Saturday, October 17, 2009

What's Your Priority?

Today in his message, Pastor Brent talked about being deeply committed to God, and specifically he said that we can't honestly say that we're committed to him when we're not committing our money to him. If God has our hearts, he gets our wallets as well.

We tend to cut ourselves a lot of slack and make allowances for ourselves when we fall short. Most people give themselves the benefit of the doubt on a regular basis. Researchers call it "the self-serving bias."

For example, in one survey, 90% of drivers rated themselves as "above average" in their driving skills compared to other drivers, and nearly 50% placed themselves among the top 10%. Of course, this is mathematically impossible, but it's one example of the self-serving bias.

I came across an interesting article this week that provided an example of the self-serving bias among pastors, when it comes to their assessment of the spiritual condition of their congregations, compared to what their congregants actually report about themselves. Most pastors have a rosy outlook when it comes to their members' spiritual condition, but the members themselves reveal a rather different picture. The results are rather striking, and it's definitely worth taking a look at the full article. But here are some of the things that were particularly noteworthy to me:
  • Only 23% of all Protestant churchgoers, and only half of evangelicals (which are known for making a stronger emphasis on things like this) indicated that their faith in God was their highest priority in their lives. So that means most Christians--and half of evangelicals--ADMIT that God is not #1 in their lives.
  • According to the survey, in forming their opinions, "few pastors rely upon criteria that reflect genuine devotion to God." Most pastors utilize external indicators such as worship attendance, serving in a ministry, and comments made immediately after the worship service. While these can be important factors in a person's journey of growth, it is also true that positive outward behavior can mask inner ambivalence, or even outright disobedience or unbelief.
  • In the section labeled "Activity That Does Not Concern Churches," among the list of important criteria that pastors downplay or ignore altogether are
    • tithing/generosity,
    • personal evangelism/outreach,
    • life change subsequent to the conversion experience
    • how visitors to the church are received
    • whether people experience the presence of God in the worship service
When I look at our description of a Fully Devoted Follower that the elders and I have developed together, I am pleased to see that we are on the right track. We have put together a list of criteria that actually assess the level of a person's devotion to Christ, and it includes every single one of the essential characteristics that this article says most churches ignore.

We don't want to have a self-serving bias when we evaluate the health of our church, and we don't want individuals in our church to have a self-serving bias when they look at their own health. We want to see accurately so that we can know what our true condition is, and so that we can work on the areas that need attention the most.

It is right for us to think this way, according to God's word: "Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you." (Romans 12:3 NIV)

So where are you on your journey? Are you where you need to be? Or do you have some growing to do? Do you truly make God your first priority in life? What will it take to get him there?

For many of us, it starts with letting go of our love of money, which is the root of all kinds of evil (1 Tim. 6:10). The best way to get rid of money's hold over our lives is to start giving it away. You see, our God is a very practical God.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Small Group Changes

In this process of getting ourselves focused on our mission of meeting people where they are and leading them to become fully devoted followers of Jesus, the first area that we're examining up-close is the area of small groups (Reaching Over). We'll be also giving special consideration to our worship services (Reaching Up) and our ministry teams (Reaching Out) in the near future, but the elders and I felt that small groups was the right area to direct our efforts first.

One of the first things that we realized is that we have a lot of great Life Groups that are already established, and wonderful things are going on in them. But most of the time we don't know what those wonderful things are.

  • We are uncertain who belongs to each of the various groups,
  • We usually find out after the fact when a topic of study changes,
  • We don't know when groups are experiencing problems... or breakthroughs,
  • We aren't aware of many of the life changes that are taking place in our groups, except we sometimes hear about them in a round-about or haphazard way.
So we knew that we needed to apply some communication tools for our Life Groups. We now have a regular mechanism for keeping in touch with our Life Group leaders so that we can provide support and encouragement, as well as stay connected with what's happening in our groups.

