Is God’s Love Conditional or Unconditional?

As a young Christian, I remember hearing that God’s love is unconditional. And yet, I also heard that it was necessary to believe in Jesus and embrace the gospel in order to become a child of God and receive salvation. Is that a “condition”? Is God’s love really unconditional?

I saw an interesting conversation online yesterday. It was a discussion over what was being taught at a certain church in regard to salvation, the love of God and the work of Jesus on the cross.

Recently William Paul Young, the author of The Shack, released his first non-fiction book: Lies We Believe About God, in which he lays out what he believes. I happened to see this book on the shelf at Walmart recently, alongside a bunch of other books in the religion/spirituality realm which I hope that no-one will ever read because of their aberrant/heterodox theology and claims about God.

Here’s a word of advice: As a rule, don’t buy books about God / Spirituality / Theology from Walmart.

Basically, in Lies We Believe About God, William Paul Young comes out as a full-fledged universalist; he believes that all people will be saved, that God doesn’t require anything of us, that the idea of Hell is a creation of Medieval Christendom for the purpose of manipulating people into submission, and that no matter someone does or believes, they are a child of God and will therefore be saved and have eternal life.

Of course, these beliefs fly in the face of what the Bible clearly teaches and what Christians have taught and believed for 2000 years. For an explanation of the content of this book and a response to it, check out this great article from the Gospel Coalition.

How this ties into the online discussion that I witnessed yesterday, was that this church which had embraced the views of Wm. Paul Young and had taken a hard turn towards universalist theology. As a result, some people had left the church while others had embraced this teaching.

The crux of both this online conversation and the beliefs of William Paul Young is the question of whether the love of God is conditional or unconditional. The one thing that was assumed as true by all, is that God’s love is unconditional, which then created some issues, questions and difficulties for those on both sides…

Some made the conclusion that if God’s love is unconditional, then even the requirement that one must believe in Jesus constitutes a condition! Therefore, they conclude: ‘believing in Jesus must not be necessary for salvation.’ Furthermore, they conclude: ‘God does not require anything of us in order to accept us as his children, since he loves us unconditionally, and therefore all people are children of God simply by virtue of having been created, and therefore all of the promises of the Bible which pertain to the “children of God” belong to all people universally, no matter what they do or believe.’

Others, who hold orthodox Christian beliefs, disagreed with this, pointing out that Jesus himself clearly taught that unless one believes in Him they will not have salvation (John 3:18), and that the status of “Child of God” is reserved for those who believe (John 1:12). They struggled, however, to explain how these things did not constitute “conditions” – which would then contradict the claim that God’s love is “unconditional.”

So what is the answer? Is God’s love conditional or unconditional?

First of all, I do believe that God loves all people, but the question of whether all people have salvation or are in a covenant relationship with God is another issue.

This question of whether the covenant with God is conditional or unconditional is one of the great tensions of the Old Testament. In some places, it seems to be saying that God will love and bless and be faithful to his people unconditionally, no matter what they do. Yet, in other places it seems to be saying that the covenant is conditional, that certain requirements must be met in order for it to apply.

This tension builds and builds throughout the Old Testament, but is never actually resolved… UNTIL we get to Jesus!

In Jesus, the question is answered and the tension is resolved. The message of the gospel is that Jesus met all of the conditions of the covenant so that IN HIM (and only in Him) God can love us and accept us unconditionally.

The message of the gospel is that Jesus met all of the conditions of the covenant so that IN HIM (and only in Him) God can love us and accept us unconditionally.

Jesus is the answer to all the riddles.

Is God’s love conditional or unconditional? The answer is: Yes.
The good news of the gospel is that Jesus met all the righteous requirements of the Law, he fulfilled all of the conditions of the covenant, once and for all, on our behalf, so that if we are “in Him” by faith, then we are declared righteous, we are justified, and we have become children of God. Apart from Jesus, there is no such promise or hope. This is why the gospel is truly good news!

