Category Archives: Theology

The Case For Resurrection (Part One)

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If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised.  And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. (1 Corinthians 15:13-14)

Recently, my wife and I went to see the new Pure Flix movie The Case for Christ. The film chronicles the long, sometimes laborious but ultimately glorious, journey from atheism to faith by Christian apologist Lee Strobel.

The devil took a serious thumping when his prized skeptic Strobel found faith and slipped from his gnarly grasp. Strobel, a self-proclaimed atheist, was an award-winning investigative journalist for The Chicago Tribune. As part of Strobel’s conversion, and long after, he put those journalism skills to work to investigate the claims of Christianity.  In the process, he penned several million-seller books that are essentially legal briefs (or cases) to prove God, Jesus, the Resurrection, the Scriptures and Christianity.

In his new feature film, Strobel argues strongly that the flashpoint for Christianity is the Resurrection of Jesus.  Nothing else Jesus said, did, or predicted matters if the Resurrection is false.  Christianity, as Paul argued to the Corinthians, is nothing but an empty shell.

It’s also nothing new.

Ever since the first Easter Sunday, Christians have joyfully pointed to this historical event as the REASON for Faith.  It’s the motivation for belief.  Death has no more say, no more sting, no more stranglehold.  Jesus’ Resurrection changed the rules of the game. What once bound all men and buried them far from God was death.  The biblical writers called this place the Sheol (Hebrew: Genesis 42:38; 44:29; 1 Samuel 2:6; Job 7:9; 21:13; Psalm 89:48; Proverbs 1:12) or Hades (Greek: Matthew 11:23; Luke 16:23; Revelation 20:13).  It was the land of the dead.  A place of separation.  If there was any good news it was that Israel held a “get out of death” card, a promise of coming Resurrection (Daniel 12:1-3; John 11:23-25).

Nevertheless, until Jesus, whenever a person died, the Scriptures reveal he or she descended down into the Sheol or Hades.  Nobody went up into “paradise” or in the Greek idea to a “third heaven” where God dwelt (2 Corinthians 12:1-4; Revelation 2:7).  Yes, there were exceptions. Some were “caught up.” Enoch just disappeared one day (Genesis 5:24; Hebrews 11:5).  Elijah raptured on a heavenly chariot (2 Kings 2:11-12).  And Moses got a taste of both places, as Jewish tradition taught he was assumed out of Sheol into paradise by Michael the archangel.  Paul was “caught up” to this paradise.  But everyone else–righteous or not–took the down elevator at death.  Can you imagine now the angst and anger it created when Jesus informed a lowly thief that he would join him IN “paradise” (Luke 23:43)?  That was coded “resurrection” talk.  The thief was in and the Pharisees were out.  The last shall be first.

And then Jesus starts waking up the dead.  Just like Elijah did (I Kings 17:17-23; 2 Kings 4:32-35). Ironically, raising the dead was an occasional Messiah miracle and only three accounts are recorded:  the widow’s son at Nain (Luke 7:13-15), Jairus’ daughter (Matthew 9:18-26) and Lazarus (John 11:1-44).

Halfway through his ministry, Jesus enjoyed a mountaintop retreat with his inner three disciples (Peter, James and John). Suddenly Elijah and Moses crash the party in their “transfigured” eternal bodies that were “dazzling white” (Mark 9:2-10).   It must’ve been something to see. In was a slice of Heaven on earth.  However, such blessings were reserved for the resurrected dead, as Jesus taught his curious disciples after the event.  Mark writes: Jesus gave them orders not to tell anyone what they had seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead. They kept the matter to themselves, discussing what “rising from the dead” meant.  

Don’t say a word, said Jesus.  We’re clueless anyway, replied his disciples.

It takes someone very, very special to perform a resurrection.  Many a faith charlatan has faked lesser miracles, but who can raise the dead?  Jesus’ miracle ministry definitely brought him press and pressure.  You want to get yourself killed?  Start raising the dead.  In fact, it wasn’t until after Lazarus’ resurrection the Sanhedrin commenced a plot to kill Jesus (John 11:45-53).

But if you really want to cause a stir, preach your own death and resurrection.  Mark records that Jesus began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again (Mark 8:31).

That’s serious lunatic talk.  It’s one thing to chat up your own murder but something altogether crazy to prophesy your own resurrection.

Maybe that’s why atheists, skeptics and unbelievers are puzzled by the Resurrection of Jesus the Christ.  How do you rationalize the irrational?  How do you explain the unexplainable?  How do you defend the indefensible?  Every other great guru, religious leader and spiritual master carved a career and created a following.  A few nut jobs, reading bad tea leaves, predicted their death but none seriously dared to suggest they’d be back among the living within 72 hours.  That’s insane. That’s crazy. That’s nonsensical.  That’s a fairy tale.

It certainly is…unless you’re talking about God in the Flesh.

That’s who Jesus was.

And who Lee Strobel soon discovered that he was not.

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Church Traditions You Won’t Find in the Bible (Part 5): “The Bible”

NOTE:  Every church is guided by traditions that guard the doctrinal nuances of a denomination, religious body or congregation. Most of these traditions are post-apostolic and culturally sensitive in origin and practice. Many are innocent and acceptable.  But occasionally some traditions emerge that contain no biblical or historical support. In fact, when deeply considered, these traditions, rituals and spiritual acts can actually detract, delay, detour or distort authentic Christianity. It doesn’t take a theologian to understand these traditions aren’t Scriptural, but many Christians still trust their efficacy and practice them with little thought.  In this series of articles I’ll investigate several such traditions that have emerged in the past 150 years of Protestant evangelical Christianity.

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The B-I-B-L-E …yes, that’s the book for me!  I stand alone on the Word of God…the B-I-B-L-E!

Yes, the Bible is the book for a lot of people and the most loved, generously quoted and best-selling book of all time.  It’s translated into thousands of languages and paraphrased into countless contexts.  I personally collect Bibles.  I have an 1849 pocket KJV New Testament for a circuit-riding preacher.  I have an interlinear Bible.  I have a “parallel Bible” with four different translations. I have a Bible translated in Hawaiian pigeon called “Da Jesus Book,” and an African-American “Rappin’ With Jesus” Bible.  I have the Greek New TestamentBible on CD and often listen to the Word of God, digitally, via www.biblegateway.com.