Another need that we noticed is that there was no consistent plan for life change in our groups. It's not that lives weren't ever being changed, and that no one was ever growing--only that the growth was not a result of a focused, strategic effort, and therefore, not as great and fruitful as it might otherwise be.

So we came up with some across-the-board standards for our small groups and shared those with all our small group leaders at a special training session last week. If you're in a small group, your leader will be sharing these with you soon. There's nothing that should strike anyone as surprising or out-of-place for small groups, but we believe it is helpful to be clear about the purpose and nature of our groups in order to avoid any unmet expectations, unspoken agendas, or unnecessary conflict.

Finally, we realized that it is probably difficult for some people to take the step from attending worship to joining an established small group. After all, there are innumerable obstacles to overcome:
  • the awkwardness and uncomfortableness of breaking in to a group that already knows each other and is familiar with each other
  • the anxiety about whether I'll really be accepted or welcome (despite what people say)
  • the unknown expectations of group members--will I be called on to pray out loud? answer a question I don't know? reveal uncomfortable things about my life?
  • fears about what will happen when people discover "the real me"
  • concerns about whether these people are trustworthy enough to keep my confidential information confidential
  • and on and on....
So we asked, How can we help people take the step of moving from just attending to being a part of a small group? And the answer we came up with was Learn Groups.

Learn Groups will be short-term small groups that will tie into the message series that we're working through. So if a series is four weeks long, the Learn Group will be four weeks long. If a series is six weeks long, the Learn Group will be six weeks long. This gives people a chance to "test drive" the small group concept without making a lengthy commitment. They can get used to interacting and learning in a group setting with minimal risk. At the end of each Learn Group, we'll be encouraging anyone who is not part of a Life Group to "graduate" into one of those established groups.

We've also made the decision to change our Journey Classes into Journey Groups. If the purpose is not simply to impart information, but to aid and assist life change, we feel the format for the Journey Classes needs to be shifted to a group format. There are several reasons for that:
  • Breaking the teaching into shorter, more manageable pieces helps people absorb and digest the information better, rather than our previous approach to download four hours of information in one sitting.
  • Giving time in between each session allows people to practice and experiment with what they've learned so far without piling on more information that they're not ready for.
  • Giving an opportunity to practice allows for more intelligent questions, feedback, suggestions, and comments from the Journey participants, as well as a chance for encouragement, support, and camaraderie within the group.
The first Journey Group will be kicking off Sunday November 1 and going through November 22. It's the Journey 201 Group, which examines the habits that are necessary for spiritual growth. We'll be talking about the habits of prayer, time in God's word, personal worship, tithing, and fellowship. Even if you've already taken the Journey 201 CLASS, you're welcome to try out the Journey 201 Group--I think you'll find that you will enjoy it more and get more out of it in this group format.

To sign up for the Journey 201 Group, email me! There's no cost for the group.

Small groups are an integral part of our process for leading people to become fully devoted followers of Christ because they are the best tool that we have for helping people acquire authentic relationships with other Christians, which are essential for growth. Small groups help foster relationships that are focused directly on life change and provide the safe space for the kind of honest and deep conversations that are appropriate to relationships with a purpose.

If you haven't found a small group, now is the time! Call the office (784-5388) to sign up for a group, or send me an email at

Sunday, September 27, 2009

A Non-Growing Christian Is...

The Bible assumes that Christians grow--there's no real comprehension of any other kind (Col. 3:9-10). However, most contemporary American Christians do not grow--they are stuck, plateaued, in a holding pattern--and because this is so common, we fail to see how odd it really is from the Bible's perspective. In fact, if we're not careful, we'll come to see stagnation as normal and movement as strange and bizarre.

So, to counter this heresy, I thought it might be good to re-cast what a non-growing Christian is like through some modern-day word-pictures. My hope is that these will help challenge you to see how offensive a lack of growth in our lives is to God, and strengthen your resolve not only to be a growing Christian yourself, but to spur others on to the same.

A non-growing Christian is...

