What is the answer?

Image result for Jesus is the answer

This past weekend has left the United States in a tiff.  Ok, maybe more like a blood feud.  A video was released of presidential hopeful Donald Trump demeaning women at best, condoning sexual assault at worst; the presidential debate was a joke; and completely ignored by mainstream news coverage is the report that eleven Christians were murdered by ISIS in Syria because they had converted from Islam and refused to denounce Christ.  Included in this number was a 12 year old boy whom the terrorists tortured by cutting off his fingertips in front of his father with the hopes of convincing them to convert, and two women who were publicly raped and tortured.  Many of those who have heard of this tragedy return to the conversation about the election chanting, “We must stop ISIS” and then proclaim their presidential choice as the answer.  Trump will squash ISIS.  Hillary has more experience and a real plan for our foreign affairs.  But you know what folks?  The president of the United States is not the answer.

Jesus is the answer.

I know it sounds cliche.  I grew up singing the song, “Jesus is the answer for the world today, above Him there’s no other, Jesus is the way!”  And while it sounds so simple and childlike, it is the profound truth.  No governmental leadership will provide a solution by which every worldview will be appeased.  No amount of force or murder will eradicate evil from the Middle East or the United States.  Even if we could convince our general population that love is the answer, we would all have different opinions about what love is and what love means.  Should we openly accept, condone and affirm every decision and worldview, or should we seek one another’s best by helping each other make wise decisions, even if that means we encourage change?

Our politicians, ISIS, and each of us individually, however, simply need Jesus.  We are wicked.  We are sinners.  Yes, Donald Trump tried to get a married woman to sleep with him and bragged about his ability to do whatever he wants to with women because he is “a star”.  Yes, ISIS beheaded, tortured and crucified eleven Christians.  Yes, we have treated one another with disrespect and hatred because of our individual political affiliations and choices.  And all of that is nothing more than wicked people doing wicked things – to various extents.  The Bible teaches us that we were born in iniquity (Ps 51.5), and that we are by nature children of wrath (Eph 2.3).  This means that apart from Jesus, all we can do is sin.  We are destined and doomed to evil deeds.

Along these lines, the Bible teaches us some pretty hard truths.  Apart from Jesus we are:
Dead in sin (Eph 2.3).
Lovers of darkness (John 3.19-20)
Haters of light (John 3.19-20)
Hard like stone (Ez 36.26, Eph 4.18)
Unable to love or submit to God (Rom 8.7-8)

What does all of that mean?  We might look pretty on the outside – like white washed tombs (Matt 23.27-28).  We might put on a good, moralistic act, but it is with wicked and selfish motives.  We all sin, and we will all continue to sin because it is our nature (1 John 1.8).

We all need Jesus.  I need Jesus.  You need Jesus.  Trump and Hillary need Jesus.  ISIS needs Jesus.  The answer is not to go in and wipe “them” out.  There is always someone else who is wicked to replace “them”.  But to see “them” fundamentally changed will save their souls and change their impact on their worlds.

Jesus found Paul – the foremost persecutor (read:  murderer) of the Church and changed him from the core, making him into the world’s most dynamic missionary and teacher.  If God can change and use Paul, He can change and use ISIS.  He can change and use Hillary.  He can change and use Trump.  He can change and use you and me.  There are, in fact, fairly regular reports of Muslims and radical extremists coming to faith and proclaiming Jesus.  Such are those who were murdered this weekend.

We spend so much time trying to separate our church and state, but the reality is that Jesus is the only hope for the state.  Even if we solve immigration, balance out our taxes and health care, and live at peace with the world, we are all still sinners and headed to an eternity of judgment and damnation.  If we, however, confess our sins and turn to God for salvation through Jesus, we will be saved eternally and enabled to die to our sins and our love one another.  We will be able to put one another first and see true and real peace.  We will be able to love.  Jesus is the answer.

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Which Way?

Narrow-Gate

As the world continues to shrink through the internet, media and travel, we are being regularly exposed to a variety of belief systems.  Not many years ago, it was all but unheard of to meet a person who had a religious belief system that was not found under the umbrella of Christianity.  Today’s society has embraced the complete rejection of a Spiritual world, glorifies individualism such that people seek out obscure and unique religious systems, and gives us all room to “seek” whatever worldview or religion meets our needs.  Instead of assuming that Christianity is the basic framework of our society and Jesus and understood savior, we are consistently asking ourselves and others, “How do you know what you believe is right?”  We even have a category for people who choose to play the neutral card believing that it is arrogant for one belief to make an authoritative claim against another without proof, while another worldview says that all paths are leading to Heaven or enlightenment.

Some say that this has hurt our Christian nation, that there are fewer believers among us, and that our witness is being lost.  I would argue, however, that while the majority might have considered themselves Christians, there were probably comparable numbers of genuine Christians, and those who were nominal are now simply choosing to nominally align with another worldview, the most “culturally relevant” one, perhaps:  inclusivism.

But with so many competing voices out there, how can we know which path leads to Heaven?  It has been argued apologetically that all major world religions focus on the effort of man trying to reach God or enlightenment.  Christianity is the only religion that recognizes the fact that we are all wicked and incapable of appeasing the wrath of a sovereign, perfect God and therefore God Himself had to make a way for us to be forgiven.  If our goal is to earn God’s favor or work our way into Heaven, we can never do it.

