Why is Jesus Unique?

Why do we think that Jesus is the only Savior?

Because of all the people who have lived and ever will live, Jesus alone qualifies, in his person and work, as the only one capable of accomplishing atonement for the sin of the world. Consider the following ways in which Jesus alone qualifies as the exclusive Savior.

Christ alone was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of a virgin (Isaiah 7:14, Matthew 1:18-25; Luke 1:26-38). This alone qualifies him to be the Savior. Why does this matter? Only as the Holy Spirit takes the place of the human father in Jesus’ conception can it be true that the one conceived is both fully God and fully man. Christ must be both God and man to atone for sin (see below), but for this to occur, he must be conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of a human virgin. No one else in the history of the world is conceived by the Spirit and born of a virgin mother. Therefore, Jesus alone qualifies to be Savior.

Christ alone is God incarnate (John 1:1-18, Hebrews 1:1-3, 2:14-18, Philippians 2:5-11, 1 Timothy 2:5-6). So, Jesus alone qualifies him to be the Savior. As Anselm argued in the 11th century, our Savior must be fully man in order to take the place of men and die in their stead, and he must be fully God in order for the value of his sacrificial payment to satisfy the demands of our infinitely holy God. Man he must be, but a mere man simply could not make this infinite payment for sin. But no one else in the history of the world is both fully God and fully man. Therefore, Jesus alone qualifies to be Savior.

Christ alone lived a sinless life (2 Corinthians 5:21, Hebrews 4:15, 7:23-28, 9:13-14, 1 Peter 2:21-24). Because of this, Jesus alone qualifies to be the Savior. As Leviticus makes clear, animals offered as sacrifices for sin must be without blemish. The animals prefaced the sacrifice of Christ who, as sinless, was able to die for the sins of others and not for himself. But no one else in the history of the world has lived a totally sinless life. Therefore, Jesus alone qualifies to be Savior.

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What is Bad Religion?

Have you ever been disappointed or even angry with religion? Perhaps you’ve heard someone say that the church is full of hypocrites. Maybe you’ve even said that yourself!

This is a passage of Scripture that we looked at last night, the first is out series on Decision: Seeking God’s Guidance. At the end, you’ll see how this chapter fits into the topic.

Isaiah rebuked Israel for practicing bad religion—religion that benefited no one and offended God (Isaiah 58:1–14). The prophet specifically zeroed in on fasting (Isaiah 58:2–5), pointing out ways in which the people misused this important spiritual discipline:

  • They nagged God in the interests of their own personal gain.
  • While seeking their own self-interests, they exploited their laborers.
  • Their fasts became a source of strife, debate, and hostility toward others.
  • They used severe fasting practices to call attention to themselves.

After challenging these practices, Isaiah described what true fasting ought to be like (Isaiah 58:6–13):

  • It should result in bringing relief to the oppressed.
  • It should result in feeding the hungry.
  • It should result in the poor being taken into homes for shelter and clothing.
  • Superior attitudes of finger pointing and evil should decline and ultimately disappear.
  • It should lead to repairing things, including damaged relationships.
  • It should involve treating the Sabbath as a day to worship the Lord rather than continuing to work for personal gain.

It’s easy to point the finger at others and criticize or ridicule their religious practices and spiritual life, but what about your own patterns of faith? How do they measure up to the Lord’s description of true religion? If there are places where you need to change, find at least one other person who will hold you accountable for making the necessary reforms.

For me, Isaiah 58:11 ties this chapter to the key on seeking God’s guidance: The Lord will guide you continually, giving you water when you are dry and restoring your strength. Pay attention to THIS chapter to better position yourself to hear from God and allow him to guide you.

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Mormon Theology

When I was in seminary back in the 1980′s I wrote a paper on Mormonism, reading a lot of their original and sacred documents. I sense I have a pretty firm grasp of their history and teachings, but let this be a brief synopsis of their theology.

This information does not endorse Mormonism as a valid theological belief system, so allow the Person of the Holy Spirit to guide you in knowing the truth that will set you free (John 8:32). I firmly believe that YOU CAN’T read the Bible from cover to cover and come to the conclusion that Mormonism is true.

