Are Catholics Christians?


Who is a Christian?

In our western, post-truth culture we tend to let people self-identify without calling into question the truth of their distinct personhood. So according to Saving Truth by Abdu Murray, “At the University of Washington students affirmed a white man’s self-identification as a young Chinese girl.” (p 53)

I mention this because the media, and consequently the public at large, thinks nothing of lumping anyone who self-identifies as a Christian all into one gigantic group.

The problem, of course, is that some identify as Christian because they live in a country that has been known as a Christian nation and where more Christians live than do Muslims or Buddhists or Hindus. But are they actually Christian?

Some people think being a Christian is holding to a certain list of do-this-and-not-thats. Others think that if they go to church once in a while, then they are Christians. Still others think that doing what their church leader says to do qualifies them as Christian. For Catholics that person might be their parish priest or a bishop or the pope.

None of those things define who is a Christian, however. Instead, a Christian is simply a follower of Jesus Christ. A disciple, if you will.

In the early years when the Church was just beginning, the disciples were known as those who followed The Way. Then in Antioch someone started calling them Christians.

They were Christians during those years of persecution, when Paul traveled from one city to another and declared, to the Jews first, and then to the Gentiles, that Jesus was God’s Son, crucified for the sins of the world, resurrected and ascended on high.

Tradition has it that Mark traveled to Egypt in the middle of the first century and began the group of believers that has come to be known as Coptic Christians, while Thomas traveled to India and brought the gospel to the southernmost part of the country.

During those years, there was no “catholic” church or protestant denomination. There were no “approved” list of doctrines. What defined a Christian? Simply one who believed what Jesus said and did. They were still nothing more than disciples, learning from the teaching of the Master.

But the Master had ascended into heaven. So how could they follow Him? By following what those who had been with Him said and wrote. By believing the testimony of the Holy Spirit within their hearts.

The problem was, almost at once people who claimed to be followers of Jesus started teaching things that Jesus had never said, things like, you have to be circumcised, and things like, since we have grace, we can commit whatever sin we want and it is forgiven.

To correct those errors, leaders like James and Peter and John and Paul wrote letters to individuals or churches to change their thinking and teach them what Jesus actually said and what He actually meant.

Some of these letters were at once recognized as God-breathed and were considered to be of equal value with the law of Moses, the psalms and proverbs, the prophetic writings, Eventually a Council of believers was held and Church leaders determined the canon or list of works that would be considered Scripture.

For about 250 years Christians endured persecution in the Roman Empire, sometimes severely so. In 64 the Emperor Nero scapedgoated Christians for the fire in Rome. The Emperor Domitian outlawed Christianity, making it a capital offense. In 303 the co-emperors Diocletian and Galerius instigated what came to be known as the Great Persecution.

Finally, in 313 Emperor Constantine lifted the ban on Christianity.

Nearly 70 years later Emperor Theodosius I declared Catholicism the state religion of the Roman Empire, and thus began the Roman Catholic Church, which soon spread and dominated Europe, most often by force. Were those converts actually Christians? Some undoubtedly were, but some were not, as literature shows.

The Catholic Church itself became entwined in politics and the economics of the day. The priests could be Godly spiritual counselors but they could just as easily be selfish and corrupt. In other words, they were just like every other person—some believing in God and some living for self.

In 1517 the first of the reformers started a movement to bring the Roman Catholic Church back into line with what the Bible taught, and the Protestant Reformation was born.

Not much has changed over these five hundred years. People still either believe God or they live for themselves. That includes Protestants and Catholics.

So the short answer: Are Catholics Christians? Some are, some are not.

Of course there are groups of Christians who point at Catholics and decry them as heretics. But I personally know Catholics who believe that Jesus Christ died for their sins. Their faith is in His shed blood.

But they worship Mary, some say, and the saints. They deify the Pope and believe they have certain things they must do in order to be saved.

Maybe.

Some do not “worship” Mary or the saints but they revere them. Some see the things they do as evidence of faith, not acts to earn salvation.

The actual doctrine of the Catholic Church contains things I don’t believe and I don’t think the Bible teaches, but not everyone who says they’re a Catholic even knows what their own doctrine is. Some believe what they themselves read in the Bible and some believe what they want to believe. So who among the Catholics is a Christian?

Well, the answer is the same as to the question, Who among the Lutherans is a Christian? Or, Who among the Presbyterians is a Christian? Or, Who among the Baptists is a Christian?

