Choose Your Plan

A trip to the phone store can be a daunting experience. So many plans. So many options and tracks you can take, depending upon what you want to spend and the benefits of spending it.

Some Bible teachers present Christianity that way. You can choose Plan A-- Regular Christian, or Plan B--Disciple of Christ. Some teach that you can be a Christian without being a disciple. Is this what Jesus taught? Does the Bible present two options for those who would call themselves Christians?
Consider the ramifications. With Plan A, you simply believe, ask Jesus into your heart, and then go about your regular life with only a few minor adjustments, like some church attendance or cleaning up your language. Just enough to look Christian. With this plan you get pardon from the Father, Jesus as your friend, and the Holy Spirit as your Comforter. On top of that you can look forward to eternal life in heaven. Ignoring Romans 6 won't be difficult because you don't really need to read the Bible anyway. Bible Verse snippets
texted from Plan B Christians to your phone is all the spiritual food you really need. You can continue like this your entire life, and expect heaven as your reward for simply believing.
Plan B, discipleship, offers all the benefits of Plan A, however it requires that you go through a sometimes painful new birth process that will result in dying to your sin, enduring hardship, expecting suffering, practicing self-denial, and loving Jesus more than anything else. Your chief desire will be holiness, which means you follow Jesus even when it hurts. In addition to heaven, you are promised some ambiguous rewards that you hang on to for a few minutes before casting them at Jesus' feet, and then everyone is even. Heaven is presented as an equal opportunity destination.

Now, who in their right mind would choose Plan B? 

Did Jesus present it that way? In Acts 11:26, the two plans combine. It says, "The disciples were first called Christians." They were called "little Christs" as a form of ridicule. The word Christian originated as a taunt from unbelievers as a way to mock followers of Christ who were trying to live like Jesus. But since then, we have so misconstrued the term that it has lost original meaning. In our world, Christian no longer means "little Christs." It often stands for religious bigoted hypocrites who hide their secret sins while loudly decrying the open ones of others. Or it implies Bible-tainted worldliness. Neither fits the original definition. Nor is either offered by God as an option for those who would inherit eternal life.
We can isolate a few verses that say all we need to do is "believe." But if we take the whole counsel of God, all Jesus' words in their entirety, and consider what it takes to gain eternal life, the message seems clear.  It is the same answer Jesus gave the rich young ruler: "Sell all you have and come follow me." The pious young lawyer already believed, but he wasn't willing to be a disciple. At no point did Jesus offer him Plan A.

The young man went away sad. (Mark 10:21-22)

I think that says it all.

Family Fights

If you grew up with siblings, somebody at some point heard a variation of these words: "You're not really in our family. Mom and Dad found you and they're gonna take you back pretty soon." Depending upon the age of the victim, this news resulted in a tearful race to Mom or a fist fight.

Unfortunately, the family of God hurls similar accusations at each other. The availability of the Internet seems to provoke an insatiable desire to take these family fights embarrassingly public. It doesn't matter whose name you Google. From world-renowned Bible scholar to up-and-coming preacher, everyone is under attack by someone. The word "heretic" is tossed as liberally as confetti on New Year's Eve, often by a young seminary student with a short-sleeved dress shirt and a big Adam's Apple, holding court in a musty church basement with a camcorder. However, bigger names are now joining the mudslinging, as though any one person holds the patent on every truth. Doesn't the Bible call that pride? No matter how minuscule the doctrinal difference, disagreements are seen as grounds for name-calling and the childish taunt: "You're not in our family!"

Heretics and false teachers do exist. In abundance. They should be called out because they are preaching "another gospel." Any teachings that directly contradict scripture, such as universalism or questioning the divinity of Jesus, should be rejected because they are touted by those who are merely neighbors and not brothers. But much of the inner-family conflict is just that--inner family. We are brothers and sisters in Christ, redeemed by the blood of the Lamb, headed to the same eternal home. We are going to disagree. All families do. It's healthy. It means everyone has a voice and everyone is thinking about what matters.

Big Brother Jesus knew this was coming. It is rather telling that the theme of His longest recorder prayer in John 17 was unity. Of all the requests He could have made of His Father in those hours before the crucifixion, He asked "that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me..." (v. 23) Isn't it interesting that the way the world will believe in Jesus is when it sees our unity?

Is being "right "on some non-essential issue more important than loving our brothers? Is proving our point before a scoffing world more important than demonstrating the humility and kindness that should characterize the family of God? Jesus didn't think so. If unity among His family is that important to Jesus, why is it not more important to us?


Just a Mistake


There has been a subtle but distinct shift in recent years away from the word sin to the more palatable words mistake and imperfection. Ever notice that?
Mistakes are not so difficult to own. We all make them. Dozens a day. We turn left when we should have turned right. We misspell our friend's name, stay up too late, and overdue the caffeine. We shrug and roll our eyes at our imperfections because after all, nobody's perfect. We say "sorry" and determine to do better. We even have friendly adjectives we put before the word mistake like honest, silly, or childish that lessen the responsibility even more. 

