Audio Sermon Files

Below are some links to audio files of the sermons I have preached recently. Feel free to download, copy, and distribute them freely, but please do not alter the content of any of these messages.

“Father’s Day Sermon” 6/17/12

“Don’t Waste Your Life,” Father’s Day Sermon, 6/9/2013

“The Good News of the Gospel,” 6/9/13

Mini-Series on the Book of Ephesians:

“The Spiritual Blessings of Salvation,” Ephesians 1-3

“Living as a Gospel Centered Church,” Ephesians 4

“The Gospel on Display in Marriage,” Ephesians 5

“The Gospel and Spiritual Warfare,” Ephesians 6

11 Apps every Christian should have

While these apps won’t instantly transform you into Christ-like perfection (there’s not an “app for that”), having these apps on your smartphone or tablet is a great way to transform what could otherwise be a stumblingblock to your relationship with Christ into a powerful weapon against the enemy.  I like to think of these apps as my phone’s “sword” and “shield.”  Some of these will protect you from attack by the trash in our culture, while others will help you hone your spiritual “sword” and add weapons to your armory against the devil.  Hope you like them!

1.  YouVersion Bible

Price: Free

Pros:  Installed on more than 60 million devices worldwide and with a 4.5+ out of 5.0 star rating, YouVersion is hands-down the most popular Bible app of them all.  It’s easy to use and comes with hundreds of different translations–all of them free!  Want to read the Bible in Korean?  No problem.  Prefer the original Greek or Hebrew?  Got that, too.  Or, you could be a normal human being and read any of the more popular modern translations, including the KJV, NKJV, NIV, ESV, NASB, HCSB, NLT, and so on.  Almost all the modern English translations are available for downloading for offline use, also.  By far the coolest feature on YouVersion, however, is the audio Bibles.  That’s right–as long as you have an internet (WiFi or 3g) connection, you can stream most of your favorite versions of the Bible for FREE.  So, now you have no excuse for not reading your Bible–you can listen on your way to work!  (Just watch out for those data charges from your wireless provider!)  Also, YouVersion comes with a plethora of Bible Reading plans to choose from.  YouVersion also can sync with your Blue Letter Bible (BLB) reading plans.  Available on iPhone/iPad, Android, BlackBerry, Windows Phone, Windows 8, HP/Palm, Java, Symbian, Mobile Web, Kindle Fire, and online through any web browser.

Cons:  Not many.  But, compared to some other Bible apps, like Glo Bible and BLB, YouVersion is lacking in supplemental study materials.  It’s great for use on the go or for the audio features, but it won’t replace your study Bible or commentaries.

2.  Glo Bible

Price: Free (or $35 for the Premium version)

Pros: This is an awesome app for serious Bible study and lesson preparation.  Available for iPhone, iPad, and Mac, the free version comes with the KJV and NIV available for offline use.  Plus, Glo Bible comes with all kinds of study aids, like interactive maps, historical contextual information, photos, videos, and even some animated tours of famous Bible locations, like the first century Temple or Mosaic Tabernacle!  It’s like study Bible meets IMAX theater.  Also, your YouVersion notes will sync with Glo Bible.

Cons: Unless you purchase the in app upgrades, you’re pretty limited on what you can do with this app.  All of the “good stuff” is locked for premium users only.  For instance, you can take a tour of the tabernacle with the free version, but only the premium version grants you the high priestly privilege of peeking into the Holy of Holies.  (Yeah, I know, you’re not supposed to go in there anyways, but if you’re like me, the curiosity is just too much!)  $35 is a hefty chunk of cash for an app, and I imagine that there are few who will pay it, but–in my opinion–it’s totally worth it if you’re a teacher or really enjoy in-depth Bible study.  That $35 opens up a couple more translations (ESV, NIV 84, and The Message) as well as the NIV study notes (like a study Bible would have) and over 3500 additional media options, including more maps, more videos, and expanded virtual tours.  Your premium upgrade gives you access to the premium material on your Mac, PC, iPad, and iPhone.  Currently, the number of available translations is limited, even for premium users, but I imagine they will be posting more translations with time.  Lastly, because Glo Bible has much more content to it than does YouVersion, it’s not quite as user friendly or intuitive to navigate.

3.  Blue Letter Bible

Price: Free

Pros: BLB is another great Bible study app designed for iPhone, iPad, and online web browser use.  It comes with quite a few translations to choose from, including the KJV, NKJV, ESV, NASB, NIV, NLT, and many others, including the Greek and Hebrew.  BLB also allows you to perform a range of functions on any verse in the Bible, such as viewing it in other translations, referencing each word in the verse with its Strong’s Concordance reference number, and viewing the Treasury of Scripture Knowledge or Commentaries associated with that verse or passage.  BLB’s search function is also much better than either YouVersion or Glo Bible’s search functions, making BLB best suited for those who prefer an in-depth word-study approach to  Bible study or frequently reference commentaries.  BLB also has several daily Bible reading plans to choose from.

Cons: There isn’t much negative about the features that this app has, though some might complain for lack of features.  BLB doesn’t have the fancy media of the Glo Bible, and it doesn’t have the plethora of translations or audio versions of YouVersion, but what BLB does have–in depth word study resources–it does quite well.  This won’t be an app you use every day, but it’s great to have handy when you need it.

4.  Desiring God

Price: Free

Pros: This is, simply put, my favorite Christian app–aside from the Bible, of course–for iPhone and iPad.  Desiring God is the ministry of John Piper, one of my favorite preachers.  This app gives you access to literally thousands of sermons, articles, books, conference messages, poems, biographies, etc.  Piper has almost all, if not all, of his sermons of his available for downloading or streaming dating all the way back to 1980, and even one sermon from 1971!  In addition, Piper has posted free PDF versions of 79 of the books he has authored or co-authored.  That’s right…79 books…completely FREE.  I don’t know of any other author–Christian or not–who has done that.  When I’m driving to work or school, I’ll pull up a sermon or message from Desiring God and listen to on the way.  Piper has tons of knowledge and wisdom to impart from his many years of ministry, all there for the taking.

Cons: Frequent app crashes are the only problem with this app.

5.  Fighter Verses

Price: $2.99

Pros: This is a great app to help you memorize scripture.  It comes preloaded with several sets of verses, each set being enough to last you for a year.  Or, you can simply add in your own desired memory verses.  There’s even a set of memory verses specifically suited for children, with symbols to aid in memorization.  To help you memorize your memory verses, Fighter Verses gives you quizzes: fill in the blank, recite aloud, multiple choice, etc.

Cons: The only obvious con is the cost.  But, $3 is a small price to pay for the help in memorizing scripture to grow closer to Christ.

6.  K9 Browser

Price: Free

Pros:  Let’s face it–in today’s society, it’s difficult to avoid all the images and junk that the internet throws at you.  But, with K9 Browser you can filter out most of the junk.  It’s a great way to keep yourself or your children safe on the internet.  There are other filtered browsers that you can download, but man of the others are so limited in their functionality that they hardly even serve as web browsers.  While K9 Browser has its own search engine and will not play videos, its filtering is much more efficient than most other filters/browsers and it looks and operates almost just like Safari.

Cons:  Of course, with any internet filter or filtered browser there are sacrifices.  K9 Browser will not play videos of any kind–even those which aren’t inappropriate.  So, YouTube will not work on K9.  Also, many of the features native to Safari browser are not on K9, most notably the “open in” feature which allows files to be opened in other apps.  Lastly, since K9 is a separate browser (there is no filter “add-on” for the native Safari browser), Safari must be disabled in the Restrictions section of the Settings in order for it to serve its purpose.

