The Danger of Exclusiveness Among Christians

In many ways this is a post I never thought I would write. It’s not that my beliefs have changed at all over the last several months, but for most of my Christian life I’ve been the kind of guy who defends what I like to call “absolute truth.” Relativism – the idea that absolute truth does not exist – is a worldview entirely incompatible with Christianity, but one that seems to be common even among some professing Christians. With that said, exclusivity is not a bad word; in fact, it’s Biblical to some extent.

“Pilate saith unto him, What is truth? And when he had said this, he went out again unto the Jews, and saith unto them, I find in him no fault at all.”

                 John 18:38

Within every person is a desire to know truth. Not everyone likes the truth once they find it, but nobody intentionally lives for a lie. Whether you’re a devout Christian or a loyal atheist, your commitment comes from the underlying belief that you are right. I’ve seen evolutionists invent evidence to support their worldview, and I’ve known Christians who misquote Scripture or use it out of context as “proof” that their beliefs are accurate. They could just as easily decide to believe what they want independently of the facts, but human nature means we all hate the idea of being wrong.

In a world and culture saturated by evil and false doctrine, some level of exclusivity among Christians is healthy. For example, we must assert that Jesus Christ is the one and only way to heaven (John 14:6), that the virgin birth is a reality, and that His death and resurrection really occurred. Certain issues like these are simply not up for debate, as John indicated in his second epistle. According to verse 10, if any person “abideth not in the doctrine of Christ”, especially by denying the reality of His first coming, they should not even be welcomed into our homes.

Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints.

                                  -Jude 1:3

Too many Christians, however, extend this principle to every aspect of their spiritual lives. They leave churches or look down on fellow believers over things like predestination and Sabbath keeping. They argue about whether the rapture will be pre-, mid-, or post-millennial. Your time reading the Bible each day doesn’t even count unless you’re using their favorite translation. I understand there are definite truths at stake in each of these debates, but at some point all but excommunicating fellow believers for their differing beliefs does more harm than good – both to their walks with God and ours.

“Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word;
That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us…”

                                        -John 17:20-21

We understand that apostasy is and will continue to be prevalent in the last days (II Tim. 4:3). It is for this reason that we must “watch and pray” lest we enter into temptation ourselves (Matt. 26:41). But since God’s ultimate desire for His saints is that they experience unity, we must be careful not to undermine His divine work by looking down on everyone who’s understanding of Scripture is slightly different than ours. Why? Because such an attitude is devastating to the individual Christian’s spiritual life: not only will it discourage those who “aren’t good enough”, but it typically isolates the supposed “elite” Christian from the fellowship of other believers. Let us instead learn to live by the words of Paul in Romans 14:

[4] Who art thou that judgest another man's servant? to his own master he standeth or falleth. Yea, he shall be holden up: for God is able to make him stand.

[7] For none of us liveth to himself, and no man dieth to himself.

[8] For whether we live, we live unto the Lord; and whether we die, we die unto the Lord: whether we live therefore, or die, we are the Lord's.

[10] But why dost thou judge thy brother? or why dost thou set at nought thy brother? for we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ.

[12] So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God.

[13] Let us not therefore judge one another any more: but judge this rather, that no man put a stumblingblock or an occasion to fall in his brother's way.

 

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99% – Part 1: Fully Persuaded

Commitment never exceeds assurance. In fact, by simply examining a person’s devotion to a particular ideal, you can usually gain an accurate understanding of just how much they do (or don’t) believe in it. A Christian who still occasionally wonders about the divine inspiration of Scripture, or secretly doubts whether God actually exists, will never be fully committed to his faith or have much success in convincing others he’s found the truth.

“He staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God;
And being fully persuaded that, what He had promised, He was able also to perform.”

                    -Romans 4:20-21

Several years ago when God called me to preach, I remember a period of one or two days when I felt about 99% sure of my calling. Of course there are some areas of life when that level of certainty is sufficient, as we discussed last week. Would you hesitate to schedule a picnic on a day with a 99% chance of sunshine? Of course not. But I recognized that a call to the ministry carries with it much more significance than a day at the park. It’s a permanent calling and one that would require my daily attention.

Sure, 99% would have been enough at first. I would still have been able to preach my first sermon with enthusiasm and gladly accept any invitations to speak at local churches. But what about when things got rough? What about the times I faced criticism for my beliefs, or felt my service wasn’t being appreciated? Suddenly that small bit of doubt would have occasion to grow, and the devil would likely succeed in convincing me that I misunderstood the Lord in the first place.

With this in mind, I told God I needed absolute assurance that the voice I heard was in fact His. It took several more hours of prayer and soul searching, but I came away without any doubt of what God had called me to be.

Of course not everyone reading these words has been called to this same type of ministry, but you still need a relationship with God that is free of doubt and uncertainty. 99% may be enough for you today when everything is going well spiritually. But sooner or later, you’ll go through the fire. Your faith will be put to the test, and any doubts you have now will only grow then. Let today be the day you let God erase any doubts hidden deep in your heart and replace them with His truth.

 

99% – New Series Introduction

You’ve seen the ads. Chances are you’ve bought the products. Air fresheners, disinfectant wipes, and…well…99% of cleaning products on the market generally make the same claim: they’ll kill 99% of germs, 100% of the time. The question is whether or not 99% is good enough, and the answer inevitably depends on the context of the claim.

For example, a police department that successfully solved 99% of local crimes would be doing pretty good, as would any doctor that managed to send 99% of cancer patients into remission. For all intents and purposes, a bottle of hand sanitizer that sterilizes 99% of the germs on my hands is worth the money.