But this word-swap is dangerous.
Jesus did not die on the cross for mistakes. Mistakes don't originate in the depravity of the heart; sin does. We cannot repent of a mistake because by its very definition it was unintentional. A mistake can be made by a good person with the best intentions. And deep down, that's what we mean when we admit we've "made mistakes." The word mistakes saves our pride, but pride is what got us into trouble with God in the first place. To save it is to continue to resist the Holy Spirit.

Without owning sin, there can be no repentance. Without repentance there can be no forgiveness. In fact, the cross is a gross overstatement if our mere mistakes are the problem. Isn't there something brutal and unlikeable about a God who can't overlook a few mistakes?
The word sin has a bold finality to it, like the ring of a judge's gavel. We recoil from it. We rush to excuse, explain, and soften the truth. And therein lies the serpent's weapon. Until we see our sin the way God does and turn from it with a vengeance, we cannot appreciate the cross. We can't truly love or worship a Savior until we recognize how desperately we need saving. We cannot come into agreement with God until we first agree with Him about our depravity. Jesus did not come to save "good people." He came to rescue sinners. How repulsive it must be to God to hear us primly admit our "mistakes" to Him rather than confess our sins. 

When we try to approach God on our terms, admitting a few mistakes, but not repenting of sin, we become that "rich young ruler" who went away from Jesus very sad. Could that be a reason so many professing Christians have never found Jesus either?

New and Improved. Really?

Contrary to what is passing as the Christian message these days, Biblical Christianity has always maintained that:
  • We are not called to love ourselves; we are called to lose ourselves (Col. 3:3).
  • We are not called to pursue personal fulfillment; we are called to pursue God (Phil. 3:14).
  • We are not called to understand and agree; we are called to trust and obey (Acts 5:29).
  • We are not called to insist that God cooperate with our will; we are called to surrender our wills to cooperate with God's (Gal. 2:20).
  • We are not called to have faith in our own faith; we are called to have faith in a Sovereign God (Is. 46:10).
  • We are not called to excuse continued sin because we are "broken;" we are called to be holy (1 Pet. 1:16).
  • We are not called to pursue our 'best life now;' we are called to lose our lives for the sake of Christ (Mark 8:35).
  • And we are not called to recreate the message of the cross as Me-centered; we are called to preach the whole "counsel of God" which has always been Christ-centered (Acts 20:27).
We are called to "study to show ourselves approved unto God" (2 Tim. 2:15) so that we can recognize "another gospel" when we hear it and reject it (2 Cor. 11:4).

I wonder what the apostles would say about this modern man-centered, feel-good, bumper-sticker distortion of the message they gave their lives for?


The Doorway

A single, narrow doorway draws excessive attention from the enemy of our souls. He throws his vile body in front of it and spares no expense to keep us away from it. Whatever it takes. Whatever lie works. Doesn't  matter as long as he keeps us away from this doorway that threatens his domain. When he succeeds, he gains a devastating weapon that he uses to beat us into submission. This weapon can make the most successful woman a slave to insecurity and render the strongest man a weakling. It's called Shame.
Satan's only access to this weapon is our permission. The shame is ours, all right. We've earned it and we know it. All the pep talk in the world, all the hype and self-esteem boosters cannot break the deep conviction that we deserve these beatings. There is only one way to escape them and it is through that doorway. And Satan knows it.

The door is called Repentance. We don't hear this word much anymore-- another of Satan's ideas. Instead we hear his screams: "Don't walk through that door! God understands. You're a good person. It was a long time ago. It was no big deal. You're over it."  We pause at the door, listen to his lies, and move on. What we don't hear is his cackling behind our backs as he picks up the weapon we just handed him. Shame. From now on he can torture us at will, squelch any attempts of ours to embrace love, joy, and peace. Shame convinces us that we will forever remain on God's B List.

But when we kick him aside and charge through that doorway, we find a different welcome than the one Satan told us we'd find. In desperation, we drag sin's filthy carcass to the foot of the cross and we look up. We see our shame piled high on His bloodied shoulders. We listen to the Voice coming from between clenched teeth. " ." And we believe Him. It's paid for. All of it. Repentance means we stop making excuses, stop blaming, and fully own the gravity of our sin... Yes, that sin too. The dark one. The one Satan reminds us of anytime we start to think we have value and purpose.

Because 'it is finished' and because we walked through that doorway, we can stand tall, forgiven, and whole. And we choose to live on this side of the doorway because we know what waits on the other side. He has nothing we want. He can keep that shame and choke on it. It belongs with him. Shame has no power on this side of the door.