Christ as that Savior.

It is the same for us today.

Freedom from relapse comes when we surrender ourselves to Jesus.

 

I thank God, that Josh Hamilton knows this. He surrendered himself to Jesus once before.

My heartfelt prayer is that by God’s grace he will surrender himself once again.

Pray for our brother Josh. And let us pray for ourselves that we will not fall into temptation (Luke 22:40).