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Salt and Cultural Decay “My Name Is…I Struggle With…”

“You are the salt of the earth,” was something Jesus said to describe the affect of Christ-followers on the culture. This statement also came with an adomonition to retain the saltiness. What does this mean?

Sometimes, first century, Near Eastern salt was this mixture of salt and sand. They didn’t have processing plants. Some of their salt was very poor and had to be thrown out because it had been diluted. When salt is mixed with another substance, it changes in its impact. The other substance doesn’t become salty, but the potency of the salt is diminished to the point that it may not even be seen or tasted. The salt loses its effectiveness.

Before they had refrigeration or ice boxes, salt was their chief means of fighting decay. In the ancient world, salt was a vital staple, both as a preservative and as a seasoning. In a non-refrigerated society, salt was rubbed into the meat to keep it from decaying. If you catch a fish on the Sea of Galilee, for example, and have to transport it to Jerusalem many miles to the south, you’re in trouble without salt. The transportation was slow. Refrigeration was non-existent. And they didn’t have Morton Salt Company either. They got salt from evaporated sea water, and it was never completely pure. Occasionally what they gathered to use as seasoning or to preserve their meat was so impure that it wasn’t very salty at all. When that happened they would gather it up and cast it out in their fields to use as fertilizer. Sometimes they would throw it out the door to harden the pathway that led to their front porch.

What Jesus says in these verses is that if His followers are going to change the world, they have to be the real thing. Our lives can’t be a mixture of all kinds of impurity. We have to be uncompromised, authentic as we engage the culture. Not perfect, just authentic and real with how we live life. What the culture needs are people who own their mess, who allow the teachings of Jesus to confront their lifestyles, and who honestly live a confessional life without pretense as they struggle to live life the way Jesus asked them to live it.

How did Jesus ask them to live a “salty” life? Jesus wanted them to extend forgiveness rather than keep someone in their debt. He wanted them to honor their marriage vows rather than do adultery. He wanted them to stop objectifying women and to really see them and their hearts. He wanted them to surrender the impulse to retaliate and seek revenge. He wanted them to deny themselves, to trust Him and not to worry about tomorrow. He wanted them to resist jumping to conclusions and standing in judgment over others. He wanted them to have the right priorities so that when life is done, you’re not burdened with regret that you spent your life on the wrong things (this is a summary of Matthew 5-7). What the culture needs are people who are willing to allow Jesus’ teachings to confront their values; to engage the culture by living out this struggle in front of a society that is already suspicious about religion and spirituality.

Now, it is possible for salt to be over used, to be too salty. If we try to impose Kingdom values rather than live them for all to see, we are too salty. If we always demand conformity to our viewpoint, we’re too salty. If you’re too heavy with Jesus and his teachings, you’ll ruin your relationships. If you call your atheistic neighbor at 3 AM in the morning to invite them to church, you’re way too salty. If you’re always quoting scripture to someone and preaching to them, you’re messing up your witness. If you pull up in the car next to you at the stoplight, and yell across, “Do you know you are going to hell without Christ?”, you’re too salty. If everybody around you only knows the things in life that you are against, and they never hear the things that you are for, you’re too salty.

On the other hand, if we never pursue Jesus’ values, if we never talk of spiritual things, if we ignore God as a life focus, then our lives are bland. There’s no depth to them. We talk about shallow things all the time – the weather, the latest news, the current scandals. We are just like the rest of the culture. We can never talk about the great ideas, like how and why Christianity is true. We relegate God to a Sunday morning and then we live the way we want to the rest of the time. You have very little impact on your community, family, or culture when you refuse to pursue and even entertain thoughts of God and His way in the world. This life is bland and does very little to help a decadent culture engage their God and His Messenger.

One of the saltiest things a person can do is simply own their struggle. “Hi. My name is Joey and I am a believer in Jesus Christ who struggles with nearly everything that Jesus asked me to do.” Here’s some stuff that Jesus said. It also is stuff that I struggle with.

Matthew 5:1-12 (NIV)
1 Now when he saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, 2 and he began to teach them saying:

3 Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Instead of poor in spirit, I’m often looking forward to the next exciting thing in life rather than just facing that I can’t handle life in my own strength. I’ll just distract myself from my truest, deepest needs and the One who can meet them.

4 Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

Instead of mourning and dealing with the aches of life, I sidestep the hard places and difficult emotions. Mourning is that process that allows us to bleed off the toxic poison of bitterness. When you mourn, you’re saying that things matter, that dreams should be held dear, that people are important, that you care enough about them to work through the pain of losing them. I want to numb the pain rather than process through it.

