Which Way Do I Go?

I’m reading a book by John Ortberg entitled All the Places to Go: How Will You Know. For starters, it’s an excellent book. Ortberg has challenged me with a lot of thoughts and phrases. One of them is when he said, “God wants us to be excellent choosers.” Have you ever considered God thinking of you in that light? I’m not sure that I have. It makes sense to me now as I think about it. I want my children to be excellent choosers. I don’t just have one path I want them to take, but I want them to make sure they’re following Jesus. I think God is the same way with us.

God’s greatest goal for you, once you become a Christian, is to be shaped into the image of His Son. He uses a variety of methods to mold our character to look more like Jesus’, but one way is through the journey of decision making. While He is interested in the particular direction we go, He’s more interested in the person we become through the process. I’m convinced that in my life there have been times God has intentionally made my future steps a little fuzzy so I would spend more time in prayer over my decision. I don’t think my prayer time was as much about finding God’s will about a direction as it was in seeing God’s character formed in my life. If I remember that God’s main desire is that I be like Jesus, it makes sense that He’ll use my crossroad experiences of decision making as a classroom of character formation.

Are you at a crossroad of decision? What are you doing to meet God in the moment so your life will be changed by the process?

Only God

I spent a few days fishing this week with my father and brothers in Alaska. What an unbelievably beautiful place! Upon getting back to our vacation rental after the second day of fishing, I noticed that my face was red. Why wouldn’t it be red? I’d spent two days in the sun and strong winds. I had covered my head and ears but failed to put sunscreen on my face. Naturally, I didn’t realize my error until after two days of neglect. Sunburn or windburn is a slow process. We don’t realize it’s happening until after the damage is done.

We’re seeing a slow burn take place in our country. We’re all still shocked and heartbroken that someone could go into a Walmart in El Paso or to an entertainment district in Dayton to kill people. We mourn the loss of at least thirty-one people in this insanity and many more are suffering from wounds. During the same weekend, fifty-three people were shot in Chicago, seven killed. Who knows how many other atrocities happened last weekend?

I’m also stunned at the stupidity and selfishness of politicians. It’s shocking to see political candidates immediately use these events in an attempt to gain an edge in the election. It’s mind blowing to hear news reporters lay the blame for this shooting on the President. We’re also hearing that it’s the fault of the NRA. Really? Can these political leaders and news reporters not recognize the slow burn of a nation who has neglected the importance of fearing God and strengthening families?

As the fabric of our society comes apart, we should go backward in our history and find the things that have been washing away our foundation. We kicked God out of the schools in the 60’s. We devalued life with the passage of Roe vs. Wade in the 70’s. In the 80’s, we experienced continued growth in greed, rampant narcissism, increase in divorces and single-parent homes, and the promotion of free and safe sex. I could go on and on about the growth of immorality at every level, the continued destabilization of the home, the normalization of same-sex marriages, and the total disregard for honesty and truth. We removed the Bible from our public places, mocked prayer and the truth of Scripture, and openly persecute Christians for demonstrating their faith. The spiritual decline in our nation is significant.

Our decline has been slow and gradual. When immorality becomes a civil right and righteousness can no longer be defined by a society that has no moral bearing, our country is in trouble. We really can’t even call something evil because our society has determined that all truth is relative. Evil and moral relativity cannot coexist.Should we be surprised at mass shootings? Can our country back away from the edge of the abyss?

The problem is that immorality has been accepted, and broken has become the new normal. The only thing that can save us is a sweeping, spiritual revival. Immorality, broken governmental systems, and unstable families do not naturally reverse themselves. God can restore America, but only God can do it. Pray for America. Pray for your family. Pray for our leaders. Pray for our churches. Pray for God to help you strengthen your own home and order your own steps. Only God is a healer, and only God can heal broken people.

Divine Appointments

I recently hiked about 230 miles on the Appalachian Trail through the state of Pennsylvania. It was awesome and got me much closer to completing the entire 2200-mile trail. On the morning of my fifth day, I got up early and started hiking by 6:45. My goal was Boiling Springs because the trail went through the edge of town. Once in town, I ate breakfast at a restaurant, visited an outfitters store ,and stopped at a few displays that were a part of the Founder’s Day event of the town that day. Little did I know, but this meandering that I thought of as wasting time was actually God setting me up for a divine appointment.