I grew up reading, studying and memorizing the Bible.  I participated in Bible Bowl, pitting my knowledge of Scripture texts against other high schoolers in a form of church-sanctioned righteous Christian combat (creating skills later used in Bible trivia games and arguments with whom I disagreed).  I went to Bible studies, sang Bible songs, attended Bible movies and spent years in Bible college and seminary.  I enjoy watching Bible documentaries, reading Bible commentaries and listening to biblical preaching.  I just love the Bible!

I grew up in a church culture with a proud tradition as a “people of the Book.”  The Bible was the centerpiece of our practices, teaching, preaching, ministries and programs.  If you couldn’t defend it from Scripture, it wasn’t something to defend. One of our hallmark mantras was “if the Bible speaks, we speak; if it’s silent, we’re silent.”  The Bible was the top and the bottom, the first and the last line for everything.

And then one day I discovered a terrible truth:  the word “Bible” isn’t even in the Bible.  Go ahead and search for it.  I double dog dare you.  It’s not there. Why?  It’s because the Bible is actually a technology.  The Bible (from the Greek word for book or biblos) is the product of renaissance Gutenberg print technology.  The Bible is a book and a book is a form of print communication.

What we find in our printed book (or Holy Book/Bible) is a completely different vocabulary.  For example, there’s the “Word of God” (Proverbs 30:5; Isaiah 40:8; John 10:35) or the “Holy Scriptures” (Romans 1:2; 2 Timothy 3:15) or just “Scriptures” (Daniel 9:2; Matthew 21:42; Luke 24:45; Acts 17:2; 18:28; I Corinthians 15:54)  In fact, there are 20 occurrences for “Scriptures” and all refer to the collected books we now call the Old Testament.

In David’s infamous Psalm 119, he creates a living thesaurus for these “Scriptures” and refers to them as:

  • “statutes” (vv. 2,14,22,24,31,36,46,59,79,88,95,99)
  • “precepts” (vv. 4,15,27,40,45,56,63,69,78,87,93,94,100)
  • “decrees” (vv. 5,8,12,16,23,26,33,48,54,64,68,71,80,83)
  • “commands” (vv. 6,10,19,21,32,35,47,48,60,66,73,86,96,98)
  • “law/laws”(vv. 1,7,13,18,20,29,30,34,39,43,44,55,61,62,70,72, 75,77,85,91,92,97),
  • God’s “word/words” (vv. 9,11,16,17,25,28,37,42,49,51,52, 53,57,65,67,74,81,89)
  • “word of truth” (v. 43)

And that’s just first 100 verses!  David also cites “promises” in several verses.  It’s no wonder the Scriptures are a “lamp” and “light” (Psalm 119:105).

Hebrews 4:12 states the “word of God” is living and active.  Like any living thing, it’s constantly changing, not in its Message but in its applications, formats and interpretations.  In a famous parable Jesus used a living “seed” as the metaphor for the Word of God (Luke 8:4-11).  That’s why it’s short-sighted to profess being a “people of the Book.”  The book is finite technology.  The book can burn, rot, erode, fade and disappear but God’s Word does not.  Jesus never reduced the Scriptures to scrolls and papyri, the written formats of His day.  He simply referred to them as “the Scriptures.”

In a digital culture, the Word of God (Holy Scriptures) remains “living and active” but, let’s face facts, the print culture (of which the book or Bible operates) is dying.  It’s had a great 500-year run but as digitization continues to reimagine how we read, transmit and learn, the book is on life support and death watch.  Even if the book or the Bible survives, it will probably do so more as a relic or collectible (like vinyl records).  Most people will read the Word from a screen, web page or live stream.

That’s why we must be careful in our desire to elevate God’s Word and His Message that we don’t venerate or idolize the format.  The book (biblos or Bible) can go away but God’s Word lasts forever.  In the Old Testament the “Word of God” came more from a voice than a book (I Chronicles 17:3; 2 Chronicles 11:2; 36:12; 36:16; Jeremiah 2:1; 19:3).  In time the written “Word of God” became a cornerstone for generations (Jeremiah 30:2) and will remain so in a digital economy.

Jesus was the “Word” of God (John 1:14) and spoke the Word of God (Luke 5:1).  In fact, he said blessing arose when those who “heard” the Word of God obeyed (Luke 11:28).  In Acts, the “word of God” is the gospel according to Jesus (Acts 6:7; 8:14; 11:1; 12:24; 13:5, 7, 46; 17:13; 18:11).  This idea is echoed further in Paul’s epistles (1 Corinthians 14:36; 2 Corinthians 2:17).

One final New Testament phrase for the Holy Scriptures is “word of truth.”  Paul encouraged Timothy to “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15).”  Meanwhile James exhorts that we have been given new birth through the “word of truth” (James 1:18).

To summarize, you won’t find the word “Bible” in the Holy Scriptures.  The reason is simple:  it’s technology.  And no technology is eternal.  When we use words like “Bible” and “biblical” or phrases like “we’re a people of the Book,” we wed ourselves to fading technology.  The Scriptures have been chiseled in stone, carved in wood, brushed on canvas, penned on papyrus, framed in stained glass and inked on paper.  Today the emerging format just happens to be digital.  Yes, the Bible is a good word, but it’s not THE word.

Maybe it’s time we rephrased the infamous B-I-B-L-E song we sang as kids:

The W-O-R-D…yes, that’s the Message for me.  I stand alone on the Truth of God…the W-O-R-D!

 

A (Radical) Reimagination Movement

shaping-the-futureI’m a Christian.  I’m a follower of Jesus Christ.  I believe there is One Holy Universal (or catholic) Church.  You’re either part of it or you’re not.  There are no denominations in heaven.  Christ is not and cannot be divided by our creeds, our labels, our slogans, our buildings, our programs, our clergy, or any other human strategy.

Nevertheless, I fully recognize that we all grow up “divided.”  Every Christian grows up with a theological bias, born of our unique spiritual heritage and special cultural contexts.  We all learn the Scriptures from good men (and women) who have taught us “part” of the Whole.  Nobody has “Perfect” theology.  Nobody.  And when it comes to HOW we practice Christianity, there are countless (and good) flavors.