The LDS MUST rely on lofty teachings and arguments, with secret knowledge given through their self-appointed apostles. There is biblical condemnation for false teachers by the early apostles:

These people are false apostles. They are deceitful workers who disguise themselves as apostles of Christ. But I am not surprised! Even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no wonder that his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. In the end they will get the punishment their wicked deeds deserve. (2 Corinthians 11:13-15)

I am shocked that you are turning away so soon from God, who called you to himself through the loving mercy of Christ.You are following a different way that pretends to be the Good News but is not the Good News at all. You are being fooled by those who deliberately twist the truth concerning Christ. Let God’s curse fall on anyone, including us or even an angel from heaven, who preaches a different kind of Good News than the one we preached to you. I say again what we have said before: If anyone preaches any other Good News than the one you welcomed, let that person be cursed. (Galatians 1: 6-9)

We are human, but we don’t wage war as humans do. We use God’s mighty weapons, not worldly weapons, to knock down the strongholds of human reasoning and to destroy false arguments. We destroy every proud obstacle that keeps people from knowing God. We capture their rebellious thoughts and teach them to obey Christ. (2 Corinthians 10:3-5)

In him lie hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. I am telling you this so no one will deceive you with well-crafted arguments. For though I am far away from you, my heart is with you. And I rejoice that you are living as you should and that your faith in Christ is strong. (Colossians 2:3-5)

Some people may contradict our teaching, but these are the wholesome teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ. These teachings promote a godly life. Anyone who teaches something different is arrogant and lacks understanding. Such a person has an unhealthy desire to quibble over the meaning of words. This stirs up arguments ending in jealousy, division, slander, and evil suspicions. These people always cause trouble. Their minds are corrupt, and they have turned their backs on the truth. To them, a show of godliness is just a way to become wealthy. (1 Timothy 6:3-5)

Statistics:

  • Founder: Joseph Smith
  • Founding Date: April 6, 1830
  • Scriptures:
    • Book of Mormon
    • Doctrine and Covenants
    • Pearl of Great Price

Organizational Structure:

  1. One prophet leads the Church.
  2. Beneath the prophet in authority is the Council of the Twelve Apostles.
  3. A third group of men are called the First and Second Councils of the Seventy.
  4. All of these men together are called the General Authorities.

Unique Terms:

  1. Local churches called Wards or Stake Centers.
  2. The Temples are not for worship, but are used for ceremonies for the living and the dead.
  3. Less than ten percent of all LDS are allowed to enter these structures.

Theological History:

Born in 1805 in Sharon, Vermont, Joseph Smith would begin just a few years later what would become one of the world’s largest and fastest growing non-Christian religions.

According to the official story of the LDS Church, in 1820 Smith was visited by God the Father and God the Son after praying about which church he should join. He was told by Jesus, he should join none of them for they were “all wrong” and all the Christian church’s doctrines “were an abomination” (Joseph Smith – History 19, Pearl of Great Price).

This First Vision was followed by several visits from an angel named Moroni who, in 1827, allowed Smith to find a set of Golden Plates which had been buried in a hill near Smith’s home in Palmyra, New York. These golden tables became the Book of Mormon, published in 1830.

Doctrines:

Trinity: Mormonism is a polytheistic religion. Joseph Smith declared, “I will preach on the plurality of Gods. I have always declared God to be a distinct personage, Jesus Christ a separate and distinct personage from God the Father, and the Holy Ghost was a distinct personage and a Spirit: and these three constitute three distinct personages and three Gods” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 370).

Mormon Apostle Bruce R. McConkie spoke about the Godhead in this way, “Plurality of Gods: Three separate personages: Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, comprise the Godhead. As each of these persons is a God, it is evident, from this standpoint alone, that a plurality of Gods exists. To us, speaking in the proper finite sense, these three are the only Gods we worship. But in addition there is an infinite number of holy personages, drawn from worlds without number, who have passed on to exaltation and are thus gods” (Mormon Doctrine, pp. 576-577).

God the Father: Joseph Smith explained, “I am going to tell you how God came to be God. We have imagined and supposed that God was God from all eternity. I will refute that idea, and take away the veil, so that you may see. He was once a man like us; yea, that God himself, the father of us all, dwelt on an earth, the same as Jesus Christ Himself did” (LDS History of the Church, Vol. 6, p. 305).

God the Son: Brigham Young stated, “The birth of the Saviours was a natural as are the births of our children; it was the result of natural action. He partook of flesh and blood, was begotten of his Father, as we were of our father” (Journal of Discourses, Vol. 8, p. 115).