But there are as many scenarios when 99% is simply unacceptable. What if a hospital advertised a 99% success rate when it came to giving the right baby to the right mother? What if credit card companies charged only 99% of purchases to the right account, or your bank properly processed only 99% of transactions? Chances are it wouldn’t take an expensive advertising campaign for these inadequacies to become public knowledge.

On a more personal level, would you be satisfied in knowing your spouse was 99% sure he/she loved you? What if 1 John 4:8 read, “He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is mostly love?” Suppose the Word of God Itself claimed only to be 99% accurate? Chances are you would be hesitant to invest your life in a relationship if you weren’t entirely sure your feelings were reciprocated, or to follow God wholeheartedly if you thought there was a chance He didn’t exist.

In the same way, serving God is one of the many areas of life that requires absolute commitment. It’s not difficult to fill the majority of one’s time with godliness. You may attend church Sunday morning, listen to Christian music on your way to Cracker Barrel afterwards, and engage in Christian conversation around the table. But if you refuse the Lord’s leading to share the Gospel with the waitress, you successfully filled roughly 99% of your day with God but came up short when it mattered most. As the apostle Paul would have said, a little leaven leavened the whole lump (Gal. 5:9).

Over the next several weeks, we’re going to take an in-depth look at the difference between partial commitment and complete devotion. The differences may not always be obvious, but they are nevertheless important and often carry with them eternal consequences – both for you and those you influence.

Part 1 is scheduled to go live one week from today, so check back on Sunday or subscribe via email to make sure you don’t miss it. In the meantime, please leave a comment or shoot me an email with your thoughts or favorite Bible verses on the subject.

 

 

Get Over It – Dealing With Anger Through Forgiveness

“An angry man stirreth up strife, and a furious man aboundeth in transgression.”

       -Proverbs 29:22

Everybody knows what anger feels like. When someone lies to you, cuts you off in traffic, or is five minutes late for a dinner appointment you immediately feel it starting to build. But just because anger often comes so naturally when things don’t go your way doesn’t mean this emotion is always justified. Even if we are quite certain that we have every right to our anger, the question then becomes “is it worth it?” Studies show angry people are more likely to experience heart trouble, headaches and weakened immune systems1, not to mention the emotional and spiritual side effects.

“But Jesus got angry!” you may be saying. Yes, but Jesus’ anger was far different than what we usually experience. In his book “Anger is a Choice”, Tim LaHaye makes this point:

“It is wrong to compare our Lord's anger toward sin with human anger, for Jesus has a divine nature of holiness that man does not share; thus Jesus could sustain a holy wrath without sin. His most severe anger involved righteous indignation against sin; it was never a response to personal rejection, insult, or injury.”

Reading this for the first time awakened me to the foolishness of comparing my anger to God’s, or attempting to justify resentment based on Christ’s occasional righteous indignation toward the Pharisees. I’ve heard many believers point to the Lord’s cleansing of the temple in John 2 as “evidence” that their own anger toward a friend or family member is reasonable, without considering that Christ never took personal offense. Is there any record of a heated argument with Peter after his denial of the Lord? Did He harbor a grudge against Judas, or any of those who crucified Him? Quite the opposite! In fact, Scripture indicates His immediate prayer was for their forgiveness (Luke 23:34). It didn’t take Him years of battling with bitterness and hatred before He found peace; He never gave place to anger in the first place. 

“But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”

       -Matthew 6:15

The obvious cure for anger is forgiveness, and forgiveness never comes without sacrifice on your part. For example, forgiving someone who stole $10 from you means releasing your claim to that money and shouldering the financial consequences of another’s actions. Forgiving someone for tainting your reputation with gossip means bearing the loss of your good name. Basically, any instance of forgiveness requires you to give up your claim to restitution. Isn’t that what Christ did for us? He released us from the consequences of our sin, but only because He personally paid the price for them.

In the parable of the king, one generous ruler forgave his servant of an enormous debt equivalent to millions of dollars in today’s money. The former debtor then went out and found someone who owed him 100 pence, – about $10 – took him by the throat, and demanded payment (Matthew 18:23-30). Forgiveness was not given as it had been received, and anger was the result.

Don’t allow your life to be consumed with anger. It is perhaps the greatest thief of Christian joy you’ll ever encounter, while the extension of forgiveness to the undeserving is one of the greatest sources of this joy. Let your joy be full.

 

1 http://www.webmd.com/balance/stress-management/features/how-anger-hurts-your-heart
http://theycallmewahmmy.com/can-anger-make-you-sick/

Book Review: “The Great House of God”

Book Cover

I can’t recall ever reading a book by Max Lucado and feeling disappointed by the overall quality and clarity of his work. The only disappointment is when the final page is turned and the last paragraphed read, and “The Great House of God” was able to both meet and surpass every expectation I had.

Max does a phenomenal job examining every portion of the Lord’s prayer which, as you will recall, spans only five verses of the Word of God. And yet despite the actual passage’s relative brevity, I was captivated by 240 pages of highly-visual language. As he points out, the Lord’s prayer is more than a set of eloquent words to be recited; it is a promise to be trusted. Furthermore, it lays the groundwork for what he calls The Great House of God: we can find fellowship in the family room, nourishment in the kitchen, and a reminder of our Father’s majesty in the chapel. The best part of all is that we have not merely been invited to this place for a short visit, but we are called to take up permanent residence in the home of our Creator.

The prayer of David in Psalm 27:4 was simple: “That I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the LORD.” If this is not currently your prayer, then certainly “The Great House of God” will convince you that it should be. Even if at this moment you feel no need for encouragement and are already dwelling this magnificent house, still consider picking up a copy of this worthwhile read. Perhaps it will open the doors to rooms you didn’t know existed.

My Rating: 5/5 Stars

 

Disclaimer: I received this book free from the publisher in exchange for my honest review. I was not required to write a positive review and all expressed opinions are my own.

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