Only the person who puts his faith, hope, trust, belief in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ as a means of salvation that brings him into the family of God.

Yes, family. We are one family, some worshiping with Catholics, some with Lutherans, some with Methodists, some with Evangelical Free. Some worshiping in Brazil, some in South Africa, some in Korea, some in France, some in Mexico, some in Nigeria.

Are Catholics Christians? Maybe. They can be Christians if they respond to the good news that Christ died for their sins, that He rose the third day, that He is now seated on high working as their Advocate with the Father.

It really is not a yes or no question because some self-identify as Christian when they aren’t. They want the approval of their community, perhaps, or of their family. They, in fact, don’t know enough about Christianity to say they don’t believe it, so they go along with everyone else they know.

Nowhere is “Christian” the default position. A person doesn’t get born a Christian. It’s actually an informed, thought-out, consciously chosen position. And it’s a life-changing decision because it marks the beginning of a life of discipleship, of following Jesus by paying attention to what He taught and what He explained to the very first disciples.

I guess the real question is not, are Catholics Christians, but am I a Christian.

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What’s The Bible All About? — A Reprise


I think a lot of people have misunderstood the Bible—Christians and non-Christians alike. Some see it as a rule book, others as the Christian version of Confucius’s sayings. Many people use the Bible to prove whatever point they want to get across—sort of a handy debater’s list of proof texts. A number of folks believe the Bible shows people the way to God. Some say it is a record of God’s dealing with humankind and others call it “His Story,” referring to Jesus.

These last two views are true as far as they go. The Bible does indeed record God’s dealing with humankind, but what are those dealings? And the Bible does, from cover to cover, either explicitly or implicitly, point to Jesus Christ. But what particularly does it say about Him?

As I have said in this space from time to time, the Bible is one book and needs to be understood as a whole. Any use of its individual parts—verses, passages, chapters, books, or even testaments—needs to be measured against the whole message of the Bible.

For example, there’s a verse that contains this: “There is no God.” Someone might point to that statement and say, the Bible claims that there is no God. In reality, that line needs to be understood in relation to the entire Bible as well as to the specific context in which it exists.

A quick scan of the Bible shows that God appears throughout; consequently the statement “there is no God” is not an accurate reflection of the Bible’s teaching. In addition, the specific context of the phrase is this: “The fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God’ ” (Psalm 14:1).

Occasionally I’ve seen a number of people quote from the book of Ecclesiastes to prove various points of debate. Again, that approach is suspect since much of Ecclesiastes is Solomon’s thinking apart from God’s direction—his view of the world “under the sun,” as opposed to his view informed by God’s wisdom.

The question should always be, Do these thoughts align with the rest of Scripture?

But that brings me back to the central question—what particularly is the rest of Scripture all about? A former pastor gave an insightful and simple answer to this question, starting in Genesis.

When Adam and Eve sinned, they did two specific things—they hid their bodies from one another (covered their nakedness) and hid themselves from God.

In the cool of the day, God walked in the garden and asked Adam where he was. Of course, omniscient God wasn’t seeking information. He wanted to give Adam a chance to give up his feeble effort to cover his sin and to confess. In other words, He was seeking Adam in a much deeper way than to see where Adam’s GPS showed him to be.

A quick scan of Scripture shows that God continued to seek people in this same way. He said in Ezekiel, “For thus says the Lord God, ‘Behold, I Myself will search for My sheep and seek them out.’ ”

He took up Enoch and saved Noah. He chose Abraham and sought out David. He chastised Jonah and rescued Daniel.

Jesus graphically illustrated God’s relentless pursuit of us when He gave the parable of the shepherd leaving the ninety-nine sheep to find the one lost lamb. He followed that story with the illustration of the woman who looked throughout her house for her lost coin.

And therein is the message of the Bible—not that we seek God, but that He pursues us, giving up all that is precious to Him, even His own beloved Son, in order to bring us back to Himself.

The great, glad news, of course, is that Jesus bore our sins in His body, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. And because of His resurrection, we also have Christ, through His Spirit, living within each believer. As Romans 5 says, “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

This post is a revised version of one that appeared here in April, 2013,

Published in: on April 20, 2018 at 5:06 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Autonomy VS Freedom


I’m reading a thought-provoking book called Saving Truth by Abdu Murray, a member of the RZIM apologetics team. He introduces his topic by discussing post-truth and the effects on society of this mindset.