5 Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

Instead of being meek and content and submitting to God’s authority and His plan for meeting my needs, I met my needs my way. I live for the next thing – the next weekend, the next job, the next adventure, the next thrill.

6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

I hunger and thirst for all the wrong things and try to fill my life with them. Rather than take my soul cravings to God, I take them to other things and end up feeding on spiritual junk food.

7 Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.

I can be harsh with those who live under my own roof and deny them grace. I can get really ticked at people who pretend and pose, especially when it comes to the spiritual life. They won’t admit anything and pretend to have it altogether. I don’t want to show them any mercy.

8 Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

My heart is often divided among misdirected priorities. A pure heart is an undivided heart – a heart that is no longer struggling to decide where it will give its loyalty.

9 Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.

Rather than making peace, it’s often easier to settle just for what makes me happy.

10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

When push comes to shove, it’s much easier to take the path of least resistance and blend in.

My name is Joey and I am a believer in Jesus Christ who struggles with just about everything that Jesus asked me to do.

It’s about the saltiest thing I can say or do.

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Loose Your Religion – Make Room for Relationship

It’s hard for us to realize this today, but when Christianity first arose in the world it was not called a religion. It was the non-religion. Imagine the neighbors of early Christians asking them about their faith. “Where’s your temple?” We don’t have one. “Where are your priests?” We don’t have priests. “Where are the sacrifices made to please your gods?” We don’t do that kind of thing. Jesus himself was the temple to end all temples, the priest to end all priests, and the sacrifice to end all sacrifices. First century Christians were even called atheists. They were the non-religion.

Religion in general is man’s strategic manual for how to reach God. But Christianity is not a religion in this sense. Christianity holds that man, no matter how hard he tries, cannot reach God. Man cannot ascend to God’s level. Therefore there is only one remedy: God must come down to man’s level (that’s what Christmas is all about). Scandalous though it may seem, God must become man and assume the burden of man’s sins (D’Souza, Christianity, 290). Christianity teaches that this was the great sacrifice of Christ – from heaven to amniotic fluid. In religion, man must take the active role. In Christ, God does it all. And religious people generally find this offensive, because it takes away the “tax-payer status” with God. In other words, if I am good and do good things, I have rights to make demands of God.

Tim Keller, a New York City pastor, tells about a conversation he had with a woman. She said that she had gone to a church growing up and she had always heard that God accepts us only if we are sufficiently good and ethical. She had never heard the message of sheer grace through the work of Christ. She commented though on how scary that was for her. She said “If I was saved by my good works –then there would be a limit to what God could ask of me or put me through. I would be a taxpayer with rights. I would have done my duty and now I would deserve a certain quality of life. But if it is really true that I am a sinner saved by sheer grace – at God’s infinite cost – then there’s nothing he cannot ask of me.” Says Keller: “She could see immediately that the wonderful-beyond-belief teaching of salvation by sheer grace had two edges to it. On the one hand it cut away slavish fear. God loves us freely, despite our flaws and failures. Yet she also knew that if Jesus really had done this for her – she was not her own. She was bought with a price (Keller, Prodigal…).”

God’s grace does not come to people who morally outperform others, but to those who admit their failure to perform and who acknowledge their need for a Savior. Christianity proclaims that all the things that religion promised but couldn’t deliver have been delivered once and for all by Jesus.

The world has many religions, but there’s no Gospel in them. In all the world religions, man is endeavoring to reach up and somehow find God. Only in Christianity is God reaching down to man. Christianity holds that man, no matter how hard he/she tries, cannot reach God. Therefore, there is only one remedy; God must become man and assume the burden of man’s sins. And that’s what He did at Christmas. Loose your religion. Make room for relationship.

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Is Jesus Really God? | If So, There is No Such Thing As Atheism

“Jesus Christ is God,” an astonishing claim for a person embedded in a monotheistic religion to even write about or suggest, much less to actually claim such a thing. Jesus is not just part of God or sent by God or related to God. Jesus is God. Jesus shows up one day, does all these miraculous things, makes these remarkable claims, like existing before Abraham or “if you’ve seen me you’ve seen the Father,” and then has the audacity to forgive sins. A Jewish person would never do this in his right mind. A Hindu might claim to be god. A pantheist might claim to be god. For a Jew to claim to be God, was outrageous, suggests C. S. Lewis.