To be honest, I love them all.  I love the emotional fire I feel in a Pentecostal church.  I appreciate the commitment to social justice by the Methodists.  I value the emphasis upon holiness by my Nazarene friends.  I love the liturgy and commitment to Eucharist in a Catholic Mass.  I appreciate the deep commitment to intellectual Christianity by the Presbyterian and the biblical passion of the Baptist.  I have found solace in the spiritual disciplines of the Quaker, the Mennonite and the Amish.  I’ve experienced nearly every form and type of modern Christianity and find myself in all…and, paradoxically, in none of them.

Personally, I grew up in the network of churches that emerged out of a 19th century “Restoration Movement.”  These independent Christian churches and Churches of Christ have had a significant impact on the wider American church landscape.  In the mid-1800s and, most recently, in the 1990s, no church grew faster than Christian churches (except the Mormons).  And these non-denominational churches still enjoy attractional success.  In fact, per capita, there are more Christian church megachurches than any other denomination. I love the independent Christian church commitments to the historic Faith and the emphasis placed upon the sacraments of Communion (weekly) and Baptism (essential).  The movement’s greatest contribution is an oft-quoted proposal, erroneously  attributed to Augustine, that all Christians should unite around the essentials (“matters of faith”), allow diversity in non-essentials (“matters of opinion”) and show love (“in all things, charity”).

With that said, even the Restoration Movement–which again claims to be non-denominational–eventually carved an ad hoc division or denomination within modern Christianity.  All churches do.  Every denomination is a separation from the rest in creed or ecclesiastical practice.

What some in my Restoration Movement family forgot is that we are still an outgrowth of Protestant Christianity. Our forefathers–Thomas and Alexander Campbell, Walter Scott, Barton W. Stone, James O’Kelly–were Presbyterian and Methodist churchmen. Consequently, we carried a lot of “Protestant churchianity” forward into our “nondenominational denominationalism.”  In many ways, these independent Christian churches became part of the ecclesiastical machine.  It wasn’t the intent of the founders but, in time, it happened.  It always does.

In light of what’s happening in wider postmodern culture, I’ve come to the radical conclusion that it’s time for a RADICAL REIMAGINATION of the Church.  We must recapture and reinstitute the Original DNA and Purpose of ekklesia. We do not gather to sing (although we can), we do not gather to hear a sermon (although that’s a good thing), we don’t even gather to give offerings (although that’s to be encouraged).  We do not need a building or a facility in which to meet (although that’s acceptable).  True ekklesia happens anywhere at anytime with anyone. The Restoration Movement attempted to restore the “ancient faith and practice” and succeeded to a degree, but yet remained committed to the Catholic and Protestant wineskin of “church in a box” (a gathering more defined by where we meet [space] and when we meet [time]).  In this Constantinian wineskin of churchianity nickels and noses become the greatest barometer for success.

In contrast, Acts 2:42 gives the four reasons for a Christian ekklesia:

NOTE:  If a Sunday “service” doesn’t include these four elements, it no longer reflects the Original DNA.  For example, in most churches today the people don’t have a prayer.  Only the priests and pastors (and other important guys on stage) pray.  This is not what Jesus desired nor instituted.

The early Church operated “house to house” and was flexible and fluid to cultural change, even persecution. There’s nothing wrong with church buildings (again, a Constantinian 4th century innovation), but God does not live in buildings and neither should we center our ecclesiology around brick and mortar. The Body of Christ is PEOPLE not programs, it’s about FACES not facility, it’s about COMMUNITY and COMMUNION not a building, attendance mark, offering count, staff hire or service time.

The Church is alive and well on a postmodern planet earth.

But I believe it’s clearly time to radically restore Her to the Original DNA and reimagine Her within fresh paradigms that fill new cultural wineskins.  The old wineskins just aren’t working anymore.  Times have changed but Jesus has not.  So don’t be surprised when He works his greatest miracles using new wine and fresh wineskins.

That’s why everything still boils down to a simple proclamation:  I am a Christian.  I am a follower of Christ.  And I will die for this Faith before I let this faith die in me.  I will not let a creed or doctrine, denomination or religious personality, define me.  Jesus alone is my frame.  And His Mission to go, preach, teach and disciple is my mission.  I will pray like He taught me to pray.  I will sacrifice my time, talent and treasure for the Kingdom.  Jesus the Christ will be my First, my Last and my Always.

Here I stand, I can do nothing else.

Let the Reimagination Movement begin.

Church Traditions You Won’t Find in the Bible (Part 3): The Lord’s Snack

NOTE:  Every church is guided by traditions that guard the doctrinal nuances of a denomination, religious body or congregation. Most of these traditions are post-apostolic and culturally sensitive in origin and practice. Many are innocent and acceptable.  But occasionally some traditions emerge that contain no biblical or historical support. In fact, when deeply considered, these traditions, rituals and spiritual acts can actually detract, delay, detour or distort authentic Christianity. It doesn’t take a Bible major to understand these traditions aren’t Scriptural, but many Christians still trust their efficacy and practice them with little thought.  In this series of articles I’ll investigate several such traditions that have emerged in the past 150 years of Protestant evangelical Christianity.

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Whatever happened to the Lord’s Supper?  

I’ll be honest, communion is my favorite church ritual.  Growing up, my church family took the communion or the “Lord’s Supper” seriously…and weekly.  Prior to each experience, we’d sing a “Communion Hymn” (usually something related to crosses, blood or bread), then an elder taught about what the “supper” represented, why we took it and how to participate.  A prayer of blessing followed.  Nothing was taken for granted, especially with visitors in the house.

After all, the Lord’s Supper wasn’t for everyone.  You had to be baptized to participate…which meant no children…since adolescence was the time for such weighty decisions. In fact, I remember toweling off after my baptism only to be greeted by an elder holding a small tray with a glass cup and homemade unleavened bread, cut into tiny half inch squares.  It was my “first” Communion.

Every Christmas Eve my church held a candlelight service featuring “family” Communion.  We’d share several carols, hear a brief message on the meaning of Christmas, light our candles and sing “Silent Night.”  Then individual families approached the communion table.  On this night fathers served their families (at least the baptized ones) or, in rare cases, a mother might lead.  It was clear to my child’s mind the reason we gathered was to commune in this ancient Christian ritual.

But that was four decades ago.  Today’s communion service means anything goes…and usually does.