I hiked another eleven or twelve miles, including a section of about a mile where I practically ran through swarms of mosquitos, and ended up at a farm or storage place used by the Appalachian Trial conference. I read earlier that I could find a cooler of cold water at this location. I saw the water cooler on the end of the table and a hiker sitting at the table talking on her phone. When she got off the phone, I learned that she had started hiking south somewhere in New Hampshire while I was hiking north from the Maryland/Pennsylvania state line.

Machu Pichu (an amazing place in Peru) came up in our conversation. I mentioned that while my son and I were doing mission work to study unreached people groups in Peru, we had visited the ancient ruins. She replied by asking me if I was a minister and then asked if I wouldn’t mind answering a question. She told me that she was Buddhist, but she had been considering Christianity. She had some questions and didn’t have anyone she could ask. Her question related to the exclusivity of the Gospel. Why was Jesus the only way to salvation? I had a thirty-minute conversation with her about God’s plan of salvation. She thanked me and agreed to think about the things I had shared before we parted ways. She went south; I went north.

I’ve thought a lot about that encounter. I was first amazed that many things could have kept me from meeting this seeker, but I happened upon the picnic table at just the right time for an eternal conversation. That was not an accident. My first thought was that this encounter happened that morning when I decided to start hiking at 6:45, but then I realized that it actually started thirty-five years ago when I started hiking the trail in Georgia. It may seem far-fetched, but I’m confident God orchestrated this meeting when I first decided to hike the Appalachian Trail, or even before. He loves Venus (that’s her trail name) and sent me on a mission to tell her about Jesus. I thought I was just hiking the Appalachian Trail for fun and to accomplish a life-long goal, but I was actually on a mission to keep a divine appointment.

God has divine appointments for all of us. The key is that we need to be attentive and prepared. We should start each day by asking God to help us to be sensitive to those appointments and not miss the opportunity to be used by Him. I’m honored to have been used by God to tell Venus about Jesus. I hope to meet her again one day in Heaven. I’m sure that I have missed opportunities in the past, but this encounter has sharpened my resolve to never miss an appointment again.

Exclusive Gospel – Is Jesus Really The Only Way to Salvation?

I preached the sixth message today in a seven-sermon-series on the seven I Am statements of Jesus in John (You can hear them on our church website, though today’s probably won’t be up until maybe Wednesday: http://www.sonrisebaptist.org/sermon-archive/) . Today’s focal passage was John 14:6: 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 have studied the “I Am” passages of John, you know that the Greek text used for each statement is an emphatic, exclusive statement. To say otherwise is to ignore the Greek language and the construction of the text. You should translate any of these “I Am” passages as emphatic: “I myself am.” It’s as if Jesus was saying in John 6:35, for example, “I am and only I am the bread of life.” In John 14:6, Jesus underscored the exclusivity of the Gospel and the way to salvation with his follow-up statement as well: “No one comes to the Father but through me.” The two little Greek words translated as “but” are the two words “if not.” That part of the verse could be translated, “No one comes to the Father if not through me.”

I’ve had conversations with some people lately who struggle with an exclusive Gospel. In other words, they think Christians are narrow, bigoted, and arrogant for saying that salvation or eternal life is only possible through Jesus. Much of the world wants to embrace a universal message of salvation that says, “All roads lead to God. It doesn’t really matter which road you choose.” Do all roads really lead to God? 

Christianity says that Jesus died for the sins of the world and rose again. Islam says that Jesus didn’t die for the sins of the world, but rather, someone died in his place. Both positions can’t be true. Either Christianity or Islam is right, not both. You see, truth by definition is exclusive.

Christians are criticized for being exclusive, but if you think about it, if someone says the Bible is false, he is making an exclusive statement. He is saying that he is right and everyone who believes the Bible is wrong. For example, Hindus teach we are reincarnated after we die. Therefore, anyone who believes in heaven or hell is wrong. That position makes Hinduism exclusive. Every time you open your mouth to say what you believe, you are being exclusive. Every time you say something is “true,” it means everything opposed to what you just said is false. You are being exclusive.

I came across an article written by Dr. Steve McSwain (I hesitate to offer the link because it’s pure heresy, but here it is: https://bit.ly/2SvOb5A). I don’t know who Steve McSwain is, and I have no clue what field of study gave him a doctorate, but it’s clear that his method of Bible study is flawed, and he approaches the truth of Scripture from an agenda-laden position. His byline says he’s a “counselor to congregations” and a “spiritual teacher.” I’m not sure what spirit motivates his teaching, but it’s not God’s Spirit.

