Sorry for the lack of 'thoughts' these past couple weeks -- I had 5 funerals in two weeks. Your prayers for the remaining spouses, children, grandchildren and family members would be appreciated, as they deal with the loss of loved ones.
This week's 'thought' comes to you from John Piper. I picked up a little gem of his at a local store called, "Jesus - The Only Way To God." This selection, which comes from the introduction, resonated with my spirit and thus I hope it speaks to you as well. As the book is only a short hundred and twenty-three pages in length, it is well worth the expense and time to read it. Enjoy.
"I have written this book with a sense of urgency. It seems to me that the very people who have historically been the most joyfully and sacrificially aggressive in world evangelization are losing their nerve. In our shrinking, pluralistic world, the belief that Jesus is the only way of salvation is increasingly called arrogant and even hateful. In the face of this criticism, many shrink back from affirming the global necessity of knowing and believing in Jesus.
There has always been a price to pay to take the good news of Jesus to those who need it and don't want it. The difference today is that those voices are closer to us than ever -- whether in the neighborhood or on the internet. Their nearness makes them seem more numerous (which they aren't) and feel more dangerous (which they are).
These are not days for the timorous to open their mouths. A thousand bloggers stand ready to echo or condemn your commendation of Christ to a Jew, or Muslim, or Hindu, or Buddhist, or anyone else. Once upon a time, there was a safe, private place to take your controversial stand for Jesus. No more. If you are going to stand, you will be shot at -- either figuratively or literally.
As I write this, there is news across the web of fourteen Christians killed in rioting because the other religion believed their holy book had been desecrated. What if, in your town, the 'other' religion defined desecration as the public statement that their holy book is not the infallible guide to God?
If the evangelical church at large was ever too confrontational in its evangelism, those days are gone. The pendulum has swung, with a commercialized and psychologized temperament, in the other direction. The church today leans strongly toward offering Jesus as appealing or not offering him at all. And what's new about this temperament is that we are more inclined that we used to be to let the customer, or the person who is offended, define what is appealing.
The commercialized mindset moves away from personal conviction toward pragmatic effectiveness. It feels that if the consumer is unhappy with the presentation, there must be something wrong with it. When this feeling becomes overriding, it circles around and redefines the 'truth' being presented so that the presentation can be made enjoyable. If the claim that Jesus is the only way of salvation offends people, the commercialized mindset will either not talk about it, or stop believing it.
The psychologized mindset defines love as whatever the other person feels is loving. The effect is the same as with the commercialized mindset. If a person or group finds your summons to believe on Jesus for salvation to be arrogant instead of humble and loving, then, if you have the psychologized mindset, you will feel guilty and apologetic. It must be your fault. If this mindset becomes overriding, it too will circle around and change not only the presentation, but, if necessary, the thing presented, so that the other person will not feel unloved.
In this way, the unhappy consumer and the offended listener take on a power that once belonged only to the Bible. There is an epidemic fear of man behind these two mindsets. In the name of marketing savvy or sensitive communication, cowardice capitulates to the world, and we surrender the offensive truth of Christ's uniqueness and supremacy."
(Piper then goes on to share The Seven Things That Are At Stake when we surrender the universal necessity of believing on Jesus in order to be saved -- but you will need to pick up a copy to see that those are.)
Though it is true that one can share the Gospel in a way that is patently offensive, and unloving, there is also a sense in which even the most humble and loving presentation can also offend, because there are elements of Gospel truth that are offensive -- apart from anything we do or don't do.
Human pride does not like to hear that we are entirely dependent upon the grace of God in Jesus to be saved. Pluralistic relativism does not like to hear our belief that all roads do not lead to heaven. Most are offended at hearing Isaiah tell us that, "all our RIGHTEOUS deeds are as filthy (unclean) rags in the sight of God" -- stained as they are by the sin that resides within me. People who believe self-esteem is the cure all for all of our ills do not like hearing we are sinners who fall short of the glory of God and thus desperately need a Savior. (Yes, there are some things we cannot change, or do, even if we believe with all our heart that we can.)
Thus, as one of my seminary professors once put it: "There are elements of the Gospel that are, in and of themselves, offensive to unbelievers. Just make sure that if offense is taken, it comes from the Gospel itself, and not the way you present it."
With prayers that we may all continue to share Jesus in a humble, loving and yet confident and bold way, Pastor Jeff