Jesus taught interestingly on the subject:

“Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me.  In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you.  If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also.  And you know the way where I am going.”  Thomas said to Him, “Lord, we do not know where You are going, how do we know the way?”  Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.  If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also; from now on you know Him, and have seen Him.”

– John 14.1-7

Notice here, that Jesus does not promise to show us the way.  Jesus declares that He is the way.  We can only get to Heaven and to God through Jesus.  He does give us commands, and He does expect us to follow those commands, but our obedience to Him is not our entrance fee.  It is our response of gratitude for being in Him.  This is why Jesus says that the gate is narrow, not the path, which leads to eternal life.  Jesus is the gate.  The road to destruction, however, is a path that is wide (Matt 7.13-14).

The reality is simple.  Either we are in Jesus or we are not.  We are not walking down a path from which we can veer, we are remaining and abiding in Him or we are not.  When we are in Him, we are in the Truth and we have life.

How then can we know we are right?  How then can we know we are headed to Heaven?  Consider firstly:  would you rather rely on your own strength and ability, or on God’s?  Every world religion will teach you to strive by service, by asceticism, by holiness, by doing, by confession, or any litany of actions.  Do you trust yourself to keep those expectations well enough?  To such a degree that you would rest your eternity on it?  Or would you rather trust God, the judge who determines eternity?  Would you like to receive the free gift of salvation through faith by grace?

When we receive salvation, Jesus’ blood covers our sins.  He paid the penalty that we deserve, and when God looks at our sins and wickedness, He sees the stamp, “Paid in full”, “Time served”.  We therefore can rest in Him, and be being in Him, covered by His blood, we are in the way, not on the way.  Jesus will take us wherever we need to be while on the Earth and ultimately in eternity.

Would you go without a map?

Auschwitz-Birkenau

Do you have a 5 year plan?  A 10 year plan?  Are you setting aside enough money to retire when you hit 65?  Americans have life down to a science.  School for thirteen years, college (perhaps a graduate degree), throw a solid internship in there somewhere, find your career, find a spouse, buy a house, maybe have some kids, start putting money away for retirement (but keep out enough out to play on the weekends), work hard, work hard, change jobs here and there, work hard, get the promotions, retire and enjoy your golden years waiting to die.  We meet with financial advisers, we keep track of our 401Ks, we hope and pray that the stock market continues to grow, and we trust the system to make us happy.

Does that sound about right?  Is that the overview of your life’s ambition?  You might have a goal intertwined with your career in there, aiming to make a difference in the world through politics, ministry, development or humanitarian efforts, but in general, we need to make money to be comfortable and settle our future, right?

Last week we passed the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz concentration camp.  The world stopped to remember the atrocities preformed there, the tragedy of the lives lost and to wonder anew at the depth of depravity that resides within the human race.  The millions of Jews and others who were persecuted, abused and murdered throughout the reign of the Nazi regime did not see their life plans achieved.  Their five and ten year plans went out the window the day Hitler rose to power.  People fled, people hid, people died.  For no reason other than their ethnicity.

Jesus gave this ominous promise:

“You will be hearing of wars and rumors of wars.  See that you are not frightened, for those things must take place, but that is not yet the end.  For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and in various places there will be famines and earthquakes.  But all these things are merely the beginning of birth pangs.  Then they will deliver you to tribulation, and will kill you, and you will be hated by all nations because of My name.  At that time many will fall away and will betray one another and hate one another.  Many false prophets will arise and will mislead many.  Because lawlessness is increased, most people’s love will grow cold.  But the one who endures to the end, he will be saved.”

– Matt 24.6-13

If you follow Christ and make it to the end of the age, we will be hated by all nations.  There will be no refuge.  There will be no place to run or hide.  The United States will no longer be our comfortable, safe place where we live for our own entertainment.  We will have to make a decision about Jesus Christ:  do we follow Him and suffer for it, or do we not?  Jesus knows that most will not.  But the one who endures to the end will be saved.  Our 401Ks, houses and cars will do us no good in those days.  Our foundation of faith will be all we have to stand on.

“Now the Lord said to Abram,
‘Go forth from your country,
And from your relatives
And from your father’s house,
To the land which I will show you…'”

– Gen 12.1

When God called Abram, He gave him no “next steps” or road map.  He simply said, “go”.  When Jesus called the disciples, He said, “Follow me” (Matt 4).  He did not say, “This is where we are going”, He simply called them to action.  When Jesus left, He commanded us, “Go, make disciples of all the nations” (Matt 28.19).  He gave a general overview, explaining to make disciples by baptizing and teaching people to obey everything Jesus commanded, but He did not give a road map, specific destinations or specific peoples.  He just said “Go”.

Has Jesus called you?  If He has, have you allowed Him sovereignty over your life plans?  Would you be willing to change them all for the sake of eternity and the cross?  Or do you need a step-by-step along with a life-long plan and safety net in case you stumble?  Would you leave it all behind for Jesus?

There may come a day when our plans fail.  There may come a day when we lose it all outside of our control.  Let’s not cling to our plans and goals such that if that day comes it will ruin us, but let us prepare ourselves on the level that truly matters.  Our faith.  Let us not be of the ones whose faith grows cold, but let us be of the ones who persevere until the end.  And let us live our lives in obedience, following Him now, giving Him final say over our lives and steps.

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.”

– John 14.6

Jesus is the way.  He does not show us the way.  He is the way.  If we want to make it to eternity, if we want to experience life in its fullness, we must be in Jesus.  We must know Jesus, not just follow Him.