  • A sinus infection--slimy, gross mucus that creates pain and pressure because it's not going anywhere.
  • A bowel obstruction--a blockage of movement that causes you to hang on to all your crap.
  • A pimple--a clog of oil and dead cells that produces embarrassment.
  • A port-a-potty--a stinky repository of garbage and waste.
  • Engine sludge--gooey gunk that not only won't move, but even causes a whole engine to stop, and eventually break down.
  • A hemorrhoid--a painful torment that cries out for fixing, but most people are unwilling to do anything about it.
  • A free ticket to a mortuary--it counts for nothing, and nobody wants it.
  • Gangrene--dead, rotting flesh caused by a lack of blood flow
  • A government agency--bloated, unnecessary, useless, ineffective, uncomprehending... need I say more?
  • A parasite--a being with no purpose of its own, which contributes nothing, produces nothing, provides nothing. It draws its life by sucking from from the healthy, and spreads sickness simply by doing what comes naturally to it.

Not growing is painful because we repeat the same bad choices over and over, and reap their consequences. It's tragic because we fail to learn from our own life experiences. It's gross and disgusting because that's always the case when something is intended to move and it's stuck. It causes our lives to be rendered worthless and ineffectual. It is one of Satan's greatest sources of satisfaction.

The Christian life is designed to MOVE!!! So let's shift it out of park and put the pedal to the metal, people!!! I feel the NEED for SPEED!!! Woo-hoo!!!!!!!!!

What's the next turn you need to make to get on-track with God?

Monday, September 21, 2009

What Is Church About?

Before I share my answer with you, I'd really invite you to wrestle with this question... What is church about? If you're reading this blog, I'm assuming that you go to church, you're part of a church, you belong to a church. So this should be easy. What is church about?

Think about it. Write it out--it helps to make things clear in our minds when we write them down. OK, have you done that yet? No? Then why are you still reading? I'm serious--write down the answer to this question: What is church about? (Don't worry, I'll wait for you...)





OK, have you done that yet? See, here's what I think. I think your answer more than likely sounds something like this:

  • Church is about learning about God and Jesus.
  • Church is about worship and learning more about the Bible.
  • Church is where we go to find out what we're supposed to believe.

Now, maybe not. Maybe I'm all wrong here. But I think I'm right. I think this is the answer that I'd get from 90+% of church-goers. And that is a crippling indictment of us as Christians, on a couple of fronts:

  1. Church is never about where we go. The church is not a building you enter, it's a group of people you belong to. In the Bible, the church is a family, a flock, a body, a bride, a fellowship, but never a literal building. And just like in a family, in a flock, in a body, we belong to each other. Romans 12:5 says, "Each member belongs to all the others." So whatever church is about, it's about belonging to other people.
  2. Church is never about Sundays. If "church" is a group of people we belong to, we belong to them all the time--in the exact same way that you don't cease to belong to your family just because you head separate ways during the day. To say that church is about Sunday morning worship services is like saying that family is about sleeping under the same roof at night, or eating dinner together (if your family does that). Those may be things that happen in a family--even fairly important things--but that's a pretty poor description of what family is all about.
  3. Church is not really about learning. Now, again, maybe learning is something that happens in a church (hopefully so!), but church is not like school. Church is not an educational institution. The Bible tells us that "knowledge puffs up, but love builds up" (1 Cor. 8:1 NIV). Knowledge for knowledge's sake is useless, less than worthless. In fact, "If I... can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing" (1 Cor. 13:2 NIV). Let me say it again--CHURCH IS NOT ABOUT LEARNING!!!

So what is church about? One thing. There is only one reason the church exists. There is only one reason to belong to a church. There is only one reason to serve in a church. There is only one reason to believe in the church. There is only one reason to worship with the church. And that reason is this:

Life. Change.

That's it. Nothing else. We are in the business of allowing God to change our lives, and letting him use us to change the lives of others. And we join together to support and challenge one another on this journey of life change, as we all head in the same direction, so that we can all get there because we could never make it on our own--it's way too hard.

