Thursday, March 31, 2011

Mormons, Muslims, and Me

I recently read a book that told a story of a young lady in a youth group who was longing for something deeper in her spiritual walk. Unfortunately, what was being offered to her at her church was a very surface level, fun driven youth ministry. As fate would have it, she began to date a young man who happened to be Mormon. This young man was one of the most intelligent students in her class and was very interested in spiritual matters. Many people do not realize it, but the Mormons offer daily Bible study classes before school. This young man met at his church with a few other of the faithful at 5:30 AM to study scripture and LDS doctrine before heading off to school. She had a choice: Another pizza party at her church, or look for someone to answer her deepest questions.
            In larger cities, outside of the Bible belt, it would not be a surprise to find a devout Muslim with his mat unrolled on the ground, facing east, praying. I did a google search on Muslim prayer times. The times of the prayers are coordinated with the sun, so the times depend on your coordinates, as well as the day of the year in which you should be praying. The chart gave the specific time, down to the minute, for each of the six prayer times. It amazes me, the amount of dedication it would take to pinpoint the exact minute, drop everything that you are doing, roll out a prayer mat, and begin praying in any type of weather condition.
            Then I look at myself. What am I doing? If I believe that the God of the Bible is the one true God, and that the Mormons and Muslims are incorrect in their theology, why do our devotional lives seem to be flipped? Why do we not have morning Bible studies to learn about the God who can be known? I realize that Jesus spoke against praying in order to be seen, but is there any doubt that a man kneeling on a mat in a public square is a Muslim? Could someone look at you, what you are carrying, watch your actions, and know what you believe? Based on your actions, appearance, and accessories, what would they say you believe in? For many, unfortunately, they might think you believe in God, but that it plays an insignificant role in your life.
            After discussions with our youth, I have found that many are frustrated with the recent court proceedings surrounding prayer in public schools. Teachers are being hamstrung in what they can do and say, but the students still have free reign. Students can say and do whatever they want about their faith. The ball is in your court. What will you do with it? Who among the Ferris Hillians will begin to attend a morning Bible study? Who will start a morning Bible study if one doesn’t exist? Who will be more proactive in their faith? Who will let their faith be known?