The greatest effect, Mr. Murray says, is that people now believe in autonomy, not freedom. Thankfully, he took time to explain what he means. Autonomy comes from two Greek roots, one meaning self and the other meaning rule. Thus, autonomy means self-rule, or without external control.

The problem with autonomy, of course, is that my autonomy and your autonomy may collide. And then, as Mr. Murray points out, might makes right. The stronger of the two dictates to the weaker. In other words, autonomy is actually the gateway to tyranny, with anarchy a stop along the way.

Mr. Murray likened autonomy to what Israel experienced in the era of the Judges. Scripture records this statement: “In those days, there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (17:6).

The result was chaos and all kinds of immoral action. People abused others and reacted in violent ways. And no one was willing to take responsibility until civil war broke out.

Freedom is very different. It’s akin to liberty or the ability to stand on your own, and “implies the power to choose among alternatives rather than merely being unrestrained” (Oxford-American Dictionary). In truth, true freedom occurs when a person is guided by moral law.

I think of the example I heard years ago when I was teaching. Some experiment was done in which children were given an open field in which to play during their recess breaks. There were no walls, no fences, but the children concentrated their play near the building. Some time later, the children were provided with a fenced area in which to play, and this time they scattered to the distant parts of the designated field.

In reality the “restriction” gave the children a sense of safety that allowed them to take off their self-restraint and enjoy the area where they’d been allowed to go. Without the boundaries, however, they created self-imposed restrictions that hampered their movement.

Of course, the experiment could have taken a different direction. The children without the boundaries could have left the school grounds. They could have run into the street. They might have vandalized homes in the vicinity. They could have harassed neighbors. They might have stayed away instead of returning to school. They could have been abducted.

The point is, their autonomy didn’t have to result in self-restraint. It could just as easily have resulted in their impinging on someone else’s rights and misusing their property, even as they put themselves at risk to be harmed, accidentally or on purpose.

Freedom is something we can all enjoy. Autonomy leads only to chaos and ultimately tyranny.

Again looking to the era of the judges in Israel’s history, when society descended into chaos, the people cried for a king. They wanted someone to impose on them the rules of law that would bring order. Of course, the result was that the entire nation was then under the rule of one man who subjected them to the laws he decided to establish or follow.

As a result the southern nation was a bit of a yo-yo. When they had a king that followed God, they returned to the sacrifices and temple worship established at their beginning. When they had a king that forsook God and worshiped idols, then they built high places and indulged in child sacrifice and temple prostitution. At one point, the Mosaic Law was not just forgotten, the scrolls that contained it were buried in the temple so that the people didn’t even know what God’s standard was.

Post-truth. They lived at the whim of whoever was on the throne.

The northern kingdom fared worse. They actually went from one coup to another as particular military men vied for control of the nation. At one point in history, one man assassinated the sitting king, but the army followed a different leader. So the one who had connived to take the throne was himself ousted.

Chaos. Tyranny. By ignoring God’s law, by choosing autocracy, they actually forfeited their freedom.

Jesus says, The Truth will set you free. Of course, He also says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.” So Jesus is the truth. The truth sets you free. Consequently, Jesus sets you free.

Post Truth And The Confusion It Creates


Recently I heard there has been an increase in the number of people who believe in a flat earth. I didn’t think it was true until I encountered some in a writer group who were arguing for the position. Really? I was a little floored. I mean we have pictures of the round earth, and many more facts, too numerous to mention here without getting sidetracked.

I didn’t realize until just today that this kind of “belief in the face of opposing evidence” is actually on the rise. Another example: apparently there are some people who believe that the horrific shooting at Sandy Hook never happened. I don’t know what they do with the shootings since then. But apparently, the thinking goes, the government put out this fake story with fake pictures so that they can implement gun control and undermine the Second Amendment.

There’s more. Some have held to the idea that the 9/11 attacks were an inside job, or alternatively that the government knew about them and let them happen. As one article on these conspiracies says, “This theory was, of course, widely debunked but continues to live on” (“America’s 10 Most Popular Conspiracy Theories“).

Another ridiculous claim, but one held by a surprising number of people, is that the moon landing was faked. Worst of all, in my opinion, is that the Holocaust never happened.

The point here is that people continue to believe these things regardless of the evidence. It’s the old saying I first read back in 1967: My mind is made up; don’t confuse me with facts. Back then this was displayed on a card among other humorous quips. Today it more nearly reflects the thinking of a large portion of society

So in the last twelve months I’ve had discussions with people who claim Jesus never lived. This in the face of the evidence. From The Guardian: “The historical evidence for Jesus of Nazareth is both long-established and widespread. Within a few decades of his supposed lifetime, he is mentioned by Jewish and Roman historians, as well as by dozens of Christian writings” (“What is the historical evidence that Jesus Christ lived and died?“).

