An Easter Meeting About the Nature of Easter’s Man

Is Jesus God?  Though a live question for many, few who say “No!” make any appeal to a Christian faith.  The exceptions are Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Mormons.

Not all Christian bishops or teachers answered alike in the early 300’s AD.  In Egypt, the heretic Arius and his followers said “No!” but were opposed by Bishop Alexander who said “Yes!”.  Arius said Jesus wasn’t God, didn’t possess divine attributes, had a beginning, and wasn’t perfectly pure, wise or good; God had made Him, just like he made you and me.  Arius believed Jesus was a creature, not a Creator.

Dismayed at such infighting among the churches and their leaders, Emperor Constantine–who had professed Christ and made Christianity the faith of the Roman realm, called a council of bishops around Easter in A.D.325 to settle the question once and for all.  220–perhaps more, showed up and crafted a definitive Nicene Creed which Christians still consider the standard of orthodoxy.  In up-to-date language…

  • I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.
  • And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds; God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God; begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made.
  • Who, for us men and for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary, and was made man; and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate; He suffered and was buried; and the third day He rose again, according to the Scriptures; and ascended into heaven, and sits on the right hand of the Father; and He shall come again, with glory, to judge the quick and the dead; whose kingdom shall have no end.
  • And I believe in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of Life; who proceeds from the Father and the Son; who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified; who spoke by the prophets.
  • And I believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church. I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins; and I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.

The Bible does not let us happily dismiss false teaching on Jesus–or anything else, as little more than a different opinion.  …if Christ has no been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins (1 Cor.15:17).  Without Jesus’ resurrection, we are doomed.  And without his deity, we are doomed.  For example, if all people have a sinful nature, how could Jesus live all his life without sinning (Heb.4:15)?  And if He was just human–and thus sinned, how could he bear the sins of the world (He would have only been able to die for His own sins)?  And How could someone who is not God, forgive sins (Mark 2:7)

When the Abraham was about to sacrifice Isaac, he was about to take the life of a son that was just like himself.  Which is just what God did…, at Easter.  “…one substance with the Father.”

Gay Marriage and Senator Portman’s New View

In case the Supreme Court wants his opinion, last week Ohio Republican Senator Rob Portman publicly announced he’s on board with gay marriage.  Perhaps the timing was a political signal to the justices about two big cases arriving on their docket this wgay marriageeek: sustain or strike down the Defense of Marriage Act (which then Congressman Portman voted for in 1996), and sustain or strike down California’s Prop 8 by which California voters banned gay marriage in the state.

Senator Portman is a political conservative whom the Romney campaign considered for the VP slot last year.  He credits his change of heart to a his college-aged son coming out to the family in 2009.  This is nothing new; parents are understandably affected by what their children believe and do, and often adjust their own beliefs and decisions to promote and enjoy ongoing family harmony.  Furthermore, politicians down through the ages and across the political spectrum have an uncanny knack for telling which the way the wind is blowing–or soon will.

But the theological underpinnings given for the change, are ominous .  The Senator admitted: I wrestled with how to reconcile my Christian faith with my desire for Will to have Rob Portmanthe same opportunities to pursue happiness and fulfillment as his brother and sister. Ultimately, it came down to the Bible’s overarching themes of love and compassion and my belief that we are all children of God.

Elsewhere I have written why as a Christian I oppose legalizing gay marriage [click here].  That is not my concern here, but rather the fallacy and the lie that helped this dad square his old faith with his new view.  First, the lie: every one of the 7 billion people on the planet arechildren of God.  This is widely believed and professed–even among some evangelical Christians.  But if a little boy comes up to me and pulls on my pantleg saying, “Daddy, Daddy”, does that make him my son?  Wouldn’t a father be the one who knows best who is his son or daughter–not the other way around?

…to all who did receive him [Jesus], who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God (John 1:12).  Receiving Jesus and believing on Him are prerequisites to becoming a child of God.  Whether the senator or his son is a child of God are not mine to determine.  But not everyone qualifies.  1 John 3:10 claims that … it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother. God’s apostle couldn’t be more clear: of all 7 billion people, some belong to God, and some to the devil.  Which reminds me of the fingers Jesus one day pried loose from his pantlegs You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires (John 8:44).

Now the fallacy: letting the commands that God gave His children be silenced by the Bible’s so-called “overarching themes of love and compassion”.  It is true that God says of Himself that He is compassionate, and slow to anger.  But it does not nullify specific commands such as “You shall not bear false witness”.