7. Crossway

Price: Free

Pros: Very similar to the Desiring God app, this app is a great resource on a wide variety of topics that concern Christians.  It has blogs from various pastors or Christian writers, book reviews, music reviews, movie reviews, articles on contemporary events, and articles on various topics of interest.  The authors are mostly well published and esteemed Christian authors, such as John Piper, Russell Moore, R.C. Sproul, and others.

Cons: There are better apps (see below) for media reviews.  There is no audio component to this app (unlike Desiring God).  But, otherwise, this is a great app.

8.  PURE

Price: Free

Pros: PURE is an app to facilitate your accountability with your accountability partner.  Having an accountability partner (someone who will regularly ask you the tough questions about your walk with Christ and “keep you honest”) is invaluable in your growth in holiness.  Even the great Billy Graham has an accountability partner, because he realizes the wisdom of Proverbs 27:17–“Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.”  PURE helps you do that by allowing you to input your accountability questions (“Have I read my Bible daily?”  “Have I shared the gospel this week?” etc.) and then, through an on screen notification, reminding you to answer your questions every day/week/month (depending on your desired frequency).  It then generates an email to send to any email address you want.  It’s a simple and effective way to facilitate accountability.

Cons:  The biggest downside is simply that your answers must be either “Yes” or “No,” so you must phrase your questions accordingly.  However, PURE overcomes this limitation partially by allowing you the option to edit the email report before its sent, so you can add in an explanation if necessary.  Also, there’s no in-app security feature, so your personal questions are not secure if someone has access to your phone.  Of course, you can always work around that by simply using your iPhone’s built in security–just set a lock screen password in your settings.  Lastly, downloading this app won’t get you an accountability partner, of course!  🙂  You’ll still have to find one on your own.  Overall, though, it’s a great app which I plan to keep on my phone until I can find a suitable accountability partner.  lol

9.  Audible

Price: Free

Pros:  “Wait a minute, Audible isn’t a ‘Christian’ app!”  No, it’s not, but it is an app that every Christian ought to have.  Why?  Because with audiobooks there’s no longer an excuse for not reading good Christian books!  Audible makes it possible for even the busiest soccer mom to get in some reading.  Listen while you’re driving, doing dishes, mowing the yard, etc.  Just make sure you pick good books!  Audilbe allows you to change the playback speed, place “bookmarks,” and even track your book reading stats and earn badges.

Cons:  Aside from the obvious–books aren’t free–there is currently no way to search for or purchase new books in the Audible app.  The app is simply a player–you’ll have to browse for and purchase your books online, then download them into the app.  It’s a little clumsy, and I’m not sure why Audible hasn’t figured out a way of doing all of that in the app, but so far, no luck.  Still, it’s a great audiobook player.

10. FamilyLife Audio

Price: Free

Pros:  Family Life is a ministry based out of Little Rock, AR which seeks to minister to–you guessed it!–families.  (Not to be confused with “Focus on the Family” or “American Family Radio (AFR).”)  With a plethora of biblically sound teaching and advice on marriage and parenting, FamilyLife Audio is a great resource for any spouse or parent.

Cons: None that I have discovered yet.

11. Plugged-In

Price: Free

Pros: This is a must have for the movie goer.  There are other good apps for movie reviews (such as Movie Guide Lite), but the special features on the Plugged-In app make it the winner in my book.  Plugged-in not only gives you a Christian perspective on the movies you might want to watch, but also reviews music, DVDs, and video games based on their spiritual, violent, sexual, language, and other content.  It also gives you an “average user rating.”  It provides detailed explanations of the ratings in every category, including specific information on what types of language, violent, or sexual content viewers may find offensive.  You can view the video review for many of the movies or the theatrical trailer as well.  Also, if you’d like to purchase tickets, Plugged-In provides a link to the websites of nearby theaters for purchasing tickets.

Cons: Unlike Movie Guide Lite, Plugged-In does not give content ratings for each individual category (i.e., violence, sexual content, etc.) and does not provide a rating for the quality of the film.  The only ratings given are simply for “Family Friendliness” and “Average User Rating.”  Also, many users–myself included–may find Plugged-In’s reviews to be overly critical of content.  Typically, very few movies which have a high “Family Friendliness” rating also have a high “Average User Rating.”  In other words, most of the movies which get a high rating from Plugged-In are, well, a little cheesy.  But, on the other hand, Plugged-In does an excellent job of providing a full description of the movies’ content, so the user ought to be able to make an informed decision with or without reliable ratings.  Lastly, the links to view showtimes and purchase tickets are unreliable, and work through Safari.  So, that particular feature won’t work if you’ve disabled Safari to use K9 Browser.  But, you can always use another app like Fandango to purchase tickets.  Personally, I recommend downloading both Movie Guide Lite and Plugged-In so you get the best of both.

Bonus: iSingWorship

Price: Free (But each song costs $1.99)

Pros: Since this is not an app that “every Christian should have,” I’ve made it a Bonus app.  Not everyone will have use for this little app, but if you do–it’s the best at what it does.  This app allows you to lead a small group worship or worship at a small church from your iPhone or iPad.  It’s also great if you like to pretend you are your favorite Christian artist rocking out in your living room…but I wouldn’t know anything about that…  All of the songs ($2 each) on iSingWorship are formatted in such a way that allows you to customize the arrangement of each song.  Want to repeat the chorus?  Want to skip the chorus between the first and second verse?  Want to mute the drums, guitar, or vocals?  Would you prefer a scenic mountain vista, or abstract art for the background to the lyrics?  Would you like to have a soft music interlude during the invitation so the preacher can speak?  Do you want your iPad or iPhone to display the guitar chords for you to play along?  The options are (almost) unlimited.  iSingWorship allows you to customize the arrangement of an individual song, and then arrange several songs together into a playlist–perfect for Sunday morning worship or family worship at home.

Cons: The app itself is free, but each song costs $2.  Compared to the price of buying the same song on iTunes (usually $1-$1.29), $2 is a steal considering what you get in iSingWorship.  But yes, it can add up after a while.  Also, currently there are only 45 songs available, so you’re limited on your worship selection.  However, when I got the app, there were only 22 songs, so they are making progress and adding new songs all the time.  The biggest drawback, however, is that in order to display the songs on an external monitor, you’ll need a CCLI license number.  Most churches will have one of those, but if you are just wanting it for in-home use, that could be an issue.

The Hidden Meaning of Marriage

You can hardly turn on the TV without seeing something about the debate over marriage. As we speak, there is a culture war going on over the very definition of marriage. Is marriage only between one man and one woman, or is that just an outdated notion based upon stereotypes and bigotry? And even if it is between one man and woman, the questions don’t end there. What are the roles of a husband and wife in marriage? Are they different? Should the be flexible? Finally, why even bother with marriage nowadays? What is the purpose for getting married, anyhow? Many Christians have fought hard for their concept of marriage, but have often fought with little understanding of what the Bible even has to say on the subject. Before we can answer these difficult questions, we must first lay a foundation of the biblical concept of marriage.

In this three part series, we will seek to answer the question of the purpose of marriage from a biblical perspective. What does the Bible have to say about marriage? What is marriage, and what is its purpose? After answering these questions, we can then turn to the practical applications of these truths to our everyday lives.

Click here to begin the series : Part 1–Marriage: The Gospel on Display

Women’s Rights and Election 2012

Being a pastor, I usually try to give a wide berth to the topic of politics. I have seen far too many pastors ruin their reputation with their congregations and with outsiders by spewing uninformed political bias from the pulpit. Ironically, there is probably no more controversial a “political” topic which I could have chosen to engage! Nonetheless, this is an issue on which I simply cannot remain silent, for it is not merely “political.” No, this debate–regarding abortion–is far more spiritual than political, and it is an issue on which the Church cannot afford to remain silent.