Here’s part of his reflective comments on John 14:6 and the exclusivity of the Gospel: 

Jesus said “I am the way…no one comes to God but through me” (John 14:6). But what does that really mean?…Today, I realize that what Jesus was really saying is this: “I am the way,” as in, “I know the way.” “I’ve discovered it” which, by implication means, “you can, too.” Elsewhere, he put it like this: “I and the Father are one” and he prayed that we would discover the same as well (John 17). Which is precisely why he said continually, “Follow me.” In other words, it’s as if Jesus was saying, “If you believe anything, believe not WORDS but the WAY to Life itself. My way, like many other ways, will guide you into the Eternal. In fact, you cannot separate the way to God from God herself. The way to God IS God.”

For starters, Mr. McSwain (as if he’s going to read this blog), Jesus did NOT say “I know the way.” You can’t change Scripture. You can’t make it say something you want it to say or prefer it to say or something that’s more politically correct in our culture. Jesus said, “I myself am the way. No one comes to the Father if not through me.” No matter how you analyze that passage, if you are honest with yourself and use proper biblical interpretation, Jesus said He is the ONLY way to salvation. It doesn’t really take too much analysis or interpretation to see the cold facts staring you in the face. You can call Jesus a liar if you want to, but you can’t say Jesus was really saying “I know the way.” He said, “I am THE way.”

If I made an exclusive statement, you could debate it and reject it. After all, who am I to make an exclusive statement about much of anything. I’m flawed and my perspective is limited. Jesus, however, claimed to be God. If Jesus is God, then He has every right to create a salvation plan that offers only one path: Himself.Mr. McSwain said, “My way, like many other ways, will guide you into the Eternal.” My first thought was that this statement is also totally flawed. It is flawed from the way he was trying to project it, but in the end, he’s actually right. Jesus’ way will lead to eternal life. The “many other ways” he’s writing about will also lead into the eternal, eternal damnation. I didn’t say that. Jesus did.

Who’s Your Somebody?

Everybody knows somebody who needs Jesus. Who’s your somebody? If you are a Christian, have you ever considered the fact that God wants to use you to help somebody find their way to Jesus Christ? Being used in this way could be something as simple as inviting someone to join you at church this Easter Sunday. Do you know that most people will go to church if someone simply invites them? Your thoughtful invitation may affect someone’s eternity. Have you thought about inviting someone to church this Sunday? Go ahead. Who’s your somebody? Write down their name, pray for them, and give them a call.

Helping people find their way to Christ can involve more than inviting them to church, though that’s a great start. It can also include openly sharing your faith with them. You may be thinking that you could never witness to people about Jesus. You’re not alone with this thought. You may think that if you dared to share your faith, someone may ask you a question you couldn’t answer, or you may say the wrong thing. I’d like to address these two concerns.

No one knows all of the answers, so allow me to go ahead and prepare you with a dose of reality. When you start talking about Jesus or sharing scripture from the Bible, someone will probablyask you a question that you can’t answer. It happens to me. I’m sure it happened to Billy Graham, C. S. Lewis, Josh McDowell, and any other breathing believer on the planet who dares to open up with someone about Christianity. You know what I do when someone asks me a question I can’t answer? I say, “I don’t know, but I’ll try to find out, but what I do know is…” and then I get back to presenting the Gospel. If anyone expects you to know everything about the Bible, then their expectations are unrealistic. Go ahead and prepare yourself for the inevitability. Don’t let someone’s unfair expectations cause you to keep from being obedient to Christ’s command to be a witness. Don’t let your fear be used by our spiritual enemy to impact someone’s eternal destiny.

As far as you saying the wrong thing, that’s also possible. Being a witness is essential, but being a prepared witness has an even greater impact. You can hopefully avoid saying the wrong thing if you’ll prepare yourself to be a witness. I suggest that you, first of all, write out your personal story. Be prepared to tell someone how you personally became a Christian. Then I suggest you memorize, or at least know where to find in the Bible, several key verses including John 3:16, Romans 3:23, Romans 6:23, Romans 10:9-10, John 1:12, and Acts 16:31. While it’s impossible to be prepared for everything, you can be prepared for the mainthing.

Easter’s coming, and people are more open to spiritual things this time of year than any other time. Are you willing to at least invite someone to attend Easter service with you and your family? Are you ready to help somebody find his or her way to Jesus? Who’s your somebody?

