One Way

www.bible.com/1713/jhn.3.18.csb

The Authority of the Universe has declared there is only One Way to Him. Surprised? You shouldn’t be. The narrow way offered by Christ is the only way God has offered as a way to come to Him. Now you may remember there was another way through the Jews, but with Christ that way was completed and abrogated in favor of this One Way.

Is God unfair? Shouldn’t He offer at least an alternative? As a matter of fact, He does, but you aren’t going to like it. There is one alternative hinted at throughout Scripture, and it is based on the idea of “age of accountability” or the idea that one has to mature sufficiently to be able to have faith in God. We know there is an age when children grow up and can grasp abstract concepts like faith, God, sin, and sacrifice. There is the suggestion in Scripture that children who die before this age, or people who never attain this kind of abstract reasoning (i.e, the invalid, the incompetent, the mentally challenged) are all excused. We reason this out because we believe God is a gracious God and would extend grace to those who cannot accept Him by faith.

Of course, this flies in the face of those who insist on original sin. To some extent, we all receive the consequences of sin from our parents, as our bodies are still able to die, even in utero. Even Jesus, who knew no sin, still died on the cross. But I also believe in original grace. I don’t believe God sends someone to hell who never consciously and willingly sinned against Him. So the alternative suggested by theology and the Scriptures to belief in Jesus as the one way to Heaven is to have never been able to believe in Him and thus be excused from this requirement. I imagine all of my readers have passed this point.

So that leaves faith in Jesus (and baptism in Him) as the only way to be free from condemnation and enjoy everlasting life with God.

This is the point I hear about the “what about’s”, those possible exceptions to the rule that people have come up with over the years. The most popular by far is the scenario where someone in “deepest darkest Africa” (it’s usually Africa, but it could be anywhere) has never heard about Jesus. What about him? Would he still need Jesus to get into heaven? The short answer is “Yes.” But how could God judge him if he never heard about Jesus? The answer is that God judges everyone based on the Law. For the Jews, it was the law of Moses. For everyone else, it is the Law of their own conscience. Within everyone is written a set of laws, written deep down in their soul’s code, that prohibits certain behaviors. For example, everyone, regardless of culture, upbringing, or social history, knows it is wrong to murder another human being in cold blood. Everyone knows, regardless of where they live, knows it is wrong to steal another person’s property. We usually recognize something is wrong when we have to practice secrecy or concealment to do it. Some cultures do stretch the limits on each of what we usually refer to as the Ten Commandments (refer to my Source Code series for more info about this), but every culture at some level knows these things are wrong. And this is the basis for God’s judgment. “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3)

So what is the man in darkest Africa to do? Travel five miles to the nearest missionary? Honestly, there are few places in this world where the gospel, at the very least the basics of the gospel story, has not reached. The people groups who have not yet been reached are still significant, but fewer now than they were. And the work is still ongoing. I encourage you if you are interested to pursue this topic as you can. There is still much work to do. For if you care about that man in darkest Africa, you will make every effort to see that he receives the gospel and that he’s not just a hypothetical exception for you. For if anyone is to be saved from judgment, even by their own conscience, it is only through Jesus Christ. Only Jesus saves us from the unbearable burden of our own sins.

Another stated exception to this rule, one which I still struggle with, is the number of people who lived after the resurrection who still died, but long before the gospel could ever reach them. My son and I were talking about this a few months ago. What about the person who died in China in AD 33 mere minutes after the Resurrection of Jesus in Jerusalem? Was that person subject to the New Covenant rules? Did that person need salvation through the name of Jesus, because he just happened to die a few minutes after Jesus rose again? This is more of an historical take on the hypothetical noted before. But I believe it is far less hypothetical. It took some time for the gospel to reach the known world, maybe about 40 years. What about the world outside the Roman Empire? What about your African soul in AD 40? What if the gospel had not reached you yet, and you still died?

This is why I struggle with this second one: I have both a gracious God and a holy God. He extends grace through His Son Christ Jesus, but He is also holy, and will not tolerate any sin in His presence. Our souls need to be covered in the blood of Jesus to be able to stand in God’s presence in heaven. We cannot get there on our own. All of us have sinned. That’s an axiom in Scripture. All of us need Jesus. That too is a constant. So how do we consider both God’s grace and God’s holiness in the interim between Jesus’ resurrection in Jerusalem in AD 30 and the time it takes for the gospel to reach the ears of men and women all over the world?