I try to keep up with the news online, especially the news surrounding the upcoming election. One of the biggest issues that keeps reappearing is the issue of “women’s rights.” Now, let me begin by saying that I’m all for women’s rights. I have no intentions or desires to see women’s suffrage repealed nor do I think that women ought to be paid less for their work. I’m not against women. I like women (one woman in particular!). But, I think that–as usually happens in politics–this issue has been posed in such a way that it disguises the truth. Should we really base our vote this election on who is most supportive of women’s rights? Or, a better question might be this: “Is the issue of abortion best described as an issue of women’s rights?”

Let’s rewind history about 150 years for a moment. You are an African American slave on a Southern Plantation. You work hard for 12-14 hours a day picking cotton in the hot summer sun while men with bullwhips stand over you ready to come down on you at the slightest demonstration of weakness. Day in, day out, this is your life. An election comes around in which you, of course, are unable to vote. You are not human, after all, you’re just a slave. All around, you see political banners from the opposing parties. One party says, “End slavery!” The other, much to your dismay, says “Support farmer’s rights!”

(History lesson over) “Wait a minute!” you say, “He’s not really comparing abortion to slavery in the 1800s, is he?!?! They’re not even comparable!” I agree. Abortion is worse. Much worse.

The issue in this election is simply NOT women’s rights. In the story above, after reading the last political sign which read, “Support farmer’s rights!” you were probably shocked and outraged. How in the world could people be so blinded as to think that the issue of slavery was fundamentally an issue of a farmer’s right to grow crops, be free of the burden of paying employees, and pursue unbridled success in his career? The issue of slavery was not “Farmer’s rights” but “African Americans’ rights!”

Here is my fundamental presupposition: If an unborn child is a living human being in the eyes of God, then abortion is murder.

That first “If” phrase deserves attention, which I will give in a moment. But first, lets examine this argument from this side for a change. Obama is championed as a proponent for “Women’s rights.” Romney is (as are other pro-life advocates) degraded as a “Woman hater” who desires to move society backwards into the fundamentalist 1950s. If, indeed, unborn children are human, then how ridiculous and insulting would it be to label pro-life advocates “Women haters” and champion pro-choice advocates as proponents of “Women’s rights?” “But,” you say, “Not everyone agrees that unborn children are fully human, while everyone agrees that African Americans are fully human.” That is (mostly) true–in today’s society. But, it was not true in the 1800s. In the 1800s, it was not uncommon to find people who believed that people with black skin were “subhuman.” They were wrong, but that notion was common. Thus, I propose to you that it is ever bit as absurd and offensive to label abortion an issue of “Women’s rights” as it is to label slavery in the 1800s as an issue of “Farmer’s rights.” This is not an issue of rights, but an issue of personhood. I have heard it said that “Your right to swing your arm ends at my face.” How true. Our rights are not absolute. They extend only so far as they do not cause harm to another. Thus, I conclude, that if an unborn child is a living human being in the eyes of God, then abortion is murder.

Some may be troubled by the phrase “in the eyes of God.” But, imagine trying to reconcile the two groups in the 1800s over the moral status of African Americans! It took a civil war and thousands of dead bodies to reconcile the two parties, and the job wasn’t even complete for another 100+ years! Some would say it is still not complete. Thus, I don’t see how we can ever solve this issue objectively on our own. Science can’t solve it. The scientific method is not capable of answering questions of morality. It can determine that the baby’s heart is beating by 18 days and that it has fingerprints by 3 months, but it cannot determine that the baby ought to receive the same moral status of a human being. Politicians can’t determine that, either. They can pass laws declaring abortion “legal” or “illegal,” but their laws don’t change the morality of the action. Furthermore, politicians seem incapable of producing legislation that is even morally consistent, much less morally acceptable! How ironic it is that many who are “pro-choice” will call it a “baby” when it is a desired pregnancy and be willing to prosecute any who would cause it harm and then turn around and call it a “fetus” when it is undesired and toss it in the garbage.

Take a look, for example, at the laws regarding the unborn child in my state, Kentucky:

Ky. Rev. Stat. § 507A.010 et seq. (2004) define “unborn child” as a member of the species Homo sapiens in utero from conception onward, without regard to age, health or condition of dependency. The laws define fetal homicide in the first, second, third, and fourth degrees. These laws do not apply to acts performed during any abortion for which the consent of the pregnant woman has been obtained or for which the consent is implied by law in a medical emergency. (2004 HB 108)

(To see your own state’s laws, click here)

Interesting. So, in Kentucky, an unborn child is usually considered human. But, it suddenly becomes less than human when its mother decides she no longer wants it. And she is free of any fear of legal prosecution.

So, clearly neither science nor the legislature is qualified to answer this question. The question of the moral status of the unborn is a question only philosophy and religion can answer. I do not intend to deal here with the philosophical arguments (though it should be noted that many secular philosophers have made persuasive arguments against abortion), but the religious ones since they are more important to me (and incorporate some philosophy, anyhow). Further, in my personal experience, philosophy tends to create more questions than answers and is often a frustrating and fruitless endeavor if one seeks a solid answer! Thus, because science, law, and–to an extent–philosophy, cannot determine the moral status of the unborn, we need an outside, objective source to determine it. God must answer it. “But,” you may object, “Americans do not share the same religious affiliations, so how can religion help us?” That is true enough, but for every religion you find that deems abortion morally acceptable, I bet I can find ten that don’t. It doesn’t really matter which one you pick, most of them conclude the same on this issue. Furthermore, we are a democracy, so why not examine first what has been the clear teaching of the religion with which the majority of Americans identify themselves?

The clear teaching on this issue which the majority of Christians through history have accepted is that only God, the One who gives life and creates the baby, has the authority to give the final say on when life begins. If God says life begins at birth, then abortion is wholly acceptable. But if not, then it is morally contemptible. We don’t get to decide when life begins based upon what is convenient or politically acceptable, we must use the objective truth God has given us. So, let’s look to see if/what God has to say about the moral status of an unborn child.

“And the Lord said to her, “Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you shall be divided; the one shall be stronger than the other, the older shall serve the younger.”” (Genesis 25:23 ESV)

“Jacob’s anger was kindled against Rachel, and he said, “Am I in the place of God, who has withheld from you the fruit of the womb?”…Then God remembered Rachel, and God listened to her and opened her womb.” (Genesis 30:2, 22 ESV)

“You clothed me with skin and flesh, and knit me together with bones and sinews. You have granted me life and steadfast love, and your care has preserved my spirit.” (Job 10:11, 12 ESV)

“Did not he who made me in the womb make him? And did not one fashion us in the womb?” (Job 31:15 ESV)

“Rescue me, O my God, from the hand of the wicked, from the grasp of the unjust and cruel man. For you, O Lord, are my hope, my trust, O Lord, from my youth. Upon you I have leaned from before my birth; you are he who took me from my mother’s womb. My praise is continually of you.” (Psalm 71:4-6 ESV)

“Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward.” (Psalm 127:3 ESV)

“For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them. How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! If I would count them, they are more than the sand. I awake, and I am still with you.” (Psalm 139:13-18 ESV)

“As you do not know the way the spirit comes to the bones in the womb of a woman with child, so you do not know the work of God who makes everything.” (Ecclesiastes 11:5 ESV)

“Thus says the Lord who made you, who formed you from the womb and will help you: Fear not, O Jacob my servant, Jeshurun whom I have chosen.” (Isaiah 44:2 ESV)