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

A Review of "The Next Christians" by Gabe Lyons

A Review of The Next Christians by Gabe Lyons

            I hated The Next Christians almost from the very beginning of the book, but please keep reading so I can explain how Lyons won me over!
I waited about three weeks to receive the book and was eagerly waiting to read it. I really wanted to enjoy the book, so I probably gave Mr. Lyons some wiggle room early on. As the early chapters of the book wore, the wiggle room disappeared and the book was left to fend for itself. It got to the point where I found myself getting more agitated as I read. The book was becoming that proverbially piece of sand in my nice, neat enclosed clam shell.
            I could probably point to a few areas that irritated me the most. 1) Lyons shared a story about a friend of his who was a very successful business man, who with the stroke of a pen could raise the GDP of countries, but was no longer calling himself a Christian because of the embarrassment it brought and the potential lack of business that it would bring. Personally, I have a hard time feeling sympathetic to a person who is ashamed to call himself a Christian if it will affect his bottom line. Mark 8:38 comes to mind. 2) The book had a very apologetic tone to it. And I do not mean “defending the faith” apologetic, I mean “I’m sorry Christianity is so terrible” apologetic. I read a book by Jim Henderson called Evangelism without the Additives which had the same tone. Henderson’s had a very negative opinion of almost every evangelistic technique opting for a very passive form of leading someone to Christ. His suggestion was to live your life, and hope someone asks you about God. In my experience that almost never happens. The Next Christians gave me that same feeling. 3) Lyons laid out his opinion of the trend of Christianity in America to a non-believing movie executive (looking to cash in on Christian dollars) with some very negative characteristics of different groups of Christians. His two main groups were “Separatists” and “Cultural.”
Separatists were characterized by three sets of people: Insiders; Culture Warriors; and Evangelizers. Insiders are those people who avoid any contact with the secular world if at all possible. These are home schooler, Christian t-shirt wearing, Christian music listening avoiders of the real world. They could be likened to a contemporary version of the Amish. They have no impact with the world because they don’t come into contact with the world. Culture Warriors are Christians looking for a fight. The example he gave were the “fanatical” Christians opposing the removal of the Ten Commandments from the Alabama courthouse. Evangelizers are those who believe that the only call of Christianity is to win the lost to Christ and will drop the gospel on you at the drop of a hat, and they’ll bring the hat.
Cultural Christians were divided into two groups: Blenders; and Philanthropists. Blenders want to fit in with their friends. “Of the 84 percent who knew a Christian personally, only 15 percent thought their lifestyles were any different.” Philanthropists are known for doing good—soup kitchens, highway clean-up, volunteerism.
At this point I was ready to chuck the book. I wanted insight into how to reach the next generation of Christians. I did not want a study on how bad Lyons thought we were. That was until the movie executive asked, “Isn’t there anyone getting it right?” To which Lyons had an answer—an overwhelming “Yes!”
Lyons’ third group of Christians are the “Restorers.” In his own words, Restorers “don’t separate from the world or blend in; rather, they thoughtfully engage. Fully aware of the seachange under way, they are optimistic that God is on the move—doing something unique in our time.” Restorers take the best of both Separatist and Cultural movements and add the element of restoration.
When sin entered the world, everything was affected, not just our eternal destination. We now have to deal with pain, hunger, thirst, frustrations, disease, death loneliness, despair, and meaninglessness just to name a few. Could the gospel of Christ help restore some of these issues, or is it limited only to heaven or hell? Smoking or non-smoking? Lyons argues that it can, and does so in convincing fashion. No one has ever accused me of being a proponent of the social gospel, but I agree with Lyons that we can use secular agendas and means to obtain the end that Christ desires.
Lyons is a Liberty University graduate who left a vice president position at a Christian organization to launch a non-profit organization that was first commissioned to research the perceptions that 16-29 year olds have of Christianity. Through the success of his organization, and the discoveries that he has made, I believe Lyons is poised and ready to lead the Next Christians. I thoroughly enjoyed the book, despite my early objections—the grain of sand became a pearl. The book was well researched, and filled with anecdotal evidence. If you are interested in reaching the next generation, this is a must read.              
FTC Disclaimer: "I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review" 