Much aberrant theology comes from deficient Christology.

May we be those who make much of Jesus and who celebrate the gospel: “the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to His saints.” (Colossians 1:26)

The Problem with Evangelism

I came across this video from Penn Jillette which I found very compelling. Penn Jillette is the “Penn” of the comic/illusionist team Penn and Teller, both of whom are avowed atheists who use their platform as comedians and magicians to promote atheism.

In this video Penn talks about how after a show he was approached by a very polite and sincere man who gave him a Bible as a gift and sought to evangelize him.

Rather than being upset or offended by this, Penn says this:

“I’ve always said, you know, that I don’t respect people who don’t proselytize. I don’t respect that at all. If you believe that there’s a heaven and hell, and people could be going to hell, or not getting eternal life or whatever, and you think that, well, it’s not really worth telling them this because it would make it socially awkward…

How much do you have to hate somebody to not proselytize? How much do you have to hate somebody to believe that everlasting life is possible and not tell them that? I mean, if I believed beyond a shadow of a doubt that a truck was coming at you, and you didn’t believe it, and that truck was bearing down on you, there is a certain point where I tackle you. And this is more important than that…

This guy cared enough about me to proselytize.”

Here’s the whole video:

I respect Penn for having the intellectual integrity to say this.

Because the problem with evangelism is that in Western society it is considered extremely presumptuous to claim that other people need to change what they believe and believe what you believe or else they will be lost. But the problem is, that this belief is inherent to Christianity. To remove it would be to remove its very heart.

If Jesus came to be a “Savior” who “saves” the “lost,” and to be a disciple of Jesus is to be sent on His mission, which is to seek and to save the lost, then to not evangelize is to betray the very heart of Christianity.

There are a lot of people who look at Christianity and say: “That’s a nice religion with a lot of really nice teachings and great principles. I love the community aspect of it; I respect the teachings about family, and morality and putting others first. But the one part I don’t like is how narrow it is. How presumptuous to claim that you are on a mission from God to save the world by converting people to believe what you believe!
When it comes to mission, I’m okay with you going to help poor people in developing countries by improving their standard of living — but why do you have to try to proselytize them?!”

There are even many Christians who would say, “I love learning about the Bible, and taking the sacraments and worshiping — but I don’t like that part about Christianity where we are always being told to go out and convert the world to what we believe!”

The problem with evangelism is that there are so many voices in our society today which tell us that the idea that you can be on a mission from God to change and save the world is at best: naive, and at worst: terribly arrogant. So instead, you should just privatize your beliefs: focus on your own life and leave everybody else alone.

But the problem with evangelism is that you cannot be a Christian and not care about evangelism, because the command to be on this mission comes straight from the mouth of Jesus.

“As the Father sent me, now I send you!   Go into all the world!  Preach the Gospel!   Make disciples of all nations — teach everybody to obey all that I have commanded you!”

That may not be popular – but it’s straight from the mouth of Jesus. And, to be a faithful follower of Jesus Christ means you can’t ignore what he says.

It is encouraging to me to hear this coming from a person, in Penn Jillette, who does not (yet) believe, but has the intellectual integrity to admit that in order to live according to one’s beliefs, a Christian should share the gospel with others.

What Does it Mean that Jesus is the Son of God?

This week I’m hosting Calvary Live, a call-in radio show on GraceFM. One of the questions I received yesterday from a listener is a very common point of confusion:

If the Bible says Jesus is the Son of God, how is it that Christians say that he is God?

I answered this question on the air yesterday, but then got a follow-up question via email. Here are my responses; hopefully they will help others who have similar questions.

Understanding the Term “Son of God”

The term Son of God is used in reference to Jesus many times in the New Testament. In John 20:31, John says: “these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” If believing that Jesus is the Son of God is so important, it is essential that we understand what that means.

