Monday, March 01, 2010

Sermon Synopsis: 02/28/10 :The Problem With Christianity Is - Jesus Is the Only Way

One of the things that I've learned over the years is how to read a crowd. It's a gift that gives and takes though. On a Sunday when you are into the message and it is going well - people engaged, seemingly taking in the material - it's great and encouraging. But things change when you've prayed and prepared and come expecting the best, and you've overshot the runway... and crashed and burned. Yesterday, I think I had really good content but it was a LOT to take in. Turned into a lecture instead of something that not only imparts information but which has the potential to be transformative. So let me unpack it for you.

One of the main objections people have who are feeling a spiritual pull but are not yet Christians have with Christianity is its exclusive claims. People like to feel that everyone who lives a good life will find a welcome mat laid out for them in heaven. They've been taught that all religions are basically the same. I'm ok. You're ok. Then someone comes along and tells them about Jesus and they are intrigued by His life but get stuck as they walk deeper at items like this. So my hope is that for those at that point, the message would help them understand the doctrine, and for those already following, they'd get some tools to be able to share with friends.

The "rub" with Christianity is accelerating for several reasons. First is the influx of people from different cultures and faiths. Then there's the rise of aggressive atheism. The desire of some in education to bridge over differences and push not just tolerance but blind acceptance and equal value in each religion has produced some people who value how something makes them feel as opposed to what it makes them think contributes as well.

But if Christianity is true, and Christ's claims are valid, then the only hope for our friends and neighbors is Him. We cannot remain silent, but at the same time we cannot argue anyone into the Kingdom of God. Many have been driven away by the arrogance of people who claim to follow Jesus as they almost gleefully pronounce sentence on others. The Bible is explicit in it's condemnation of such methods in several places.

So if you look at the slides above you'll see the pictures of mosques and temples across America, and the stats on just how fast other religions are growing here, laid against the growth of Christianity overseas. What I didn't put in and should have though is that the fastest growing group in the US is in people who claim no belief in God alone.

The first area I opened up for thought was the idea that all religions and worldviews make exclusive truth claims - as do various disciplines in secular life. If we had a panel of Muslim, Jewish, and Christian clerics in front of us and we asked them to explain where the other religions beliefs fall short in practice. The Muslim would see our belief in Jesus as the Son of God and in the resurrection as wrong, and our lack of belief in the koran and Muhammed as seriously deficient. The Jewish rabbi would have his own problems as we would with both of theirs.

Truth claims - even exclusive ones, are not inherently evil. I pointed out that I wanted the pilot of any plane I was inside to be fully sold out to Bernoulli's principle of lift. Otherwise he might decide to just pick any speed at takeoff and any distance down the runway to try to lift off depending on how he felt that day. I want my surgeons to believe in certain absolute truth claims about anatomy to the exclusion of folk doctors and the like. We accept and appreciate those who believe and live by those claims, so why the rub with Christianity? So I then explained how the culture tries to deal with the claims - various methods from outlawing religion to ignoring it. But it's not just a 21st century problem, the apostle John, as he wrote the letter we are focusing on, was in a culture who promoted emperor worship to the exclusion and harsh persecution of all others.

How do you know who to believe?

John says believe those who have the Spirit of God. You'll know them, he says, by whether or not they believe in Jesus as Messiah, as the man-God who came into the flesh and lived among us. Such a person would rest in their belief that Jesus Only is God's chosen instrument of grace and Jesus Only is the hope of humanity - we need no other means of becoming right with God - indeed there is no other means. Jesus Himself in John 14:6 proclaimed Himself to be "the way..." and then Luke records Peter in Acts as saying there was "salvation in no one else and no other name under heaven by which we must be saved."

Is that exclusive? yes

But it is also inclusive, because Christ's death was for everyone.

5 For there is only one God and one Mediator who can reconcile God and humanity—the man Christ Jesus.6 He gave his life to purchase freedom for everyone. This is the message God gave to the world at just the right time.1 Tim 2:5-6 (NLT)

Is it effective for everyone? No, only those who believe in Jesus and live for Him. Those who do will be filled with the Spirit of God and will be able to resist the propaganda of the world and see Jesus for Who He is. But those who do not believe can't sort the competing claims. So for a Christian to argue and condemn them is like arguing with a blind man about how blue the sky is. We must not argue, but we also cannot be silent, for that same blind man is walking toward a cliff. You cannot call yourself a follower of Jesus if because that person doesn't believe, you decide to let them go their own way without hearing the good news Jesus brings. They may be great people - more moral, more kind and compassionate than many Christians we all know.

7 Dear friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God.8 But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love. 1 John 4:7-8 (NLT)

That's our job. To love as Jesus did. To be the friend of sinners. To be the one who rush in to help whenever our neighbors are in need. All human beings have worth beyond who they are or where they find themselves because they are God's handiwork, His poema -  His masterpiece. We are the recipients of treasure but carry that treasure in jars of clay. We're flawed. But we are precious to God and should look at each other and see Him. And when we do, the world will take notice. Just as the Christians did in the 1st century. I highlighted the work of Christians around the world right now and mentioned the efforts we at New Hope are involved with today. I'm so grateful to be a part of what our church is doing.

I believe that the message of Jesus is the answer to the ills of the world today. That it is unique among the world's religions and that the claims of Christ hold sway over all others. I believe that Christianity lived according to the Bible through the power of the Holy Spirit is the most fulfilling and impactful way to live. I believe this because of what I have read, seen, and experienced.

Christ's message lifts up the poor, the weak and the defenseless. It obliterates class and status, gender and race. In pointing us to our common sin nature it does not leave us there but provides a way out - through Jesus Christ. His ultimate sacrifice included his forgiving even those who nailed Him to the cross. No one is outside God's desire that "all might be saved."

So yes, Christianity is "exclusive" to those who have humbled themselves in repentance and asked God to forgive their sins. But it's also "inclusive" in that everyone who does so can find forgiveness and new life through Jesus.  That's a good deal for everyone.

Jesus Only  - yes Jesus only - He's all we need

and Only Jesus - Can make it right with God and give us new life - life to the full

If there were only one cure for cancer, would you complain or having be diagnosed with it, would you be desperate and willing to do whatever it took? Well, our diagnosis is in, and we are dead in our sins without the cure - Jesus. He can supply everything we need, but we have to accept the diagnosis and the cure.

Problem? Not really. It's an opportunity for everyone who is willing to be saved.

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