Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Jesus Wouldn't Write "In His Steps"

One of my favorite books as a young Christian was Charles Sheldon's classic, In His Steps.  This is the book that birthed the whole WWJD movement.  Part of the book's charm is simply the era it was written in, the golden age of American literature.  But also the book portrays a beautiful (though fictional) picture of a church revived, a church trying to follow Jesus seriously in all areas of their lives, even to the point of costly sacrifices.

But then I realized that the book does not contain the gospel.  The idea that Christ died to take the punishment for sinners, and that we must respond by trusting in Christ alone to rescue us from God's wrath, is nowhere to be found in this book.  It contains morals - but no gospel!  It paints Jesus as our example, but not our Savior.  How could I have missed that for so long?  

Further troubling: the characters in the book rarely consult the Bible to learn what did Jesus do.  They seem to just go with their gut to determine "what would Jesus do" in a given situation.  

Then I read Wikipedia's article about Charles Sheldon, the author.  Check it out, it's enlightening, and helps make sense of his gospel-less book.  Sheldon had a desire for the positive transformation of society, but not by people being born again.

Jesus wouldn't write this book.

Friday, August 14, 2020

Don't Underestimate Septuagenarians!

Last week I served as a poll worker at my local polling place.  I was by far the youngest; the average age of the other 5 workers was around 71.

Let me tell you: I was impressed.  People in their 70s can work hard physically.  They can use unusual technology, like electronic voting machines (and teach voters how to use it).  

We put in a 15 hour day on election day, not counting the hours of mandated training and the 2 hours of set up on Monday.  According to my calculations, we each made about half of minimum wage. 

On Monday, there was squabbling among the workers about the proper way to do things.  They all had past experience in different elections, and the procedures had changed slightly.  

On Tuesday, all differences were set aside and we gelled as a team.  Republicans and Democrats worked together flawlessly.

These are the people that our society tells to golf, travel, and watch TV.  

We are squandering a treasure.

Monday, April 27, 2020

Should you deny Christ if it would save lives?

That is the compelling question posed by Shusaku Endo's book, Silence.  The book is a piece of historical fiction set in 17th century Japan, as the Japanese empire seeks to eliminate Christianity from its midst.  Endo, a Japanese Catholic, wrote it not as entertainment but as a vehicle for proposing several complex theological ideas.  The book received commendation from the Vatican.

The main character of the story, a Portuguese Jesuit priest named Rodrigues, is captured by the Japanese authorities.  But rather than simply kill him, they try to induce him to formally renounce Christ by the symbolic action of putting his foot on the head of Jesus on a crucifix (called a fumie).  And rather than simply torturing Rodrigues physically, they torture other Christians and promise Rodrigues that if he tramples on Christ, they will release not only him but the other Christians as well.  They know that if they can get the church leaders like Rodrigues to apostatize, their people will follow.

Another priest, Ferreira, who has already trampled the fumie to save lives, tries to convince Rodrigues to do so also.  He does this first by telling Rodrigues that it's impossible for Japanese people to truly become Christians.  Thus, what's the point of trying to convert them by his example of faith?
"In the churches we built throughout this country, the Japanese were not praying to the Christian God.  They twisted God to their own way of thinking in a way we can never imagine... The Japanese till this day have never had the concept of God; and they never will... The Japanese are not able to think of God completely divorced from man; the Japanese cannot think of an existence that transcends the human.  The Japanese imagine a beautiful, exalted man--and this they call God... But that is not the Church's God." [160-161]
Then Ferreira plays this card:
"Is your way of acting love?  A priest ought to live in imitation of Christ.  If Christ were here... certainly Christ would have apostatized for them [the Christians being tortured]…. For love Christ would have apostatized.  Even if it meant giving up everything he had." [181]
Rodrigues is convinced.  Ferreira encourages him:
"Now you are going to perform the most painful act of love that has ever been performed... Your brethren in the church will judge you as they have judged me.  But there is something more important than the Church, more important than missionary work: what you are now about to do." [182]
Rodrigues raises his foot to trample on the fumie.
"And then the Christ in bronze speaks to the priest.  'Trample!  Trample!  I more than anyone know of the pain in your foot.  Trample!  It was to be trampled on by men that I was born into this world.  It was to share men's pain that I carried my cross.'  The priest placed his foot on the fumie.  Dawn broke.  And far in the distance the cock crew." [183]
This is the climax of the book.  Thus the book argues that it is loving and Christlike to deny Christ, if doing so will save others.