“Son of Man” / “Son of God” / God the Son

Three different titles are often used of Jesus. Here’s what each of them refers to:

  1. Son of Man: This title is used 88 times in the New Testament, often by Jesus in reference to himself. It is a Messianic title which comes from the Old Testament book of Daniel: Daniel 7:13-14.
    By calling himself the “Son of Man,” Jesus is saying two things about himself: 1) He is the Messiah, 2) He is fully human. This is important, because there are those who are called monophysiteswho believe that Jesus only had one (mono) nature (physis), i.e. that he was either fully human or fully deity, but not both. This position is held by the Coptic (Egyptian) church, but is generally considered heterodox.
  2. Son of God: Refers to Jesus’ authority and deity. Thus by saying that Jesus is the Son of Man and the Son of God, the Bible is teaching that Jesus was at the same time: fully human, the Messiah, and fully God. More on this below.
  3. God the Son: Refers to Jesus as the second person of the Trinity. For great resources on the Trinity and the deity of Christ, click here.

“Son of God” refers to nature and authority, not to origin

Jesus is not the Son of God in the sense that he is God’s “offspring,” rather this term must be understood in light of how the term “Son of ______” was used in ancient, and specifically Hebrew, thinking/language.

One writer puts it this way:

The word “son” was employed among the Semites to signify not only filiation, but other close connexion or intimate relationship. Thus, “a son of strength” was a hero, a warrior, “son of wickedness” a wicked man, “sons of pride” wild beasts, “son of possession” a possessor, “son of pledging” a hostage, “son of lightning” a swift bird, “son of death” one doomed to death, “son of a bow” an arrow, “son of Belial” a wicked man, “sons of prophets” disciples of prophets etc. The title “son of God” was applied in the Old Testament to persons having any special relationship with God.
But the Messiah, the Chosen One, the Elect of God, was par excellence called the Son of God (Psalm 2:7)

So, to be THE Son of God was a title reserved for the Messiah (or Christ in Greek). This is very clear from several verses which equate the term “Son of God” with the Christ/Messiah.
For example: John 20:31 – …so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God…  or Matthew 26:63 – the high priest said to him, “I adjure you by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.”

However, when Jesus answers that question, affirming that he is the Son of God – he is accused of blasphemy and sentenced to death. Why would claiming to be the Son of God be considered blasphemy and worthy of a death sentence? It’s because the Jewish leaders understand exactly what the phrase “Son of God” meant: to be the Son of God meant to be of the same nature as God, in other words: to be God. That claim was considered blasphemy and according to Leviticus 24:15-16, a blasphemer was to be put to death.

We see this very clearly in an interaction between Jesus and a crowd in Jerusalem:

Jesus said… “I and the Father are one.”

Again his Jewish opponents picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus said to them, “I have shown you many good works from the Father. For which of these do you stone me?”

“We are not stoning you for any good work,” they replied, “but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God.” (John 10:30-33)

Hebrews 1:3 expresses this concept that the term “Son of God” refers to Jesus being of the exact nature as God, i.e. Jesus is God:

“The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His being.” (Hebrews 1:3)

Not only did Jesus directly claim to be God – which was the very reason why the Jewish authorities demanded that he be executed, but Jesus made several other claims to the fact of his deity:

  1. Jesus invoked the ancient and sacred name of God (I am) in speaking of himself. For this reason, the Jewish people tried to stone him on more than one occasion, for example: John 8:58-59 – Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple.
  2. Jesus claimed to do things that only God could do, such as forgive sins (Matthew 9:1-8) and resurrect the dead (John 11:25)

So Son of God refers to Jesus nature and authority, not to his origin.

The opening verses of the Gospel of John makes it clear that Jesus did not come into being when he was born as a baby in Bethlehem, but that he had existed from eternity past, as he is indeed God made manifest in human flesh.

The understanding that the Messiah is in fact God himself, come to the world in human flesh, is found in the Old Testament

Perhaps the best, but certainly not the only example of this is found in Isaiah 9, where speaking of the Messiah, it says:

For to us a child is born, (a human child who will be born)
to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and of peace
there will be no end, (eternal).   (Isaiah 9:6-7)

Does Isaiah 53:10 say that Jesus is God’s “offspring”?