And if we don't understand this, we don't really understand anything about the Christian faith. If we don't grasp this, we may not even really have a relationship with Jesus at all. And I'm not exaggerating even slightly.

Church is about life change.

And so the only kind of knowledge that counts for anything is the knowledge that changes your life. If you learn something, and change as a result, that's good. If you learn something and don't change, you were better off not even learning it in the first place. Way too many Christians are educated beyond their obedience.

As we've said endlessly (and we'll keep saying it), Pathway Community Church exists to meet people where they are on their spiritual journeys and lead them to become fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ. We meet them where they are, but we don't let them stay there--we lead them to a new place. That's life change. And that's not just for the people "out there"; it's for us "in here" too. In fact, we can't do diddly squat "out there" until we allow God to do his work "in here." If our lives are untransformed, we have absolutely nothing to offer this world. We operate with no power. We model a false gospel.

As we implement this simple process throughout our church, there's only one reason behind it--life change.

  • Reaching Up/Worship Services are about life change.
  • Reaching Over/Small Groups are about life change.
  • Reaching Out/Ministry Teams are about life change.

This whole process is about one thing--helping you cooperate with God to let him change your life. If you're happy with your life exactly the way it is and don't want to change anything, you're in open rebellion against God, and you're going to find yourself more and more uncomfortable with the direction our church is moving. And that's only right, because the only thing church is about is life change.

Monday, September 14, 2009

faith : simple

This week, we rolled out our simplified, streamlined, concretized process for... well, everything we do and are at Pathway Community Church. In the past, we've had a mission statement, two vision statements, thirteen core values (separated into three categories), a church structure, an assimilation/discipleship strategy, and a set of Journey classes that we wanted everyone to take--in addition to all the other ministries and programs that we have operated--worship services, small groups, Awana, youth group, Soccer Camp, Dinner Theatre, Trunk or Treat, potlucks, etc.

As I said yesterday, individually each of those things is good, right, biblical, God-honoring, consistent with his purpose for his church, and so forth. But taken all together, it's a little overwhelming, confusing, complex, and just plain noisy.

As leaders, the elders and I recognized the need for a clearer, more focused approach--one that would be easy to communicate and easy to understand, one simple process that ties everything together. And this is it:

Here's how these things are now tied together:

  • Mission: To meet people where they are on their spiritual journeys and lead them to become fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ. We began asking the question, "What does a fully devoted follower look like?", and we made a list of characteristics and qualities that someone would have if they were fully devoted to Jesus. Then we asked, "What do we do in our church that helps people acquire these character traits?" We identified these three areas as key in helping us accomplish our mission.
  • Ministries/Programs: We now have just three main things that we focus on. "Reaching Up" corresponds to our worship services. "Reaching Over" involves our small groups. And "Reaching Out" is tied to our ministry teams. By focusing on these three areas, we increase our effectiveness by being more intentional with each of them, making sure they relate to a specific part of the process of making fully devoted followers.
  • Core Values: These are now connected directly with the mission. First we help people reach up toward God (Real Spirituality). Then we help them reach over toward other believers (Real Community). Then we help them reach out through ministry (Real Story). The core values are now put into a step-by-step process, which helps people grow into acquiring a balanced, fully-developed Christian life.
  • Assimilation Process: This is the question of how someone becomes connected and attached to our church. The worship service is the front door--the most likely point of entry for a new person. The next step in helping them get connected here is moving them as soon as possible into a small group so that they develop strong relationships with other believers. The next step is to help them find a ministry that fits how God has shaped them so that they have a stake in the success and health of our church. Once they are a contributing member of the body, connected with other believers, and growing in their faith, they will be far more likely to work through the problems that come up, which might otherwise cause them to leave.
  • Immediate Vision: To trigger a dramatic reaction between our neighbors and Christ in a fusion of real needs and real love. This vision entails mobilizing people for ministry, which is also the objective of the simple process. Now we have a step-by-step process that will help us move people toward that goal. As we do, we will have a greater and greater impact on our community, which will bring glory and honor to God (Matthew 5:16), and which will attract people to a relationship with him through our church.
  • Broad Vision: To become actively involved in planting new churches to reach the 100,000 people in Jackson County with no church family. We believe this simple process will help our church become more effective at accomplishing our mission, which will lead to growth. With more people and more resources, we will be able to realize this vision, expanding the reach of God's kingdom through the planting of new churches throughout the county.