“Thus says the Lord, your Redeemer, who formed you from the womb: “I am the Lord, who made all things, who alone stretched out the heavens, who spread out the earth by myself…” (Isaiah 44:24 ESV)

“”Listen to me, O coastlands, and give attention, you peoples from afar. The Lord called me from the womb, from the body of my mother he named my name. He made my mouth like a sharp sword; in the shadow of his hand he hid me; he made me a polished arrow; in his quiver he hid me away. And he said to me, “You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will be glorified.”” (Isaiah 49:1-3 ESV)

“And now the Lord says, he who formed me from the womb to be his servant, to bring Jacob back to him; and that Israel might be gathered to him…” (Isaiah 49:5 ESV)

“”Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you.” (Isaiah 49:15 ESV)

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” (Jeremiah 1:5 ESV)

“In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God. And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.”” (Luke 1:26, 27, 31-33, 35-37 ESV)

“In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a town in Judah, and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.”” (Luke 1:39-45 ESV)

“When men strive together and hit a pregnant woman, so that her children come out, but there is no harm, the one who hit her shall surely be fined, as the woman’s husband shall impose on him, and he shall pay as the judges determine. But if there is harm, then you shall pay life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.” (Exodus 21:22-25 ESV)

Children are a gift (“heritage”) from The Lord. Children are “knit together” in their mother’s womb. A child’s destiny is prepared for him/her by God while they are still in the womb. God determines whether or not a child is conceived. God grants life and “spirit” to a child while in the womb. It is assumed that a mother could not–or should not–“forget” her child or lack compassion toward him/her. The example of the birth of Jesus and John the Baptist demonstrate that God’s Holy Spirit is actively working even in an unborn child. And, lastly, Old Testament Law treated unborn children as “persons” who could be avenged in the case of an assault on their mother which caused their death. Such assault was punished as murder.

Of course, I understand that some may still be hesitant to accept a “life at conception” view, for the Bible does not tell us explicitly that life begins at conception. But it doesn’t tell us that life doesn’t begin at conception, either. When there is a possible life at stake, should we not err on the side of caution?

Lastly, there are a couple common objections. First, what about rape/incest? First of all, these are horrendous crimes. I cannot imagine the emotional, physical, and mental trauma which these crimes cause in their victims. They are crimes and they ought to be punished. But if someone is to die, why is it the child? Let’s execute the rapist! I understand the objection that a woman doesn’t want to have a living, breathing reminder of the tragedy, but if an unborn child is human, then killing that child only worsens the situation. To quote the old adage, “Two wrongs don’t make a right.” Added to the tragedy of the rape, this woman now has to deal with the emotional and spiritual guilt of having taken a life. That can’t be the solution. It’s a horrible, unfathomable situation, but killing the child only makes it worse.

Second, what about instances where the mother’s life is in jeopardy? First, let me say that as a husband and father, I take this issue very seriously. To be honest, I’m not at all sure how I would handle this particular situation. But let’s be clear on one thing–if faced with this decision, my choice is not between the life of my wife and a “fetus” or some cancerous growth in her uterus. My decision is between the life of my son or daughter and the life of my wife. I view this particular situation differently than an abortion of convenience and of rape/incest because in this situation, another’s very life is threatened by the life of the child. In the vast majority of abortions, the mother’s life is not at stake. Perhaps her career, her emotional stability, and her finances are threatened, but not her life. In the case of a life threatening pregnancy, it is literally a choice between two lives. That is a choice I hope I never have to make. So, because I feel this to be a separate circumstance, I will reserve judgment on its morality and simply say, “I don’t know.” Thus, I am neither for nor against abortion in this particular circumstance.

In conclusion, let me challenge you to vote this year based upon your convictions on this subject. For those who accept that an unborn child is a human, this is not an issue of “women’s rights” but of the rights of the unborn. Much like African Americans in the 1800s, unborn children can’t vote for themselves. But even worse, they can’t stand up for themselves at all. They can’t flee their persecution or plea for help. I have heard some say, “I don’t believe in abortion, but I’m not going to force that belief on someone else.” Let me ask those who would take this stance, “Do you also not believe in murder? Are you still willing to force that belief on those who have murdered?” If an unborn child is a human being in the eyes of God who formed him/her, ordained their future, and loves them, then abortion is murder. In fact, it is the worst genocide that has ever taken place on this planet. To those who would say, “I don’t believe in abortion but there are other issues we must consider when we vote,” I would say, “Would you have said the same thing regarding slavery if you were voting in the 1800s, or regarding civil rights in the 1960s? Would you really vote based on economics and your financial stability while the same candidate for which you voted advocated the mass murder of an entire generation?” As Christians we have a duty to defend the cause of the oppressed, of the fatherless, and of the widows. I propose that if we are willing to champion the cause of the civil rights movement of the 1960s–and as Christians, we should–then we ought to also champion the cause of the unborn, who cannot defend themselves. This is our Christian duty. I hope you will consider that when you vote tomorrow.

Your Problem is Worse Than You Think

“He replied, “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written:
‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain;
their teachings are merely human rules.’ He went on: “What comes out of a person is what defiles them. For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and defile a person.”(Mark 7:6, 7, 20-23 NIV)

Today as I was reading Mark 6-7, this passage where Jesus rebukes the Pharisees for their traditionalism jumped out at me. The Pharisees have just criticized Jesus and his disciples for ignoring the tradition of ceremonial hand washing before eating, which symbolized spiritual cleanness. Jesus responds by rebuking their philosophy of traditionalism and their propensity toward substituting their traditions for the commands of God. He also states that it is not what one brings into their body which defiles a person, but what comes out of their body which defiles a person.
Since this passage mainly deals with the errors of traditionalism, I have often missed a more subtle but profound truth hidden in these verses. Jesus says that sin–and he cites the examples of adultery, sexual immorality, murder, greed, etc.–comes from the heart, not from things external to oneself.

This reminds me of a very helpful sermon illustration that I believe John Piper once used. I have adapted it here. Imagine going to a doctor because of a fast heart rate. You tell the doctor, “Doc, I think I may have high blood pressure or something. I just can’t seem to get my heart to calm down.” The doctor reviews your symptoms and takes your blood pressure. He replies, “Well, your blood pressure is a little off, so why don’t we run an MRI just to see what we can find.” You feel that’s entirely unnecessary–you’re guessing that you just have high cholesterol and need to eat better and exercise more–but you consent because the doctor says so.

A few days later, the Doc calls you into the clinic to discuss the results. Imagine your horror to discover that it’s not high cholesterol, but a deformed, diseased heart which is causing your symptoms. Most of us would agree that this discovery is very bad news.

Here’s the thrust of what Jesus was saying to the Pharisees, and to you and me: we have a dangerous tendency to downplay the severity of our sin. We tend to think, like the Pharisees, that we can simply perform a few ceremonial rituals (i.e., go to church, tithe, etc.) and be declared clean in God’s sight. Or, like the cardiology patient, we tend to self-medicate our sin with diet and exercise in a futile attempt to lower our blood pressure or relieve the symptoms. If we are willing to admit that we have sin–and often we are not–we usually fail to see its severity and, therefore, resort to inadequate means of dealing with our sin. We go to church, read self-help books (even Christian ones!), and we try to eliminate external temptations for our sins. All of these things are good, but they fail to address the root of the problem of our sin. By themselves, they’re no more effective than taking ibuprofen for a brain tumor or changing your diet to fix a deformed heart.
Jesus said that our sins cannot simply be washed off in a ceremonial cleansing. The horrible news is that our condition before God is far, far worse than we could have ever imagined. We have a sinful, deformed heart. We don’t need medication, we need a heart transplant. Without such a transplant, the result of our sin is death (Rom. 6:23). Do you struggle with “sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly?” Jesus says “it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come.” You and I struggle with sin because we have sick hearts and we are in desperate need of the Healer.