The question I got from another listener in response to this answer was asking if Isaiah 53:10 doesn’t actually refer to Jesus as the “offspring” of God.

Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him;
he has put him to grief;
when his soul makes an offering for guilt,
he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days;
the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.

The answer is very simple: the “offspring” referred to here is the offspring not of “the Lord,” but of the “suffering servant” (the one whose soul is made an offering for guilt).

What this is referring to is how, through Jesus’ death, many others would come to (spiritual) life.

This is actually referenced to by Jesus in John 12:24, but in order to see this, we have to understand that the word translated into English as “offspring” is literally the word “seed”.

Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds (offspring).”  (John 12:24)

Isaiah 53:10 therefore, is not referring to Jesus as God’s offspring, but referring to those who will come to new life as a result of Jesus’ sacrificial death.

I hope this helps make sense of these things! Thanks for reading; if you have any comments or further questions, please write them below.

The Less Famous Days of Holy Week

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Good Friday and Easter Sunday get all the press, but there are other important days of Holy Week.

Maundy Thursday

What is a “maundy” anyway? It comes from the Middle English and Old French word Mandé, which comes from the Latin Mandatum – which means Mandate.

Maundy Thursday refers to the mandate that Jesus gave the night before his crucifixion, when he shared his last supper with his disciples. After Jesus had washed his disciples’ feet in an act of love and service, he then told them:

A new commandment (Latin: mandatum) I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. (John 13:34-35)

On Maundy Thursday we remember the events of the last supper, the institution of the sacrament of communion, the betrayal of Jesus by one of his closest friends, and the all night prayer vigil that Jesus had in the Garden of Gethsemane, where he sweat blood from the stress and anxiety he was experiencing as he looked forward to the physical and spiritual suffering that awaited him.

It was on this night that Jesus prayed three times: “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” (Matthew 26:39-44)

The fact that the Father did not remove this “cup” of suffering from Jesus reminds us that there was no other way for us to be saved, then for Jesus to go forward with taking our place in death and judgment so that we might be able to receive forgiveness and eternal life.

Holy Saturday

The day between Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday is known as Holy Saturday. For the disciples of Jesus this would have been a day a great darkness and uncertainty, when the effects of Jesus’ crucifixion were not yet understood by all, and even though it wasn’t the case – it seemed like all hope was lost. Little did they realize that Sunday was coming…

Max Lucado wrote an excellent post on “The Silence of Saturday” a few years ago:

Jesus is silent on Saturday.  The women have anointed his body and placed it in Joseph’s tomb.  The cadaver of Christ is as mute as the stone which guards it.  He spoke much on Friday. He will liberate the slaves of death on Sunday.  But on Saturday, Jesus is silent.

So is God.  He made himself heard on Friday.  He tore the curtains of the temple, opened the graves of the dead, rocked the earth, blocked the sun of the sky, and sacrificed the Son of Heaven.  Earth heard much of God on Friday.

Nothing on Saturday.  Jesus is silent.  God is silent.  Saturday is silent.

Easter weekend discussions tend to skip Saturday.  Friday and Sunday get the press.  The crucifixion and resurrection command our thoughts.  But don’t ignore Saturday.  You have them, too.

Silent Saturdays.  The day between the struggle and the solution; the question and the answer; the offered prayer and the answer thereof.

Saturday’s silence torments us.  Is God angry?  Did I disappoint him? God knows Jesus is in the tomb, why doesn’t He do something?  Or, in your case God knows your career is in the tank, your finances are in the pit, your marriage is in a mess. Why doesn’t He act?  What are you supposed to do until He does?

You do what Jesus did.  Lie still.  Stay silent.  Trust God.  Jesus died with this conviction: “You will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see decay” (Acts 2:27 NIV).