Here’s the definitive statement that illustrates the grip post-truth has on western culture:

About 10 years ago, The Jesus Project was set up in the US; one of its main questions for discussion was that of whether or not Jesus existed. Some authors have even argued that Jesus of Nazareth was doubly non-existent, contending that both Jesus and Nazareth are Christian inventions. It is worth noting, though, that the two mainstream historians who have written most against these hypersceptical arguments are atheists: Maurice Casey (formerly of Nottingham University) and Bart Ehrman (University of North Carolina). They have issued stinging criticisms of the “Jesus-myth” approach, branding it pseudo-scholarship. Nevertheless, a recent survey discovered that 40% of adults in England did not believe that Jesus was a real historical figure. (Ibid.; emphasis mine)

Postmodern thinking introduced the idea that truth is relative: you have your truth and I have mine. But post-truth basically says that truth is irrelevant. What counts is your perception, how you feel, want you want to believe.

The problem here is that truth does matter. Take the illustration I recently heard about a motorist who had discovered a “short cut.” Parallel to the road he was taking ran an unfinished highway. He crossed the narrow ditch between the two and made great time on the smooth road. But at one point he came upon big flashing lights that announced the road would end at the unfinished bridge ahead. Then followed a series of four signs commemorating motorists who had died THAT WEEK because they didn’t heed the warning.

They simply did not believe the experts because they didn’t want to believe. Maybe they thought the construction company was purposefully keeping the public away for greedy gain. Maybe they simply weren’t paying attention, though it’s hard to imagine that they didn’t see those huge, blinking signs. Whatever the reason, they didn’t believe the truth and it cost them their lives.

And here is Jesus, saying in His word, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father but through Me.” He’s the Truth. A living embodiment of what is True. Consequently, His witness about His Father is True. His statements about our spiritual condition are True.

But I have to wonder if our post-truth culture even cares. They would just as soon continue on the smooth, broad road that leads to destruction. Perhaps they love their sin too much to pay attention to Truth. But the chaos, the confusion that results from ignoring the Truth, is certain.

More About Stability


As I recover from the stroke I had a year ago, I find myself somewhere between walking with a cane and walking without a cane. My issue is balance, as I mentioned back in January. Some might recall that I described the sensation I experienced as sort of, but not quite, like walking on ice. Not quite, because I had the same sense that I could fall when I wasn’t moving. I might simply be standing, but if I turned my head, I could lose my balance.

I say this so that I can make this analogy a bit clearer.

I started thinking about my use of the cane and drawing a comparison with my finding stability in Christ. But that didn’t seem right. After all, Christ is not something I add to my life to just help me do life better. And as I recover, I’m working hard to do without the cane, whereas, I want the opposite to be true about Christ: I very much want to lean on Him more and more.

So is there no value in the analogy? Are atheists right that Christ is a crutch for us Christians because we are too weak to stand on our own? Or, in my case, too unstable?

I’ve never bought the idea that Christians are weak or more needy or less capable. I mean some of the bravest people, before they became Christians, have turned to Christ. I think, for example, of Louis Zamperini, the Olympic runner whose career was cut short by World War II.

The movie Unbroken depicted his courage and strength of character.

While serving in the Air Force Louie’s plane was shot down. He and two others survived, only to be adrift on the Pacific Ocean for forty-seven days (one man died a month into the ordeal). Unfortunately the two US servicemen were “rescued” by the Japanese and consigned to a prisoner of war camp. The treatment there was cruel.

But there’s more to the story which will be depicted in a second movie coming out this year about Louis’s experiences after the war. His will to survive in the worst of conditions, wasn’t enough, and by God’s grace, he found Christ, and that relationship revolutionized his life.

That’s the truth, then, about Jesus: He doesn’t prop us up, like a crutch would, and He doesn’t act as a mere steadying force in case I lose my balance.

He actually is balance itself. Without Him, life is uncertain, wobbly, shaky. We do look to means outside ourselves to bring life into proper alignment, but nothing works like having a proper sense of balance.