Several years ago, Josh McDowell articulated some thoughts presented by C.S. Lewis in this regard. Jesus is either liar, lunatic, or Lord. We could say He was a liar but He came out of the grave like He said He would. Liar doesn’t fit the facts. He wouldn’t have laid down his life if he wasn’t telling the truth. If his claims were false and he knew they were false, then he was a liar. We could say that He was a lunatic, but all the other things He said were true. If Jesus thought he was God and he didn’t know any better, then we could call Him a lunatic.

The only viable option is that Jesus is who He claimed to be – fully God. He is Lord. He’s more than just a great moral teacher. The leaders of Jesus’ day did not seek His death because he was a good man or a liar or a lunatic. They charged Him with blasphemy for claiming to be God (Mark 14:61-64). Nevertheless, all the Messianic passages of the Old Testament came true in His life. He indirectly claimed deity and He acted as if he was God in the Gospels. He told the paralytic “Your sins are forgiven.” He gave a new commandment in addition to the Ten Commandments of Moses. He requested prayer in His name. He even accepted worship on at least nine occasions. He never rebuked their worship.

If Jesus is God, this means we must listen to Him and follow His teachings. If Jesus is not God, then Christians are idolaters because they have worshiped him as God since the first century. A mere 15 years after Jesus lived, Paul quoted a hymn in Philippians 2 that says Jesus was equal with God. What convinced these monotheistic Jewish people to assert such radical things? What must Jesus have been like, what character must He have had, what claims must He have made, and what incredible deeds must He have done, to convince these orthodox Jews that He was everything their faith said a man could never be? (Boyd, Letters, 114). It was the resurrection of a man who had already embodied God-like attributes that would move them to make such a claim. If His claim is true, then it is imperative that we become a Christian and worship Him.

Let’s not offer the patronizing nonsense of just a “good moral teacher” to echo a Lewisian line. This leads us to wrong conclusions. Here’s a common one. Jesus may have existed, but his story has been embellished by His followers. People have modified the story to fit their agenda. Here’s another: Jesus never really died. He survived the crucifixion, married Mary Magdalene, hustled off to France, and raised a family. Here’s another: Jesus was a magician. He could stage miracles and use slight of hand like David Copperfield to win an audience. Patronizing, non-historical nonsense.

The only viable option if we allow the biblical information to speak to the subject, is that Jesus is who He claimed to be. If this is true, then neutrality is not an option and atheism is a mute point. If you ignore Him, you’re ignoring God Himself.

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What if the New Testament Really is God’s Word? Why didn’t God Preserve the Original Documents?

This is a fair question posed by theists and atheists alike. The best we can do is speculate. It has been suggested that the New Testament might be better protected through copies than through original documents (Geisler).

If the original New Testament documents were all bound together that would mean that they would obviously all be in someone’s possession and they could potentially be changed or modified by the owning entity. However, when you have copies spread all over the ancient world, it makes it more difficult for any one scribe or priest or person who owns the originals to change things.

When the New Testament is reconstructed by copies and variants, the changes are rather easy to identify and can be easily corrected. In fact, just about all of the New Testament can be reconstructed from the Church Fathers who quoted it extensively in their works.

It’s a bit ironic, but not having the originals may actually preserve the New Testament better and keep it more accurate than having one solitary bound volume of all original New Testament books in one single volume.

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Material Proofs that the Resurrection of Jesus Really Happened

Exhibit A: The displaced stone at the tomb. The door of Christ’s tomb was a large, circular stone set on its edge and fitted into an inclined groove. It was not uncommon for such a stone to weigh a ton. It sometimes took up to 20 men to displace a stone like that. Something very powerful or a group of people had to have moved it. How could this be done with a Roman guard at the ready?

Exhibit B: The emptiness of the tomb. Some say that the coolness of the tomb revived Christ. A view like that begs the question. How could someone who was beaten, flogged, crucified, speared in the side, and even pronounced dead by His executioners, suddenly revive, push a one-ton stone aside, overcome an entire Roman guard, and leave?

Exhibit C: The grave clothes. Some suggest that Joseph of Arimathea and his servants stole the body of Jesus, took him home, and revived him. There’s another problem with that… the grave clothes. One writer helps us to understand this with the following description: “The grave clothes were left undisturbed in the place where the body was laid. The body of Jesus was wrapped from the armpits to the ankles with strips of linen twelve inches wide. The linen wraps were then wound around the body placing spices, aloes, and other fine ointments between the wraps. It is believed that a minimum of seventy pounds of spices were used in the process and as much as a hundred pounds were used for someone of Jesus’ position. The grave clothes constituted quite a mass encasing the body. If we are to assume, for example, that Joseph and several of his servants took the body, we would expect that they were concerned about being detected. Therefore, they would have likely been in a great hurry, and we should expect that the grave clothes would have been left in great disarray with spices trailing out the doorway, not to mention that it would have been difficult to have placed the grave clothes neatly back on the resting place in the dark while being in a great hurry to do so. However, the observers did not find spices and wrappings trailing out of the doorway. The grave clothes were intact, undisturbed with the exception of the head napkin that was placed slightly above where it should have been found.” Grave robbers would not have unwrapped the corpse.