Enjoy the Flow

I’ll never forget standing on the edge of the Niagara River watching unbelievable amounts of water flow over the edge of one of the most famous tourist spots in the world: Niagara Falls. It is hard to fathom the constant flow of water, 365 days a year, that pours over this landmark. In fact, more than six million cubic feet of water goes over the crest of this falls every minute. Unbelievable!

I’ve enjoyed many rivers throughout my life. I’ve kayaked down some and simply sat beside others enjoying the peaceful beauty of a quiet flowing stream. When I was a kid, I rafted down the Chattooga River. We got out of our rafts at one point, and our guide instructed us to get out in the middle of the river (we were wearing life jackets), lift up your feet, and enjoy the ride. It was a blast!

Jesus stood on the last day of the Feast of Booths and made this declaration: “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water’” (John 7:37-38). Jesus offered an amazing parallel to an ancient tradition of the Jewish priests on this important day in Jewish life. It was on this day that the High Priest scooped up a pitcher of water from the Pool of Siloam and poured it out at the temple as a reminder of God’s provision of water for the Children of Israel as they wondered through the wilderness. With this backdrop, Jesus said, “If you are thirsty, come to me and drink and I’ll make sure you have a river of living water flowing from deep within you.” John’s commentary teaches us that this river to which Jesus referred was indeed His Holy Spirit. When thinking about the flow of the Holy Spirit from within our lives, I don’t think the Niagara River does God’s Spirit justice as a visual parallel. The flow of God’s Spirit from within us is a flow of power, of peace, and of refreshment. Do you need refreshment? Do you find your life right now to be a bit barren? Could you use the supernatural power of God’s Spirit in your life to deal with a particular challenge in your life? Jump in the flow, raise up your feet, and enjoy the ride.

Soul Danger

I’m very disturbed. Last Thursday I watched part of the Judge Kavanaugh/Dr. Christine Ford hearing, and the more I watched, the angrier and more discouraged I became. Over the last few years, I’ve watched the soul of America unraveling, and I’m concerned that we’re getting close to the point of no return. Regardless of your political persuasion, I hope that you share my concern. This concern is not as much about Kavanaugh, Ford, Trump, or Feinstein as it is about the not so slow deterioration of honesty, virtue, righteousness, and integrity. The fact that in order to confirm or not confirm a Supreme Court justice we have to stoop to such shameful measures and tactics is truly a disgrace to the nation and offers a peek into the rotting condition of our national soul. We have come to a place where ideology is more important than truth and the means seem totally justified regardless of the end, as long as the end supports one’s political or philosophical purposes.

Here’s an opinion statement: I don’t think the uproar over Kavanaugh is as much about the judge or even the position as it is about philosophy or even theology. Politicians on all sides have agendas, and it seems that people are willing to go to any extreme to accomplish those agendas. If there is something deeply wrong with Kavanaugh’s character, then he needs to be disqualified. If not, then he needs to be confirmed. I personally think the battle is mainly over issues like abortion and same-sex marriages. I do not believe that abortion or same-sex marriage are political issues. They are spiritual issues. I don’t know Kavanaugh and therefore I don’t know if he is a Christian. However, I feel as if a great spiritual battle between the heavenlies is being waged before our eyes. Over the years, we have passed some laws that blatantly contradict the teaching of Scripture. Whether Kavanaugh should be on the court or not is to be seen, but I think the real battle is for the soul of America.

I don’t see myself as a Democrat or Republican. I vote for the person who best represents the truth of God’s Word. I agree strongly with Proverbs 14:34, “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a disgrace for any people.” Because righteousness is defined by laws, and the Supreme Court is the final law of our land, we should not be surprised to see the intensity of the battle for who will control this court. Because unrighteousness destroys a nation, I believe the hosts of hell are lined up trying to figure out how to lead our country farther away from the truth upon which this country was built. If you believe the Word of God, then I encourage you to pray for our political leaders that they will pass laws and our judicial leaders that they will uphold laws and the Constitution in such a way that we as a people are walking in righteousness. This means we should pray for God’s intervention and leadership, and we should vote to put people in office who will help us to be a righteous people. We have a lot at stake. If we slide far enough down the slippery slope of unrighteousness and disobedience, it will be very difficult for us to come back.