Mormon Apostle McConkie explained, “And Christ was born into the world as a literal Son this Holy Being; he was born in the same personal, real, and literal sense that any mortal son is born to a mortal father. He was begotten, conceived and born in the normal and natural course of events (Mormon Doctrine, p. 742).

Jesus, according to Milton Hunter of the LDS First Council of the Seventy, is the brother of Lucifer. “The appointment of Jesus to be the Savior of the world was contested by one of the other sons of God. He was called Lucifer, son of the morning. Haughty, ambitious, and covetous of power and glory, this spirit-brother of Jesus desperately tried to become the Savior of mankind” (The Gospel Through the Ages, p. 15).

God the Holy Ghost / Holy Spirit: In Mormonism a distinction is drawn between the Holy Ghost and the Holy Spirit.

As LDS Apostle Marion G. Romney stated, “The Holy Ghost is a person, a spirit, the third member of the Godhead” (Ensign May 1977, 43-44).

The sixth LDS prophet, Joseph F. Smith explains that the Holy Spirit is not a person but rather an impersonal force. “You may call it the Spirit of God, you may call it the influence of God’s intelligence, you may call it the substance of his power; no matter what it is called, it is the spirit of intelligence that permeates the universe” (Mormon Doctrine, McConkie, pp. 752-753).

Man’s Destiny: As Lorenzo Snow, fifth prophet of the LDS Church exclaimed, “As man now is, God once was; as God now is, man may be” (Ensign, February 1982, pp. 39-40). This means that every worthy male, according to the standards of Mormonism, will become a god and rule over their own planet. But what about the women? That question was answered by Joseph Fielding Smith, tenth prophet of the Church, when he spoke of Man’s salvation or exaltation as it is called in Mormonism.

“The Father has promised us that through our faithfulness we shall be blessed with the fullness of his kingdom. In other words we will have the privilege of becoming like him. To become like him we must have all the powers of godhood; thus a man and his wife when glorified will have spirit children who eventually will go on an earth like this one we are on and pass through the same kind of experiences, being subject to mortal conditions, and if faithful, then they also will receive the fullness of exaltation and partake of the same blessings. There is no end to this development; it will go on forever. We will become gods and have jurisdiction over world, and these world will be peopled by our own offspring. We will have an endless eternity for this” (Doctrines of Salvation, Vol. 2, 48).

Other Doctrines Worth Noting:

  1. God the Father is married and there is a Mother God (Answers to Gospel Questions, Joseph Fielding Smith, Vol. 3, pp. 143-144).
  2. All men and women who have ever lived on the earth are the spirit offspring of Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother. Every person was conceived and born in a pre-existent spiritual realm (Mormon Doctrine, p. 589).
  3. Black people are black because of their misdeeds in the pre-existence (Three Degrees of Glory, LDS Apostle Melvin J. Ballard, p. 21).
  4. Temple ceremonies include Baptism for the Dead, Washing and Anointing for the living and the dead (Mormon Doctrine, McConkie, pp. 72-74, 226-228).
  5. Salvation or exaltation, whereby men become gods, is based on one’s own good works or merit (Church News, October 8, 1988, p. 23 and The Religion of the Latter-day Saints, Lowell Bennion, LDS Institute of Religion Director, p. 160).
  6. The Bible is considered usable, but suspect due to its many errors and missing parts (Articles of Faith No. 8, Ensign January 1989, pp. 25, 27).

Biblical Response:

  1. Only one God (Isaiah 43:10, 44:6-8, 45:5-6, 18, 22, 46:9, 48:12, 1 Corinthians 8:4).
  2. Mankind is not a son or daughter of God from a pre-existent birth (John 1:12 “power to become”).
  3. Salvation is a free gift from God, not something to be worked for or earned (Romans 3:24, 4:4-5, 5:1, Ephesians 2:8-10, Titus 3:5-7).
  4. Holy Spirit is a Person, not simply a force (John 16:13-14).

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Being a Disciple of Jesus

This is a poem written by Jefferson Bethke to highlight the difference between Jesus and false religion. In the Bible, Jesus received the most opposition from the most religious people of his day. At it’s core Jesus’ gospel and the good news of the Cross is in pure opposition to self-righteousness/self-justification.