When people have vertigo, they do all kinds of things to cope. Some medicate, some have surgery, some undergo all manner of tests, some endure treatments on their ears or their eyes. And of course, there are people like me who walk with a cane or a walker. Others might even be confined to a wheelchair. Because there’s something wrong. Life isn’t the same when we feel we could topple simply because we walk across the room. We know we have to correct this condition or find a way to cope.

Christ is to our spiritual lives what balance is to our physical lives. Actually, we can live without Him, but to do so we have to adopt all kinds of coping mechanisms. We have to try to restore a sense of balance that only He can provide. We might live our lives for our spouse or children. We might become so work driven that our job defines us. We might take the opposite tack and become party animals or so engrossed in entertainment of one kind or the other that we hardly ever slow down. In fact, slowing down terrifies us. It’s like walking without the cane.

The sad thing is, most people have no idea what’s wrong. They even deny that there is anything wrong. After all, their world has been spinning for as long as they can remember. They don’t know what life without vertigo feels like. They scoff at people who try to tell them what walking without fear of falling is like, people who go cane free.

They’re living in a fantasy, they say. And who needs to listen to their ideas about balance. We’re coping just fine, thank you very much.

The problem, of course, is that the longer we live, the more prone we are to fall.

Most people don’t understand that they have decreased balance until it is too late and they fall. Falls are the number one cause of death from injury in the US (“Balance Disorders,” Magnolia Physical Therapy)

The opposite is true when we have Christ. He is our balance. With Him we cannot, nor will we, fall, spiritually speaking. Not that we’re perfect. But Christ has dealt with our sin which puts our life off kilter.

In truth, He makes all the difference in the world.

Comparing


One of my neighbors has a band that recently started rehearsing in his garage. To be honest, they aren’t very good. The lead singer is especially weak.

Understand, I’ve recently been watching The Voice, and the contestants this season are especially strong. So even though I don’t really listen to contemporary music, like on the radio or via iTunes, I still have a standard with which to compare my neighbor’s band.

But here they are, playing for all the neighborhood to hear. Unless they’re playing for the love of music, I assume they have hopes of performing somewhere. I’m sure their family and friends have told them they are good, that they could find an audience. But a paying gig? I have a hard time imagining that anyone would actually give them money for their music.

But isn’t that they way we are? We evaluate our lives, our talents, our weaknesses in a large part in response to what others say about us. We listen to our co-workers, read the evaluations from our boss, maybe get a word of affirmation from our spouse or children, or maybe a complaint or murmured confrontation. From all that feedback we add our own summation based on what we see in the world.

Likely we reach a conclusion that runs something like this: I’m not so bad. After all I don’t cheat on my spouse, I don’t lose my temper that often, and I don’t rob banks or gun people down. I’m a pretty good citizen since I vote in most elections. I don’t speed more than anyone else, and I don’t drive drunk. Nobody’s suing me, I pay my taxes. My neighbors don’t complain about my dog barking, and I always greet the mailman. I mean, I really am not so bad.

The problem there is that we make our judgment according to a minimal standard. We’re not evaluating if we love our neighbor, just that no neighbor is complaining—to our face. We’re not detailing what service we do for our city or state or nation, just what we do that is required of us. We haven’t identified any selfless, loving action toward our family that puts them first, just what we do to keep those relationships.

And isn’t that enough?

Actually, no, it isn’t. God’s standard is much higher.

First He says, above all we are to love Him with all we have—our mind, body, soul. We’re to be sold out to Him. As if that wasn’t enough, we are also to love others—our neighbors, our family, our enemies—with the selfless love Jesus showed. One example Jesus gave was to give, pretty much, the shirt off our backs to someone in need. If someone asked us to help them, we are to do twice as much as they ask. The story He told on this same topic was about a man who knew he was in territory where people hated him, and still he stopped to help a stranger in need. And this help cost him—in time, in money, in resources.

Do we love like that? Do I love like that?

Not even close.

So, am I OK? Are any of us “not so bad”? Well, sure, some might say. We didn’t beat up the guy who needed help, who’d been robbed and left for dead.

But are we to compare ourselves to the bottom rung of society and evaluate our character based on the fact that we aren’t as bad as we could be? Or are we to make the judgment based on what we should be, what we were created to be?

When we look at what’s highest and best, we have to consider the things Jesus told us He considers:

“You have heard that the ancients were told, ‘YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT MURDER’ and ‘Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, ‘You good-for-nothing,’ shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell.

There’s more, but it’s clear that Jesus set the bar high. He wasn’t interested in our just being better than murderers. He wants us to eliminate hate in our hearts.