While this is decidedly bad news, there is an element of hope in it. At least now that we know the severity of our true condition we can properly treat it! At least now we know better than to expect diet and exercise alone to fix our heart. What you and I need is for God to give us a new heart. We need new desires, new passions, new eyes to see and new ears to hear.
The good news? That’s exactly the business in which Jesus thrives.

When we give our lives to Christ, Jesus gives us a new, restored heart with new desires and longings. I was, at first, puzzled by the name of John Piper’s ministry: Desiring God. I used to think it was an odd name for a ministry. But, I’ve since come to realize that a burning passion and desire for God is exactly how you and I can live our lives in such a way that brings us the most happiness and God the most glory. Why? Because we desire sin least when we desire God most. But, unfortunately, that heart is still often plagued by sin. We live in a fallen world, and until we are reunited with Christ in heaven, we will always struggle with sin. But, rather than give up, we ought to pray for a renewed heart every day–a heart for God and His glory.

I struggle with sin every day. I battle it. And, I need those external temptations removed; I need diet and exercise for the soul. But that alone will not suffice. Washing my hands won’t clean my heart. My external religious observances are necessary and good, but they are worthless unless they proceed from a clean and pure heart. Let us recognize the severity of our state before an almighty and holy God, lay aside our futile efforts to wash away our sins externally, and pray as David did when he had sinned:

Hide your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquity. Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me … You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise. (Psalm 51:9, 10, 16, 17 NIV)

Who may ascend the mountain of the Lord? Who may stand in his holy place? The one who has clean hands and a pure heart… (Psalm 24:3, 4 NIV)

Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean. (Matthew 23:25, 26 NIV)

Love Her More and Love Her Less

This is a poem written by John Piper, upon request, for his son’s wedding. It needs no explanation, so I will simply repost it here. May we all “love her more, and love her less.”

The God whom we have loved, and in
Whom we have lived, and who has been
Our Rock these twenty-two good years
With you, now bids us, with sweet tears,
To let you go: “A man shall leave
His father and his mother, cleave
Henceforth unto his wife, and be
One unashaméd flesh and free.”
This is the word of God today,
And we are happy to obey.
For God has given you a bride
Who answers every prayer we’ve cried
For over twenty years, our claim
For you, before we knew her name.

And now you ask that I should write
A poem – a risky thing, in light
Of what you know: that I am more
The preacher than the poet or
The artist. I am honored by
Your bravery, and I comply.
I do not grudge these sweet confines
Of rhyming pairs and metered lines.
They are old friends. They like it when
I bid them help me once again
To gather feelings into form
And keep them durable and warm.

And so we met in recent days,
And made the flood of love and praise
And counsel from a father’s heart
To flow within the banks of art.
Here is a portion of the stream,
My son: a sermon poem. Its theme:
A double rule of love that shocks;
A doctrine in a paradox:

If you now aim your wife to bless,
Then love her more and love her less.

If in the coming years, by some
Strange providence of God, you come
To have the riches of this age,
And, painless, stride across the stage
Beside your wife, be sure in health
To love her, love her more than wealth.

And if your life is woven in
A hundred friendships, and you spin
A festal fabric out of all
Your sweet affections, great and small,
Be sure, no matter how it rends,
To love her, love her more than friends.

And if there comes a point when you
Are tired, and pity whispers, “Do
Yourself a favor. Come, be free;
Embrace the comforts here with me.”
Know this! Your wife surpasses these:
So love her, love her, more than ease.

And when your marriage bed is pure,
And there is not the slightest lure
Of lust for any but your wife,
And all is ecstasy in life,
A secret all of this protects:
Go love her, love her, more than sex.

And if your taste becomes refined,
And you are moved by what the mind
Of man can make, and dazzled by
His craft, remember that the “why”
Of all this work is in the heart;
So love her, love her more than art.

And if your own should someday be
The craft that critics all agree
Is worthy of a great esteem,
And sales exceed your wildest dream,
Beware the dangers of a name.
And love her, love her more than fame.

And if, to your surprise, not mine,
God calls you by some strange design
To risk your life for some great cause,
Let neither fear nor love give pause,
And when you face the gate of death,
Then love her, love her more than breath.

Yes, love her, love her, more than life;
O, love the woman called your wife.
Go love her as your earthly best.

Beyond this venture not. But, lest
Your love become a fool’s facade,
Be sure to love her less than God.

It is not wise or kind to call
An idol by sweet names, and fall,
As in humility, before
A likeness of your God. Adore
Above your best beloved on earth
The God alone who gives her worth.
And she will know in second place
That your great love is also grace,
And that your high affections now
Are flowing freely from a vow
Beneath these promises, first made
To you by God. Nor will they fade
For being rooted by the stream
Of Heaven’s Joy, which you esteem
And cherish more than breath and life,
That you may give it to your wife.

The greatest gift you give your wife
Is loving God above her life.
And thus I bid you now to bless:
Go love her more by loving less.

–John Piper

Missionaries: God’s Navy Seals?

Last night, I attended a meeting for Wycliffe Bible Translators. It made quite an impression upon me. I have been strongly considering serving with Wycliffe for the past year or so, but unless I am sorely mistaken, that calling was confirmed last night. I met with Ed and Linda Speyers for coffee yesterday morning and talked with them about their experience with Wycliffe while serving in Suriname, South America. After my classes, there was an interest meeting for Wycliffe where Dennis Cochrane spoke about his experience translating for a primitive people group in Papua New Guinea. Dennis’ story is shocking and inspiring, so I will do my best to relate it here.

Dennis and his wife served in a remote village tribe in PNG for over 10 years. This tribe was so remote that the only language they had ever heard or spoke was their own. They literally lived in the stone age; they had no metal instruments. Even their axes were made of sharpened stones. They were an animistic people, meaning that they believed that spirits were associated with almost everything. They were particularly superstitious about these spherical shot-put sized rocks (probably debris from an ancient volcanic eruption) with iron-ore cores. Many (if not most) of the people had such a rock. They believed that spirits lived in these rocks, and in order to appease these spirits when misfortune arose they would sacrifice a pig and rub the pig’s blood over the spirit-rock. (They, of course, had never heard of the sacrifice God had made once-for-all through his Son, Jesus Christ.)

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After several years of building relationships and trust with the people, and through the miraculous providence of God, Dennis and his team finally had the privilege of translating portions of the Bible into the native language. Since the natives had no written language, this process also involved teaching the people to read their own language. This particular people was a very community-based people, meaning that they didn’t decide anything major without first convening the community and agreeing upon it. So, after months of careful deliberation and study of the newly discovered “carvings” from God (their term for “writings”), and despite the strict warnings of the spirit-people (their “priests”) that doing so would result in the wrath of the spirits, the majority of the community–over 2,000 people–simultaneously accepted Christ and ceremonially smashed their spirit-rocks.