Religion is man centered, Jesus is God-centered. This poem highlights his journey to discover this truth. Religion either ends in pride or despair. Pride because you make a list and can do it and act better than everyone, or despair because you can’t do your own list of rules and feel “not good enough” for God.

With Jesus though you have humble confident joy because He represents you; you don’t represent yourself. His sacrifice is perfect, putting us in perfect standing with God!

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Paul and the Jewish World

It is clear that Christianity had a message for the whole world, and unless the message was delivered, the church would fail in her God-given duty. A big problem was that the world hated the Jews and the Jews hated the world. Clearly, one thing was necessary, a man who could somehow form a bridge between the Jewish and the Greek worlds. Let’s look at Paul the Jew:

Paul was proudly, stubbornly and unalterably a Jew:

  1. Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they descendants of Abraham? So am I. (2 Corinthians 11:22)
  2. Although I myself might have confidence even in the flesh. If anyone else has a mind to put confidence in the flesh, I far more: circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the Law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless. (Philippians 3:4-6)
  3. I say then, God has not rejected His people, has He? May it never be! For I too am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin. (Romans 11:1)

His Jewishness comes out in his writings:

  1. For I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; (1 Corinthians 10:1)
  2. What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh, has found? (Romans 4:1)
  3. And not only this, but there was Rebekah also, when she had conceived [twins] by one man, our father Isaac; (Romans 9:10)
  4. And those who will walk by this rule, peace and mercy [be] upon them, and upon the Israel of God. (Galatians 6:16)
  5. For I could wish that I myself were accursed, [separated] from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh, (Romans 9:3)
  6. But Paul said, “I am a Jew of Tarsus in Cilicia, a citizen of no insignificant city; and I beg you, allow me to speak to the people.” (Acts 21:39)
  7. “I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city, educated under Gamaliel, strictly according to the law of our fathers, being zealous for God, just as you all are today. (Acts 22:3)
  8. And Paul, looking intently at the Council, said, “Brethren, I have lived my life with a perfectly good conscience before God up to this day.” (Acts 23:1)
  9. But perceiving that one part were Sadducees and the other Pharisees, Paul [began] crying out in the Council, “Brethren, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees; I am on trial for the hope and resurrection of the dead!” (Acts 23:6)

The Jews were without excuse to remain ignorant:

  1. Because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. (Romans 1:19-20)
  2. Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the benefit of circumcision? Great in every respect. First of all, that they were entrusted with the oracles of God. (Romans 3:1-2)

Paul uses Jewish festivals in dating:

  1. But I shall remain in Ephesus until Pentecost; (1 Corinthians 16:8)
  2. And when considerable time had passed and the voyage was now dangerous, since even the fast was already over, Paul [began] to admonish them, (Acts 27:9) The fast was on the Day of Atonement (Lev 23: 27-29)

Paul did not abandon the ancestral customs of his people:

  1. Paul wanted this man to go with him; and he took him and circumcised him because of the Jews who were in those parts, for they all knew that his father was a Greek. (Acts 16:3)
  2. And Paul, having remained many days longer, took leave of the brethren and put out to sea for Syria, and with him were Priscilla and Aquila. In Cenchrea he had his hair cut, for he was keeping a vow. (Acts 18:18) The Nazarite Vow.
  3. And to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might win Jews; to those who are under the Law, as under the Law, though not being myself under the Law, that I might win those who are under the Law; (1 Corinthians 9:20)

Paul was a man of one book – he quotes from the Septuagint (LXX) and not the Hebrew and uses the Old Testament as a Rabbi would – allegories.

  1. For it is written in the Law of Moses, “YOU SHALL NOT MUZZLE THE OX WHILE HE IS THRESHING.” God is not concerned about oxen, is He? (1 Corinthians 9:9)
  2. The story of the old and new covenants (Galatians 4:22-31)
  3. And all drank the same spiritual drink, for they were drinking from a spiritual rock which followed them; and the rock was Christ. (1 Corinthians 10:4)

Paul knew the special tradition of the Rabbis:

  1. Why the Law then? It was added because of transgressions, having been ordained through angels by the agency of a mediator, until the seed should come to whom the promise had been made. (Galatians 3:19)
  2. You who received the law as ordained by angels, and [yet] did not keep it.” (Acts 7:53)
  3. For if the word spoken through angels proved unalterable, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompense, (Hebrews 2:2). There is nothing in the Old Testament that connects angels with the giving of the Law.
  4. What I am saying is this: the Law, which came four hundred and thirty years later, does not invalidate a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to nullify the promise (Galatians 3:17). This is another Rabbinic addition.
  5. And all drank the same spiritual drink, for they were drinking from a spiritual rock which followed them; and the rock was Christ. (1 Corinthians 10:4). Rabbis taught that an actual rock followed them, a miracle addition to the Old Testament narrative.

