There isn't anything new in what I have to say, but I do see life from an unique perspective. As my body is shutting down, my soul is opening up to a greater and greater relationship with Christ. I am sharing the things I learn as I go through my trials so that those who read what I write will be encouraged in their own walks by how gracious God has been to me in mine. Ask me questiions, dispute my views and most of all pray for me.
There is nothing more important for the Christian than to have a sound foundational understanding about what Christianity is and what being a Christian should mean. Most of those who have been going to church for awhile know a few things: God loves us. Jesus forgives your sins. Unless you believe in Jesus you are going to hell. We can have some kind of relationship with God. We have these little scattered bits of theology, but we don't have an understanding of how it all fits together. At least that is how it generally appears.
After hearing a terrific sermon on being imitators of God and imitators of Christ, I found myself wondering if I had opportunity to give a message to the Church what would it be? If I could have my way, if I could think of certain important consequences for the body of Christ, if I could speak one true thing into existence, what would it be? I would want the body of Christ, the Church in this day and age, to simply have a clear understanding of what Christianity is about and how to communicate that to others. We have been called to spread the Gospel but what gospel are we spreading?
I recently heard about a young woman in our church who was having difficulty with her boyfriend. The young lady is a Christian, but her boyfriend is not. You can imagine what the primary problem is can't you? What is this committed Christian doing with a non-Christian in a very close relationship? Second Corinthians 6:14 - 18 instructs us:
"Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and
wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?
What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? What does a believer have in
common with an unbeliever? What agreement is there between the temple of God
and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said: 'I will live with
them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people.'
'Therefore come out from them and be sepreate,' says the Lord.
'Touch no unclean thing and I will receive you. I will be Father to you
and you will be my sons and daughters,' says the Lord Almighty."
This simply means do not be tied together with an unbeliever in a vital way because when you have two oxen pulling the same plow in different directions, the stronger will pull the weaker away from the furrow. Paul's concern here is that the Christian will be pulled off by the non-Christian, so he says don't even get on the same plow with an unbeliever, most importantly not in a personal, intimate relationship. Boyfriend and girlfriend is an example of that. The intimate temptations alone are too often stronger than the will of the Christian. Each step taken away from the furrow makes the next one easier to take.
There's a practical consideration here as well. If you are serious about your Christianity and the other person is serious about their unbelief, then the two of you are going to drive each other nuts! They are two completely different world views, two very distinct ways of looking at reality. As might be expected, in this relationship there was conflict. The young lady was trying to make sense of her relatioship with Christ to her boyfriend and is unable to do so because the substance of that relatioship is a feeling about God and Jesus. When we talk about relationships in this modern world we don't talk about commitments or contracts. We talk about things in personal, subjective, emotional terms.
When we attend seminars or read books or listen to teachings about improving our relatioship with God, it is never about knowing something about God that we don't already know. It's always abot some trick that will make us FEEL differently. Get closer to God. Have this deep, personal, warm experience of God's presence. I am not against having an emotional closeness to God. I just think that most times it is the tail waggin the dog. The emphasis is in the wrong places. My concern is that sometimes the modern church has the tail wagging the dog so hard that dog often disappears altogether. The dog is the truth of Christianity, the substance of what it is all about. The Christian is the tail not the dog. The feelings are the tail not the dog. The relationship, if you are couching it in terms of feelings, is the tail, not the dog.
This young woman had a relatioship with God in primarily subjective terms. What is the problem? She cannot communicate the ineffable attributes of her relationship to anyone else mutch less her boyfriend. Who can on those terms? I love my wife. My wife loves me. I can explain that in terms of our commitment to each other but I cannot express in words the intense feelings associated, secondarily mind you, with that love we share. Once you feel it you know it and sometimes that's how we relate our relationship with God. You want to become a Christian? You have got to have the faith, then you feel it, then you know it. When you really connect with God, then you really know what it is.
The best she could do was tell her boyfriend about this deep affection she had for God and it was not enough to sway him or even give him a hint of what she was talking about. Therein lay her frustration. Her boyfriend really wanted to make sense of her point of view. She wanted him to become a Christian. "What does that mean?" "Well, I want you to believe in Jesus. Then your sins will be forgiven. and you can go to heaven. But if you don't believe, you are in big trouble." And he says, "That's all Greek to me. It makes no sense. I don't even know how to comprehend the meaning of those words."
When we take pieces out of the big picture, how can we expect people to understand what Christianity is? It like giving someone a carburetor in response to request that you explain how a car runs. Even if you could understand somethings about the carburetor, you would still be unsure about how it fits into the entire machine. When you understand the system, then you understand what we are saying. He is trying to get it, but he doesn't have the big picture to work with. The biggest problem is that the young lady does not appear to have all the parts in place either. She has a piece, but she doesn't understand the system it belongs in. If she understood the system, she would be able to communicate it.
We have two significant problems here. First of all, the young woman is living in disobedience to God's word. It doesn't matter what modern society says about diversity and tollerance and political correctness. Paul tells us not to be unequally yoked for good reason. It is esy to understand how someone can see religious truth in terms of experience and then can move easily from one experience ot another. She experiences a love relatioship with God and she has a love relationship with her boyfriend. They are both love relationships if it is the experience alone that makes it valid. But it is truth that drives someone to a relationship with God, not experience.
