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Monday, June 30, 2008

What Do You Believe?

The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, a think tank that studies statistics concerning faith in America, released a survey this week that stated 92% of Americans believe in God or a universal spirit (on a weird note, this includes one in every five atheists... huh?). And before we get too excited about this statistic, the study also demonstrated that the majority of Americans, including religiously conservative Americans, have a very non-exclusive attitude when it comes to which faith is true or which faith is false. In fact, 70% (!) believe that many religions can lead to eternal salvation and three quarters of those surveyed believe there are many ways (all valid, I assume) to interpret the teachings of their religion. And now that stat that made me lose sleep... 588 Missouri Synod Lutherans were surveyed, and 78% of them believed that many religions can lead to eternal life!

Folks, this is not okay. There are not many ways to be saved. There is one Way, one Truth, one Life and that is faith in Jesus alone! Jesus is pretty clear on this (John 14:6). Most people in our country probably think that they can be saved by being a good person. But no one can live up to the standard that God has set out because we are all sinners. Some people will try another religion. But this is pointless as there is no other god in existence and all those other religions ultimately force you to do the work to save yourself. But God is good to us, He gives Jesus to die as a sacrifice for our sins. Our sins are washed away in the blood of the Lamb. As far as the east is from the west, so far has God removed our sins from us in Jesus. (Psalm 103:12).

This is the way, and the only way, God has chosen to carry out his saving work. And no matter how exclusivist this may sound and as close-minded as the world may color this assertion, it is true. We must understand, by saying this we are not trying to be "right" or "better" than anyone else or any other religion. No, we are delivering the Good News of what God has done for us in Jesus.

Such statistics make me more and more convinced that we need to be learning what we believe and why we believe it. I can't urge you enough to consider joining our Sunday morning study where we are examining what we believe as Christians and why it matters. If you were to be asked the question, "Why do Christians think that they are the only ones going to heaven?" how would you respond? If this question is hard to answer for you, I really think that our class will help you. Not only will it strengthen your faith, it will help you share your faith more openly and confidently with your inquisitive neighbors. Please join us on Sunday's at 9:15am so we can learn together what we believe and why we believe it.

Pastor Bob

Speaking of Jesus - July 2008

In a recent Christianity Today interview with Tim Keller, an influential pastor in New York City, he was asked the question "Are doubts that believers face the same doubts that unbelievers face?" I thought his response was interesting. He said,
It's your society that gives you the doubts. If you go to the Middle East and ask people what makes Christianity implausible, they're not going to say, "Because there can't be one true religion." They're going to say, "Because of how oppressive America has been as a Christian nation, and if you look at their culture, it's lascivious and debauched."

If you ask Americans, "What makes Christianity implausible to you?" they're not going to say, "Your popular culture is filled with sex and violence." They will say, "How could there be one true religion?"

Christians are living in the same culture that is blasting unbelievers with this is what is implausible about Christianity. If they lived in another culture, they'd be blasted with something else. So they probably are dealing with the same things [as non-Christians are] intellectually.
Christianity Today v. 52, number 6, June 2008. p. 38.

I think that this answer is incredibly insightful and can be applied to our situations with our friends who don't know Jesus. And, though I think he is absolutely right as to why many Americans do not want to follow Jesus (i.e., His exclusive claims), what we can take from this answer is that the way we talk about our faith is going to be shaped by the objections people raise. So, you are not going to emphasize that Christianity is the only way to people who are upset by the lack or morality a so-called "Christian" nation has produced. That is not their hang-up.

When discussing the faith, we need to make sure we are dealing with the questions people are asking. So, for the American who struggles with whether or not Jesus can really be the ONLY way, it is incumbent upon us to explain why Jesus can be the only way and is the only way. And to the person who is troubled by the moral laxity in America, we agree wholeheartedly with their assessment (we are a pretty sinful nation) and explain God's view on sin and the grace he gives to all of us who have fallen away.

So, to bring this home, find out from your friends and coworkers what is keeping them away from Christianity. Be willing to ask the hard questions, "Why is it that you don't go to church?" "Why don't you believe in Jesus?" and so on. Don't ever anticipate an answer, you never know what someone will say. But, be willing to go home and pray about their answer and seek direction from God and your brothers and sisters here at church as to how to deal with their objections.

Pastor Bob

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Saturday, June 7, 2008

Churches Revealed!

Martin Luther once said concerning the book of Revelation, "If it is called Revelation, it should reveal something!" Of all the books in the Bible, this is arguably the most complicated and confusing book. Much of the imagery is dark and even a bit scary. Too often we have visions of dragons and angels fighting it out over the end of the world. Even though the point of the book is that the Jesus, the Lamb of God, is victorious and will save his Church, Revelation can be a very intimidating book.

But, did you know that Revelation, far from being a scary preview into the end times, is a letter written by St. John (the same disciple who wrote the Gospel of John, and I, II, and III John) to bring comfort and exhortation to seven first century churches? These churches were facing persecutions and attacks of all kinds. They were also facing internal struggles within their own congregations. John wrote to them because Jesus had revealed to John messages that he wanted these churches to hear.

Upon closer examination of these churches, we find that the struggles they faced are struggles that still plague the church today. As the author of Ecclesiastes says, there is nothing new under the sun. Heresies, temptations, persecutions, outside cultural influences trumping the mission of the Church, and on the list goes. The same old attacks they faced then, we face today. This summer, we are going to examine the letters to each of the churches. We won't be studying the whole book of Revelation, though we will certainly gain insights on how to study that book. For our purposes it will be sufficient to learn what Christ had to say to those seven churches in the face of their struggles and from this we will see what Christ has to say to us when we face similar situations.

Pastor Bob

Speaking of Jesus: Questions?

As I was contemplating putting together this section of the newsletter, my intended purpose was to help equip you to talk about Jesus with your friends. The last few installments have offered insights on how we are to embrace our non-Christian friends with the Gospel and how we can defend the truth of the resurrection. These are things that I think are very important for us to know as we go out with God's word to enlighten the world about the reality of Jesus' reign. But it struck me as I sat down to put together this month's article, these may not be the questions your friends are asking. My goal is not to equip you to have imaginary conversations, but rather, my goal is to aid you in the conversations you are already having or to deal with the questions you yourself may be struggling to answer. So, this month I am asking for your help. I want you to send me questions that you would like to see answered. This way I am not answering questions no one is asking and we can use this article to be of some real benefit to you. If you would like, please email me, call me (805-532-1049), or ask me a question on Sunday that you would like to see dealt with and I will do my best to answer your questions in this section. If you have heard or had a question, chances are very good that someone else is asking the same thing and by answering it here, we will help equip each other to share Jesus. No question is off limits! This section will become more interactive and useful for us as we set out to tell people the Good News, that Jesus died for the sins of the world and has risen to give us everlasting life!

Pastor Bob

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