Headlines from First Thoughts

Sunday, January 06, 2008

What Christians Don't Know Might Help Them

"Know it all Christianity" is about as dangerous as scribes and teachers of the law standing around talking to Herod in Matthew 2. So Christians have to be mindful of speaking about what they know and avoiding what they don't.

Here's what we know-- we believe that Jesus is the way, and we believe that individuals who believe in Jesus have the free gift of eternal life in heaven. It's an individual choice, and the decision is between that person and God.

What we don't know is the spiritual condition of others. When we overspeculate and pretend to know we move toward what Jesus warned about in Matthew 7-- judging others.

Jesus talked about 2 things that would happen but left out signifcant things as well.

He talked about his return but did not tell us when it would happen. We believe he'll return, but we're terrible at predictions.

He described heaven but did not tell us who would be there. He did tell us three things.

1.) That believers would be surprised they were part of the sheep (Matthew 25:40-46)

2.) Nonbelievers would be surprised they were the goats (Matthew 25:40-46).

3.) Not everyone who says the magic words "Lord, Lord" will qualify (Matthew 7:21).

When watching a rich ruler struggle with a decision to follow, an exasperated Peter said, "Who then can be saved?"

Jesus gave us the best answer of all, "What is impossible with men is possible with God."

We live in the tension of believing in Jesus and trusting that God knows the "roll called up yonder." Until then, we share our faith with humility, without judgment, believing that God does the work of salvation. We're just grateful to be a part of that salvation, and the magi give us some indication that God works even through pagan religions to draw people to Christ.

The gospel always surprises. Chuck Swindoll once said that there would be surprises in heaven:

1.) Who's there
2.) Who's not there
3.) That you're there

Book Recommendations

Here's my suggested reading list for Home by Another Way.

This journal provides excellent articles.

Don't miss Billy Graham's comments in Newsweek.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

The Challenge

“I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” Other than “For God so loved the world,” no statement of Jesus commands more attention and captures the faith of believers over the years. Since the first century, Christians have believed that Jesus is the only way to heaven and lived beside people of other faith traditions. Long before there were Muslims and Mormons, there were Pagans, Polytheists, and Priests. The Romans thought the followers of the “Way” so odd that they labeled them as “atheists” because they did not believe in enough gods.

In the first century, Christians were faithful to their beliefs but remained civil, hopeful, and active in “overcoming evil with good.” From Peter in Cornelius’ house in Acts 10, to Paul on Mars Hill in Acts 17, they shared practices of hospitality, dialogue, and listening that provided platforms for a true Christian witness. We can learn so much from the time when Christianity was the minority religion and people of faith were struggling to gain a foothold in a very secular society. What we learn from the first century speaks volumes to us about how we live with Jesus as the way today.

During this year’s Winter Bible Study, I invite you to journey “Home by Another Way.” The title, taken from the magi’s journey home in Matthew 2, expresses the hope that God has for the world and the challenge for all of us as we live in a pluralistic world. The difficulties are many: we share this planet with people who worship much differently than we. We work and learn beside people from across the globe. How do we work together with all people and at the same time tell the story of Jesus? We know this story has been used for good and evil purposes. How Christians go about living with Jesus as the way makes all the difference.

This conference will discuss several key questions that face our world and the followers of the “Way” today:
Is everyone worshiping the same God?
Should we dialogue with people of other religious traditions, and if so, how?
How do I have a conversation with someone who is from another religious background?
How did the magi (and other pagans in the scripture) find God?
How can people from other faiths come to know Jesus?
How do I keep my religion from becoming evil?
What did Jesus mean when he said, “I am the Way, the truth, and the life?”

On January 12-13, let’s journey together and return home by the Jesus Way.

What Shepherds Do

Shepherds are protectors and seekers. In ancient Israel, they were the gate of the sheepfold. They laid down at the entrance of the pen at night to protect sheep. In the day, they sought out the missing.

Jesus does the same in John 10. Not only does he protect the sheep but he climbs over the fold to seek out ones that no one expected to be in the pen--not even the other sheep.

For ancient Jewish 1st century disciples, Jesus described how he would go about welcoming us--the gentiles-- into the fold. People who would not normally be welcome into the full breadth of temple customs, sacrifices, and other rituals would now by welcome because he was the good shepherd today.

How quickly the Gentile church of today forgets that Jesus is still leaping over our walls to gather in more lambs. Who are they, how is he doing this, and how might that change how we interact with those people we have labeled as "outside the fold"? These questions, and many more will be discussed at "Home by Another Way."

Jesus: the Way

When Jesus said, "I am the way," he told troubled Jewish disciples that through him they would be taken care of when they died. For guys who relied on the temple their entire lives, this was indeed good news.

When Christians say today, "Jesus is the way," it can range from a bumper sticker on the back of a car to an invitation to dialogue with a nonChristian. How we say what we mean, mean what we say, and still show that "God is love"? I will address these questions, and many more, at Home By Another Way.

Home By Another Way Sessions

Home by Another Way: Jesus’ Invitation to the World
January 12-13

First Baptist Church

Trentham Hall and Sanctuary

3:00 p.m. Saturday-12:00 noon Sunday

Session 1: No God but God
3:00 p.m. Saturday
God is One and God is Love, but Father Abraham had Many Sons
Genesis 12, Romans 1
What kind of God is revealed among the various religions of the world? Are they pursuing the same truth? And why should all this matter to Christians?

Session 2: Home By Another Way: How the Magi Come to Jesus
Matthew 2
4:15 p.m. Saturday
What the journey of the magi from pagan astrology teaches us about people of other faiths today

Supper- 5:30 p.m.

Session 3: Keeping Religion from Becoming Evil: The Way we Go About this Matters
6:30 p.m. Saturday
An overview of the major Christian views on the way people come to Jesus and their effects on our lives

Session 4: What Sheep Need from a Shepherd: I am the Way
John 10, 14
8:42 am Sunday
Jesus’ statement “I am the Way….” gave abandoned disciples the information they needed so they did not have to return to Judaism after he left.

Session 5: How Faith in Jesus Teaches us how to Treat Nonbelievers
10:00 a.m. Sunday
Relating to someone who does not share your beliefs using the ancient Christian practices of dialogue, liberty, civility, and toleration.

Session 6: Light for the Way
Acts 20
11:00 a.m. Sunday
How Paul witnesses in Athens changes how we share faith today in Jesus’ Name

Home by Another Way

The Bible is full of people outside the mainstream who inform and change how people come to God.

The Spirit of the Lord falls an ancient sorcerer or magus named Balaam. He blesses Israel and refuses to curse his enemies in Numbers 24.

Midianite priests give Moses advice in Exodus 18.

Magi, successors to Balaam, arrive in Matthew 2, giving gifts to Jesus.

All of these characters participate in pagan religious rituals prior to their role in God's story. All of them enter the story at pivotal times in the history of Israel and the church. Balaam, the Magi, and by implication, the Midianite priests live differently after their contact with God and his people. In each case, the people of God learn something from outsiders that enriches their journey, changes their lives, and affects the world. Both the insiders and the outsiders go "home by another way."

God is always at work drawing people to God's light. How does God go about this process? How does God use the people of God today to be his agents in this process? What can we learn from the outsiders that can help us as we share that light? All of these questions and more will be part of my study entitled "Home by Another Way" at First Baptist Knoxville, January 12-13.

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