Monday, March 21, 2011


Exodus 11-12:30

            The next two weeks we will be discussing Passover. Now to hear a Southern Baptist talk about the Jewish feast of Passover is like listening to an ACC fan talk about college football; or a skinny guy talk about fried chicken. Wouldn’t it be better to listen to someone who knew from first hand experience what they were talking about? So we are privileged to have speakers from the Brit Ahm Messianic Jewish synagogue come next Wednesday to share with us about the Jewish Passover Feast called Seder. I wanted to teach tonight about the history of Passover, and how it affects us so we can listen intelligently next week.
            Exodus 11-12:30 1 Then the Lord said to Moses, “I will strike Pharaoh and the land of Egypt with one more blow. After that, Pharaoh will let you leave this country. In fact, he will be so eager to get rid of you that he will force you all to leave. 2 Tell all the Israelite men and women to ask their Egyptian neighbors for articles of silver and gold.” 3 (Now the Lord had caused the Egyptians to look favorably on the people of Israel. And Moses was considered a very great man in the land of Egypt, respected by Pharaoh’s officials and the Egyptian people alike.)
 4 Moses had announced to Pharaoh, “This is what the Lord says: At midnight tonight I will pass through the heart of Egypt. 5 All the firstborn sons will die in every family in Egypt, from the oldest son of Pharaoh, who sits on his throne, to the oldest son of his lowliest servant girl who grinds the flour. Even the firstborn of all the livestock will die. 6 Then a loud wail will rise throughout the land of Egypt, a wail like no one has heard before or will ever hear again. 7 But among the Israelites it will be so peaceful that not even a dog will bark. Then you will know that the Lord makes a distinction between the Egyptians and the Israelites. 8 All the officials of Egypt will run to me and fall to the ground before me. ‘Please leave!’ they will beg. ‘Hurry! And take all your followers with you.’ Only then will I go!” Then, burning with anger, Moses left Pharaoh.
 9 Now the Lord had told Moses earlier, “Pharaoh will not listen to you, but then I will do even more mighty miracles in the land of Egypt.” 10 Moses and Aaron performed these miracles in Pharaoh’s presence, but the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he wouldn’t let the Israelites leave the country.
Exodus 12
 1 While the Israelites were still in the land of Egypt, the Lord gave the following instructions to Moses and Aaron: 2 “From now on, this month will be the first month of the year for you. 3 Announce to the whole community of Israel that on the tenth day of this month each family must choose a lamb or a young goat for a sacrifice, one animal for each household. 4 If a family is too small to eat a whole animal, let them share with another family in the neighborhood. Divide the animal according to the size of each family and how much they can eat. 5 The animal you select must be a one-year-old male, either a sheep or a goat, with no defects.
 6 “Take special care of this chosen animal until the evening of the fourteenth day of this first month. Then the whole assembly of the community of Israel must slaughter their lamb or young goat at twilight. 7 They are to take some of the blood and smear it on the sides and top of the doorframes of the houses where they eat the animal. 8 That same night they must roast the meat over a fire and eat it along with bitter salad greens and bread made without yeast. 9 Do not eat any of the meat raw or boiled in water. The whole animal—including the head, legs, and internal organs—must be roasted over a fire. 10 Do not leave any of it until the next morning. Burn whatever is not eaten before morning.
 11 “These are your instructions for eating this meal: Be fully dressed, wear your sandals, and carry your walking stick in your hand. Eat the meal with urgency, for this is the Lord’s Passover. 12 On that night I will pass through the land of Egypt and strike down every firstborn son and firstborn male animal in the land of Egypt. I will execute judgment against all the gods of Egypt, for I am the Lord! 13 But the blood on your doorposts will serve as a sign, marking the houses where you are staying. When I see the blood, I will pass over you. This plague of death will not touch you when I strike the land of Egypt.
 14 “This is a day to remember. Each year, from generation to generation, you must celebrate it as a special festival to the Lord. This is a law for all time. 15 For seven days the bread you eat must be made without yeast. On the first day of the festival, remove every trace of yeast from your homes. Anyone who eats bread made with yeast during the seven days of the festival will be cut off from the community of Israel. 16 On the first day of the festival and again on the seventh day, all the people must observe an official day for holy assembly. No work of any kind may be done on these days except in the preparation of food.
 17 “Celebrate this Festival of Unleavened Bread, for it will remind you that I brought your forces out of the land of Egypt on this very day. This festival will be a permanent law for you; celebrate this day from generation to generation. 18 The bread you eat must be made without yeast from the evening of the fourteenth day of the first month until the evening of the twenty-first day of that month. 19 During those seven days, there must be no trace of yeast in your homes. Anyone who eats anything made with yeast during this week will be cut off from the community of Israel. These regulations apply both to the foreigners living among you and to the native-born Israelites. 20 During those days you must not eat anything made with yeast. Wherever you live, eat only bread made without yeast.”
 21 Then Moses called all the elders of Israel together and said to them, “Go, pick out a lamb or young goat for each of your families, and slaughter the Passover animal. 22 Drain the blood into a basin. Then take a bundle of hyssop branches and dip it into the blood. Brush the hyssop across the top and sides of the doorframes of your houses. And no one may go out through the door until morning. 23 For the Lord will pass through the land to strike down the Egyptians. But when he sees the blood on the top and sides of the doorframe, the Lord will pass over your home. He will not permit his death angel to enter your house and strike you down.
 24 “Remember, these instructions are a permanent law that you and your descendants must observe forever. 25 When you enter the land the Lord has promised to give you, you will continue to observe this ceremony. 26 Then your children will ask, ‘What does this ceremony mean?’ 27 And you will reply, ‘It is the Passover sacrifice to the Lord, for he passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt. And though he struck the Egyptians, he spared our families.’” When Moses had finished speaking, all the people bowed down to the ground and worshiped.
 28 So the people of Israel did just as the Lord had commanded through Moses and Aaron. 29 And that night at midnight, the Lord struck down all the firstborn sons in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn son of Pharaoh, who sat on his throne, to the firstborn son of the prisoner in the dungeon. Even the firstborn of their livestock were killed. 30 Pharaoh and all his officials and all the people of Egypt woke up during the night, and loud wailing was heard throughout the land of Egypt. There was not a single house where someone had not died.