Jesus knew God would not leave him alone in the grave.  You need to know, God will not leave you alone with your struggles.  His silence is not his absence, inactivity is never apathy.  Saturdays have their purpose. They let us feel the full force of God’s strength. Had God raised Jesus fifteen minutes after the death of His son, would we have appreciated the act? Were He to solve your problems the second they appear, would you appreciate His strength?

For His reasons, God inserts a Saturday between our Fridays and Sundays.  If today is one for you, be patient.  As one who endured the silent Saturday wrote:  “Be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord” (James 5:7 NKJV).

Good Friday: The Great Exchange

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The good news of Good Friday is that “It is finished!” (John 19:30) Because of that, we can rest from our labors of trying to justify ourselves, and we can revel in hope, because not only were our sins imputed to Jesus, but his righteousness was imputed to us.

This is what it means when it says: “For our sake, He (God) made Him (Jesus), who knew no sin, to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” (2 Corinthians 5:21)

It’s the most astonishing exchange of all time: for those who receive Him (John 1:12), all of your sinfulness was placed on Him, and in return all of His righteousness was accounted to you.

Jürgen Moltmann puts it this way:

“When God becomes man in Jesus of Nazareth, he not only enters into the finitude of man, but in his death on the cross also enters into the situation of man’s godforsakenness. In Jesus he does not die the natural death of a finite being, but the violent death of the criminal on the cross, the death of complete abandonment by God. The suffering in the passion of Jesus is abandonment, rejection by God, his Father. God does not become a religion, so that man participates in him by corresponding religious thoughts and feelings. God does not become a law, so that man participates in him through obedience to a law. God does not become an ideal, so that man achieves community with him through constant striving. He humbles himself and takes upon himself the eternal death of the godless and the godforsaken, so that all the godless and the godforsaken can experience communion with him.” (from The Crucified God)

Moltmann goes on to say:

God weeps with us so that we may one day laugh with him.

May your Good Friday be filled with reflection upon, appreciation for and response to what Jesus did for you on Calvary, the ultimate expression of God’s love for you!

 

Christians Who Don’t Believe – Part 2

In case you missed Part 1 of this post, you can read it here.

There was a BBC article published this past Sunday about the beliefs of people in England regarding the resurrection of Jesus and life after death.

According to their survey:

  • 25% of people who call themselves Christians in Great Britain do not believe that Jesus resurrected from the dead.
  • Only 17% of the general public in Britain believe word-for-word the account of Jesus’ resurrection.
  • 10% of non-religious people in Britain believe that the Easter story contains some truth, but only 1% believe it is literally true.
  • 21% of non-religious people believe in life after death.
    • Of these, 65% said they believe that their soul would go to heaven or hell, and 32% believe they will be reincarnated.

And here’s the one I find most shocking:

  • 31% of British Christians surveyed said they do not believe in life after death.

While someone like me looks at this and sees an incredibly dire situation, the article says that Church of England officials were actually quite encouraged by it! Here’s why:

  1. Because it showed that “many British people, despite not being regular churchgoers, hold core Christian beliefs.”
  2. It showed more regular church attendance amongst younger Christians than older ones.

Maybe it’s me, but in light of the survey it seems like a bit of stretch to say “many” and to say “core Christian beliefs”. Is literally believing in the resurrection of Jesus from the dead not considered by them to be a “core Christian belief”?

What’s interesting about this is that the Bible directly addresses those who call themselves Christians and yet do not believe that Jesus actually rose from the dead.

In 1 Corinthians chapter 15, Paul speaks first to those who call themselves Christians and do not believe in life after death, and then he speaks to those who deny that Jesus literally rose from the dead. It’s almost like this chapter could have been written for 31% and 25% of British Christians respectively.

