Monday, April 7, 2014

Who (or what) Do You Choose to Obey?- Acts 4:19-20
What motivates the day in and day out decisions that you make? I'm not even talking about the big ones...I'm talking about the ones that are made without much thought at all. The decisions about how to respond to a comment made to you. That choice about how you will spend your free hour at lunch. The decision about what direction to steer a conversation with a neighbor, co-worker, friend, family member, or even enemy.

What do you obey in those situations?

We obey a lot of different people and things. We obey the laws of the land. We obey the cultural norms. We obey the customs and traditions that we have been born into and/or have developed over a lifetime. We obey our friends' and families' expectations of us. We obey our natural selfish tendencies.

None of those things are wrong in and of themselves to obey. In fact, several of them can even be good things to obey. But what about when those things interfere with the choice to obey God?

In the context of the verse above, Peter and John have just been instructed by the Jewish leaders to quit talking about Jesus because it was causing a disturbance among the people. And their response was a beautiful guiding principle that we would do well to memorize and quote often in our heads if not sometimes out loud as well. "Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God's sight to obey you rather than God." How many past mistakes could have been avoided if we had spoken those words to whatever temptation was pulling us? How many relationships would have not suffered the biting remarks of anger if we had stopped to think about obedience to God instead of obedience to self-righteousness?

But of course, Peter and John weren't using it in exactly that way...they were discussing the specific choice of speaking about Jesus. Its interesting that they spoke so boldly and so powerfully when the rulers were commanding and threatening them not to. Whereas in America, where we have freedom of speech and freedom of religion, we hesitate and we keep silent. That is usually not out of fear of persecution either. Its out of nothing more than fear of awkwardness.

What have you seen and heard about Jesus? Why do you put your hope in him? Why do you follow him? May we be a people that has the courage once again to make a very definite distinction about who we are choosing to obey. And may we have the same drive to say "we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard."

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

A Painful Truth

Original photo by flickr user greengirl24
According to the Pew Forum, there are 2.2 billion people in the world that associate themselves with Christianity. That doesn't look at differences in denominations inside Christianity. That number just represents people who claim belief in the name of Christ. Since the total world population is somewhere around 7.2 billion, that leaves about 5 billions people in the world that do not claim the name of Christ for salvation.

How does that fact hit you? Maybe you have heard those numbers before and you are accustomed to them. Maybe you are like me and the word "billion" is kind of an abstract thought that you can't really wrap your mind around. So let's do it this way...if you put a random world sample of 100 people in a room, 71 or 72 of them would deny faith in Christ. If you claim belief of Jesus, you would be one of the 28 or 29 in the room who do.

Now is it more real? What do you feel when you hear that? Are you ok with it? I would guess that the number who hold Acts 4:12 as an absolute truth would be even smaller than the 2.2 billion who claim Christianity in some form or fashion.

Why? Because it is much easier to disregard this statement that Jesus is the only way. To believe that means that 78 other people in the room cannot have salvation. It makes us seem narrow minded and hateful to some. It makes us uncomfortable when others accuse "our" God of being unfair to cast most of the world's population into hell because they have not accepted, or in some cases, heard the name of Jesus the Christ. If there are other ways to God, then I don't have to worry about those other people. I don't have to feel compelled to explain the name of Jesus to them. I don't have to take time away from work, from pleasure, from family, from rest to labor in the vineyards and explain the effects of sin and the grace of God in Christ. I don't have to study to understand why I believe in the name of Christ instead of the name of Muhammed, or Buddha, or Moses.

But if it is true...

If there is no other way to God than through Christ...

If the only path to salvation truly is the way and the truth and the life...Jesus...

then my heart must be broken for those who have not heard or accepted that name!!

So what do you believe? Do you really believe that there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we can be saved? I'll warn careful how you answer.

Because if you answer yes, but you decide not to do anything about the other 78 people in the room wh would answer no, then there are only two options:
  1. either you have not understood the severity of sin and the love and grace of God and are therefore still unconverted yourself. Or...
  2. you are living in direct violation of Jesus' command to "go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit and teaching them to obey all things I have commanded you," and you are living in direct violation of the second greatest command to "love your neighbor as yourself."
There is a well-known video (you can view a portion of it here) of the comedian Penn Jillete, who is an atheist, discussion a Christian who offered him a Bible after one of his shows. The comedian talks about his respect for that man and his disrespect for Christians who do not "proselytize." He asks the question, "how much do you have to hate somebody to believe that everlasting life is possible and not tell them that?"

He's right. If we really believe what we say we believe, then regardless of the cost, regardless of the sacrifice, regardless of the possible rejection...we must act.

So where do you stand? Do you believe Acts 4:12 is true? Then what will you do about it?