This is the same argument that Rob Bell and others have used to paper over the many mentions of hell in the Bible.  But just as God blessed his people by rescuing them from Egypt, He judged them for their disobedience (see Numbers 25:1-9, 21:4-9 as two examples among many).  Should someone protest that “that’s the OT” as if God had an original character defect which has been surgically repaired, remember the NT deaths of Ananias & Sapphira in Acts 5:1-11.

Most importantly, the way the senator views God’s love and compassion would make nonsense of the death the Father choreographed for His Son.  How evil God would be if he asked Jesus to die unnecessarily?  If the wages of sin aren’t death; if God’s wrath against sin is just something made up by squinty-eyed and hypocritical Pharisees who want to spoil everyone’s fun.

The enormity of grace that some homosexual advocates credit God for having, is real.  In fact, our estimates of God’s grace are probably too small rather than too big.  However, the Bible never portrays God’s grace as a license for teenagers to shoplift; or husbands to cheat on wives, or workers to goof off on the job, or two men to copulate (Rom.6:1-2).  Grace is the unmerited favor of God extended to all kinds of sinners–WHO REPENT, who turn away from a former embrace of it.  And grace that continues to be extended as sinners fall, get up again, fall, get up again, fall…

The night grows darker and darker as professing believers write their own Bibles.  Look back, look ahead: Jesus always comes to earth in judgment.  The first time was not to bring it but to bear it by dying for sinners.  The second time He will unleash the full fury of a God who is offended by those who thumb their noses at His Son’s death and embrace their sin, even as God–in severe mercy, tries to rescue them (Rev.9:21).  Yes, God is love; but not only love; He is holy too.

Making sermons matter

Back in the days when I was in the pew for a sermon instead of the pulpit, I remember how those sermons deepened my prayer life.  “Dear Lord, make him STOP!”  I have my head out of the sand enough to know that as a preacher I too am likely contributing to the prayer lives of some in my congregation.  I know that not every sermon brings the house to its feet.  Hmm, now that I think about it, none of them have!

Must sermons be talks to endure, or could God use them to whisper in your ear?  What makes the difference?  Since the Holy Spirit ranges freely, He can use a sermon in many different things to serve the purposes of God.  But there are some basic things we can do or think that may greatly improve the benefit of God’s Word to us on Sunday.

  1. Pray:  Pray during the week that the preacher would understand what he’s studying, that he would have the needed time for study, that he would seek to please God and not people, that he would be protected from Satan’s diversions and distortions, that He always end up with Jesus, and that on Sunday there would be a minimum of distractions.  Pray for yourself, that you would be open to the Holy Spirit, undistracted by any problems that preoccupy you, and protected from the enemy who does not want you to listen to God.
  2. Prepare:  This includes going to bed early enough Saturday night to be well rested.  Do not blame the preacher if you were too tired to “get anything out of it”.  If you know the text the preacher will be using, read it ahead of time.  Help your children prepare by reading the text together Saturday night.
  3. God-centered Point of View:  No preacher is going to scratch where you itch all the time–or even most of the time.  The many other people listening are each struggling with their own unique problems, and are at differing places in their journey with Christ.  Since a good preacher listens first to God, then to the various things his people are saying, the sermon’s main point isn’t going to always get an “Aha!” out of you.  If you come to a sermon expecting God to address your agenda, you’ll often be disappointed.  So come each week, ready to hear something from His agenda for you.

If you just come to watch, the most you might get out of the sermon is a story or joke the preacher tells, or maybe some tidbit torn from its context.  Come to the sermon as a participant and not just as a spectator, and you might be greatly surprised at how often God speaks to you before you hear, “You’re dismissed, go with God.”

Wanted: Fearless Men & Women for Dangerous Work

“It is finished.”

Drenched with His own blood, the Savior’s final gasp was the GodMan’s exclamation point on His mission; a mission we revel in every day that we remember ourselves to be redeemed sinners.  But 2000 years later His mission is still hidden from many.  One barrier or another walls off 2.6 billion people from the gospel.  Maybe because no Christian lives near enough to them to tell them about Jesus, or because no Christian knows their language, or because no one has been able to climb over their cultural barriers–or tried.

That such isolation still exists, is stupifying in an age of wireless technology, gigabytes, Facebook, Skype, smartphones, Google Earth, and nanotechnology.  Doesn’t everyone have a computer with which to google “God”, “Jesus”, or “good news”?

No.  Did you know that there are even some people you share the planet with who have never even read a book?  Not just because they can’t read (they–and 1 billion others), but because as of yet there’s nothing to read in their language; it’s strictly oral without so much as an alphabet.

A massive missionary force has been dispatched to the world–and not just by the West.  16,000 South Korean missionaries serve in 168 countries.  The India Missions Association (IMA) is the largest missions association in the world and has sent out nearly 50,000 Indian missionaries.  It wasn’t that long ago that Mongolia was exclusively a mission field but now even it is sending out missionaries.  Why, therefore, are so many people still in the dark about Jesus?