Some time during or shortly after this mass conversion, Dennis was working with a native who had been serving as their translator. One day while they were translating a particularly profound passage of scripture, the man asked Dennis: “Did your father have God’s carvings?” Dennis replied, “Yes.” The man hesitated, sensitive to his culture’s accepted belief that embarrassing someone is one of the worst faux pas one can commit. Then, cautiously, he asked, “Did your father’s father have God’s carvings?” Again, Dennis replied that he did. The man, becoming increasingly nervous about pressing the matter further, hesitated for a few moments before asking again: “Did your father’s father’s father have God’s carvings?” “Yes.” Dennis replied, knowing what the man wanted to ask. The man didn’t dare press the question further, and Dennis didn’t offer an answer to the question he knew the man wanted to ask. Indeed, we, Dennis’ people, have had possession of God’s carvings for some 600 years. The question that was ringing loud and clear in both of their minds was this: If your people have had God’s Word for so long, why are my people just now finding out about this?

Today, there are about 2,000 languages that remain to have a translation work started. I wonder, how many people upon hearing the Good News will stare at us blankly and ask that question: “Why hasn’t someone told us this before? Our parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents have perished without this saving knowledge, yet you’ve had it in your language for 600 years!?!?”

Now, as I have grown in my spiritual maturity I have come to realize that not every Christian is called to be a foreign missionary. So I will not argue that every Christian is called to translate the Bible into these remaining 2,000 languages. Nor will I argue that every Christian ought to be a foreign missionary. (Though I will admit that I find the disproportionately small number of foreign missionaries troubling.) But, I have also grown to understand that every Christian is called to be a missionary.

We often marvel at those who would leave behind their homes, family, friends, and even give their lives to fulfill God’s calling. But isn’t that exactly the level of obedience and sacrifice to which Jesus calls all of his disciples? Was Jesus only talking to career, foreign missionaries when he said: “Whoever wishes to be my disciple must take up his cross and follow me,” or “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me,” or “Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it,” or “everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or farms for My name’s sake, will receive many times as much, and will inherit eternal life?” No, these are not commands for foreign missionaries only. As a matter of fact, instead of the words “foreign missionary” in these passages, what we most often find is the word “disciple.”

The disturbing trend that I often find in churches nowadays is to label foreign missionaries as some elite class of super Christians, the “special forces” of Christianity, when in fact Jesus has called every single Christian to be so radically devoted to him that they would gladly give up their home, career, family, friends, and even their own lives to serve him. After all, if only the Christian elite who receive some special call are required to live so sacrificially, then we can dismiss the uncomfortable implications of these passages as inapplicable since we’re just “normal Christians.” But these passages aren’t speaking to some mythical, legendary Christian elite, these passages reflect the Christian norm. (At least, what the norm is supposed to be.) There is no Christian equivalent to the distinction between normal soldiers and special forces.* Instead, the only such distinction I see is that those called to be teachers and pastors must have the spiritual ability to teach. (But even this is more of a difference in spiritual gifting, not one of differing levels of expected obedience.) Save this distinction, the remainder of the qualifications for even these positions are simply that these people exemplify normal, Christian living (one wife, not a drunkard, well reputed, etc.). Every soldier in God’s army is to be special forces material, which is to say that no Christian is truly anything special! We are all expected to exemplify the same level of sold-out, radical obedience whether God calls us to share the gospel with our neighbor or to a stone-age tribe in Papua New Guinea. To use a biblical illustration, is the foot expected to be any less obedient than the hands? Every Christian is a missionary. The only difference between a foreign missionary and a Christian living in their homeland is location. They’re both missionaries. They’ve both been gifted by God with a number of spiritual gifts unique to the particular setting in which they serve. Some missionaries are disguised as teachers, some as doctors. Others are disguised as lunch ladies and janitors. Some are disguised as mechanics, some as lawyers, and some as pilots. Some are not disguised at all but, instead, serve openly in vocational ministry, able to devote more of their time to their service of equipping other Christians. But regardless, all Christians are missionaries living in a foreign land with a sole purpose–reaching a lost and dying world with the Good News of Jesus Christ.

When we as Christians begin to adopt this biblical mentality of true discipleship, I imagine that it won’t take very long for the remaining 2,000 people groups to get a Bible. I imagine that neighbors and coworkers here in America will hear the gospel. I expect we will see our prayers answered for God to send laborers into the harvest. And, I expect that we will see the most bountiful harvest we’ve ever seen. Perhaps you are one of those called to translate the Bible into one of the remaining 2,000 languages. But, it’s likely that God has gifted you with other gifts and abilities. Here’s my challenge to you: Will you translate the Bible into the languages of the neighbor across the street, your coworkers, and your friends and family? Will you put the Good News into words they can understand? Or will your children and grandchildren one day stand ashamed when their children or grandchildren ask them that dreadful, unanswerable question? “Why am I just now hearing this news?”

How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”(Romans 10:14, 15 NIV)

Lord, please send workers into your harvest, both here and abroad. The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are, indeed, few. Amen.

*If there is such a biblical distinction, I would argue that unlike the Navy–where all ordinary soldiers are not expected to one day become Navy Seals–all “Christian soldiers” are intended to one day mature into “Christian special forces.” However, I still find such a distinction misleading since it implies that one can be a faithful soldier without living up to Jesus’ standards of discipleship. Furthermore, it seems to evoke an unbiblical admiration of those who are simply living in obedience to Christ’s commands and places more attention on the soldier than the commander. See Luke 17:7-10. Perhaps a better illustration is the one Paul gives–some Christians are hands, others are feet, but all obey the head, which is Christ.

Did Jesus Have a Wife?

If you’ve been watching the news lately, you’ve probably seen the news about the recent papyrus discovery that has been used to support the notion that Jesus had a wife. (See the NY Times article for more information) Unsurprisingly, this has created an uproar in the media with many of those outside the orthodox Christian community saying “See! We told you Jesus has a wife! Now we have proof!”

Not so fast. I will not take the time to fully rebut the outlandish notion that Jesus had a wife nor will I here address the Gnostic Gospels, from which much of this idea has spawned. (Maybe in a later post?) Those are complex issues which are either best left to scholars much smarter than I, or to those who have the time to research it. But, this particular papyrus will be easy enough to address briefly using a little common sense (which, as the saying goes, is not so common!).

Here are a few observations about this papyrus that should help to dispel some of the sensationalism surrounding it:

1) The supporting evidence is out of context and incomplete. The piece of papyrus in question is very small and has been torn from a larger piece. The phrases cited as evidence for this “Mrs. Jesus” theory are cut off and have no context around them. One line simply says, ‘Jesus said to them, “My wife…”‘ and another says, “…she will be able to be my disciple.” We have no idea what the rest of these sentences are, nor what the context of these statements is. One could take Revelation 21:9 out of context as biblical support for this theory as well: “…’Come here, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.'” (NASB) Taken out of context, one might say, “See! Even the Bible acknowledges that Jesus (aka–the “Lamb”) had a wife!” But who is this wife? Well, the context of Revelation 21:2 makes this more clear: “And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband. (NASB) The “wife” of Christ is none other than the “New Jerusalem,” or as elsewhere stated in the Bible, the Church. Unfortunately, we do not have the context of this piece of papyrus, so we don’t even know for sure that it does claim that Jesus had a wife.