Exhibit D. The resurrection appearances to the disciples. The empty tomb of Jesus coupled with the resurrection appearances to the disciples makes for a very compelling resurrection case. “If the empty tomb was a fact but there were no resurrection appearances, Jesus’ body would appear to have been stolen, and His crucifixion and empty tomb would have been a puzzle and a tragedy. If the resurrection appearances had occurred without the empty tomb, the would have been construed as visions or hallucinations (Moreland, God Question).” But we have both an empty tomb and at least 13 post-resurrection appearances.

These four material proofs or exhibits make for a very compelling case for the actual resurrection of Christ from the dead. If the Gospel writers were fabricating these details, many others could have called them on it because Matthew, Mark, and Luke wrote their Gospels within 30 years of the actual occurrence of Jesus’ resurrection. They could have said, “Wait a second; that’s not how it happened.” Instead, you have the early followers of Jesus dying for this story as well as living for it.

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Christianity: Domesticated by the Christians, and the Atheists Are Still Too Lazy to Pet It

In the early days of Christianity, Christianity was a grassroots movement with a wild side. Orphans would be taken off the streets and cared for; the status of women was elevated in a patriarchal culture; adherents gave their all in order to meet the needs of those in their community; people died for the name of Christ that sets people free from the tyranny of bondage and guilt. In these rough economic times in a culture that has lost it’s moral foundation and the existence of God is being denied, it will take primitive, wild, and undomesticated Christianity to begin a revolution of change.

We are not called to be Christians to merely enjoy life, to have everything around us pleasant and comfortable. Jesus represented a rugged Christianity. We have sterilized it, tamed it, domesticated it.

“Just give me a better parking place at the mall.” “Help me not to be offensive.” “Don’t mention the ‘Jesus’ word.”

Jesus has become lost in a religion that bears his name. When you become a follower of Jesus you become participants in an insurrection, a renegade of nonconformists in a culture that has lost its way. Erwin McManus calls it a “barbarian revolt.” The invasion to reclaim a fallen creation has begun in Jesus and we are to extend it, not tame it. I wonder along with others, if Christian Theists have left Jesus behind.

But it even gets worse. Even though the Christians have tamed Christianity, the atheists are still too lazy to pet it. Dorothy Sayers described sloth this way: “It is the sin that believes in nothing, cares for nothing, seeks to know nothing, interferes with nothing, enjoys nothing, hates nothing, finds purpose in nothing, lives for nothing, and remains alive because there is nothing for which it will die.”

There is an indicting apathy that has crawled over and settled on our existential times. “There’s really not that much to be excited about in life, and when it comes to God – oh well, whatever?” And the atheists even say that He doesn’t exist.

If God is as great as the Bible says He is, why do I not love this Creator with a daily aliveness that invigorates me to pursue him with passion? The idea of God has been tamed and Jesus has been domesticated. Imagine, a Being with a mind as great as God’s, with feet like fire and a voice like rushing wind and ocean waves breaking on distant shores, iridescent light that invites you into the mystery. How could I possibly have a “whatever” attitude when I have revelation like that of God? I’ll tell you how – sloth in a context of a domesticated faith. Sloth is when we do sullenly what we ought to do with devotion. Sloth says “It’s not really true; it’s nothing to be excited about. I’ll label it as fairytale and dismiss it.” Too lazy to pet it, even though domesticated.

Don’t just join a revolution; be a revolution. How do we get through the crises of life? Turn Christianity loose, the real, untamed authentic kind. Stop pampering the atheists and the politically correct. Present a compelling case for Christian Theism in the marketplace of ideas. Love a person who hates you. Feed someone who is hungry. Drive old cars. Wear old shoes. Don’t seek revenge. Serve your spouse rather than divorce her/him. Give your money away. Care for a lonely person. Help people find jobs. Articulate a truly Christian Worldview. Love your family and invest in them. Stop offering your body to the first thing that winks at you. Radically serve your community. Meet a need. Recycle and reuse.

Get a little rugged for a change. Have a backbone, some moral stamina. “Deny yourself” is how Jesus would say it. Let’s not tame Jesus; let’s turn him loose. Life is not a petting zoo; it’s fallen, wild Creation on the Outback. It takes a “Lion” in these pansy, atheistic times. This IS something worth living for. And, something worth dying for.