It is important to note that Paul understood Judaism at its highest and did not abandon it for lack of understanding.

This material is from William Barclay, the Mind of St. Paul, 1975.

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Love the Lord or the Law?

Paul had grown up in the home of a Pharisee, under strict adherence to the Law of Moses. The term Pharisee once represented genuine piety and deep devotion to God. We can assume that all followers of God would have a similar devotion for God. Look around at the Christians you know. How would you define what a follower of Jesus really looks like? Perhaps your list might look something like this:

  1. Careful student of Scripture
  2. Zealous and active in their stand for God
  3. Appetite for worship and prayer
  4. Consistent in worship attendance
  5. Practices Scripture memorization
  6. Not afraid to pray in public
  7. Active in the local church
  8. Fasts and tithes regularly
  9. Has desire to stand against blasphemy and ungodliness
  10. Has firm grasp of basic foundational theological truth

For a long time I thought this is what would honor God and help me become more like Jesus. But look again; these behaviors are not of Jesus’ disciples, but of His chief opponents, the Pharisees. Just something to think about.

While there are exceptions, by the time of the New Testament it appears that the Pharisees become synonymous with hypocrisy and cynicism. In Matthew 23, Jesus gets into a name-calling argument with the Pharisees.

  1. They made demands on others that they could not themselves keep (Matthew 23:4)
  2. They made their religious actions something into a show for others (Matthew 23:5)
  3. They loved to be at the center of attention (Matthew 23:6)
  4. They not only would not enter the kingdom of God but were preventing others from entering (Matthew 23:13)

I suppose what they really did was take the love out of obedience, which left only the Law. They became so obsessed with following the Law that they forgot to love God, and others. They choked on each letter of the Law, and God had something to say about them, Isaiah 29:13 for example: “These people come near to me with their mouth and honor Me with their lips, but their hearts are far from Me. Their worship of Me is made up of only rules taught by men.”

Let’s check our motivation for following Christ. Let’s make sure that we follow Him out of love for God and not the reward from God, or simply to be obedient. Paul was a Pharisee, but he was far from God. Let’s not make the same mistake of having a head full of religion and a heart that is missing genuine love for God.

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Why Does Atheism Reject God?

Dinesh D’Souza takes on leading critics of the church from E.O. Wilson to Richard Dawkins, from Sam Harris to Christopher Hitchens, extolling how Christianity is at home in the arena of science and philosophy and can offer a recipe for lasting happiness in a disillusioned world. While considering the book, I found this review very insightful, An Argument Against the Atheists:

 

“Today’s Christians know that they do not, as their ancestors did, live in a society where God’s presence was unavoidable. No longer does Christianity form the moral basis of society. Many of us now reside in secular communities, where arguments drawn from the Bible or Christian revelation carry no weight, and where we hear a different language from that spoken in church.”  That is the opening salvo from author Dinesh D’Souza in his new book, What’s So Great About Christianity

 

Why does atheism reject God? This is the part I found fascinating, especially since it has been my conclusion for years!

 

Al Mohler writes: D’Souza’s strongest analysis comes when he considers the true character of the new atheism. It is, he suggests, a “pelvic revolt against God.”  In other words, it is a revolt against Christian morality — especially sexual morality. This is not a new observation or argument, but D’Souza makes it exceptionally well: 

 

My conclusion is that contrary to popular belief, atheism is not primarily an intellectual revolt, it is a moral revolt. Atheists don’t find God invisible so much as objectionable. They aren’t adjusting their desires to the truth, but rather the truth to fit their desires. This is something we can all identify with. It is a temptation even for believers. We want to be saved as long as we are not saved from our sins. We are quite willing to be saved from a whole host of social evils, from poverty to disease to war. But we want to leave untouched the personal evils, such as selfishness and lechery and pride. We need spiritual healing, but we do not want it. Like a supervisory parent, God gets in our way. This is the perennial appeal of atheism: it gets rid of the stern fellow with the long beard and liberates us for the pleasures of sin and depravity. The atheist seeks to get rid of moral judgment by getting rid of the judge. 