I wish I knew the answer to this question. I know God’s nature hasn’t changed, and He still judges people based on the Law He has imprinted in their souls. But I have to think God still engages in the same process we see illustrated in Acts 10, where Cornelius, the Roman Centurion, has a dream about going and getting Peter so that Peter can tell him the gospel. I believe people in far-off people groups, if they have responded in faith to what they have already received (the testimony of Natural Revelation, i.e., the world around them) that there is a God and He cares about them, then God sends them a similar dream or vision or motivation to seek out His missionaries because, in the end, the gospel is only transmitted through the lips of His people (both past, the Bible, and present, Christians). We are His ambassadors, not the trees or the earth or the universe. God is far more creative and inventive than we are. I give Him the credit to come up with ways of inviting people to His truth that we would never come up with.

I hope this has been helpful. Don’t give up praying, because often stories of people in far-off people groups coming to faith in Jesus has been coupled with stories of faithful Christians praying for them. If you care whether Timbuktu receives the gospel, then be praying today for those people. God made them too. He loves them. As he said to Jonah, “Shouldn’t I care for those people in Nineveh?”

Heavenly Father, though I have not been very good at mission work and spreading the gospel outside my humble place here, I know You are working even now on some lost soul in a place I’ve never heard of. Father, I pray for that man or woman even now who has an inkling of faith, a mustard seed-sized faith that there is a God who loves them. I pray that a way is found that the gospel finds its way to them so that they can be saved and rescued from death. Please, Lord, I pray this in the name of Jesus, Amen.

Fearless Love

www.bible.com/1713/1jn.4.18.csb

So what do we know today? I feel like I’ve written about this recently, but I couldn’t find it. Perfect love, mature love, is fearless. Because when Daddy is with you, you aren’t afraid of risk.

So what do we have to fear? You might have heard recently about Kanye West. I too was cautiously optimistic that this conversion might actually be authentic. Here is someone from the celebrity scene that is now taking about Jesus in a good way. He is openly evangelizing. He is doing the work of the church. And the church, well, is being the church.

What I mean is, many churches are downplaying this conversion because he didn’t come from us. If this were a pastor from an unknown church who suddenly popped up on the national scene, the church would be far more accepting. But he’s not. He is like a Paul, someone who openly despised conservative values and was a popular rap artist singing what rap artists rap about until one day God got a hold of him.

I think the church needs to take this as a warning. This is what we need to fear. God picked Kanye because we weren’t getting the message out. Let that sink in. We’ve kept the gospel bottled up in church buildings and Christian lifestyle, so that if you are not like us, you cannot be us. It is a condition the church ought to be familiar with, as we have repeated the same cycle throughout history, until God calls a Paul, or a Martin Luther, or a Tyndale, or a Billy Sunday, or a Tim Tebow. Over and again, God has had to call someone outside the box because the gospel couldn’t get out of the box.

So if God is calling Kanye West to evangelize the lost, it’s because the church wasn’t reaching who He wanted to reach. For Paul, it was outreach to the Gentiles. For Martin Luther, it was outreach to the non-Latins. And so on, and so forth. If the church will not go, then God will call someone else to go. Be afraid Church that you have not lost your relevance.

Something to ponder on this Monday.

Great Commission

www.bible.com/72/mat.28.19.hcsb

Do you have life-goals? One of mine to to meet my grandfather. He died several years before I was born, in 1961. Never got the chance to meet him. But my grandfather became a Christian later in life, and someday when I die, I will get a chance to meet him.

To do that, I’ve got to make sure that I’ve followed God’s will to the best of my ability, and pray for His grace to be applied to the rest. There’s a lot.

So what is God’s will? Did you read the verse above? That’s the first part of the Great Commission. That’s what God wants from us. That’s what He wants us to do. He wants us to make disciples out of all the nations, all the peoples of the earth, all the languages, cultures, ethnicities, everywhere. Once one is reached in each, more can be won. Then we follow discipleship with baptism. We are are baptism into the One Name, because this is the source of our unity among such diversity of peoples. We are all saved by the same God, through the same blood and filled by the same Spirit. We are saved in Jesus. And this One Name is all Three in One, the Triunity of God.

What follows is the teaching, everything that Jesus commanded the Apostles to pass on to the Body of Christ. This is the will of God, that the whole world would be saved through His Name. It’s a big job, but we have an even greater God to work it out. We have but to plant the seeds, and God gives the increase.