With that as the standard, it’s pretty clear, we are not getting any paying gigs any time soon, because we all fall short of what Jesus set out before us.

Which is why He came—to do for us what we could not do for ourselves.

Published in: on April 11, 2018 at 5:25 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Believing the Bible Instead of Using It — A Reprise


What do I mean by “using the Bible”? I definitely believe God gave us His written word to be used, not as decoration for the coffee table or a place to record the family genealogy. But, I’m thinking here of using the Bible much the way I think of the phrase using people.

By saying I don’t think anyone should use people, I am not saying to avoid contact with people. It really goes to the issue of motive. If I use people, I am thinking of what they can do for me.

In the same way, if I approach the Bible to use it, I’m thinking of what it can do for me in the here and now. That’s the problem I have.

I believe the Bible is God’s special revelation in which He discloses Himself—His words, His work, His plan, His Person. It is not to be used like a magic wand, or like a vending machine: do this, get that.

Yes, the Bible has many, many promises, but when taken as part of a whole, it is clear that the promises point to spiritual and eternal benefits. Somehow so much of what matters most has been swallowed up in what is here and now—to our detriment.

Seemingly, we are more eager to have the Bible tell us if we should join the gym or wear our hair long or listen to a certain kind of music than we are to have it tell us of God’s majesty or His heart for the lost or His preparation for my eternal home.

Of course that’s a generalization. But it seems to me, the Bible—and prayer, for that matter—is too often looked at as a means to get what I want in the here and now.

It’s much like the treatment Jesus received from the people in the first century—a host of His contemporaries expected Him to set up a political kingdom, and when He didn’t, when He made it clear His kingdom was MORE, they couldn’t tolerate Him. They wanted freedom from the Romans, bread aplenty, instant healing, unlimited water. He said, I’ve come to give you Life—eternal, abundant, new.

Believing the Bible, I think, means understanding that the Life He offers is better than freedom from the Romans, bread aplenty, instant healing, or unlimited water. Does He impart those things to people in His family? At times. But what He gives consistently, no matter what the physical circumstances, are things like the joy of our salvation, peace that passes understanding, hope for our eternal future. Those are the kinds of things the Bible makes clear are ours—things that believing the Bible give us.

This article is an edited edition of one that appeared here in April, 2007.

Published in: on April 9, 2018 at 4:41 pm  Comments (2)  
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Misunderstanding Scripture


Interpreting God’s word incorrectly is not a new thing. In fact it’s a very old thing and the number one method Satan uses to confound people so that we do not follow God. Remember his question to Eve in the Garden—Has God really said . . . ?

From then on, people have been in conflict about God’s word.

The same was true in the last years of Judah’s existence as a nation. Babylon had already defeated them and carried away the wealthiest, most influential people into exile, while installing a puppet-king in place of the boy-king they dethroned.

While Jeremiah continued to prophesy to the people in his homeland, Ezekiel proclaimed God’s word to the first-wave exiles in Babylon. Not surprisingly, their messages were the same: Judah will fall to the Babylonians.

The people in Jerusalem didn’t believe Jeremiah, and the people in Babylon didn’t believe Ezekiel. At one point when he proclaimed God’s word, the people said, He’s speaking in parables. But he wasn’t. He was delivering the message God gave him, but at one point he stopped God and said, ‘Then I said, “Ah Lord GOD! They are saying of me, ‘Is he not just speaking parables?’” ‘

That incident reminds me of the disciples’ confusion when Jesus told them he was going to Jerusalem where He’d be put to death, but that He would rise again on the third day. His men simply thought He was speaking metaphorically. They didn’t understand He meant He would literally die and literally rise again.

Too often that same confusion reigns today. People say the Bible doesn’t actually mean what it says. They say some passages don’t apply to our culture or that people have been misinterpreting them for centuries or that these five verses nullify the hundred or so that seem contradictory.

What is God actually telling us?

Of course Satan is still active in this process. He wants us to be uncertain about Scripture, and particularly how Scripture applies to us. I mean, he actually used Scripture against Jesus, trying to trap Him and trick Him by God’s words in Scripture.

I find it interesting that Jesus simply dismissed Satan’s bait. He didn’t explain what the verses actually meant or when the statements would be fulfilled. But He took the opposite approach with His disciples after His resurrection. Then He carefully explained the Law and the Prophets to them so that they could see how He was, in fact, the promised Messiah.