 

I have thought this for years, not so much the sexual immorality part, but the fact that modern atheism wants to be accountable to no one. That statement sounds as if atheists are evil people, desiring to eliminate all moral codes. Not true. As a recent media report puts it, atheists want to spread the message that “we’re good people, just not God people.”  

 

In the new book, unChristian, the author states that modern apologetics do not work in our postmodern relativistic society. Christianity just does not “click” using logical rational arguments for God’s existence. I believe we all evaluate the facts as we see them and choose to believe what we do based upon our interpretation of those facts. For atheism, I can’t help but think D’Souza’s point is valid.

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Ministering to the Buster Generation

Broadly defined, Busters were born between 1965 and 1983 and represent about 66 million Americans (roughly ages 25 to 42). They have seen many changes and advances in their lifetime: Roe v. Wade, high technology, video games, television quality and choices, the Challenger disaster, the Berlin Wall came down, peer groups became essential, music had become more cynical, AIDS, the Persian Gulf war, the youthful Clinton administration (his relatively young age and who can forget Monica)…

 

Their characteristics may be described as desiring freedom, non-work-a-holic, into 60’s nostalgia, survival (from AIDS to pollution to over population), feeling neglected (divorced parents, single-parent homes, virtual communities), rejecting the values of the Boomers and even postponing marriage.

 

So, where do they fit in the church? Busters value a true family atmosphere (often coming out of a generation of broken families); get involved in local causes in order to see the results of their efforts, have shorter attention spans (the sound bite generation); want a church to meet their own needs (a pragmatic faith that works for them) and a faith that works for others (becoming involved in social, political and environmental issues)…

 

Let me get to my subject. Gary McIntosh (One Church Four Generations) suggests many ways the church can seek to understand this generation.

  • Define Vision – we must have a clearly defined vision and a commitment to accomplish the task. He says that “to know Christ and make Him known” is too theoretical to be relevant to Busters. Pragmatic busters want to know how the mission will be carried out; how are we going to get to know Christ and to whom is the church trying to make Christ known?
  • Keep Worship Authentic – honest, straightforward, tell-it-like-it-is services are attractive to Busters. They can be short or long, but they cannot be considered a waste of time. They are not so much bored with worship but with services that move slowly. Music is important, so we need to use up-to-date music in a variety of styles, even having busters help plan the services.
  • Focus on local issues – rather than far away places. They will feed the homeless in their own area but seldom will they minister across the country. They want to know that their money is making a difference and do not give because they are asked to give to the regular Boomer channels of missions support. So, experiencing missions is important, even if that experience takes them internationally.
  • Challenge to Short-term Service – the general rule is to recruit for short-term and to renew for long-term. Long-term commitments are not the norm, so experiencing a ministry first helps develop a commitment to it in the long term.
  • Small Groups – Busters love feedback and discussion with people they trust. Step-by-step instructions and accountability are usually needed to move from concepts into action.
  • Answer Questions – since Busters need to sort out various hurts in their lives, the church needs to provide practical messages, classes and groups. They need help with problems they face every day: AIDS, divorce, pornography, immorality, child abuse, drugs and alcohol abuse, STDs. They need honest answers and biblical solutions.
  • Develop Need-Based Ministry – we might call some of these support groups: divorce care, overcoming addictions, surviving abuse.

We have to understand the driving forces behind the group we are trying to reach. This group is the future of the church. What will the church look like after the Builders and Boomers begin to die off? So, what do you think? 

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How to Spot a Disciple of Jesus

Look around at the Christians you already know. How would you define what a follower of Jesus really looks like? Perhaps your list looks something like this:

  1. Careful student of Scripture
  2. Zealous and active in their stand for God
  3. Appetite for worship and prayer
  4. Consistent in worship attendance
  5. Practices Scripture memorization
  6. Not afraid to pray in public
  7. Active in the local church
  8. Fasts and tithes regularly
  9. Has desire to stand against blasphemy and ungodliness
  10. Has firm grasp of basic foundational theological truth

For a long time I thought this is what would bring honor to God and help me become more like Jesus. In my early years of ministry, when I was young and stupid, I thought helping people to “look like this” was making disciples. But look again; these are behavior traits not of Jesus’ disciples, but of His chief opponents, the Pharisees.