What seeds of discipleship can you plant today?

Unlimited Power

www.bible.com/1713/act.1.8.csb

What great mission would you apply yourself to if you had unlimited resources? See the world? Explore deep space? Explore the oceans?

And how would you gauge what would be a greater mission, or more important mission? Greater benefit for more people? Greater benefit for you and your family? Greater benefit for science?

The fact it we have been given a very important mission, and we have been given unlimited resources to complete it. It is the mission to the world, to broadcast the saving message of Jesus Christ. And our unlimited resources are God Himself, dwelling within us and empowering us to do our part in the mission. Sound intimidating? It is. But it is the best mission to benefit the most people for all eternity. Interested?

Be Courageous!

www.bible.com/72/jhn.16.33.hcsb

If there is any phrase often repeated in the Bible, it is “Be strong and courageous” or variations of it. That is very telling of what our role is. While God has conquered evil and death, done all of the heavy-lifting for our salvation, He still leaves it to us to have an attitude of strength and courage. He doesn’t offer His courage to us, but calls us to it.

So what is courage? What is this thing we call bravery or valor? Is it not the hope that things will turn out ok and acting accordingly? Men will brave fire and smoke to rescue people trapped in a burning building. We call that courage. Is it? Isn’t it also training yourself in the dangers of fire and learning how to avoid getting burned? Is it the willingness to subject yourself to danger, the uncertainty of random accident? Is that courage?

If so, then to call us to courage is to call us to “face uncertain days because He lives.” Our burning building is this world, burning down all around us. Our courage is the willingness to face the uncertainty of what will happen to us if we go in, to save someone in that building from burning to death. Courage is hope that we will be ok. Courage is knowing we go in with divine protection, knowing that death is only temporary. Courage is willing put ourselves at risk, even of death, to carry out our Father’s orders. That takes courage. He does not force us, but calls us to take the step forward.

Courage, like faith and hope, not only call for belief in something I may not have actually seen or experienced, but also the action to demonstrate our commitment. Be strong and courageous. For I have overcome the world.

God bless you today.

Chastising the Nations

www.bible.com/72/zep.2.3.hcsb

So On first reading of this verse it sounds like Israel is at it again, and Zephaniah is bringing a word of the Lord to correct them. Not so. This is Zephaniah speaking to the nations surrounding Israel, who have been plundering her borders (often used by God to chastise the people of God) now on notice. What is amazing about this is that God is sending His prophet to warn Gentiles.

Unlike Israel and Judah, the Gentiles of the nations have no standing covenant with God, no Sinai moment, and no agreement of behavior with the Almighty, or so we think. On what standing here does God take the nations to task? They come under the covenant made with Noah back in Genesis 9, which applies to all nations. Among other things, Noah’s covenant covers the proper role of capital punishment, taking another’s man life. A nation that kills indiscriminately runs afoul of this covenant. If we know anything of the world of ancient Israel, human life was not precious.

My point is that God holds the nations accountable to Himself, even if they do not have the law of Moses. But as you see in this verse, He also holds open the possibility of salvation from His judgment. Seeking righteousness (according to God’s own standard) and humility, and individual might be safe from God’s judgment upon the whole nation. In this the Jews did have the corner on righteousness, for even then, salvation was found in their teachings of the law (to the extent one could be “saved” through animal sacrifice to the God of Israel). All the world received a covenant through Noah. But only Israel had a way to deal with sin against that covenant. All the other nations invented religions of appeasement that were ultimately false. Only Israel had truth. Thus, seek the Lord (of Israel) and His righteousness and you may be saved. Sound familiar?

It is the same call to the nations today. Seek the Lord (Jesus) and you will be saved by Him through faith. Instead of the incomplete sacrifices of animals, we have the perfect sacrifice of the Son of God which covers all sin for all time. Praise be the name of the Lord who cares even for those not called by His Name.

God bless you today!

Into All the World

I learned a few days ago that an American missionary attempted to get into an isolated country off the coast of India to preach the gospel to a previously unreached people group. Sounds good right? Well, not so much. You see the people group in question had been isolated for a reason. The government of India forbade anyone from approaching the island because its inhabitants kill any intruders on sight. Very little is known about this group, but everyone else knows enough to stay away from them. However, our aspiring missionary friend felt called by God to bring the gospel to this off-limits piece of God’s real estate. I cannot fault him for this. I also cannot fault him for his use of illegal transport (via local fishermen) to get to the island. The gospel call is to preach the gospel to every creature. And there are examples of similar situations in the past (Jim Elliot), where the gospel had been brought to indigenous hostile peoples and made a huge difference in the people and its culture. Jim Elliot died bringing the gospel to the people he felt called to. His son befriended the man who killed him. See the Point of the Spear.