In essence, it's the difference between a light bulb and a laser beam. In many respects, they're the same thing (after all, light is light), but in practice they're vastly different. The laser beam is exponentially more effective than a light bulb because all the energy is focused.

You may look at this and say, "Well, we're already doing this." That's right... we have worship services, small groups, and ministry teams already. What's the difference? The difference is focus. The difference is applying all our strategic energy in this one direction. The difference is making sure that at each step of the process, something is happening that will help produce fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ.

Monday, August 31, 2009

The Resurrection

It is rightly pointed out that the resurrection of Jesus is the hingepoint of the Christian faith. The question of whether Jesus really came back from death makes all the difference in the world. The apostle Paul said as much in 1 Corinthians 15:14-19:

If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is usesless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead.... And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.

So it is worthy of note that this belief in Jesus' resurrection is not only the most essential of the Christian faith, but also the most hotly contested--and yet, one of the most verifiable events in history, when one evaluates the historical evidence.

1. Eyewitness Testimony
In courtrooms, considerable weight is given to eyewitnesses who have observed the events being discussed in the court case. Since no one else in the courtroom was there, the eyewitnesses are considered key for helping reconstruct the events of the past. In the Bible, two of the four writers who tell the story of the resurrection (Matthew and John) were personal eyewitnesses to the fact, as disciples of Jesus. Luke insists that his account is an "orderly account" based on his own careful investigation of Jesus' life "from the beginning," "so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught" (Luke 1:1-4). And Mark, as a traveling companion of Paul, relied especially on Peter.

In addition, John and Peter both wrote letters to the churches, affirming their eyewitness status:

  • We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of your Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty (2 Peter 1:16).
  • That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched--this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Fathe rand has appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard (1 John 1:1-3).

And Paul in one of the earliest writings of what we now know as the New Testament said, For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appearedc to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of hte brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also (1 Corinthians 15:3-7).

Here we see that the belief in the resurrection of Jesus can be traced to a very early point in the life of the church, attested to by a number of people who claim to be eyewitnesses to the fact. Clearly, this is not a belief that arose a number of years later; it was part of the Christian faith from the beginning.

2. Empty Tomb
Eyewitness testimony is great, but of course we all know that eyewitnesses can lie. What gives credibility to the eyewitness testimony is that there are other historical facts that back up their claims. One of the most striking is that it is almost certain that the tomb of Jesus was empty. We can know this because if Jesus' followers are running around claiming that Jesus is alive, the best way to squash that claim is to produce the body--which nobody did.

It's not because they didn't have a reason to. Many people, in fact, had a vested interest in putting this whole Jesus movement to rest--namely all those who had conspired to get him killed in the first place:

  • Jewish leaders--The whole problem for them with Jesus was that his teachings and his understanding of God and scripture profoundly threatened everything they loved--their privileged status, their power and influence, their wealth. The last thing they wanted was to see Jesus' followers take up his mantle and start spreading his influence throughout the Roman Empire.
  • Roman authorities--Until Jesus, they had been able to boast a 100% success rate with crucifixions. They certainly didn't want that image tarnished. Moreover, Jesus had been charged (at least officially) with rebellion against Rome and attempting to establish his own kingdom. While Pilate personally felt that Jesus was harmless, could he be sure that the same could be said for all of his followers? In addition, the tomb of Jesus had been guarded by Roman soldiers; it certainly made them look inept if it could be said that the tomb was empty.