I regard this as a deception straight from hell.  But rather than simply tell you why, I urge you to study the Bible to discover the answers.  In future times of persecution, we ourselves may be faced with the choice between denying Christ and causing others to suffer.  And if that happens, you would not remember an answer I write here, but you will remember the answers you find in God's Word.

May the Lord use this awful book to remind us to pray for Japanese people to come to true faith in Christ.

Thursday, April 9, 2020

New Pilgrim's Progress Film Lacks Gospel

John Bunyan's grave in Bunhill Field, London 
Revelation Media has produced an animated film version of John Bunyan's classic book Pilgrim's Progress.  Their goal was great: to produce a missions tool that could be easily translated into many languages.

Sadly, I believe the film almost entirely loses the gospel clarity of the book.  Even secular film adaptations of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe contain more gospel than this film.

But there are three gospel glimmers in the film.
  1. The brightest is when Christian's burden falls off and rolls down a hill into an open tomb which looks like the garden tomb in Jerusalem.  A cross (of light, not wood) is at the top of the hill.  Those who understand what these represent could deduce that Christ's death and resurrection free us from guilt.  
  2. During his trial in Vanity Fair, Faithful explains that God's blessings cannot be had at any price, except the surrender of the heart to the King's better ways.  
  3. When Christian reaches the Celestial City, Christ tells him that His blood protected Christian from Satan as he was dying.  
All of these gospel glimmers are true and Biblical.  They are also incomplete and insufficient.  Many cults agree with all these.  You could embrace everything in the film and still go to hell.  Essential truths of the gospel are absent.  It's tempting to list them.  But I'd rather you learn to discern this for yourself.  If you need help, read Pilgrim's Progress!

The main message that the film conveys is persevere: continue obeying and believing God despite the hardships and temptations of life.  These are essential and Biblical commands.  But these are not the gospel.  Nor are they the central message of the original book.  

My aim here is not to bash this film or its producers, but something larger.  I want to plead with my fellow Christians that in our evangelism we do not lose the evangel itself.  The film is just one example of widespread gospel fuzziness emanating from many churches.  Ironically, in our desire to make the gospel well-known - in striving to make it succinct, relevant, and understandable - we can easily destroy it.

Father, for Your glory, and for the good of the lost, help us get this right.

Saturday, February 1, 2020

A Cross That Could Not Save

A few weeks ago, I stood in Thailand looking across a small river.  Myanmar (Burma) was on the other side.

Vendors on my side stood under their portable canopies and attempted to sell raw meat in the 90 degree heat.  A disheveled woman sat on the sidewalk and nursed her baby openly.  Stray dogs (some with sores) wandered lazily.  A few beggars (including children) tried to catch anyone's attention.  Four young children, unaccompanied by adults, happily played a local version of "Duck, Duck, Goose".   Another woman rode by on a bicycle, her face black and blue.

Myanmar, on the other side, looked no less grimy.  Impoverished people come from Myanmar to Thailand for work - and not the other way around.  My friends and I stood looking into Myanmar, and prayed.

"There's a man over there carrying a cross!" one of my friends exclaimed.  We looked.  Sure enough!  It was a cross... or something like a cross?  Maybe about three feet tall.  The top part was short, a bit out of proportion for a cross.  Both poles were covered in some kind of cloth.  The man and a friend walked down the riverbank to the water on the Myanmar side.

Joseph, born in Myanmar, told us, "I think it's some kind of fishing tool."

The men put the "cross" into the water and it started floating downstream.  Then the men started walking back up the hillside.

Click to enlarge.  The cross is just to the right of the men, floating in the water.  You can't see the top part of the cross.
"Oh," Joseph corrected himself.  "It's not a fishing tool.  They put their sins on it and are trying to send their sins away."

Apparently this is a common Buddhist practice.  Transfer your sins to something that floats, take it to the river, and send it away.  These men happened to pick something in the shape of a cross, not knowing that there was another cross that really could take away their sins.

When I told this story to a friend the next day, he told me, "This Buddhist custom can be used as an evangelism bridge.  You can tell a Buddhist that the idea is good, but there are four problems.  The person bringing the float is dirty, the river is dirty, the float has no value, and there is no one to receive the float.  Then you can show how the gospel answers all four problems."

Are you trusting in the cross that can save?  If so, will you go to the people who are trusting in crosses that cannot save, and tell them about Christ?  