The first point Paul makes is that the literal resurrection of Jesus from the dead is and has always been a central tenant of the gospel: the core of Christian belief, and it is only by believing this gospel that we are saved. (1 Corinthians 15:1-4)

The second point Paul makes is that not only was the death of Jesus foretold by the Scriptures, but so was his resurrection. (1 Corinthians 15:3-4)

The third point Paul makes is that there were hundreds of eye witnesses still alive at that time who could attest to having seen Jesus alive after his crucifixion. (1 Corinthians 15:5-8)

Then Paul goes on to say (Vs 12-15) that if there is no life after death, then all of the apostles and Christians were liars, because they told people that Jesus had risen from the dead and that they had seen him.
If they had lied about this, they either did it knowingly or unknowingly. If they did it knowingly, then they are intentionally conning people and they should therefore not be trusted. If they lied unknowingly, that means that they are delusional and should not be followed, because they are, to put it crassly: deranged.

Next, Paul says that if there is no life after death, then Christian faith is pointless, and they have just been wasting their time and believing in a fairy tale (Vs 17-18) – and ultimately there is no hope, and no good news. And if this is the case, that Christianity is just another form of moralism and empty rituals, then Christians are the greatest fools in the world. (Vs 19, 30-34)

If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. (1 Corinthians 15:19)

But… if Christ is truly and literally risen from the dead, then that means that God has broken a hole in the pitiless walls of this broken world, and made a way for us to be saved! And Jesus is the first fruits of those who will be resurrected from death to everlasting life.
And the day is coming when the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:

“Death is swallowed up in victory.”
“O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?” (1 Corinthians 15:54-55)

And because that day is coming, we can have the confidence in whatever circumstances we may face in this life to be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain. (1 Corinthians 15:58)

The story of Jesus’ resurrection is an integral and indispensable part of the good news of the gospel: the core message of Christianity. The hope that we have as Christians is based on it. To deny it is to deny Christian belief and to try to change Christianity into a form of moralism full of empty rituals which encourages condescension towards God and towards other people of faith, but which leaves you as a person worthy to be most pitied because you are without hope in anything greater than yourself.

If however, you believe in God, then let me ask you the question Paul the Apostle asked the crowd at his own trial: Why is it thought incredible by any of you that God raises the dead? (Acts 26:8)

It would be incredible if you or I raised someone from the dead, but if God is God — the creator and sustainer of life — then such a thing is neither impossible nor even difficult for him.

May you be filled with true belief this Easter season, so that you may believe, and in believing have life! (John 20:31)

Christians Who Don’t Believe – Part 1

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What does it mean to be a Christian? Most people would say that it means that you are a follower of Jesus or that you believe a certain set of doctrines.

The BBC published an article this past Sunday about the beliefs of people in England regarding the resurrection of Jesus and life after death. The report corresponded with some comments I made this past Sunday about how there is a correlation between rising standards of living and a decrease in religious adherence in many societies of the world, and what some of the reasons for this are. You can listen to the audio of that message here.

Here are some of the statistics listed in the article:

  • 25% of people who call themselves Christians in Great Britain do not believe that Jesus resurrected from the dead.
  • Only 17% of the general public in Britain believe word-for-word the account of Jesus’ resurrection.
  • 10% of non-religious people in Britain believe that the Easter story is true.
  • 21% of non-religious people believe in life after death.
    • Of these, 65% said they believe that their soul would go to heaven or hell, and 32% believe they will be reincarnated.

And here’s the one that I find most shocking:

  • 31% of British Christians surveyed said they do not believe in life after death.

This brings up a very important question: What do you actually have to believe in order to be a Christian?

Or to put it another way: Are there any things which, if you don’t believe them, you can no longer legitimately call yourself a Christian?

When I was 16 years old, one of my Christian friends from school told me I wasn’t a Christian. I was offended – because, you see: I grew up going to Lutheran school. I was catechized and confirmed in the Lutheran church, and I sincerely believed in God’s existence. In fact, I believed that Jesus was God the Son and the Son of God and that he literally died and rose from the dead just as the Bible describes.

So how dare she say that I was not a Christian, right?