The only reason that makes sense for why no one came forward with the body of Jesus is because the body wasn't there! This is especially true when we consider that the church was born in Jerusalem, the very city in which Jesus was crucified--the last place on earth that it could have started if the tomb were not empty.

3. The Disciples' Lives/Deaths
Many theories have been put forward as to why the tomb could have been empty. Some are so ridiculous as to require more faith than actually believing in the resurrection (for instance, some advance what is known as "The Wrong Tomb Theory"--that everyone in Jerusalem forgot where Jesus was buried and all went to the wrong tomb to look for his body). Probably the most common explanation from skeptics for the empty tomb is that the disciples stole the body.

Setting aside the difficulty of overcoming the Roman guard which was posted, and the courage required to break the Roman seal on the tomb (remember, Peter withered under questioning from a servant girl in a courtyard just days earlier), one must consider that each of the disciples was eventually executed for their faith, except for John who lived out his final days in exile on the island of Patmos.

Certainly, no one is willing to surrender their lives simply to perpetuate a lie. And they would have known it was a lie if they were the ones who had stolen the body. The only logical explanation for their behavior is that they were absolutely certain that they were telling the truth--to the point that they were willing to die for it. And the only way they could be certain it was the truth is if they had been telling the truth when they shared their eyewitness testimonies.

And there was much they suffered before they actually gave up their lives. Consider this description of his life from the apostle Paul:

I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides eerything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn? (2 Corinthians 11:23-29).

Who signs up for a life like this? Only those who believe that the benefit outweighs the cost. Only those who are fully convinced that Jesus Christ indeed rose from the dead.

4. The Audience
All this that we've examined so far is pretty convincing to me, but the clincher is the fact that the Christian faith grew so explosively in its first years. How could this happen if the audience the first Christians were trying to reach did not believe in the message they were sharing?

Shortly after Jesus was killed, Peter spoke to a crowd in Jerusalem (remember, the site of the crucifixion!). Many of the people listening had themselves probably seen Jesus put to death. Peter started out by saying, "Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know" (Acts 2:22). Then he went on to say, "God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact" (Acts 2:32).

And the audience's response is interesting. They didn't say, "We don't know what you're talking about!" or "Hey! That's not the way it really happened!" Instead, they were immediately terrified, and said, "Brothers, what shall we do?" And 3000 of them put their faith in Jesus that day.

The earliest New Testament books were written within 25-30 years after Jesus' death--plenty of time for many, many eyewitnesses to still be alive and able to rebut or refute the claims of the biblical writers. But there is no evidence that anyone at the time disagreed with the version of history that the Bible presents. Everyone agreed that that was the way it had happened.

If there is a God, and if he has revealed himself in Scripture, and if archaeology backs up the Bible's claims, and if dozens of prophecies were fulfilled in the life of Jesus in a way that no one could arrange, then it's not too big of a leap to believe that this God could raise his Son from the dead. The whole New Testament bears witness to that pivotal event, and the writers of Scripture are all in agreement. Moreover, the evidence is overwhelming--Jesus did rise from the dead. It's just one more reason that I find the Bible trustworthy.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

The Uniqueness of the Bible's God

As we're looking at the various reasons why the Bible can be trusted, we've looked at a historical argument (fulfilled prophecy) and a scientific argument (archaeology), but this week, I want to look at something a little different. While those lines of thinking are more objective and evidence-based, this week I'd like to focus on an aesthetic argument that has its own logic to it. You may or may not find this convincing, but I do. It has to do with the uniqueness of the God that the Bible presents to us.

The Bible claims to be God's word--the only authoritative and reliable record of his activity in history. By extention, the Bible asserts that all other sacred texts that claim the same status (The Qu'ran, The Bhagavad Gita, The Sutras, and so on) are not authoritative and reliable, especially with respect to the ways they deviate from the record given in the Bible.

So it is noteworthy to me that no other religion in the history of the world presents a picture of a God or gods like anything that resembles the God of the Bible.