I would hate to live in a world where there was nothing worth dying for, no larger story to be caught up into, no noble purpose for which we would give our lives. The slothful (be they atheistic or Christian) do nothing to make our world better; he or she leaves it unchanged, except for pillaging some of its resources, occupying some of its space. Sloth and selfishness is fueled by a culture of cynicism. We may not be intellectual atheists, but we are practical atheists, full of complacency. “There may be a god, but I’m going to live without him.” It’s all fueled by sloth, a refusal to deal with the hard questions of life and somehow find God in all of it.

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The New Testament Summed Up for Atheists

I have found that many people, especially atheists, struggle with a comprehensive understanding of the New Testament Bible books. In this post, I mention each of the 27 New Testament books by name; I succinctly in one sentence or less sum up that particular book or authors argument; and I tie it all together in a flowing, historical narrative that reflects the chronology of when books were written. This is literally the product of years of study. Again, I offer it to you free.

Here’s how I would sum up the New Testament for everyone, especially atheists:

After centuries of writing about and waiting for Israel’s expected Messiah (the Old Testament – see The Old Testament Summed Up for Atheist post), He finally arrived (that’s what Christmas is about) as the King of the Jews (Matthew), as the Suffering Servant (Mark), as a Human Being (Luke), as God’s Son (John) and some people slowly began to realize who He was and what He represented as they matched Old Testament teaching with what they had witnessed or heard about in the life and ministry of Jesus and they believed in Him, whereas others, specifically Israel’s leaders, rejected Him as Messiah and had him crucified. This resulted in a postponed kingdom implementation (the actual, literal reign of Christ on earth).

Nevertheless, He was resurrected from the dead, appeared to eyewitnesses to validate his life, prepared His followers for life in his absence and ascended back to heaven, after which His followers, specifically Peter and Paul, empowered by the Holy Spirit, spread the news of what God had done for the world through Jesus Christ (Acts) while building expectation of Christ’s return someday to rule and reign over the world in perfect justice and to love and heal the wounds of mankind.

Until then, those who believed Peter and Paul’s message became a part of the New Community of God, the Church, and needed instruction and training in how to live in this New Community, how to be a new Christ to the world, and what to believe and practice regarding several key beliefs (doctrines), such as the Second Coming of Christ (1 & 2 Thessalonians) and how to live a Christian lifestyle in the world and how to conduct themselves in the local church (1 Corinthians) and how to submit themselves to Paul’s authority (2 Corinthians) and how to be justified by faith and live the Spirit-filled life (Galatians, Romans).

Paul also taught that Jesus is Lord and that we should submit to His Lordship (Colossians), that we should forgive one another (Philemon), that we should live in light of our spiritual riches in Christ (Ephesians) and that we should joyfully serve Christ in a selfless manner (Philippians). Paul also trained leaders in how to lead in the New Community and on what viewpoints they should subscribe to regarding important issues (1 Timothy, Titus) and to stand firm for the Gospel even in his absence (2 Timothy).

James adds that believers are to be obedient to the Lord, even in trials (James) and to stay faithful to the superior Christ even when persecution makes it unpopular to do so (Hebrews, 1 Peter) and to stay ready for Christ’s return (2 Peter), earnestly contending for the faith (Jude), being careful to maintain a fervent love for God and one another in true fellowship (1 John) while exercising cautious support in showing hospitality to those who teach and proclaim the truth (2 John, 3 John) and do all of this in light of the Second Coming of Jesus Christ into the world where He will be glorified in human history after which believers will live forever with Him unhindered by sin in a New Heaven and a New Earth (Revelation).

And that’s the New Testament summed up for everyone, especially the atheist.

Christianity basically asserts that the end of all religions has come. They are no longer needed to be in a right relationship with God. Even though some choose to practice them, Christ has done all that needed to be done in order to bridge the gap between humanity and God. So “oppressive religion” does not have a monopoly on God’s grace. No religious group can contain what God has done for the world in Jesus. No special sect has a “corner” on the truth.

The truth has been embodied in a person – Christ Jesus, Our Lord. By-pass religion, and go straight to Christ. He will lead you home. And much of the New Testament is written to help those who have by-passed religion and who have come together to “be Christ” in a broken, and lonely world. Until He comes, may we all gather in New Community to be His hands, his feet, his body – to learn how to do life differently than we’ve done it before, to steward the creation, to be agents of redemption in a world of hate and revenge, to keep the memory of Jesus alive, to be the Church, and not just attend one.

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