The fact that Jesus unfolded Scripture for them is encouraging, I think. It means that the truth is within the pages of the Bible, waiting for us to understand. And the cool thing is that God sent the Holy Spirit to us when Jesus left.

One of the “functions” of the Holy Spirit is to guide us in all truth, to bring to our remembrance what God has said. He doesn’t invent new truth. He doesn’t send golden tablets written in King James English. Rather, He clarifies the Bible. He brings the various points of history together. He shows how Scripture interprets Scripture.

The Bible, of course, is under attack by those who don’t believe in God. It’s full of errors, they say, and contradictions.

Well, it’s not. What it is, is the God-breathed writings of men of God. They wrote using their own style, to a contemporary audience, for a specific purpose. So of course the Bible doesn’t read like a textbook or a story book or a history book. It’s really like no other book every put together.

The main point is that the Bible as a unit is about God—His plan, His purpose, His person, and His work. Of course, Jesus stands at the center, along with the Father, and it was this truth that Jesus explained to His disciples.

Since Jesus rose from the grave, we’ve had over 2000 years of scholastic investigation of the Scriptures, analyzing, comparing, contrasting. Unless someone adds to the Bible (as the Mormons do by introducing a supposed later revelation known as the Book of Mormon) or subtracts from the Bible (as the higher critics do by nullifying the parts that contain miracles or other supernatural elements), it’s hard to miss what God has done and is doing in human history. The Old Testament foreshadows and promises and prophecies that God would send a Savior; the gospels recount the life, death, and resurrection of that Savior; the remainder of the Bible relates how the Savior affects our life, now and in the future.

There’s no longer any mystery. What God is doing has been fully disclosed. He’s even disclosed Himself by showing up in the likeness of us humans. We can see what God is like by seeing what Jesus was like.

Of course, doubters don’t want to listen to the accounts of Christ’s life. How can we possible know those are true?

Anyone interested in evidence might want to take a look at some of the work done by J. Warner Wallace. He is a cold-case detective who has used the skill set acquired on the job to look at Christianity. His latest book is called Forensic Faith.

Here’s one five-and-a-half minute video in which he addresses what some consider the contradictions of the gospel writers.

This is just one man adding his knowledge to the mountains of evidence that already exist for the truth of the Bible.

The Bible doesn’t really need to be defended, of course, because reading it brings verification of its veracity, but other fields of study agreeing, only makes the case stronger.

If the evidence is so strong, why don’t people believe it?

For the same reason the Jewish people in Babylon and in Jerusalem didn’t believe Ezekiel and Jeremiah: other voices spoke contradictory messages. People claiming to be prophets were telling those first wave exiles that they’d be back in Jerusalem in a few short years, that the exile would not last for any length of time. They were making stuff up. They were not speaking God’s word.

So too people today can listen to the wrong source and get the wrong worldview that will lead them to error, not truth. It’s all a matter of who you trust.

When The Roll Is Called—A Reprise


In 1893 a pastor named James Black wrote a simple chorus entitled “When the Roll Is Called Up Yonder” prompted by the absence of a girl named Bessie who was too sick to attend one of the youth meetings. For those who may be unfamiliar with the words, now in the public domain, I’ve copied them here:

1. When the trumpet of the Lord shall sound and time shall be no more
And the morning breaks eternal, bright and fair
When the saved of earth shall gather over on the other shore
And the roll is called up yonder, I’ll be there!

2. On that bright and cloudless morning when the dead in Christ shall rise
And the glory of His resurrection share
When His chosen ones shall gather to their home beyond the skies
And the roll is called up yonder, I’ll be there!

3. Let us labor for the Master from the dawn till setting sun,
Let us talk of all His wondrous love and care;
Then when all of life is over, and our work on earth is done
And the roll is called up yonder, I’ll be there!

Chorus:
When the roll, is called up yonder,
When the roll, is called up yonder,
When the roll, is called up yonder
When the roll is called up yonder I’ll be there!

Lyrics: James Milton Black
Music: James Milton Black

If you read the story behind the song, you learn that Pastor Black had a heart for the lost.

Sadly, there seems to be a growing belief today that there will be no “lost.” The ideas behind “universalism”—usually traced back to Origen of Alexandria (c.185-284), an influential early Church Father and writer who believed in the ultimate salvation and reconciliation with God of all moral beings, including Satan and his demons—seem to have gained more acceptance starting in the 1800s. Today it seems the majority of people, East or West, embrace some form of this view.