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

The Death of D. L. Moody

 Suddenly he was heard speaking in slow and measured words. He was saying: "Earth recedes; Heaven opens before me." The first impulse was to try to arouse him from what appeared to be a dream. "No, this is no dream, Will," he replied. "It is beautiful. It is like a trance. If this is death, it is sweet. There is no valley here. God is calling me, and I must go." Meanwhile the nurse was summoning the family and the physician, who had spent the night in the house.

Mr. Moody continued to talk quietly, and seemed to speak from another world his last message to the loved ones he was leaving.

"I have always been an ambitious man," he said; "ambitious to leave no wealth or possessions, but to leave lots of work for you to do. Will, you will carry on Mount Hermon. Paul will take up the Seminary, when he is older; Fitt will look after the Institute, and Ambert (his nephew) will help you in the business details." Then it seemed as though he saw beyond the veil, for he exclaimed: "This is my triumph; this is my coronation day! I have been looking forward to it for years." Then his face lit up, and he said, in a voice of joyful rapture: " Dwight! Irene!—I see the children's faces," referring to the two little grandchildren God had taken from his life in the past year. Then, as he thought he was losing consciousness, he said, "Give my love to them all." Turning to his wife, he exclaimed, "Mamma, you have been a good wife to me!" and with that he became unconscious.

For a time it seemed that he had passed on into the unseen world, but slowly he revived, under the effect of heart stimulants, and, suddenly raising himself on his elbow, exclaimed: "What does all this mean? What are you all doing here?" He was told that he had not been well, and immediately it all seemed to be clear to him, and he said:

"This is a strange thing. I have been beyond the gates of death and to the very portals of Heaven, and here I am back again. It is very strange." Again he talked about the work to be done, assigning to the sons the Northfield schools, and to his daughter and her husband the Chicago Bible Institute. ...

To the plea of his daughter that he should not leave them, he said: "I'm not going to throw my life away. I'll stay as long as I can, but if my time is come, I'm ready." ...

A second sinking turn left him exhausted, and he was willing to return to bed, where he remained, quietly awaiting the end, for an hour. To the very last he was thinking of those about him and considering them. Turning to his wife, only a little while before he passed away, he said: " This is hard on you, Mother, and I'm sorry to distress you in this way. It is hard to be kept in such anxiety." The last time the doctor approached to administer the hypodermic injection of nitro-glycerin he looked at him in a questioning and undecided way and said in a perfectly natural voice, "Doctor, I don't know about this. Do you think it best? It is only keeping the family in anxiety."

In a few moments more another sinking turn came, and from it he awoke in the presence of Him whom he loved and served so long and devotedly. It was not like death, for he "fell on sleep" quietly and peacefully. ...

Of that larger life he had spoken in no uncertain way. "Some day you will read in the papers that D. L. Moody, of East Northfield, is dead," he had said. "Don't you believe a word of it! At that moment I shall be more alive than I am now. I shall have gone up higher, that is all—out of this old clay tenement into a house that is immortal; a body that death cannot touch, that sin cannot taint, a body fashioned like unto His glorious body. I was born of the flesh in 1837. I was born of the Spirit in 1856. That which is born of the flesh may die. That which is born of the Spirit will live forever."

-- from The Life of Dwight L. Moody by his son William Revell Moody, pages 552-555. 

Saturday, September 21, 2019

When God Wastes Your Life

I've wasted a lot of my life.  But so has God.

I never wanted to waste my life (does anyone?), but as a young Christian I was all thrust and no vector.  John Piper's Don't Waste Your Life showed me better how not to waste it. 

But the book didn't warn me that often God Himself would waste my life.  I chafed when circumstances crafted by God essentially threw away huge chunks of my time.

Why does the same God who said "the harvest is plentiful and the laborers are few" impede the service of the laborers He does have? 

Of course this has happened to other believers also.  Abraham spent years waiting for the promised son.  Job lost his life savings and had to start over.  Moses spent 40 years herding sheep - and another 40 years herding rebels. David used up a lot of time running in the desert.  William Carey lost years' worth of translation work in a fire.  Jim Elliot's widow Elisabeth, who had a vibrant ministry teaching women, spent the last decade of her life with dementia.

We could even think of Jesus' first 30 years on earth.  One recorded conversation from age 12.  The rest, forgotten.

It seems God is so confident of His team's victory that He often puts some of His players on the bench.

If God has left you on the court, don't dribble.  Play with all your might.  But if He has benched you, trust Him. 

"They also serve, who only stand and wait."