This past Christmas Eve I attended one of the largest churches in America.  I chose a church that, traditionally, practices weekly and Christmas Eve communion.  The service targeted the casual, the indifferent or the seeker and so I had no problem with the communion service happening afterwards in another room. As hundreds hustled for the doors to start their Christmas celebrations, I followed another line into an adjacent room where tables were set with trays of juice and bread.  Outside of a Bible verse (non-related to communion) projected on the wall, the atmosphere possessed all the spirituality of Whoville. The cups were plastic thimbles filled with grape juice.  The wafer was small bits of hard bread.  Nobody prayed.  Nobody guided the experience.  No hymn was sung and no instructions given.  People just filed and filtered through to briefly dine on the Lord’s Snack.  Given the night, maybe milk and cookies would’ve been a better choice (would anyone know the difference?).  Santa Claus does better than Jesus these days.

The devaluation and deconstruction of the “Lord’s Supper,” Communion or Eucharist (as some churches call it) has been happening for a half century.  For the most part, this ancient ritual is largely an after thought in evangelical and non-denominational churches today, including those who practice the ritual weekly…or should I say weakly?  Furthermore, in most evangelical churches, communion is served monthly or quarterly or, in a select few, once a year.

The question is why?  And how did we get here?

The genesis of this recent deconstruction is 500 years old.  That’s when the Protestant Reformation reimagined the flow and purpose of the worship gathering.  In the Catholic and Orthodox strains of Christianity, the Eucharist was (and still is) the centerpiece of the service or “mass.”  Every ritual, every prayer, every Scripture, the brief homily and hymnody point to the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ.  The Eucharist is delivered as a Body of believers to each believer.  It’s a commUNION within sacred community.

But the Protestant Reformation reinvented the worship gathering to focus on the Scripture lecture or biblical sermon (sola Scriptura).  Communion was valued but relegated to side show attraction.  In the evangelical movement of a post-WW2 America, the Lord’s Supper lost weekly billing, then monthly billing.  It was more important for evangelicals to sing, give, announce, and dine on a sermon.  The megachurch movement recast the Lord’s Supper, particularly in those churches that participated weekly, into a “drive thru” experience.  One megachurch pastor boasted how they could execute the Lord’s Supper in five minutes to thousands of congregants.  Basically, pass the cuplet and chicklet.  Fast (spiritual) food.  In some churches prayers are no longer given or teaching provided before the Lord’s Supper is distributed.  Just grab and go.

Frankly, of all the liturgical abuses in modern churchianity, messing with the Lord’s Supper might be the most dangerous.  If practiced improperly or in vain, this tradition holds a punishment of “sinning against the body and blood” of Jesus (1 Corinthians 11:27).  You don’t see such penalties against other rituals or traditions (i.e., giving, worship, baptism).  The point is clear:  we need to get this one right.  The Didache (chapter 9), an ancient, late-1st century document on church practices, states forcefully: But let no one eat or drink of your Eucharist, unless they have been baptized into the name of the Lord; for concerning this also the Lord has said, “Give not that which is holy to the dogs.”

The first problem is this “supper” is hardly the “snack” that most Christians encounter today.  Originally, the Lord’s Supper was just that…a supper.  A full meal deal.  Communion happened in a fellowship meal moment to remember the sacrifice of Jesus through drinking “the fruit of the vine” and dining upon unleavened bread.  A meal within a meal.  This “communion” experience was instituted by Jesus within the Jewish Passover meal, a feast which featured four cups and several courses of food.  Today’s Jewish seder remains a model, although even it’s evolved in two millennia.  Of course, this full meal was open to abuses.  The Corinthians were soundly rebuked by Paul for using the experience for gluttony and drunkenness (I Corinthians 11:17-22).  The “Supper” within a supper is also found in Acts where the “breaking of bread” (or literally “breaking of the bread”) is used to denote the Lord’s Supper as part of their “fellowship” gathering, which included meals in homes (Acts 2:41-46).  Paul states this “supper” is more than a “snack” but a participation in the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ (I Corinthians 10:16) and something to enjoy as “often” or “whenever” possible (I Corinthians 11:26).

Historically, unleavened bread and grape juice was used.  The Passover feast in Jesus’ time forbade bread with leaven and, consequently, any fermented drink.  In fact, the biblical record shows the Israelites drank no “fermented drink” or ate any leavened bread during their 40-year Exodus (Deuteronomy 29:4-6), in which they would’ve celebrated 40 Passover meals.  Consequently, it’s safe to imply “wine” was not part of the historic Passover meal.  Even today’s Passover seder uses grape juice or “kosher wine.” Furthermore, three gospels describe this ancient meal and specifically state the cup is “fruit of the vine” or grape juice (Matthew 26:29; Mark 14:25; Luke 22:18).  This unique designation is connected only to the Passover and Eucharist meal, as these same writers use “wine” (fermenting/fermented grape juice) elsewhere (Matthew 9:17; Mark 15:23; Luke 1:15).  Consequently, grape juice and matzah bread are good contemporary examples.  Any alteration, small or great, to this sacred meal using soda, winewater or any leavened bread (which is common today) violates the original practice.

Finally, the Lord’s Supper was a weekly event.  Very shortly after Pentecost, the gathering (ekklesia or “church”) of believers happened in homes.  In Jerusalem, Christians initially met daily, but in time selected the first day or Sunday (The Lord’s Day, Revelation 1:10)  to hold their celebrations, which no doubt included Eucharist meals (Acts 20:7; 1 Corinthians 16:1-2).  In chapter 14 of the Didache, the following instruction is given: “But every Lord’s day gather yourselves together, and break bread, and give thanksgiving after having confessed your transgressions, that your sacrifice may be pure. But let no one who is at odds with his fellow come together with you, until they be reconciled, that your sacrifice may not be profaned.”  Justin Martyr (AD 100-165) writes in one of Christianity’s earliest apologetics: But Sunday is the day on which we all hold our common assembly, because it is the first day on which God, having wrought a change in the darkness and matter, made the world; and Jesus Christ our Saviour on the same day rose from the dead.

It’s clear from Paul’s instruction that we operate in perilous waters if we allow the uninitiated, the unbaptized and the uninformed to participate in this sacred rite.  Failure to practice as Jesus instituted this meal produces consequences.  Like baptism represents a “death, burial and resurrection,” our weekly participation in the Lord’s Supper is a sacred opportunity to reconnect, restore, relive and renew our baptism, week after week.