            Passover was named simply because the angel of death passed over the houses of the Jews and killed the first born males of the Egyptians, including their livestock. The Passover Feast is a celebration that was started the very first year after they left Egypt. The original Passover was so important that they literally changed their calendars because of it. It would be equivalent to America considering July 4th to be the first day of their year because of their declared independence from England.
            The Passover celebration commemorates God’s deliverance of the Jewish nation from the oppression of the Egyptians but more importantly it foreshadowed how God would deliver all the nations from the oppression of sin. Let’s take a look at how He did that.
Reader #1 John 1:29 “The next day John saw Jesus coming and said, “Look! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”
            The most important part of this passage is to note that Jesus was referred to as the Lamb of God, obviously, an allusion to the sacrificial lamb of the Passover story. It is also important to note that every other sin offering discussed in the Bible is said to be a covering for sin. If I were to make a dookie right here in the middle of the room, how many of you would be cool if I just covered it up with my hat? Or would you rather me remove the whole thing? That’s what Jesus did. He didn’t cover up our mess. He took it away.
Reader #2 1 Cor. 5:7 “Christ our Passover Lamb, Has been sacrificed for us.”
Reader #3 1 Pet. 1:19 “It was the precious blood of Christ, the sinless, spotless, Lamb of God.”
            What made Jesus the Lamb of God? There are seven areas we are going to look at tonight:
            1) The Passover Lamb needed to be without blemish. If you read in the book of Malachi, you will find that God became very upset over the quality of animals that the Israelites were willing to offer up as a “sacrifice.” The law required that the animals be perfect, without spot or blemish, but they were offering lame and blind animals that were no good to anybody. It wasn’t even a sacrifice anymore. It was like they were trying to trick God. It would be like God saying, “I require a Ferrari to be satisfied,” and you bring Him a bicycle you found at the landfill.
            Jesus, however, was without blemish. He was fully human and fully God, so He faced every temptation we face but He did not succumb to it. He was totally and completely sin free. A bad thought never crossed His mind no matter how tired or frustrated He was. He never had an inappropriate thought. He never farted and blamed someone else. He was pure as the wind driven snow.
            2 +3) The Passover Lamb had to be male and young. Jesus, of course, was male and relatively young. He was said to be 33 at the time of His death. You might think that’s pretty old but it’s really not. I have t-shirts that I still wear that are older than most of you.
            4) The Passover Lamb had to be selected four days before the sacrifice so it could be thoroughly examined for defects. If the survival of you and your family from the angel of death was dependent on how perfect the lamb was, I’m sure you would be pay particular attention to it, looking for any minor flaw.
            Jesus’ entire ministry took place in the public’s eye so He could be thoroughly examined for sin. Think about it. Everywhere Jesus went, there was a crowd of people watching and criticizing His every action, and yet they could not find one area where He stumbled, or was flawed. Jesus was examined for 33 years. The lamb was examined for four days.
            5) The Passover Lamb had to be slain in public. I’m not 100% sure why. Maybe it was an act of community worship. They slaughtered their lambs between the days—or in other words after dark. Their days began at sunset and ended at sundown.
            Jesus was slain in public. Not only was the crucifixion sight in a well traveled part of town, He was also beaten, flogged, and forced to carry His cross through the town. The Romans wanted to make sure they made an example out of their criminals, so they killed them in very public places. In a modern example, you would expect to see people hanging from crosses in the Wal-Mart parking lot.
            Incidentally, by the time the Roman historian Josephus recorded his views on Judaism and Christianity, the Jews were slaying their Passover lambs at 3:00 PM, which is the exact time that Jesus died.
            6) Later in Exodus 12:46 more regulations about the Passover Lamb was revealed, the Passover Lamb was not to have any of its bones broken.
Reader #4 John 19:31-33 “It was the day of preparation, and the Jewish leaders didn’t want the bodies hanging there the next day, which was the Sabbath (and a very special Sabbath, because it was the Passover). So they asked Pilate to hasten their deaths by ordering that their legs be broken. Then their bodies could be taken down. 32 So the soldiers came and broke the legs of the two men crucified with Jesus. 33 But when they came to Jesus, they saw that he was already dead, so they didn’t break his legs.”
        It may seem like a chance coincidence to you, but the fact that Jesus died before they had the opportunity to break His legs was prophesied 2,000 years earlier. That’s no coincidence.
            7) Finally, the blood of the lamb was placed on the door posts as a sign to God that the angel of death should pass over that house and move on to the next one. Likewise, Jesus’ blood on the doorposts of our lives is a sign that God’s wrath should pass over us onto someone else.
            You see God is so perfect and holy that He cannot stand to be in the presence of sin. Romans 6:23 says, “The wages of sin is death.” Wages are something you have earned. What you have earned through your sin is death. As long as you haven’t sinned you have nothing to worry about. But if you have sinned, then death is your rightfully earned punishment. If that’s where the story ends there would be no hope, and I wouldn’t be here to share the message of hopelessness. I’m here to share the gospel, which means good news. Jesus took the sin that belonged to us, and suffered the penalty we deserved.
            So what do we do now? Well we certainly can’t fix it by sinning less now. And we can’t make it better by being truly sorry. If I murdered fifty people with a shovel, was arrested, and brought before a judge, and I said, “Your honor, I see the error of my ways. I am truly sorry for what I’ve done, and from this day forward I will try my best not to kill any more people.” What would we think about that Judge if he said, “Well, alright, but I better not see you in here again.” We would think he was a terrible judge. A crime was committed and a punishment needs to be given. The man would likely be sentenced to death. Theologically speaking, if this were a heavenly court room, Satan, also known as the accuser, would be the prosecuting attorney. God the Father would be the Judge, and Jesus would be the defense attorney. When the sentence is issued, Jesus would step up and say, “Your honor, I will take the punishment for this man’s crimes.” And because God the Father and Jesus are one, the Judge will agree to the arrangement, step down from His bench, and walk out of the courtroom to the gallows handcuffed and waiting to be executed.
            When Abraham led his only son Isaac up the mountain to sacrifice him, Isaac said, “Hey dad, we have wood, we have fire, but we don’t have a sacrifice.” Abraham responds, “My son, God will provide for Himself the lamb for the sacrifice.” God provided Himself as a sacrifice. What you need to do is accept that gift, and then live a life worthy of your calling. To many times people try to live a good life and then get saved. They’re hoping they can impress God somehow. We can never be good enough, but God loves us exactly where we are—even people who murder fifty others with shovels.              