Some believe all religions are true (different rivers flowing into the same ocean) whereas some believe all are saved through Jesus Christ.

Chances are, if someone asks, “When the roll is called up yonder, will you be there?” the answer is most likely, “I hope so.”

I hope so? That answer is a pretty good indication that the person doesn’t know what is involved in getting there and they just don’t realize it.

The sad thing about this is that people who don’t know they’re lost have no particular interest in being found. And those who don’t believe anyone else is lost aren’t very concerned about mapping out the way back home.

For me there’s not a sadder scene in the Bible than Jesus weeping over Jerusalem, declaring that He would have gathered them to Him like a mother hen gathers her chicks, but they wouldn’t have it. They didn’t want to be gathered. They didn’t want to be found.

These are the people Paul was talking about when he said,

For many walk of whom I often told you and now tell you even weeping, that they are enemies of the cross of Christ, whose end is destruction, whose god is their appetite, and whose glory is in their shame, who set their minds on earthly things.
– Phil. 3:18-19

At the heart of the deception that all are going to heaven (whatever you believe that to be for you – 🙄 ), is the denial that God is a righteous, just, sovereign Judge; that He makes the rules and He determines the consequences and He metes out equitable rewards or punishments.

Why is it so hard to believe that the One in charge gets to do that?

This post is a revised version of one that appeared here in February, 2011.

Because He Lives


Bill and Gloria Gaither

Back in 1971 Bill and Gloria Gaither came out with a song entitled “Because He Lives.” It became quite popular, but I never latched on to it like others did. There’s a line in the chorus that sort of bothered me:

Because He lives, I can face tomorrow,
Because He lives, all fear is gone;

The thing is, I believe there’s an answer for fear, but I don’t think fear is necessarily gone.

That might seem like a picky point to some, but I see it as the difference between a cliched, shallow answer to life’s heartaches, and delving into the deep truth of what Jesus Christ provides because He’s alive today.

The shallow approach is the, don’t-worry-be-happy answer that brushes off the negative emotion as if it has no valid reason for existing. In truth, fear is not really a “negative emotion.” I mean, God gave it to us to keep us from jumping off a ten story building just to see if we can fly, or other such dangerous endeavors.

We should be afraid in many circumstances. Our fear is healthy. Our fear protects us. So it’s not really negative. But it does stop us at times. It can induce worry. It can even consume us and become uncontrollable.

God doesn’t want fear to dominate us like that, and we do have the way out of such debilitating thinking. But I don’t think we can make it vanish by simply saying “all fear is gone.”

Last week I saw the movie “I Can Only Imagine,” the true story about Bart Millard, writer of the song by that same title. I think it’s excellent, and I highly recommend it.

However, it does portray some physical abuse and the anger that accompanies that kind of domestic violence. But one thing that made the movie so good, I thought, was that belief in Jesus Christ as Savior didn’t get tossed out as an instant answer. This was not easy to accomplish in a 110 minute movie, but I thought the writers, producers, actors did a credible job, showing that difficult things had to be wrestled into submission. In other words, “all fear” didn’t simply vanish. But it was overcome.

And that’s because Jesus lives! So the Gaithers got it right, but saying the words or singing the song doesn’t wipe away fear. It actually is trusting Jesus who is alive and real and with us. It might mean giving Him a problem over and over because we seem to take it back almost as soon as it’s out of our hands.

I think my greatest understanding of this kind of trust came some fifteen years ago. I was working as a writer, but I hadn’t started editing yet. I didn’t have health insurance, was living on my savings.

One day I started to the backyard from my upstairs apartment, and I fell down the stairs (don’t ask!). I mean I really fell. I lay there for a second, and the first thought I had was, I think I broke my back. And then, what am I supposed to do if I did?

I really had no choice. I could worry which would not change a thing, or I could trust God to see me through the crisis. I started by seeing if I could move my legs. And I could. Then I sat up, stood up, and made my way back into my apartment. I went for about a week not being able to walk much. But friends prayed, and I knew God would take care of me.

Because Jesus lives. I’d have to say He gave the peace that passes understanding. I can’t explain it. But it’s what Romans says—“He who did not spare His own Son but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also, with Him, freely give us all things?”

No, I didn’t think God had to make everything turn out OK for me. If I had broken my back, He would have cared for me in that circumstance, too. But I knew He had a hold of me, that I was His to take care of, that He was going to work those circumstance for my good that I might become more like Jesus.

The One who is alive, who is with me.