Is it any wonder the two most sacred rites of Christianity–baptism and Eucharist–are also the most perverted?  We need to recapture the Original DNA of the Church.  We need to fully restore the Lord’s Supper as a fellowship meal for the baptized alone.  Anything less is sacrilege.

I conclude with Paul’s warning to the Corinthians:  So then, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. Everyone ought to examine themselves before they eat of the bread and drink from the cup. For those who eat and drink without discerning the body of Christ eat and drink judgment on themselves. That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep. But if we were more discerning with regard to ourselves, we would not come under such judgment.  Nevertheless, when we are judged in this way by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be finally condemned with the world (1 Corinthians 11:27-32).

 

Church Traditions You Won’t Find in the Bible (Part Two): Baptisms By Convenience

NOTE:  Every church is guided by traditions that guard the doctrinal nuances of a denomination, religious body or congregation. Most of these traditions are post-apostolic and culturally sensitive in origin and practice. Many are innocent and acceptable.  But occasionally some traditions emerge that contain no biblical or historical support. In fact, when deeply considered, these traditions, rituals and spiritual acts can actually detract, delay, detour or distort authentic Christianity. It doesn’t take a Bible major to understand these traditions aren’t Scriptural, but many Christians still trust their efficacy and practice them with little thought.  In this series of articles I’ll investigate several such traditions that have emerged in the past 150 years of Protestant evangelical Christianity.

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So you finally realize it’s time to commit to Christ.  You decide you need to be baptized into Jesus.  Great.  But when?  And where?  By whom?  It’s not as easy as you think.

After all, in today’s evangelical churchianity, baptism is largely by convenience. And that’s an inconvenient problem.

In many churches, particularly of the evangelical and non-denominational stripe, baptism happens by the clock.  Sunday morning, afternoon or night.  Sometimes on Wednesday night.  Baptisms are scheduled like church dinners, special events and holiday traditions.  In some churches you have to wait months or weeks to be baptized.  In nearly all, you’ll be delayed days (unless you experience a convenient Sunday morning conversion).  Easter Sunday is a popular day for baptisms.  Actually, any Sunday seems good.  Most people are baptized Sunday morning.

The problem? Baptism, as revealed in the New Testament, is hardly a scheduled event.  In fact, this sacred and ancient ritual happened at rather inconvenient times or unlikely places.  The book of Acts reveals a baptism occurred immediately upon a person’s profession of faith in Christ. Nobody waited until the next baptism night, annual church picnic or even Sunday morning.  Three thousand people were baptized on Pentecost immediately following Peter’s sermon (Acts 2:37-41). The Ethiopian eunuch was baptized immediately upon understanding Philip’s gospel teaching (Acts 8:36-38). Saul/Paul was baptized immediately upon being healed (Acts 9:18). Cornelius’ household was baptized immediately under orders by Peter (Acts 10:47-48).

In fact, there is NO conversion in the New Testament (post-Jesus ascension) where someone accepted the Message, believed in Jesus and followed Him without immediate baptism. Why? I believe it’s because of the incredible life-changing promises Scripture connects to baptism (being clothed in Christ, indwelling Holy Spirit, resurrection to eternal life from death and sinbecoming a part of the Body of Christ, spiritual cleansing of sin and salvation).  None of these promises were worth delaying.  Like Larry the Cable Guy says, “Git’er done!

And let’s be honest, baptism in many churches today is tragically more about the pastor or padding the church membership roll.  Sunday morning works great because the preacher has a captive audience and it’s, well, convenient.  Annual baptisms are swimming successes because a lot of people are getting baptized at once and, well, again it’s convenient.  Baptisms fill membership rolls and gives everyone (especially church leaders) a warm fuzzy. The problem is baptism isn’t for the baptizer/s, but for the person being baptized.  Consequently, baptism should never be convenient.  People come to faith at odd times and in strange places.   In Acts, individuals are coming to faith alongside roadways and by riverbanks, in prisons and in homes.  They’re getting baptized at all hours of the day, from morning to midnight. Maybe that’s why baptism was rarely a public act.  If a crowd was assembled, cool, but most conversions (as recorded in Acts and even today) happen Monday through Saturday.  They’re private matters.

The 20th century church not only made baptism convenient but “comfortable.”  Most baptisms nowadays happen indoors using warm water, with towels, thick robes, heated changing rooms and other creature comforts. Sure, churches in tropical regions sometimes employ ocean baptisms (when the weather cooperates), and many churches purposely schedule summer baptisms in order to use local rivers and lakes.  But I’ve heard plenty of old-timers talk about outside baptisms in the dead of winter.  Can you imagine chopping a hole in the ice to access the stream?  And a congregation braving the elements to celebrate a new convert’s baptism?  Nobody considered waiting for the spring thaw because baptism wasn’t something you waited to do.  Maybe that’s why churches today (who take baptism more seriously) find the inside heated mini-pool a convenient, comfortable amenity.

In the Didache (“Teaching of the Twelve”), one of the earliest (late first-century) Christian documents on church practices and a work some church fathers argued should be in the New Testament canon, the following statement about baptism appears (chapter 7): And concerning baptism, baptize this way: Having first said all these things, baptize into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, in living water. But if you have no living water, baptize into other water; and if you cannot do so in cold water, do so in warm. But if you have neither, pour out water three times upon the head into the name of Father and Son and Holy Spirit. But before the baptism let the baptizer fast, and the baptized, and whoever else can; but you shall order the baptized to fast one or two days before.

Evidently the preferred baptismal plan was cold “living” or moving water (stream, river, ocean, lake).  But any water worked in a pinch.  Just git’er done. Now.

Of course the final problem is who will do the honor?

Church tradition delegates baptismal duties to priests, pastors and preachers. Why?  I think because it’s convenient.  It’s easier to control.  A sign of success. And it’s tradition. In many churches, especially of the larger type, new converts desire to be baptized by the pastor (often because it’s one of the few times to meet a significant pastor personally).  It’s also a badge of honor. It’s cool to say “so-and-so-muckety-muck baptized me.” The Corinthians had the same gloating issue.  Ironically, at least for Paul, it seems he did little baptizing (1 Corinthians 1:14-17).  Not because he couldn’t or shouldn’t, but rather because he understood his purpose was to preach not baptize.  After all, anybody could baptize.  You didn’t need a Bible college degree, ordination certificate, special garments or ecclesiastical title to baptize another person.  And you still don’t.