2) The claims of this papyrus are irrelevant and untrustworthy. Let’s suppose, for the sake of argument, that the rest of this piece of papyrus does go on to claim that Jesus had a wife. So what? If I, claiming to be a Christian, write on a piece of paper that I’ve received a “New Revelation” that the world is going to end at precisely 12:15 pm on October 3, 2012, does that make it true? Does the fact that I claim to be a Christian automatically make my writings canonical (i.e., part of the Bible)? Of course not. There is no evidence that any substantial portion of the early church, founded by Jesus’ followers and contemporaries, believed that Jesus had a wife, nor that they accepted anything as the inspired Word of God other than the 27 books that comprise our New Testament. In fact, there is plenty of evidence to the contrary! While the four gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) were written within decades of Jesus’ death, this piece of papyrus dates to hundreds of years later. Those who lived contemporaneously with Jesus accepted the accounts of these four gospels. By analogy, if someone claimed that it wasn’t commercial airliners that hit the World Trade Centers on 9/11 but Russian missiles, how likely is it that such a story would be widely accepted? Indeed, it would be very unlikely. Why? Because there are numerous eye-witnesses who could testify otherwise. The gospels were “published” and widely accepted as accurate when thousands of eye-witnesses were still living, giving credence to their claims. In short, even if this piece of papyrus claims that Jesus had a wife, that doesn’t prove that he did. To the contrary, all widely accepted accounts of Jesus’ life were written within a short period of time after his death and they all unanimously imply that he was unmarried.

In conclusion, to echo the words of Albert Mohler, such hype over this piece of papyrus does not reflect genuine scholarship, but “sensationalism masquerading as scholarship.” To those in my audience who remain skeptical or unconvinced, let me challenge you to apply the same skepticism that you have toward the widely accepted, historically reliable biblical texts to this small, fragmentary, historically-questionable piece of papyrus. Are you willing to believe that some Christians would be willing to conspire to cover up the truth of Jesus’ life? Then let me challenge you to be willing to believe that some non-Christians might be willing to conspire to denigrate his life and slander the truths purported in the Bible. Let’s apply our skepticism equally.

Lastly, I am troubled by the trend I see in many non-Christians to be quick to dismiss the Bible as being “full of errors” and “not telling the whole story” (and, therefore, to be quick to jump on the conspiracy wagon), and yet being unwilling to read it for themselves. Do you think the Bible is in error, that it contains contradictions? Read it and see for yourself and find out. Let’s not judge a book we’ve not read, and let’s not jump to premature conclusions about an incomplete piece of papyrus of unknown origin.

So you’re a Christian? Prove it.

One of the first questions I used to ask people when I was hoping to transition the conversation into spiritual matters (and possibly share the gospel) was “So, are you a Christian?” Now, if you’re in India or another country which doesn’t consider itself predominately Christian, that might be an alright question to ask. It’s still probably not the best question, but you’ll probably have better success there than here in America. I’ve come to learn that “Are you a Christian?” is not a very good question to ask if you intend to share the gospel with someone. Why?
Allow me to demonstrate, statistically, why “Are you a Christian” is such a bad question. In a 2011 Gallup Poll, 78% of those asked “What is your religious identity?” identified themselves as Christian. That’s right, 78%. So, what’s the big deal? This poll later reveals that while 78% of Americans consider themselves Christian, only 55% of Americans feel that their religion is “very important” to their identity. That means that 45% of Americans feel that religion is either only “fairly important” or “not important” to their identity. Notice the overlap. There is a significant population of “Christians” who might say, “Yeah, I’m a Christian, but it’s really not a big deal to me.” REALLY?!?!
But it gets worse. In a 2010 Gallup Pole, only 43% of Americans say they “weekly” or “almost weekly” attend religious services. Remember, not all of these 43% are Christian, either. So, 78% of Americans are “Christian” but less than 43% of Americans weekly attend church. In the the largest Protestant denomination in America, the SBC, a 2010 Lifeway poll showed that only 6,195,449 of the 16,136,044 members attend their church’s primary worship service. That’s less than 40%. Even when you consider that many churches have people on their membership roll that are dead or have moved away, that’s still astounding. 78% of Americans are Christian, but to many “It’s not that important.”
Now, before we pass this statistic, let’s think for a moment. How does one make it onto the membership roll of a Southern Baptist Church? Southern Baptists have fairly exclusive membership requirements. Usually, it happens one of three ways: 1) During the invitation, a non-member walks the aisle, prays a prayer, and shortly thereafter is baptized into membership, 2) A member transfers their membership from another Southern Baptist Church (where they have done #1 already), or 3) A member of a non-SBC church transfers their membership, usually after an interview with the pastor who is satisfied that this potential member is, indeed, saved and properly baptized. So, to put that in perspective, over 60% of SBC members, who walked the aisle, prayed a prayer, signed a card, and got baptized, feel that their faith is not important enough to attend church regularly. Hmmm…
So, if I were to ask you, “Are you a Christian?” Assuming that you’d say “yes,” what if I asked you to prove it? Then what would you say? “Well, fifteen years ago I walked the aisle, prayed a prayer, signed a card, and got baptized.” That’s what I used to say. If pressed further, I might have comforted myself with the fact that I was in that 43% who regularly attend church. But did you know that the Bible nowhere says, “By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we once walked the aisle, prayed a prayer, got dunked, and now go to church?” That may surprise you, given that this is often the exact salvation assurance given to Christians. “Well, I remember walking that aisle…so I know I’m going to heaven!”

So then, how do you know that you’re a Christian, that you’re heaven-bound? Take a look at Jesus’ example:

“Now when John, while imprisoned, heard of the works of Christ, he sent word by his disciples and said to Him, “Are You the Expected One, or shall we look for someone else?” Jesus answered and said to them, “Go and report to John what you hear and see: the BLIND RECEIVE SIGHT and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the POOR HAVE THE GOSPEL PREACHED TO THEM.” (Matthew 11:2-5 NASB)

When John sent this question to Jesus, “Are you really the Messiah?” Jesus could have given a number of different answers, some of them even true and valid. He might have said, “John, I’ve been baptized, don’t you remember? You were there, after all!” or “John, don’t you remember the dove? Don’t you remember the voice from heaven saying I was God’s Son?” or “John, for goodness sake, look at my lineage! I was born in the right lineage–a direct descendent of David–in the right city, by a virgin…what more evidence do you need?” or “John, I’m a Jewish Rabbi! Would I really lie about something like that?”

But Jesus didn’t point to these things. In fact, it’s somewhat puzzling that Jesus doesn’t pick up the Old Testament and point to all the specific prophecies that only he fulfilled–being born in Bethlehem, being a Nazarene, being born of a virgin, being of the tribe of Judah, etc. Instead of pointing to the evidences of who the Messiah was, his evidence was in what the Messiah would accomplish. His evidence wasn’t internal–a list of qualifications that he lived up to, his evidence was external–a string of changed lives: “the blind receive sight and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them.”

You see, the Bible nowhere says that your prayer, baptism, or Church attendance are good evidences of your salvation–though all are good and necessary aspects of your Christianity. Being a true “Christian” is more than a prayer, signed card, baptism ceremony, church membership, or church attendance (though many of those claiming to be Christian don’t even have that much!). It’s about a changed life.

The book of I John is particularly helpful in this. Note what John says is good evidence of true Christianity:
“If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth…” (1 John 1:6 NASB)
“By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments. The one who says, “I have come to know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him; but whoever keeps His word, in him the love of God has truly been perfected. By this we know that we are in Him: the one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked…The one who says he is in the Light and yet hates his brother is in the darkness until now…Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” (1 John 2:3-6, 9, 15 NASB)

Now, our temptation is to make this into a list. “Keep the commandments, Check! Love your brother, Check!” But this is not John’s intention. Notice verse 6: “the one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked.” A true Christian lives (or strives to live) like Jesus. How did Jesus live? In a way that wherever he went, he changed lives. He gave sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, strength to the lame, life to the dead, and good news to the hopeless. How do you know you’re a Christian? Because your life is lived in effort to open blind eyes to the truth of Jesus Christ. You live to open deaf ears to hear the Gospel. You live to give strength to those who feel like they can’t carry on any longer. You live to breathe life into the spiritually dead. And your life is so permeated by the Good News of Christ that it spills over onto anyone who gets too close. No one who lives this kind of life could ever say their faith is anything less than “very important.” The faith of a true Christian is everything. It is more important than life itself.