It would be easy to say “These are just a bunch of savages, just leave them alone.” They do represent a unique people group, and as some suggest, they possess a completely unknown language, so it would take some serious effort even to be able to say, “Hello!” Because of this, experts claim that the people ought to be left alone because if anyone interfered with them we would be destroying a unique culture with Western values, and we’ve already done that with so many other indigenous cultures. This is an argument from moral equivalence. The way they do things is just as good as any other culture’s way of doing things. Just leave them alone. Funny I don’t hear that kind of condescension taking place with the anti-vaxxers.

We may not know much about their culture, but we do know this: they murder outsiders. Anyone who is not from their small community is sentenced to death upon contact. Whether this institutional or cultural, we have no way of knowing, that is to say, whether their chief has commanded all outsiders killed or it is in their culture to kill all outsiders, it makes little difference. Murder is the worst crime you can commit upon another person, and it is their chief point of contact. Do you really think they’ve got a handle on things? Are they morally equivalent? It would be one things if they made it very clear that outsiders are not welcome and threatened this with the point of a spear. It is another to simply kill all visitors on sight.

We also know that these people aren’t savages. They aren’t evolved from apes. They are human beings. As such, they are born with the same moral law as everyone else. Killing another human being is a violation of natural law. It is usually only superseded by 1) institutional directive, or 2) personal sin. You are either ordered to kill by a government or led to murder by personal sin. I am led to believe that their directive to kill is more institutional rather than personal. If they personally wanted to kill other human beings, they would have wiped each other out by now. So they probably have a cultural affinity to protect their culture from outside influence.

And that’s what this young man saw in them, morally liable human beings who need a Savior from their sin. If Jesus had not yet been preached there, then He needs to be, right? Does Jesus have a witness in that community? At this point, we have no way of knowing. But certainly some have felt the call of God to this particular island. Surely God has already spoken to some within that culture. Very likely they have a story of the creation of the world (as MANY other indigenous peoples have) that includes a Creator God, and maybe even a Savior? Could it be that the leaders of this island nation know this, and know that if a Savior is preached, they would lose their power? Could this explain why they shoot all outsiders on sight? Certainly, but we have no way of knowing. Do we have the right to know?

We have a command from Jesus to go into all the world and preach the gospel to every nation (people-group/ language/ ethnicity). This island of isolated people represent a nation that has not yet been reached. Thus, this is a people for whom Christ died and need to hear the gospel. Should we not send in the Marines, learn their language, and give them a choice?

This is a touchy subject for missiologists. Missions have traditionally been about transplanting western culture into indigenous populations, with the frequent result of that population becoming dependent on western generosity, with no real understanding about salvation and grace. Many say the words and attend the services because free food is available. Operation Christmas Child, which our church recently participated in, sends shoeboxes full of goodies for children, and accompanies it with a gospel presentation. Do the children listen and convert for the sake of the gifts or for the gospel? Western missions almost always associates gifts and gospel, and we don’t understand that indigenous cultures may not see them separate as we do. That’s why the same people convert to Catholicism, Pentecostalism, Baptist and Christian, because they are all offering gifts and building them churches. Whoever brings food gets the ears. And then those missions have to be maintained with western funds on a continual basis. Is that how Paul and Barnabas did it? If I read my Scriptures correctly, it was the peoples of the churches they founded that sent money back to Jerusalem, not the other way around.

So it seems to me that we ought to be going even into this island nation and learning about their culture. I could think of a few ex-military guys that I know in the church that would find this a challenging opportunity. There is a way to defend yourself without being aggressive. We have a base in Cuba after all. I would think this culture knows its island well enough that anything covert would be instantly spotted. So any approach would have to be made overtly, but well-defended. Such an approach would have to be well-funded and call for extreme dedication. But I think it would be do-able.

Let me put it this way. If Jesus will no return until every people-group has heard the gospel, is it at least as important to tell this people about Him as it is to build a Temple in Jerusalem?

God Bless!