In summary, baptism by convenience (or when convenient) is not a biblical mandate.  The Scriptures are very clear.  Once a person professes belief in Jesus Christ they need to be immediately baptized.  No waiting. No delay. No problem.  And baptisms can happen anywhere at anytime.  Thursday midnight jacuzzi.  Saturday morning YMCA pool.  Wednesday afternoon riverbank.  Tuesday night lake shore.  Friday noon bathtub.  And, yes, Sunday morning church baptistery.  Finally, any believer can baptize a new convert.  In fact, I encourage parents to baptize their children, friends to baptize friends, and teachers to baptize students.  Spread the baptismal love around!

Baptism is by its very nature an inconvenient act.  It’s a soaking experience that changes and charges a life.  Like getting married, it’s not an act to be entered into lightly or without serious deliberation.  It’s a lifetime commitment to follow Jesus anywhere and all ways.

And it’s the best decision I ever made.

Church Traditions You Won’t Find in the Bible (Part One): “The Sinner’s Prayer”

NOTE:  Every church is guided by traditions that guard the doctrinal nuances of a denomination, religious body or congregation. Most of these traditions are post-apostolic and culturally sensitive in origin and practice. Many are innocent and acceptable.  But occasionally some traditions emerge that contain no biblical or historical support. In fact, when deeply considered, these traditions, rituals and spiritual acts can actually detract, delay, detour or distort authentic Christianity. It doesn’t take a Bible major to understand these traditions aren’t Scriptural, but many Christians still trust their efficacy and practice them with little thought.  In this series of articles I’ll investigate several such traditions that have emerged in the past 150 years of Protestant evangelical Christianity.

 

5889311_origIt’s the go-to prayer for many evangelicals.  Across the globe, countless new believers are led in a “sinner’s prayer” for salvation.  It’s the moment when the newly converted “asks Jesus into their heart.”  Many children are led in this prayer by Sunday School teachers, children’s pastors and parents.  “Just repeat after me,” says the evangelist, “and pray this prayer.”

Historically, the sinner’s prayer emerged in the 19th century and is largely attributed to Dwight L. Moody.  Later evangelicals, particularly the crusade preachers like Billy Graham, used the prayer alongside altar calls.  It’s not uncommon in today’s evangelical and non-denominational churches for a preacher to close his sermon with an invitation to close the eyes, raise a hand and repeat a dictated prayer silently.  After which, the announcement is made that several “new Christians” are now in the church.

It seems like an innocuous and efficient tradition.  What could be wrong with saying a “sinner’s prayer?”  Actually, there are several problems.

The first problem is there’s absolutely no biblical example for a sinner’s prayer in the New Testament, particularly in the book of Acts (which documents how the early church operated in the first-century world, showing how people became Christians).  There’s no example of a sinner’s prayer in church history until the 19th century.  Unlike other traditions like baptism, Lord’s Supper/Eucharist, preaching, singing and offerings, the “sinner’s prayer” (as a vehicle for salvation) is both historically and biblically absent.

The second problem is the “sinner’s prayer” could be easily confused as a human work.  It’s something you do to receive Grace, especially if you must “repeat” or “read” a prescribed prayer.  The very act of repeating another person’s specific prayer is an act or work.  You’re doing it to gain salvation.  I realize this is a troubling conclusion but many “Christians” today believe that because they “prayed the prayer” (or any prayer) that they’re saved and, biblically, that’s simply not possible (as I’ll reveal momentarily).  Prayer is part of salvation but it’s not the golden ticket.  In fact, biblically, you can be saved without ever saying a prayer!

A third problem is the idea of “asking Jesus into your heart.”  This is so common today in churchianity that few believers think twice about it.  Jesus lives in my heart, right?  Well, that’s a very loaded theological question.  What I can say confidently is nowhere in the conversion process of New Testament believers did anyone “ask Jesus into their heart” (or even imply it!).  To the contrary, the New Testament states a believer “receives” or is “filled” with the Holy Spirit when they’re saved. Jesus, according to apostolic writers, is in Heaven to one day return.  The Holy Spirit indwells the human heart and is given as a “deposit” to guarantee full salvation when Jesus returns (2 Corinthians 1:22; 5:5; 2 Timothy 1:14; Hebrews 9:28).

The fourth problem is the evangelical proposition, in particular, that belief alone grants salvation (and nothing else plays a part).  The Protestant Reformation recaptured an ancient biblical truth:  we are saved by grace through faith and not by works (Ephesians 2:8-9).  However, in the past 150 years, many evangelical and non-denominational churches took it a step further:  faith or belief in God only saves.  But by that definition even the demons could gain salvation (James 2:19)!

So what does the New Testament actually say about salvation?  How (or when) is a person saved?  It’s a rather simple equation:  we are saved by grace, through faith, in baptism, for good works.

First, we are saved by GRACE (Ephesians 2:8-9).  We can’t do anything to gain God’s favor or earn His salvation.  Grace is free gift.  You can’t pray a prayer to be saved.  You can’t do enough good works.  You can’t even repent (change your habits, attitudes and lifestyle).

Second, we are saved through FAITH (Romans 5:1-2; Galatians 3:26Ephesians 2:8-9; 2 Timothy 3:15; I Peter 1:9).  We must believe only in Jesus Christ.  Salvation comes in no other name (Acts 4:12).  Our faith is not in our parents, our pastor, our church, our denomination, our nationality, our ethnicity or our goodness.  Jesus alone saves us.

Third, we are saved in BAPTISM.  When we are baptized, according to apostolic teaching, we are “clothed in Christ” (Galatians 3:27), connected to the Body of Christ (I Corinthians 12:13); resurrected to life and dead to sin (Romans 6:3-14), spiritually washed (Acts 22:16; Titus 3:5) and, yes, saved (I Peter 3:21).  In Acts 2:37-38, Peter reveals this simple template for salvation:  believe, repent, baptism.  It’s a popular evangelical idea to add “confession” (cherry-picking Romans 10:9-10) but confession is more a post-salvation act that proves your salvation.  Paul’s point in Romans 10, when writing to Roman Christians, isn’t to create a formula for salvation (belief and confess) but rather to reveal a continuing example of what the saved do:  they continue to believe and confess Christ as Lord after baptism (Romans 6:4ff).  Confession is important, but for the initiate a part of repentance. To learn more about baptism, watch this YouTube video I created.