But she was right. I wasn’t a Christian.
And I knew it.

Here’s the text she turned me to if you’re interested: Matthew 7:21-23

But here’s why, in spite of believing the biblical doctrines were true, I was not a Christian: because that is not the kind of belief by which a person is saved and becomes a child of God.

But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, (John 1:12)

Because here’s the thing: the Bible says that the devil also believes all of those things about God: in God’s existence, in the fact that Jesus was God and that he lives, died and resurrected on the third day. (James 2:19)

The word “to believe” in Greek is the word πιστεύω (pisteuo).
It doesn’t mean less than believing in something’s existence or acknowledging that something happened, but it does mean more than that. It means: to trust in, to cling to, to rely on, to adhere to, to commit to.

This is the kind of belief that the Bible is talking about when it says:

  • But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, (John 1:12)
  • these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (John 20:31)
  • Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” (John 6:29)
  • For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16)

I have a few more thoughts to share about this, but I’ll save them for tomorrow.
Stay tuned for Part 2.

New York Times Article on Muslim Refugees Converting to Christianity

From the NY Times: The Jihadi Who Turned to Jesus

Something I have often written about and talked about is how when Middle Eastern refugees come to Europe and the West, for many of them it is the first time they have ever met Christians or even had the opportunity to hear the gospel or the freedom to read the Bible in their own language. We experienced this ourselves in Hungary, where we saw muslim refugees from Iran, Afghanistan and Kosovo convert to Christianity through our work in a refugee camp.

The New York Times posted this article recently about the conversion of a formerly radical muslim from Syria who converted to Christianity in Istanbul – an very interesting read especially in light of my post yesterday about my recent day-trip to Istanbul. His conversion was influenced by several factors, including his brother, also a formerly radical muslim, who had gone to Canada, where he met Christians and converted to Christianity.

Could it be that since these countries and cultures haven’t allowed Christianity to spread freely within their borders, that God is now bringing them to Europe and America precisely so many of them can hear the gospel and be saved? I believe so. I’ve written about that here: In Longmont We Met a Refugee from a Muslim Country. Here’s Her Story..

The question is: what will we Christians do with this opportunity?

Why You Should Make New Year’s Resolutions – and How to Actually Accomplish Them

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I never thought I would be a New Year’s resolution type of person, but over the years I have learned a few things about myself and about New Year’s resolutions that have changed my mind.

Here are some quick statistics for you:
One study shows as few as 8% of people accomplish their resolutions.
However, that same study shows that people who make resolutions are as much as 10x more likely to achieve their goals than people who don’t.

People who make resolutions are as much as 10x more likely to achieve their goals than people who don’t

In a way, the New Year is a strange holiday. We aren’t celebrating a grand event in the past which changed the course of history, as we do at Easter or Independance Day. We are not celebrating the birth of a great figure as we do at Christmas or Martin Luther King Jr. Day. We are not celebrating a class of people as we do on Labor Day, Veterans Day or Mothers Day. All we are really celebrating is that the Earth went all the way around the sun again; which we could theorertically celebrate any day of the year. We have gotten to the end of our calendar, which begins on an arbitrary date.

However, I have come to greatly appreciate this holiday, because it gives us something to measure time by. And albeit slightly contrived, it does give us the sense of a new beginning, a fresh start.

On my desk in my office, I have a book stand, and on that stand is a notepad. For the past 2 years, I have been writing down several goals for the year, ranging from personal goals, to items related to my marriage and family to ministry and prayer topics, which I would like to see come to fruition in that coming year. Then for the rest of the year, I leave that notepad right there, always in constant view, so that I see it every day when I sit down and get to work.

The reason I started doing this was because I read somewhere that goals which get written down are much more likely to be accomplished. I think there’s more that goes into accomplishing goals, but that’s a good start.