Mountain Climbing

“Did you enjoy your hike?” I bet I’ve been asked that at least 50 times since returning from my most recent backpacking trip on the Appalachian Trail. My first answer is “No!” I didn’t enjoy my trip because it was a really tough hike. The definition that comes to my mind with the word enjoy is “to take delight or pleasure in.” On this last hike, I covered a section called the Roller Coaster, and I don’t think the name does it justice – especially when the region was experiencing a heat wave that made five of the eight days feel like a hot summer day in July, and the last three days were cold and windy with driving rain.

I started some years ago trying to accomplish the goal of hiking the entire 2190 miles of the Appalachian Trail one section at a time. With this last hike of 100 miles, I have made it from Springer Mountain in north Georgia to the Pennsylvania state line. When I first started, I would hike only 3 or 4 days a year, but now I’ve started trying to hike at least a week or more at a time. Unfortunately, I get older every year, and I don’t want to have to climb Mt. Katahdin in Maine with a walker.

I looked up enjoy in the dictionary and discovered that I did enjoy my hike after all. The second definition says that enjoy means “to possess and benefit from.” The fact is that hiking 100 miles on the A.T. brought me great benefit: I’m closer to accomplishing my goal, it was great exercise, I faced a tremendous challenge and won, I did a lot of praying, I met some great people, and I got to spend time with my father, who met me at the end.

I reminded myself numerous times through my hike that life is not just about having fun. It is about personal growth, victories, character, and facing challenges. It is about becoming the person God wants me to be. The fact is that we can’t become the person God wants us to be without struggle and pain. God wants to shape our character, and mountain climbing is part of the recipe for personal growth. Your mountain may come in the form of financial struggles, parenting challenges, or setbacks with your health. We’ve all got mountains to climb, and they’re all part of God’s divine plan to help us to become the person that not only He wants us to become but also the person we want to become.

Are you climbing a mountain right now? Is life kind of difficult in this current season? You’re probably in just the right place, so enjoy it.

If You Always Do What You’ve Always Done…

I just watched the University of Georgia score another touchdown against Alabama increasing their lead to 20-7. That’s the good news. The bad news is that I happen to be at a restaurant which is playing a rerun of the college football national championship game. I happen to know that Alabama came back to beat Georgia, so I don’t think the outcome of the game I’m watching today is going to change what I know to be a sad history.

Do you ever do the same old thing hoping for a new outcome? We do it all of the time. We eat the same fattening food hoping that this time we can enjoy calories without consequences. Unfortunately, it’s no different this time than it was last time. We pull out plastic to pay for something we shouldn’t buy promising to pay it all off at the end of the month. The problem is that we find that we have more month than money. That happened last month, too. We walk precariously on the pinnacle of temptation hoping that this time we can maintain our resolve and not fall into sin. Oh, well. Our resolve doesn’t seem to be any stronger this time around as it was last time.

Here’s the lesson I’ve gained by sitting here watching Alabama slowly come back on Georgia and take the lead. If you want the outcome of the game to be different, you’ve got to change the plays. What plays do you need to change in your life so that today is not a rerun of yesterday?

 

Which Way Should I Go?

How many of us have ever struggled with discerning God’s direction for our lives? I think I just saw everyone’s hand shoot into the air. I really don’t think that God has made His voice so indiscernible and will so elusive that knowing His will should be so difficult. Maybe the problem is not with God. Maybe it’s us. My church is currently involved in a fall spiritual growth emphasis, and we’re using Craig Groeschel’s book, Divine Direction, as our small group study. His book is AWESOME. It will possibly make my best book of 2018 choice. I am also preaching a short series to go along with the study. The first two messages are posted now, and the third should be up by the end of the week.

In my first message, I emphasize the fact that we are writing our life’s story every day that we live. I’ve got to confess that at times in my life, I have written a few lines carelessly. I wish I could find the delete button and re-write a few pages. While I can do that with the books I write, I can’t do that with the life I’m living. My life’s book is permanent as it’s written, and so is yours. Our challenge is to think ahead to what we want the final chapters of our lives to say. Is the chapter you are writing today going to get you to those final chapters you have envisioned? The chapter we are writing today will determine the chapters we write tomorrow because we are becoming today who we will be tomorrow. The choices and decisions we make today determine everything about our final chapters.

Stop and take a little inventory. Think ahead to what you want in that final chapter of your life. If the decisions you’re making today or the sentences being written by your current actions will not get you to your desired conclusion, you’ve got to change your story now. You can’t wait a year or two. I encourage you to consider what changes are needed now so your story has the best conclusion years from now.