Finally, we are saved for GOOD WORKS (James 2:14-26).  Once we are convicted and believe, then baptized, we experience the power to fully repent (change) and live abundantly (because the Holy Spirit lives inside us).  With changed attitudes come changed behaviors.  What we do and how we live proves our salvation.  James clearly points this out in his epistle.  Good works don’t save you, but once you are saved (belief, repentance, baptism), you will do good works as evidence you’re saved.

I truly don’t know how much more simple it can be.

Believe in Jesus.  Commit to change.  Be baptized.  Then live the change.

Throughout the book of Acts, the best textbook to show how the early church believed and practiced, no one was saved by saying a prayer alone.  No one was saved simply by doing acts of repentance.  Baptism, like the Red Sea for the Israelites, was the Divinely-orchestrated event that separated, sanctified and sealed.  Salvation didn’t come prior to the Red Sea but it was clearly pronounced after Pharaoh’s armies drowned in the waters (Exodus 15:1-2).  Paul even compared the Red Sea experience to baptism (I Corinthians 10:1-2) and professed that’s when he was “washed” and saved (Acts 22:16).

Of course the other cherry-picked Scripture for the sinner’s prayer is Revelation 3:20.  Jesus is standing at the heart’s door, knocking to come if we simply open it.  It’s a nice painting but a poor interpretation.  This passage has nothing to do with individual salvation.  Rather, it’s a corporate call to an entire first-century congregation to repent (they’re already believers!).  The whole church has locked Jesus out of their lives.

In summary, the “sinner’s prayer” is an evangelical salvation tool without a shred of biblical support and to employ it without repentance (which includes confessing and professing faith in Christ) and baptism to pronounce a person’s salvation is error.  If you truly desire salvation, follow Peter and Paul and the rest of the early church:  believe in Jesus, commit/confess to change and get baptized.

It’s truly that simple.

Stuff Christians Believe That Really Aren’t True (Like Divorce Being a Sin), Part 4

marriageanddivorce1063x597Divorce happens. And it hurts.

But it’s not fatal.  It’s possible to rise out of the dissolution ashes.

Previously, particularly in parts one and three, I established how Christians largely get divorce wrong.  It’s not a sin in itself (that’s a leftover of 13th century Catholic theology). Sin causes a divorce, no doubt. Jesus clearly taught adultery because it does what no other sin can do: break the Divine bonding created when a couple consummated their relationship.

In the first century Greco-Roman culture, as in Israel, divorce was common.  Jesus’ father considered divorcing Mary.  The Samaritan woman was likely a multiple divorcee.  Deuteronomic law speaks of divorce (but never as a sin requiring restitution or reconciliatory offering). And even God himself is divorced.  This is the final confirmation that divorce simply cannot be sinful.  After all, God cannot sin and yet He clearly is divorced from Old Testament Israel and even pursued the dissolution (Jeremiah 3:8).

Although speculative, it’s possible the Apostle Paul was divorced. He was certainly once married, as marriage was a strict Jewish teaching and Pharisees held to the Law to the point of excess.  Paul was a Pharisee and well-credentialed, a disciple of Gamaliel who was a member of the Sanhedrin.  Though disputed, most Bible scholars agree marriage was a requirement for the Sanhedrin and it’s unlikely Paul could advance far in the Pharisee sect unless married.  In fact, Paul’s requirements for elders in the emerging first-century church are remarkably similar to the Pharisees, and marriage was a qualification for an overseer.  After all, if a man cannot lead his family, how could he lead a people?

The Roman Catholic Church suggested Paul was widowed to answer his singleness, but there’s absolutely no evidence (biblical or otherwise) to support that claim. The Catholic system simply couldn’t fathom a significant saint like Paul “living in sin” as a divorced man. After all, abandonment is not sufficient reason for annulment.  Nevertheless, it’s the prominent view and still taught within both Catholic and Protestant theological training schools.

But it’s more likely Paul was divorced than widowed.  First, because a Pharisee would no doubt quickly remarry if widowed (since marriage was a strict value and prized institution).  Second, unlike the other apostles, we have no evidence Paul had a spouse post-conversion (suggesting his wife mysteriously went away when he became a Christian).  And finally, perhaps even ironically, Paul may actually allude to his own divorced state in his letter to the Corinthians.  Jesus taught that adultery freed a spouse.  Paul offers a new reason for divorce to the church in Corinth: abandonment by an unbelieving spouse. Is this possibly Paul’s own story? It’s certainly plausible and it makes sense a Pharisee’s wife would divorce her radically converted Christian husband.  It would also support the evidence that once Paul was married and now is not.

If so, Paul’s divorce did not prohibit his Christian ministry.

In some church circles, the divorced are prohibited from pastoral leadership inciting a  violation of the “husband of one wife” requirement. But this prohibition possibly misses the point. The “spirit” behind this leadership requirement is probably fidelity.  It’s about being a “one woman man.” A divorced person, even if he/she never remarries and commits to celibacy is still a “one woman or man” individual (just like a widow/widower). And if a divorced person does remarry they also remain a “one woman or man” individual. Only the polygamous, homosexual or possibly multi-divorced fails to qualify.  Furthermore, this requirement is limited to a select group (elders or “pastors”) in a local church.  It doesn’t necessarily apply to other leadership roles like apostles (missionaries), prophets (preachers), evangelists and teachers.

The bottom line is divorce isn’t a sin nor is a divorced person in a state of sinfulness. These are manmade dogmas attached to coerce, criticize and condemn. Yes, God hates divorce.  Personally, I hate asparagus but that doesn’t make the green stalk evil.  Divorce is not what God intended. Furthermore, Jesus, Paul and other biblical writers never condemned divorce itself as a sin and they clearly listed all sorts of sins–including fornication (adultery)–in their teachings and writings.

Sin clearly produces divorce and divorce unleashes it’s own multitudes of sin, but divorce (or being in the divorced state) is not sinful.

It’s just one of those human doctrines we got wrong.

Stuff Christians Believe That Aren’t Really True (Like Divorce is a Sin), Part 3 of 4

divorce

If love is a many splendored thing, then divorce is certainly a many splintered thing.

In part one and two of this blog, I established how many of our ideas about love, sex, cohabitation and marriage are framed by human experience, Catholic dogma and Protestant tradition.