Over the past 2 years that I have been doing this, I have been amazed how at the end of the year, almost all of the things which I wrote down have become reality. 2016’s list had about 20 items on it, and at the end of this year, only 2 of them remain unrealized. Those items will be rolled over into 2017’s list, but even those are not to be considered failure, as having them on the list for the past year led to them being topics of prayer that I brought before God almost daily and asked for His will to be done.

The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps. (Proverbs 16:9)

Why You Should Make New Year’s Resolutions:

  1. If you set a goal and write it down, you are 10x more likely to do it than if you don’t.

  2. If done right, it can guide your prayer life and help you to see and rejoice in God’s faithfulness.

  3. If you set God-honoring goals, planning and working towards them are acts of faith and obedience to God.

    Setting goals which you cannot accomplish on your own keeps you on your knees and dependent on God, pushing forward and asking Him to do great things.

How to Actually Accomplish Your Resolutions:

  • Make Decisions.

Without a strategy, your resolutions will likely only remain a good intention, and we know what those pave the road to… This Forbes article points out that the huge difference between “intentions” and “decisions”: stating that most people don’t follow through on intentions, but they do follow through once they’ve actually made a decision.

This year one of my goals is to run a half-marathon. Rather than just writing it down, I’ve also gone online, picked out the race I want to run, signed up and paid for it, and signed up for a training program. Whatever your goal is, don’t let it remain only a good intention, make a concrete plan for how it is going to become reality.

  • Use Your Calendar.

Time is kind of like money: you’ve only got so much of it, so you’ve got to budget it. Be strategic and schedule things that are important to you into your calendar. If you want to pray and read the Bible more, scedule it into your day. If you want to spend more time with your kids, schedule it into your day. If you want to read or write more, schedule it. You can still be flexible, but at least having it on the calendar will give structure to your days and keep your on track towards your goals.

When Linus Dropped His Blanket

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Like many families, there are a few movies that we like to watch together at Christmas. One of them is Elf, the other is A Charlie Brown Christmas.

This past Sunday I preached a message titled “Paradoxes and Promises” from Luke 2:8-38. The beginning of that text is the famous Christmas passage about the angelic announcement of Jesus’ birth to the shepherds who were watching their flocks in a nearby field – the same text that Linus reads at the end of A Charlie Brown Christmas.

I mentioned in my sermon some interesting things I had learned about the film, particularly that Charles Schulz, creator of the Peanuts comic strip, was a devout Christian,  and when he was asked in 1965 to create a Christmas special for CBS featuring the Peanuts characters, Schulz agreed… with one caveat: he would only do it if they would let him include the story of the birth of Jesus.

CBS executives were hesitant about including this, but because Peanuts was so popular, they conceded and agreed to allow Schulz to include it in the show. However, both the producer and the director tried hard to dissuade him from including it, first of all because they thought it would be boring to have a scripture reading in a television program, and secondly, because even then it was considered controversial. Schulz refused to budge. He reportedly said at one point, “We must tell this story! If we don’t do it, who will?”

Schulz won out, and as a result, for the past 50 years, millions of families and scores of children have watched A Charlie Brown Christmas and heard the story of Jesus and “what Christmas is all about.”

After service, a friend came up to me and told me something I had never realized about that scene where Linus tells the Christmas story: He drops his blanket – his security blanket.

Linus NEVER drops his blanket. This is the only time in the history of Peanuts that Linus ever let go of his security blanket – and it was intentional.

While sharing the message of “what Christmas is all about,” Linus drops his blanket at the exact moment he says the words, “fear not!”

Here’s the video of that scene, check it out:

The message it communicates is that because Jesus has come into the world to be our Savior, we can let go of the things we have been clinging to and looking for security in, and we can find true security in Him.

If you look again, that’s not the only subtle message Charles Schulz put into the scene. Notice how when Linus starts speaking about Jesus, that message takes center stage, and gets put in the spotlight. 

May that be true of us this Christmas as well: that we put Jesus at center stage, and give Him the spotlight, and as we do so, may we find true peace and security in Him.