I’m convinced that real-life discipleship (becoming more like Jesus in character and attitude over a lifetime) is what happens between the gathering times at church. What are people like at home, at school, in the lunchroom, in the office, on dates, at parties, in the locker room, in the boardroom, on the computer, or the after-school job? What are they like when no one is looking? Do they demonstrate unconditional love, joy, peace, patience, concern for others, kindness, servanthood?

Real-life discipleship is marked more by footprints than by monuments. For me, discipleship focuses on our long-term commitments rather than a one-time decision to “accept Christ.” It is forward motion, a journey, a marathon. People may look at imperfection and failures of so-called Christians, but remember that the word disciple means learner, not expert.

Basically, what we need is to develop what I call a firsthand faith. This is not faith that is inherited from parents, or Sunday school teachers, or the pastor, but we take ownership of our own faith. Once faith becomes firsthand, it transforms into a conviction that will not be swayed by competing worldviews or other religions. Is there little wonder why teenagers often leave the faith when they leave home, but also graduate God after they graduate high school?

The church must stop trying to cram our bags with only the right beliefs and make us carry it because they said so. Rather, use questions and strategies that help people unpack the baggage they’ve been carrying. Re-examine the faith they have and discover why it’s in there.

My mentor Rick Leineweber gave me this definition of a disciple; “A disciple is a follower of Jesus who is developing the convictions, character, competencies, and compassion of Jesus, and at the same time, leading others to do the same.” These four mentioned areas deal with the head, heart, hands, and heels of the person.

For more on this topic of discipleship, find my booklet called, “The Discipleship Pathway.”

After all this, what should a disciple actually look like? Check this out.

 

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Christianity Has An Image Problem

There is a fascinating book called, unChristian (Kinnaman and Lyons) that declares Christianity has an image problem. I’ve known it for years but did not really have any research to support it. I often heard stories like:

  1. The church is only after my money
  2. Look at the lifestyles of TV evangelists
  3. Church is boring or irrelevant
  4. Remember Ted Haggard and Jim Bakker?
  5. The church is full of hypocrites
  6. I don’t need to go to church to worship God
  7. Too many priest sex scandals and cover-ups
  8. Christians are too narrow-minded

Once teenagers get their driver’s licenses, it seems participation in church activity is usually the first item scratched off the list. Remember that Christianity is a relationship more than it is a religion. Jesus said that a tree is known by its fruit, so believers not living out what they say they believe is one of the greatest barriers to outsiders giving Jesus a try. Believers in Christ are the church; it’s not the building or an activity we do on Sundays. It seems I read that Gandhi would have become a Christian, but he could not find any of His followers.

So how has the Christian faith portrayed itself to a skeptical generation? What does Christian mean to you? For many, it means very conservative, indoctrinated, anti-gay, anti-choice, angry, violent, judgmental, illogical, hypocritical, too political, building their own empires, trying to convert everyone to their way of thinking, who cannot live at peace with anyone who believes differently than themselves. So, what did I leave out? A lot of this originates from the hurtful past of former believers.

How are Christians to overcome this negative stereotype? Today’s Christians are known more for what they are against than what they really stand for. Its one thing to know about Jesus, it is another to really know Him. Assent to a set of propositions is not what Jesus desires, but that we become His disciples, followers who live out what we believe. We are not alone, there are other authentic pilgrims on this journey.

I heard Greg Stier of Dare2Share Ministries tell a story of when he was a pastor, about being in a coffee shop, studying at a table with all his Jesus books in front of him. As he was leaving to pay, there was a Goth looking kid wearing a Marilyn Manson T-shirt behind him who noticed all his books. “Are you religious?” he asked, “Because I don’t like religious people.” Greg looked at the guy and said, “Me neither, I can’t stand religious people! You know who else didn’t like religious people? Jesus! Eventually those religious people had him killed.”

So, there he was with this kid with the Manson gear, both agreeing that religious people made them sick. But Jesus showed them by rising from the dead! Greg then went on to tell him about Jesus being into relationship rather than religion. In some ways people may be into spirituality or even into Jesus, but they don’t like the church. Sad reality, since believers ARE the church.

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