To quickly summarize, biblically, God joins a couple when they engage in sexual intercourse (and not when the preacher or judge pronounces marriage). This supernatural “joining” even happens with “one-night stands,” brief flings and sex with a prostitute and that’s the problem.  God intended sex to be a sacred experience only to be enjoyed within lifelong heterosexual monogamy.  It’s been that way since the beginning of time.  Therefore, sexual sin (Greek: porneia) is any violation of God’s Original Design and Desire for how his creation behaves sexually.

With that frame in place, it’s certainly no surprise Jesus taught “sexual immorality” (porneia) produces the only reason for divorce.  After all, sexual infidelity  (a new “joining”) effectively severs the previous Divine Bond created when a couple first “made love.” Consequently, adultery is more than betrayal of trust.  Rather, adultery dissolves the supernatural relational cement (ring or no ring, ceremony or no ceremony). But this spiritual dissolution isn’t a continuing state.  It can’t be.  Many couples have experienced and survived infidelity.  Once forgiveness–both by man and God–covers the offense, a couple can grow beyond any single indiscretion and both reconciliation and restoration is possible.  If a couple recommits to their “joining” (beneath forgiveness) then any previous adultery fades as a fresh “joining” emerges.  Paul encouraged the Corinthians to remember no sin can’t be “washed, sanctified and justified.”  A sin (including adultery) is a momentary mistake but it must be repetitious to invoke “continual sin.”  Divorce is certainly a consequence of sin (the most serious being adultery), but it cannot be a sin or even a state of sinfulness in itself.

Furthermore, Jesus taught a divorce, occurring for any other reason than sexual immorality, will also produce adultery when there’s remarriage (though, again, this is a momentary sin and completely forgivable).  Because adultery unseals God’s “joining” it releases the other partner.  In God’s eyes, if there’s no adultery during a marriage and a couple divorces, the first partner to engage sexually produces adultery (even if its within a new and legal marriage).  This is a hard teaching, as Jesus’ own disciples confessed.

Technically this suggests there’s no such thing as premarital sex but rather only marital and non-marital sex.  Adultery is also fornication or “porneia.”  By definition, non-marital sex or porneia is sexual promiscuity (hence “pornography”).  It’s “joining” without commitment, sex for sex sake and selfish in nature. Fornication and adultery are both “non-marital” sexual acts.  In contrast, marital sex is purposeful, committed and loving, and possible to engage even without human certification, endorsement or confirmation.

Historically, marriage ceremonies emerged to celebrate this human relationship but in most cultures, including early Jewish, there was no ritual to practice. No priest, rabbi or minister to officiate. No papers to sign. Until Moses, a man simply had to take a woman home to bed to show “marriage” (though usually not without some financial gifting to the woman’s family). The Torah eventually required a man to confirm agreement in front of witnesses but still argued a marriage wasn’t in force until sex occurred.

God’s intent was for a man to honor his word. He expected a man to take his wife and live with her only until death (“making love” was a covenantal act to seal this agreement). But men had different ideas and eventually the legal “divorce” emerged (with the rules favoring the male). By Jesus’ day it was a major issue. A first-century marriage could be “contracted” or “engaged” prior to sexual consummation and was considered a binding legal state of matrimony. Mary and Joseph were “contracted” for marriage and, according to cultural custom, actually lived together (up to a year) without consummating their relationship.  This explains why Joseph initially considered divorcing Mary when he learned of her pregnancy.  Her pregnancy suggested infidelity. He had every right to divorce her.

We must also remember that for most of history, and in many cultures, that marriages were contracted between families and by parents.  Love had little to do with it.  Furthermore, few ancients lived beyond 50 years of age.  Most died in their 40s and many women passed due to complications from childbirth.  Consequently, anyone of age might experience two or more marriages.  Divorce was common and employed usefully if the woman couldn’t produce children, particularly a male heir.  The idea of divorce for “irreconciliable differences” probably never crossed their minds.

It’s one more reason why divorce cannot be considered a grievous sin.  It’s certainly a tragedy.  Like death, it’s the end of a relationship, but it’s not a grave or mortal sin.  And neither is a divorced person operating from a state of sinfulness.

After all, you’d be surprised to learn who else is divorced in the Bible.

TO BE CONTINUED…

A Reluctant Follower’s Confession of Faith (Part One)

Jesus_ChristYou ask what inspires me? What drives my passion and purpose? What creates hope, peace and love in my heart? The answer isn’t a thing or a work or even another person, but simply Jesus the Christ. That’s right. The Galilean radical who revolutionized religion in His day, setting off a Movement that billions now follow in some form or fashion.

No other earthly philosophy, religion of man or spiritual quest will fill the God-shaped hole within (a quest of man since time’s genesis). In fact, the greatest lie ever proposed is that man can be whole and holy without God. It’s simply not true. The soul is a ravenous beast with insatiable hunger that creates either addiction or apathy. Additional fabrications suggest God is impersonal or a force of nature. Still other ideologies preach He is an inner light or a highly evolved former incarnation of man. To the contrary, God is Creator, Father, All-Powerful, All-Knowing and Sovereign.

I am convinced, based upon experience and long study, that no religion satisfies like authentic Christianity. At its heart is a simple Idea opposed by other religions: God longs to dwell with man. Think about it: the same God that created universes out of nothingness desires to make something of me and you! The same God that lives outside of Creation willingly left His Heavenly Home to dwell with man inside a human carcass. The same God who deserves crowns and thrones completed His earthly mission (to restore man) wearing a cross and thorns.

And then to prove, beyond a shadow of doubt that Jesus was truly God in the flesh, He pulled off the greatest feat in all of history: The God-man rose from the dead! No other great teacher, guru, revolutionary, magician, politician or religious leader pulled that one off. And that’s why I follow HIM. Jesus is alive! He’s the Real Deal.

You see, Christianity isn’t about going to church and religion isn’t about attending a mosque or synagogue, but coming home to rest, reconciliation and revival. It’s not about being a good person but being God’s person. It’s not about channeling a higher power but letting Jesus change your heart. It’s not about “you” at all, but simply about Christ alone. It’s a clear recognition that NO ONE and NO THING–philosophy, person, product–can save you from yourself. You need something so much bigger than a mantra or prayer or ritual for redemption. What you need is Jesus and a new heart. Grace is far superior to karma.

And only Jesus offers Grace.

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