Monthly Archives: December 2008
There are many things that I love about Christmas. I love the cookies, the Christmas trees, and waking up early to open presents. I love the extra time with the extended family, seeing people that I don’t normally see throughout the year. I love all those things, but what I love the most about Christmas is it’s the one time of the year where even non-religious people find within them the desire to sing about the God who came to earth in the form of a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes lying in a manger. Often during this time of the year I wonder how so many millions of people can sing songs like “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” and “Joy to the World” without considering the meaning of the words they are singing. Today on this Christmas day I’m going to ask you to do just that.
About six weeks ago, I was flying over the Pacific Ocean when a very nice guy about the same age as me decided to engage me in conversation. In the beginning it felt like I was talking to a fellow missionary and we were encouraging each other in our respective faiths, but not too long into the conversation I realized I was talking with a Jehovah’s Witness.
Let me say first that I have a lot of respect for Jehovah’s Witnesses. When I was in Senegal my wife and I, along with our faithful disciple Jean Pierre, used to go every week to the university to distribute Christian literature. One of the questions people often asked us is “Are you Jehovah’s Witnesses?” That my wife and I would be mistaken for Jehovah’s Witnesses speaks powerfully to the dedication that many people in this movement have for their cause. I also admire the fact that Jehovah’s Witnesses stand for their convictions. Even though it’s culturally taboo to knock on doors, they still do it. Even though American culture praises people that vote, celebrate the holidays, and serve in the military, Jehovah’s Witnesses refuse. Regardless of whether one agrees with these positions or not, that takes grit. They genuinely don’t care what others think about them—and I deeply admire that.
Even on the linchpin subject of “Who is Jesus?” Jehovah’s Witnesses are light years ahead of the vast majority of people in our culture that take their theological cues from books like “ The Da Vinci Code” and “Embraced by the Light.” Jehovah’s Witnesses will tell you that all things were created by Jesus, through Jesus, and for Jesus. They’ll tell you that Jesus holds everything together. They’ll even tell you that Jesus is the exact representation of who God is. All of these statements are Biblical truths. But even though they have a very high view of Jesus, in Kingdom Hall thinking, Jesus is still a created being, not God Almighty. Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that Jesus is the Son of God, but they stop short of saying that He is God.
So why split hairs over a technicality?
Shortly after I got home from my trip, I called my good friend Dianne Kannady with Riches in Christ Ministries (http://www.richesinchrist.com). Dianne is one of the best Bible teachers that I know, so I decided to pick her brain for a few minutes about a question that had been nagging at my mind since the start of my dialogue with Nick (We’ve been corresponding with each other ever since). If you read the Book of Acts, one thing that you will notice is that more often than not, when Peter or Paul preached the gospel, they emphasized the humanity of Jesus when discussing His resurrection and His ability to forgive sins and grant eternal life (See Acts 2:22, 13:38). The question that had been gnawing at my mind is this: Since the Book of Acts records sermons that Peter and Paul preached where the deity of Christ isn’t explicitly mentioned, and we know that some of the people that heard their messages believed and were saved, how important is it then for someone to believe in the deity of Christ to be saved?
Dianne wasted no time in getting to the point. Here is a summary of what Dianne said to me. On this Christmas day, I think we all need to be reminded of these truths.
1. The Bible teaches that one of the primary points of deception, especially in the last days will be on the subject of the identity of Jesus. Many people will preach a different Jesus (2 Corinthians 11:4, I John 4:1-3)
2. There are two traps that people tend to fall into when it comes to the identity of Jesus. One error is to undermine His deity. The other error is to undermine His humanity.
3. The sermons recorded in the Book of Acts are merely a synopsis of what was said, not necessarily the sermons in their entirety.
4. Peter and Paul didn’t necessarily have to emphasize His deity in their sermons. That Jesus claimed to be God was already a given. That was why He was put to death. In Jewish law, there were only a few crimes punishable by death, and one was blasphemy.
5. When Jesus claimed to be the “Son of God” the Jewish people of His day understood Him to be saying, “I am God.” In the language of their times, they didn’t distinguish between “God” and “Son of God.” (John 5:18, 10:33-36)
6. If Jesus isn’t God, then His blood doesn’t qualify to be the sacrifice for the sins of the world.
As true as the first five points are, it was Dianne’s last point that grabbed me in the gut. How easy it is to forget that essential truths of the gospel are all connected! You can have a beautiful glass of water, but if there is just one drop of arsenic, then the whole glass is poisoned. So it is with essential doctrine. If the deity of Christ is in any way undermined, then the sacrifice of Christ on the cross is undermined as well—and down goes the house of cards. If Jesus isn’t God, then He doesn’t qualify to be our Savior either. God says in His Word, “I, even I, am the Lord, And besides me there is no Savior” (Isaiah 43:11). This explains why the Apostle Paul used the terms “Jesus”, “God”, and “Savior” interchangeably (especially in the Book of Titus). You can’t have one without the other.