One reason is that not enough missionaries are in the right places to reach these folks.  Amazingly, only 2 out of every 100 missionaries are working to get the gospel to people who have never heard.  98% are working in places–and among people, who already have access to the gospel.

Which prompted a brother to ask me this morning, “Why is that?”

One reason is danger.  A sizable portion of the people in question are imprisoned behind a religion which is carefully protected by government enforcement.  For example, You can’t just fly into King Khalid International Airport in Saudi Arabia and show officials your missionary visa.  The royal family considers itself the custodian of Islam since it is its birthplace, as well as the home of Mecca.  They would throw you out of the country.  Well, they wouldn’t issue a visa in the first place.  Even if you managed to get in and flew under the radar and shared the gospel, any Saudi national who converted would face the death penalty.

The last time I was in Laos, I attended a public worship service in the capitol city.  At that time it was only one of three legal churches legal–presumably kept as showcases to deflect outside criticism that there is no religious freedom.  Which there isn’t for the 217,000 Christians living among 6 1/2 million people.  Believers routinely organize as underground churches and keep a low profile.  When they’re exposed they face banishment from their villages or even prison.  Although the government is atheistic, it’s happy to support the pervasive Buddhism (well-mixed with animism) because it is a historical and cultural faith.  In other words, it’s not “imported” like Christianity.

India is often thought of evangelized, a place of churches and missionaries.  But in a nation of 1.2 billion people, the amount of work to be done is staggering.  Here live the world’s least-evangelized groups.  Of the 159 people groups with more than a million people, 133 are in India.  India is more ethnically diverse than any other nation on the planet, with a total of 2500 different people groups.  Depending on the state, there is greater freedom or less.  In some places, the Hindu majority can be vicious.

Danger.  That’s at least part of the reason why more missionaries aren’t working in some of these places.  First it takes ingenuity to concoct a way to get in, and then resolve (faith) to stay the course when the risks escalate.  In 1989 at the second Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization, George Otis asked this penetrating question, “Is our failure to thrive in Muslim countries the absence of martyrs?”  Probably.  Otis’ remark was before the West woke up to the to the emerging power of radical Islam.  With the blood that Sharia supporters have spilled in the last 15 years, numerous Christian voices suggest that any great missionary push into the belly of Islam will require much blood.  In this case, offered in love, not taken in hate.

Who will answer like Isaiah, “Here am I send, me!”?

Young people are being shaped and molded by school counselors and parents to excel in academics and sports and leadership opportunities, in the hopes that they’ll be positioned for a spot in a prestigious school (preferably with a scholarship), in the hopes that they’ll secure a high-paying job in medicine, law, finance, or technology.

For what?  To die rich?  To never have to worry about bills?  To never have to explain to your child why you couldn’t afford to buy him the teen status symbol everyone else has?  To get your name on a trophy that will be forgotten by most after next year’s winner is announced?  To prove to the prom queen that she should have gone out with you?  Like chicken left out on the counter, the shelf-life of such attainments is unsatisfying brief.  The dull emptiness left must then be replaced by some new challenge.

Here’s one: go and die for Jesus; prepared to, even if not asked to.  Take that professional degree and slip into a country that’s salivating for engineers or physicians or nurses or teachers.  If you are the adventuresome type, exchange your motorcycle or rockclimbing gear for a round trip ticket to scout out some place where they haven’t heard of Jesus.  Then come back and create a way to reach them.  Contact agencies, get any training you need.  If a mission agency won’t take you even though God’s sending you, find a way to go anyway.  In Vietnam I met a Christian CPA from Scotland.  Although sent by God, he was not sent by an agency.  He arrived in Ho Chi Minh City not knowing the language or anybody in the country.  Yet when I met him, he’d already been a financial adviser for small businesses, an English teacher, a university president, and a witness for Jesus around many campfires.

Let the stories of missionaries like William Carey, Hudson Taylor, Patrick (yes, St…), Raymond Lull, Adoniram Judson, David Livingstone, and Amy Carmichael, inspire you.  Pray for the power and the drive of the Holy Spirit.  Read your Bible and memorize it.  Ask your friends and acquaintances what they think about Jesus.  Learn from their answers.  Pray for lost people.  Buy Operation: World and start praying for the nations.  Take the Perspectives Course on the World Christian Movement.  Invest your life in something you can take to the grave: a few living, breathing, redeemed trophies of God’s grace rescued from among the millions still hidden from the greatest message known to mankind.  How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!  (Rom.10:15)