  • Personally Concerned. In the Bible, God is personally concerned with all of his creation, especially human beings. He lovingly, patiently, tenderly works with them to restore the personal relationship that was originally present in the perfect origins of the world before humanity strayed from his perfect design. In Islam, by contrast, God (Allah) stands as an aloof, unapproachable King and Judge who can be satiated only through radical submission and self-discipline. In eastern religions such as Buddhism and Hinduism, God is an impersonal force that permeates the universe. Other religions have a pantheon of warring deities and demi-gods that scheme against one another in an endless quest for their own selfish desires. No other religion presents an image of a loving, concerned God.
  • A Model To Imitate. In the Bible, God uses himself as the ideal for us to follow. His goal is that we should become like him--loving, faithful, honest, just, generous, servant-hearted, compassionate. In other religions, it's a matter of "do as I say, not as I do." God, or gods, must be appeased--human beings must do things their way in order to avoid punishments or to receive blessings. The gods of other religions are drunk with power--they have carte blanche to do whatever they want--and most of the time they are vindictive and capricious. In eastern religions, since God is not a person and possesses no character, there is no corresponding way to imitate; the best that can be hoped for is to be absorbed into God and nothingness.
  • Initiator Of Relationships. At each phase of the biblical story, God is the one who takes the initiative to establish a relationship with us, rather than the other way around. He did this in creation, at the fall of Adam and Eve, with Noah and the flood, with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, at the Exodus and giving of the Law, with all the prophets, and finally in Jesus. In all other religions, it is we who must pursue the Deity to gain his "goodies"--in Christianity it is God who pursues us because of his great, unsurpassing love.
  • Incarnate. In no other religion does God wrap himself in human flesh and come to reveal himself more fully than he ever has, and eventually take on himself the curse of sin to repair the broken relationship between himself and humankind. The Incarnation is a service (of the highest order!) to humanity. In some other religions, gods may disguise themselves as humans for personal gain, or because they've been punished by other gods with more power. In other religions, God remains a figure too remote and inaccessible to stoop to such a low level.
  • Dispenser Of Grace. Of all the contrasts, I believe this is the greatest. In all other religions, the worshipers must earn their way to God. But Christianity is the only religion in which God offers grace (unmerited favor) to people. It is based on the truth that we can never earn our way to perfection; if God were to accept us in our imperfection, he would have to himself compromise his own integrity (and cease to be perfect). Instead, he made a way for us to become perfect through the blood of Jesus, because it was impossible for us to achieve on our own. This concept is so remarkable and incomprehensible that the tendency is even for Christians to keep trying to earn God's love and favor. Jehovah's Witnesses and Mormons are two "Christian" groups that teach that we must work to achieve our right standing with God, rather than trusting in the work already done by Jesus.

In other religions, God is either impersonal and inacessible, or God is angry and vengeful, or the gods are petty and selfish. Christianity stands alone as the religion where God is personally concerned about us, where he stands as a perfect model for us in all integrity, who initiates a relationship with us, even to the point of himself becoming human, and showers us with his grace and mercy.

You see, when people come up with their own religion, this isn't the kind of God they create. This is the kind of God that everyone should want, but it seems too good to be true. And ironically, the God of the Bible demands the we surrender the thing that we cling to most tightly--our own pride. The Bible says we are totally dependent on God's love and goodness, that we have nothing good to bring to him, and that message is even harder for us to accept than the idea that a god must be appeased with sacrifices.

The God of the Bible gets to the root of the matter. And for me, because God is, at the same time, both more lenient AND more demanding than the gods of other religions, it shows me that he must be the One True God. No person or group of persons could have concocted this story--there's no way anyone could have been so clever as to invent it. When you add in the fact that the Bible has 66 books with dozens of authors spread over thousands of years, presenting one consistent picture of God--yet developing more and more nuance and depth as he more fully revealed himself over time--there is only one conclusion I can reach: It is the story of God, and not of men. And I believe it.