The central truth of the entire Bible is this: Only God can save. As tempting as it might be to attribute our salvation to anything other than God Almighty bearing the sins of the world in His own body on a tree, we must resist! As my friend Dr. Eddie Hyatt pointed out in a recent editorial, Jesus didn’t say that He would build His Church on the foundation of His moral teachings (as important as His moral teachings are). He told Peter that He would build His Church on the revelation of Who He is (Matthew 16:18). Jesus said, “Unless you believe that I am He, you will die in your sins” (John 8:24).
Although words like “doctrine” and “orthodoxy” are out of vogue with our postmodern culture, I would like to encourage you to take some time today and reflect on the claims that Jesus made about His identity. The doctrine of the deity of Christ matters whether we like it or not. It matters for the world and, according to Jesus, eternal destinies are determined by whether people believe His claims or not.
Lastly, to my fellow believers out there, I would like to encourage you to “Earnestly contend for the faith which was once and for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3) Don’t let culture shake you from your faith in who Jesus is and what He came to do for you—no matter who is doing the talking! And to everyone reading this, believer and non-believer alike, I’d like to wish you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!
With lots of love,
I just got back from Dakar Senegal this morning. Had an awesome time for the past three weeks breaking new ground for the Kingdom of God in West Africa.
And then I come home to this in my e-mail box.
Now let’s zero in on the quote
“When people respond positively (to missionaries), it is when they don’t have their full freedom,” said Yssef. “Once they recover their normal health and situation, they recover their ability to decide.”
Remember that this is coming from a Muslim leader in a country that throws people in prison (and sometimes worse) for converting to another faith.
Anybody else but me see a problem with this logic?
Can somebody say Duh?
I’m writing this post in a hotel located in the very southwestern corner of Senegal, a country located at the westernmost tip of Africa. My wife and I lived here for about a year and a half in 2003 and 2004. During that time we led a young man to the Lord named Jean Pierre Coly. Since my wife and I left in 2004, Jean Pierre has went on to do great things for God in this country. Much of his ministry is focused on equipping pastors and evangelists in the southern part of the country with tools for evangelism, which is right in line with a direction our ministry has taken since we’ve moved back to the States. Today my wife and I co-taught about 60 people today ranging from pastors, elders, missionaries, to new converts. Our teaching on how to share God’s Word to illiterates using simple Bible stories was very very well received. In that we rejoice!
But the journey getting here hasn’t been as pleasant.
For starters, my father in law came with a team of six other people to meet in Dakar (the capital of Senegal) so they could travel to a country in the north together ( name omitted for security reasons). While Eliot and the team of Americans traveled to the North, Rhiannon and I stayed back in Dakar. During this time Rhiannon got very sick and I had to take her to a nearby clinic to calm her stomach. The team was in the North African country for four days and they were supposed to arrive back at the Dakar airport at 9:00 P.M. Well, the plane didn’t arrive till 2:00 a.m. and for some bizarre reason, the workers at the airport didn’t put their bags on the conveyor belt till 3:30 A.M. None of the team spoke French and neither was I allowed to go inside to help them. (I’d like to give my sincere thanks to my good friend Ralph Bowen who waited with me that night.)
Two days later Rhiannon, Eliot, and I flew to the town of Zinghinshour but when we arrived we discovered that our bags were left back in Dakar. We were told that we wouldn’t be able to pick them up till the next morning at 10:00 A.M. Although it was inconvenient spending a day without basic necessities, we were glad that our bags actually did arrive the next day.
But wait, the drama doesn’t stop there. We put our bags in a taxi and when the taxi got back to the hotel, the taximan wasn’t able to open the trunk. The man had to go to a locksmith to open the trunk of his car so he could retrieve our bags. To top things off, I got locked in the bathroom in our hotel room last night. It was bizarre. I don’t think that’s ever happened to me before.
Why am I telling you all of this? Because today at the conference I issued a challenge for the pastors and evangelists that were present to use the training that they received at our seminar to share the gospel in at least one new village over the next year. Eight people raised their hands and made the commitment, and judging by what I know about the character of the people that raised their hands, I believe they are actually going to do it. What if as the result of our coming here this month, eight new fellowships are planted next year? Would it all be worth it? I think so.
Think about it. What’s a few hours of inconvenience compared to the possibility of just one soul spending an eternity in heaven? The Apostle Paul said “For our light affliction is working in us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.” Paul was beaten, stoned, and shipwrecked for the sake of the gospel. What’s a few hours of lost sleep compared to that? Or a few minutes locked in a bathroom?
I don’t know about you, but sometimes I think that if Paul’s affliction was light, I’d hate to see a heavy affliction! Now that I think about it, what does that tell us about the affliction that Jesus suffered for us on the cross? The affliction that Jesus suffered for us on the cross makes Paul’s affliction look like cotton candy. Yet Jesus willingly suffered for us so that we could have eternal life.
May we all learn to imitate Jesus in the way of self sacrifice, even if the sacrifice is little; it’s the heart that counts.
Until next time,
P.S. Quick update. I’m back home now. Rhiannon got sick a second time in Guinea Bissau. And then just before we flew back to the U.S. from Dakar we were in a vehicle that ran over a curb and the impact was so hard that my father in law accidentally belted Rhiannon on her side and knocked one of her ribs out of place. We were really under attack this trip!