The core issue is a basic understanding of Christianity. The boyfriend has an hoest question about Christianity, trying to figure out if it fits in his life. He is sincere, but feeling alone is not going to work for him. He wants to know what makes it truth. Think about it for a minute. When a nonbeliever asks "Why is Jesus the only way?" he is asking you to make your view of reality coherent to him. He is asking you to tell the Christian story such that the idea that Christ is the only way becomes a sensible concept to him. He isn't even asking you to prove that such a thing is actually true. That's a seperate question. He is just trying to understand what you believe. I can be very sympathetic to a nonbeliever wanting to know why Jesus is the only way, but I am astounded when a supposed Christian asks the same question. The nonbeliever does not have the whole picture, the Christian is supposed to.
The concept of Christianity can be explained by breaking it up into four parts. Where did we come from. What's wrong with us? How do you solve the problem? How do you put everything else right that has beeen hurt by the problem? Every world view has to answer these questions. How you start will determine how you move from there. How you understand the nature of the problem determines how you characterize the solution. If the problem is just ignorance, then the solution is education. If the problem is genetic error, then the solution is genetic manipulation. If the problem is sin, then the answer is forgiveness.
In the Christian world view, God created the world. He is in charge and He created human beings to have a fellowship, companionship and involvement with Him. Human beings are special in that regard, they are a higher order of creation. They have a capability that no other creature has: moral choice. They use this capacity that was meant for good for something evil and have become rebels in God's in God's kingdom. As rebels in God's kingdom, they become guilty of crimes against God kingdom. As rebels in God's kingdom, they become guilty of crimes against God and liable for punishment. That's our problem. That's how it needs to be explained, not in terms of how good you will feel after saying a certain prayer.
What about the Jewish man who says, "I don't get it. Why do I have to believe in your Jesus? I've got my Judaism, I've got my belief in God. I try to lead a good life." To him it just makes sense. He has his picture of reality. His picture says that God exists and demands moral conduct. He is basically a good person so he's in on that view, but he doesn't understand why he has to add some theological notion about Jesus to equation. His view seems adequate. What the Christian has to do in answering his question is to go back to the foundation and show what is wrong with his foundation. I believe that most people already know what is wrong with their foundation, they just haven't thought it through yet. I had opportunity to think it through in a powerful way and I changed. If you are a Christian the same thing happened to you in curcumstances unique to you.
The best approach here is to ask two simple questions. Do you believe that people who commit moral crimes ought to be punished? Everyone except the most obtuse would agree that moral crimes require punishment. When the person sys yes, it is important to agree with him. Yes, I believe that too. It has already been established that this Jewish person agrees with the ten commandments, but it could be important to see if the person you are speakning with will agree with the commandments or at least what they say.
The second question is similar to the first, but much more personal. Do you, Have you ever committed any moral crimes no matter how minor? Most people will reply that yes they had committed some moral crimes. At that point I agree that I as well have committed moral crimes. I am a murderer. I am a thief. I am an adulterer. Now we both have agreed that moral crimes shoud be punished and that we both have committed moral crimes. Where does that leave us? In big trouble.
This is where the big wake up call happens or it doesn't. Even by his own standards he is not a good person, he is not good enough. This is where the cross comes in. We identify the problem and we offer a solution that is adequate to resolve the problem. Jesus is the only way because he is the one who has solved the problem. He is the one who died for our sins. Bhudda didn't do that. Mhammed didn't do that. No other religious leader or world leader has done what Jesus has done. He is the medicine that cures the sickness. There are many medicines that claim to do a lot, but He is the only one that works.
This is the point that Christians have to be able to communicate to the rest of the world. We have got to make coherent sens of our message, even before we demonstrate that our message is true. We must begin by living lives in obedience and by growing in our faith and understand of that faith. This is what I pray for the Church, what I desire most for the Church. We should have at least a basic foundational understanding of why Jesus is necessary or we must wonder if we have really made the commitment required for salvation. Believing something in your head is not the same thing as living it through your heart. Feeling something is not the same as understanding it. We need at least an adequate understanding to be able to say clearly what Christianity is and what it's about before we can even think about defending it to someone else.
Now before I go, some personal notes. First I have not been posting as often lately because of weakness associated with my illness. I am not abandoning the website and will post as frequently as I can. This posting had to be done from elsewhere as my computer is also temporarily down. Those if you who send me e-mails need to know that I cannot access them presently, but will be able to in a few days.
The situation I wrote about regarding a young lady making difficult choices between God and what the world is telling her is appropriate for a Christian is ongoing. Please keep her in your prayers.
My senior pastor and several young people I have had the honor of ministering to are currently in Indonesia. They are providing aide that is still desperately needed. There are tensions with Muslim militants not happy about Christian aide workers. They must be very circumspect about their faith or risk harm not necessarily to themselves but to others. Please keep them in your prayers as well.