Saturday, March 19, 2011

A Review of Andy Stanley's "How Good is Good Enough"

            The first time I read How Good is Good Enough? by Andy Stanley was about seven years ago. I, like many others, was given a copy of it from a friend with the following comment, “You really need to read this.” So I read it. I had about two hours to kill in a snow storm, and almost knocked out the entire book. To understand why I didn’t read the whole thing in two hours you have to understand how I read a book as captivating as How Good is Good Enough? I basically have to read the book twice as I go back and highlight all of the “good stuff.” In hindsight, I would have saved time (and a highlighter) had I just highlighted the passages that meant nothing to me.
            In my Christian experience I have heard one answer more than any other to the following question, “What must you do in order to go to heaven?” That answer is, “You have to be good enough.” Andy Stanley then takes the next step that so many of us have failed to take and asks, “How good is good enough?” Stanley walks us through the next several chapters answering and combating some of the most common fallacies of what it takes to earn a spot in heaven in a writing style almost as if it is just you and him over a cup of coffee. Stanley’s arguments are very thought out, extremely logical, and come accompanied with anecdotal examples to illustrate his points. He uses so much common sense that his arguments are impossible to defend.
            Christians and non-Christians alike will benefit from reading this book. The gospel of grace is clearly presented, while the gospel of works is very logically refuted. Unfortunately, many born again Christians have bought into the lie, that even if they have a right relationship with Jesus Christ they still need to score high enough on the report card of their life to make it in to Heaven. Stanley answers the spiritual question of both of these groups.
            This book is a must read. Witnessing to someone is as easy as handing them a copy of this book. There is a reason why many Christian bookstores sell this book in a multi-pack, and why they can be found in almost every pastor’s office. This is a book you will want to read again and again, as well a hand out. So I suggest you buy multiple copies.