So, my friend, are you a Christian? If this post has left you unsure of your standing before God, pray that God would open your eyes to truth. A heart that has been changed by God will always result in a life lived for God. Good works can’t save you, but neither can the type of faith that doesn’t produce good works. Are you a Christian? If so, prove it.

*For more information about how to become a true Christian, click the “Gospel” link above.

A Must-Read: “How to Give Away Your Faith,” by Paul Little

“So you want to witness!  I did too, but I didn’t have a clue how to do it without stubbing my toe in the process.”  (17)

 Introduction

             In How to Give Away Your Faith, Paul Little shares his wisdom gained from many years of experience in personal evangelism.  Little often spoke to students about spiritual matters on college campuses around the country in seminars and more informal settings, gaining a wealth of knowledge concerning the cares, concerns, and obstacles unbelievers–especially students–have in relation to the gospel.  His experience in this area makes this book an invaluable resource for Christians in fulfilling the Great Commission.

Summary

            While many books have been written proposing methodology of witnessing and many books have been written about the proper theological content of the gospel, in How to Give Away Your Faith, Paul Little marries the two subjects in a work that is both practical and theological in nature.  Little begins his book with some practical advice to the would-be-witness: witnessing is comprised of two components, one verbal and one non-verbal.  Little notes that a Christian’s gospel presentation will only be taken as seriously by the unbeliever as it is by the believer—if a genuine Christian lifestyle is not in place, the verbal witness will likely be ineffective.  True, saving faith, Little observes, will always produce a godly lifestyle (32).

In the next chapter, Little describes various actions or attitudes which can either repulse or attract non-Christians, laying a practical foundation for becoming an “effective ambassador” for Christ.  He points out that oftentimes what Christians perceive to be a rejection of the gospel is nothing more than a rejection of the obnoxious methods used to convey the gospel, not the message itself, noting that the Christian witness must achieve a balanced enthusiasm for the gospel in order to be an effective ambassador (40).  In chapter three, Little lays out an eight step process for witnessing, drawn from his observations of Jesus’ witnessing method to the Samaritan woman at the well.  In chapter four, he continues his practical wisdom by acknowledging some of the many social obstacles Christians frequently encounter when witnessing and lays out some basic principles and guidelines for overcoming these obstacles.

In chapter five, Little shifts from his practical and methodological focus to a more theological one.  In this chapter, Little deals with the theological content of the gospel message and also offers several practical arrangements for presenting it.  His focus, however, is primarily on clearly defining what the gospel message is (and isn’t) and how to truthfully and accurately convey this message (93-95).  Chapter six is primarily apologetic in nature, offering concise responses to seven basic questions that Christians should be prepared to answer about their faith, including the infamous questions of “the problem of evil” and “what about those who’ve never heard?” (116-134)  Chapter seven addresses the relevancy of Christianity in modern culture.  Little notes that Christ fills the spiritual void in our lives, provides purpose, gives us hope over death, provides inner peace, is an ever-present friend, helps us control our fleshly appetites, and helps us integrate our knowledge in a way that puts all truth in its proper context and relation to God’s universe and plan (141-151).

In the final three chapters, Little deals with facets of the Christian walk which can affect one’s witness to unbelievers.  Chapter eight deals with worldliness and the topic of Christian liberties.  Chapter nine deals with the daily battles for faith and holiness.  Finally, in chapter ten Little exhorts the believer to focus on the spiritual disciplines of Bible reading and prayer which, he concludes, are necessary in order for the Christian to be spiritually charged enough to be an effective witness (198).

Critical Evaluation

             Paul Little’s book, How to Give Away Your Faith, contains both instruction on the content of the gospel message in addition to practical methodological advice garnered from years of evangelistic encounters.  Thus, it will be helpful in this review to critique both separately.

One beneficial aspect of Little’s overview of the content of the gospel message is that he concisely summarizes the gospel in a way that avoids the two extremes often observable in other similar works.  First, he is conscious of the fact that no book on evangelism would be complete without careful consideration of this topic; Little avoids a purely methodological work which gives no attention to the message conveyed in the gospel presentation.  Secondly, he avoids over-complicating the message in a way that would leave the reader confused or less certain of the basic message.  Little avoids the error of other authors by keeping the message simple and plain, even breaking it down into five basic facts: the person of Jesus Christ, his diagnosis of the sinful human nature, the facts and meaning of his death, the facts and meaning of his resurrection, and steps to becoming a Christian (95-101).  Although I would have liked to have seen a more explicit discussion of the aspects of “Lordship” and “counting the cost” in his discussion of becoming a Christian, his gospel presentation is essentially theologically sound.  One thing I enjoyed in his discussion of the content of the gospel is that Little also provides instruction for encouraging a new Christian.  This is a step often neglected in other works, but is critical for the sanctification of the new believer.  However, as previously mentioned, I would prefer to see more of an emphasis on lordship in this section than on “assur[ing] the believer of salvation…” (106)  Assurance is given by God’s Word and the Holy Spirit as the believer lives in accordance with the Bible’s instruction.  Providing assurance is not the job of the witness but of the Holy Spirit.  Stressing obedience and the process of sanctification, however, is something that the witness can—and should—do.

Much of Little’s book deals with the practical and methodological considerations of witnessing to non-Christians.  I found the chapter on overcoming social barriers to be especially insightful.  For instance, Little states that when offered an alcoholic drink Christians often reply, “No thanks, I’m a Christian.”  While we may feel that such a reply is a good witness, Little remarks that it actually has the same effect on the non-believer as saying, “Drinking is inherently non-Christian.  You clearly aren’t a Christian since you’re drinking.”  While unintended, this statement may come across as a “holier-than-thou” attitude and actually damage our witness to these people.  Instead, Little suggests opting out of such activities on the basis of personal preference or simply asking for a soda as a substitute (80-81).  Little’s observations in chapter three of Jesus’ method of witnessing were also very helpful, especially his observation that Jesus was able to dodge questions that had the ability to side-track the conversation (72).  While I also found helpful his advice not to use the question “Are you a Christian?” to lead into a conversation, I did not find the question he uses (“Have you ever personally trusted Jesus Christ or are you still on the way?”) particularly helpful.  While I do like that Little offers the “easy out” in the second half of this question (“are you still on the way”), the first half seems loaded with Christian jargon that might be difficult for a non-Christian to understand and is entirely subjective and difficult to evaluate.  After all, what does it mean to “trust Jesus” and how would a non-Christian know how far along “the way” they are to becoming a Christian if they don’t even know what “the way” is?  For a question that is meant to diagnose one’s spiritual condition, this question seems inadequate.  I would prefer a series of questions that is more objective: for instance, “Do you believe in heaven/hell?  Which do you think you’ll go to and why?”  These would offer an instant look into both the person’s spiritual progress and their religious presuppositions.

Conclusion

             While there are a couple relatively minor changes I would make in Little’s methods and the content of his gospel presentation, I can say that I would highly recommend this book without reservation.  This book is a monumental accomplishment as it effectively partners biblically based methodology with sound theological content to adequately prepare the Christian to be a good gospel witness.  This book is extremely accessible to laity, also, making it ideal for small group studies in a church environment.  I currently know of no other book which accomplishes what Little has done in How to Give Away Your Faith, and I fully intend on using this book as a resource in the church to which I minister.

Little, Paul E., Little, Marie, ed. How to Give Away Your Faith. rev. ed. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press,2008. 202 pp. $15.00.

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